Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Merry Christmas Dance with Tasha

Tasha loved to dance! The year that The Real Pretend was published, we gathered in Indiana for a special Christmas party. Tom Tudor escorted his mother and we all wore small dance card designed by Tasha. A fiddle played, a guitar player strummed chords and a caller told us how to move through the sets.

Once when sitting by Tasha's fire, she talked about how she had trained in ballet, but didn't like how dance required that she stay inside for long hours. Yet at that Christmas party, Tasha displayed her grace cultivated by ballet instructions.

What is your favorite Christmas memory of Tasha? Do you bake cookies from Take Joy, sing the carols found in that book? In what ways, small or large, did Tasha influence your Christmas celebrations?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

                                                               Rosemary is for Remembrance

    I love greenhouses at any time of the year. Tasha's was especially lovely in the winter and on one visit I took my recorder into her green house and played to her plants while Tasha napped. When she awoke, she wondered where the music was coming? So Tasha followed the notes and found me in her greenhouse. The roses were in bloom, herbs scented the air, and the camelias also blossomed. She identified for me some of the plants that I didn't recognize and we inhaled the scent of earth and roses.
Tasha and Carol Lueck in the greenhouse
  Tasha decided to cut some camellias for bouquets and asked about what was blooming back in my small greenhouse attached to my home. When I asked her why my rosemary plant died, Tasha explained that rosemary doesn't like either wet or dry feet, but must be kept at the proper moisture level. Tasha had recently rooted cuttings from her bay tree and offered me one. I was delighted to accept the shoot from her frequently painted bay tree.
  Several days later, she wrapped the cutting and tucked it into a small bag that fit into my knitting basket. This was before the days of heightened security, so in addition to taking the cutting onto the air plane, Tasha packed me a small feast of cheese and crackers, and some of her famous stuffed eggs. My cutting arrived home in fine shape and over the years has grown into a sizable tree. Every spring, my husband totes it outside and throughout the year, those wonderful bay leaves season my cooking. Rosemary is for remembrance, but bay leaves are forever green and fragrant.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A reproduction created by Tasha

Antique 1830's gown

Sewing is one my passions. I sew our own clothing to save money and create garments that reflect our love of historical living. I just finished two 1830’s style dresses with billowing sleeves, and I have almost completed two pair of broad fall pants for John.

Of course, Tasha loved to sew. Sometimes she sewed frocks from yardage she had woven, but Tasha also enjoyed shopping for fabric and stored her purchases in a huge Shaker woolen basket at the top of the upstairs landing.

            When visiting, I would pause on the landing and rummage through the stash of woolens, calicos, and flannels. Tasha kept fine lawns and other delicate pieces in another trunk that also stored her collection of collars, kid gloves, and petticoats. Tasha loved to describe a tall dry good shop in Switzerland. Each floor featured different types of fabric…. dotted Swiss, fine lawn, firmly woven calicos and rich plaids.

            “What fun we would have there!” Tasha would comment.

            Once when she saw me fingering a certain pink and maroon calico that glowed near the top of the woolen basket, Tasha gave it to me.

            “These are definitely Joan colors. Now sew yourself a lovely new frock,” she said. “And while you are here, you should stitch a day cap. I’ll help you cut it from some of the lawn I bought in Switzerland.”

            I hugged her. Tasha taught me how to roll a tiny hem along a length of lawn and create a ruffle for my new cap. And when I returned home, I sewed the many yards of calico into a stunning 1830’s style gown.

            One night, Tasha introduced me to her collection of antique gowns, and because we were the same size, the dresses fit me. Like a young 19th century girl preparing for her first dance, I tried on gowns of lavender taffeta, a gray and pink plaid, dainty sprigged lawn and rustling silks. I loved dreaming about the women who had worn the dresses. Had one of them met her future husband while wearing the plaid? Had they stepped to the same fiddle tunes I played at contra dances, to Sackett’s Harbor or Petronella? I envisioned the women twirling across wide pine boards, dizzy with the splendor of candle light and music and romance.

            Alas, all good dreams end. The dresses went back to their hangers. I ducked under the covers and snuggled into the feather bed. Frost laced the windows. But the splendor of that winter night still brings goose bumps to my arms and gratitude to my heart.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Tea on Tasha's Porch

I have been out in our sugar bush, tapping our trees and hauling in sap with our team of oxen. One year, after my family had finished with making maple syrup, I visited Tasha. Usually, I had to visit during January or February because those are the two months when fruit farmers have more free time. So I had never been to Corgi Cottage in March. Snow still lingered everywhere, but much of it had melted and the small creek that meandered near Tasha's driveway rushed by the birch and hemlock trees.
  Michigan sugars about two to three weeks before Vermont, so on the highway out towards Tasha's buckets hung from numerous maples.

As usual, Tasha had told stories, we had inhaled the wonders of her green house, and I had viewed some of her "new" 1830's gowns that she had acquired. She also had a new loom warped with red and white check wool and was weaving fabric to sew into a shirt for Tom.

Tasha and her daughter-in-law had just bought a new pink luster tea set that Tasha had "sniffed" out. They had driven off to another small town in Vermont where over the past hundred plus years, one family had owned the set that Tasha brought home. I knew nothing about pink luster china, so Tasha found me some articles about how potters use a red clay for the china and paint it with a gold glaze.

One afternoon was particularly fine, and in true Tasha style, she suggested that we have tea on her porch. She had baked these wonderful little cakes and brought out this set of pink luster. During tea, I told how as a young child, I wanted to have a tea party. My small china tea set was stored on a shelf in my closet. Being short, I decided to set a box on a chair so that I could reach my tea set. But when I climbed on it and grasped my set, everything came crashing down. Broken china littered the floor. Not even one cup or saucer survived. I mourned that tea set all of my life.

Tasha disappeared and returned with a pink luster cup and saucer. "Perhaps this would suit you, don't you think?"

"Thank you!" I marveled at the gift. "It is beautiful!"

"Of course, you will have to wrap everything very well, but I will show you how."


"My dear, I am giving you the complete set. To replace the one you broke."

I laid my head on her porch table and wept. And then I hugged her for mending a void that only she had understood. Tasha often said, "A woman can never have too much china" and enjoyed hearing about my antique china.

To this day, I am overwhelmed by Tasha's generosity both with my marvelous pink luster tea set, and her willingness to mentor and encourage me as an author.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tea in my home
         Visiting Pleasant Hill Farm

   Before the Spencerian Saga, Tasha visited our farm. What a special moment for me who has loved her art since childhood. I remember standing on the stool in the children's section, pulling out books, seeking those with her illustrations. I wanted to dress and live like the children in her books.

My husband, John picked Tasha up at Carol Lueck's house and drove Tasha to the farm. On their way, they passed a beekeeper's home and his sign for beeswax. John told Tasha that we bought our wax from the Conners, so they stopped and she was thrilled to select a heavy round of clean wax that we later mailed to her home. Tasha enjoyed her ride past orchards and vineyards. Once she reached the farm, she toured my gardens, and met our goats and fowl. We also walked on Lake Michigan's beach and watched the waves.

Because it was still canning season, I had left a basket of pears on our porch. Their scent filled the air and mingled with the fragrance of a sweet autumn clematis. Tasha loved fruit and commented on those tasty looking pears, so of course we sliced some up and reveled in their sweetness. Sometimes I think of Tasha when I see fill mason jars with pears, or pass a bowl of pears ripening in my kitchen. I am thankful for the moments I shared with Tasha and the memories that grow sweeter each year.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sodas at Corgi Cottage
                      CHOCOLATE SODAS

Tasha loved chocolate and often commented that she needed some "sweeties" to stimulate her creativity. I agree! The Spencerian Saga took place during September, one of those lovely, golden weeks before the seasons turn. One afternoon, our group visited the collection of Spencer's artwork at the Ashtabula Library and we also viewed Mr. Spencer's former home.

Tasha, Carol and I rode in a new friend's car and on the way back to our lodgings, I pointed out that it was the first day of Fall.

"We should celebrate!" Tasha said.

"Why don't we go out for ice cream?" I said.

The day was warm, and ice cream sounded perfect to everyone else. And thankfully, about that time we spied an ice cream shop and Bill pulled in his car. We trooped in. During our discussion about what to order from the numerous choices, we realized that we all loved chocolate sodas.

So the five of us sat down at the old fashion soda counter. We slurped the cold chocolate through straws and spooned the ice cream. It was one of the best sodas I have ever consumed.

In this photo, Tasha decided it was time for chocolate sodas at Corgi Cottage and she whipped up a fantastic treat.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Enjoying a free moment at the Saga


            While driving to Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio, to attend the Spencerian Saga, Tasha asked Carol and me to not reveal her identity.

            “I just want to blend in and be myself,” she said. “I want to enjoy this time with you and the other students.”

            I was still amazed that despite my limited farm income, that I was attending the Saga with her. Tasha had offered to pay my way and had suggested that perhaps I could repay her by quilting the top she had pieced. But while John and I were discussing the situation, God provided another means. A woman who had ordered a wall quilt changed her mind and asked me to make her a full-sized bed quilt. The payment for her quilt sent me to the Saga.

            Of course, Carol and I agreed to remain silent and allow Tasha the freedom to be herself. After we arrived at the Saga, Tasha conveniently forgot her name tag, and when we ate dinner with the other attendees, Tasha demurely answered their questions.

            “Oh, I like to draw and sometimes write stories. I’m just an old woman having fun. Now tell me about yourself?” she said, transferring the attention.

            Tasha managed her ruse until Wednesday, when one man noticed her doodling on her paper. She had illustrated sections of her worksheet with birds, flowers and a squirrel.

            “You must be Tasha Tudor,” he said. “My daughter adores your books. We love your artwork.”

            “Yes, I am Tasha Tudor,” she said and handed the man her sheet of paper.

            That afternoon, most of the students raided the local bookstore, and graciously Tasha signed numerous copies of her books. Yet, I realized that by the time fame found her, Tasha had gained what she wanted. Everyone had come to know her as a witty and talented person who loving shared her gifts with friends.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tasha at the Saga in her 1880's gown
On one of my first visits to Corgi Cottage, I sifted through what I call, the creative clutter on Tasha's long work table and found two books on how to learn the Copperplate script. For over a year, I had wanted to learn Spencerian Script and had searched for a the correct type of steel pointed pen. Tasha revealed that she, too, wanted to learn this 19th century form of penmanship. Both of us had resolved to improve our handwriting!

That month, Victoria Magazine had featured an article about Michael Sull and his workshop called The Spencerian Saga. Tasha, Carol Lueck who was also visiting, and I discussed the article and how we would love to attend the saga.

"Let's all go together!" Tasha exclaimed in her enthusiastic way.

Carol and I agreed to think about it, and on our return trip home, we found a Spencerian Calligraphy kit in an art store, just like the one I had discoverd before heading out to Vermont. Ah, we thought, a sign that we should register for the Saga! We sent Tasha the kit so that she could begin her studies, and we mailed off our applications for a week that turned into one long slumber party with Tasha........

Monday, January 23, 2012

Rose Petals

While rubbing Crabtree and Evelyn's rose scented cream into my hands, I sniffed, realizing that this was the same lotion that graced Tasha's skin. Friends gave her boxes of Crabtree and Evelyn products, and whenever I see that name, I think of Tasha who prefered natural fragrances. Once she gave me a bottle of Tea Rose perfume, saying that it reminded her of the roses that filled her garden with their heady scent. We both loved old roses and over tea, would discuss various ways to take cuttings or we shared stories of "rescuing roses" from abandoned homesites and old cemetaries. And of course, we were both blessed to have slips given to us by friends.

I loved the Cecile Bruner rose that climbed in her green house, sending out sprays of delicate pink. Despite the snowflakes fluttering against the glass roof, we gathered roses that Tasha floated in small pink luster bowls or she decorated a cake with the shimmering petals. No matter what season swirled around Corgi Cottage, Tasha tucked flowers into corners. Primroses lined the wintery kitchen windowsill while camillas glowed from a large Canton china basin. I suppose Tasha's New England spirit discovered these small ways to battle the winter with beauty and fragrance.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

swans and artists

One evening, Tasha and I watched Jane Eyre with Marjorie Tudor, enjoying the film's costumes, the gardens, manor house and the richness of the English traditions. We dined on bowls of Tasha's vegetable soup, nibbled fresh bread, and sipped our tea. As a farm wife, my life is limited by the rhythm of the seasons and I have never been to England. After the film ended, I said, "Once in my life, I wish I could experience living like that..."

Tasha smiled and told us: Many years ago when she was studying art in England, a Lord invited her to for a weekend at his castle, a fairytale place surrounded by a moat and floating swans. Upon her arrival, Tasha was given a maid to take care of her, and at the dinner table, a footman stood behind her, to move her chair and take care of her. The Lord had invited other artists, and they spent the afternoons in a studio-like room, painting and talking about the creative process.

I sighed. "How enchanting, I wish I could have been a mouse in the corner, watching the events."

"It was fun," Tasha said. "But I would rather be here with you, eating homemade soup, chatting in Corgi Cottage."

I've never forgotten that compliment that also illustrated how Tasha valued simple moments shared with friends.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sunshine and Canaries

Today's sunshine and fresh snow reminded me of the times I visited Tasha Tudor at Corgi Cottage. Canaries and the chorus of the other birds, parrots, diamond doves, floated upstairs to where I slept in her canopy bed, covered with a lace spread. I really didn't want to leave the comfort of the feather bed, but I also wanted to be a helpful guest. Because I kept goats, chickens, oxen and sheep, I wanted to assist with chores or at least throw more wood on the fire. So I hopped out of bed, threw on my dress, patterned from one that Tasha gave me, and added an extra petticoat.

Of course, Tasha was already up, milking her goats and the oatmeal was simmering. We always ate near her fireplace, so I set the small tray that served as a table. Sometimes Tasha would ask me to feed her canaries, other times I hauled in wood, one of those never-ending jobs that also tracks in sawdust and wood chips. Hense a good sweeping follows a filling of the wood box.

And soon Tasha and I shared breakfast, hot oatmeal and brown sugar, and steaming cups of tea. She liked her with warm milk, but I prefered mine black. Sometimes we made plans to go to town, or to search her trunks for a certain piece of clothing so I could make a pattern. Compared to my life at that time where every weekday I jumped into home schooling my sons, visiting Tasha offered me a delicious calm, filled with her wisdom and laughter.