Entries tagged with “Back Story”.


Bast2One of my favorite days of my life was July 14, 1989.  I was a young man living in Salem, MA for that summer and decided to have a big party on the grounds of the historic home in which I lived. 

The fact that July 14, 1989 was the bicentennial of the French Republic and it falling on a Saturday was all the excuse I needed for a big party.

There are many things that make this day stand out all these years later, but there is one priceless artifact from that time that I treasure most.  My mother, who loved the vintage thirteen starred flag I flew on the house for July 4th that year, made me a large French flag when she heard about my plans for a Bastille Day party.

As a gifted seamstress, my mom chose just the right fabrics and colors and created a perfectly proportioned flag – complete with buttonhole grommets from which I could easily hang the flag on the house.

I was so touched by this.  The flag was a huge hit and made a pretty standard summer backyard cookout into what I wanted it to be – a festive commemoration of the bicentennial of the storming of the Bastille.

Well, I still have the flag.  I have brought it out most years ever since that special day in 1989.  This year, my mom is recovering from an illness in a rehab center outside of Boston.  I thought that a good way to cheer her up a bit was to hang that flag in all its glory over the barn of her beloved home here in New Hampshire for Bastille Day.  Although she can’t be here to see it – she will be thrilled to know I still cherish the flag she made when she sees the pictures.

Of course she will add “I gave up some of my best fabric to make that flag” – but that is why we love her.

The heirloom flag is a nice backdrop for my other Francophile treasures, a cast of one of the gargoyles of Notre Dame which adorns my front porch:

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aaTPLast year I told the story of our family heirloom turkey platter that has been in my mother’s family for generations and now graces our Thanksgiving table every year.  That post was more about the lament of no longer celebrating the holiday at my parents country home in New Hampshire than about the platter itself.

Thanksgiving had been the one holiday when we would all gather at the house and enjoy an old fashioned holiday dinner.  Since moving our parents out to a more convenience living situation, a couple of years ago, my sister and her family have hosted dinner.

This year, with me as caretaker of the old family homestead in New Hampshire, we decided to have Thanksgiving dinner here once again.  It was my mother’s first time at the house since moving out two years ago and although she was a bit emotional, she was happy to be back and thrilled to see the house alive again, especially with the whole family around her.

It was a challenge for me to host the whole family and prepare dinner by myself, but I was happy to do it.  I was well prepared and made detailed lists of everything I needed to do to prepare – from preparing the dinner to cleaning the house to last minute decorating projects.  I had everything perfectly timed to be ready for when guests arrived.  However, the day before Thanksgiving something unexpected happened… a snow storm passed through leaving 18 inches of heavy wet snow. 

This was a major setback, as there were a few tense moments waiting to be plowed out.  But the driveway was cleared in time and by Thanksgiving day the sun was out and the snow covered landscaped added to the festive atmosphere.

It was nice to have to whole family back to the house and we had a great time.  My oldest brother in his toast at dinner remarked: “lets give thanks to having the whole family together for one last Thanksgiving dinner in this house.”

No one knows for sure if it was indeed the last time for dinner here, but the sentiment was genuine and touching.  All I know is that the family tradition is that wherever the turkey platter lives is where dinner will be.  I am happy to report the platter has come home and I will keep it safe for at least another year.

Part two – my accidental success

Sun1I’ve talked about my failed vegetable garden and subsequent attempt at salvaging a container garden, but over the summer I also dabbled in flowers and plants in the house’s other gardens.

The house I have become the caretaker of is an old farmhouse with sprawling grounds.  I knew right away that I was not going to be able to take on the grounds keeping myself in my first season.  Not that I don’t want to do it, it is just that it would be ALL I did were I to take it on.

Thankfully I have a neighbor who has been taking care of the acres of lawn for my dad for years and he agreed to continue with that.  But the front gardens of the house were up to me.  With my parents out of the house for a couple of years and with their diminished capacity for gardening for a few years before that – I had my work cut out for me in bringing he gardens back.

I determined early on that I would clean out the gardens in the spring and wait to see what perennials showed up while adding a few annuals here and there to ensure some color.  Basically, I wanted to have a true country garden – with a mix a cultivated plants and wildflowers which grow in abundance here.  So I did a big clean up of the gardens – which was quite a task – removing years worth of dead brush and other organic matter.  It was great watching new things grow in all season and I enjoyed picking out some flowers at a local nursery to add to the mix.

My only real challenge was determining what were weeds and what were ultimately nice summer flowers.  I decided to forgo any real weeding and see what happened.  Well, I am glad I did, as some things that I would have pulled without any question turned out to be the nicest flowers.  In particularly were a few long stalks that didn’t seem to have any purpose.  I had to talk myself out of pulling them a few times.  Patience paid off and they turned out to be lovely late-season sunflowers which capped off a summer of pretty flowers (no thanks to me). 

Here is a small sampling of the various stages of the front gardens this summer.

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BH1As I continue to explore my parents’ old house, I am continually discovering mini-collections all over the place.  Every time I think I have found everything in the house I open a closet or a drawer and find all sorts of new things.

I recently came across a stack of old magazines.  This in of itself was not a surprise, my mother loved magazines and never threw one away.  When we did the dumpster clean-out a couple of years ago, we put a ton of magazines in for recycling.  Most of these were fairly recent craft and sewing magazines. 

This “new” batch of magazines I found were home magazines from the 70’s.  I was going to tie them up to bring to the transfer station for recycling, but I made the mistake of flipping through some of them and found I wanted to read them.

In particular, I found a Better Homes and Gardens from August 1975 and it was fun looking through it.  Some of the ads and designs were dated (there was an ad for the new AMC Pacer) but for the most part the content could have been the 2011 issue.

I was drawn to the recipes for fresh summer produce, which I had been researching already.  It was actually comforting to see how some things, like an appreciation for good home cooking with fresh ingredients, has not gone out of style.

I was curious and went on line to see if the Better Homes and Gardens website had an archive of past issues as old as 1975.  They don’t, but they do archive some of the recipes from these old issues – which is cool.  You can access the archives if you register as a BH&G user.  See the August 1975 recipes here.

What I learned?  Well, basically I re-learned the lesson that just because something is old doesn’t mean it doesn’t have something new to impart to us in modern times.  I will make sure I always take a second look before tossing things into the bin.

summer.visit.07.2011The launch of Lost Cowboy Found back in October 2009 coincided with a major shift in my family.  My siblings and I moved our aging parents out of their antique farmhouse in rural Carroll County, New Hampshire to a lower maintenance, one-floor-living home in suburban Massachusetts.  My mother’s health was failing and my dad was slowing down and the distance the NH home was from the family and essential services made the thought of them spending another winter in the house was unbearable for all.

As my parents were settling into their new home, which was also closer to all of us kids who had settled in the metropolitan Boston area, we were trying to figure out what to do with the New Hampshire estate.

Over the summer of 2009 we spent several weekends helping our parents pack up for their move and clean out the sprawling house and barn – all of which was filled to the rafters with the items they had acquired over their 50 year union and passion for collecting things.  Please think of an episode of American Pickers on a good pick as opposed to Hoarders – but there is a thin line.

Anyway, we filled dumpsters, gave stuff away, held barn sales and took things we wanted for ourselves.  The idea being that we could clean up the property enough to put it on the market and hope it sold quickly.

….and that is exactly what we did.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

c.1August 1st – the unofficial midpoint of summer which means the joys of the season are in full swing and we can sit back and enjoy all it has to offer. 

Therefore, I thought it was fitting to re-launch Lost Cowboy today to take advantage of the summer high and start sharing some of the experiences and observations I have made in recent times.

Now please, don’t get too excited, the blog’s re-launch is more about a renewed commitment to bring you the narrative of my life in flux and the people, places and things that deserve to be “found” whether or not they were lost to time or are new to us.

If you are new to Lost Cowboy, welcome – if you have been with me all along, thanks!

Who or what is the Lost Cowboy?

At its essence, the idea behind the Lost Cowboy Found blog is about finding the little treasures in life that others may pass by, take for granted, or not appreciate at all.

Sounds huge, I know, but it is really simple.  Over time you will see what we mean and find that there is a whole Lost Cowboy sensibility that you will hopefully understand if not totally embrace.

There is little bit of a back story which will be the narrative that weaves it all together.  Fans that have been with us for the past couple of years know some of the back story – and newbies can look at old posts to catch-up.  But don’t worry, there is plenty to share, so you won’t be lost if you jump right in now.

My name is Jim, and I am the host and “curator” of Lost Cowboy Found.  The back story is my story.  However, I have enlisted the help of friends and other contributors who share a similar sensibility and they will be contributing from time to time.

Beginning today we are back in business and will be making regular posts with our story, our “finds” and in general, our experiences.  Come along and join us!

You have heard me rave about the chocolates made by Hotel Chocolat before, but I wanted to share a specific story about one of their great products.

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While roaming around the Hotel Chocolat website looking for gift ideas, I stumbled upon their Vintage Dark Chocolate Buttons and was instantly intrigued.  At the time I was in the midst of cataloging my mother’s massive button collection and thought how perfect the chocolate buttons would be to give to my mother for Christmas.

Hotel Chocolat’s Vintage Dark Chocolate Buttons are described:  “Straight from London ’s antique markets, these solid dark chocolate buttons are cast in authentic vintage button molds. Exclusive, retro and distinctly dark, these make a perfect little something gift or personal indulgence.”  How cool is that?

Well, I purchased a couple of boxes, one for Sophie, who loved them, and one for my mother.  My mother was thrilled to see them.  Being diabetic, she wished she could eat them, but even at that she said they were “too beautiful to eat.”  Well, she opened the box and looked at them.  One by one she pointed them out:  “I have that one…  I have that one…  I’ve seen that one in book…”  Truly amazing.

I knew my mother had something special with that collection of buttons, but every day I appreciate it a little more.

I remember once when I was a kid watching my mother in a panic as she received a last minute invitation to an afternoon tea party and had nothing to bring. We were at our summer place where these afternoon tea parties were a big deal with the local women, most of whom were there to spend the summer by the lake with the kids while the men folk worked in the city and came up at the weekend.

My mom didn’t drive which meant that my dad would make sure we had enough groceries and otspamClassic7ozher supplies for the week before he left on Sunday evening. This also meant that by Friday there was not much left it cupboard or fridge to throw something together at the last minute to bring to a tea party.

So there was mom, trying to think of something. Before I knew it, she starting working feverishly. She took a can of SPAM, and let me open it. This was a fun activity for a small boy. Then I watched as she chopped it up into small pieces and put it into a bowl. The she chopped up some pickles and an onion and tossed them into the bowl. She added some mayonnaise and mixed all together. Then she took a platter and spread crackers over the surface and then put a dollop of the SPAM mixture on each cracker.

She went off to her party and when she came back she was full of stories of how the ladies raved about the little treats and refused to believe it wasn’t something picked up at a gourmet grocer.

I learned much that day. I learn you should always have enough things on hand to be able to throw together a quick app at a moment’s notice – and I learned that SPAM is your friend.

Enter Hormel, the makers of SPAM. The recently launched a new recipe exchange on spam.com devoted to the iconic luncheon meat:  “Welcome to SPAM.com’s brand new Recipe Exchange! Here you can share your favorite SPAM® recipes, try and rate recipes from others, and take part in SPAM® meal makeover challenges to learn new ways to prepare SPAM® varieties and even win prizes.”

Check it out, you may be surprised what you can do with those cans of SPAM you have in your Y2K bunker you need to turn over.

I am going to admit it…  As easy and cool as digital photography is, I really miss old school film cameras.  There was something special about snapping a picture and hoping it would come out.  There was nothing like the anticipation of seeing what shots you got on your vacation after it was all over.

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Some purists will say that there film photographer is superior to digital in an aesthetic way.  But we just miss loading the film and being mindful of how many pictures we had left on a roll to make sure we took pictures of only the important stuff.

Anyway, I was thrilled to come across Four Corner Store, a website dedicated to “all things toy camera.”  On Four Corner Store you can find all sorts of fun cameras, mostly plastic film cameras that will make you feel nostalgic.  Check out the Blackbird, Fly 35mm TLR in Blue – very cool.  You can also find all sorts of accessories including film.

I was particular happy to see the 110 film cameras – I had totally forgotten about 110 film.  My very first camera when I was in first grade back in the, ahem, 1970’s was a tiny 110 camera.  Now only if I could find a Flip Flash…  Does anyone else remember the Flip Flash?

See all the toy camera and accessories Four Corner Store offers here.

I love calendars.  I have four or five old school wall calendars around the house.  By the time we get to this point in the year I have really bond with them.  It makes me sad when I take down the old and put up the new.

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I used to keep a desk diary calendar.  You know the type, a book where you write everything in.  I haven’t kept one in years, ever since someone gave me a Palm Pilot.  I have years worth of the old diaries in my keepsakes and I love looking at them as they capture what my life was like in the old days.  Somehow the electronic version just doesn’t do that so well.

The best desk calendar I ever found was the New Yorker Desk Diary.  They still produce one every year.  I am thinking about going back to the old ways.  And if I do, I will totally be purchasing the 2010 New Yorker Desk Diary.

For the calendar on the wall, the folks at Hammerpress have some cool designs. And then there is the 2010 Abacus Calendar from Abacus Gallery.  They are offering  the twenty fourth edition of their calendar with brand new artwork for the year 2010 by Dana Heacock. This cute puppy, Mr. November, makes it worth buying two.

The choices for calendars are endless.  A good calendar can make you feel good all year.  I have a 2009 Steve McQueen calendar which has been my favorite all year.  McQueen was boy favorite movie star as a kid and seeing him on my wall made me feel great.

So choose your calendars wisely folks.  Happy New Year!