Wilder Wednesday: Drinking from the Saucer

Eliza Jane was more bossy than ever. She said Almanzo’s boots made too much noise. She even told Mother that she was mortified because Father drank tea from his saucer.

“My land! how else would he cool it?” Mother asked.

“It isn’t the style to drink out of saucers any more,” Eliza Jane said. “Nice people drink out of the cup.”

“Eliza Jane!” Alice cried. “Be ashamed! I guess Father’s as nice as anybody!”

Mother actually stopped working. She took her hands out of the dishpan and turned round to face Eliza Jane.

“Young lady,” she said, “if you have to show off your fine education, you tell me where saucers come from.”

Eliza Jane opened her mouth, and shut it, and looked foolish.

“They come from China,” Mother said. “Dutch sailors brought them from China, two hundred years ago, the first time sailors ever sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and found China. Up to that time, people drank out of cups; they didn’t have saucers. Ever since they’ve had saucers, they’ve drunk out of them. I guess a thing that folks have done for two hundred years we can keep on doing. We’re not likely to change, for a new-fangled notion that you’ve got in Malone Academy.”

That shut up Eliza Jane.

~From Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

 This was the first, and for a long time, only, reference to drinking from a saucer that I’ve ever come across. Mother Wilder’s history was a bit faulty: Europeans first explored China in the 1516, when the Portuguese explorer (and cousin of Columbus) Rafael Perestrello landed on the southern coast of mainland China and traded in Guangzhou. I think what Mother Wilder had in mind was the United East Indian Company, a Dutch-chartered trading company that had a trade monopoly with China in the 1600s.

 Another reference to drinking from the saucer can be found in Tom Brown’s School Days, a British novel written by Thomas Hughes in 1857:

“Well, I wish I were alongside of him,” said Tom. “If I can’t be at Rugby I want to be at work in the world, and not dawdling away three years at Oxford.”

“What do you mean by ‘at work in the world’?” said the master, pausing, with his lips close to his saucerful of tea, and peering at Tom over it.

“Well, I mean real work; one’s profession; whatever one will have really to do, and make one’s living by. I want to be doing some real good, feeling that I am not only at play in the world,” answered Tom, rather puzzled to find out himself what he really did mean.

“You are mixing up two very different things in your head, I think, Brown,” said the master, putting down his empty saucer, “and you ought to get clear about them.”

 Cups and saucers have been used since the Middle Ages, and I could find no definitive answer about whether they drank from the saucer as well as the cup, or when that habit began. But it certainly was common in Russia and Scandinavia for many years. In fact, in Sweden, they not only sipped from the saucer after purposely overfilling the cup, but sipped the beverage through a lump of sugar held in the front teeth, a custom called “dricka på bit” or “drink with a lump.” While there are people who remember their elderly, usually rural, ancestors drinking this way, it seems to have fallen out of favor in the 20th century. It was still a common enough practice in 1914 to be portrayed in a painting by Konstantin Makovsky.


Drinking from the saucer was not confined to Europe. There is a story that when Thomas Jefferson returned from France to find Congress organized into two parts, he asked George Washington why there needed to be a Senate. Washington answered with another question: “Why do you pour tea into your saucer?” Jefferson answered, “To cool it.” “Just so,” responded Washington, “we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.” See, the Federal Convention felt that the members of the House were too emotional, so the Senate was formed to have “cooler heads” prevail. This story is anecdotal, but does show that using the saucer to cool the tea was a familiar custom here in America.

I’ll leave you with a poem by John Paul Moore:

 Drinking From The Saucer

I’ve never made a fortune,
And I’ll never make one now
But it really doesn’t matter
‘Cause I’m happy anyhow

As I go along my journey
I’m reaping better than I’ve sowed
I’m drinking from the saucer
‘Cause my cup has overflowed

I don’t have a lot of riches,
And sometimes the going’s tough
But with kin and friends to love me
I think I’m rich enough

I thank God for the blessings
That His mercy has bestowed
I’m drinking from the saucer
‘Cause my cup has overflowed

He gives me strength and courage
When the way grows steep and rough
I’ll not ask for other blessings for
I’m already blessed enough

May we never be too busy
To help bear another’s load
Then we’ll all be drinking from the saucer
When our cups have overflowed

Masonic Monday: French Chefs

A friend sent me this link recently. It’s an article that looks into the claim that all the best French chefs are Freemasons, and they keep non-Masons from advancing in the culinary field. It’s a good example of some of the rumors that abound about Freemasons. As the author of the article discovers (spoiler!), although some top chefs in France and around the world are Masons, many others aren’t, and some won’t say either way. Whatever their status within or out of the fraternity, it has no bearing on their culinary skill or whether they support those attempting to rise in the industry.

There are other theories about Freemasons that are a bit more ambiguous. For example, history-inspired friends have told me that after reading Little Lodges, they began noticing how many founders – of cities or counties, states, and even our country – were Masons. Sometimes they wonder if that’s evidence that Freemasons want to take over the world.

picture1Picture6.pngIt’s true that many founders belonged to the fraternity, but in a way that’s like saying, “Most of the founders had brown hair, so brunette men must want to take over the world.” During the peak of Masonic membership, most men did belong to the Lodge. It was an opportunity for working-class men to become acquainted and socialize with those who were powerful and influential. So belonging to that ancient organization was almost as common as having brown hair (among men, that is – no women allowed).

But in another way, it’s not entirely coincidental that Masonry counted in its membership so many men who were also men of power and influence. The tenets of the fraternity focus on improving society as well as self – ideals that one wanting to establish schools and law and other necessities of civilization would naturally be interested in. Add in the fact that a man beset with scandals could have neither joined the Lodge or advanced his career, and it’s not surprising that movers and shakers were often Freemasons – whether they had brown hair or not.

Welcome to 2017!

Hope you were able to welcome in the new year in the way you wanted.

We had a nice walk just before midnight on the eve, and a restful day today.

 Are you a resolutions person? There was a time I did that, but not so much anymore. These days, it’s more about evaluation of the past year and using that to set goals for the new one. I have quite a bit on my plate this year, so in an attempt to be more organized I created a planner. Hopefully it will keep me on track.

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I made one for each of the girls, too,


and even put one (more generic – room for folks to put their own goals, schedules, etc. instead of mine) on Amazon, just in case anyone else needs a good planner for 2017.


 Among my goals this year is one to be more regular posting on this blog. You’ve heard that before, and it’s possible that this year will be no better. But I put it in my planner, so maybe there’s hope. I’ve even listed a topic for each week this month. Now if only all the other things don’t take more time than I’ve alotted…

 Each month has specific things to focus on. For January: prepare and deliver a presentation I was invited to do for the National Sojourners, a couple of editing jobs, and get the tax package ready for the CPA – plus a couple of personal items.

 May your new year be full of goals reached and dreams fulfilled.

On Propaganda

This is a repost from a couple of years ago, but it still seems relevant.

Is propaganda ever acceptable? I’ve been thinking about this the past several days, as I prepared a presentation I was asked to give for Veteran’s Day.

The word “propaganda” originated in the Catholic Church with a positive meaning. In 1622, Pope Gregory XV appointed a committee of cardinals to organize and oversee a system of establishing missions to “propagate the faith” to the heathen. The committee was called the propaganda. Eventually, the word came to mean the spreading of a message, instead of the spreaders themselves. Later still, the word began to have a negative connotation of spreading false information. 

The presentation I gave was about General Douglas MacArthur and his activities in Japan. The Japanese people, for the most part, hold the General in high esteem for his accomplishments there. He did get a lot done, especially considering that he was working in a country American had just atom-bombed as an enemy. But it’s one thing to change systems (he rebuilt infrastructure, restored the economy, abolished monopolies, democratized the government, reassigned land…) and another to change hearts and attitudes. General MacArthur did both. He used written materials to accomplish the latter.


The Allied Occupation, under the direction of MacArthur, censored all published material in Japan. They decided what could and could not be printed. All books that made the cut portrayed the idealized American way of life. The first book put out under the Occupation was The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. (Why, yes, I do tie everything in to LIW. Why do you ask?) The rest of her books followed, along with such titles as Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, the Nancy Drew mystery stories, and Gone with the Wind. The Little House books were most popular.

There were boys’ and men’s and women’s books, too, but most were girls’ books. Why? Because “the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” MacArthur knew getting the young women who would be mothers of the next generation on his side was key in establishing a friendship between Japan and the U.S. He was right, and it worked. The outcome was positive, helping establish peace and friendship where enmity had existed. Did the end justify the means?

My old Webster’s Dictionary defines propaganda as “information, especially when biased in nature, used to promote a particular cause, and especially a political or religious view.” Logic informs us that any information used to promote a particular cause is by definition biased in nature, whether the cause is good or bad, and whether the information is true or false. So really, anytime we speak positively about something we like, or negatively about something we don’t, we are spreading propaganda. (Kinda makes me stop and think about what I’ve been spreading…)

So is it ever acceptable? My personal opinion is that true information is always acceptable. But that means the whole truth – not just the cherry-picked good parts we like. And since people don’t always agree on what’s true, everyone should be able to make up their own minds, from all available information. So I don’t have an issue with MacArthur distributing books promoting American values. The part that bothers me is the censoring of any other materials. What do you think? Did the end justify the means, or not?


Announcing the release of my newest book, Thanksgiving Joy: A Cornucopia of Stories, Songs, Poems, Recipes, and Traditions.

 It contains everything you need to create a memorable holiday, whether you are hosting for the first time or are a seasoned pro looking for a few fresh ideas.


·       Classic Thanksgiving recipes – along with a few new ones – to prepare a feast appropriate for the day

·       Blessings from many cultures

·       Music, readings, and activities to enhance the festivity

·       A history of the holiday, including differing perspectives of the Puritans and the Native Americans

·       Customs from around the world to inspire a celebration that reflects your own personal style

 Get a head start on your Thanksgiving preparations with Thanksgiving Joy, for less stress and more joy in your holiday!


Flotsam and Jetsam

Flotsam and jetsam / Bobbing chaos in water / Life follows no plan

My first attempt at haiku. (The Japanese write it in one line, so I did, too.)  Okay, so I don’t write good poetry. The point is, life has not gone according to plan lately, and that’s hard for this control freak to deal with.


There is more research to do on the Little House project but I’m not able to take the trips required to do it right now, so it’s gotten temporarily shelved. My coauthor on the aquaculture book has the opposite problem: too many trips to work, so not much progress on that front. I’m still writing the novel, but I need more than one project to work on. I can work on any one thing only so long before my brain freezes, and the only way to thaw it is to bring something else to it.

So, I started a labor of love for the girls: a book of our family’s secret Thanksgiving recipes. It didn’t make sense to have only those, so I added recipes for all the dishes needed – and then some – for a big dinner. Then I decided to add our families’ traditions. But there were other things I’ve always wanted to do, but for one reason and another never did, and I included those, too, in case they ever wanted to start new traditions.

An ideal Thanksgiving would have activities throughout the day, and a good playlist going in the background. These are finding their way in as well, along with stories, songs, poems, and the real history of the holiday. It’s now a compendium on Thanksgiving, and I’ve decided to publish it. October 1 is the goal date.

The rest of life is rocking on. Spent yesterday with my girl, sewing. She has a few things she wants to make, so I gave her my machine (it’s as old as she is but a Singer – still works great) and we got her set up on a couple of things.



My machine isn’t quite THIS old.

We’ve gotten record amounts of rain for August, and cooler temperatures (though still hot:  80s to 90s). I’ve been glad, because it’s easier to think about Thanksgiving in that kind of weather than it is on a sunny, triple-digit day.


“Wash on Monday,” Laura said, so I did. That and a few errands today, and more Thanksgiving. I won’t “iron on Tuesday” because I’m not an ironing kind of person. God bless whoever invented wrinkle-resistant fabric. That will leave more time for writing. And that’s always something to be thankful for.

Boost Your Creativity

“Turn that off until your homework’s done!”

When I was a kid, no one’s mother let them do homework while watching TV or listening to music.

These days, earbuds are every student’s constant companion. When questioned about it, they quote research that shows music actually helps concentration, memory, and creative thinking.

What they sometimes fail to recognize is that those studies have shown that a certain type of music—instrumental—has those benefits. Songs with lyrics actually cause your brain to spend part of its effort deciphering them, even if you aren’t conscience of the words.


It doesn’t really matter what the genre is. Some people like classical; others like bluegrass. Maybe you like to listen to something that evokes a certain mood, or is from a particular time or place, depending on what you’re working on. As long as it doesn’t have lyrics, music can help you create.

You probably already know that daylight inspires more creative thinking than artificial light. Try sitting in front of a window if it’s too hot/wet/etc. to go outside. If you can’t get enough sunlight, at least try to get lightbulbs that are full spectrum to get as close to natural light as possible.

Did you also know that people are (statistically) more creative when they work in a slightly warm room than in a slightly cool one? It’s more than just comfort: it also has to do with the energy your body uses to warm itself, which is energy the brain no longer has to do its thing. If you’re going to create in a chilly environment, don’t forget a sweater, and maybe some hot tea/coffee/cocoa.

Double duty! That hot tea/coffee/cocoa can also help by providing some caffeine. We all know caffeine gets the synapses firing, resulting in faster, clearer thinking and creativity. An excuse for your favorite beverage and some chocolate!


Triple duty! Just as using energy to warm yourself takes away from brain energy, so does energy used digesting a heavy meal. Plus, there’s that whole tryptophan thing, making you too sleepy to produce high quality work after a big meal. On the other hand, hunger is distracting, too. So a snack, like the aforementioned chocolate and drink, works perfectly.

 It seems that for maximum creative potential, one should play instrumental music, at a moderate level, outside, on a warm day, after a light snack including something caffeinated.