Zest for Life

Zest for Life

Gail Lee Martin brought a zest to her life that was contagious. It wasn’t always evident in the last few years of her life when worries about her husband’s health and her own took its toll on them.

Her interests throughout her life were many and quite varied. She tackled each with gusto, learning all that she could about that topic. Then she wanted to share her passion for that topic with others. She made learning a fun thing to do.

That made her a great scout leader, 4-H leader, and a mom. Many a time, dinner was late or household chores pushed aside for a project with her kids. Her enthusiasm was catching, instilling an excitement about an activity such as identifying rocks and minerals or making a butterfly net.

paper hats

Gail Lee Martin (left), sister C.J. Garriott, and granddaughter, Samantha Hyle. Obviously, they’re having lots of fun making paper hats.

Zest Soap

When I told my sister the topic for today’s blog post, she thought it was going to be about the folks’ lifelong brand loyalty to Zest soap. It easily could have been, as I remember well that green bar of soap.

In their final home in El Dorado, there resided a vintage claw-foot tub with curving lines like the one in this photo. Mom loved to soak in that. Even when they modernized the bathroom with a convenient shower for Dad, she was adamant that the tub must remain.

claw-foot-tub-pixabay bath

Old-fashioned bathtub – photo courtesy of Pixabay

When given a bar of luxury soap, she would use it but returned to good old Zest when the fancy soap was gone. That brand loyalty extended to many products. Once they found one that worked fine, why experiment with others was their philosophy.

Yarn and Rag Crafts

(Article first published on Squidoo by Gail Martin about using yarn and rags for crafts)

My husband and I tackled a variety of crafts over the years. Many of these crafts linked back to our Kansas pioneer heritage. Examples of those include rag dolls and the wagon wheel rag rugs.

Until Clyde retired, I was always the crafty one, but once he had some free time, he joined in with many of the crafts. I’ll share with you photos of many our crafts and the instructions so you can try them out for yourself.rug started

This photo is my husband, Clyde Martin, working on a round rag rug using a wagon wheel metal rim for the base.

I tried all sorts of crafts over the years, from stenciling on pillowcases in the 1950s to macrame plant hangers in the 1970s. After retirement, we worked on some crafts together like the wagon wheel rugs based on a vintage craft from our Kansas pioneer background.

2008-08-17 gail and ks photos 386We made large Christmas decorations from pom-poms which looked great on a wall or door. One design was a yarn wreath and another was a giant candy cane.  We also made Santa faces with yarn, felt, and a bleach bottle base. People loved those and also the fluffy cats made from pom-poms.

Sometimes we get the supplies very cheaply at yard sales. The old sheets and skeins of yarn can be good buys. You don’t always find the exact colors you want though. Let your friends and family know what your needs are and they can rummage around in their excess stuff to share with you.

Here’s Clyde making a pom-pom cat. clyde, yarn cats 001

Making useful things out of worn-out clothes or linens was a necessity back in our grandmother’s day and the “how-to” of it all was passed down from one woman to the next.

The Finished Pom-Pom Cat

After you admire the real cat in the basket, move your eyes to the base of the basket to see the yarn cat that Gail and Clyde made.

yarn cat and real cat

X is for eXplorer

Gail Lee Martin used to gallivant about the Kansas countryside with her daughters. She’d taught them in childhood about the delights of setting off on an exploratory road trip. Once they were grown, there were still new places to see and new adventures to try.

Here’s Gail’s description of such a day’s outing in May 2002. The event is called the Kansas Sampler Festival and it provides a showcase for performers, sights, foods, and anything Kansas related. Next week, May 6 and 7th, 2017 is the last time for this festival. This one is in Winfield.

“Well, I had hoped Cindy would tell her side of the weekend and maybe I wouldn’t have so much to talk about. But here goes, my great inspiring weekend. Cindy and I left El Dorado around 1:00 pm on Friday, May 3rd. We went to Independence by way of that new Highway 400, south of El Dorado.

We arrived and got checked in at the Lamplighter Motel (the cheap one), then we hunted up the Riverside Zoo and Park, where we found the festival tents all set up in a great, big oval. We were in #8 and were able to set up at the very front on the left side of the entrance. We unloaded and set up Cindy’s booth titled “Meet, Gene Stratton-Porter.” We should have pictures coming when Cindy gets caught up.

The group of Historic Performers in our tent included a complete covered wagon campout; a mountain man’s home, he is also a wagon scout, a fur trapper, and his wife is a schoolteacher who travels by wagon train; Amelia Earhart; Calamity Jane; Nolan Sump as a German-American farmer, and a group representing The Santa Fe Trail Experience. Talk about being in good company, these people are such fun.

After everyone was set up we adjourned to a Mexican food place and continued to share experiences while chowing down on good food. The next morning we were ready to greet the visiting public by 10:00, all 5,100 of them on Saturday and many more than that on Sunday. Kansas was very well represented from every part of the state. If you didn’t learn about it at the festival if probably isn’t worth seeing.

Both days the ones in our tent gave 15-minute performances off and on. Cindy performed 9 different times. Surprisingly, we saw people we knew. Robert and Vickie Griffith from Madison; Teresa Bachman and the Henns from El Dorado; Barbara Booth, a Kansas Authors Club friend from Clay Center; Mary Asher from the Fort Scott’s farmers market. I talked to everyone else as if I knew them and after visiting with them awhile I felt like I did know them. 

Kansas_Sampler_Festival_text_and_article_featuring_Cindy - Copy

I was honored by one of the golf cart volunteers with a ride to the food vendors area for lunch on Saturday. There were 250 volunteers of all ages that pitched in wherever you needed them. They unloaded and loaded our vehicles, hunted up electrical cords, brought us drinks or ice cream and just made the whole thing run like clockwork.

Each tent had a tent boss and ours was a friend of the group called the ‘cowgirl’, but she is from Oklahoma so couldn’t have a booth. And yes, I’m ready to go again next year. I think Cindy probably will get lots of program offers. You all should have been with us! Gail”

As you can see from her description, Gail loved exploring and trying out new experiences.

kansas sampler festival

Gail’s daughter, Cynthia Ross, also wrote about the festival.

“I made it through the weekend, meeting a lot of fans of Gene Stratton-Porter, plus two people that think they are related to her–which is very possible since she was the youngest of 12.   Two gentlemen visited my booth after they’d seen one of my performances then made a point to hear it a second time.   Many tell me they have all her books—which at one point I thought I did as well, then I found out she wrote more than just her novels.

My feet and knees hurt from wearing those old, lace-up boots for two days.  One neat thing that happened, the birdman was there on the festival grounds with his display and he allowed me to hold one of the owls to get my picture taken in costume.

One lady said she wanted me to have her whole collection of Gene’s books, some signed by the author.   I told her to let me know a price, although I’ll have to travel some distance to pick them up, but well worth it, that’s if she remembers to call me.Cindy_as_Porter_posing_with_feather

Something very special and meaningful happened before my 1st performance on Saturday—I’d gone into the tent to watch another from our group do her performance to start off the whole weekend, I sat down on one of the hay bales, then noticed a butterfly above me.   That small butterfly landed on my shoulder, then flittered right across my nose. Gene loved butterflies and moths about as much as she did the birds and I take that as another sign that she is aware and approves of what I’m doing in her memory!”

W is for Washday Blues

(This post by Virginia Allain was first posted on the Our Echo website)

There is something romantic about a kerosene lamp. Perhaps in our imagination, we picture ourselves conversing in the parlor illumined by its picturesque glow. Many humble household items from the “good old days” are reincarnated as decorative pieces throughout today’s homes. Horse collars reappear framing a mirror and the old oaken bucket might be filled with petunias.

One aspect of times past seems difficult to romanticize. The drudgery of laundry days, “Blue Mondays,” does not lend itself to sentimentality. What woman would give up her automatic washer and dryer for a heavy sad iron, a scrubbing board, and a clothesline? Think about making your own starch, using bluing, or going further back in history, making lye soap. There’s nothing romantic about hanging out laundry on a freezing day.

vintage box starch

Beaham’s Faultless Starch box

Think about making your own starch, using bluing, or going further back in history, making lye soap. There’s nothing romantic about hanging out laundry on a freezing day.

The advent of wringer washers simplified laundry day. It was still an all-day process, but it eliminated the back breaking scrub board. As a child growing up on the West Branch, north of El Dorado, Kansas, I thought it must be fun to feed the clothes into the wringer. Mother cautioned us with a fearsome tale of the time her arm was pulled into the rollers. Her mother quickly reversed it and ran her arm out again. Mother’s cousin, Hila Bolte, warranted a mention in the 1933 Eureka Herald when her hair caught in the wringers. The Teterville column reported that she lost “a handful of her curly locks.”

My youngest sister stirred the clothes in the rinse tub with a cut-down broomstick. She handed dripping items to Mother, who fed them cautiously into the wringer. I was allowed to guide them into the laundry basket as they emerged. Sometimes items might start to wrap around again and my job was to grab the lever and quickly halt the rollers. The kitchen linoleum was scrubbed with the leftover wash water as was the wooden porch floor. The rinse water provided a drink for the flowers and garden.
cat-washday pixabay
I had plenty of sisters to share the “hanging out,” but we dreaded winter laundry days. The Kansas wind would fling the wet clothing in our face as our numb fingers struggled with the clothes pins. The clothing froze into contorted shapes that refused to fit into the laundry basket. Inside the house, the clothes thawed and finished drying draped over chair backs and the stair railing. The heat from the wood stove quickened the drying.

I associate wash days with hearty soups. Meal preparation was minimized to leave time for the myriad tasks associated with cleaning the family’s clothes. A large pot of navy beans soaked overnight and simmered all morning, made a warming lunch with thickly buttered slices of bread. By supper time they were well-cooked and fully flavored by the bits of ham. Accompanied by corn bread, it was a filling yet simple meal.

Take a step back to my grandmother’s generation. The book, Practical Suggestions for Mother and Housewife, describes the laundry area of a well-planned house in 1910. It “should be supplied with two tubs, an ironing table, an ironing board, and a stove for the boiler and the irons. The ironing board should be supported upon two ‘horses’ of the height of the table. The table should be supplied with an iron rest.” Just think of carrying the heavy water buckets, heating the water in the boiler, then scrubbing, hand wringing the clothes and heating and reheating the irons.

The 20th Century Cyclopedia of Practical Information, published in 1901 explained the washing technique for chenille curtains. One needed two ounces of ether sulphate, two ounces borax, two ounces soda, and one cake of ivory soap. “Shave soap and let dissolve in warm water, then add all the ingredients to sufficient warm water to wash curtains in. Do not rub on board, but dash up and down until they are thoroughly clean. Do not wring them, but squeeze out the water and hang lengthwise in a shady place. Take a whisk broom and brush until dry.” It warned, “do not go near the fire, as ether is a dangerous explosive.”

Here is the cyclopedia’s advice for black thread stockings. “Never use soap, but use a suds made of a teacupful of bran inclosed (sic) in a muslin bag, thrown into warm water and well stirred. First, wash the stockings in this preparation. On taking them out of the water, roll them in a towel, pressing strongly, and dry quickly near the fire, not in the air.” It promises that the stockings would retain a fine black color and never grow dingy using this treatment. “If they are neglected and become rusty, the color can be restored by boiling them in one quart of water, into which a few chips of logwood have been thrown.”

Some of the old supplies for stain removal are restricted today. They are considered too dangerous for regular use. A Department of Agriculture bulletin from 1923 recommended carbon tetrachloride, ether, and chloroform for stains. It warned the laundress to use care with gasoline, naphtha, and benzol due to their flammability. It suggested using them in a shady place out of doors and away from all flames. In today’s throwaway society, a stain that resists a quick spray of spot cleaner dooms the garment to the ragbag.

We take for granted that most fabrics are now colorfast. This was not true even fifty years ago. A depression era household hint suggests adding one teaspoonful of Epsom Salts to each gallon of wash water. This would prevent fading or the dye running in colored fabrics, according to “Ceresota Household Hints.” For the opposite effect, one could soak a printed flour or sugar sack in kerosene for 24 hours, add naphtha soap and water, then boil. If this did not remove the color, one could repeat the process.

The 1915 Housekeeper’s Handbook of Cleaning recommended that a good boiler have at least a copper bottom and added that the best boilers are of all copper. Copper was more durable and transmitted the heat better than tin boilers. ironsFor ironing, it suggested 1 eight-pound iron, 2 six-pound irons, 1 three-pound iron, 1 ruffling iron and 1 tiny iron. This assortment cost a total of $1.65 and cut down on wasted time waiting for the iron to heat on the stove. The various weights were needed for bed linens, ordinary garments, lightweight materials and baby dresses.

The handbook further suggested lining your willow clothes basket with white oilcloth. Without a paper or cloth lining, the willow could cause a yellow stain on damp clothes. A list of basic utensils needed to complete the laundry process included: 1 pail, 1 dipper, 1 dish-pan, 1 small bowl, 1 saucepan of about 5 quarts capacity for making starch, 1 teakettle, 1 case knife, 1 teaspoon, 1 tablespoon, 1 one-half-pint cup, 1 quart cup, 1 large wooden spoon. In addition one needed a clothes stick for stirring, a washboard, a rest for the iron, a sprinkler of some type and clothes-pins. It advised against the new patent type with metal on the pins which might cause rust spots on the clothes.

My father remembers his grandfather giving his bib overalls a nightly slosh in a bucket of cold water. He had two pairs and would not allow his wife to scrub them on the scrub board for fear of wearing them out. They dripped dry after a night and a day tossed over the clothesline, while he wore the other pair.washday-pixabay
The housewife of 1888 could consult her Farmer’s and Housekeeper’s Cyclopaedia for the proper way to wash a muslin dress, a cambric handkerchief, or prevent calico from fading. To clean a rusty flat-iron, she rubbed the heated iron first with beeswax. She then scoured it with a paper or cloth sprinkled with salt. My grandmother, Ruth McGhee, used waxed bread wrapper for that purpose in later days.

Wouldn’t she have loved an electric iron? A 1914 promotion touted the wonders of the electric iron. The advantages advertised were:
1. It does not interfere with the use of the cookstove.
2. It saves time and energy spent walking to and from the stove to re-heat.
3. It encourages a rapid rate of work since one accelerates to save on “current.”
4. One can work in a cool location, not needing to be by the stove.
5. One can iron at a convenient time, not just when the range is at its best heat.

The five dollar price may have made it beyond the budget of many households of that time. Another obstacle was the lack of electricity. For my grandparents living in rural Greenwood County, electricity was not available until the late 1940s.

In the fifties, automatic washing machines simplified the laundry process further. Powdered detergents claimed to eliminate stains and the need for bleaching or bluing. Electric irons were common. The household hint booklets still offered tips for easing ironing. One explained the steps for ironing a brassiere. “Iron toward the center of each cup, turning the brassiere on the board until each area is smooth and dry. Then iron the flat sections and the straps. Ironing everything, including sheets, was still time-consuming for the housewife.

My great grandmother, whose first home in Kansas was a sod house, would be amazed to see my laundry routine today. In between my other household tasks, I toss an armload of colorfast, permanent press clothing into the washing machine. After setting two dials and adding a cup of detergent, my work is done for awhile. Later I transfer the clean items to the dryer, add a dryer sheet to prevent wrinkling and static, then start the machine. A few minutes spent hanging or folding the clothing will complete the laundry process. What a change from the all day drudgery that my grandmother faced every Monday.

Nostalgic about washboards, sad irons, wash tubs? It’s not surprising that few want to return to that aspect of the “good old days.” Now and then, I admit to missing the fresh smell of line dried sheets and thinking fondly of bean soup with cornbread.

V is for Vases from Old Bottles

In 2010, Gail Lee Martin wrote this how-to article for the eHow site.

How to Use Old Bottles for Vases

Too much gets thrown away and dumps fill up then there’s no place to put all the trash. Here’s how to get more use from old bottles and keep them out of the trash. Give them new life while adding beauty to your home by using the bottles as vases.

Things You’ll Need:

  • old bottles
  • flowers
  • soap and water
  • GooGone (optional)

I have a thing about glass, especially colored glass bottles. Some of this might come from my father and grandfather, who worked in the Tyro Glass Plant in the early 1900s. bottles flowers pixabay

But my own memories of colored glass bottles began in the early days in the oilfields in northern Greenwood County. Most of the bottles we had were ones we saved after using the contents or were found at the camp’s trash dump in a nearby gully. My mother would pick wildflowers for bouquets to put in the dinky rooms of the shot-gun house we lived in at the Phillip’s Petroleum Company’s oilfield camp.

Mother had a tall brown bottle that she used for sunflowers, daisies, and cattails. Mother and I collected all kinds of dried weeds that looked great in this type of vase.


Photo by Virginia Allain

I think it was possibly a beer bottle but to Mother, it was just a unique brown bottle. Because of its height, you need taller flowers or grasses to balance the look.

She had several blue colored bottles of different shapes and sizes. A small blue perfume bottle was used for wild rose buds or the tiny, pale lavender sheep-shower blooms. The taller blue, flat bottles were so pretty filled with wild asters.

Some of the blue colored ones had contained Milk-of-Magnesium at one time. The Vicks VapoRub came in a squat, blue jar with a wide mouth. I loved to float blossoms in them. My parents grew hollyhocks and just one blossom would spread out across the top, completely covering the bottle except for the shiny blue bottom.

medicine bottles_Roxio brighter

Photo by Virginia Allain

For larger bouquets, Mother would get out one of her green canning jars that currently are so coveted by antique dealers. The opening in this type of container was much larger than most bottles. The long woody stems of the wild gooseberry with tiny yellow blossoms were spectacular in this tall green jar. When we set this bouquet on the library table in front of the south window, the Kansas sun shone through the glass adding sparkle to the arrangement.

Tips & Warnings
  •  Soak the bottles to remove the labels. GooGone helps to get off the adhesive.
  •  Wash the inside of the bottle.
  • The taller, slimmer bottles are easily knocked over, so put them where they won’t get bumped.




Gail’s collection of vintage green canning jars

Undaunted by the Microphone

Gail Lee Martin spoke to a variety of audiences from school children, to seniors, to other writers. She prepared her talk well in advance and rehearsed it. She selected her outfit for the occasion and went to the hairdresser as the event approached.

She prepared handouts and visuals to use. Below, you’ll see her giving one of these talks. I note how composed she looks and I wonder why I didn’t inherit that sangfroid. When I give a talk, I’m a nervous wreck. Preparing for a presentation makes me quite anxious.

Gail Lee Martin

Gail Lee Martin giving a talk

Looking at these photos, I’m trying to figure out the occasion. It’s not her Margaret Hill McCarter impersonation, as she wore a costume for that. It’s not her author talk, as her books are not on display.

It might be some sort of presentation at a historical museum, possibly in Eureka. That’s the Greenwood County history that she’s holding up. She wrote some of the essays for it on the Martin and the McGhee families. The framed photo on the table shows Prairie Belle school which her husband, Clyde Martin, attended as a child.

2013-01-29 gail and ks photos 007

Gail and the Greenwood County history book

Other talks that she gave included the Rosemary Hour at the Kansas Authors Club annual convention. It honored Kansas authors who had passed away in the last year. She was the archivist for KAC for over 10 years.

Gail also gave talks about the history of aprons which was a popular presentation at senior centers and nursing homes. For a number of years, she led classes in memory writing at the Shepherd Center in Wichita.

I wish I had video recordings of some of these talks.

T is for Tornado Memories

Gail Martin saved not just her own memories of early days, but collected memories from her aunts and extended family as well. This is one she inspired her Aunt Bertha McGhee to write and send to ‘The Golden Years‘ magazine for East Central Kansas for Aging.   She was so pleased they published this March 1994.

In 1932, when they had the WPA, I worked for a year as a caseworker in Chase County. Once I was caught in a tornado and got stuck in a ditch.

The tornado, whose funnel cloud we could see north of us, picked up a farm house and set it back down on the other side of the barn with the lady of the house inside.

She said that when things settled down she found herself under the dining room table, in shock but unhurt. Her husband was in the barn and he and the animals were all OK. Outside the trees were stripped of all their leaves till they were as bare as December
even though it was summer.

Down the road about a quarter of a mile, an old rural school building, that was being used for hay storage, was blown away and only fragments could ever be found.

The ditch where I was was an unbridged ravine that only had water when it rained.   The WPA did put a cement crossing there later but not a bridge because it was a
back road that didn’t carry much traffic.

gail and mcghee cousins aunts

Gail Martin in the blue shirt. Her aunt, Bertha McGhee in front of her. A McGhee family reunion.