5 Free & Fun Things for Kids to Do

Anyone who grew up in the 1950s will remember these summertime activities. There were no excursions to theme parks or money spent on activities. We kept ourselves occupied by playing in the yard or neighborhood.

  1. Catching lightning bugs – maybe you call them fireflies. Once it was dusk, you ran about the yard capturing these with your hands. Putting the captives in a jar turned it into your very own blinking lantern. I think we poked holes in the jar lid for them to breathe.Fireflies, Stars Digital Paper, Stripes, Stars, Fish
  2. Playing outdoor games – There were all sorts of games you could play with your siblings like “Mother May I?” or “Simon Says” or games that involved running like Tag or Hide-And-Seek. After we wore ourselves out with these games, we would relax in the shade for a while.
  3. Playing with the hose – If you had a lawn sprinkler, it was fun to run through on a hot summer day. It wasn’t necessary though, you could just put your finger over the end of the garden hose and spray the other kids. You didn’t have to go anywhere and you didn’t even need a swimsuit. Outdoors, Nature, People, Summer, Kids, Happy, Water
  4. Stretching out on the grass and watching the clouds – We looked for special shapes in the cloud formations and tried to imagine they were animals or people’s faces. Kansas has marvelous skyscapes with thunderheads that shifted and reformed as we watched.

    cloud photo, Kansas

    Cloud photo by Virginia Allain

  5. Pretending – After watching National Velvet on television, we spent hours pretending to ride our imaginary horses over jumps that we placed around the yard. Other times, we created a playhouse by stamping down the weeds in an overgrown area to form rooms. Of course, we could always resort to making mud pies and decorate them with the pokeberries that grew wild. The big leaves made great plates for our concoctions. (Don’t worry, we knew not to eat those.)


Vintage Paper Dolls

My mother was born in 1924, so she was probably a little old to be playing with paper dolls at the time that these were printed in the Sunday funnies. Boots and Her Buddies was a popular comic strip from that time. It ran in U.S. papers from 1924 to 1968 according to the Wikipedia article on it.

Someone had the bright idea to print these cut-outs of Boots to entertain the children. The character had quite a glamorous wardrobe. It was fun browsing the old newspapers for genealogy and discovering these.

BootsBoots Sun, Aug 8, 1943 – Page 22 · Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Arizona) · Newspapers.com

Boots - paperdollBoots – paperdoll Sun, Mar 3, 1940 – 30 · The Monitor (McAllen, Texas) · Newspapers.com

In the 1940s, Gail McGhee was attending high school and after graduation, working at Boeing Aircraft during World War II. Below, you see her with a friend, probably someone she worked with or maybe a friend from the boarding house where girls lived while doing war work.

I think Mom looks pretty spiffy in her suit. She’s the one with the dark hair.

Gail McGhee and friend in Wichita KS

Gail McGhee and a friend in Wichita, Kansas.

I think Mom would have made quite a cute paper doll herself. You can read more about her 1940’s years in these posts:

Some Background on This Blog

My mother, Gail Lee Martin, was 87 when we lost her. I started this blog to share my memories of her and now, over 500 posts later, I’m still finding things to write about her life, my childhood, and a general nostalgia for things of the past.

I self-published her memoir of growing up in the 1930s and she was so proud of her book and the prize that it won from the Kansas Authors Club. Her book is My Flint Hills Childhood: Growing Up in 1930s Kansas. Now that award is named after her.

Someday, I hope to put together some of these memories in a follow-up book and call it Gail, All Grown-Up.  

Z is for Zigzag

Remember rickrack? If that term doesn’t resonate with you, think back to the 1950s and 1960s when you saw zigzag decorative touches on little girl’s dresses.

Sometimes the rickrack was there just to pretty it up. It could also serve to hide the line where the hem was let down on a too-short dress. Often a dress was made to grow-into with an extra-wide hem that later extended as the child grew.

Rickrack appeared as an accent too for something like an apron. In the picture below, there’s rickrack on the pocket of the red apron and along the edge of the feed sack fabric apron.

aprons- rickrack pixabay

I did some quick research and found that it was used even back in the 1860s where it was called waved crocket braid. It fell out of favor for a time in the 1890s through 1910 as other types of braided accents were used.

Wikipedia says, “In America in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, rickrack was used to decorate feed sack dresses. These dresses were worn as everyday attire, and were constructed from the brightly colored and patterned fabric bags that animal feed, flour, and other goods were shipped in.”



Shelling Peas & Snapping Beans

peas pixabay

Perfect for a recipe of new peas and baby potatoes

Little things trigger your memories. Someone passed around a meme titled “Snapchat – the Old-Fashioned Way.” The meme’s picture showed a grandmother on a porch swing with a lap full of string beans. She was snapping the beans into the right size for cooking.

Next to her on the swing sat a grandchild who was also snapping beans. Several more children sat on the nearby steps as they listened to their grandmother tell a story. Their hands were busily snipping the ends off the beans and breaking the green beans into short pieces.

My aunt Cj Garriott commented, “Oh, this brings back great memories! Mother and I also hulled peas, sitting on the back steps. Occasionally, one or more would pop out on the sidewalk. Our dog Tippy would snap them up! Then one day mother caught him getting some off the vine. Daddy had to put a fence around the peas.”

string beans-pixabay

We didn’t need a knife if the bean were fresh and crisp. We also didn’t make the pieces this short.

Putting all hands to work was necessary if the family grew a large garden. Preparing enough beans for canning was quite a bit of hand labor. Over the winter months, we were glad to have Mason jars filled with vegetables for the eight hungry people around our big oak table.

Faultless Starch

starch adstarch ad Fri, Sep 30, 1898 – 7 · The Lyon County News and The Emporia Times (Emporia, Kansas) · Newspapers.com
I’m not even sure where I spotted this little booklet for Faultless Starch, but I couldn’t resist buying it and bring it home.  You can tell that I’m a true daughter of Gail Lee Martin who had a penchant for accumulating vintage pieces like this.

vintage box starch

I think our interest in history and in the way that people lived in earlier generations is shared by many of my sisters too. This has Kansas City on the cover, so likely I discovered it at a yard sale on one of my visits back home.

I wondered if the little booklet might have been included in a box of starch back in the early 1900s or maybe it was a premium that you sent in a box top and a dime to get. I found an 1899 advertisement in the Emporia Democrat telling that the small book was free from the merchant upon request.

Faultless Starch - 10 cents, book - free.Faultless Starch – 10 cents, book – free. Fri, Jul 28, 1899 – 2 · The Emporia Democrat (Emporia, Kansas) · Newspapers.com

It includes some advertising text and then turns to some stories to amuse the kids.

No Sticking Irons

“Housewives who use Faultless Starch are never troubled with irons sticking and burning or scorching their clothes or linens.

It is not necessary to use any preventive for sticky irons with Faultless. It is already in the starch — so is everything else that is necessary to make it a first-class starch.

Try it just once. Learn what housewives in millions of homes have learned in the last 35 years — that it is a “Faultless” Starch.”

Faultless Starch Company, Kansas City

001 - Copy (5)

The booklet includes a poem, some riddles (called conundrums), and some games.

002 - Copy (3)

004 - Copy (2)

005 - Copy (3)

006 - Copy

faultless starch booklet

The list of state flowers gives us a hint for the date of this booklet. Arizona is not listed and it became a state in 1912. I researched the company history and found this:


I’m not much for ironing and haven’t used starch for years but couldn’t resist checking to see if Faultless Starch was still around. It is, but in a spray can now! Our grandmothers would have loved that convenience.

A Is For Ads

For the month of April, I’ll be featuring tidbits about my mother’s life. The inspiration will be ephemera (notes, booklets, bits of paper from her files) and newspaper advertisements and clippings. I’ll put my subscription to Newspapers.com to work for me triggering topics from A to Z.

 bread graphic from Yeast Foam ad 1923bread graphic from Yeast Foam ad 1923 Thu, Jun 21, 1923 – 6 · The Madison News (Madison, Kansas) · Newspapers.com

My mother, Gail Lee Martin, was born in 1924. I’m sure at that time, her mother was baking bread for the family. They lived in rather remote areas of the Flint Hills in Central Kansas where one couldn’t dash off to the store for a package of store-bought bread.

The woman in this advertisement even looks like my grandmother did in her early years. Below is a picture from our family album of Gail’s mother, Ruth McGhee, feeding the chickens.

Ruth feeding chickens

Ruth Vining McGhee with the family chickens in the early 1900s. This is before the Rhode Island reds.

Mom talked about the family trips to town for supplies and selecting bags of chicken feed and bags of flour. They looked for colorful print on the cotton feed sacks. Her mother then used that fabric to make clothing for the family once the sacks were empty.

Singer sewing machine roxio

The Rest of the April 2020

A to Z Blog Posts

Vintage Bicycling

Each week I get ideas from a blog called Sepia Saturday. This week, their inspiration photo shows three ladies with their bicycles. You can see that photo at the end of today’s blog.

Immediately, I thought of my grandmother on her brother’s motorcycle around 1914. It’s such a unique photo that I’m sure I’ve shared it here before. My photos are from Tyro, Kansas.

Ruth Vining on Albert's motorcycle_edited

Ruth Vining on the Flander’s 4 motorcycle (photo from the Gail Lee Martin collection.

Closer to the example photo is one that I have with my grandfather and two other young men. It was merely labeled Albert Vining. I think the middle fellow is his future brothers-in-law, Clarence McGhee who married Ruth Vining. The fellow on the right is likely Jesse McGhee, the brother of Clarence McGhee.

albert and bicycle

The McGhee family and the Vining family lived across the street from each other. I don’t recognize the house.

Here’s the Sepia Saturday site where you can see what other bloggers shared.

A Gift for Mama

Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I remember Mama receiving gifts at Christmas time. Did I personally give her a gift? I just don’t remember but perhaps I can blame that on the many years that have passed and how self-centered children often are.

I searched for a picture of a slender, cobalt blue perfume bottle. The one that matches my hazy memories is Evening in Paris. Probably Dad got this for Mom rather than it being a gift from her children. I see the bottle alone is $20 on Etsy these days.

blue perfume bottle- etsy

As children living in the country, our only trips to town were with Mom, and we had no allowance or money to save towards such a present. Even though the price at that time seems modest by today’s standards, Dad was only able to afford a single bottle, not the gift set like this one I found advertised.

evening in paris adevening in paris ad Sun, Dec 17, 1950 – Page 183 · The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com

Right above the perfume ads, I noticed one for Old Spice aftershave. That was what Dad used. Probably that was his Christmas gift from Mom.

Perhaps at school, the teacher had us make a Christmas card for our parents or we might have made something from popsicle sticks.

Now it’s 50, even 60 years later. What would I give my mother for Christmas? I’d choose the gift of preserving family history. It was something she worked on for years.

I’m trying to carry that work on and want to turn it into something concrete, something she could hold in her hands. So far, I’ve created drafts of some family books and need to redouble my efforts to turn these into actual books. Mom’s not here anymore, so I wish that it was something I’d tackled earlier.

shutterfly prototype book covers

The Wooden Nickels

“Don’t take any wooden nickels.” This old saying wasn’t adhered to by Gail and Clyde Martin. They actively sought out wooden nickels for their collection which they displayed on their living room wall.

wooden nickle collection

Gail and Clyde Martin’s wooden nickel collection.

They had vintage ones and new ones too. Sometimes local businesses would print up some as an advertising gimmick. Gail and Clyde found so many that they wouldn’t all fit into their display cases.

wooden nickels - advertising

An assortment of wooden nickels

Here is a sampling of ones they picked up over the years.

  • Dalton Museum – Coffeyville, KS
  • Greenwood County Historical Museum – Eureka, KS
  • Pony Express Museum – Marysville, KS
  • Chamber of Commerce – Waterville, KS
  • Madison Kansas Centennial

Friends and family found some further afield and sent them to boost the collection. For their 40th wedding anniversary, their daughter, Virginia had wooden nickels printed for them to give to the guests.

anniversary wooden nickel

Their specially printed wooden nickel for their 40th anniversary.

I’m sure Gail researched the history of wooden nickels and found that the earliest ones go back to the 1880s and were issued at times of coin shortages. They became popular in the 1930s when the tokens were issued at fairs and festivals to commemorate the event. Merchants also issued them offering something free if the wooden token was presented in their store.

Have you ever found a wooden nickel?

My Little Old Rambler

My First Car


Remember the Rambler? I sure do. I had a small green one during my college years.

I’ll share my memories of that first car, the Rambler. There was a funny song from the 1960s about the Rambler – The Beep Beep Song? I’m guessing that already this song is playing in your head. 


Towards the end of the 1960s when I left for college, my father found a little Rambler for me to drive. It was used, but he was good at patching up old cars and I was grateful for the wheels, any wheels. That little Rambler carried me the 60 miles to college in Emporia, Kansas and back to my family in El Dorado on many weekends when I was homesick.

During the week at college, it mostly stayed parked since I lived just across from the campus in an old ramshackle, Victorian house. Every so often, I’d drive the Rambler to the public library when I wanted leisure reading that the college library might not have. It also ventured out to Pizza Hut and to the grocery store as well.

Ginger and Dad arriving in Chardon OH_2 green Ramblers_Sept 197

Ginger Martin and her dad, Clyde Martin – The green Rambler in the foreground.

When I finished college and got my first job, far away from Kansas, in Chardon, Ohio, the Rambler went with me. Mom and Dad drove out in one car and I drove the Rambler. They wanted to make sure I made it safely and found a place to live.

Tell me about your first car?