The Bell Mishap

December 9, 2010

Guest Post

by Diahann’s daughter Jenny

In introducing this blog almost a year ago, my mom alluded to the fact that my great-grandmother’s bells were “lost in a mishap.” That was actually a kind way of referencing the scrooge-like person that caused the bells to disappear and now, years later, for my mom to finally punish me by making me, a decidedly non-tech-savvy, non-blogger, pen this post admitting my responsibility for the lost beaded bells.

The beaded bells graced our Christmas tree for as long as I can remember, and were always some of my favorite Christmas decorations. At some point when I was in college, my mom stopped putting them on our regular Christmas tree as the bells made way for the collection of Barbie and NFL quarterback ornaments we accumulated. I missed the bells, though. To me, it’s the older, traditional decorations that really make it feel like Christmastime.

When I finished school and moved away, my mom gave me the set of beaded bells. She warned me that if I ever didn’t want them, I had to give them back—I shouldn’t give or throw them away (at the time I was a little offended by this—as if I would throw away my favorite ornaments?!).

For several Christmases, I decorated my own little tree with the beaded bells. Then I moved to a nicer apartment, where I had a storage locker in a securely locked room in the basement. Acting uncharacteristically for myself, I got all organized and placed my “seasonal” box down in the storage locker. Just to be safe, I put that box in the very back, and put additional boxes and bags of junk items needing to go to goodwill on top of and in front of the ornaments box.

I proceeded to forget about everything in the storage locker for nearly a year. Then one day a sign appeared near the mailboxes of my apartment building warning residents that there had been a rash of thefts in the storage lockers. I went to check mine out and everything looked okay at first. Then, suddenly I remembered the box of ornaments. Sure enough, though all my goodwill-bound junk was still there, the box of Christmas stuff—and the bag of Great Grandma’s beaded bells—were gone. Not only had someone broken into my locker, but they’d dug through everything until they found the Christmas ornaments and specifically took just that box. Who does that?!

I reported the theft to my building management, trying to stress the importance of the ornaments, but sadly the thief was never caught and the bells were gone for good. I remembered my mom had written a little note about the history of the beaded bells and placed it in the plastic bag with the ornaments. I wondered if the person who took them would have a change of heart after reading their historical importance, so I repeatedly checked back in the storage room looking for the bells to be returned—but no luck.

Feeling distraught about losing my favorite Christmas ornaments, and also not really wanting to admit to my mom that I’d allowed them to get stolen, I became a little desperate. First, I started checking Craigslist and eBay, convinced that the thief could be trying to sell these valuable antique ornaments for a profit. Sadly, they didn’t turn up. However, I did find for sale a kit for making beaded bells. As a sign of how truly desperate I was, I decided to purchase the kit, thinking that I could make my mom a replacement set (and hey, maybe even a set for myself also).

Unlike Great Grandma, and most of the rest of my family, I am not crafty. I really tried though. I spent several hours a night after work, trying to figure out the instructions, manipulate the teeny-tiny beads onto fishline, figuring out I completely misread the instructions 10 steps ago, undoing, redoing, etc. etc.

Finally, after about two weeks of evening working, my bell (yes, one bell) was done.

Not too shabby right? Wrong.

Needless to say, I had to confess to my mom that the bells were lost. I thought she took it surprisingly well (not knowing that she’d later force me to confess my responsibility to the entire internet). I’m happy that my mom has decided to make beaded bells, and that hers are looking much better than mine!

And somewhere out there, I hope that thief is actually using the beaded bells this Christmas, taking to heart my mom’s history note that was kept with the bells in the stolen box.



December 2, 2010

Chrismon Tree in Salem Lutheran Church, Owosso, MI, 2010

Salem Lutheran Church, Owosso, MI, 2010

Back in 1957, a woman named Frances Kipps Spencer, of Danville, VA., was looking to decorate her church’s Christmas tree in a manner more reflective of its Christian faith. According to this website, she asked herself “How would Mary celebrate Jesus’ birthday?”

Mrs. Spencer’s answer to this question was the Chrismon.

Chrismons—the name is compounded from the words Christ and monogram—are beaded ornaments depicting the names, life, ministry and nature of Christ. Designed by Mrs. Spencer, the idea soon spread to other churches and she eventually published five books giving instructions on making the ornaments and explaining their meanings.

Mrs. Spencer was close in age to my grandmother Ruth, and I imagine the two would have gotten along very well.

In fact decades later, Ruth and all her lady friends got a hold of one of those Chrismon books and spent a year beading ornaments for their very own Salem Lutheran Church in Owosso, MI.

A couple months ago I talked to Carol Hanchett, a member of Salem, and she brought up the Chrismons.

“They’re all we have on our tree,” said Carol, of their congregation’s Christmas tree. “They’re ornaments made of beads and pearls. I would think your grandmother made a good share of them. She was talented in making things.”

Unfortunately, Carol also said the ornaments are getting old and some “are in distress.”

Last week I called Salem and spoke with secretary Esther Matthies. She was so nice to take a picture of their Christmas tree and send it.

Isn’t it beautiful?

And, yes, she agreed the ornaments are showing their age. The plan is that this coming summer, several Salem ladies are getting together and beading new ornaments.

Isn’t that super?

Francis Spencer and Ruth Larson would be pleased, I’m sure.

Further information:

Chrismon books, by Francis Kipp Spencer, are available through Ascension Lutheran Church, Danville, VA.; on Facebook; and through According to Esther, Salem has the book “Chrismons, Basic Series.”

Here’s another interesting site on Chrismon-like ornaments. It’s an instructional site that also gives historical background of Chrismons used by early Christians. I don’t know if the ornaments in this site are the original designs as copyrighted by Ascension Lutheran Church, but they’re very pretty nonetheless.

Ruth Larson teaching macrame

“Under the fence, around the sheep, bring it through, and off it leaps.”

As a kid, I remember my grandmother Ruth saying some cute little ditty while trying to teach me to knit. Maybe it was something like the one above. Or maybe it was something different. Or maybe it was while teaching me to tie my shoes—another tricky endeavor involving string and coordination—and it was the “over, under, around and through” verse she was saying.


I eventually learned to tie my shoes. But learning to knit? Now that was another matter (and apparently I wasn’t the only one—see Terri’s comment).

The fact that Ruth’s grandchildren were losers with needles certainly wasn’t reflective of her as a teacher. She was, in fact, a very good teacher and she readily shared her love of knitting, crocheting, embroidery and any other needlecraft popular at the time.

When Ruth settled into small town life in Henderson, MI, (which we’ll soon learn about), she became active in many community projects. Teaching needlecraft was one of them. I perused archives from the area newspaper, the Owosso Argus-Press, and found lots of articles about Ruth Larson, the teacher. The photo above and an accompanying story are on page 9 of the July 10, 1975, archive.

Isn’t it cool that we can click around online and see all this info? (I just couldn’t figure out how to get rid of the yellow search highlights—sorry about that).

ArgusPress.February 4, 1978, Owosso, MI

This article is on page 5 of the Owosso Argus-Press, dated Feb. 4, 1978. Here Ruth is teaching a class sponsored by the Shiawassee County on Aging (SCOA).

Argus-Press.August 5, 1984, Owosso, MINot only was Ruth a well-known teacher, she was also a respected judge for the Shiawassee County Fair. This article appeared on page 7 of the Owosso Argus-Press in Aug. 5, 1984. Recognize any of these names?

Know anyone who took lessons from Ruth Larson? Pass along this blog and ask them to leave a comment. We’d love to hear from her protégés!

knitting baby socks

So, it’s getting to be that time. In just a few short weeks I’m going to be a grandma!

Am I excited? Such a silly question!

Yesterday we had a baby shower for the mother-to-be and, of course, she received lots of beautiful gifts. Many of them were handmade, which makes them all the more special. Seeing those beautiful knit and crocheted items reminded me of my grandmother Ruth. It also reminded me that nine months is enough time to grow a baby but not enough for me to master the fine art of knitting.

But I’ve learned more about knitting, which makes me further appreciate it. I love its history. I love that generations upon generations have been doing this same craft and passing it along to the next.

In the book “Knitting the Threads of Time,” author Nora Murphy writes of the oldest known knitting artifact—a sock from the 12th century that is now in Washington DC’s Textile Museum. According to her research, knitting originated in Asia and the Middle East, and then moved into Europe.

I asked Jan about Ruth and her knitting.

(Just a bit of sidetracking here: Jan is my stepmother, but I hesitate in using that label because she is much too dear for any negative connotations associated with “step.” When she and my dad married, Ruth was 92 and beginning to need extra care. My dad and Jan were there for her. And remember, Ruth is my mother’s mother—I think that makes my dad and Jan two very special people. How many men do you know who do their mother-in-law’s laundry?)

Anyway, Jan is a super knitter. She, more than any of us, can appreciate Ruth’s talent for needlecraft. When Jan was helping me start my baby sock project, she commented that I knit in the same style Ruth did. I was thrilled.

There are two main styles of knitting: Continental knitting (European, German or left-handed knitting) and English knitting (Western or right-handed knitting).

“Your grandma knit the European way,” says Jan, who also teaches knitting. “I would assume she learned from her mother and it would have come from Europe.”

Jan described those who knit in the European style as “pickers” because they pick up the yarn they’re holding in their left hand with the needle held in their right. On the other hand (note the pun), English-style knitters are called “throwers” because they hold the yarn in their right hand and wrap, or throw, it around the needle in held in their left. Jan feels the European style is easier as the knitter ages and her hands become more arthritic.

Jan also told an endearing story. Ruth spent the last two years of her life in a nursing home and once, when my dad and Jan came to visit, they found her sleeping. Jan said, even in her sleep, Ruth’s hands were moving.

“We who knit can understand,” says Jan. “She was sleeping and her hands were knitting. We could have put needles in her hands and she would have worked them.”

I’ve really got to learn this craft.

Socks I knit for my granddaughterSo here are the socks I knit for my granddaughter. My husband’s Aunt Claire (another knitter who should get together with Jan) helped me turn the heel. When I made it through that tricky part, I thought of my niece Bethany who told me she let out a cheer when she turned her first heel. Ah, we elitists who understand the true meaning of a well-turned heel.

I’m pleased with my socks. Except apparently I was a bit off on my yarn and stitch gauging. My granddaughter probably won’t be wearing these until she’s five.

Terri's afghan for the babyMy sister Terri is a talented needlecrafter and crocheted this beautiful afghan for the baby. I love the colors. The shower guests loved the scalloped edging.

Jan's sweater and cap for the babyJan knit this adorable sweater and cap for the baby. So cute!

The sweater Jan knit for the babyLook it these perfect rows of stitches! There’s beauty in such repetition. And aren’t those buttons the sweetest?

Here are a few interesting knitting sites. Please share your favorites as well!

Historic Knitting Patterns Interesting, old patterns as well as links to other historic sites.

Knitting How-To Helpful how-to videos and forum

The Purl Bee Beautiful photography and lots of interesting links

Age is a Relative Thing

April 24, 2010

So here we are, still celebrating birthdays. You know how each family has a month that’s just lambasted with birthdays? Well, years ago April was that month for our family. And because Easter often was in April as well, my mother would combine all the birthdays with Easter for a big family gathering.

Here’s a bulleted list of birthdays for you. I do this because, as a graphic designer, I’m skillfully aware that a vertical list of many items is visually more pleasing to the eye than a horizontal (how’s that for a shameless business plug?)

  • April 3:     Rebecca (my sister)
  • April 4:     Harriet Amos (my paternal step-grandmother)
  • April 10:   Diahann (me)
  • April 24:   Emma (Hornburg) Hooge Arendt (Ruth’s mother, my great-grandmother)
  • April 27:   Gladys (Gulick) Amos Klotz (my paternal grandmother)

April 24. That’s today.

And today was my great-grandmother Emma’s birthday. So today we’re talking about her.

As you know, Emma was born in 1884 to Charles and Wilhelmina Hornburg. As a young woman, she married Carl Hooge, a Chicago policeman, and together they had two children, Carl and Ruth. In 1917 Emma’s husband died, leaving her the single mother of an 11 and 8-year-old.

A year later, Emma married Rudolph Arendt and together they had a daughter, Charlotte. They were married 37 years before Rudolph died in 1955. Emma lived another 23 years, many of them residing with her daughter, Ruth, and her final years with her daughter, Charlotte.

Emma died in 1973 when she was 89 years old.

All of this seems rather factual and impersonal, doesn’t it? But the truth is, I remember very little of my great-grandmother. From my childhood, the only image I have of Emma is her sitting in a chair by the window. She lived with my grandmother at the time and whenever we visited, there she was sitting in her chair.

She sat. And sat. And sat. Besides needlework, I wonder if she did anything else?

You know, age and time are funny things.

As a young child in the 1960s, I thought Emma was a very old and ancient woman. Yet 25-30 years later, when I was an adult and Ruth had reached that same old age, somehow Ruth didn’t seem ancient at all. She certainly didn’t sit around in a chair all day.

I guess age is a relative thing. Children naturally think everyone is old. And for each generation, the average life expectancy and quality of life exceeds the one before it.

Ruth (Hooge) Larson, 1909-2006

Pretty in pink, here’s Ruth standing by her granddaughter, Cheryl’s, car. It’s 1997 and Ruth’s 88-years-old. Don’t let the cane fool you—she did pretty good getting to wherever she wanted to go!

Emma (Hornburg) Hooge Arendt, 1884-1973

Flashback to 1968. Here’s Emma (Ruth’s mother) sitting in her chair. She’s 84 in this picture. This is the same spot she was sitting nine years earlier…

Emma (Hornburg) Hooge Arendt, 1884-1973

…in 1959 at age 75.

Wilhemina (Behrendt) Hornburg, 1854-1939

Going back even further to 1934. Here’s Emma’s mother (Ruth’s grandmother). She’s 80-years-old in this picture—this is the woman who had 12 kids!

So, of course, there’s more to Emma than her just sitting in a chair. What memories do you have of her? Can anyone fill us in? Please do!

Because this surely is of paramount interest, here’s an update on the bells: You’ll be pleased to know I’m keeping right on schedule.

Actually, I’m ahead of schedule (that’s because I’m approaching this like my job and I’m usually quite efficient when it comes to that). I’ve finished 12 bells: four gold, four silver and four red. I think I’m going to redo the gold bells, however, because they were my initial attempts and they’re not as good as I’d like. The fact that I’m saying this means I truly am my grandmother’s granddaughter and my mother’s daughter, because perfectionism runs deep in those genes.

So, how’s the bell-beading going, you wonder?

It’s going great. After eight weeks, I can now bead one of those babies up in a single evening. That even includes the intermittent breaks I take to do a few rows of knitting whenever I’m bored of beading. Ruth would likely shake her head at such a short attention span, but that’s what today’s required multi-tasking does to the brain.

I’ve adjusted the bell pattern a bit. I’ve also experimented with the monofilament line and beads. Monofilament is actually fish line, and I beefed up the weight of it compared to what Herrschners sent in their kit. Fish line at .0185 diameter thickness (20 lb. test) makes a nicely shaped bell but is still thin enough to fit through those tiny bead openings. And yes, I really need to take up fishing with all these rolls of line I experimented with.

I also wanted to step up the quality of beads. I explored various sources, but, wow, beads are expensive. Thirty-two beads per bell, times 60 bells…I’m back to the cheap, plastic 340-count bags at JoAnn Fabrics, Hobby Lobby or Ben Franklin. I like Ben Franklin, Oconomowoc’s selection best.

And here’s the thing about those beads—they’re migrating everywhere within my house. If any of you were foolish enough to allow your kids BB guns when they were young, you appreciate what I’m saying. Like BBs, these beads show up in the most remote and unexpected places.

Surely they’re breeding and multiplying.

I tried to capture the idea of beads multiplying by photographing them on a mirror. Instead, it turned out rather a mess. Actually, these bells aren’t that beautiful to begin with (it’s a craft from the 1970-80s, don’t forget), so coming up with good settings for them has been rather challenging.

Why the Blog?

January 21, 2010

Anyone who knows me or checked my website, knows I’m a bit ADD about starting projects and never finishing them. I have three other blogs that I fail to consistently update. I certainly shouldn’t be starting another one.

But I love blogs. They’ve become a wonderful representation of today’s society and will someday serve as a historical record of who we are. I’d like this blog to be a record of my grandmother Ruth. It’s for the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who knew her. It’s for the great-great grandchildren that will only hear of her.

Life just keeps going and going. It’s awesome, isn’t it?

Here are a few blogs I’ve bookmarked for various reasons. Some of them Ruth would have liked. Others, probably not.

The Pioneer Woman
This site’s really fun. Her stories are interesting, her livestock photos are beautiful, and her dog Charlie is ridiculously cute (I want a basset hound!). Recently, she’s even put out a cookbook. Okay, don’t check this site if you can’t separate idealistic from realistic. One peek and you’ll be saying “I want to live on a cattle ranch” and wondering how one woman can do it all. For sure, she’s paying some big money for that web site management (as I console myself).

The Purl Bee
This one reminds me of my grandmother. It’s one I’m sure she would have liked. To quote its site: “The Purl Bee is online journal of Purl, a shop devoted to beautiful materials and tools for knitting, sewing, quilting, and other crafts.” It’s a very pretty page.

Time of Grace
Here’s another one I think my grandmother would have liked. The tagline is “Straight Talk, Real Hope,” and Rev. Mark Jeske writes in exactly that manner. The Ruth I knew in my adult years was kind of like this blog. She saw things the way they really were. And God gave her the hope that everything would work out.

Vivir Green and Comida Y Copas
Of course, I have to list my children’s blogs. They’re super. Good design, good writing and beautiful photos.

Penelope Trunk
Talk about one bizarre lady, this woman is it (Penelope, not me. Or Ruth). I’m fascinated with her blog because: 1) She’s a marketing genius, 2) She’s a good writer—an example of the concise writing style necessary for today’s attention-challenged, online readers, 3) She’s a crafty instigator of conversation and argument. She elicits comments by the hundreds and they are as diverse in their opinions as the people who submit them. I like that.

The Julie/Julia Project
No, I’m not trying to copy Julie Powell and gain a book and movie deal (particularly since Julie uses the f-word a lot, and I never heard my grandmother use anything quite that severe). Nope, this blog is for family. But like Julie used a blog to keep herself on track towards achieving a goal, I want to do the same. I want to finish those bells (I’m up to three now, by the way) and in doing so, I want to memorialize Ruth.

Getting to Know Ruth

January 17, 2010

crochet afghan

When I think of my grandmother, the first thought that comes to mind is needlework. Knitting, crocheting, cross-stitch—you name it, she did it.

As a kid, I took this all for granted. Don’t all grandmothers knit endless supplies of mittens, scarves, sweaters and afghans for their grandchildren? And when those grandchildren grow up, don’t all grandmothers crochet lovely lace doilies and table runners to adorn their homes?

Well, my grandmother did. And no, I didn’t know the value of these treasures until I actually tried making them myself. I wish I paid more attention to her instruction when I was young.

As I’ve mentioned, Ruth was born in 1909.

She was born March 5, 1909, to Carl and Emma (Hornburg) Hooge. Her brother, Carl, was two years older, and, according to a Chicago Tribune article, they lived on 5340 South Wood Street in Chicago, Ill.

Ruth grew up, married George, and together they had two daughters, Carol and Judith. In the 1940’s, the family packed up their household and left the big city of Chicago for Henderson, Mich.

Henderson, Michigan?

Is that even on the map? Well, maybe on a county map.

Henderson was a pretty small village back then (it’s even less today). It was a blink of an eye, with only a country school, church, grocery store, hardware store, post office and feed mill (grain elevator, as we call them in Michigan).

It was here that George, Ruth and the girls started their new adventure. They bought the village grocery store, lived in the large apartment above the store (seemingly large to me, as a child) and supplied the rural townsfolk with food and a friendly smile.

Can you imagine the extreme change of lifestyle this must have been?!

George and Ruth kept this store for 25 years, and all the while she knitted, she crocheted, and she cross-stitched.

That was my grandmother. To start, anyway.

Also, just thought I’d mention: I’ve got two bells done.

1 Down, 59 to Go

January 7, 2010

Good news, I finished the first bell!

And it only took me three evenings. This is good to know because this means I can set myself up on a weekly schedule. Yes! I can do this!

While the bell is finished and doesn’t look too bad, it still leaves plenty room for improvement. All these tiny beads are a little hard to handle. I’ve spent years washing dishes, digging in gardens and handling sheep, and, needless to say, my hands aren’t exactly nimble or gracefully smooth.

So how did my grandmother make these things?

In the 1980s, she would have been in her 70s. Surely her hands were less agile than mine. And what about her eyes? How did she see to string the fishline through such microscopic holes? I mean, look at them. These are tiny, tiny beads!

Well, this is my first bell. I know I’ll get better with each one I make. There must be a system to handling the beads and I’ll figure it out. After all, I am Ruth’s granddaughter.

That was her name, you know—Ruth E. Larson.

And as I get better with each bell, we’re going to better get to know her.