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.

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.

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.