When it comes to the Astiares, most people probably only associate Fred Astaire with Christmas, due to his roles in movies like Holiday Inn and Santa Clause is Coming to Town. But this holiday season has several influences on Adele's story that are mentioned throughout my book.
True to the historical fiction genre, the Christmas scenes depicted in book are based in fact but brought to life with fiction. I found very little about the Astaire's Christmas celebrations throughout the years, but these small pieces of their history allowed me to add a sense of time and memory to Adele's story.
Christmas in NEbraska
On the top floor of the grand Storz Residence in Omaha, Nebraska, a ballroom is named after Adele and Fred Astaire. When she was young, Adele attended a local dance school in Omaha, performing in recitals, including private performances at the Storz Residence. Since Fritz Astaire was an employee of the Storz Brewery, it was easy to imagine the family attending a Christmas celebration there where Adele would take center stage.
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK
"Fritz had pointed out the sound of music before they could even see their destination. Then, a turn in the road and a break in the trees opened up to the house itself, lit inside and out with hundreds of candles. It was a formidable sight, an enchanted castle of gray stone and high gabled dormers, and it made Adele think of the Beast’s castle—forbidding, but full of lively magic.The stark red roof still peeked out from under the thin layer of snow, and every one of the windows was aglow with of candlelight. The bay windows on each story of the house displayed lit Christmas trees, while every other window framed a holly wreath sheltering a single flame. Fir garlands of green and red were draped from the balcony balustrades, and Adele had taken it all in as a group of wassailers filled the air with familiar carols."
Christmas in New York City
At one point in my writing, I needed to stage a scene wherein a serious conversation takes place between brother and sister. Given the nature of their relationship, I had already written a couple of scenes featuring just the two of them, so I wanted to give the reader a glimpse of New York City, and imagined the quiet beauty of freshly fallen snow as the backdrop for what would pass between them. I was happily surprised to stumble across this New York City weather archive, which showed that the 1930 Christmas weather report for Christmas Eve was "3.9" of snow, which ended late in the morning on the 24th, provided a mantle of white for Christmas Day. This would be the biggest snowfall of the winter." The timeline worked perfectly to write a Christmas scene, and though the words are my own, this particular chapter will always feel real to me in a way that only the magic of a white Christmas can.
Adele also received a journal as a Christmas present from her father one year not too long after they had moved to New York City with their mother. That journal turned out to be the first of many for Adele, who was an avid journaler throughout her life. I made sure to include the influence of her journaling throughout the book, also using it as a tool to convey her inner thoughts in some chapters.
Christmas at chatsworth House
There is not a Christmas scene at Chatsworth in the book, but when I was searching for a way to show this great estate as the childhood home of Charlie Cavendish, I knew that referring to his Christmas memories memories there was sure to make Chatsworth feel more like home.
Chatsworth has a rich Christmas history. According to the Duchess of Devonshire, "The annual Christmas party for the school children is held in the Painted Hall and is as noisy and cheerful as can be. The highlight of the evening is the arrival of Father Christmas... [Santa] hides in the chimney of the huge fireplace guarded by four large men making a human screen... Eventually he emerges and hands out presents. Then off he goes, running along he gallery while 'snow' falls on the landing and piles of balloons float down. The performance never loses its magic" (Chatsworth: The House, 56).
I follow @chatsworthofficial on Instagram, and it was easy to imagine what Christmas must have been like for Charlie with the pictures they post of their annual Christmas Market and displays. I don't know whether Adele ever spent a Christmas at Chatsworth herself, but since she didn't return to the states in the time that she was married to Charlie, the chances are highly likely.
Family Christmas photo at Chatsworth, 1925. Charlie is to the far left.
One Last Christmas
Finally, in writing this post, I learned that Christmas of 1980 was the last time Fred and Adele were ever together in person (Puttin' on the Ritz, 400). They were close throughout their lives, and those last four days spent together over the holiday as Adele was nearing the end of her life must have been important to them both. Reading of this final meeting made me glad, in retrospect, that Christmas is featured in the book as it is.
Adele and Fred in Ireland, 1960s (The Astaires: Fred and Adele by Kathleen Riley, 242)
So let me just end by saying
M E R R Y C H R I S T M A S
from the desk where I spent these Christmases with Adele.
Original Post: March 2018
Matt and I recently came across a children's book called Where are all the Minnesotans? The back of the book reads, "In the Midwest, winter means freezing temperatures, shorter days, and piles of snow. For some, the logical response is to curl up under the blankets and hibernate until spring. But wait: where are all the Minnesotans? Outside of course!" And it's totally true. Everyone is equipped with a big jacket and trusty boots, so although the winter is long and we look forward to the spring, we certainly take advantage of the season.
This is our third winter here and it's been a right of passage. The first two were considered mild, and even we can admit that. So after three years, we can finally say with full certainty that we love it here without the caveat that we haven't had a real winter yet :) The funniest thing in my mind is that we've done more winter activities this year than we did either of the years before! Our first year here we went ice skating outside and fell in love with the idea of outdoor winter activities. Last year we got to participate in Bentleyville up North (meaning further north than here) on Lake Superior, and felt like that one activity had fully encompassed winter for Minnesotans. But this year, our coldest winter yet, we've hiked a frozen waterfall in single-digit weather, played in the abundant snow on multiple occasions, visited the Saint Paul Winter Carnival snow sculptures, and, most recently, meandered through an ice castle on a snowy day. And our Minnesota baby was with us for most of it- safely bundled and content as can be.
It has certainly been a bucket list winter for us this year, and the irony is that we could only enjoy these activities because of the cold- and it has taken a fair amount of determination. We went to the waterfall twice because the first time around the baby was too cold and my brother's phone died due to the frigid temperatures. We booked the ice castle several days in advance and ended up having to drive through falling snow to get there. But I don't really think about any of that when I think back on these adventures or look at these pictures- If anything, all of the extra effort shapes these endeavors into the beautiful memories that they are. Bundling up builds the anticipation, facing the cold adds a sense of purpose and excitement to every venture, and warming up afterwards creates a rewarding sense of accomplishment and contentedness. And that's why we love our winters in Minnesota.
Other Winter Activities
What am I missing?
Original Post: December 2017
How is it that a Christmas tree can continue to carry the childhood magic of Christmas long after you've outgrown the idea of Santa Clause or dancing nutcrackers coming alive while you sleep? I feel the same enchantment I felt as a child picking out the perfect tree and unboxing special ornaments. Christmas trees make wherever you're celebrating feel like home and family. They are Christmas morning memories, forever tied to the excitement and hope of unwrapping the perfect gift, and the peace and calm of reading by the soft glow of twinkle lights.
Every year when we set out to find our Christmas tree, I think of my brothers running around and playing hide-and-seek at our local tree lot. And even though it was just a parking lot outside of a Home Depot, it was still magic. Tradition has a way of doing that- making ordinary things remarkable. And this year, we think we found a new tradition for our family: Krueger's Christmas Tree Farm.
Not too far from our home, the Krueger family grows and sells their own Christmas trees every year. They serve hot cider, Santa makes regular appearances, and the atmosphere is straight out of an old Hollywood Christmas movie.
"How could you have Christmas without a Christmas tree?"- Kevin McCallister
And even though it was our first time there, it's the nature of Christmas to bring back memories and remind you of home and family. The timeless setting reminded me of stories my grandpa tells of when he had his own Christmas tree lot in Santa Monica, back when it only cost an extra 25 cents per foot to have your tree flocked, and when a tree wasn't a tree without tinsel. Grandpa sold trees to movie stars and hand-selected the 18-foot tree for the Beverley Hills Hilton Hotel Lobby ("It was a marvelous tree!"). I once saw an old black & white home video of Grandpa in Oregon loading up his truck with trees for his lot, and I felt I was a part of that too- that my tradition was his tradition and that our Christmas trees connect us in the same what that the Christmas spirit does with strangers throughout the month of December.
Dad, Uncle John, and Aunt Kim under one of Grandpa's Trees. Early 1960s.
Our tree this year is almost like our very own Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future- decorated with ornaments purchased this year with visions of Annie enjoying them for years to come, but also with ornaments from childhood and from Christmases each year since we were married.
"O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree,
Your boughs can teach a lesson
That constant faith and hope sublime
Lend strength and comfort
through all time."
We ask a lot of our little tree: Tradition, connection, home, family, Christmas. But ultimately, in our home, I hope it can stand with all of its meaning and be this reminder to us: "I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord." -Luke 2: 10-11
Merry Christmas from the Robertsons!!!
If you can go at night, I suggest you do! The bonfire and lights added a whole new element of magic to the experience.
Even in the freezing rain, we had so much fun picking out our tree, meeting Santa, and playing in the snow! And in spite of the weather, the place was packed with smiling Minnesotans (bundled up, of course :)
"If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more."
Emma by Jane Austen
Here's our Emma. She's always sweet and always hungry, and she won over her big sister in no time at all.
When it comes to baby #2, you wonder how your heart will make room for one more. You question if you can do it all over again and worry about what life will be when everything settles. At least I did, until the moment I met Emma and knew immediately that she was always meant to be ours.
Matt and I have a rule that if one of us sees something worth stopping for on a road trip, we'll always make time to pull-over. Once, several years ago, we were both struck by the miles and miles of sunflower fields that lined the highway as we drove through South Dakota. But we didn't stop. By the time we made our way back in that direction, the flowers had begun to fade, and we both held onto the feeling that we had let an opportunity pass us by. I think that's why we both agreed it would be worth it to drive nearly an hour to go see the Treasured Haven Farms Sunflower Field this past Labor Day.
I don't know what it is about a field full of flowers in full bloom. It didn't hurt that the weather was perfect. And although there were plenty of other people there, we could wade into the rows of flowers and feel almost like we had the place to ourselves.
It was about this time last year that I came across Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzakein and started to imagine growing fields of flowers of my own. Autumn Meadow Farm was always going to have a garden and a few animals, but I've started to dream of flowers too, my own addition to our little "someday" homestead.
I experimented with growing different flowers from seed this year, including Sweet Peas, Tulips, Zinnias, Cosmos, Snapdragons, and Larkspur, and learned a little bit about myself as a flower gardener and A LOT about flowers and cultivating them in my own yard. For example, Sweet Peas have the sweetest smell and DO NOT like to be transplanted, Cosmos take their time to bloom, and, apparently, Snapdragons and Larkspur prefer to be watered so they can actually germinate.
I'm interested to see if my tulip bulbs will survive another winter and flower again in the spring. The bulbs I got from Floret Flower, Erin Benzakein's family farm, are absolutely stunning. I was disappointed that they bloomed when the rest of the yard was still recovering from the winter, but it was a good excuse to arrange them into a bouquet and enjoy them inside. They lasted for quite a while too!
Annie has loved checking in on the "pretty flowers" everyday, and I have never appreciated new growth or fresh blooms more! But I think when it comes to Autumn Meadow Farm, I'll just pick a couple of varieties to focus on. Probably flowers that can also serve a purpose in addition to their beauty? Right now I have visions of Lavender and maybe Sunflowers. Until then, I have plenty of time to learn!
Here's what I love about reading: There will always be good books to read out there if you just know where to find them. I've used Pinterest, Goodreads, and even Instagram to find my next read, and recently my efforts led me to a New York Times Bestselling novel published in 1978 that had otherwise completely escaped my notice.
The Passing Bells Trilogy by Philip Rock starts out feeling a little too much like Downton Abbey. It honestly felt as if Julian Fellowes had created Downton based on Abingdon Pryory! And while I enjoyed Downton Abbey (and watched every episode), The Passing Bells could never be mistaken for a soap opera, as Downton often was. While there is romance and the development of beautiful, enduring relationships, that is not what these books are about. They are about real life, real love, and the effects of time and history. As you follow each character's experiences and point of view, they become real to the reader, representing not only a bygone time, but also the lives of the people who experienced our history firsthand. The writing is artful, and the descriptions, especially of wartime, were simply powerful.
The first book takes places during WWI, the second between the two wars, and the third during WWII. The author's portrayal of the Great War and the men who fought and died in the trenches was genuine and enlightening. I realized in those pages how little I knew about the first World War and how much my interest in WWII literature had overshadowed this important part of our history. Since I finished the trilogy, I've been learning more about it. I started by watching American Experience: The Great War on Amazon Prime (which I highly recommend) and reading a classic: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.
"This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war."
I am embarrassed to say that I'd never read Remarque's classic wartime novel before, and I think it is a mistake that it was not taught at my high school! Told from the perspective of young men who enlisted in the German army, I can absolutely understand why it is known as "the greatest war novel of all time." The author captures the terror or war right alongside the humanity of the soldiers. I've never read literature that so eloquently showed the devastating, needless loss of life or the hypocrisy of war and the stark contrast of trying to live life one day and fight at the front on the next. It's just an incredible, heartbreaking, powerful story, the kind that will change your life for having read it.
"He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence:
All quiet on the Western Front.
He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come."
I've loved Natasha Solomons since I read The House at Tyneford back in 2012 (a book I credit with getting me on the path of readership I am on today), but this book was something else entirely. House of Gold by Natasha Solomons follows a wealthy Jewish family (modeled after the Rothschilds) in the years leading up to and during WWI. I simply cannot imagine the amount of heart that must have gone into writing this book, especially concerning the treatment of Jews throughout Europe during the time period and the specifics of the money markets and political turbulence. It was so well researched that the characters truly came alive and their stories became real.