Monday, December 20, 2021

Have Yourself A Nostalgic Little Christmas

A Santa dressed in blue holding a white kitten. He is in the foreground, out of focus yellow lights are in the background.
According to people who keep track of these sorts of things, a big trend this Christmas is nostalgia.
Decorating and celebrating in retro ways seems to offer the modern reveler some comfort in the storm of current events. What better way to escape the inflation, social upheaval and pandemic that has colored all our lives than by retreating into an imagined time of good old days? In this blog, I have put together a smattering of Christmas joy ideas from the 1950s and 60s. I’ve chosen those decades because, frankly, I think they’re the most fun to replicate. It may be late in the season to do all this, but maybe do it next year, or pick a few
elements to embrace. 

A box of Shiny Bright ornaments, the original glass ornaments.
A photo from the 50s - it shows a woman in a blue dress and black heels in front of a heavily itself tree with lots of presents under it.
The Tree - You’ll need to get the tree right for a proper vintage Christmas. You’ll want  plenty of brightly colored glass ornaments (maybe even some bubble lights), and you’ll want to make some popcorn or paper chain garlands. If you can swing a toy train to put under the tree, that would be ideal. And of course, a must-have is tinsel – and gobs of it. Unfortunately, the modern tinsel made of mylar doesn’t drape as well as the old-school kind that was made of lead. They outlawed that stuff back in 1972. You could go for an aluminum tree; their heyday was from the very end of the 50’s until the mid-60s  (see my blog from last year for their story). If you go with the metal tree, you may as well commit to a color wheel as well (also super-fun).

D├ęcor -  Artificial snow spray was patented in 1953, and it was a big hit immediately.  After you spray some of this all over your tree, give you windows a good coating.. A word of warning, though: That stuff can be hard to get off surfaces. 

Many different types of nutcrackers.
Nutcrackers became a Christmas thing during the 50s. You could add one to your table or put it under the tree with the train, but really they can be as little or as big as you like and go almost anywhere. 

Although people don’t send out Christmas cards like they used to, you should prominently display any that you get. 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first aired in 1964, so that little reindeer was very much a part of pop culture at the time. Any decorations that he's a part of are good.

Santas on rockets vintage ornaments
Starting in the late 50s, the US and Soviet Union were in a Space Race that culminating with the moon landing in 1969. Anything that was outer space or astronaut themed was popular and this was when science fiction came into its own as an entertainment genre. So, add anything space-y to your theme to tap into the excitement that all the new science brought. Here’s an article on how to go full Space Age on Christmas.

A Santa doll with a thousand-yard stare
Santas, you need Santas. Santa ornaments, tabletop Santas, Santa door-hangings, Santa linens, Santa dolls – all kinds of Santas were popular throughout the 50s and 60s. And some of them were pretty creepy. For more Santa decor (some creepy, some not), check these out.A tabletop plug-in ceramic Christmas tree.

Kitsch is king in vintage decorations, so you have a great deal of leeway in choosing. Think rocking horses, Christmas villages, wreaths, tree toppers and wall hangings. All of these are available retro-style, extra-cheesy optional. Here’s some examples.

Food - If you choose to do an authentic mid-century Christmas, you should commit to mid-century tastes. So, out with the paleo or keto routine and in with relish trays, Christmas cookies,  elaborate cakes and even more elaborate appetizers, Jell-O molds and creamed onions. Or maybe not – here’s some menus to get inspired by. And don't forget the nut tray - it's the perfect accessory to your nutcracker because back in the day people would actually use them to crack nuts.

A Christmas gathering where they are offering eggnog from a punch bowl to the grandma.

Drink - I don’t want to portray everyone as drinkers in the 50s and 60s, but the culture of cocktails was strong. Cocktail parties and boozy poker nights were common, so a proper host or hostess had a well-stocked bar. But no IPAs or flavored vodkas – we’re talking scotch, vermouth and gin. And whatever it is they need to make a Pink Gin Fizz. And there was eggnog, of course. This was a special favorite of those that “only drank on Christmas”. Holiday punch (spiked or not) was also popular. Here are some excellent cocktail suggestions that would be right at home at any mid-century gathering. 

Dress Code -  After you’ve dolled up your tree and house, get yourself all fancy. In the 50s, one always dressed up for Christmas. So, gentlemen get the tie out and ladies, put your heels on (I think you can skip the girdle, though).

In a scene from It's A Wonderful Life, Donna Reed and one of the children are putting tinsel on a tree.

Music - Although it should go without saying, I'm saying it anyway - no retro Christmas would be complete without a soundtrack of  great mid-century Christmas crooners. Bing Crosby, Eartha Kitt, Perry Como and Dean Martin are some of my favorites but there is an abundance of goodness in Christmas music of the era.

Happy Holidays!

Submitted by Pam

Monday, December 6, 2021

What's This Bug? The Antlered Wasp.

Closeup of the Antlered Wasp on a green background
It’s Christmastime, and to mark the season I bring you the Antlered Wasp (Eucharitidae).  What these
guys lack in size (they’re less than an inch), they make up for with their large and dramatic antennae. These insects are known as Antlered Wasps, because with a little imagination, they could be itty bitty reindeer (although some people see their “antlers” as punkish mohawks). And while it’s entertaining to view them as tiny reindeer, you will not come across one of these wasps where reindeer reign, as they are tropical insects.

A tint Antlered Wasp on a person's fingertip
Antlered Wasps, like many other wasps, practice parasitism as a part of their life cycle. And they only parasitize ants, an insect that is often the aggressor in the insect world and not the victim. To put an even finer point on it, each specie (there are over 400 species) specializes in a particular species of ant. Here is a list of some of those pairings.

Child-rearing in nature is extremely variable, with some species providing long-term, hands-on care and other species leaving their offspring to fend for themselves. Antlered Wasps are firmly in the latter category. When the female is  ready to lay her eggs, she chooses a plant that is a favorite of ants, or one with an ant colony nearby. She lays her eggs and moves on; after a week to ten days the larvae will hatch. The larvae will then spend several days lolling about on the plant, getting their energy and nerve up, and (presumably) planning their strategy for the next step. The goal of the larvae is to infiltrate the ant colony, so the next step is to find an ant to take it into the nest. For this attachment to happen, most 
A ant queen on her nest with eggs and other offspring
Ant Queen and her offspring
Eucharitid wasp larvae depend on rubbing up against an ant and fastening themselves to it. If there are no available ants around, the wasp larvae will use an intermediary host that can get them up close enough to grab an ant. However, according to this article, the Kapala species in the Eucharitidae family has developed jumping abilities. Apparently, they will stand up on the leaf and jump down onto a passing ant. High diving larvae – nature is amazing.

Once a larva has found its Trojan Horse/ant host, it will ride it right into the ant colony. Ants are notoriously and intensely protective of their nests, so how do these larvae get away with this? It seems they have developed the ability to mimic the odor of the ant larvae. Scientists have observed that ants will avoid the adult wasps, a clear indicator that they view them as a threat. But, thanks to the aromatic camouflage, ants seem to not recognize the wasp larvae as different from theirs. 

Closeup of an ant tending to a newborn wasp.
Ant tending to a newborn wasp
Small black larvae moving along a nearly invisible filament.
Wasp larvae on the move
The camouflaged wasp larva makes its way, with the unwitting help of the ants, deep into the ant colony’s inner sanctum – the brood chamber. This may be the easiest part of their mission, as the wasp simply has to find an ant larva to attach to. Since a queen ant can lay up to 300,000 eggs a day, there is an abundance of potential hosts for the little wasp. Once attached, the wasp larva will begin feeding on its ant counterpart, but it eats just enough to keep them both going until the ant pupates. Once this happens, the wasp will finish off its host. The wasp uses this last bit of ant fuel to finish growing into an adult and will then emerge from its host. At this point, still helpful and unwitting, ants will feed and groom the newborn as they do their own. Eventually, the wasp will fly out of the colony and mate, usually right above the ant nest. 

Closeup of an Antlered Wasp facing the camera

Cartoon ants shouting "Arghh!" fearfullyThe life cycle of the Antlered Wasp could be adapted into a Mission Impossible type action movie. And be as unbelievable. Except this is an incredible true story.

Take Care. 
Submitted by Pam

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