My life has a superb cast but I can't figure out the plot.
~ Ashleigh Brilliant

Friday, December 24, 2010

Santa's Workshop!

Your patience while this busy page loads
will make a favorable impression on Santa.
I'm just sayin'. ;-)

Pssst... I hear from my inside sources that Santa has left his workshop for a bit. Last seen going into the North Pole Bar for a little fortification before his grueling journey tonight, he should be gone just long enough for us take a little tour around the workshop and see what he and the elves have been up to...

As I mentioned in this post and some of my comments on it, when I was 13 my mom (with some help from my dad) created a miniature Santa's workshop inside the wood case of an old mantle clock. A few years earlier when we'd lived in Norfolk, Virginia, my dad had gone for an evening bike ride around our neighborhood of older homes when he spied the non-functioning clock left out with someone's garbage at the curb. So he plucked it off their pile of trash and rode home with it under his arm, presenting it to my mother with the remark (as many people often did as they handed her odd objects), "I thought you might be able to use this for something with your miniatures." Immediately mom thought the case would be perfect for a Santa's workshop (that's just how her brain worked), but she didn't start on it for a few more years. Meanwhile, though, she gathered illustrations of Santa's workshop from magazines and Christmas cards for ideas and inspiration.

But real inspiration came a couple of moves and a few years later, goosed by the nagging of my friends and the littler kids in our neighborhood whom she'd made the mistake of telling about her Santa's workshop plans. They were relentless (and to be honest, so was I) in their questioning, begging and cajoling. Probably to shut us all up, she and dad completed it in secret, and I only found out when I discovered it as my main gift under the tree on Christmas morning. Now, the Santa's workshop is undeniably awesome, but getting it as my main Christmas present dissipated much of the thrill. Thirteen was a long time ago, but I remember pretty clearly wanting cool clothes, jewelry, record albums and a bean bag chair (it was 1975, after all). A miniature Santa's workshop had never been remotely considered for a spot on my wish list. It took many years for me to come around and fully appreciate it (once I'd left home I didn't even take possession of it until I was in my 30's!) All the kids on our block, on the other hand, were utterly delighted. Of course they could afford to be, I'm sure they all got 10-speed bikes for Christmas! ;-)

This year we performed some electrical repairs and other maintenance on it and it's now proudly displayed in our refurbished living room, surrounded by a few... what else? Santas...

(Eeek! Creepy Santa's back!)

The original mantel clock case was dark brown and had a single door on the back that provided access to the clock's springs, gears and other inner workings. My folks removed the clock innards, painted the case an antiqued red, split the back door and added another set of hinges and a set of doorknobs. Painted alphabet soup noodles spell out Santa's Workshop. :-) (Looks like a mouse might have sampled a wee bit of the W at some point!)

Mom originally had two miniature evergreen wreaths on the doors, but the dried air fern-type material used to make them disintegrated over time and I had to toss them. So this year I made these new wreaths out of green pipe cleaners and decorated them with gold ribbons and miniature gold bells (that actually jingle!)

Okay, enough of the babbling tour guide making you stand outside in the cold snow! Let's go in! Though it will cause this page to load much more slowly, the following photos are the originals. There is a lot of tiny detail and I wanted you to be able to see as much of it as possible as clearly as possible. So click on any of the photos below for a larger, more detailed version.

My dad electrified the case with two miniature lights in the workshop and another little light bulb in the top of the diorama outside the window (what used to be the clock's face), which Mom colored with a blue magic marker to simulate winter moonlight. The diorama itself is a Crisco can that Dad cut in half and Mom painted and decorated in a winter scene, then screwed onto the front of the clock case....

I like the soft glow of this one taken without a flash...

It's not easy to get in there with my camera and photograph this miniature world in closeup! One bit will be focused and clear, while a nearby bit will be blurry. So I'm sharing multiple interior views to maximize some of the clear bits. :-)

That, of course, is Rudolph, accompanied by a young friend, peeking in the window (which is what makes him a reliable source of information regarding Santa's trip to the pub!) Note the cottonball "snow" on the window panes...

This next one gives a clearer view of Santa's workbench. I love the tiny tubes of paint and paintbrushes, the candle in the windowsill (with an actual blackened wick, no less), Santa's coffee pot and mug, and the plug, plugged into an outlet, on the far right by the teddy bear clown. That plug actually goes to a miniature soldering iron that's not visible in the photo (no, it's not an actual working soldering iron, and dad didn't electrify the workshop with working outlets! Even my parents had their limits!) ;-)

And your eyes do not deceive you, that is my name topping the "Good Girls" list. Scandalous in its inaccuracy, isn't it? Santa had incompetent bookkeepers. ;-) Also on the list, "Joni" and "Patty," two of my best friends (and top "when are you going to finish Santa's workshop?" nags). On the "Boys" list are Chris, a boy in school I had a mad crush on at the time; Brian, another friend down the block (and subject of the "stringing popcorn" story I told Molly in the comments section of this post), and "Sweets," my nickname for Marty, the boy next door. (But since it was Chris I was infatuated with, he won the top spot on the Good Boys list!) If your name doesn't appear on the list, don't despair - the book may be tiny, but it's thick! (Just to be on the safe side, though, you should be aware that Santa and I worked out a deal in which he awards extra goodness points to anyone who leaves a fun comment on my blog. No, really! It's one of the percs of topping the Good Girls list!) ;-)

Before you start poking around the workshop to find the toys that most delight you, I want to tell you about the pair of skis. I made them in my 7th grade shop class as a surprise Christmas present for Mom that year. As I was pressing one of the skis to the disc sander to make it nice and thin, that fast-spinning wheel grabbed the ski and flung it across the room and I ended up sanding part of the tip and pad of my finger off instead. It bled profusely and hurt beyond words, and I was sent to the school nurse who insisted on calling my mother to make sure I was up on my shots. I was belligerent in my insistence that she spill no beans about how it happened. In my pain-addled brain, I guess I thought my mother would immediately figure out that if I'd been injured by a sander in shop class, I must have been making her a miniature. :-) Anyway, the nurse kept my secret, my finger flesh grew back, and the skis were both a surprise and a big hit that ended up in Santa's workshop, and so my gift to Mom ended up a year later in a gift to me. Huh.

I know she's blurry, but see the Raggedy Ann on the far left of the top shelf, next to the clown? Mom painted her and made her hair out of craft-type bread dough. Dyed it red and pushed it through a very fine strainer to get those yarny-looking Raggedy-Ann locks of hair. My family is seriously demented. LOL...

Uh-oh, I hear jingling bells, ho-ho-ho'ing and the tinkling clank of beer bottles, so Santa must be back! We'd better Dasher on out of here (reindeer humor, nyuck) before we're busted. I hope you enjoyed your tour of the workshop, and that Santa brings you the toy you love best! :-)

with love and best wishes from the gang at Chez Laloofah ~


  1. Wow, oh wow!! This is just too cool for words to describe, Laurie. The detail that went into this is amazing! I love that your name & the boy you had a crush on are at the top of the "good" list. lol You know, a friend of mine sanded off a good chunk of his thumb & finger when we were in middle school, but he did not get as lucky as you. They had to graft skin onto them. Ouch! I'm glad you recovered from that! I really enjoyed this post and seeing everything in close up. Thank you so much for sharing & happy holidays to you and the clan!

  2. Merry Christmas to all at chez Laloofah!

    This is captivating, really. I loved clicking on the photos to enlarge them and really getting a good look.

    The pipe cleaner wreaths are so clever! And that plug and electrical outlet is just too cool. The outside with the reindeer is really charming...sorry for the adjective overload, but what can I say? It really is something special and to think that your folks went into all that detail and did the work by hand.

    I love the ice skates....and the cottonball snow! So much to look at. I love the paddle board and the Jiminy Cricket doll. What fun!

    Your finger episode sounds super OUCH! I'm terribly afraid of power tools. The skis look perfect though!

    I can understand how at 13 you'd be a little disappointed in Santa's workshop being the main thing, but wow, it is ever a treasure!

    I hope he's well fortified for his round the world trip!

    Loved all the links too, and the links to all at chez Laloofah, except for Val, who must be on the shy side.

    Very Merry Christmas to all!

  3. Molly ~ I thought of you while I was working on this post because you'd said in a comment on my post about Mom's Victorian dollhouse furniture that you'd love to see a picture of the Santa's workshop. I don't know that I'd have even thought to put it on my blog if not for that, and I could hardly wait for you to see this post! :-) I'm excited that you enjoyed it so much!

    Ouch is right! That's too bad about your friend being so badly injured! Those disc and belt sanders can do some damage. When I was looking for the photo of a disc sander to link to, it brought up a lot of photos and YouTube videos of people's finger injuries from using one - some injuries a lot worse than mine way, and mine was pretty grim.

    Ol' Chris (of the #1 Good Boys spot) has done pretty well for himself - he's an associate director at the EPA. So if Santa changes his mind and leaves him a lump of Dirty Coal tonight, he'll probably get fined! ;-)

    Merry, merry and happy snuggles to the VDL Team, Molly! xoxo

  4. Rose ~ And a very Merry Christmas to all at Chez Dandelion! :-)

    Being able to click on those photos for a larger view is an indispensable feature on a post like this and I'm glad you took advantage of it!

    Thank you for thinking my pipe cleaner wreaths are clever, because that idea was born of necessity! I looked all over town for mini wreaths - in craft stores, floral shops, amongst Christmas decor and gift wrapping accessories - nuttin'! I couldn't even find any small fake greenery with which to make some. So I got online and found mini wreaths in the right size for sale, but I wasn't going to pay $30 (plus shipping) for two of them! Then I spied the green pipe cleaners in our crock on the hearth - we use them to clean between the exhaust fins on our pellet stove and thank goodness I'd bought green ones! - and thought, Eureka! And I happened to have the mini bells and tiny gold ribbon leftover from some past craft project, so I was able to get a festive exterior shot of the workshop without it looking all stark and bah-humbuggy. :-)

    I love your adjective overload! Adjectify on! :-)

    I wondered if anyone would spy those ice skates, I think they're so adorable! And did you see the black roller skates hanging by the window? The little paddle board is a bit of an inside - well, not joke so much - I loved playing with those things when I was little, but the elastic would eventually break and when it did, my mother would save the paddle and use it to paddle my butt when I was naughty! (Which I never was, as evidenced by my #1 Good Girl ranking!) ;-) I always thought it was an especially dastardly thing to do, to turn my own toy against me like that.

    I was awfully proud of those skis, and still am, actually! My shop teacher thought I was bonkers, but you already know that story - he was never going to be president of my fan club anyway. ;-)

    Yes, I can sure recognize now what a treasure the Santa's Workshop is. And it's especially fun to put out with the Christmas decorations, as well as to share with you all!

    LOL - I'm glad you enjoyed the Chez Laloofah resident links! :-) Val actually is a bit shy, but I do have photos. It's just that when our old computer crashed, even though all my photos were backed up on the external hard drive they're not nearly as organized and easy to find now. And I couldn't find one of Val before I had to get this post published and head to town this morning. So I will keep looking for one as time permits, and add a link for Val if I find a good one.

    Have a wonderful Christmas Eve, and I hope Santa is not so "fortified" that he can't locate your chimney! LOL

  5. So awesome, Laloo! I love look at all the little details. Thanks for pointing out the snow on the window sill - I would have missed that one!

    Merry Christmas from all of us at the VeganWheekers to you and yours!

  6. Laloofah -- a clock case found on the side of the road many years ago becomes a family treasure of stories and small things. What a loving gesture on the part of your parents, to make this intricate model of Santa's workshop for you. You are fortunate to have this fine piece of memorabilia -- an heirloom for sure. -- barbara

  7. VW ~ Thanks, Mary! There are a lot of little details to look at, that's for sure! :-) I know it can be hard to notice everything - there's an eyeful. And I thought the "snow" on the windows might be an easy thing to miss, and it's such a cute touch I had to point it out. I'm glad you enjoyed that little feature! :-)

    Merry Christmas to the you and the whole Wheekers family! Did Bert and Belle get a visit from Santa?

  8. Barbara ~ It is definitely a treasure and a special piece of memorabilia and I'm happy to have it. My favorite part of its provenance is probably the story of my dad finding that clock case. People threw away such amazing things in that old neighborhood that my dad made it a habit to go for his bike rides on the evenings before trash pickup. He brought home some beautiful old picture frames and wicker baskets, and once he found an entire peppermint striped swingset, practically new, just tossed out by the curb for the garbage collectors to haul away! (I ended up the lucky recipient of it, too!) He didn't bring that home under his arm, of course - some of his bike rides were just reconnaissance, and he and mom would go back later with our old VW bus after dark (not because it was illegal but because it was a bit unseemly and embarrassing!), to fetch larger items. My mom used to give my dad such a hard time about his trash recon bike rides. A distinguished Marine officer, rummaging through other people's garbage. LOL But he was the "use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without" guy, and I'm sure he was appalled at the waste on display, people just mindlessly throwing out perfectly good, useful and often somewhat valuable objects. It's a wonder he's not the one who thought up freecycling. He certainly did enough of it (and on a cycle, no less! lol)

    I sometimes wonder what the previous owners of that broken mantle clock would think of it in its new incarnation.

  9. Hello my friend, I wanted to stop by and wish you a Merry Christmas. Getting to know you better has been one of the highlights of this year.
    Hugs, Jennifer

  10. Merry Christmas Tex. How do I love your new profile pic...let me count the ways.
    What a wonderful post. I had no idea your folks did stuff like this. I can't imagine the patience. Wow.
    Thank you for sharing and pointing out some of the cool details. And of course for assuring me that my name is in that thick book with lots of pages.
    Hope you and BW and all the critters had a lovely holiday.

  11. I didn't see the other pair of skates! Seems like every time I look, I see something I hadn't noticed before.

    "Trash recon bike rides"...that sounds rockin'. Too cool!

  12. Sorry it took me so long to catch up on my blog reading, but thanks for the nudge since this is absolutely incredible! I remember seeing a miniature display in a museum in Chicago, I think, many years ago, but nothing that could come even close to this!! I don't think I'd ever have the patience to put in so much detail. And I can certainly understand not being that thrilled at 13--that was the year where all I asked for was a telescope (which I was lucky enough to get and could then see Jupiter's moons and Saturn's rings), and I don't think the miniature would have done much for me. Anyway, fantastic job on the photography as well and I hope you are having a fantastic holiday weekend!

  13. Jennifer ~ Thank you, Jennifer, that's a lovely thing to say! (And, um, did you happen to notice Santa's Workshop?) ;-)

    Susan ~ I know, I love that picture too and will miss it when I swap it out soon!

    And I'm glad you enjoyed this post! But actually, you did too know my folks did this sort of thing! I realize it's been thirty years (yikes!), but I thought for sure you'd recognize and remember seeing Santa's Workshop, plus Mom's dollhouses, general store, and her school house (decorated for Halloween), during all your visits to Maple Top! They were all displayed in the dining room, sunroom and living room. You and AdventureJo are the only two people who read my blog who've actually seen it in person!

    I'm glad you had fun seeing it again (even as if for the first time, lol) and enjoyed all the details. And yes, your name is somewhere in that thick book (not sure why Santa didn't list everyone in alphabetical order, but his arcane system is probably what's responsible for my name making the top spot so who am I to criticize it? LOL I take it you don't want to be called "Susie," even if it means you could lay claim to the name in spot #2? ;-)

    We had a nice, quiet Christmas and I hope you had a lovely one too. And that you're all snug and safe in that monster blizzard! (Can't wait to see some of your photos in the aftermath!)

    Rose ~ I know, the same thing happens to me, even after all this time! :-)

    Daphne ~ Thanks, I was looking forward to your seeing this! I thought you'd enjoy it, since you enjoyed seeing my post of Mom's Victorian dollhouse a couple months ago. That's funny you saw a miniature display in a Chicago museum years ago, because a Chicago museum is exactly where Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle is on display. I doubt that's what you saw, though, because it took miniature displays to a whole 'nother (vastly more expensive) level, way beyond a little homespun Santa's Workshop (but quite honestly, I prefer the modest scale and whimsical warmth of the homespun Santa's Workshop!)

    A telescope is a totally cool thing to want at 13! I'm glad you got it! Do you still have it? Because Jupiter's been looking mighty awesome lately!

  14. Yes, it was Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle (you have a fantastic memory--I sure don't), and yes, I do like yours better because yours has real life, spirit, I'm not just sure what, but it speaks to the heart and it is fantastic. Sometimes perfection turns cold (not that yours isn't perfect), well, maybe not exactly cold--I can't figure it out exactly, but it is the love and joy in yours that speaks to me. Anyway, for me, I'd rather have yours any day of the week!

  15. Oops, forgot to add that I no longer have the telescope, and now with my early to bed lifestyle (not to mention the cloudy skies here, and the fact that I'm not really an outdoorsy type) I wouldn't be able to see the planets anyway, but it was a great joy for a long time. But thanks for the link and Jupiter is awesome!

  16. Daphne ~ Thank you so much for your sweet comment about the Santa's Workshop vs. the Fairy Castle! I know exactly what you mean, I just thought I felt that way mostly because of my personal connection with Santa's Workshop. But I also love how personal it can feel for anyone else who sees it. Unlike Colleen Moore's castle, it's not the best that money and connections can buy and assemble - it's the best that creativity and love can produce. And that gives it warmth and charm that the castle, exquisite as it is, does lack. (Also, unlike the fairy castle, the Santa's Workshop is vegan-friendly since it doesn't contain a tragic dead mouse mimicking a ghastly polar bear rug!)

    It's too bad your skies are overcast so much of the time, because I was going to suggest you get another telescope and use it to stargaze while you're using your outdoor shower! ;-) (And I had to chuckle over your claim you're not really an outdoorsy type since you're the only person I know who always showers outdoors no matter the weather!) :-)

  17. I'll always go with the best creativity and love can provide--I like to think the same is true of my quilts--and vegan as well is a real plus! And yes, the irony of my love of my outdoor shower is that I'm not an outdoor person and would have thought I was the last to fall in love with this concept. Some days it is the only time I step outside and even at that I don't step far as it is right outside my bedroom door. I don't think the star gazing would work because it is really wooded in the first place, but even more since I'm rarely awake when it is dark (well, this time of year I am for a couple hours, but it is too cold!).

  18. Hey, TW.

    Now I can write you a tidbit about your workshop. What a treasure! The amount that went into it boggles my simple little mind ;-).
    Kavi loved it, especially the train, of course. Thank you so much for sharing.

  19. Spud ~ I'm so glad you and Kavi got to enjoy Christmas (and the Santa's Workshop) together! I didn't know he was wild about trains, and I'm glad there was a colorful one front and center! But then, what Santa's workshop would be worth its salt if it didn't have a train set in it?! :-)

    Thanks for leaving your comment, especially since as far as I know, Kavi was the only actual child (as opposed to all of us kids-at-heart) to see this post! :-)

  20. You have outdone yourself on this post! I checked out where Santa was hanging out while we were getting a peak in his workshop - Manchester England. I first thought Manchester NH and I was pretty excited about that. I'm just glad he left so you could take the photos.
    I know I have seen it in person but it felt like seeing it for the first time. It's so wonderful! I also had forgotten how much your dad had helped with it. I remembered he found the clock but didn't realize he did so much more. The diarama is wonderful. Your mom is such a great artist.

    Some of my favorite things in the workshop are Santa's sack with toys sticking out of it, I love that they put a toy (doll) in the bike basket, the bunny with the funny long ears is a hoot, and I think it's fun that all the toy soldiers are lined up on the top shelf.

    Of course you were on the good girl list! And it's good that Chris did so well - amazing you know so much about your high school classmates!

    Sorry to hear about the sander boo-boo. At least you are really happy with the skiis and got them back so it was probably worth it!

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful heirloom - I know it mustn't have been much fun at 13 but just think how useless those records and cute clothes would be now!!

  21. Jo ~ Yay, you finally made it! :-) I'm so glad you enjoyed it so much! It's absolutely one of my favorite blog posts, and it was a lot of fun to do.

    Perhaps you should write to the Manchester, NH chamber of commerce and suggest they imitate their sister city by getting a North Pole Bar there! :-)

    Dad was great about always building and electrifying Mom's dollhouse cases, and was really good at it. The Santa's Workshop was probably the thing they collaborated on the most, followed by a Bicentennial Christmas room they made for Ging and Nonno (Mom's folks) for Christmas, 1976. It was a living room that replicated the house they lived in when Mom was little, complete with a Springer Spaniel sitting on the hassock (where Mom's Springer Judy would always sit), actual family photos on the walls, and even a mini box of Whitman's Chocolates (my grandfather's favorites) that Mom made, sitting on the coffee table! Mom upholstered the furniture in a pretty red, white and blue fabric as a nod to the Bicentennial year. Dad built that case and did more sophisticated lighting in it than usual - recessed behind a frosted plastic ceiling panel, it had three settings - full light, ambient light, and night-light. Even the fireplace had a little bulb in it to make it glow. When I get up to Havre next time, I will get more photos!

    Mom was a fantastic artist (she stopped painting a few years ago). She could work in oils and watercolors equally well and has some gorgeous paintings. She'd signed me up for an evening art class when I was 9 with a French lady in Norfolk. It was all adults and I did a couple of pastel charcoals and one hideous oil painting and then was bored. So Mom took my place in the class and the rest was history.

    I love hearing which toys everyone notices and likes best! That bunny cracks me up too - those straight-up ears and that expression make him look ecstatic about his upcoming sleigh ride adventure!

    The only reason I know what became of Chris is that he has a very unusual last name, and one day I got curious and Googled him. Since he's a fairly big muckety-muck at the EPA, he was easily found. He went to college in Italy - the lucky sod! I have a photo of him taken at my going away party just before we moved - it's a hoot because it was 1977 and the hair and clothes are so amusing! :-) I should scan and email it to him at his EPA email. I'm sure that would make him thrilled to hear from me! LOL

    You make an excellent point about how useless those ridiculous clothes (gauzy batwing shirts and painter's pants - remember?) and albums would be now (well, vinyls are pretty valuable now, but I'm not sure how big a price I could get for Bachman Turner Overdrive or Terry Jacks!) ;-) I'm definitely happy in retrospect to have the Santa's Workshop instead!

  22. I meant to go look at new blog but have spent all of my time reading your wonderful replies to my posts. I'll only post on this one but I did check out the New Year's day comment too and enjoyed the added bit about BW the Safety man.

    I just had to say something on this one because "Seasons in the Sun" is one of may all time FAVORITE songs. Of course Terry was a one hit wonder but what a hit it was. I still have the song on CD and on my IPOD. Too funny.

    Thanks also for the additional stuff about your mom and dad and I won't say much about your oil picture. Perhaps "interesting" would be polite! :-) Of course better than I would have done but that's not saying much!!

    I'm glad this was one of your favorite posts - it was mine too!


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  • THE HUMANE GARDENER ~ Nancy Lawson
  • THE WORLD WITHOUT US ~ Alan Weisman

There is still strong in our society the belief
that animals and the natural world have value
only insofar as they can be converted into revenue.
That nature is a commodity.
And that the American dream is one of unlimited consumption.
There are many of us, on the other hand,
who believe that animals and the natural world
have value by virtue of being alive.
That Nature is a community to which we belong
and to which we owe our lives.
And that the deeper American dream is one of unlimited compassion.

~John Robbins, "The Food Revolution"

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