November 30, 2009

Tin Whistles, Penny Whistles, Irish Whistles and Fifes

           I have always loved the sounds of flutes and whistles. I learned to play the flute in Middle school and was so bad, I was asked to leave the band. I have to say, I don't like modern flutes as much I love tin whistles, Irish flutes and fifes. They have such an old-fashioned, simple, and romantic sound. The tin whistle is rather easy to learn. The fife and Irish flute take a little more practice of breath control but they both have the same finger positions as the tin whistle.  Fifes started to be used for military moral-lifting and for military commands in the 1600s and were highly utilized by Napoleon.  Tin whistles (also known as penny whistles, flageolets, and Irish whistles,) have been used at least since the 1500s. They were historically used by vagabonds and urchins in street performances but were not made of tin until 1843. By the 1860s whistles were popular children's toys and an adult amusement popular in Irish music.  

For those who wish to learn, I have charted out the finger positions and some simple songs to start out with. A lot of people have fifes and tin whistles but have never learned to play.

Some good resources to learn online are: 
Whistle Away
Whistle This (A really good site for hearing different renditions and playing styles that does not get updated anymore.)
Tin Whistle This site has videos on how to play.

Resources for Historical songs:
O' Neill's Music of Ireland This site is good because it has the sheet music as well as MIDI files to listen to.

 Old Fort Snelling Instruction Book for Fife With Music of Early America by Donald Mattson and Louis Walz
in whistles, but have never learned to play.

The songs I have diagramed are simple and recognizable tunes that everyone can learn easily. All of them were written before 1870:

Mary Had a Little Lamb is probably one of the most recognizable songs in American history. It was said to have been written by Sarah Josepha Hale (of Godey's Lady's Book) as a poem and later put to music. It was based a true story about Mary Sawyer who took her Lamb to school and the havoc that ensued. It was so widespread that Thomas Edison used the first stanza of Mrs. Hale's poem to test his invention, the phonograph, in 1877.  

Yankee Doodle  is said to originally have been written by British officers to mock the Colonial commanders that they served with during the French and Indian War. The Macaroni mentioned in the song refers to the prestigious Macaroni "Club" in England which consisted of educated, over-fashionably dressed lads with enormous hairstyles who were known for their drinking and gambling. In the song, the British made the remark that the Colonists were so low class that they thought someone who had a feather in their hat was of this elite high society.       

The Rising of the Moon, was written in 1866 to the tune The Wearing of the Green (1798.) The Wearing of the Green described the uprising  in 1798 in County Kildare in Ireland.Green was the color of the Society of United Ireland who wished to end British rule in Ireland. Rebels wore green shamrocks in their hats to proclaim their dissatisfaction with British rule.  

November 25, 2009

Facts Not Fiction: The First Thanksgiving Celebration

The time has come for cranberry sauce, stuffing and a lot of turkeys to meet their ultimate demise at the hands of millions of feasters. I personally dislike the holiday of Thanksgiving. The idea of giving thanks has been overshadowed by cooking and entertainment stress as well as eating so excessively that we feel we will “explode.” We can never give too much thanks. There is so much to be thankful for that it is silly that we pile it on one day a year. In the 1620s, Puritan days of thanksgiving were observed by—fasting! Fasting, while the exact opposite of what is done today, really would peel away the festivities to the heart of the celebration—to give thanks. We are all eternally indebted for everything we’ve been gifted. This year at thanksgiving, give true, heartfelt thanks.

Enough about today’s celebrations, what really happened at that “first thanksgiving” that we learned about as children? The story has been embellished and euphemized for so long that most of us have no idea what really happened or if it even really happened—it did!

When was the first Thanksgiving celebration? 
  • The first Thanksgiving celebration (Pilgrims and Native Americans) occurred in the autumn of 1621. 
 Who was there? 
  • About 65 “Pilgrims” from Holland, settled in Plymouth Colony and about 90 Native Americans with their chief, Massasoit from the Wamponoag village.
What was eaten at the first thanksgiving celebration?
  • Deer, Fowl, Corn, Eels, Muscles, Cod, Bass, Wild Turkey, and Wine are the only things listed officially. Turkey was only listed in the 1630s, about 9 years after the celebration.
How long was the celebration?
  • Three days of celebration and entertainment, although it is said that the “Pilgrims” killed enough fowl on their hunt to feed the town for a week. They did not eat for three days straight but had decent meals throughout the days along with other festivities such as music and games.
How do we know this?
  • There are only two written primary documents from “Pilgrims” that mention a good harvest feast in which around ninety Native Americans attended. Only one of them was written at the time of the feast, the other was a few years later. Both sources amount to about a paragraph each.
  • The first source is "Mourt's relation or journal of the plantation at Plymouth"  By William Bradford and Edward Winslow (1622) Reprint (1865).
  • The second source is Of Plimoth Plantation By William Bradford ( c. 1630) Reprint (1904).

     Thanksgiving as a National Holiday:
       George Washington suggested a day of thanksgiving in 1789 but it didn’t catch on. Thomas Jefferson deplored the idea. It was the efforts of Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale (of Godey’s Lady’s Book) who popularized the idea in her writings for 40 years before Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November would be an annual Thanksgiving celebration and was the first president to “pardon a turkey.”
              Most of our Thanksgiving traditions come from the Civil War period and a little before. Period soldiers' letters talk of how they missed cranberry sauce, turkey and dinner with the family. Turkey was said to be plentiful in New England and could have possibly been eaten at the First Thanksgiving. There are plenty of recipes for cooking it from that time period, but no "Pilgrims" mentioned it at the time. Cranberry sauce was certainly not on the menu for the Pilgrims (although the Native Americans ate cranberries in general.) The word "cranberry" does not even appear in print until the late 1700s and cranberry sauce recipes only started to surface in the 1840s. During the siege of Petersburg in 1864, General Ulysses S. Grant thought it was such a necessary part of the thanksgiving celebration, that he had it ordered for his troops-- something unheard of after three years of war food shortages. 

    A Recipe from Mrs.Sarah Josepha Buell Hale from Mrs. Hale's New Cook Book (1857.):

    "Cranberry Sauce-- This sauce is very simply made. A quart of cranberries are washed and stewed with sufficient water to cover them; when they burst mix them with a pound of brown sugar and stir them well. Before you have removed them from the fire, all the berries should have burst. When cold they will be jellied, and if thrown in a form while warm, will turn out whole," (252.)

    *Note, Image 1: "The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe.  Image 2:  Engraving, Library of Congress

November 21, 2009

Spencerian Ladies' Hand- Mid-1800s Handwriting Part II

This is a continuation of an earlier post about Spencerian Handwriting which can be found here. This post includes the uppercase letters.

Knowing how to read and write in the Spencerian style is fun but also helpful. I have found that being able to read and write in the Spencerian style has allowed me to read  old letters and the inscriptions in books and on the backs of photographs easily. It takes a bit of practice but it is worth the effort. Reading Civil War soldier letters isn't such a struggle anymore. I loved to read the letters before, but now I love it so much more. It is immensely helpful if you have to read any large amount of period writing at a time. It is a beautifully romantic script I urge anyone that wants to learn to give it a try.

This is the guide for lowercase letters in the Spencerian script.

Some tips on writing:
* Press as lightly as you can for the thin parts of the letters. Apply a small bit of pressure  for the darker parts.
*If your dark parts of the letters are not as dark as you need them at first, you can go over them again until you can do it naturally in one stoke.
* It helps if you mark out lines on the page in pencil to keep all of your letters straight.
*You can also print out guide sheets.

This is the stroke guide for writing the lowercase letters. Please forgive its blurriness, I could not get it any clearer.

Remember if you mess up there are two acceptable period corrections you can use:

1. You can “go with it.” Just leave it as it is, if it isn’t a big mistake, no one may notice it. If you don’t believe me, take a look at America’s most famous document: The Declaration of Independence.

Timothy Matlock for whatever reason messed up the ‘A’ in America. Millions have viewed the document and rarely do we see what is really there: “The Declaration of Independence of the United States of Жmerica.” No one really knows why he didn’t just use the normal round hand script ‘A’ every time he wrote America but he did for other words starting with ‘A.’ He also used a carrot to insert the word “only” as well. Don't fear mistakes, you may be the only one who notices. 

2. Cross it out with ink. This was done frequently in informal letters. In the 1800s a lot of things were still spelled as they sounded to the common people. Even the very educated made spelling mistakes. Accidental ink drops were fairly common too.
Another Example

*Note: The engraving is from The Payson, Dunton, & Scribner manual of penmanship (1873.)


November 18, 2009

Return From Ireland

The trip to Ireland was amazing. Mrs. Child was in fact correct when saying that travel is not cheap. We were greeted the first day, unexpectedly, with a bill of $32 for prepared eggs from the hotel restaurant. Needless to say, after that we shopped much more frugally.

Most of Ireland seemed to be stopped in time. Sheep and cow grazed in communal fields among Medieval stone ruins. Stores were open until six-ish and the food was fatty, hardy and heavy with the love of an imaginary Irish granny.  Below I've included two traditional Irish recipes for everyone to enjoy.

 Boxty (bacstaí) is a traditional potato bread from Northern Ireland. It was so revered in the Irish countryside that it was said that if a woman could not bake it, she would never get married, as was popularized by a poem, (“Boxty on the griddle, boxty in the pan, If you can't make boxty, you'll never get a man.”)

 A recipe for Boxty from a narrative in The Irish Penny Journal (1841)

Irish Boxty

       “As Boxty, however, is a description of bread not generally known to our readers, we shall give them a sketch of the manner in which this Irish luxury is made. A basket of the best potatoes is got, which are washed and peeled raw; then is procured a tin grater, on which they are grated; the water is then shired off them, and the macerated mass is put into a clean sheet, or table-cloth, or bolster-cover. This is caught at each end by two strong men, who twist it in opposite directions until the contortions drive up the substance into the middle of the sheet, &c.; this of course expels the water also; but lest the twisting should be insufficient for that purpose, it is placed, like a cheese-cake, under a heavy weight, until it is properly dried. They then knead it into cakes, and bake it on a pan or griddle; and when eaten with butter, we can assure our readers that it is quite delicious,” (314.)
A Modern Boxty Recipe

Another Version     

Potato and Leek soup, while not having the sentiments as Irish Boxty, was a similarly widespread traditional food was enjoyed historically in the country and is still served in restaurants today.

 A recipe for Potato and Leek soup from Good Housekeeping (1889.) (This is said here to be a German recipe, Irish recipes are virtually identical to this one except with the omission of the fried croutons.)
Potato and Leek Soup

"If leeks are not obtainable onions may be substituted. Cut in slices the white part of six leeks or onions. Fry the leeks in four tablespoonfuls of butter, and add two tablespoonfuls of flour and dilute gradually with two quarts of stock and one of water. Cut in pieces eight potatoes and cook them till soft. Strain the soup through a sieve. If you have used no stock add a pint and a half of milk, and when the whole comes to a boil in either case, whether made with stock or water alone, add two eggs well beaten into half a cupful of milk and a little butter. Pour into the soup tureen. Do not allow the soup to boil after the eggs are added. Throw in a handful of minced chives or of minced parsley just before serving. Serve fried croutons with this soup. This is a German recipe, and valued for its excellence,” (76.)

I'm sure many other Irish Recipes will follow these, when I am missing Ireland. 

November 8, 2009

Anticipation of My Trip

In less than three days, I will be on a plane headed for Ireland-- something I have always dreamed about, but never thought would come true. It still feels like a dream, it has not fully set in that I am really going. We have been planning the trip for months and it doesn't feel real now.  I am still really excited, although my excitement has been overrun by an unfortunate family quarrel.

Regardless, in honor of my trip, an excerpt from The American Frugal Housewife (1838) by Lydia Marie Child:
    "People of moderate fortune have just as good a right to travel as the wealthy; but is it not unwise? Do they not injure themselves and their families? You say travelling is cheap. So is staying at home. Besides, do you count all the costs?

    The money you pay for stages and steamboats is the smallest of the items. There are clothes bought which would not otherwise be bought; those clothes are worn out and defaced twenty times as quick as they would have been at home; children are perhaps left with domestics, or strangers; their health and morals, to say the least, under very uncertain influence ; your substance is wasted in your absence by those who have no self-interest to prompt them to carefulness; you form an acquaintance with a multitude of people, who will be sure to take your house in their way, when they travel next year; and finally, you become so accustomed to excitement, that home appears insipid, and it requires no small effort to return to the quiet routine of your duties. And what do you get in return for all this? Some pleasant scenes, which will soon seem to you like a dream; some pleasant faces, which you will never see again; and much of crowd, and toil, and dust, and bustle," (100.)

      In the interest of frugality, should I really be traveling? No, this money could be put elsewhere (college mostly.) It will be a much welcomed and appreciated vacation. It has also been a lot of hard work and we hope to have a lot of fun and a truly life changing experience. 

*Note: The engravings are from Moore's Irish Melodies (1866.)

November 3, 2009


        There is something to be said about the "Victorian"  views on economical  spending. Today  many people are confused  into thinking that we need the things that we really want. We may think we live meagerly but if we strip all that we own away, we realize that we own a lot more than the bare necessities. Life today also seems to require these unnecessary things. How would we get to work without our cars? How would we do our homework without computers  (almost all assignments must be typed these days)? How do we keep our jobs unless we dress in the newest fashions?
        In many  period publications, there are fictional stories about women who try to live above their means and how it ruins their lives. This happens frequently today with credit cards and loans, it has become so easy to live above our means. We really need to evaluate the things we buy and whether or not they are true necessities or not-- yes we are entitled to a few comforts (we do work hard for our money.) We should make sure that these comforts facilitate a better household and not destroy it. If no one in the family ever talks to each other because each is in his own room on his own cell phone and watching his own T.V. while sitting on the internet with his own computer, the family will deteriorate. Despite what we may think about relaxation and fun, there were ways to relax and have fun with the family before the digital age started. We should rediscover these activities.

  I am almost envious when I am reading period fiction and sisters are playing games together or sewing together. When a visitor comes, the visitor even if friends with a particular sister, joins in sewing or playing the games with all of the sisters. Today, one of my sister's friends would just prance right into my sister's room with her and we would not see either of them again for the rest of the night. I admit that my friends would do the same, but my sisters would not be interested anyway.

A focus on economy and the family instead of wants, will lead to happier people in the long run. Many people have thousands of friends on networking sites, are they as happy as the family who plays board games on Friday nights or the sisters who go to the local park on Saturday with a few mutual friends? Sometimes work gets in the way of being a family. Through frugality, we can strengthen our relationships by not having to work so many hours and by being creative as a family to have fun on a smaller budget.
        What if we focused on economy with the scrumptious nature that our predecessors did? Lydia Maria Francis Child said in the American Frugal Housewife (1831,) "Look to the grease-pot, and see that nothing is there which might have served to nourish your own family, or a poorer one." What if we were likewise economical even with things that are inexpensive? If the whole family saved usable scraps of paper for quick notes or grocery lists, we would not spend as much on paper specially for this purpose and help preserve the environment. Lydia Maria Francis Child suggests just this kind of frugality. Imagine how we'd prosper, economically and as families?

Note: The pictures are from Arthur's Home Magazine (1860,) the engraving is entitled " The Cottage Home."

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