January 29, 2010

Is Homemaking a Lost Art?

I have a whole weekend off (if you ignore copious amounts of homework)! I hope to do a lot of the housekeeping that I have been putting off. Anyone who has been in my room knows that it needs a cleaning badly! I love having a clean room, it helps me think better and feel better and it looks better (I’m sure there are a million reasons why a clean room is better than a messy one.) I also have this problem: if I put something away, I will not get around to finishing it (such as sewing, knitting drawing, homework and other projects.)

Homekeeping is an art that has to be perfected for many years. Sometimes I feel like I am wasting away years in school (which for everyone who is in college knows is a complete joke,) when I should be learning the art of homekeeping to be at least a little more prepared in the future. I know some awesome homemakers (check out Curious Acorn in the sidebar) that leave you in awe and some homemakers who haven’t quite gotten it all together or aren’t interested in providing a home for their family and while they consider themselves “homemakers” are rather more like “housekeepers.”

I am astonished at how coveted homemakers were up until recently—somewhere around the time that children started hitting their teachers and the average age of lost virginity became 16. Things that children do in school is appalling and if our parents had done these things when they were in school, they would have been hit. Many parents today are more interested in working to pay for nice things rather than nurture their children and raise them in a loving environment. I was saddened by this comment on this site when a homemaker asked “Have I wasted 20 years as a Homemaker?” and one response was “The question: have I wasted 20 years of my life as a home maker? The answer is YES. Have you spoken to your kids lately? Do they have any respect for you? Does your husband? Unless you have had a job or have worked, I hate to break the news to you, BUT no one respects you.” What job is harder than homemaking? It seems like a worthy aspiration so why is it so frowned upon in American society? 

*Note: The first etching is from The London and Country Cook or, Accomplished Housewife by Charles Carter in 1749. Those chores look like a lot more fun in that clothing. I especially like the small details such as the bee skeps, the drying herbs, the rotisserie chicken and the little kitten in the kitchen waiting to steal fish. It’s a really cute etching.

January 25, 2010

Trip to Gettysburg

Yesterday, some of my Civil War reenacting company and I went to the Gettysburg Battlefield. Some of the guys went because, although they had been to the town of Gettysburg, they had never been on the battlefield! We took the opportunity to find out specifics of where our historical company would have been during the battle and the routes that they took.

It is amazing looking at the battlefield, pictures cannot convey the vastness and the distances. It was raining but no one really cared and we had a great time, although our feet were cold. 

During the fight on Big Round Top, this wall was just about as far as most of the 3rd Arkansas advanced. From this picture, you truly can't see how steep this climb really is. Many of the rocks on the hill are the size of cars.

The 3rd Arkansas had 479 men in the battle, It only lost 41 men directly, 101 were wounded and 40 were missing or captured.

We spent most of our time at Big Round Top, Andy read a few pages out of the 3rd Arkansas' Regimental history. It was really neat to hear about what our company would have been doing while seeing what they were seeing.

 This is a photograph of the "sharpshooter" position at Devil's Den. This was a confederate held position and is best known for the famous Alexander Gardener photograph of a dead confederate "sharpshooter." Most scholars agree that the photograph was staged, as many photographs were during the war. Many believe that the photographers moved the body to this location on a blanket to create a more dramatic photograph. Nothing indicates that that soldier was really a sharpshooter, he is photographed with a regular rifle.

Alexander Gardener commented in a book he wrote, that he saw this particular body and rifle a few months after the battle, still unburied. This was very unlikely as many relic hunters scoured the battlefield in search of souvenirs. The fact that the photographers photographed this body numerous times may indicate that most of the bodies had already been buried and they were running out of subjects. The same body seems to be photographed in both photos below.
*Note: The Alexander Gardener photographs are from the Library of Congress.

January 23, 2010

Fife and Drum: Complete Fife Fingerings

--> I've had a very musical week. Hopefully we will be getting some simple music together for some of the nights around the fire at Civil War reenactments. At the moment, we are just testing out instruments. Are they easy to play? Carry? Sound good with the other instruments? It's difficult but fun. Last Ridley Creek Reenactment, a harmonica and some bones made a very agreeable accompaniment to the civilian and soldier singing.

One of our Reenacting Company might even take up fife. During the Civil War, Companies were supposed to have 2 musicians, a fifer and a drummer. The company musicians played out commands for their company in a time before high-tech mechanical means of communication. The musicians played commands and "duties." A Duty is a collection of music associated with certain tasks, such as reveille and lights out. During the Revolutionary War, the British used the Scottish and English Duties while the Americans used the Irish Duty. The United States continued to use the Irish Duty during the Civil War.

Civil War Reenacting Fife MusicArmy musicians were a good way to relay commands to large amounts of men clearly.A good story about commands without a fifer comes from Abraham Lincoln when he first commanded a company of his own, during the Blackhawk War. It is told in the book Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, by Allen Thorndike Rice:

I remember his narrating his first experience in drilling his company. He was marching with a front of over twenty men across a field, when he desired to pass through a gateway into the next inclosure. " I could not for the life of me," said he, "remember the proper word of command for getting my company endwise so that it could get through the gate, so as we came near the gate I shouted : “ ‘This company is dismissed for two minutes, when it will fall in again on the other side of the gate !’”

*Note: The song H-ll on the Wabash is taken from The Drummer and Fifer's Guide by Bruce and Emmett  (1862). Many people believe that this book didn't see much use during the war but many parts of it were taken from Ashworth System of Drum Beating (1812.) The song is one of my favorites, The Purcells , a really good performing family PA have a really REALLY good rendition of it but for some reason haven't released it, (I've got some kind of demo-bootlegged CD or something.) Please go to their page and comment that you'd like to hear it and maybe they'll put it on for us.

January 15, 2010

19th Century Dancing meets 21st Century Dancing; How to Dance the Virginia Reel

Civil War Reenactor ball        My little sister (17) has received a permission slip for school dances. I remember those dances--they were gross! I really don't think myself much of a prude but some of those "dance moves" seemed like they should have been a private matter. I'm guessing that the dances haven't improved much since I was in high school; the permission slip included these rules:
" All students must pass a breathalyzer upon entering the dance. Every dancer must remain in the vertical position. Students are not permitted to bend over and hands may not rest on the knees or be placed on the floor. 'Grinding', 'Freaking' or any mimicking of sexual acts is not permitted. Front-to-back touching or grinding of genital areas to buttocks is not permitted. Students are not permitted to straddle legs or hips. Hands should be visible at all times and should remain on shoulders or waists only."  That's a direct quote--I couldn't make that up! (I don't even know what "freaking" is.)
     So I offered to teach my sister and her friends a few 19th century dances to dance during the prom. They are weird enough to want to. :D  Hopefully there will be a few slow songs that the dances will work with. I'm still deciding on dances but I bet everyone agrees on The Virgina Reel. 

Scanned Excerpt from The Art of Dancing by Edward Ferrero (1859):

Civil War Reenactor DanceThe Virgina Reel was an old dance by the 1860s and was popular in the 18th century. There are many versions of the dance but Ball decorum states that if you know a different version of a dance, you should always dance the version that is being danced at a particular Ball. It was first printed by Sir Roger De Coverly in 1685 and is said to be the most popularly used dance in period films. It is a good group dance because every guy gets to dance with every girl and no one is left out.  

If anyone wishes to learn Civil War Era dances, there are free dance lessons being offered at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA.

*Note: The first picture is of me getting ready for my second ball, a long time ago! Okay, a few years. I wish I had a nicer more period correct dress but that was all I could afford at the time. The bottom etching is from Harper's Weekly in 1863 and was drawn by Winslow Homer. It is an etching of the Russian Ball held in New York. 

January 12, 2010

Good Wives, Tender Mothers, and Careful Nurses

Revolutionary War Reenactor
       Sometimes at work (a colonial living history farm), people ask me if I would have rather been born in Colonial times. While I do admire the self-sufficient living style, the emphasis on family and friends, and the good morals that average people upheld, there's a whole world full of information and unpleasantness that seems to slip our minds when thinking of life in Colonial times. 
     One being the fact that if you get sick-and sickness back then struck hard- your mother is the doctor and if you are sick (and rich) enough to have a 'real' doctor come to you, it means you are practically dead anyway. If you break a bone, it will set however your mum manages to set it and if you survive, you will probably have problems with your limb later in life. 
     Limited food choices, male dominated households ( if a couple divorced any items belonging to the woman, even if she owned it before marriage, became her husbands possessions and their children were property of the father as well,) childbirth, and marriages of convenience are also things that I would not wish to experience.    

Excerpt taken from A Collection of above Three Hundred receipts in Cookery, Physick, and Surgery, By Mary Kettilby (1734) Pg. 28:  
I am a vegetarian and I know some people still eat this stuff, but I can't fathom coming home from working hard on the farm all day or laboring in the household to have my only option for dinner be something that we today mostly reserve for dogs. I try not to be a picky eater, but it's a 21st century luxury that I have grown accustomed to (perhaps too much, I love to cook.)  

Excerpt taken from A Collection of above Three Hundred receipts in Cookery, Physick, and Surgery, By Mary Kettilby (1734) Pg. 129-131: 

Revolutionary War Reenactor

Popping an aspirin seems evermore appealing... I can only assume less children feigned illness back then. Ale and woodlice? While I love the time period, I am often glad I am part of the 21st century.   

January 5, 2010

Valley Forge? Broken Cars and Asbestos

I won't go into detail, but I will say that our day trip to Valley Forge didn't go as planned. And yes, we did get the lecture on "what it costs to fix this could be a down payment on a new car." :D Valley Forge was the winter encampment site of George Washington's army in 1777. Andy and I like to go there on picnics and to take pictures. This is the only picture I got to take that day. 

As goods get cheaper to make and buy, we are constantly deciding whether or not we should get something fixed, or buy a new one. I think currently we have to take into consideration the amount of waste that buying new creates. Many people throw out their old things and never think twice about them; but these things create heaping piles of waste. Cell phones are constantly being updated and everyone probably knows one person at least who insists on having the newest cell phone or computer. This electronic waste can be recycled to a point, but many people just stick it in the trashcan. It also produces toxic chemicals when it is burned. Did you know that a lot of our outdated electronics (even those collected back by the manufacturers) are dumped in third world countries, where children melt them down (despite toxic gasses) to extract the metals to sell to foreigners for a few cents? There is a good photograph with this article on e-waste.

Waste wasn't such an issue in the 1700s because goods were relatively expensive. Things were normally cheaper to fix, so people fixed things until they were useless. People even fixed broken pottery that they used to cook with and eat with. Most products were made naturally and reacted naturally in the soil when they were discarded. The industrial revolution and the scientific chemicals created in the mid 1800s was the start of chemical waste. The 1870s started the mass destruction of natural resources which still continues today. People continued to get their electronics repaired up until the 90s, only recently has it been cheaper to buy new. 

Excerpt from the American Agriculturist (1870):

Mending Broken China, Etc.
              In the first place, take excellent care of the pieces of any broken dish or vase. Do not handle the broken edges, or allow them to become dusty or greasy, but lay them carefully away, and do the mending as soon as possible after the breaking. The best cements often fail because the parts united by them are not clean.
            Another general rule for all kinds of cement or glue is this: Make the layer of cement between the parts as thin as it can possibly be, and yet entirely cover the edges. A very thin layer is much stronger than a thick one. Where the shape of the pieces will allow, rub the edges together after each has been smeared with the cement, so as to even and work it well together. Press very closely, and keep up this pressure (usually by tying the parts together) until the cement is dry. Those cements dry most quickly which are applied hot. If the directions with your cement say “hot,” do not fall short of it and only warm the pieces.
            An old and well-tried way of mending broken glass and crockery still remains in excellent favor, and is well worth trying by housekeepers who can get plenty of milk. Dishes badly cracked should be set away until they can be boiled in milk. Those broken apart should be tied firmly together, and boiled gently in carefully skimmed milk for an hour or so, Leave them together for several days before using, and they will be found almost good as new. The milk should be cold when the dishes are put in to boil, (145.)

*Note: The photo of the fox was taken last time we went to Valley Forge--we didn't get there this time. Valley forge has a lot of wildlife (most of it not so wild) deer practically walk up to your car and foxes normally aren't out during the day, but it does offer a place for beautiful photography and has a very nice museum and park rangers will give you free tours. George Washington's headquarters is a beautiful house, if you can get out there, it is worth a visit. Valley forge is also plagued with asbestos due to the chemical waste from an insulation manufacturing plant that was there from the 1890s the the 1970s. The infected areas are currently off limits but will reopen despite the threat due to the lack of funds to remove the contamination. You can see these danger signs all over the park.

A good article on this is Officials Explore Asbestos Clean-Up
More on Valley Forge National Historical Park 

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