October 9, 2017

On Dying

I am sorry that this is so long. This is something I don't like to talk about but I've had enough inquiries that I thought it best to address it as I hate it when a blogger you follow ghosts leaving you to wonder how the story ended. People have been asking where I have been and if I've stopped blogging etc. The truth is, the past few years I've been really sick and I don't like to talk about it.



Getting sick started a few years ago and it was a slow process. My joints would hurt and I'd be tired. My hips always hurt. I was just getting old, it was nothing to worry about. College took up a lot of my time but I still was dancing, painting, writing, reading, reenacting and doing all the things I loved.

But my junior year things started to get weird. I was really tired despite sleep. I was stressed out but not excessively so. I was always a fairly good student but I was having trouble remembering things.

I failed a test and my professor asked me to come see him. He didn't understand how I didn't get any these questions right when I was discussing the topics in depth in class a day prior. He even added that my grade was statistically improbable. I would have gotten a better grade if I didn't even read the questions and just guessed.  I had a hard time explaining it either. My professors decided it was testing anxiety although I never had that before. I was happy to have some kind of explanation. I was functional by my recall of specifics was terrible.



But my memory got worse and worse. I once got stranded at school because I forgot my purse, phone and money and couldn't remember any phone numbers to call to get someone to pick me up. I was afraid to touch my hair because it would fall out in clumps. I went to the doctor. He didn't take me seriously.  He said I was just stressed and should start keeping lists. (If any of you know me, you know I'm an insane list maker. So this suggestion was ludicrous.)

Student teaching was a nightmare. My coop teacher had just had twins and needed some time off so I was more or less on my own. Standing that long started to become an issue. I had to sit or lean. I was excessively tired. It was stressful enough without the memory issues. I would walk from the back of the room to the front to write something on the board and forget what I was going to write on the way up. My spelling was terrible and I dreaded those occasions when I would stop half way through a word on the board because it didn't look right and I would have to turn to that slightly smug AP student to nod that my spelling was correct but I was so thankful they were there. By this point I knew there was something seriously wrong but I didn't have the time, energy or money to try and address it and the doctor before said nothing was wrong.

It's a horrible feeling to be sick and not know what's wrong. Over the next few years, everything got worse. I was too tired to spend much time at reenactments. I went from dancing every night to a couple times a week here and there. My hip joints hurt as much as ever. Reading was a nightmare. I reread every paragraph on a loop over and over again. I reread every paragraph on a loop over and over again. I reread every paragraph on a loop over and over again. I had so little energy, I did what I had to do and went home to sleep. My relationships with people were virtually nonexistent. Even my boyfriend stung me with "All you ever want do when I come over is stay in bed!" I learned a lot about photography at this point. Painting took too much effort but I could learn about photography in bed. 


I didn't just lack energy. I physically spent 18 hours a day lying on the floor, hardly able to drag myself to the kitchen to get something to eat. The bed hurt. Everything hurt. It was hard for me to do easy tasks like opening doors. I couldn't stand very long. I went to work and spent most of my days pretending nothing was wrong. Work was hard because my energy was so limited, I was always on the verge of tears. My friend's mom said I should go get checked for Lyme and I kept putting it off. I finally dragged myself to the doctor and was diagnosed with Post Treatment Lyme Syndrome, and later Hypothyroidism and Cushing's Disease likely brought on by the Lyme.

I'm not going to go through everything it took to get diagnosed and sorted out but it was so many doctors and doctors appointments. And TE$TING. Lots of TE$$$TING. It was hard to work and paying for all of my medical bills was killing me. I needed another job but it was virtually impossible. I thought knowing what the problem was would fix everything but it didn't. I stopped going to my doctors appointments because I didn't have the energy to make the appointments, find the doctors, fight with insurance. The medicine that was supposed to fix everything didn't do anything. I was spending so much money and not feeling any better.  It was around this time that my family found out what was going on. A childhood friend died from complications due to Lyme, she was getting hip surgery. My family was pretty adamant that I continue with everything although I had long lost interest in trying.         

I had to take pills. Lots of them. But this pill has to be taken without food, another with food, one couldn't be taken with calcium, one was calcium, some made me sick but I had to take them anyway, some didn't work and we had to try new things, most of them I couldn't pronounce. Almost all had some sort of negative side affects but that was only if I remembered to take them. Which I didn't. I still hurt and I still had memory issues. I was very depressed, still had no energy, could barely leave the house. It even became hard for me to carry the weight of my camera.

To go from someone who was used to being able to remember lectures word for word and the page numbers where I read a particularly interesting passage a few years prior who would make art, write, go hiking, camping, sailing. I was devastated. Who are you even after you can't do anything that makes up your very being? Looking at the shell of my life and watching everyone living theirs was SO hard. I watched friends dance and going out at night and I knew I couldn't do those things I took for granted. I let so many people down. I couldn't stay out long with friends. I couldn't volunteer like I used to. I'd forget to show up. And even if I went, what good was I? I wasn't much good physically and I wasn't much good in the way of conversation. I was good for nothing. It was so dark and I wanted to be dead. I felt like a burden on everyone. My only real connection to the outside world was through social media.

 I spent a lot of time dying and about a year dead.


I'm feeling so much better now. Whatever odd cocktail of pills I'm on seems to be working good enough and I'm getting better at knowing and working within my limitations. I still have my bad days and weeks, but I'm out of the house. Sometimes, I'm overly excited that I went out (please bear with me, it's like everything is new.) Even things I did for years are new. I'm relearning so much. The pain is manageable. I'm so thankful to everyone who has stuck through this with me! I hope to be blogging again soon!

September 17, 2017

WWII Era Tomato Soup Cake (You Read that Right) Recipe

Soup to Nuts Cake WWII Tomato Soup Cake


This was one of those recipes I came across that sounded so weird I just had to try it for myself. The recipe is called "Soup to Nuts Cake" but has gone by many names including "Tomato Soup Cake" and "Mystery Cake." The recipe first made an appearance during the depression but made a resurgence during WWII as a way to make cake without eggs and only using a little butter.

Similar recipes were advertised as holiday fare likely because they used a lot of sugar. During WWII sugar could be substituted with maple flavored syrup, corn syrup, molasses, honey or sorghum and all of these substitutions would be complimentary to the flavor of this cake.  

Tomato Soup Cake


Ingredients:

-1 Cup Sugar
-2 Tbs Butter
-1 can Tomato Soup
-1 tsp. Baking Soda (dissolved in the soup)
-1 tsp. Baking Powder

-1 Cup Raisins
-1 Cup Walnuts, chopped
-1 tsp Cloves, ground
-1-2 tsp Cinnamon
-1/4 tsp Nutmeg
-1 3/4 Cups Flour

Icing

-3 oz of Cream Cheese
-1 1/2 cups Powdered Sugar

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cream butter and sugar together and add soup. Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Pour batter into a greased cake pan and bake for 45-60 minutes or until it passes the toothpick test. Let cool completely. For icing, mix powdered sugar and cream cheese together.  

I ended up only making half of the icing and drizzling it rather than icing the whole cake-there's a war on, after all. I realized after I made my batter that the bundt style might not have been the best for such a chunky batter but it ended up keeping its shape quite nicely.


Soup to Nuts Cake WWII Tomato Soup Cake

I was hoping to bring this little mystery cake to the Eisenhower Farm event for our home front display and as a little adventurous eating for our company but a tragic, completely unforeseen event befell us. I forgot the cake in the freezer and didn't realize until we were halfway there! So this little hunk of mystery is going to have to hang out in the freezer until next event and I will publish a part 2 to this post "Fear Factor: WWII ration cooking edition."  


I thought I would include some of my favorite pictures from the event for those of you who couldn't make it out. Enjoy!













June 23, 2017

Easy 1940s Dress: Butterick B5209

WWII Dress Sewing Pattern B5209

I made this dress what feels like forever ago and am only now getting to review the pattern. A few months ago I had the chance to see some old friends that would be coming out my way for the WWII Weekend at Valley Forge (formerly Graeme Park.) I thought it would be fun to hang out with them for more than a day trip since I hadn't seen them in awhile and one of my local friends wanted to meet them so about 2 weeks before, we were convinced to stay for the dance. Now, I know what you're thinking: 2 weeks is not enough time for two girls to prepare for a dance. It wasn't.

We originally thought that this dress would be simple enough for us both to make one in time but it took a long time to find any fabric I remotely liked. Then the pattern wouldn't work for both of us and we didn't have time to do mock ups. My friend amazingly fit into the WWII Dress that I made a few years ago and looked fantastic so I only had to make the one dress. I've been working a lot and it was tough to find sewing time while everyone in the house was awake so I sewed all the way up to the minute I left, as per usual. :D


This patterns on the 40s to 50s cusp. It's easy in terms of historical clothing but 1940s stuff is always deceptively a bit difficult due to high end finishing techniques, small details or odd seams. The pattern itself is a little late for WWII but not excessively so. Similar patterns were popular in the 30s as well as after the war.

I was originally hoping to make the dress out of a light linen from my stash but I was a little short and after a voracious search I settled on this cotton fabric. I was hoping for something with a Hawaiian feel as I wanted to wear it as a sundress this summer.



If I was to make it again, I would probably insist on a lightweight linen or satin and I would definitely take the time to make sure it was properly fitted. It ended up being a little big but there wasn't much I could do about it during the time crunch. We never actually got a picture of me wearing the finished dress but I hope this picture of us having fun in the car on the way will suffice.



We had a great night and have both been having fun learning to dance to Swing since.  I later made this headband out of the fabric scraps. Haven't worn them together yet but I think it will be cute.

Forgive the frizzy hair the humidity here is crazy!
WWII Dress Sewing Pattern B5209

Hope everyone is having an awesome summer and I hope to be posting more soon!

April 8, 2017

Civil War Era Game: The Little Fortune Teller

I came across this fun little amusement in search for some Civil War Era games. This game is very familiar to those of us that played with those folded paper fortune tellers  in the 80s and 90s. It was published in Fireside Games (1859) among other publications.

The premise is very simple. You close your eyes, point to a number on the page and that number will correspond to your fortune. I'm going to have "A speedy proposal of marriage," and "See an absent lover." Uh oh! 

I thought I'd make a condensed version in case anyone wants to print it for use at reenactments. Right click and "Open image in new tab" to save the original size. The game will print properly on an 8.5" x 11"  piece of paper. 




via GIPHY

March 3, 2017

Civil War Era Bubble and Squeak


Bubble and Squeak was a popular, economic meal using up leftovers. The name comes from the sound the cabbage makes while cooking.  It was often served with a side of sausages or other meat or mashed potatoes. It was sometimes referenced as an Irish dish although there are recipes for it, and references to it, in British, Scottish and American books. It's origin is British although the dish is similar to Irish Colcannon.

There were many recipes for it in the early 1800s but by the 1860s it was ubiquitous enough of a dish that publications refer to it as if it was commonplace. Godey's Lady's Book published a recipe in 1862 for Buttered Cabbage "Boil the cabage with a quantity of onions, then chop them together, season with pepper and salt, and fry them in butter. It is rather a homely, but savory dish, and frequently used either with fried sausages laid over it or as an accompaniment to roast beef, and forms part of bubble and squeak."

James M. Sanderson listed a recipe for Bubble and Squeak in his Camp Fires and Camp Cooking, or; Culinary Hints for the Soldier, a book intended for Union soldiers

This is an old and favorite mode of getting rid of bits of corned beef among good housewives at home and can be advantageously introduced into camp. Any pieces of cold corned or salt beef that may be on hand should be cut into slices and sprinkled with pepper; then put them in a pan, with a little grease or fat, and fry them slightly. Boil some cabbage, and squeeze it quite dry; then cut it up very fine, and serve a piece of beef with a spoonful of cabbage, first seasoning it with pepper, salt, and vinegar.

Ingredients:

- 1/2 head of Cabbage (endive, or savoy recommended)
- Leftover Beef, sliced (steak or salt beef)
- 1 Onion
- 1 Carrot
- 1 Tablespoon Butter
- Salt and Pepper

Instructions:

Wash and chop the cabbage, onion and carrot. In a medium pot, boil the vegetable mixture until soft. Drain. Put a pat of butter in a skillet on medium heat and fry the cabbage, onion, carrot and meat until the edges are slightly browned. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with mashed potatoes and sausages.

Civil War Recipes Bubble and Squeak 1860s


Civil War Recipes Bubble and Squeak 1860s


Civil War Recipes Bubble and Squeak 1860s

Civil War Recipes Bubble and Squeak 1860s
Civil War Recipes Bubble and Squeak 1860s

February 5, 2017

The Citizen's Forum of the 1860s Conference!

Did you know there is an amazing Civil War Civilian Conference coming up? What's that? A change to hang out with some awesome people and discuss important topics like interpretation and learn new historical skills! This year there will be workshops on aprons and pineapple purses, but also vendors and lectures. It sounds like it's going to be an amazing time! Below is a guest post from the conference director Kristen Mrozek: 


Hello! My name is Kristen Mrozek, and I am the director of The Citizen's Forum of the 1860s, a non-profit conference here in Michigan. It will be held March 24-26. I'm a follower of Stephanie Ann's historical adventures (and the food...goodness the food!), and she has been so kind as to let me do a guest post. In keeping with the "Secret Life" theme, I give to you: "Secret Life of a Conference Director"

1. Glenna Jo Christen, my director-in-crime, and I are planning an educational display, complete with original artifacts of the 19th century. Here she holds up the famous sheer dress that inspired the many reproductions today!



2. A piece of hair jewelry from my personal collection. We'll have jewelry, perforated paper, and other pieces to study. 


3. Our smaller classes and workshops (Aprons and Pineapple Purses!) will be held in this room at Monroe County Community College. The vendor area will be right around the corner: The Dressmaker, Sullivan Press, Miller's Millinery, Lucy's Hairwork, The Victorian Needle, James Country Mercantile, and Ensembles of the Past...oh my!


4. Meg, Jillian, Jennifer, and I enjoying another educational opportunity-this one in New York. I learned many things about conference organization at Genesee Country Village; from table settings to classes, the staff and volunteers there are essential to historical preservation!



5. I find myself drawn to The Sawyer Homestead. It's in Italianate architecture, and nearly burned to the ground a few years ago when it was struck by lightning. Through careful fundraising and dedication, the house is once more restored, and will host our Friday night party!


6. I've met with many of the organizations in Monroe to spread the word about the conference. As of now, over $500 has been donated in scholarships from various people and organizations. Would you believe I was once afraid of public speaking?


7. I found a Confederate apron at the Monroe Historical Museum-I highly recommend a visit. Downtown Monroe is filled with little stops of learning along the way.


8. We really can't go someplace without having a bit of fun. Here we're at The Clements Library in Ann Arbor, the spot for our free seminar about the collection. The University of Michigan is my alma mater, so I sincerely love any trip to the town.



9. I made this perforated paper box with silk, cutting the design with a precision knife. I'll be publishing a book with designs/patterns the day of the conference!


10. This picture is a bit older, but it fully captures my attitude towards my spare time. I've spent the past 10 months working on this conference, and I operate either in full throttle energy or complete exhaustion. My grandma called me a "mover and shaker for a reason! I swear if you attend, I'll be awake.



Come check out the website to learn more, because it's going to be awesome and I'd like to see you there :)

January 25, 2017

18th Century Castile Soap: For Shaving, Laundry and Weight Loss


I've finally gotten around to making the soap I've been researching for the last few months! Castile soap is one of the most basic soaps out there. It was a common soap in the 18th century and is even still used today.

In the 18th century soap came in two forms: hard soap and soft soap. Hard soap traveled easier around the house but soft soap was cheaper and easier to make at home. Not all soap was home made; soap boilers manufactured soap in bulk and both hard soap and soft soap were available to purchase in stores by the pound. Soap boilers also worked as chandlers as the ingredients and processes were similar.

In colonial times, soap was made by leeching lye out of hardwood ashes. The lye was then mixed with a fatty acid, typically tallow, lard or oil. It was difficult to gauge the strength of lye. Mrs. Child stated in The American Frugal Housewife (1828), that you could test the strength of lye by seeing if the lye was strong enough to float a potato or egg.  Some 18th century books recommended buying it from a soap boiler, instead of trying to make it at home.1 The mixture was cooked over a fire and stirred until saponification took place. If hard soap was wanted, salt or unslaked lime was added to the mixture. The mixture was then poured into barrels or molds depending on the type of soap. Soap was then left to cure. Hard soap, like Castile soap benefits from a cure time of over 6 months.

Castile soap is a soap made with olive oil. It was sometimes called "white soap," "olive soap," or "Marseilles soap," the latter name describing the source of a large manufacturer. Colonists used this soap for everything from laundry to luxury toiletries.

Razor maker,  Benjamin Kingsbury, thought Castile was the best soap for shaving. "The best soap for the purpose of shaving which I have yet found ... is the Olive-soap, made with olive-oil by a person well acquainted with the process of soap-making, and who, in making it, had in view the vision of a thick and durable lather..."2 Many luxurious toiletries called for Castile soap as a base to hold fragrances.


Castile was also used medicinally. It was seen as safer than other soaps to take internally because olive oil was safe to ingest. One anecdote from a physician relates the treatment of a patient who suffered from "corpulence" and gout.

He began to take it July, 1754, at which time he weighed 20 stone and 11 pound...He took every night at bed-time, a quarter of an ounce of common home-made Castile Soap, dissolved in a quarter of a pint of soft water. In about two months time, he began to feel more freedom...his bulk was reduced two whole stone weight...3
Soap was also listed as an ingredient to make chocolate frothy and soap and chocolate was seen as a cure for rheumatic pains.4 Yikes!

I originally started looking into soap making because I read about the harms of antibacterial soap, many of which are now banned by the F.D.A. for causing problems with the brain, hormones,  immune systems and reproductive systems. On top of the health risk they also cause an environmental risk. After the soap goes down the drain, the antibacterials continue to kill, killing many healthy necessary bacteria and algae in our waterways. I was looking for a healthier alternative to use and ended up where I always do: Looking at what our foremothers were doing and found a perfect replacement. I didn't want to make this post a tutorial because soap making is dangerous and one post is not enough to teach the process but I will be making a post on how to make 18th century luxury wash balls using pre-made Castile which can be bought almost anywhere, so stay tuned for that!    




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1 Hill, John. A history of the materia medica. Containing descriptions of all the substances used in medicine ; ... By John Hill .. London: Printed for T. Longman, C. Hitch and L. Hawes, 1751

2 .Kingsbury, Benjamin. A treatise on razors: in which the weight, shape, and temper of a razor, the
means of keeping it in order, and the manner of using it, are particularly considered ... Vol. 9. London: Sold by the author, 1810.

The Critical Review, or Annals of Literature. Vol. 9. London: A. Hamilton, 1760.

4  Leake, John. Medical instructions towards the prevention, and cure of chronic or slow diseases peculiar to women: especially, those proceeding from over-delicacy of habit called nervous or hysterical... London: Printed for R. Baldwin, 1777.

January 1, 2017

The Pesky Colonial "New Year"

William Hogarth, 1755

There's something funny about Colonial dates. You'll see someone in a church record born on the 10th, but on their tombstone, it says the 21. This problem shows up frequently in genealogical research. People reason away the discrepancy:

They just didn't keep good records back then.
The church log must be recording the baptism date not the birth date.
The family but have misremembered the date at burial.
Birthdays weren't a big thing so they probably forgot it.
A lot of people couldn't read back then so their parents must have told it to them wrong.

The list goes on and on and these theories are possible but even if you ignore those pesky discrepancies there's still another thing that's weird about Colonial dates. Sometimes people double dated things. 1752/3. Well which was it?

Julian or Gregorian Calendars?


Much of this confusion is due to how people kept time. During the early 18th Century, most of the British empire was using the Julian calendar, a calendar of 365.25 days first put into use by Julius Cesar in 46 BC. But by the 1700s problems arose with the calendar. Most Roman Catholic nations were using the Gregorian calendar, which caused confusion in international affairs and the math was flawed so there ended up being a lot of odd leap years and religious holidays drifted too far away from their celestial markers.

In an attempt to reconcile the differences, the Parliament decided to change over to the Gregorian calendar in 1751/52. Confusing already? The Gregorian calendar was enacted in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. It was a calendar of 365.2425 days and reduced the number of leap years while aligning holidays closer with the lunar calendar.


Happy New Year's Day, Again


At this time, Parliament also decided to pick a standard date for the ambiguous term "New Years." Prior to 1752, New Year's Day could fall on March 25th, January 12th, or January 1st depending on what year it was, your location, and what calendar you were using. While most people generally accepted January 1st as the start of the new year, the legal new year was March 25th.

Sometimes double dating was to bridge confusion between the Julian calendar and the Gregorian calendar but other times it was an attempt to bridge the January 1st New Year with the legal new year, especially for dates written between the two. Sometimes both dates were written out full but many times were just written with a slash: 1751/2.  At the time of the calendar transition the designations O.S. (Old Style) and N.S. (New Style) were also sometimes used to eliminate confusion.




That's a Nice 11 Days You've Got There, It would be a Shame If Something Happened to Them 

Part of reconciling the two calendars meant losing days. The members of Parliament chose 11 days in September to eliminate.September 3 to September 14th didn't exist in 1752. If you think people get upset over losing an hour during Daylight Savings time you can only imagine the uproar losing 11 days caused. There was a whole lot of grumbling but little more than complaining happened. The William Hogarth painting (Above) shows a banner that reads "Give us our Eleven Days."
      
All these changes did cause disagreements at the time and have made it hard for modern day genealogists to keep in order. For instance, George Washington was born on February 11, 1731, before the calendar change. He celebrated his 21st birthday on February 22, 1753, despite having already been 21 for a year. It's clear how the calendar change could easily cause confusion with indentured servitude obligation, rent payments and age based inheritances. George Washington's tomb reflects the date change and lists him as being born in 1732.

Hope Everyone has a great New Year 2017 N.S.!