19th Century Reality

“O my people, listen to my teaching. Open your ears to what I am saying. For I will show you lessons from our history, stories handed down to us from former generations.” (Psalms 78:1-4)

I tend to over-romanticize earlier times in history. Sure, there’s a lot to be said for a quiet, peaceful walk where no motorcars pollute the air, assault our ears with their constant rumble, and the threat of being struck down by one is non-existent. There’s something to be said for growing your own food, knowing where it came from, knowing what’s in it, and knowing how to preserve it for the winter months when nothing grows. There’s an art to cooking. Sadly, many in our society no longer take the time to learn that art. They’re too busy to slow cook anything; nuke for 3 minutes instead…and watch most, if not all, of the nutrition evaporate. And, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, the craftsmanship that went into everything! Today’s styles, whether we’re talking clothing, or furnishings, or even architecture, are–in my not-so-humble opinion–bland. There’s no attempt at individuality. Everything is churned out in a factory so that every house, every sofa, every pair of jeans is often identical to the next. The only difference may be that this house is blue and its neighbor is yellow. So, I lament the loss of such craftsmanship.

However, yesterday afternoon, I spent some time reading some of the literature in the herb garden “office”. “Office” because it’s really the basement to another exhibit, but it has been converted into a part-garden shed, part-gardening library and, yes, part-office. Some of what I read, I already knew but it was kind of sobering all the same:

Every family could expect to lose at least one child in infancy…mostly due to bacterial infections and viruses, of which infants have not developed immunity against and, of course, there’s no real hospital with today’s pre- and post-natal care.

Every family could also expect to lose at least one child before the age of 21 because one out of every five children never got the chance to grow up due to childhood diseases. I often criticize certain vaccinations–usually the flu vaccine and, in this case, I will continue to do so–but, while some of the vaccinations we received as children may cause some unpleasant conditions and/or side effects, they also save lives. I, for one, would not want to contract tuberculosis–what was called “consumption” in the 1800’s. Consumption was one of the biggest killers in the 19th century.

Diseases like malaria and cholera took the lives of hundreds of people each summer. When was the last time we heard of anyone contracting cholera? There’s something to be said for public sanitation, too.

Women between 20 and 45, their childbearing years, were always at risk of losing their lives in the birthing process.

Menstrual pain, PMS and menopause were treated with patent medicines. These were primarily alcohol-based “remedies” prescribed by doctors to suppress certain symptoms. And, as anyone knows who has had alcoholism in their family, sometimes the effect is not calming but the basis for more irrational behavior.

One could practice medicine without a license, without even a formal education. The herbalist in me says this one isn’t so bad. No, I don’t want a surgeon cutting me open without ever having received formal training to do so but I don’t mind being able to tincture a few herbs together and being allowed to call it “medicine” instead of “remedy” or “supplement”. However, doctors of the 19th century were of two extremes. Some were merely learned herbalists who, rather than just the more benign plants like chamomile, mint and fennel that nearly everyone knew and trusted, employed harsher herbs. One such fellow, Samuel Thomson, believed the body must first be purged of all ill humors and then heated up because he believed that cold was the enemy. So he prescribed, almost exclusively, first, Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata) to induce violent and copious vomiting and diarrhea (Lobelia inflata has since been proven to be quite toxic) and then followed it up with a heavy dose of Cayenne Pepper (Capsicum annuum). He was incarcerated for murder when one of his patients died but then acquitted when nobody on the jury panel could readily identify Indian tobacco. The other side of medicine in the 1800’s used mineral-based remedies like calomel (Mercurous chloride), which had pretty much the same effect on the patient as Lobelia inflata. Bloodletting, purging and blistering were other orthodox methods of “healing”, methods that often sped a patient on their way by further weakening the victim. Lastly, though surgeons were often quite skillful, even in the 1800’s, the risk of infection was great and I, for one, would not like to endure such surgeries without the use of anesthetics.

Lastly, as a woman, the 1830’s hold less appeal, not enough to taint my joy in learning the skills and donning the beautiful outfits of the time, but because I’m simply far too independent to leave myself at the mercy–or lack thereof–of my closest male relative for my care. There were strict boundaries between women’s work and men’s. There was little to no industry for women at all (though the rapidly-growing textile industry was changing this). A widow living alone, even if she could figure out how to manage a plow on her own, hired out for the job instead; that just wasn’t woman’s work and one might appear “unseemly”. I face some of this same discrimination today as there are certain “stations” within the museum that women are strictly prohibited from learning: tin smithing, pottery, coopering and blacksmithing are a few of them. These were men’s tasks and so, in an effort to stay true to the time period, modern women are pretty much denied these skills. (Funny how we bend that period correctness when women are needed to “clerk” at the store and for a Christmas program during a time period when Christmas would not have been commonly celebrated in New England…but that’s another post for another day…) What’s that old expression? “We’ve come a long way, baby!”

May God bless you & keep you!

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Higher Education

“I, Wisdom/Sophia, give good advice and common sense. Because of my strength kings reign in power, I show the judges who is right and who is wrong. Rulers rule well with my help. I love all who love me. Those who search for me shall surely find me. Unending riches, honor, justice and righteousness are mine to distribute. My gifts are better than the purest gold or sterling silver! My paths are those of justice and right. Those who love and follow me are indeed wealthy. I fill their treasuries. The Lord formed me in the beginning, before He formed anything else. From ages past, I am. I existed before the earth began. I lived before the oceans were created, before the springs bubbled forth their waters onto the earth; before the mountains and the hills were made. yes, I was born before God made the earth and the fields, and high plateaus.” (Proverbs 8:14-26)

I love learning. Sometimes to a degree that I feel like I’ve become a Jill-of-all-trades, mistress of none. And yet, what I do isn’t usually shoddy. Again, I just love learning. And I don’t believe you can ever have too much of it.

Working at a living history museum, I am finding another aspect of this new career that suits me even better than all the other facets of this position–I’m learning something new everyday. And it’s not just some odd trivia or fact. I’m learning skills that are almost completely lost from most of society and yet, less than 200 years’ ago were known by most, if not all. As industrialization and then, automation evolved, hand skills were lost. While I can appreciate the efficiency and economy of being able churn out X-number of wing nuts per hour, I have a much deeper respect and appreciation for the craftsmanship involved with doing everything–or almost everything–by hand. I say “almost” because by the museum’s time period (1838-1840), textile mills were spread all over New England…and housewives started putting away their looms.

The enormous loom in one of the buildings is, for me, the ultimate goal. I’ve tried weaving before…brief introductions from friends and the occasional exhibitor at the local fair or craft show. It’s been enough to wet my appetite rather than the development of any skill. But that will come in time. In time, I hope to have my own loom so that I may practice at home. How cool to give someone a new shirt or skirt and know that, not only did I follow the pattern and stitch it together, but I hand-wove the fabric it was made from and set the dyes as well. Or perhaps I purchased a couple of antique chairs at an auction that needed new seats and was able to sand them, paint them and add new caned seats to them so they’re like new. Again, these are fast becoming lost arts. If I can learn some of them well enough, I can also offer workshops to teach others. And then maybe the arts won’t be lost…not entirely.

But I have to know kitchens in the 1830’s, to know how to tend the fire, to cook and to bake on a hearth before I can learn spinning and weaving. And I’m all for it.

Last week, I spent three out of four days learning cooking on a hearth, as well as the histories of two of the houses at the museum; both of them routinely have cooking demonstrations. I also milked Bonnie, one of the red Devon cows that calls the museum “home”, in the hopes of possibly becoming a milk maid. It will mean traveling in an hour earlier on the days that I’m scheduled to milk but I think I can handle it. There will be a slow training/introduction to it before they let me loose to be solely responsible for each of the cows. And, as we approach winter, they will be drying off the cows. Springtime they will calf and then the milking will begin anew. Though there isn’t a specific class or training for it, working in living history, you learn the rhythm of life that comes from working the land, working in close harmony to nature. You learn which chores are appropriate to perform in which seasons, how to schedule your day via the weather. I.e. you don’t work the earth when it’s pouring outside lest you compact the soil. And candle dipping is done in cooler months or the tapers will never harden (or firm up) in the high humidity of summer.

Sunday’s cooking lesson had me grating cheese to make potted cheese (delicious!), and mixing the spices via a mortar and pestle; kneading bread dough; tending a roast (yeah, I know…the pescetarian; I hear it was good) over an open flame; making mulled cider using a red-hot poker to carmelize the cider and spices together; heating a beehive oven and learning to test it for readiness for baking by how long one can keep their arm in it before the heat gets overbearing (this is, of course, after the fire has died down and the hot coals scooped out, the only heat being what’s given off by the bricks. I managed a full 13 seconds); fresh-squeezed lemonade and apple pie from scratch.

And, on Saturday, I sat with a group of artisans who set up an exhibit in one of the public areas and tried my hand at lace making. I also put a bug in another lead’s ear about learning how to do netting.

I’m thrilled.

And I’m itching to try my hand at everything at once. While I can appreciate my own enthusiasm, I also know I need to reign it in just a teensy bit. I don’t want to just try it. I want to achieve some proficiency at these skills so that, someday soon, I can apply them here at The Herbal Hare Homestead.

In short, along with the more “formal” education I am receiving through Southern New Hampshire University, as I earn my degree in Creative Writing with an emphasis on Fictional Writing and two minor concentrations in Environmental Science and Illustration, I am earning another sort of degree. A degree in life skills that can only serve me well for the rest of my days.

May God bless you & keep you!

Eat Your Heart Out, Dr. Quinn!

“Look at the lilies! They don’t toil and spin, and yet Solomon in all his glory was not robed as well as they are. And if God provides clothing for the flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, don’t you suppose that He will provide clothing for you, you doubters?” (Luke 12: 27-28)

I’m not wearing a corset.

And, no, this blog is not suddenly taking a turn into vulgarity or salaciousness. I mean, really, to even mention an undergarment in the 19th century–the idea!

But the corset is the one thing missing from my more formal outfits issued by my new employer, which, by the way, would have been Dr. Quinn’s mother’s–or even grandmother’s–day as the museum is interpreted as between 1838 and 1840; Dr. Quinn rolled into Colorado Springs in 1870, I believe. However, masochistic individual that I am, I am itching to have a corset made…or get really adventurous and find a pattern to make one for myself. Of course, hooks and stays are another terminology, one that doesn’t quite send most ladies screaming for the hills in an effort to escape this perceived torture. However, is it any worse than the tight-fitting jeans of today?

I’ll take the corset any day over the jeans…

Yup. You read that right. I hate today’s fashions. Whoever decided that to be treated as equals, women should also have to dress like men, in trousers, as they were called in the day, should’ve been shot.

Did I mention that I’m also a few fries short of a happy meal?

Of course, I’m likely not any man’s version of “sexy” in the image below but I feel sexy and attractive thus attired. Four to five days out of the week now I feel oh-so-feminine. Would that such attire not get me some odd looks if I wore it every day…even when I’m not on the job. (Albeit, I would dump the white, frilly bonnet, rebel that I am…) Although, I think the people at my local Walmart are getting used to me already. I must stop in there at least 3-4 times a week for greens, for cat food, for whatever I forgot to pick up the day before on the way home from “work”. One of my “mentors” is beloved illustrator and author, Tasha Tudor, who dressed 19th century for all of her days. And it was her fashion sense, as much as her talents as an artist and writer, that really drew me in.

Hmmm…could this be a sign?

Okay. Before the men in white coats come to pick me up, I will say one thing. Dressing 19th century is comfortable. The corset might change that, but when I don these clothes, I feel comfortable and free, like I’ve just crawled into my own skin for the first time in my life. Wearing full skirts, and petticoats, and shawls, etc., feels natural to me. Almost second nature. So, why not go with it?

Again, I’d probably dump the white bonnet and let my hair hang loose. But, otherwise, eat your heart out Dr. Quinn! You’re not the only one who can look awesome in full skirts.

May God bless you & keep you!

Life and Death

“There is a right time for everything: A time to be born, a time to die…a time to laugh, a time to grieve” (Ecclesiastes 3: 2, 4)

Last week I blogged about the addition of Pat and Shelly to this little homestead. They are both thriving, running around, jumping on Taffy’s back. As they grow, I am more convinced than ever that they are NOT Taffy’s biological children. She simply had the deepest maternal instinct to sit on them until they hatched. There are five eggs still in her nest that she’s sitting on…along with the four chicks that peep and peck and dart around the cage, driving her to distraction.

Did I say “four”?

Yes, Pat and Shelly have been joined by Kelly and K.C. More androgenous names as their genders are not evident yet. And, as Pat and Shelly were named to honor some friends of mine who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help this struggling homesteader in her hour of need, so, too, Kelly and K.C. Friend Kellie spells her name differently. The “ie” seems to be the more effeminate spelling; I chose the “Y” in an effort of neutrality. K. C. are the initials of another dear friend who has “been there” a lot lately. Again, I’m not sure how either of them would feel about having chicken namesakes but, as they’re all animal lovers, I hope they understand.

K. C. is only a couple of days old, so he/she is much smaller than the other three. But that doesn’t stop her. She’s full of piss and vinegar, chirping and squawking and racing around the cage like her little non-existent pants are on fire…she might be Taffy’s biological daughter after all as that’s usually Taffy’s take on life. (chuckle)

And, in my last post, I mentioned how I could’ve sworn one of the eggs I had attempted to remove after Pat and Shelly were born peeped at me. I had carried said egg all the way to the compost bin. Taffy had kicked it out of the nest and was ignoring it so I assumed this one wasn’t a fertilized egg after all and thought to dispose of it. And then it peeped. So I put it back under Taffy. Kelly hatched by morning. And Taffy still kicked her out of the nest. I found her half-naked body tucked into a corner away from Taffy. Again, I thought “Oh, no!” and went to pick her/him up to bury her. Suddenly, she squawked and started kicking and moving about. So I dug out one of the heat lamps I use for the coop in the winter months and set it atop the cage, lifting it up upon a couple of rocks to give it more height so she wouldn’t be too warm. I also touched a few drops of water to her beak; she swallowed greedily. Less than an hour later, as her little body warmed, Kelly started trying to walk. She would crawl and roll closer to Taffy, only to be rejected again. It took about a day and a half before Kelly got her legs completely under her and began tottering, at least, over to Taffy. Finally, Taffy accepted her. And, in less than a week, you’d never know how fragile she appeared at birth; I thought I would lose her. Before Taffy finally took her under her wing and care, I must’ve checked a half dozen times to make sure she was still breathing. She’s a fighter. And she’s more than capable of keeping up with Pat, Shelly and K.C. as they explore their small, safe world.

Of course, this isn’t the most optimum time for new chicks to be born. Pat and Shelly have first feathers appearing. And, because K.C. is about a week younger than the rest, you can see how much the older chicks have grown in such a short time. But I’m putting Taffy to shame with my ol’ Mother Hen antics, worrying and fretting how they’ll withstand the winter months and how maybe there’ll be a cage set up for the four of them to over-winter in. It will be a few months before they get their full growth. And, of course, there’s the careful introduction to the other chickens as they mature. It’s going to be an interesting winter to say the least.

And, lastly, this is one of “those” posts again. I lost my beautiful Flame the day before yesterday. She was one of my older hens and had been tottering around a bit over the last week or so. In short, I’d been expecting it but hoping I was wrong. As Ruby, Amber and Rouge neared their end, they also started getting stiff in their legs and walking a little bowlegged across the barnyard. Most people I know “cull” their hens after a couple of years so rare do I come across anyone who has let them live out their full lifespan to compare notes. However, Flame also loved goat chow and, whenever I fed Felicity, Domino and Chester, she would make a dash for their bowls. Domino and Chester share nicely but Felicity is all attitude. Any chickens get too close to her supper, they get headbutted away. Despite any effort on my part to shoo them away and entice them back to their perches with their own feed, Flame was determined. In this last week, as she started stiffening up, she was unable to get out of Felicity’s way as quickly and at least once had a wing stepped on. She seemed okay afterwards but it doesn’t stop me from wondering if there was an injury after all and she was just too stoic to admit it until the very end. Mom found her in the yard Wednesday afternoon. She was still alive but was having trouble walking and Mom feared the other chickens might start pecking her, or one of the goats step on her again, so she set up another cage next to Taffy’s and brought her indoors. Sadly, she left us anyway. Again, she was an old gal and there were signs that her end was nearing days’ before. Doesn’t stop me from missing her beautiful self in the barnyard each morning.

May God bless you & keep you!