18 September 2012

A Weekend's Adventure

This weekend the girls and I went to Freeport on one of our weekend adventures. Our intent was to go to a Hapkido Tournament.

The tournament was an experience, though it seemed to feature more Karate and Tae Kwon Do than Hapkido.

The hall was filled with practitioners of all ages and abilities with belts ranging from yellow to black. At any moment, there were at least six different activities happening--katas with and without weapons and sparring. We watched for hours, then left, making our way back toward the center of town.

We didn't get very far.

When we got to the center, it was to find a parade in progress. Instead of seeking a back route out of town, we parked the car at one of L L Bean parking lots, walked up to the main street, and watched the parade from a stone wall. The parade was put on by the  Maine State Federation of Fire Fighters, and featured firetrucks of all makes, models and years from all around Maine. It was such fun!

Since we were already in town, we went to the Sherman's Maine Books and Stationary. There, the girls and I broke off to examine the sales table and everything else.

We all managed to find treasures: my youngest girl found a lovely book about China from the sales table, while my eldest found a mini-Popsical/lip balm combo, and I found Cooking Know-How by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough (also from the sales table).

On the way home, we took Route One and passed by Two Brother's Books. I had been passing by this store for at least ten years and had been attracted by the "Used Books" sign. Today, the temptation proved too strong. We turned round in the driveway of a shoe company and drove back to the book shop.

What a surprise! The entire first floor of a traditional front house-back, house-and partial barn was a bookshop filled with used books!


The youngest found a stack of five books that she had to whittle down to one, including books about China, Iraq, Egypt and more. The eldest struggled over two Nancy Drew-like books, finally settling on a book from a Sue Barton, Student Nurse series. I found books for Tim martial arts, including on about the way of the warrior.

And I? I found an incredible book called Food in England by Dorothy Hartley. The book is a goldmine! It is several historical recipe books in one, including recipes from the early ages up through the late 1800s.

Once home, I put the Cooking Know-How book to good use by using the recipe "French-Inspired Chicken and Rice" to cook dinner. It was delicious.

What a wonderful weekend's adventure! 

25 July 2012

To pickle CUCUMBERS fliced

To pickle CUCUMBERS fliced

Pare thirty large cucumbers, flice them to a pewter difh, take fix onions, flice and row on them fome falt, fo cover them and then ftand to drain twenty four hours; take your pickle of white wine vinegar, nutmeg, pepper, cloves and mace, boil the spices in the pickle, drain the liquor clean from the cucumbers, put them into a deep pot, pour the liquor upon them boiling hot, and cover them very clofe; when they are cold drain the liquor from them, give it another boil, and when it is cold, pour it on them again; fo keep them for ufe.

Moxon, Elizabeth, English Housewifery Exemplified, 1764

 Thanks to the unexpected bounty of 20 pounds of organic-practice-grown cucumbers from a fellow homeschooling mom, I had the opportunity to make pickles, as well as use cucumbers for snacks and sandwiches.

The first batch I made was a childhood favorite: Bread and Butter pickles, which I made using a recipe from Ball’s Blue Book Guide of Preserving. The second batch was Kosher Dills from the Rodale Garden Book Preserving Summer’s Bounty.

But the third batch?

I wanted to do something completely different.

A fan of period cookbooks, one of my favorite finds was Elizabeth Moxon’s English Housewifery Exemplified which was first published in 1764. The recipes are simple well written, so I thought I would try one. The above recipe seemed to fit the bill. However, there were a few details missing: exact amounts.

 Vinegar only is used, but how much vinegar is not specified. Nor is the amount of the spices. The only fixed amounts are those for the onions and cucumbers. Looking at other recipes, especially that for Bread and Butter which included sliced cucumbers, there were similarities, such as a certain amount of spices per jar. Since I didn’t have a deep pot in which to store the cucumbers, I decided to use the method of cold pack pickles, and since I used only vinegar, I would only have to process them for ten minutes in a boiling-water bath.

The logistics were challenging, as I had only two large burners on which to both boil the vinegar and boil the water to sterilize the jars, as well as a spice cabinet that could have been better organized and better stocked (on the ever-growing to-do list).

Four to six weeks to wait…

I look forward to tasting the results!

17 July 2012

The Bra or Who Knew Its History Could Be So Exciting??!!

During the day, I received an exciting post on the costume list to which I belong: "Interesting Underwear Find". The link brought me to this article which detailed a "discovery of 15th century undergarments in Austria" in the Daily Mail

"Fascinating", I think, as an amateur costume history buff who was introduced to the world of period clothing by Hilary Derby, the costume designer during the 1984 season at the Theatre at Monmouth (can you imagine: one of the costumer's took out Patterns of Fashion I, Englishwoman's Dress and their Construction 1660-1860 and made a reproduction of the dress Martha Washington wore to the inauguration to wear to one of the opening nights).

But it was to grow more fascinating still. 

Many of the costumers who belong to the loop began to write in, complaining that the pictures provided in the Daily Mail did not accurately provide a full image of the piece found--that it could have been, in fact, a portion of a bodice that did no longer existed. 

And, some people wrote in, the garments described as underpants in the American lingo, could have been worn by both men as well as women.

Next, someone posted a link to this article:   "Bras in the 15th century? A Preliminary Report" by Beatrix Nutz. 

The end result? Who knows? 

Messages are still coming in...

Who knew  the history of bras could be so exciting?

09 July 2012


When scanning through the instant view options on Netflix, my husband and I came across a show called "Burn Notice". The premise and preview looked intriguing: a secret agent who works for the CIA got a burn notice in the middle of negotiating with some Nigerian "wannabe gangster". He not only has to escape that very frightening scenario with his life, but also figure out why he is no longer considered a viable agent by the government.

The main character was amusing, and the action sequences good, but the one thing that jarred with me were the constant shots and even some close-ups of women in bikinis. The constant objectifying of women were off-putting. 

For whom is this series intended? Only the male 20s set? What about females who enjoy action, intrigue, and mystery?

Enquiring minds want to know...

19 June 2012

An Ode to Flash Mobs

One of my favorite blogs, Two Nerdy History Girls, had a marvelous post featuring a Friday Video entitled "'Morning Mood' on the Metro".

This lovely video made me realize something: I love flash mobs. Dancing, music--well, especially dancing flash mobs. Because of this, I decided to put together a list of some of my favorite flash mobs, including some that aren't exactly flash mobs but are pretty wonderful all the same.

So, without further ado, here they are:

Musical Flash Mobs

Shopping Mall Vivaldi and Adagio for Strings (I think…)

Philadelphia Opera Messiah

La Traviata at the Ferry Market

Opera en Alto Rosario, portions of Carmen—with La Traviata thrown in

Dancing Flash Mobs

Flash mob dance 1st time in Mumbai with choreography by SANTOSH BHANGRE at Korum Mall Thane for Smita Thackre's film RAADA ROCKS

Diversity - Got to Dance Flashmob

Royal Ballet of Flanders

Anaheim Ballet, Urban Ballet

St Patrick’s Day Flash Mob

Prison's flash mob
, Michael Jackson's song

One of my absolute favorite flash mobs: The Joffrey Gets "Real Simple" Full Version (the positions of some of the dances are so beautiful with the full extensions—I would have liked to have been in the crowd, witnessing this)

And, because it was National Tap Day 25 May 2012

Gene Kelly tap dancing on roller skate
s. Really—the man was a god. From Always Fair Weather

Gene Kelly “Singing in the Rain”

Woodbox Tap (amazing)

Swiss Tap Flash Mob

Savion Glover at the White House

River Dance Trading Taps

Eleanor Powell and Buddy Rich

Another Swiss Tap Flash Mob (the Swiss can sure tap)

Mary Poppins “Step in Time”

Just because:

Chhaiya Chhaiya, from Dil Se (This has ruined trains for me: I can no longer see one without wanting to dance on their tops. By the by, no dancers fell from the train during the three days of filming)

Gisele Bundchen flashmob at Sao Paulo airport

The T-Mobile Flashmob London Heathrow - Welcome Back Advert

Amazing Highland Hornpipe Dance by Laura Scott

Highland Sword Dance -- Laura Scott with Ed Pearlman and Tony Cuffe

Highland Dancers at Metrotown 2

Finally, who could forget…

Nynex Rock Drills

12 February 2012

Thoughts on A Midwife's Tale

One of the books I am reading in the course of researching my fourth book is A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. While not completely analogous to a surgeon's daughter living in 1816 England, the work does help to provide some flavor to what life would be like for a female caregiver from the late 18th to nearly the mid 19th centuries.

Ulrich's work is fascinating. Martha Ballard attended 816 births in the 27 years of the diary. Her statistics are quite remarkable: out of these births, 46 or 5.6% were listed as "difficult" with 14 stillbirths with a ratio of 1.8 out of every 100. These are births for which Ballard did not rely on forceps or the "hook and the knife", but were natural. What is also interesting is that Ulrich writes that "In fact, many historians believe that the routine employment of physicians in the nineteenth century probably increased rather than decreased mortality."

Ballard's method of curing and midwifery were considered gentle, using herbs and influenced by humoral therapy. By contrast, the male physicians tended toward more dramatic therapies, including bloodletting, sedatives and calomel, a mercurial compound.

For Ballard, the birth was an event at which more than one women attended; for male physicians, women attendants at births were a distraction with their unwelcome chatter. For Ballard, women have a useful role as they help tend to mothers who are expecting or who have just given birth, giving care or helping with tasks that need to be done to keep the household running smoothly. For male physicians of the time, there seems to be a feeling of superiority and exclusion at the birth.

The number of babies born out of wedlock are also noted in the diary; as a midwife, Ballard had to determine the parentage of the child as "sexual intercourse between unmarried persons" was considered a crime. One of the births of these unmarried mothers Ballard attended was that of a woman who claimed Ballard's own son as the father--he married the woman just before he was charged with the crime.

Rape was also reported in the diary. The most dramatic was that of the wife of an evangelical minister who charged a number of men, among them one of the community's most influential residents, Judge North, was the perpetrator. Rebecca Foster, the victim, told Ballard that "was not the worst shee had met with since Mr Foster's absence, but shee hoped they would not quite kill her, that they Could do nothing worst than what they had unless they killed her." Ballard testified for Mrs Foster at court--a court that did not find in favor of the victim. The Fosters left the community where Ballard lived; Mrs Foster may may have suffered a mental breakdown while her husband turned to drink and never preached again. Ballard's protest was to stop attending the church to which Judge North was connected except on rare occasions.

Each chapter begins with pages from Ballard's diary, which allow the reader to see large swaths of this unpublished in toto diary. The full two volumes of Ballard's diary can be found at the Maine State Library, across from the state capital in Augusta, Maine.

I am only about halfway through this book which is a must-read for anyone who wishes to know more about women in medicine and history.


In just a few more pages, I found more about the importance of the women at the births. Martha Ballard called upon them at the moment of birth (or as near as she could judge) as they would literally support the mother while she labored. As Thatcher wryly noted, carrying about a birthing stool would be a little difficult as Ballard rode horses, walked through woods, walked over the frozen ice of Kennebec River, rode in canoes, etc to reach her patients. The women also served at witness for Ballard should there be a difficult birth--they can witness the fact that Ballard did her job properly, no matter the outcome. The women could also give support to the new mother, speaking with her about her new baby, or helping to lay out the funeral clothes should the baby be stillborn or die soon after the death. And, when the mother needed support after a difficult birth, the women could help to nurse her and the child when Ballard was called away.

25 January 2012

Researching the Fourth Book

Part of the fun of writing historical novels is the research. There are so many books to read, so many things to learn...

For my present book, which is set in 1796 as well as 1816, I have been reading a wide range of books, and having a heck of a time. These are some of the books I've read so far:

Nightingales, The Extraordinary and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale
, by Gillian Gill [very good]

Notes on Nursing, What It Is and What It Is Not
, by Florence Nightingale [note the lack of contractions]

Life in Nelson's Navy, by Dudley Pope [fabulous, though a little misleading as to the title--the book is far more wide-reaching that just Nelson's navy]

Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization 1793-1815
, by Brian Lavery [amazing]

Seize the Fire: Heroism, Duty and the Battle of Trafalger
, by Adam Nicolson [a page-turner--fabulous]

Naval Battles of the Napoleonic Wars: Cape St Vincent, the Nile, Cadiz, Copenhagen, Trafalgar and Others
, by W H Fitchett [good]

Men of Steel: Surgery in the Napoleonic Wars
, by Michael Crumplain FCRS [quite fascinating--a great read]

I am sure I will have to read far more as well as reread Amanda Vickery's fabulous books, A Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England and Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England.

Shucks, life is grand...