Around the 1800s House: The Coffee Mill

May 16, 2012

Around the House Post: The Coffee Mill

I don’t drink coffee, but recently I got to roast some coffee beans in an old-fashioned coffee roaster and then grind them in a coffee mill. The roasting took quite a bit of time. I had to constantly spin the handle over some ashes pulled out from the fire. The ashes slowly toasted the beans.

Once the beans were ready they were transferred into a coffee mill where they were ground and then finally coffee could be made. This coffee mill is approximately six inches by six inches. On top is the grinder mechanism. The beans were placed in the top. The grinder hand cranked and the grounds would fall down into the little drawer at the bottom of the box.


A May Day by Any Other Name …

May 1, 2012

Although May 1st may pass without notice by many of us in the US—probably because we don’t have the day off—the day has a long history of celebrating Spring, and in some places, Summer. The May Day holiday goes by many names with varying methods of celebration around the world. Here is a brief list of a few of them.

  • Walpurgis Night: A celebration of Spring of Germanic origin, which includes music and bonfires on May Day eve.
  • Beltane: The Celtic festival of fire and fertility, also beginning on May Day eve.
  • The Catholic Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
  • May Day: Traditional European folk festivals celebrated with the crowning of the May Queen and dancing around the Maypole.
  • International Workers’ Day: A celebration of the labor movement through parades and organized demonstrations. (The Occupy Movement has several protests planned for today throughout the US. Europeans are protesting economic austerity measures.)

And because I love old photos, I perused the Library of Congress website to share a bit of history with you.

May Day parade/demonstration, 1900 New York—Library of Congress (I believe the banner says, Org. Aug. 7th 1900, so this is probably May 1901.)

Children at a May Day festival in Battery Park, NY, 1908—Library of Congress

May Day Parade, NY 1910—Library of Congress

A May Day "exercise" at Sweet Briar College in Virginia—Library of Congress (There was no exact date listed. Anyone want to take a guess?)

Here’s to a Happy May Day!

The Mechanical Princess

April 24, 2012

There’s a lot to admire about Queen Elizabeth II as she celebrates her Diamond Jubilee this year.  My favorite fact about her became the subject of an article I tried to sell to a couple of different magazines, but alas, I think someone else beat me to it.  So here’s my version of Elizabeth’s adolescence, which she spent serving her country in her hour of greatest need:

Elizabeth was thirteen when her country began fighting World War II in 1939.  Many English children were sent out of the country for their safety, but Elizabeth and her younger sister, Princess Margaret Rose, stayed home with their parents.  They lived in a country estate just outside London, and were kept safe there from the bombings that raged in the big cities. The princesses made speeches on the radio to comfort the children who had been sent away, and they used their allowance to help support the war effort.  When Elizabeth turned eighteen in 1944, she wanted to do more.  After months of begging her father, King George VI, she was allowed to join the Auxiliary Territorial Services, one of the special military branches for women.

Princess Elizabeth serving during WWII, found through an image search on

Up until that time, most of Elizabeth’s schooling had been with private tutors in the palace.  When she started military training, she got a taste of what it was like to learn with other girls from different backgrounds.  Even though her father insisted she go home to Windsor Castle each night for her safety, she joined the group in everything else.  She wore the same uniform and took her turn cleaning up the mess hall at meal times.  During her training, she learned to drive and repair supply trucks—not the usual duties of a princess!  She even took her final driving test through the crowded streets of London and into the courtyard of Buckingham Palace, just to show her father the king that she could do it.

Elizabeth drove trucks until the war ended in May of 1945.  By then she had been in the Army for several months and had risen in her rank.  She never let the danger of regular bombings in London keep her from her duties.  Magazines ran pictures and stories of the mechanical princess both in Britain and overseas, and they encouraged other young women to find ways to serve their countries.  She, in turn, learned what life was like outside the palace, and learned she had skills she never imagined.

The American Spelling Book

March 28, 2012

I have a replica of The American Spelling Book: Containing the Rudiments of the English Language for the Use of Schools in the United States (whew…that’s a mouthful of a title) by Noah Webster published in 1824. I’m sure when we all hear the name Noah Webster we think of the man who compiled a dictionary which became a standard for the American English language. He also compiled The America Spelling Book, which was the basic textbook for young readers in the early 19th century.

I am fascinated by the book and have been reading it. The opening lesson starts with the following passage:


IN the English alphabet there are twenty five single characters, that stand as representatives of certain sounds. A, b, c, d, e, f, g, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z. H is not a mark of sound; but it qualifies or gives form to a succeeding sound.*

In order to understand these letters, or rather the sounds they represent, it is necessary to decline the meaning of the words vowel, diphthong and consonant.

A vowel is a simple articulate sound. A simple sound is formed by opening the mouth in a certain manner, without any contact of the parts of it. Whenever a sound can be begun and completed with the same positions of the organs, it is a simple sound.

A diphthong is a union of two simple sounds, pronounced at one breath. To form a diphthong, there are necessarily required two different positions of the organs of speech.

A consonant, or, as it is called by the ancients, a close-letter, forms no distinct articulate sound of itself. In pronouncing most of the English consonants, there is required a contact of the parts of the mouth, and the union of a vowel; though some of the consonants form imperfect syllables of themselves.

This first chapter goes on to explain pronunciation of the letters, combination of letters and talk about accents, emphasis and cadence. Then from there come the charts of words, broken down into lessons. It starts with simple one syllable words and works up to more and more complicated words. If I’d studied this book as a kid my vocabulary would be amazing. I’ve had to look up more words from the later spelling lessons! We’ve lost that eloquent (and sometimes complicated) way of speaking from the 18th and 19th century. From there the book starts to move into reading passages. And this is where I fell in love with this book. I love the observations about life and people, the little history lessons, and most of all the fables.

It’s interesting to see how church and school weren’t separate. There are many passages like the following:

Therefore be not anxious for the good things of this life, but seek the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness, and all things shall be added to you.

The fables are meant to teach children lessons—to obey their elders, to not be greedy and so forth. This is one of my favorites:


WHEN men suffer their imaginations to amuse them with the prospect of distant and uncertain improvement of their condition, they frequently suffer real losses by their inattention to those affairs in which they are immediately concerned.

A country maid was walking very deliberately with a pail of milk upon her head, when she fell into the following train of reflections; The money for which I shall sell this milk, will enable me to increase my flock of eggs to three hundred. These eggs, allowing for what may prove addle, and what may be destroyed by vermin will produce at least two hundred and fifty chickens. The chickens will be fit to carry to market about Christmas, when poultry always bears a good price; so that by May-day I cannot fail of having money enough to purchase a new gown. Green–let me consider–yes, green become my complexion best, and green it shall be. In this dress I will go to the fair, where all the young fellows will strive to have me for a partner; but I shall perhaps refuse every one of them, and with an air of disdain toss from them. Transported with this triumphant thought, she could not forbear acting with her head what passed in her imagination, when down came the pail of milk, and with it all her imaginary happiness.

It’s a book that definitely gives you a sense of the time period and how people thought.  If you’re looking to get a sense of the language and how it was used in the 19th century this is definitely a good book to read.  I recommend reading it for anyone writing a historical piece set in the 1800s.

Views from the South

February 27, 2012

I grew up in northern Ohio/northern Indiana, raised by parents who had also grown up in the Great Lakes region of the Midwest.  My husband, however, grew up in South Carolina, a child of southern parents.  As we get ready to head south, this time to a town just north of Mobile, Alabama, to visit his extended family, I am again pondering the differences in how we were taught history as children.

Of course, we were taught about the Civil War just a little differently.  I got that part right away.  But two major wars that came before the Civil War, the American Revolution and the War of 1812, have some significant differences, too.  That I wasn’t prepared for, but I am enjoying it as I learn.  When we were in South Carolina this past Thanksgiving, for example, I talked my in-laws into a trip to visit to two nearby national military parks: Cowpens and King’s Mountain.  Battles of the American Revolution that I had never even heard of were fought here, and helped turn the tide of the whole war in America’s favor.  The battles to the north in New England and the Mid-Atlantic colonies had brought about a stalemate, and the capture of Charleston, South Carolina, in May 1780 had left the British with a false sense of security about that colony as well.  But the patriots had an advantage on top of Kings Mountain (as most armies on top of mountains have on those coming from below), and were able to defeat the British in October 1780.  A few months later, Daniel Morgan famously ordered the rag-tag patriot militia-men to fire three times, and then they could leave the army to return home.  The result was a victory at Cowpens, and continued victories for the Americans that eventually led to the final battle at Yorktown.

I’m sure I learned about those battles somewhere in my northern history classrooms, but they somehow got lost amid Lexington and Concord, Valley Forge, and Sarasota.  Walking the trails with my husband and his parents that are just a little over an hour from their homes made that “other” part of the Revolution come to life.  And, as a northerner, it was a treat to spend the day after Thanksgiving not battling snow and ice and shopping traffic, but enjoying the great outdoors and our balmy 70 degrees.

My mother-in-law can get a little fiesty with her walking stick. Cowpens, 2011.

Army Football

November 16, 2011

With Veteran’s Day this past Friday and it being football season I figured I could get away with this post! Anyone who knows me knows I’m a diehard Army Football fan (and an Army Brat). My father went to West Point and every year we attend at least one home game for a day of tailgating, cheering, and lots of fun.

Army football has a wonderful history—a winning history up until recently! That’s something they can’t seem to do these days: win! Not that that’ll ever make me root for any other team. I will root for them through the good and bad (I just with they’d get out of this bad slump…tens years of it has been hard to endure!) Okay, back on track. This past weekend I attended the Army-Rutgers game at Yankee Stadium. That was an experience. I can’t say a baseball field is the best place to play a football game, but it was something I’ve wanted to do for awhile now, and I had a good time (even if Army tore my heart out, oh it was a painful loss!)

Army football began in 1890 when Navy challenged the cadets to a game. This was a relatively new sport, but a historic rivalry began with this first game. Navy defeated Army at West Point that year, but the following year Army avenged its loss, defeating Navy at Annapolis. The Army-Navy game is now played on neutral territory every December in Philadelphia. There’s always been a certain energy about these games, and if you’ve never watched one I recommend you catch this year’s game!

Army plays its home games at Miche Stadium at West Point, a beautiful stadium that overlooks the campus and Hudson river beyond. Unlike other colleges the cadets’ attendance is mandatory at football games and the Corps stands for the duration of the game. At home games, one of the four regiments marches onto the field in formation before the team takes the field. (I didn’t catch this on video this weekend, but in the video below you can see some of the cadets on the field waiting to welcome the Army team to the field after they’ve broken formation.)

Yankee Stadium Video as the cadets take the field:

Back to Yankee Stadium… The University of Notre Dame and Army have a football rivalry that dates back to 1913. They played their first game at Yankee Stadium, where Army was trounced but redeemed themselves the following year. Last year the teams resumed their rivalry in the new Yankee Stadium for their 50th game against each other. Yes, Army lost, but still the history of the two teams being renewed and seeing the game played at Yankee Stadium was neat!

Notre Dame contracted with Explore Media to produce the following video, which I really like. (Though it’s in favor of Notre Dame, it’s well done and gives a great overview of the history between these two teams).

Notre Dame-Army Rivalry

Army football isn’t just football. It’s a history filled with great legends, glorious moments, agonizing moments, but most of all it instills a pride in you. It is just a game, and at the end of the day (or in the cadets’ case at graduation) reality awaits—a life that involves service to our country. Thank a veteran. It doesn’t just have to be on Veteran’s day.

I leave you with these parting words from the Army Fight song!

On, brave old Army team!
On to the fray.
Fight on to victory
For that’s the fearless Army way.

The Official End of Summer?

September 1, 2011

Stamp issued Sept. 3, 1956 to commemorate Labor Day

So, what do you know about Labor Day other than you’re not supposed to wear white after it? Or that you’re going out of town for the weekend? Or that local police are cracking down on drunk driving?

The fashion dictum about white, which most people don’t pay attention to anymore, probably originated in the South and had to do with white shoes. The basic idea was don’t wear summer clothes when it’s not summer. But have you been to the South? It’s still freaking hot here in Texas. We’ve had triple digits this week. But, I digress.

If you’re curious about the history of the actual holiday, the HISTORY Channel website has put together a succinct video on the subject here.  All I have to say about that is—Canada? Who knew? (Probably those better educated in history. :D)

Sept. 6, 1909, New York City

Going to a parade? Above is a photo taken during the 1909 Labor Day parade in New York City of the Women’s Auxiliary Typographical Union float.

Below is one of a Labor Day parade in Buffalo, New York, around 1900.

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection

Going to a picnic? If so, I hope you don’t have to dress as nicely as they did in the 1955 movie “Picnic” starring William Holden and Kim Novak. Can you tell if anyone is wearing white shoes?

Whatever you do this holiday weekend, have a great time!

Image courtesy