Paradise Found

What’s in Mrs. Hale’s Receipts for the Million 1857?

To extract grease from clothes scrape off all the grease that you can with a knife; then lay over the spot a thick brown paper and press it with a warm iron.

The only grease I’ve had to contend with the last twenty four hours was from my plate lunch. Fortunately, it dripped on my Honolulu Weekly, not my writing.  Part of the reason I’m here is to relax with family, research and write. I walked all over Waikiki today, getting my bearings for the Hawaii Writer’s Conference that’s coming and wandered through the historic Royal Hawaiian Hotel. You can sometimes get jaded about Waikiki and what it is, but it is also a place worth honoring for its past and what it means historically to the people of Hawaii.  I get it.

It’s also incredibly beautiful with its white sands, brilliant turquoise water and Diamond Head.  Just ignore the masses out on the streets and the big hotels.  You’re a writer. You can edit them out.

Eventually, I found the cafe I discovered four years ago on my last visit and plunked my writing folder down at the window.  An iced coffee and biscotti and writing roomI was ready to sharpen my pencil and revise.  What a life!  I hope to come back to this place often in the next week.

Tomorrow I get the grand tour of Washington Place, the governor’s residence today, but once that of Queen Liliuokulani.  After that, a tour of Iolani Palace, the home of Hawaiian kings and queens and the Mission Houses. All this is history not often encountered by the average tourist and its a shame.  It’s Hawaii’s story and its 200 plus years of contact with the European world. I’m writing about it in my novel Mist-shi-mus that I’m currently revising and fact checking. Hawaii meets the Pacific NW.

So I’m researching, meeting new friends in the museum world and revising. I hope to get back to the window view soon.  Aloha nui loa.


Walking History and the Relief of Feet

What’s in Mrs. Hale’s Receipts for the Million 1857?

957. The Feet– Should be washed in cold water very morning, and wiped very dry.  Stockings, if too small, cripple the feet as surely as small shoes.  Always be careful to get the foot room enough, and you will be rarely trouble with corns.

Honolulu ship  Oct 1852I’ve been thinking about feet and shoes and what I’m going to do about them.  I’m leaving for Hawaii in a few days and want to be prepared for a long visit, which includes walking.  A lot.  Manoa Falls, the north shore, the Koolaus.  I’m looking forward to the chance to see again truly historic places such as Kawaihoa Church, Mission Houses Museum, Iolani Palace as well new ones I’ve not seen before.

I worked at the museum many years ago and got my start exploring history with young children. “Where’s the TV?” was the usual question from a second grader.  I showed them lives of children from the past and how they might relate to them today.  Yes, they really hauled in water from three miles away and strained it through coral rock so they could drink.  Honolulu was very dry and dusty then.

There are grand ties there to the Northwest, something that I have always followed.  Going again will help me set the scenes in the NW novel that I’m rewriting.  I will also use the time to introduce my sons to the beautiful places I haunted as a young woman with the love of my life so they will remember too. Mission House HonoluluWhen I can, I’ll find a spot to write on my own. There’s a great cafe I found last time just right for the muse.

I’m also off to the Hawaii Writer’s Conference where I’ll be volunteering.  And walking as I help attendees.

Walking shoes or sandals? No stockings please.  I promise to wash my feet in cold water every morning.

Lighting the Way

What’s in Mrs. Hales Receipts for the Million 1857?

Things to Know

2024: Why do candles and lamps “spirit” when rain is at hand?

2025: Because the air is filled with vapor and the humidity penetrates the wick, where (being formed into steam) it expands suddenly and produces a little explosion.

Anyone writing historical fiction or even a non-fiction piece ought to know about the technology of the times.  Nothing can bump a reader out of a scene faster than having a character light a candle with matches in 1630. Sometimes it’s best to create a timeline just for technology just to keep ahead of the curve.

I’ve been wondering about candles. I have a price list for 1858 for a store in what was Whatcom, Washington Territory.  I know that spermaceti Food Prices 1858candles came from the head wax of a sperm whale and was considered a step above a tallow candle when it came to longevity– it didn’t smell like stinky tallow candles either. But what of Belmont sperm and adamantine candles listed so often in ads in the Northwest and San Francisco?

Turns out they were varieties of candle made from stearic acid processed from either coconut oil or tallow.  First adamantine candles. These candles were made with stearic acid which was separated out of fat in tallow. This process of creating this acid was discovered in 1811 and improved the quality of the candles used in the home.  It was blended into the wax to harden it.  It got its name as it looked like stone.  It burned longer and well.

A Belmont sperm candle has nothing to do with  sperm whale oil.  Before 1830, there was a type of stearin candle made from  coconut oil.  Its main drawback was that it stank when the light was extinguished. Then in 1830, William Wilson of Edward Price & Company in the Belmont section of London began to make stearin candles using a combination of palm oil and coconut stearin.  These candles were considered better than tallow candles, but inferior to adamantine candles. They were, however cheaper than beeswax and spermaceti candles which would continue to bring top dollar.

I’ve been working on a scene in my novel in which the officers from both Camp San Juan (American) and the royal marine encampment (British) get together for a ball after a horse race.  Lanterns have been set up everywhere, the band and dancers up on boards. What a fairy scene it will be, as long as I keep my lighting straight and the night without a cloud in the sky.

When I go back to English Camp in week or so for the grand 150th, I’ll be taking my lantern with me and my flashlight.  Just in case I have to camp back in the woods. English Camp at dusk2

Guest Writer: Mike Vouri and the 150 Anniversary of the Pig War

Mike Vouri as Pickett

What’s in Mrs. Hale’s Receipts for the Million 1857?

Choice of Reading. Never keep  house without books. Life is not life to any great purpose where books are not.  Read on any subject connected with your own pursuits.  A good book is a safe refuge in idle hours.

June 15, 1859. San Juan Island, Pacific Northwest. An American settler named Lyman Cutlar shot and killed a pig belonging to the Hudson’s Bay Company. The boar had been rooting in his garden. From that incident two nations, Great Britain and a young United States, nearly came to blows. This summer, the San Juan Island National Historical Park will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the historic event and its peaceful resolution.

Today, I’m happy to welcome my friend Mike Vouri, Park Pig War book coverRanger/Historian at the San Juan Island National Historical Park who knows quite a bit about the Pig War and George Pickett of Gettysburg fame, who was in the thick of the incident.  In addition to his duties in the park, Mike is a historian, actor, playwright and writer of several books on George Pickett, the Pig War and San Juan Island.

Mike, you began your career as a journalist. What led you to history and in particular to George Pickett and the stories around the Pig War? How did you end up at the national park?

After years as a journalist, including nine in the Air Force, I got interested in history and went back to school for it.  I worked as a reporter for the Skagit Argus and the Bellingham Herald and eventually became the public affairs person for the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Washington. I was there for six years. During that time I curated a couple of exhibits. One of them was George Pickett and the Frontier Army Experience.

At first I wasn’t too keen about it, but as I learned more I found that there was tremendous interest in the man. (note: George Pickett was stationed at Fort Bellingham in present-day Bellingham Washington from 1856-1859 before going to San Juan Island at the start of the Pig War) The show ran from October 1994 to April 1995 and had a number of important objects in it, including two battle flags, Pickett’s sabre and reenacting uniforms. In preparing for the exhibit, I came in contact with Richard Seltzer, considered the top researcher on George  E. Pickett. His book, Faithfully and Forever Yours documents Pickett’s activities on the east coast.  He’s gone on to write more, but at the time, Seltzer knew little about Pickett’s role out here.  I showed him that while he helped me locate sources, objects and contacts. We have become good friends and the show was a great success.

In 1995, you moved to San Juan Island to become a ranger at San Juan Island National Historical Park. Not long after you researched and wrote the popular one-man show Life and Times of General George Pickett. Folksinger Michael Cohen matched the emotional tone of the play with period songs as well provide a supporting role. How did it start?

Originally, it was three hours long.  After its first performance in Friday Harbor,  San Juan Island, I decided to knock the first act down after being advised to make it funny and sad.

It’s a wonderful play. I’ve seen it four times now, one for our Save Our History grant in Bellingham WA in 2007.

It will be performed this summer for the last time on July 10 in Friday Harbor and at Fort Vancouver, Vancouver, Washington — time to be announced.  I’m retiring it.

You have been a pretty prolific writer in the past few years. In addition to a book on George Pickett in the Northwest, there is the OUTPOST OF THE EMPIRE, a book on the Royal Marine encampment on San Juan Island which came out in 2004.  And you published a history of FRIDAY HARBOR with your wife Julia Vouri a couple of months ago.

What I would like to talk about is your book THE PIG WAR which came out in 2008. This is the most comprehensive account of the Pig War with never before published pictures from both military camps.  Pictures include those from the Delacombe family whose ancestor, Captain William Delacombe, commanded the royal marine camp from 1867 on. How did that come about?

Pure serendipity. Got an email out of the blue from the wife of the great- grandson of Delacombe. They couldn’t travel from England so they sent me  a CD with pictures from Captain Delacombe’s family album . I learned a lot about the royal marine site from the pictures. There is a view of the hill behind the encampment taken from Guss Island. And we confirmed that there was a long boat at the camp.

There are also wonderful pictures of American Camp after it closed and a painting done by a British midshipman onboard the Satellite showing Pickett’s first camp.

Arcadia Publishing requires a large volume of photographs. Your interview in the San Juan Journal says that there are 190 photos in the book. I remember you telling me that you were a bit surprised by that and had to drop some text to meet their specifications. i.e. more pictures, a lot less text.  How did you reconcile that? Did text translate to caption?

As Arcadia books are image driven with limited space for text (that is, only 350 words per chapter) it is critical to sustain the narrative with captions. Therefore, they cannot be repetitive. Each is composed anew.

I thought the book  moves very smoothly. The pictures are wonderful.  I learned some new things myself.  Amazing that  some building from both camps were preserved at all.

The Pig War is a real historical event and this summer will be the 150th anniversary. For the past eleven years, the park has presented English Encampment, a celebration of the peaceful occupation of the island by American and British military. Re-enactors come from here and Canada. Tell us what your plans are for this important celebration.

We are expecting a large turn out of reenactors from the US and Canada. One thing we are excited about is the participation of the Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain. They will participate for the first time. Visitors will be able to book a three hour trip on each ship on Sunday. They will anchor off English Camp during the weekend event.

There are other talks and events during the whole summer.

Yes.  Check the park’s calendar.

Thanks, Mike. I’ll see you all soon under my favorite Big Leaf maple.

Mrs. Hale’s Receipts for the Million

I’ve decided to add something to this blog.  Every year for the past thirteen years, I have gone to English Camp on San Juan Island and have demonstrated mid- 19th century folkways.  There’s a lot of butter making and biscuit cutting going on — as well as spinning and candle dipping.

Mrs Hale's receipts cover

Leading my understanding of what a housewife put up with is my great-grandmother’s receipt book, MRS.HALE’s RECEIPT’S FOR THE MILLION.  This delightful book is both charming and informative, filled with 4545 “receipts” that range from cleaning leather and churns, caring for the invalid and making coffee. Published in Philadelphia in 1857, my great grandmother surely found use for it as she made her way from Western Pennsylvania to Kansas to craft a life with her surgeon/lawyer husband.

I think we should all get a daily dose or least every time I post. So here’s what’s in MRS. HALE’s RECEIPTS for today:

COFFEE: The infusion of or decoction of the roasted seeds of the coffee-berry, when not too strong, is a wholesome, exhilarating, and strengthening beverage; and when mixed with a large proportion of milk, is a proper article of diet for literary and sedentary people. It is especially suited to persons advanced in age.

I think I’ll go get some.

Historic Plumbing Part II

porta-potty2I’m now a week into the portable outhouse in my backyard as I work getting the sewer pipes replaced. Using it brings back memories of YWCA camp in the Pennsylvania woods with wolf spiders in the corner and a black snake that liked to sun himself at 1:00 PM in path to the john.

It also reminds me of the wonderful language resource I have used for years in researching my historic novels: I HEAR AMERICAN TALKING, An Illustrated Treasury of America Words and Phrases by Stuart Berg Flexner. Now out of print, it is a wonderful study of American words and sayings, showing when they first came into use in America and their origins. This information is especially important in historic novels. Word usage from the wrong period can really bump a reader.

Under the title chapter of “WHERE’s THE BATHROOM? Flexner explains the beginnings of usage around bathrooms and outhouses. For example, when the first outhouses appeared in the colonial days, lower class and rural colonists called their outhouses a privy, privy house or outhouse. The more aristocratic or cosmopolitan person used different words such as house of office, “a necessary house or simply the necessary. If behind a house, it might be called a backhouse; if earth were used to cover the excrement it might be called the earth house.” (Flexner p. 18)

Flexner also points out the origin of the half moon on outhouses. The half moon originally meant it was an outhouse for women. The sun indicated that the outhouse was for men. These are old medieval symbols.

Chamber pots for inside usage are another matter. Here in the Northwest, they were often referred to as “thunder mugs.” I won’t go any further than that. Cousin John or Jake were used by men for both the privy or chamber pot as early as 1530 according to Flexner. The word john has survived to this day.

My blue outhouse/privy does NOT have a sun or moon, but it does its duty. I’ll be happy when it’s gone.

A Good Resource for Washington State History

Historylink logo

I write both fiction and non-fiction. Three of my novels take place in the Pacific Northwest in three different time periods: mid-19th century, 1906 and 1935. Each story has its own culture, technology, politics and media. My characters deal with the time they live in.

One novel, Mist-shi-mus, deals with the issue of smallpox in 1860. There are a number of fine written resources on this deadly disease and its devastating effects on communities during the 19th century. Many are available in public libraries or through inter-library programs.

For quick reference on anything about the history of Washington State, however, you can’t beat HistoryLink, the “on-line encyclopedia of Washington.” The first of its kind in the country, this resource is written by historians from around the state and is free. It currently posts 5188 “time essays” and thumbnails. Each piece is carefully researched with its sources cited at the bottom of the page. The organization takes great pride in stating exactly where what archive box that letter came from or who said what.

For an excellent essay on small pox go to http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=5100

I write for HistoryLink and have enjoyed the search for interesting stories from many different communities in Western Washington. Some of my favorites are:

1) US Lumber vs the Snohomish County Commissioners (some clever folks wanted Darrington to be wet when the state was going dry) http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=8660

2) Shingle bolt cutters suing a local lumber mill over back wages. http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=8471

Both came from court cases buried at the NW Regional State Archives.

I also enjoy writing about the CCC. Check out this essay about Camp Skagit. http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=5657

HistoryLink can be reached at http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm .

History in The Making


jfk-images-3Something happened on the way to writing this blog. I guess it was history with the historic election of Barrack Obama. It was easy to get sidetracked.

As a young person I had seen history unfold with the assassination of John Kennedy. I was in high school near Annapolis, Maryland at the time and went down to the Capitol with several of my friends to catch the caisson coming by. I saw Jackie Kennedy and the children go up the stairs. Heard the heavy beating of the drums. Felt the deep grief with the thousands gathered there, some folks up in the trees. And I heard the shooting of Oswald over the radio as we stood twelve deep along the curb.

“Good riddance,” someone said. The only breaking of silence on that solemn day.

I saw history with the Vietnam Protest March on Washington and later, the Poverty March with mules come all the way from the Deep South. Heard Coretta King speak. A tumultuous time.

Now a new president.

History is that way.

We live it every day.

That’s why I love to research and write about it. I love the history of the Pacific Northwest from 1800 to the 1930s.  The Civil War.  World War II. The Depression.  Things really haven’t changed.  But every once and a while, an ideal comes full circle and a promise is fulfilled.