duskpeterson: Victorian couple (couple)
[personal profile] duskpeterson
This is a blog where I talk about my current daily life at home and in my hometown, comparing it to American homelife during my childhood and college years (1963-1987) and during earlier eras. I also post reviews of books (nonfiction and fiction) that show the history of American everyday life at home.

I'm the only person who posts entries at this blog (which is why membership to this blog is closed), but I encourage everyone – American or not – to contribute comments about their own daily lives or about daily life in earlier eras. If you're a member of Dreamwidth or of any site that supports OpenID, such as Blogger, you can sign in through that site. Whether or not you do so, you can post comments here.

People and locations I mention at this blog.

If you'd like to see more links and photos, visit Retro Home's Twitter account @retrohomelife.

To receive posts by e-mail, subscribe to Retro Home's e-mail list. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

If the above form doesn't work for you, click on this link:

Subscribe to Retro Home
duskpeterson: (autumn acorn)
[personal profile] duskpeterson
"Fall and spring are the best seasons. They both have the right kind of rains - big, thrilling thunderstorms and gentle rains in which you can go out in - and they both have 'sweater' weather, the kind of weather you can wear sweaters in. In the summer it's too hot and in the winter it's too cold. . . .

"The man who cuts his lawn every day has a beautiful lawn until fall. Then, while most of the grass is still green, his lawn becomes yellow. There's a moral there somewhere."

--From my journal, 28 October 1974, age eleven.

"Summer feels as though it is packing its bags rather abruptly this season," says one of the local Maryland farms in its e-newsletter this week. Indeed. Thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Harvey, it's sixty degrees outside today. The rest of the week is warmer, but we won't make it much above eighty, and the temperature is going down to the sixties and high fifties at night.

Photo source.

Back when I was a kid in the 1970s, this is what the arrival of fall meant to me:


* Labor Day Festival: carnival, community booths, festival food (especially funnel cakes), and the Labor Day parade.

* School opening again the day after Labor Day: new school supplies (three-ring binder, pencils, etc.), new teachers, new classmates.

* Leaves: scuffing through them, raking them, jumping on them, smelling them burn throughout the neighborhood.

* Crisp weather: warm clothes, evenings in front of the fireplace.

* Halloween: costumes, costume parade (I won an award at age eleven, when I made myself into a television), trick-or-treating, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

* Thanksgiving: parades on television, tons of good food, sometimes guests, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

* Books on all of the above because, like, I'm all about the books.

From when my family lived in Michigan in the 1960s.


And this is what fall means to me at age fifty-four:


* Winter is Coming. Prepare for Pain.


Fall was a whole lot more fun before I acquired these health issues.

Photo source.

However, in an effort to put myself in the proper mood, I've compiled this list of end-of-summer and fall activities:


* Finish up on my print reading for this year. My ability to read print is seasonal, due to severe dry eye; from this point forward, it will become more and more difficult to read print, so I'll be switching over gradually to reading entirely in electronic formats. A similar annual farewell to video-watching, though I'm going to make an effort to attend movies this fall at the newly re-opened Opera House in Havre de Grace.

* This year's summer project was sorting my mother's papers. Supposedly. I did make a start at sorting my parents' photos, and I'll try to finish that up. After that, I'll switch back to decluttering larger objects. Joe and I agree that this is the month when we need to get all those boxes of donated goods to Goodwill.

* "Next week will be the last week for peaches," the fruit farmer told me at today's farmers market. We're nearing the end of the season for summer produce; soon we'll be eating autumn produce.

* I've already switched over to fall leisure clothes at home, though I'll still wear summer clothes outside on warm days.

* I do neither spring cleaning nor fall cleaning; I just try to keep up with the housework year-round. However, fall is when I launder the summer blankets and turn the mattress.

* Leaves? I mean, yes, there will be falling leaves, obviously, but I'd like to try to make it to Joe K's Trail this fall, after tick season. I haven't walked along that trail yet.

* In place of Labor Day Festival in Greenbelt, there should have been the Fish, Fowl, and Folk Festival in Havre de Grace today, but it rained. Never mind; there's plenty of fall festivals coming up in Havre de Grace.

* Halloween: We live in an apartment now, so we no longer get trick-or-treaters, alas. Doesn't mean we neglect the candy. And we live downtown, so we can go watch Havre de Grace's costume parade.

* Thanksgiving: The one time of the year that we try to go all out with a meal. I'll write more about that when it comes.

* Autumn decorations!

(1) Dried corn on the door. (2) The Good Witch of the Northeast. (3) A horn of plenty that's, um, empty. (4) A cobweb to match the real cobwebs that I welcome in this house. (I like spiders. They catch bugs that would otherwise give me germs.) (5) Potato-print wrapping paper that I made in elementary school. I am not an artist.

Still to come is the miniature pumpkin I'll buy when those are for sale. I really miss the giant stalks of wheat I used to have but had to leave behind when we moved.

* Autumn books. Did I mention I'm all about the books?

Clockwise from top left: (1) The Coming of the Pilgrims. "Told from Governor Bradford's Firsthand Account by E. Brooks Smith and Robert Meredith. Illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher." (2) Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts: The Story of Halloween Symbols, by Edna Barth. Illustrated by Ursula Arndt. (3) The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night: An Old Song, illustrated by Peter Spier. (4) Thanksgiving Day, by Gail Gibbons.

* It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Because some traditions never die.


To celebrate the end of summer (because I only eat this during warm weather), below is a recipe for dairy-free chocolate pudding. It's really easy, because if it wasn't, I wouldn't make pudding.

Recipe: Dairy-Free Chocolate Pudding )
Autumn history podcast episode )
Last fortnight's shopping list )
The rest of last fortnight's homemaking )
This week's meals )
duskpeterson: Vacuum cleaner (vacuum)
[personal profile] duskpeterson
"I'm bone-tired. I rest up all day if I plan to work outside, and yesterday I rested and then spent two hours trimming down all the forsythia bushes on the right side of our driveway (side of garage) so that the vine on our tower shows and the bushes look neat. I also worked on the weeds next to the front door. Today I rested all day, but I was a bit more tense, because I don't think they'll get our new stove to us by tomorrow as they promised on Monday, and I told them it's a matter of an emergency. Our oven now just can't even be opened without everything falling apart! Anyway, I went out and trimmed the forsythia by the driveway entrance, moved the sprinkler all around the front lawn from 5 on every hour, vacuumed all of our sections of the basement, made very simple meals (we had breakfast morning and night!!), and cut dead branches and pulled easy weeds from between some of the bushes next to the back-side lawn near the highway. Doug mowed the last of the lawn, and tomorrow Keith S-- is going to rake the lawn. I'm trying to rest all the time, for I'm only going to dust and polish and maybe wash the fronts of the cabinets and the front of the refrig. before my mother and Lucille come on Sunday at 1:11."

--A post-surgery letter from my mother on a Thursday night in 1967.

This year for my birthday, at my request, my father and stepmother took Joe and me to visit an 18th-to-20th-century milltown, Jerusalem Mill. As my father and I were tramping back to the town's springhouse, my father casually mentioned that he'd lived near a working springhouse when he was growing up.

My father grew up in the 1940s and 1950s, which gives a sense of how far back mid-twentieth-century rural American technology lagged from other parts of the country. (I just ran across an ad from World War Two which claimed that only one-third of American homes had bathtubs by that point.) My cultural memory doesn't go back that far. But I've seen iceboxes in the antique stores in this town, and a few years ago, I researched how iceboxes worked, in order to write a scene in which an 1890s character repaired one. I was left with a healthy respect for turn-of-the-century technology.

1900 icebox

A 1900 diagram of icebox plumbing (source). Iceboxes were more complicated than you would think.

My own cultural memory - where keeping food cold is concerned - begins with the early twentieth century, because when I lived in England in 1977, the house we stayed in had a refrigerator like the ones that appeared in early-twentieth-century American homes. The fridge was so small that it was tucked under the kitchen counter, and its freezer - just a little shelf hanging down over the next-highest shelf - was barely bigger than an ice cube tray.

1944 fridge

From a 1944 ad (source), which is trumpeting the fact that the freezer is now bigger than an ice cube tray. Note that the freezer is still a shelf at the top of the refrigerator.

I haven't yet run across any photos of the early fridges that our family owned - though, since our 1960 house in Greenbelt had color-coordinated pastel bathrooms, I'd love to think that we had one of those nifty pastel fridges of the time.

After I finished college in 1987 - and my parents were no longer paying my tuition every year - my mother splurged on a set of new kitchen appliances, including a Sears Kenmore refrigerator. When that fridge finally reached the end of its long life in 2011, I replaced it (after a considerable amount of research, because we had only a tiny 1960 kitchen space for it) with a fridge that had the freezer to the left side.

This turned out to be gloriously helpful, because, with the freezer to one side, there was no moisture in the fridge. No moisture meant that we didn't have to place our farmers market veggies in the produce shelf; we could place them in pots of water in the fridge that kept the veggies nice and crisp.

Old fridge

Our wonderful fridge in Greenbelt.

Then we moved to this apartment, and we're now stuck with a lousy landlord-chosen fridge. Oh, well.

At any rate, we can't blame our fridge for the latest mishap, which was a fridge door left open.

Empty fridge

Our not-so-wonderful current fridge, post-mishap, looking lonely for groceries.

After gnashing our teeth, we set about with the usual after-food-spoilage activities:

* Throw out any food that's dead.

* Throw out any food that's not dead but is expired.

* Realize that the bottles should be recycled. Fish out of the trash half the food we've already thrown out.

* Empty and wash the bottles.

* Realize that, even with the bottles removed from the trash, the trash bag is so heavy that it's likely to tear, so bring out the heavy-duty trash bags.

* Realize we only have three heavy-duty trash bags left.

* Somehow manage to distribute the heavy food between the three heavy-duty trash bags. Tote the bags downstairs to the dumpster.

* Somewhat woozy by this point, spontaneously decide to sort and wipe down the food cupboards . . . but that's another story.

* Realize that, with nearly all the food gone, it's the perfect time to clean the fridge.

All this took two days to accomplish, and after that, I had to go to the supermarket and replace food I'd just bought. But hey, I managed to get two housework items off my list: clean the fridge and sort the food cupboards.


Before I got to the grocery store, the farmers market food saved the day.

Last fortnight's shopping list )
The rest of last fortnight's homemaking )
This week's meals )
duskpeterson: Vacuum cleaner (vacuum)
[personal profile] duskpeterson
"So much to tell, and you know how I hate to write long-hand!"

--From a letter by my mother, 1966.

Fountain pen and iPhone on top of pad of paper

My mother gave me this notepaper. The pink fountain pen was my idea. I am totally to blame for the stuffed inbox.

Rereading collections of etiquette columns by Miss Manners (i.e. Judith Martin) is always a salutary experience. When I begin to feel guilty as I read, I know that this passage relates to part of my life where I need to brush up on my manners.

This week, my guilt alarm went off when I was reading a section about replying promptly to invitations. I rarely receive invitations, but then, I also rarely reply promptly, whether or not the correspondence I've received is an invitation.

I've been trying to remember what sort of mail I received as a teenager (1976-1982). I may have missed a few items in my memory, but these are my recollections of what showed up in my mailbox during that era:


Letters from friends. Not many of these, since my friends tended to be local. But because of my father's work, I sometimes lived overseas in England, which allowed for the occasional exchange of airmail correspondence. On one occasion, I even received flowers by overseas purchase from an erstwhile date (the date was already very much erstwhile by the time this unwelcome gift arrived), which quite awed the inhabitants of the English village where our family was staying.

Letters and cards from relatives. I especially remember my maternal grandmother's cards. She sent preprinted holiday cards in which she underlined the words that especially expressed her sentiments. She also pasted pictures of flowers onto the cards. Then she enclosed newspaper clippings that she thought I'd find amusing. (This family habit - my mother inherited it from her - is deeply ingrained in me now, though my current "clippings" are more likely to take the form of URLs in emails.)

Credit union statements. I signed up for my first credit union account around age eighteen, so I'm reasonably sure I must have received monthly bank statements after that.

College letters, pamphlets, and catalogues - an avalanche of them, because I had decent SAT scores and indicated that I was open to receiving mail from colleges who liked my scores. This flurry of mail quite dazzled me - and yes, I did end up going to the college that had the very best slogan.

Magazines. Mostly I read magazines at my local public library, but in high school I subscribed to Omni Magazine - which, by happy coincidence, has just announced that it's returning to print.

LPs. In my early teens, I subscribed to one of the many record-of-the-month clubs: the club sent me a record by mail each month.


As far as I can tell, that was more or less it. If I received a single piece of mail during any given week of my teen years, I considered myself incredibly lucky.

Fast forward to 2017. This week, I received three pieces of mail in my mailbox downstairs: two bank statements and a utility statement.

I also received 106 emails.

Now, I realize I'm lucky in comparison to those of you who are deluged with much larger numbers. Moreover, I have a good spam filter, so emails rarely enter my inbox unless I've solicited them in some manner (if only by begging readers, "Please tell me what you think of my stories!"). And finally, many of these emails are of the type - receipts, etc. - that I can delete or file within seconds. At most, I need only type up a brief reply.

Even so, that leaves me with (1) a heck of a lot of professional newsletters to read, and (2) some emails - from family members, friends, colleagues, or readers - that really deserve a longer response.

I've been trying to tame the email tiger for twenty years now and have still not learned the trick. My childhood didn't prepare me for this. I don't think the childhoods of anyone in the pre-email era prepared them for this, unless they were child celebrities, in which case they probably had parents or secretaries who answered their mail.

At the moment, I put my e-newsletters in a special "read later" folder, I delete or file the glance-at-for-a-second emails as soon as I've read them, and I try to respond immediately to the "needs a short response" emails. Yet I'm still not keeping up. This concerns me a lot because, even leaving aside the issue of manners, I want to be able to reply promptly to the generous correspondence I receive from family members, friends, colleagues, and readers.

I'd be interested to hear whether any of the rest of you have found ways to deal with this practical challenge, which is also an etiquette challenge.

Last week's shopping list )
The rest of last week's homemaking )
Family activities and community events )
duskpeterson: Victorian couple (couple)
[personal profile] duskpeterson

There's nothing particularly churchy about The Church Cook Book, other than its name and the fact that the publisher was willing to sell volumes of it at low cost to churches who wished to raise money for charity. According to the book's introduction from the Baltimore publisher, most of the recipes were of Maryland origin, a fact that slaps one in the face in the chapter on fish, which begins with a recipe for what would become the Maryland state fish, rockfish (i.e. striped bass). The chapter goes on to outline how to prepare such dishes as lobster cutlets and soft shell crabs, before it culminates with this grand recital:

Stewed Oysters.

Oyster Pates.

Scalloped Oysters.

Broiled Oysters.

Broiled Oyster, with Brown Sauce.

Fried Oysters.

Spiced Oysters.

Oyster Pie.

Oyster Cocktail.

Oysters, Deviled.

And finally, terrapin, who is this fellow. The reader is left with no doubt that the Chesapeake Bay lies at the heart of the State of Maryland.

The nicely-printed cookbook, with little sketches of food (and of animals before they become food), is filled with many familiar recipes, as well as a few less familiar recipes. The "Poultry and Game" chapter, for example, travels past the usual candidates of chicken and turkeys to tell the reader how to cook partridges, pigeons, rabbit, and "reed birds," while the "Meat" chapter culminates with a recipe for scrambled brains - exactly whose brains is never specified.

Throughout the cookbook, the recipes are wonderfully short and simple. When reading turn-of-the-century cookbooks, I always get the impression that cooks then would be aghast if presented with a typical recipe in a modern cookbook, with its twenty ingredients and fifty steps. Given how heavy their workload was, 1903 homemakers simply didn't have enough time to dillydally in making meals. Most of the recipes in this cookbook can be followed without change today, though a few would require adaptations to modern tastes and techniques.

Maryland Biscuit

1 quart of winter wheat flour
1 large tablespoonful lard
1 teaspoonful salt
1/2 pint ice water

Rub the lard into the flour; add the salt; add gradually the water, which will make a stiff dough; pound it with an axe on the biscuit block until it will break off short and is smooth; cut it up in small pieces, and work into round biscuits; stick with a fork, stand in baking pan so they will not touch each other, and bake in quick oven 20 minutes.

Silly me; I never realized that axes were standard kitchen equipment.

Free online: The Church Cook Book at the Internet Archive.