March 17, 2019
This article gave me the opportunity to answer one of the largest questions about life in early America, which is medical care. Here, I discuss the lack of medical professionals, with care handled by midwives and other local healers familiar with treating sickness and injury. It moves into the era of the traveling country doctor in the 1800s, and eventually into today's world of hospitals, clinics, and specialized medicine where even the traditional house call has all but disappeared. This is the second installment of the "History of Our Homes" series I've written for A Simple Life.
January 16, 2019
Keeping a warm home has been a struggle in most of America since the 1600s, with home heating only becoming a routine convenience in the 20th century. This article goes from primitive hearths to fireplaces, iron cookstoves, coal furnaces, and finally to central heating summoned at the flick of a switch. This is the first of several "History of Our Homes" articles I've done for A Simple Life, where readers can learn the historical challenges to many household matters we now take for granted.
October 12, 2018
For many years I've been a practicing dowser, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to write this article for A Simple Life. Dowsing has been in use for centuries, though no one can tell you authoritatively how its works. But it does, and it was vital to American settlers finding new water sources. I stayed away from some of the more esoteric aspects of dowsing in this brief history, but even the basics are pretty fascinating.
March 15, 2016
Gail Lettick is a highly respected dealer and collector, her fine eye and taste honed by a love for early Americana and deep knowledge of Italian Renaissance furnishings. She's updated her 1775 Connecticut home with exquisite décor, as it serves as her living quarters and her Pantry & Hearth shop. My several interviews with Gail were consistently enjoyable as I learned much as she cheerfully elaborated on her wonderful collection of rare antiques.
February 12, 2016
Printing farm feedsacks with bright designs suitable for making into dresses and aprons was one of the most innovative ideas in the history of American textiles. For this article I traced the origins and development of feedsack cloth and found photos showing how these bright designs brought joy to the often hard lives of Depression-era farm families.
December 20, 2015
One of the most colorful figures in American history, the itinerant peddler also was one of the most controversial. Peddlers with their inventories stuffed into wagons or even carried on their backs pushed into the frontier so that families could remain stocked with life's essentials as they settled the new lands. This was a fun and fascinating article to research, tracing the routes and history of peddlers through the 300 years they remained active.
August 12, 2015
This was an amazing article to write because of the strength and determination of Nancy and Paul Holcomb, who lived in one of Ohio's landmark historic homes and then pulled up roots to move to Missouri. For their new home they purchased the pieces of a 1670 Connecticut house and rebuilt it, piece by piece, in Missouri and filled it with a remarkable collection of early New England furnishings.
June 12, 2015
Writing the story of Maine minister and poet Ed Oestreich was fascinating because it shows how his longstanding desire to have his historic Maine home reflect everyday 18th-century existence means today it is filled with antique treasures. For several decades, Ed's knowledge and love of antiques has resulted in a remarkable collection. A number of people who read this article and were prompted to visit Ed's home have since told me they'll never forget the wondrous and quaint home and its kindly owner.
December 2, 2014
The story of the hearth in America reveals the evolution from a crude and primitive society to one reflecting the warmth, comfort and practicality of advanced domesticity. This is one of my favorite types of article to research and write ~ a peek beneath the comfortable image we too often hold of the lives of our inventive ancestors.
December 1, 2014
Marti and Ron Diederich are a creative, delightful couple who've built a saltbox in western Illinois perfect for displaying their exceptional original-finish furniture ~ much of it collected across their beloved Midwest. Theirs is a enduring story of various houses and years of collecting primitive treasures, including even the drama of a major house fire.
September 1, 2014
Julie Hites and her husband Greg have brought together a wonderful historic house, a log cabin, several vintage outbuildings and an abundance of pumpkins and gourds on their Ohio farm -- all in the spirit of the American family farm.
July 1, 2014
Bill McKenna and his wife Suzanne have collected a stunning array of early furnishings. Appearance is important, but Bill says he also looks for the telltale signs of wear that reveal each piece's personal history. To provide an extraordinary backdrop for these pieces, the McKennas have expanded and remodeled their home to match the period span of their collection.
May 2, 2014
After years of nurturing her green thumb and love of antiques, Connie Reeve now spends her time in an incredible array of gardens and running her antique shop in one of New England's landmark historical homes, Avery Hill Farm. With husband Perc at her side, they've transformed the house, outbuildings and grounds into a destination spot for history lovers.
Special Issue 2014
May 1, 2014
Chriss Cefus is one of the most unique and creative gardeners and landscapers I've ever met. She and husband Bob have turned their Ohio yard into a wonderland of paths and plants, weathered outbuildings, and primitive trellises. Beauty and interesting things catch your eye at every turn.
Special Issue 2014
March 1, 2014
I greatly enjoyed researching and writing this article because Johnny Appleseed has interested me since I was a child. Though I've long been aware that much of what we're taught about this kindly yet odd man is folklore, I learned that the facts of his life are fascinating and complex. His business acumen and Swedenborgian religious zeal made him far more successful than most people realize.
February 28, 2014
Many years ago, Dave Proctor decided to focus on collecting early furniture with original painted surfaces. The result was acquiring an incredible collection of these sought-after pieces long before they became so popular and therefore rare. Today Dave displays his painted furnishings in his New Hampshire home that also functioned as a stagecoach inn and tavern through the mid 1800s. And he's one of the most knowledgable collectors and dealers I've had the pleasure of writing about!
December 7, 2013
Winter could be truly challenging for settlers on the Great Plains, and few were worse than the winter of 1881. Using Laura Ingalls Wilder's book "The Longest Winter," I excerpted parts of the book and found research comparing the actual winter of 1881 to Laura's recollections. Turns out she was spot-on correct in describing the incredible storms and blizzards though she wrote the book nearly 40 years after she experienced that winter as a 13-year-old girl on the prairie.
September 16, 2013
Fall, 2013This was an especially fun article to write because I first interviewed Vernon nine years ago for an Early American Life article when he lived in a large house he built in the woodlands of Missouri and filled with his considerable collection of prized primitive furnishings. Now he's in a much smaller 19th-century "sidewinder" home in St. Louis, a few blocks from the Mississippi. The radical downsizing has brought out Vernon's decorative creativity, prompting him to break away from his former decor into a style much more personal and ingenious.
September 15, 2013
Fall, 2013From the time people first began washing their clothes, laundry has been regarded as a back-breaking and time-consuming task ~ which was why people centuries ago only did washings once or twice a year. Researching this article was great fun and I gained even greater appreciation for American inventiveness in the 1800s, which made laundry day much more palatable.
May 1, 2013
Summer, 2013Betty and Jack Rhodus have spent decades collecting and selling some of the best early furniture and domestic items I've ever seen. Plus their southern Ohio home ~ a reproduction 18th century saltbox and a reassembled early log cabin behind the house ~ perfectly reflects the period and furnishings they both love. This article was an unusual opportunity for me because I'd done an Early American Life article on the Rhoduses several years ago, and this one gave me a chance to renew a friendship and find out what this talented couple's up to today.
April 30, 2013
Summer, 2013I enjoy writing articles about folks who use their creativity to delight other people, whether it's with their homes, their art or their gardens ~ and this article addresses two of the three. Linda and Don Kuzak have created a delightfully enchanting garden surrounding their Ohio home, with tons of flowers their neighbors enjoy and pieces of Don's whimsical folk art placed throughout.
February 1, 2013
This is one of my favorite articles, ever. It was great fun researching it and learning how countless homesteaders built these humble hovels and then make them as comfortable and homey as they could. The article features entries from diaries and other accounts of what it was like to construct and dwell in these venerable homes that dotted America's Great Plains for several decades. The hand-tinted photos from North Dakota State University really added to the feel of the article.
January 30, 2013
For about 10,000 years, Native Americans have been aware that planting corn, squash, and beans together created ideal growing conditions for each of the three and could substantially increase the harvest. Known as "The Three Sisters," this early style of companion planting was quickly adopted by America's first European settlers in the 1600s and has been popular ever since. Here's a history of the technique and directions of how to do it, as well as tips on cooking succotash.
December 1, 2012
Winter, 2012In 1783, at the end of the American Revolution, General George Washington's journey from New York back to Mount Vernon makes for incredible reading. Just the image of his officers ~ men who had spent years in dire warfare and emerged victorious ~ breaking down in tears at the thought of their commander's departure ... this demonstrates the greatness of the man. Here you see why Washington is truly a revered hero.
November 1, 2012
Plenty of people have a fondness for the simple, more primitive look reflected in American homes built from the 1700s and well into the 1800s but are living in homes much more contemporary. That's where interior-design creativity so excellently demonstrated in the Florida home of Jude and Fred Eilers is a real inspiration. Using early wall sections and woodwork, this charming and inventive couple have created a harmonious environment for their splendid collection of American and English antique furnishings.
September 10, 2012
Maggie Bonanomi is a well-known textile artist and teacher, as well as author of several popular books of textile projects. Her 1840s home in Lexington, Missouri, reflects her vibrant artistic sense throughout ~ especially her fondness for things worn, weathered and mended. Maggie was a delight to interview, and her philosophy of life is really contagious!
September 1, 2012
We may take pumpkins for granted, especially in Autumn, but this fruit was vitally important to the Native Americans and to the colonists who learned from them to appreciate the pumpkin as a necessary food ~ tasty, versatile, and easy to preserve. This article was a joy to research, and from it you might learn some surprising things about this humble fruit.
June 25, 2012
Spring, 2012I particularly enjoyed writing this article because it's the story of a woman who wouldn't give up on her dream. Shelvy McQueen for years and years wanted a log cabin ~ was obsessed with them ~ and finally got one through a quirk and coincidence. The home of Shelvy and her husband Clarence in little Waldron, Indiana, is inspirational for lovers of the 'primitive' look.
June 22, 2012
Summer, 2012I love the rich heritage of American folk art and have long admired the influential work of early-1800s artist William Matthew Prior, so writing this article was a pure delight for me. Prior was one of the few folk artist who also could paint in a more academic style, but usually painted in this plain manner so he could charge his clients far less per painting ~ and it was his plain style that set the standard for most early American portraiture. He was one interesting fellow!
June 21, 2012
Special Home & Garden Issue, 2012For two centuries, the small plot of land directly in front of the house was where the woman of the house planted her favored vegetables, medicinal plants and the flowers she used to add some beauty to her home. "Front Dooryard" eventually got shortened to "front yard" and eventually disappeared as a special household province. This article explains the evolution and some of the favored plants that once graced America's dooryards.
June 20, 2012
Special Home & Garden Issue, 2012Vegetable gardening in the 1700s had challenges we don't even dream of today, especially the problem of water during times of drought. Much was different, but much about gardening also is the same, comparing the two eras. The basis for this article is Wesley Greene, historical gardener at Colonial Williamsburg, and a fascinating expert on the topic. If you grow vegetables today, you'll find this interesting.
June 18, 2012
Fall, 2011Cheri and Jim Campbell own one of the surviving buildings of a 19th-century Swedish religious colony at Bishop Hill, in western Illinois. This is the story of the Campbell's and their journey to obtain their treasured home, the evolution of their decorating style and some of the other homes they've worked hard to restore or rebuild.
June 15, 2012
Summer, 2011This was an especially fun article for me to write because beekeeping was my hobby for several years. Not only is the history of the honeybee in early America fascinating to me - it took the bees 230 years to cross the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific - but I was also able to incorporate a few episodes from my own days as a beekeeper.
June 1, 2012
Summer, 2011I've long been interested in the centuries-old practice of planting by the position of the planets. I have an old journal kept by a great-great-great-grandfather of mine - who was a farmer in Maryland - where he'd drawn the sign of the zodiac for each day, just so he'd know. There's more science to this than you may believe.
May 30, 2012
Winter, 2011No war ravaged Americans as much as our Civil War, and no war was harder on Christmas, yet there were extraordinarily touching incidents and compassion shown by troops North and South. This is a holiday article that lays out some harsh reality as well as the beauty of the human soul.
May 16, 2012
Winter, 2010The world of American antiques has been in flux for several years, and I've had several questions about what's next and what would a beginning collector do today. So when ASL editor Jill Peterson offered the opportunity to talk with one of New England's leading dealers and collectors ~ Stephen Corrigan of Rockingham, Vermont ~ I jumped at the chance. Here's what Stephen says, along with comments about his collection and wonderful 1770 house.
May 1, 2012
Summer, 2010Candles were a mainstay of everyone's existence for America's first two hundred years. They also evolved greatly during those two centuries, steadily improving as colonists found new ways to make wax that burned brighter and stood straighter even on summer nights or when close to the hearth. Here's a brief history of the American candle before the discovery of whale oil became a major source of light.
April 1, 2012
Summer, 2012During the 1980s, Mary Frost went through a conversion from the formal Colonial look she'd perfected in her western Florida home. She stripped the walls of their Williamsburg wallpapers, sold off some of her treasured furniture and chose instead a simpler setting with more battered and worn country furniture. This fascinated me because it's a shift in taste and attitude I still see a lot of people going through today.
March 15, 2012
Fall, 2010Dog-lovers will love this article. I found a number of extraordinary instances where man's best friend played pivotal roles in American history. I truly believe what I wrote: "Surely, European immigrants could have settled America without dogs, but it's difficult to imagine how." A Simple Life publisher Jill Peterson arranged for the exceptional animal artist Joseph Sulkowski to provide several of his beautiful paintings to illustrate the article.