On This Site in 1897

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a long summer. And a short summer in some ways. My kids, now 9 and 11 ½  are getting older so they are better at finding ways to keep themselves busy. They’ve got more friends and activities and thoughts of their own. Still, as we wind down these last few days of our more or less 24/7 time together before school starts next week, the season, as it does every year, has gotten the best of me.

I hope to be posting weekly again beginning next Thursday. Today I’m going to shop for new school supplies instead. Perhaps soon I will relate to you the fascinating history behind the number 2 pencil, but I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait for that little gem.


Not in the Mood

In the midst of a week of intense political rhetoric that does little to further the causes of kindness, justice, and polite discourse in the world, I find myself staring at my blank screen on this Thursday without much to say. Or rather I have a lot that I’d like to say, but as I have long wished for this little corner of the Internet to remain lighthearted and relatively non-controversial, I think I’m just going to have to admit defeat this week. I’d love to write something about Andrew Jackson’s beatdown of the man who attempted to assassinate him on this day in history or about the rumored gigantic flock of birds that allegedly blocked out the the sunlight in San Francisco. And some day I might. But for now, I’m just not in the mood.

Maybe this will help.

If April showers bring May flowers, what do Mayflowers bring?

If anyone reads this blog on a regular basis (and I am grateful that a few people actually do) he or she may have noticed that the Practical Historian has failed to post in the last couple of weeks. I apologize for that. I have missed it terribly, but I do have a really good excuse. You see, just recently, I was sitting in my empty Oregon home (freshly repainted various shades of potato for the benefit of painting-phobic potential buyers), gazing out into the overcast Pacific Northwest mist I have come to know so well over the past couple of years.

Now I am sitting in my new house (not yet repainted, though I am in no way painting-phobic and already have my eye on several bold shades) at what used to be my dining room table (now a temporary computer desk since a vice fell on the real computer desk and broke it), looking out the window at what I can only describe as a blizzard.

I fear that if it doesn't stop snowing soon, the patio table may go the way of the computer desk.
I fear that if it doesn’t stop snowing soon, the patio table may go the way of the computer desk.

But in front of me, at long last, is a working computer, happily connected to the Internet and ready to assist me in all of my blogging endeavors and I am an almost settled Midwesterner. Along the way from Point A to Point B, my family and I had many adventures and I will likely write about a few of them, but first, I want to back up a few months and also about 393 years.

It’s true that two weeks ago, several men showed up at my home and loaded all of my worldly possessions (minus a few packed suitcases) into a large Mayflower moving truck. As anyone who has ever moved can attest, it is a surreal experience watching your home transform from a lived-in family space full of comfy chairs, cheerful artwork, and cozy beds to an unnaturally clean hall of echoes. By the time the movers arrived, though, it was the culmination of a great deal of work on our part.

In anticipation of moving day we spent many weeks patching, painting, organizing, scrubbing, and simplifying. It was exhausting work, but I have to admit, pretty gratifying, too. There’s something kind of wonderful about taking a hard look at your stuff and realizing that you don’t need that much of it, and, when faced with moving it half way across the country, you may not even want that much of it.

Obviously we held on to a lot. Among the things that made the cut was our living room set (the first matching furniture we ever purchased for ourselves), our pots and pans, the excessively large fish tank (just not the fish, who all found good new homes), the cedar chest that has been handed down through three generations of women in my family, and the splintered computer desk.

As I watched the Mayflower men carefully empty my home into the truck (maybe just not carefully enough in the case of the computer desk), I found myself reflecting on the choices we had made and the choices that others in history have made when facing a big move.

I turned my attention to the original Mayflower (actually Mayflower was a fairly common name for English ships in the early 1600s, but in this case, I refer to the one that carried the Pilgrims from Plymouth across the Atlantic to Plymouth (how disappointing that must have been) in 1620. Designed to carry cargo, rather than passengers, the Mayflower probably made most of its trips carrying English wool, French wine, Spanish salt, and other highly trade-worthy goods.

The Mayflower II, a replica of the original Ma...

In 1620, however, the ship was engaged to transport 102 settlers (only about 40 of which were the protestant separatists history has come to call the pilgrims) plus a large crew that brought the total number of people up to around 150. Some of this number originally boarded the Speedwell, also slated to make the journey, but the second ship quickly proved to be less than sea-worthy. Apparently undaunted by this unfortunate turn of events, the settlers huddled together with all of their goods and set out aboard the Mayflower on a trans-Atlantic journey in early September.

If I had to travel in the back of the truck with all of my stuff and the trip was going to take two months and then I might have to spend the rest of the winter on that same truck, I wonder how much beer I would need to have with me.

For the most part the goods with which they huddled are not all that surprising: tools, food, lots of beer (a healthier alternative to water), candles, a fair bit of warm clothing and 126 pairs of shoes and boots brought onboard by passenger William Mullins.

Mullins, one of the many “strangers” on board the Mayflower because he traveled for economic rather than for religious reasons, was a cobbler by trade and I suppose his choice of luggage makes some sense. If one’s business is shoes and his final destination is unknown land filled with potentially little in the way of familiar materials with which to work, then it might even be sound business practice.

I do wonder, though, when the Mayflower finally landed far off-course after sailing through harsh winter storms, only to endure a long freezing winter that just over half of the settlers survived, did Mullins question his choice to bring his 126 pairs of shoes? Or would he rather have had plentiful medicine, more food, a thicker coat, or perhaps more beer?

I wonder, too, if we made the right choices, as I try to find places in my new home for incredibly unnecessary items like: four wire whisks (actually, I’m not sure I have ever found much use for one), two copies of the game Hungry Hungry Hippos (one with exactly two remaining marbles), and a computer desk that proved, in the end, to be less than sea-worthy. Thankfully we were smart enough to hold onto the snow shovel. Hopefully we will survive the harsh Midwestern winter.

Years of overindulging on marbles had ill effe...
I do feel sorry for the hippos as their provisions have run alarmingly low.

Sarah Angleton Officially Pulls Out of the Race

This post was supposed to be about vampires. I know what you are thinking and yes, you’re right, that would be fun to read about. I’ll get back to them. But for now, I want to talk to you about an even more pressing public safety issue. Obviously I have the authority to do this because I turn 35 in October, making me eligible to be a write-in candidate for US president this November (please don’t vote for me).

For my first action in my new position of authority, I am declaring the official “Don’t let Your Kid Fall out of a Window Day.” Apparently this is an epidemic, which, I am hoping, a lot of you may have already known. I didn’t. Until my kid fell out of his second-story bedroom window a couple of days ago (seriously, don’t vote for me).

On what will live in my memory as one of the scariest afternoons in my life, my youngest son (soon to be 5) went up to his bedroom to play while I remained downstairs with his brother, debriefing from the school day. E and I were talking, thinking about snacks, unloading his backpack, etc. Then J screamed. This in itself is not necessarily heart-stopping (or at least it wasn’t) since he screams all the time and most often for no reason at all. But there was something more urgent in this scream and I ran to find him, which I couldn’t right away because, unbeknownst to me, he was no longer in the house.

The windows (including his) were open to allow a cool breeze to blow through the house and I finally (really probably only a few seconds later, but the space of time keeps growing in my mind) put it together that he was outside. Surprising, as I had still assumed he was inside, but still not yet particularly alarming until (in pretty much the same moment in my memory): I saw him lying on the bark dust under the tree that sits beneath his bedroom window, I registered that a bent-up window screen lay crumpled next to him, and our sixteen-year-old neighbor boy from across the street arrived at a sprint and declared that he’d seen J fall out of the window. At that point I said some words that I am not proud of saying in front of my sixteen-year-old neighbor (or my 4-year-old son) and my heart stopped.

Thankfully, mommy adrenaline kicked in and I knelt next to my son to try to calm him and prevent him from moving while more neighborly help arrived (I seriously live around some of the best people in the world). I’m not sure how long the emergency response time was, but as I can only measure it in moments spent trying to prevent a distressed, normally active child from moving, I’m guessing it was around 4 milliseconds (I seriously live near some of the best emergency personnel in the world).

The next few hours are something of a blur. Superneighbor offered to take E. I hopped into the ambulance with my back-boarded little one (talk about a frightening sight). My husband met us at the hospital (thanks to a phone call from Superneighbor) and after lots of X-rays and an ultrasound, the doctors determined that my son sustained only a minor fracture in one arm and a scrape/bruise on one cheek. We headed home that night a few minutes before ten (just barely in time to grab some Subway because none of us had eaten and that is little J’s favorite), about six hours after the original accident. Rumor has it that six hours from injury to release is pretty good for a trauma in the ER and I certainly can’t complain. I would have happily stayed a lot longer for a (mostly) clean bill of health.

And I have to say I am so proud of my boys who were both so brave and patient through the whole process. I’m a little proud of me, too. I managed to hold it together pretty well. When we finally got home, I looked up at the window from which my little boy had fallen and I cried. When I closed my eyes to try to sleep that night, I kept seeing the image of his little body on the bark dust. Eventually I had to sleep in the same room with him because I needed to know that if I opened my eyes, I would be able to see him safe in bed.

In fact the only reason I can be light-hearted about this event at all is because everything worked out okay. I don’t allow myself to think about what could have happened, but you parents out there go ahead and let your minds wander if it helps convince you to take care of your upstairs windows. Join me in celebrating “Don’t Let Your Kid Fall Out of a Window Day” by heading to the hardware store and loading up on the stuff you need to keep your kiddos safe. How about we make it this Saturday (June 16th)? Though feel free to celebrate early if you have to work that day. Here’s a helpful link:


Thank you for sticking with me for a more serious post. Don’t worry, the vampires are coming. On second thought, maybe that should make you worry. This is exactly why you shouldn’t vote for me for president. I have no proper sense of priorities. I do have it on pretty good authority that our most beloved presidents spent a great deal of energy addressing the serious problems presented by American vampires. But that’s a topic for another day…