10 Year Anniverary & New Releases Winners: Carrie Fancett Pagels' Butterfly Cottage - Melanie B, Dogwood Plantation - Patty H R, Janet Grunst's winner is Connie S., Denise Weimer's Winner is Kay M., Naomi Musch's winner is Chappy Debbie, Angela Couch - Kathleen Maher, Pegg Thomas Beverly D. M. & Gracie Y., Christy Distler - Kailey B., Shannon McNear - Marilyn R.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Rickets Disease in Colonial America and What We've Learned About Vitamin D Since

Have you ever read of some character in a novel ailing with the bloody flux, chilblains, putrid fever, sweating sickness, or canker rash, and thought to yourself, what in the world is that? The list of afflictions suffered by those of the colonial era is a bit mind-boggling, but most of those illnesses have their modern equivalent and are better understood in our world today.

Rickets is one disease that has been known of to some degree since the first century, and which became very common among infants and children in Colonial America. Even today, rickets is not unheard of, though it is less common. If you don’t know, rickets a condition that results in weak or soft bones and deformities in children.

“Symptoms include bowed legs, stunted growth, bone pain or tenderness, large forehead, and trouble sleeping. Complications may include bone fractures, muscle spasms, or an abnormally curved spine. The most common cause of rickets is a vitamin D deficiency.” (Wikipedia)

So those movies of the old bow-legged cowboy who got that way from riding in the saddle? Probably not. He most likely had rickets as a child.

Cowboy Costume from

England suffered an outbreak of the disease in the 17th century, and for that reason rickets became known as the “English disease”. Cases of rickets increased during industrial revolution wherein more children spent their time working in factories and had less sun exposure. This led to a rise in the speculations about its origin and treatment.

English physician Daniel Whistler, is credited as the earliest person to describe rickets. In 1645, he published a paper noting signs and symptoms such as the aforementioned bone pain or tenderness, as well as dental deformities, delayed formation of teeth, short stature, impaired growth, decreased muscle strength, and a number of skeletal deformities such as abnormally shaped skull, rib-cage abnormalities, bowlegs. This also included breastbone, pelvic, and spinal deformities. Five years later, in 1650, Cambridge physician Francis Glissen produced a more thorough study and a clinical treatise on rickets that remains a classic among medical texts.

Then, for two centuries, nothing more was discovered, although during that period as the disease prevailed in England, bakers’ bread adulterated with alum was blamed, and this led to further study of the role of diet in cause and prevention.

In 1909, in then heavily industrialized and factory-polluted North America, autopsy study of 221 infants who died under 18 months of age showed that rickets was evident in 96% of them (214), concluding that diet, sun exposure, and exercise played a role.

Skeleton of Infant with Rickets, 1881

Then, in 1923, American physician Harry Steenbeck demonstrated that irradiation by ultraviolet light increased the vitamin D content of foods and other organic materials. His technique was used for foodstuffs like cereals and most memorably for milk. Thanks to Dr. Steenbeck's technique, by 1945, rickets had all but been eliminated in the United States. You may be old enough to recall learning about it when you were growing up, even during Saturday morning cartoon advertisements promoting the drinking of milk “fortified with vitamin D”. 

Over the past two years, in this age of Covid weariness, we can hardly turn around without hearing of how important it is to get more vitamin D into our bodies to strengthen our immune systems. Nowadays, studies have confirmed not only the importance of a certain level of vitamin D in our diets for greater immunity and to prevent rickets, but they have shown that people who obtain higher levels of D, and specifically D3, have a decreased risk of certain cancers such as colon cancer and prostate cancer, and we already know it helps prevent osteoporosis by increasing the absorption of calcium, magnesium, and phosphate into our bones.

Therefore, let’s all take this beneficial lesson from history and the crazy world of new diseases around us, and supplement ourselves with more Vitamin D!

Working on my health and praying for yours in these days,
Naomi Musch

By the way, Song for the Hunter is only ONE MONTH from release! If you didn't pre-order, there's still time! (Best deal right now is at Christian Book.) A great "take-me-away" read over your New Year's break!

Monday, November 22, 2021

Colonial History in the Caribbean: St. Croix Part 2 (an unexpected connection!)

 That time I got to take a trip I didn't know I needed, to a slightly obscure little island out on the Caribbean and toured a Danish colonial fort . . .

"What's your name, man?"

"Alexander Hamilton. My name is Alexander Hamilton! And there's a million things I haven't done, but just you wait--just you wait..."

 ( lyrics to the infamous song by Lin Manuel Miranda about the infamous Hamilton)

So yes, I rounded a corner at the fort and came face to face with these:

(You should be able to click on each photo and enlarge)

These four informational placards sketch out the story behind the story--of Hamilton's mother's early marriage, of her imprisonment right there in Fort Christiansvaern, and her relationship with Hamilton's father and return to St. Croix. The lyrics to the song "Alexander Hamilton" are actually pretty accurate. But something I caught from the display at the fort that the musical "Hamilton" doesn't really mention is the passionate faith young Alexander seemed to possess, heightened by the terrifying experience of living through a Category 5 hurricane there on St. Croix. (Lower sections of the fourth photo.) Can you imagine?

And this would not be the only unexpected connection with the American colonial era I would encounter on this beautiful island! Come back next month to read about the snippet of Lost Colony history I did not become aware of until later . . . 

Monday, November 15, 2021

Early American Woodworking

by Denise Weimer

During early Colonial times, American woodworkers relied heavily on British tools for their trade. While English woodworking items might be of superior manufacture, importing and distribution costs made them prohibitive for many.

As the colonies separated from England, Americans dedicated themselves more and more to making their own implements. Some, such as wooden squares, bevels, and gauges, proved easier to construct than others. Artisans also made their own vises, sawhorses, lathes, tool chests, and benches and called on blacksmiths for additional items. Plane-making surged in New England, saw-making both there and in Philadelphia, and the Kern family of the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, grew a reputation for both tool-smithing and plane-making during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. 

Traditionally, the carpenter cut and joined lumber into buildings; the joiner fitted pieces of wood to create farm and kitchen implements, window frames, staircases, and cabinetry; the turner worked with the turner to fashion chair and table legs on a lathe; and cabinetmakers taught apprentices to master techniques such as the dovetail and mortise and tenon and applied finishes to furniture.

However, woodworkers in rural areas might do everything from barn-building to farm equipment repair to making furniture. Some supplemented their incomes with farming. While the contents of their tool chests limited many of these Early American woodworkers, the demand for less practical furniture grew.

The ladder-back chair was the easiest chair style to produce, although its cylindrical parts called for chisels and gouges as the wood was spun on the lathe, its splats required several saws and a plane, and its seat was formed with a drawknife. Maple was a favorite for chair legs, as it was easily turned. As you might recall from the opening of the Mel Gibson movie The Patriot, the Windsor chair was among the most difficult to construct properly. And formal side chairs were even more time-consuming and necessitated special tools.

Blanket chests were made by dovetailing flat boards together to form a box to which a top and feet were added. On desks and chest-of-drawers, the visible surfaces were often made of fine hardwoods such as walnut or mahogany, while drawer interiors and the back of furniture might be constructed of softwoods such as pine or poplar. Carpenters favored pine for house interiors since it could be sawn, planed, and carved quickly, while they often employed easily split oak for barrels and wagon parts.

What tools were used? The list would be so exhaustive, we can merely skim the surface here. The axe and the saw were, of course, staples of the woodworker. The crosscut saw required two laborers for coarse work such as felling trees and sawing logs and beams to length. Pitsaws sawed logs into boards, a job soon mostly overtaken by sawmills. Americans preferred open-style saws to frame saws. Open handsaw styles included dovetail, panel, tenon, coarse, carcass, and sash.

Measuring and marking tools included carpenter’s squares, folding rules, mortising and marking gauges, compasses and calipers, and bevels.

Carpenters used augers, large reamers, small gimlets, brad awls, bow drills, and braces with bits to bore holes in furniture. They employed bench planes to reduce, flatten, or curve wood to the needed size and shape, joining planes to cut grooves or interlocking parts, and molding plans for decorative shapes.

Chisels and gouges were used to pare wood to size, shape joints or the wood on a lathe, and create designs. Chisels might be either tanged (tapered) or socket (heavy-duty) style. Gouges came in both tanged and socketed designs with curved-out blades.

Today, we can deeply appreciate the woodworkers who forged a living from the native forests of America and the beautiful pieces they left behind. I took the photos accompanying this article at the woodworking shop in Old Salem, North Carolina, when I was researching my novel, The Witness Tree. The hero in an upcoming novel, A Secondhand Betrothal, is a woodworker, scout, and farmer on the Georgia frontier. 


For more information: With These Hands They Built a Nation: The Story of Colonial Arts and Crafts by Lois Lazarus and Tools: Working Wood in Eighteenth-Century America by James M. Gaynor and Nancy L. Hagedorn.

Represented by Hartline Literary Agency, Denise Weimer holds a journalism degree with a minor in history from Asbury University. She’s a managing editor for the historical imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and the author of a dozen published novels and a number of novellas. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses!

Connect with Denise here:
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Friday, November 5, 2021

The Romance of the Native American Courtship Flute


Here are some lines near the end of a scene in Mist O'er the Voyageur, my novel set on Lake Superior at the height of the fur trade. Of course, you'd enjoy it more reading the whole scene, but just hang with me here for a moment:

René pulled air into his lungs. He grasped her face in his hands again. Laughed, sobered, and kissed her well.

Many minutes later, they walked hand-in-hand along the shore. The moon rose higher. In the distance, the silhouette of Bemidii playing on a flute trilled soft notes into the night.

After I wrote Mist O’er the Voyageur, I learned more about Native American courtship flutes or "love flutes" as they were also called. I had already decided the character Bemidii in the scene above needed to have his own story told, so imagine my delight when Bemidii meets someone for whom to play his love flute. Then I wrote my new novel Song for the Hunter, which is coming out January 4, 2022.

But I should back up.

Love Flutes

While the flute itself is an instrument used in many cultures around the world for ceremonies, rituals, celebration, and entertainment, the courtship flute is primarily a cultural icon of the Native American Woodland tribes. Courtship was a very public activity, and the flute was the means for the young man to convey his feelings and intentions to the young woman he was interested in. He might stand outside the young woman's abode in the evening and woo her with his song. Courtship rituals from tribe to tribe varied, but generally, once the woman accepted the man's advances (which she was not allowed to do alone) the two would be joined, and in an incredibly romantic bit of symbolism, the flute would be destroyed. Some say that the man would give the flute to the woman and she would break it so that he could never play his flute again for someone else. A Native American maker-of-flutes I spoke to at a rendezvous several years ago said that the man would place the flute into the fire, showing that he had given his heart and was forever finished searching for love elsewhere. Whichever way the act was done...oh, my, my! Isn't that lovely?

Photo by Caryn Cziriak from FreeImages

Flutes were and still are considered sacred among Native Americans. Being carved from a living tree, the player identified closely to his instrument as an extension of himself both bodily and emotionally. Women didn't play flutes historically, but today they might if they are given special permission from a tribe elder. 

Native American flute made from cedar wood. Wikipedia

There are some beautiful examples of courtship flutes and some stunningly romantic paintings of the ritual online, but I didn't want to share them here due to copyright. PLEASE, do a search or check out Pinterest. So cool!

Here are several other articles that will tell you more about the courtship flute.

Meet and Greet

Have a lovely Thanksgiving month, everyone. If you're free on Wednesday, November 10th, it's my birthday, and I'll be hosting an Author Meet and Greet on the Journeying with Jenny Facebook page. I have it on my own good authority that I'll be doing a couple of giveaways, so I hope you'll stop in and say hello!

Naomi Musch

Monday, October 18, 2021

Early American Autumn Chores

by Denise Weimer

As we ease into October, follow the wood smoke on a leaf-laden, cool breeze back to a homestead on the Colonial or Federal frontier. We’d probably pass the men and boys in the field, busy with the harvest of whatever crop might be grown in that area. If we stuck our head in the door of the cabin, what would the women be up to? I came up with a few fall chores they might be about. Can you think of more?

Preserving – Meats were smoked, salted, and pickled for winter. The women turned fruit into jellies and jams and also pickled peas, carrots, turnips, and parsnips. Pumpkins might even be dried and hung from the rafters.
Soap-making – This task used grease saved from butchering and cooking and lye, which came from ashes kept in a large barrel. When these were boiled together with constant stirring in an outdoor pot, the whole yard would smell horrible. Lye from six bushels of ashes and twenty pounds of grease only yielded a small barrel of jelly-like soap.

Candle-making – Stinky, rancid deer suet or bear grease was uncovered after being saved for several months and placed in an iron kettle on the fireplace. It took about six hours to melt. Tallow was rendered through a cheesecloth, straining out the solid particles. It was then either stored for future use or transferred to another pot for reheating and dipping candles. Some families had large, tin candle-makers. Wick strings were doubled and strung over a narrow stick called a candle rod, then twisted tightly. The housewife dipped the wick into the melted tallow, then rested the rod on a rack until it cooled and grew hard. This was repeated over and over—often over the course of days—until the candle grew thick enough. Families might hang candles from the rafters until they were needed.

Beef-buying – Those who raised beef cattle might expect a buyer between the end of summer and September each year.

Corn-shucking – Separating the ear from the husk could call for a bit of merriment, with neighbors joining together to visit over the chore, feast, quilt, and sometimes, dance. Finding a red ear of corn could mean a chance to steal a kiss from one’s favored belle.

Baking – Let’s clear out the memory of all that grease and tallow and scent the air with a pumpkin and apple pie as we close today’s visit to the past. From The Compleat American Housewife 1776 by Julianne Belote:

Pare a pumpkin, and take the seedy part of it out; then cut it in slices; Pare and core a quarter of an hundred of apples, and cut them in slices. Make some good paste with an Egg, and lay some all around the Brim of the Dish; lay half of a pound of good, clean Sugar over the bottom of your Dish, over that a Layer of apples; then a Layer of Pumpkin, and again so untill the Pie is full, observing to put Sugar between every two layers, and all the remaining Sugar on top. Bake it half an hour, and before you send it to the Table, cut it open and put in some good fresh butter.

Other sources: Revolutionary War Journal Online, “Lighting Colonial Homes – Candles & Much More.” With These Hands They Built a Nation: The Story of Colonial Arts and Crafts by Lois Lazarus.

Represented by Hartline Literary Agency, Denise Weimer holds a journalism degree with a minor in history from Asbury University. She’s a managing editor for the historical imprints of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and the author of a dozen published novels and a number of novellas. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses!

Connect with Denise here:
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