Tuesday, December 29, 2015

No More Cold Feet!

by Connie Cortright

Well, it's that time of the year. My feet are always cold - just ask my husband. From now until about May first, I go to bed with socks on - and that doesn't even help sometimes. I can't go to sleep when my feet are cold, so it's nothing to laugh at.

Today my husband finally solved the problem by getting me a foot warmer made of cherry pits. It gets heated in the microwave and stays warm for hours. Can't wait to try it out!

How did people keep their feet warm in the 20s and 30s? Especially since some houses were so cold that water pitchers sitting in a bedroom on a cold winter morning would have a thin layer of ice on top? How would feet stay warm in that circumstance?

The answer - foot warmers, sometimes called bed warmers. Bed warmers have actually been used long before the 20th Century. In previous centuries bed warmers were metal devices shaped almost like a frying pan with a cover and a very long handle.

Most sources said hot coals were placed inside the warmers, then the long handle made it possible to pass the warmer around between the sheets warming the bed before it was time to sleep. Stephen Shepherd on his blog Full Chisel Blog discredits this notion. He said coals immediately would be extinguished when the lid closed because of lack of air. Also, when the warmer moves over the sheets it leaves a fine dusting of coal ash behind. Not in my bed.

Stephen puts forth the idea that these warmers were actually loaded with hot stones prior to warming up the beds. The stones would have been heated by the fireplace during evening hours, then placed inside the warmer and put in beds to prepare them for sleepers. Rocks hold the heat longer and would not leave dirt behind. Makes sense to me.

Another type of bed warmer, made in the early 20th Century, was sometimes called a "hot water pig."
Made out of pottery, it was formed into the shape of a jug lying on its side. After pouring hot water into the hole on the top, a cork was placed into the opening to prevent leakage. The bottom of the warmer was flat so it didn't roll around in the bed. The warmer was placed at the foot of the bed so cold feet would absorb the heat, but not be burned at night. The person kept this warmer in bed for continuous heat several hours until the water cooled off. Then, according to a first-hand account by my mother, the "pig" was taken out of the bed for the remainder of the night.

This type of warmer was versatile enough to be used in other instances. Since it was so portable, a person could take it in a carriage or car ride to warm feet. It was sometimes even seen at Sunday morning church services to keep people warm in drafty churches. They were even taken on trains to keep the passengers warmer during the trip.

Hopefully my new foot warmer will work better than the ones from the 20s and 30s. It might help save my marriage since I keep freezing out my hubby with my cold feet. Just teasing. ; )

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Merry Christmas - Then and Now

by Connie Cortright

Many of the favorite Christmas songs that we hear today have been around for much longer than the era of the 20s and 30s. "Silent Night" was written in the 1800s and is still one of the best known hymns during this season.

"We Wish You a Merry Christmas" is much older than that. This traditional English Christmas carol might have been sung as far back as the late Middle Ages by carolers who were hired to sing for wealthy English landlords. The carolers would receive treats at the end of the singing session. Thus, the line in the song "Now bring us some figgy pudding..."

The caroling was done in the mid 1600s because Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas songs from being sung in churches. That way the carolers kept the songs alive in peoples' hearts. I'm so glad we have the religious freedom to sing these in our churches today. I can't imagine Christmas without the wonderful carols we sing.

Figgy pudding is another English tradition - a pudding similar to our type of dessert, but made out of figs. No surprise there! It was an old tradition to have this type of dessert at the Christmas holidays so it made it into the song.

Now, what does all this have to do with this blog site since we are usually talking about the early 20th century. "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" was arranged by Arthur Warrell in 1939 into the version that is most often sung by choirs today along with supporting orchestra. I'll link it here to a Youtube version of his arrangement:   Christmas arranged by Arthur Warrell

I do wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas found in the message of the babe in Bethlehem.

Information taken from History - Wish Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Deer in the Red Light

by Connie Cortright

Behind every Christmas tradition and song, a story is waiting to be told, and, of course, this is the place to find stories that began in the 20s and 30s. What about the tale behind "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"?

This story began in 1939 when the department store Montgomery Wards gave one of their employees the task of making a coloring book to hand out to children during Christmas shopping. In January, 1939 the job fell into the lap of Robert L. May, a 33-year-old copy writer. He was instructed to write an animal story about Christmas and have it illustrated in time for next December.

He chose the reindeer since his 4-year-old daughter loved these animals at the zoo. The character of the reindeer mirrored May's own life in that he was a misfit during his childhood. Maybe Mr. May dreamed of being the hero one day because his character followed this plot line in the story. One night as May overlooked a foggy Lake Michigan, the idea popped into his head to have Rudolph rescue Santa Claus with his bright nose. Rudolph saved the day during a crisis in the fog.

May's struggle to get his story written was complicated by the fact that his wife was dying of cancer during the early months of 1939. After her death in July, May had to overcome his grief to finish writing the narrative poem that we now know as "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer". He had to succeed with his assignment to help pay for the large medical bills that accumulated during his wife's illness.

By the Christmas season, the booklet was illustrated and printed in time for distribution to children. Wards advertised this newly written children's story well before Christmas to draw shoppers into their 620 stores across the country. During those few weeks, 2.4 million copies of the illustrated book were given away to children. Rudolph has been a well-loved Christmas tradition ever since.

In 1947, the directors of Ward's handed the copyright over to Robert May. After that time, he commercialized the story and eventually spun out the popular song we still know today along with the cartoon version of the story and other merchandise.

How many of you grew up with the story or song of Rudolph being one of your favorite Christmas traditions?

Information taken from History.com and Wikipedia.org

Friday, December 11, 2015

Now On the Shelf in NPH Christian Book Store

"Guide Me Home" is now available at Northwestern Publishing House Christian Book Store. 

It's exciting to see it sitting among the other historical fiction choices at the store. Stop by if you're near 113th and Watertown Plank Road in Wauwatosa and pick up a copy. 

It's also available in their online catalog at "Guide Me Home"  Check it out today. 

Still time to order or purchase it for a Christmas present for your mother, sister, or daughter. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Mighty Mystery Meat

by Connie Cortright

Last week the story of Velveeta was explored, so this week will be the discussion of SPAM. For most of us, when the word SPAM is heard an immediate picture - and maybe even taste - pops into our heads. SPAM was a staple in my house when I was growing up on the farm - not every week, but often enough to have memories of it.

SPAM didn't show up in grocery stores until after 1937. Jay Hormel, the son of the owner of the Minnesota meat-packing plant, is credited for coming up with the SPAM recipe. A decade earlier, Hormel had introduced the canned ham to the nation, but during the Depression, only the rich could afford canned hams.

Meat packing companies tried to introduce a cheaper brand of canned pork, but made the mistake of using unappetizing parts of the pig such as lips, snouts and ears in the contents of these canned pork products. Sounds appetizing, doesn't it? For some reason, this canned meat didn't go over too well. I wonder why...

Jay Hormel wanted to improve on this product by using the meat off the pork shoulder in his canned meat product. He found a way to extract the meat out of this hard to access cut of pork, chopping it into pieces, and placing it into a can. He found a way to process the meat in a vacuum sealed tin, which reduced the amount of juices formed during the cooking procedure. It was a much improved product over his competition.

Since SPAM was produced in this manner, it had a shelf life that was almost indefinite. When the army found out about this, they became Hormel's biggest customer. Fifteen million cans of SPAM were produced weekly and shipped overseas to the US soldiers during WWII. Many soldiers have memories of eating SPAM three times a day during the war years from 1941 to 1945 - and these are not fond memories. One writer quipped:
Now Jackson had his acorns
And Grant his precious rye;
Teddy had his poisoned beef-
Worse you couldn't buy.
The doughboy had his hardtack
Without the navy's jam, 
But armies on their stomachs move-
And this one moves on Spam. (Quoted from American WWII.com - Spam Again)

Hormel had a naming contest to name this new canned meat. Kenneth Daigneau, brother-in-law to the Hormel Vice President, won the $100 contest when he suggested the name SPAM. It was a combination of the words Spiced Ham, which was the original title of this meat.

Today the meat product SPAM is spelled with all capital letters to distinguish it from the junk email that we receive on our computers daily. The Hormel company adopted this practice years ago when it won a law suit regarding its name.

I wonder if I can persuade my husband that we need to have SPAM for dinner this week after all this talk about it. Hmmm, probably not. ;)

Information taken from How SPAM is Made and How the Word Spam Came to Mean Junk Message

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Smile and Say Cheese!

by Connie Cortright

With the upcoming holiday season, many wives across this country will be purchasing Velveeta Cheese in jars or packages to use in a cheese dip at a Christmas or New Year's Eve party. This processed cheese, first manufactured in the 1920s, was given the name Velveeta (for it's velvety consistency) simply because it melted so smoothly.

However, Velveeta wasn't invented for the purpose of melting. The original purpose of this product was to put cheese back together. Emil Frey, working in a cheese factory in Monroe, New York, had the task of coming up with a solution to a problem that all cheese factories faced, figuring out what to do with cheese leftovers. Up to this point, all the pieces from misshapen Swiss cheese wheels or broken bits of cheese that couldn't be sold, had to be tossed aside. In the early 1900s, the problem of cheese pieces multiplied because more cheese was produced and consumed. The value of the wasted pieces couldn't be overlooked any longer. It was decided that all the leftovers would now be shipped back to Monroe Cheese Factory for Mr. Frey to deal with.

After working over his stove, he found that by adding the liquid whey, a by-product of the cheese making process, back into the pot of melted cheese pieces, a very smooth new cheese product resulted. Since this was a manufactured cheese product, it became known as processed cheese. Frey discovered that processed cheese lasted much longer than natural cheeses.

By 1923, Frey had formed the Velveeta Cheese Company to sell his new product. Because of its ability to melt so smoothly, Velveeta became an instant hit, especially in restaurants in America and even Europe. However, the Velveeta Cheese Company didn't fair so well. By 1927 the company was sold to Kraft Foods, as we know it still today.

Kraft pushed the nutritional value of this processed cheese stating that with the addition of whey, the carbohydrates and minerals were boosted in the cheese. It became something of a "dairy wonder-product". Kraft had Velveeta tested by Rutgers University for it's nutritional benefits. In 1931 the American Medical Association gave its stamp of approval for nutritional value. It was marketed in the 30s then as nutritionally superior to natural cheeses.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Velveeta is still a very popular product today in many forms and many recipes. I'm hoping that I can taste some yummy dip made from Velveeta over the next several weeks.

Happy eating!

Information taken from Where Does Velveeta and Liederkranz Cheese Come From and There is no Shortage History.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Please Pass the Iodized Salt, No Goitering

by Connie Cortright

Photo from Wikicommons
We don't see someone looking like the picture on the left much anymore today. This woman has a goiter on her neck. A goiter is a lump in the area of the neck caused from the swelling of the thyroid gland located at the base of the neck. Back in the early 20th century, especially in the area of the Great Lakes and the Pacific Northwest, goiters affected many people, including small children. The thyroid gland can swell to this size when there is a lack of iodine in a person's diet. The soil in those regions didn't contain enough iodine, and thus, their food didn't either.

Our country wasn't the only one with the goiter problems. During the late 1800s several scientists were doing experimental work using iodine to combat goiters. By 1915 a Swiss doctor,  Dr. Bayard, experimented with school children. He used salt, containing a small amount of iodine, in their diet to find out if it made a difference. He could see the goiters decrease the longer he used the iodized salt in their food. When he stopped using the iodized salt, the goiters would increase in size. By 1922, Switzerland passed a law requiring iodine to be used in salt throughout the entire country.

David Cowie, chairman of the Pediatrics Department at the University of Michigan, conducted a similar study in his state in 1922. When he found the same results, he urged Michigan to adopt the iodized salt solution for their goiter outbreak and developed the Iodized Salt Committee to push the same solution nationwide. On May 1, 1924 iodized salt was available on grocery shelves in Michigan.

The Morton Salt Company didn't object to this inexpensive change. They readily changed their salt formulas by adding a small amount of iodine. All of the states didn't find the necessity of doing this, but the number of goiters shrunk considerably where the iodized salt was in use. Today countries the world over used iodized salt to help with this health problem.

I remember my grandma talking about goiters when I was little. I'm glad we don't share this problem with our grandparents/great-grandparents. Now I know why it's important to choose iodized salt when I'm in the grocery store.

It has also been shown that a lack of iodine during pregnancy can influence the mental health of a baby. It has been linked to difficulty with mental processing, coordination, extreme fatigue, and depression. Maybe we could use that excuse when a doctor tells us to cut down on our salt intake.

Please pass the salt.

Information taken from Why iodine is added to salt and History of US Iodine Fortification

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Day is Here!

In honor of my husband's birthday, I'm announcing that my book is now officially published! 

Trouble brews when a naive Lutheran school teacher meets the Roaring Twenties. Her caring, young pastor attempts to keep her out of trouble. Will he succeed?

During the Roaring Twenties, young Emma Ehlke leaves her family’s Wisconsin farm home to take up a new teaching post at a Lutheran parochial school in the city. Excited at the prospect of life in a modern city, fear of the unknown is also Emma’s companion as she steps off the train. She soon meets the dashing young Freddie who takes it upon himself to be Emma’s guide to city life in the jazz age. At the same time, the young and single minister of her new church, Pastor Neil Hannemann, also wants to take her under his wing, but not like Freddie! Emma finds herself torn between the novelties offered by Freddie and his friends and the faithful path on which Pastor Hannemann wants to lead her. Which way will she go? 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

It's Almost Here!

I received the "proof copy" of my novel today. It's quite a feeling to hold in my hands the book that I've spent countless hours working on. It will take a couple days yet to finish the process, but I should have a big announcement next week sometime!!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Lutheran School Teachers in the 20s

by Connie Cortright 

With the release of "Guide Me Home" in the next week, I'm going to print my "Author's Note" that is in the beginning of my book. Since my novel takes place in 1926, there is a definite historical background that needs to be understood before the book is read. In my blog post this week, I'm taking the time to do a bit of explaining for everyone not familiar with the lingo and traditions of Lutheran culture.

So here is a tidbit in Lutheran history...

Guide Me Home is the story of a Lutheran parochial school teacher in the Roaring Twenties. In Wisconsin and the Midwest at this time in addition to public schools, Roman Catholic parishes and Lutheran parishes commonly operated elementary schools for their respective church’s children.
Our heroine, Miss Emma Ehlke, is not a “Lutheran nun,” but a young, single woman who was trained for her profession in a teacher’s college run by her Lutheran denomination. Her training was similar to the normal school colleges, which trained public school teachers, but she was also taught to teach religion to her students.
New teachers like Emma were assigned to teach at a Lutheran grade school upon graduation from college. Typically, a school board chosen from among the men of the congregation governed Lutheran schools. The Lutheran school was an endeavor that involved the entire congregation.
Since virtually all the children attending Emma’s school were from the congregation’s families, Emma would be expected to hold devotions, teach Bible stories, and also hymnody. Older students would receive instruction in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism by the pastor in preparation for reception into the congregation as young, “confirmed” adults. New adult converts to Lutheranism also had to study the doctrines of their new faith by the same method.
In the story, Pastor Hannemann lives in a “parsonage,” a supplied home situated next to the church. Married male teachers usually lived in “teacherages” owned by the congregation. Young, unmarried teachers like Emma were usually boarded with a church family.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Frozen - The 1920s Version

I understand that blogs sometimes have guest authors, so today we’re having a guest give a firsthand account of how ice for iceboxes was made. The author is my grandfather who was born in 1900. Before he passed away in 1985, he wrote down his “memoirs” for his family. The following is his description of cutting ice for icehouses:

“On the farm we always had our own ice on the other end of the building where the milk separator and milk utensils were kept. The icehouse part was double boarded with four inch studding to form an air space between the walls. There was one door in the north end so the ice could be put in or taken out as the occasion arose.

Each winter, usually the latter part of February or the first part of March, when the ice in Bear Lake got to be 22 to 24 inches thick, the icehouse was filled. It usually held from 125 to 150 cakes of ice, which was cut in twenty-four inches square at the top of the ice.

To start with, a hole had to be cut in the ice far enough out in the lake to have clear clean water. After the snow had been removed, the ice was marked on top into lines that were twenty-four inches square. An ice saw was inserted into the hole and then with an up and down movement the ice could be cut into squares. After the first row was removed, then one could cut a whole row and then into squares.

Photo from Wikicommons
To get the first two out, you had to watch out or you could slip back into the hole yourself very easily. One used an ice tongs that had points on each side to clamp into the ice block. By bobbing the cake up and down once or twice, the block could be landed on top of the ice. When about twenty cakes were cut, you could start loading them on a sleigh. That was a good sized load, and the driver could start for home. The ice had to be tied on each end of the sleigh to keep the ice from sliding off. If you were not careful of the holes in the road, the ropes would be broken and you would lose the whole load.

One person usually did the cutting, while the other hauled with the help of the kids at the icehouse. The cakes of ice were placed side by side on a four inch floor of sawdust. About six inches were left open on all sides of the building for saw dust after the building was filled. As all cakes were not always square and did not fit together exactly true, an adz was used to chip off the sides so they would fit. When the layer was completed the tops of each cake was chiseled down so that the cracks between could be filled and tamped down tight. Then the next layer was added until the building was filled.
Photo from Wikicommons

When that was completed about two loads of sawdust was shoveled in the sides and tamped down tight. The less airspace, the longer the ice would last. When the ice was removed, only one cake at a time, it was taken out just as it was put in only in reverse. Each time only the part to be taken was uncovered and then the hole covered and packed down firm.”

Even after reading his description, I can’t imagine how that ice could remain frozen throughout a summer and into the fall to keep an icebox cold. Also, I can’t imagine how much ice a city had to cut to keep all the iceboxes cold for a whole year! What a cold job! BRRRR!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

News Flash!

I'm excited to report that my novel will be released in the next month or so. "Guide Me Home" is in the process of getting published during the next six weeks, so I wanted to share the news. Here is a peak at the new cover of my book.

"Guide Me Home" is a Christian historical fiction taking place in the 1920s in which a naive Lutheran school teacher, yearning to experience the Roaring Twenties, finds two men in her life. She falls under the charms of her neighbor, who tempts her with the Jazz Age. Her new pastor, who wants her to stay true to her Savior, teaches her what's really important in life. Which one will she choose?

Liz Tolsma, author of Snow on the Tulips says about this book: "Connie Cortright creates wonderful, rich characters and sets them in a little written about time period, the 1920s. Guide Me Home brings the Jazz Age to life in crisp detail. At points, you’ll want to cheer; at others, you’ll be moved to tears. All in all, a great debut novel, one you’ll want to pick up and not put down until you reach the end.”

 The book will be published in paperback and also on Kindle on Amazon.com . I'll keep you posted as to the date of release when it is determined.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Midweek Update - You Are Invited!!

American Christian Fiction Writers Association

The Southeast Wisconsin chapter of ACFW would like to invite any would-be writers to a one-day seminar on April 25, 2015 at Falls Presbyterian Church - W156 N7356 Pilgrim Road in Menomonee Falls. We'd love for you to join us to learn about writing from Tim Shoemaker.

The seminar is from 8:30 - 4:00 with a more detailed description of the seminar below. Or go to our page: Facebook - ACFW WISE. We hope you can join us.

We have author Tim Shoemaker coming to speak to us on the following topics! Register now! 

Session 1
Show-Don't-Tell- Often fiction writers are telling a story when they should be showing it. I won't tell you how to fix this... I'll show you.
Point-of-View- This is an area of fiction that trips up a lot of writers.  We'll show you how to avoid the POV mistakes, and how to write in a deeper POV. I'll explain it in a way where you'll get it--and your writing will improve dramatically.

Session 2
19 Tips for Stronger Characters- Learn secrets to creating characters that your reader will love.  I'll share some things you probably won't read in writing textbooks--but they work!
Action and Fight Scenes- Action isn’t just about car chases. It’s found in dialogue, interior thought, and more. Learn tips for writing action that will keep your readers gripping your book . . . and holding their breath

Session 3
Dialogue- Talk may be cheap, but poor dialogue in your manuscript will cost you.  We’ll learn how to dump the dull stuff and sharpen your dialogue skills.

Session 4
Creating a Scene- A story is told through a series of scenes. I'll show secrets to writing more powerful scenes, and how to connect the scenes in ways that will strengthen your fiction... guaranteed.

Link to the registration form is: ​https://www.facebook.com/wiseacfw/app_206429986046631