The Journals, continued

Yesterday I finished an inventory of the journals found in my mother’s collection of papers. I’ve found them in ones and twos and occasionally five-years-worth tied together with ancient baling twine but haven’t run across any new ones lately, so I think this must be the lot: 53 books by two authors spanning the years 1900 to 1942. Here’s a sampling:

From Raymond Harrison Barnard (1893 – 1947) this entry for August 9, 1938 is about Jessie H. MacDonald’s death in Stevenson, Scotland; “our dear friend”. She was the family’s housekeeper for 25 years and had been visiting her birthplace in Scotland when she passed away unexpectedly at age 60. My mother remembers the family’s grief when they received the new that she had died right about the time they expected her to return. RHB’s journals are always inked in his lovely, loose scrawl and annotated with clippings and letters.

Jessie H. MacDonald obit

Benjamin Isaac (BI) Miller (1868 -1949); BI’s journals are done in pencil, interleaved with bills, receipts, and solicitations addressed to “The Mayor, Hartford Connecticut”. This little drawing of the farm is done on the back of a letter and carefully taped together with linen strips on the back.

Farm Drawing

From BI’s journal in 1914, a mimeograph from the Hartford County Rural Development Association encouraging us to “buy local” more than a century ago. It’s still a good read.

Rural Improvement Manifesto

Both men were fond of including pamphlets and advertisements in their journals. They wrote about attending presentations at the Grange and Masonic Halls on tuberculosis, infantile paralysis (polio) and the Mile of Dimes, eye exams, air raid protocols, and the latest news from Washington DC. Here’s a selection from RHB’s journal about the Panama Canal, which opened on August 15, 1914.

National Geographic

There’s a wealth of material about everyday life in the last century in these little books. Consider contributing to your local historical society to help them preserve your past. These journals will be at the Wintonbury Historical Society in Bloomfield, Connecticut.


Happy Grandma’s Birthday, everyone!

My grandmother, Martha Louise Miller, was born in Avon, Connecticut on August 3, 1900. Traditionally we have wonderful weather to celebrate her birth and today was no exception: bright and sunny with a cooling breeze; good for cutting hay or picking green beans, and remember to wear your bonnet!

I went looking for a photograph to share on her day and found this being used as a bookmark in Psalms in a family bible. Here she is, on the left, about six years old with her two older sisters all wearing warm and stylish hats.

Snow sisters

And the verso, in her daughter’s handwriting:


Garden Waffles, part one

The title of this post drew you right in, didn’t it? My apologies. This isn’t a post about delicious breakfast treats served with maple syrup, it’s even better than that. This is a revolution in gardening technique and it begins with a rebellion against the most popular home gardening trope of the century – raised beds.

There are various theories on the origin of the raised bed in the American landscape, but most point to a series of very popular television shows that promoted them for their orderly appearance and ease of management. Digging over rectangular coffin-sized sections of the garden and segregating them into different plant varieties has advantages, but most of these examples were produced under ideal conditions with superior soil and abundant irrigation. Those of us with very little or very poor soil and irregular rainfall had less favorable results. In the long haul, root action forces salts to the elevated surface and the resulting crust sheds water down the sides of the bed. I don’t water or irrigate and rainfall is rarely gentle or consistent enough to work through the top layers – especially when it breaks a drought and the soil is very dry.

In this sense, it’s very much like I’m gardening in a desert – a desert of my own making! Waffle beds have been used for centuries in gardens all over the world to address just this problem. Instead of building up, and exposing more soil to air and sun (good for plants and bad for dirt) the waffle bed sinks the level of productive soil below a surrounding dike of poor soil, conserving water and nutrients as well as providing a wind break.

I’m planning on spending the day building my first waffles (well, after the dump run, visiting with my mother, getting the groceries in. . .) and will post Part Two of this saga shortly. Meanwhile, here’s a drawing from Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands, courtesy of Amarillo Tableland, who posted this in 2011 and has an excellent series on seasonal results.

Waffle bed

From Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands


The Notions Department, 1951

Many women (and men) in my home town commuted into the big city to work at one of the large department stores that crowded the main avenue. In honor of International Women’s Day, here is a photo of the Sage-Allen Notions Department staff in 1951. My mother, Harriet Barnard, is standing in the middle of the back row.

Sage Allen Department Store

Left to right and back to front: Ann Jackson, Lucy Kimball, Harriet Barnard, Elaine Messer, (next row) Minnie Goodman, Mamie Shea, Nellie Neelan, Claire Coons, Millie Slayton, Kathryn Lamb, (front row) Minerva Forker, Barbara Orcutt (Assistant Buyer), Mary Greene (Buyer), and Verne Grapski


November 18, 1918, the letter home

One of my New Year’s resolutions for this year was to close out my storage unit. The monthly fee could definitely be put to more productive use than to store plastic totes of papers and objects wrapped in tissue paper and the only thing standing in my way was the utter lack of storage space at home. I started in March by bringing home each new box only after dispersing (or disposing of) the contents of the previous haul, but the year is closing out and suddenly I have a pile of The Great Historical Unknown in the living room. It doesn’t help that the oldest material was at the back of the locker, and by old I mean that’s where the Civil War era spectacles and cigar boxes of cut-throat razors are hanging out.

One box in the latest batch is packed with old papers – a 3 x 4 foot plastic vault of WWII ration books, blueprints, site surveys of farm buildings, order pads from the dairy, inventories of carriages and repair records, and, tucked away in a very worn copy of Walt Whitman poems, a letter home from my grandfather when he was an 24 year-old infantryman billeted in a French shack with 20 other men and an old iron stove.

The letter is on lined paper worn tissue-thin with age and written in blunt pencil. Parts are illegible but most of the script has survived the last century remarkably intact. His C.O. has scrawled “OK” on the last page in ink, presumably approving it for mailing. I’ve transcribed what I could below. Pvt. Raymond Harrison Barnard survived the war and married my grandmother in 1926; my mother was born in ’28. He died on his farm in Bloomfield, Connecticut in 1947.

WW1 letter 1 nov-17-1918-a

November 17, 1918   Dear Folks:

It is almost ten days since I wrote you last. We have been billeted here in the woods six days. The first two days I was too cold to write since then we have drilled four days till dark. Winter’s coming on now and we have to keep moving while out of doors to keep warm. There are about 20 of us in this hut. There are no windows so that we leave the door open for light. We have installed an old stove like the one in the <old?> house but it has no place to set a kettle on it so we can’t cook.  The floor was awfully muddy when we arrived but we have had some fine weather which has done well to dry it up.

Last Thursday (I think it was) I heard the bells of the nearby villages ringing for a long time and we figured out that the armistice was signed. I look forward with great hope. M. I would be surprised to get home in three months if we don’t have to go somewhere to do guard duty. We shall doubtless move from here soon.(We had a bath 3 days ago and are to be paid today!) I do not know what is to become of us. The company is being reorganized (we have more replacements) but I hope to stay with them just the same. I am willing to do my part. Have been with the company now nearly 5 weeks and have received no mail yet. I hope you hear from me more frequently than that. If we are not to be sent home till spring I hope we will move to some town where we can have warm billets. This isn’t so cold here but all the shacks are sort of open work. We may go to Germany to do guard duty.

We have better bunks here and I have got so much regular sleep. I feel much better and that bad cold in my lungs is gone. The 3rd day out of the trenches we stayed in a small town called Francourt. I and a fellow named Montgomery went to the river and took a bath. The water was ice cold but we pretty near rid ourselves of the cooties. We marched up here as a reserve division. I get if the Germans hadn’t signed the armistice we would have made a smashing drive right thru this sector.

Today is Sunday and we are not working so we have all washed and shaved and taken turns at getting wood for our stove. We stayed one night and part of a day in a town on our way here and I bought me a knife, pipe, h’d’k’f’s, soap, matches, etc. We have had manouvers twice since arriving here and yesterday afternoon we had a regimental review. We are all longing to be home. The war is finished and we are not needed over here much longer. Yesterday as we came back up the hill with our carts and guns a Frenchman passed us on a horse. He said “Now this war is finished and you won’t need them again.” Let us hope that is all true.

The new Srgt that just came up said that all along the line the French were drinking wine and ringing the bells like everything. I’ll bet I will ring a few bells when I get home. Door bells at least. We had a fine Lieut in command of our Platoon. His name was Gregg. His home was in or near St. Louis. I asked him if he knew any people named Filley. He said yes. My pal Dwight Filley was killed at Chateau Thierry. He was a fine Lieut. He was sent to a school and I have since been put in another platoon. The Lieut Commanding my new platoon comes from the batallion with which I trained at Salle-sur-Cher.The boys fixed our stove pipe so that the stove doesn’t smoke so bad. When I get home I guess I will go up to the Wilcox lot and put up a shack there. I keep imagining what I will do when I get home. We will all get together soon. I haven’t heard from Ray Watkins since I left Salle. I suppose you may hear from him through his mother. I’ll bet there are a good many fellows in the new draft who are glad the war is finished. Well, you will hear from me again soon.

Love to all,

Pvt. Raymond H. Barnard, MG. Co. 140 U.S. Infantry

American E.F.

OK. 2nd Lt. ? Herman A Huston

Hardy ancestors: the ledgers

My mother turned 87 on Friday, and in the past I’ve posted a photo in her honor. While looking through the archives for something suitable this year I turned up a set of ledgers from the 1800’s. She loved reading the lists and prices of tasks and addresses from the past in their elegant copperplate. The label on this 1858 volume indicates that it belonged to Augustus Whiton and was loaned by my grandfather, Raymond Harrison Barnard, probably for an exhibit at the town’s historical society.

ledger-hbb-whiton helpfully informs me that Augustus is related to me as “father-in-law of a great grand Aunt”. (Seriously, that’s very helpful – it would have taken me hours to figure that out on paper.) He was born in Ashford (Windham), Connecticut in 1808 and died in Bloomfield, where his carriage business was located, on July 1, 1885. His accounts from 1858 are a wonderful collection of names that now adorn streets and plaques: Filley, Gillette, Miller from a time when it cost six cents to shoe a horse and twenty-three cents to repair a tire. This is Dr. Nathan Miller’s page.carriage ledger

And one from William Gillette, a big spender at $87.42. Reading down the list makes a sort of historical poem out of the information: shoe horse, shoe horse, shoe oxen, repair whiffletree, shoe horse(s), fix buggy, reset tire, sharpen crowbar, shoe horse, shoe horse. . . .


Other books in the collection include the ledgers for my grandfather’s dairy deliveries. This one, labeled “The Hill Route” still has receipts from the Ice Delivery Company dated 1926.

ice receipts

This page lists the Whiton family on a delivery route:




Recipe post: Martha Snyder’s Sour Cream Sugar Cookies

Many of my favorite recipes come down from my mother’s mother. She had a sense for simplification – take the best and leave the rest – which is a particularly useful philosophy for cookies. These are delicious, sturdy enough for packed lunches, basic enough to take on any sort of variation, and pretty after a plain, Yankee fashion (much like the woman herself).

Grandma Snyder

Martha Snyder’s Sour Cream Sugar Cookies

48 smallish cookies, 36 big ol’ Martha Stewart size

1 C sour cream or yogurt

1 tsp baking soda

2 C sugar

4 C white all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

½ C butter, melted

3 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp lemon extract

Preheat oven to 400 (200 C, gas mark 6, moderately hot) and grease cookies sheets. I use Silpat sheets, you’ll also need a cooling rack and, eventually, a cookie jar. This recipe does not require a mixer.

Mix the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl and set aside. Whisk the baking soda into the sour cream or yogurt and set aside. Mix the melted butter and sugar until well-incorporated, add eggs and beat well. Stir in sour cream mixture and extracts, add dry ingredients and mix gently until incorporated.

Drop by heaping teaspoons (for 48 cookies) or serving spoons (36 larger cookies) onto greased cookie sheets and bake 10 minutes. Sprinkle with sugar if you like – coarse sugar on top allows for easier stacking later. They will not brown, except on the bottoms. Move to a rack to cool completely before storing.


Rolled cookies: I make these as drop cookies because I find that the extra flour and handling tends to make them a little tough, however they are very pretty. Chill the dough for at least an hour before rolling out on a floured board and using your favorite cookie cutters. You may need to adjust baking time down by a minute.

Jacob’s Cookies: Add 1 heaping Tbls finely ground Earl Grey tea, 1 C white chocolate chips. Use the dry tea straight from the box or bag, not an infusion. Two bags = 1 heaping tablespoon. Ice with lemon glaze.

Blueberry Cookies: Add 2 C small wild blueberries or dried blueberries, ice with lemon glaze

Lemon Glaze

2 cups confectioners’ sugar, 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest, 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest, and 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice until smooth.  When the cookies are cooled completely pick them up and dip the top of each one in the glaze – much easier than spreading the glaze with a spoon or spatula.

NOTES: The original recipe calls for ¼ C butter and ¼ C lard. I generally use all butter these days, but lard will make a firmer cookie that stands up better to the addition of fresh fruit such as blueberries, raspberries, or peach chunks.

One of the many reasons I need to publish a cookbook is that my own documentation is in such rough shape! Here is what the card for this well-loved recipe looks like after decades of hard use around my coffee habit:

sugar cookies

And yes, I left the nutmeg out on purpose. I never put it in – no one in my family likes nutmeg other than in their Yuletide eggnog – sorry!

New(ish) work

I was down in the studio on this glorious Maine morning to clean and organize, and realized I’ve never posted a photo of “Clara’s Vase with Nasturtiums”. This vase is has been very difficult to merge with the softer forms of plants and drapery in past studies. I think my current experiment with Cezanne’s shorter, exploratory brushstrokes have given me more capacity for that type of change in substance.

Claras Vase Nasturtium

Clara’s Vase with Nasturtiums, 20 x 16, oil on panel

Handicrafts edition

I’ve inherited numerous boxes, folders, bags, and piles of well, assorted stuff, from family members over the years. It’s a busy life, though, so sometimes they sit around unopened and mysterious for years while I parse things that have more urgency, or are simply closer to the top of the pile. I unwrapped a box from a long-closed department store in Hartford last night, and found two lovely sewing bags. Here are some photos, before they are wrapped away in acid-free tissue paper, pending their final destination.

antique sewing bags


Below is a detail of the “H” on the black bag, done in gold thread in a wheat-ear stitch with French knots.



And another detail, of the interior of the figured bag with sewing pad (the soft white wool is a little moth-eaten) and ivory needle.



And now, back to 1939

New Year’s is a good excuse to clean up and out, and I was down cellar drinking coffee and looking through boxes for most of my day off. (We did take a walk through deep snow and bright sunshine down at Seawall in the early winter afternoon. The sun was already going down at 3:00 pm.) I found this photo between the pages of a 1965 era copy of the Hartford Courant, with a key on the back in my mother’s handwriting. A note on the back of the photo reads: Smith Family Reunion at Montague, Sept. 1, 1939. (Click to enlarge.)

Smith Family ReunionFrom various other records I believe this is Montague New York, not New Jersey, but please feel free to confirm or correct in the comments. Montague, NY had a population of 78 in the 2010 census.

My favorite couple in the photo are Dave and Mabel Turner, below. Mabel was my great-great Grandfather Robert Wiley’s sister. The clothing, their expressions, the furniture dragged out on to the lawn, it’s all wonderful.

smith-turnersThis is my grandfather, Frank Watson (Wat) Burnham, Jr. In 1939 he was 36, with red hair and blue eyes, married to Geraldine (Wiley) Burnham, below.

smith-watson In this detail are my grandmother, Geraldine (Gerry), and her mother, Bessie (Smith) Wiley. Bessie is Robert’s widow,

Geraldine and Bessie WileyGerrie was five years younger than Wat. I only remember her as a much older woman of course, but I loved her dresses, generally a dark cloth with a lighter pattern and fastened with a brooch at the neck. I also love Bessie’s smile.