This Old House: The Canterbury Tales, Pt. 5

This was originally written for the Canterbury Shaker Village Facebook Page, published on February 26, 2018.

One exciting part of my internship at Canterbury Shaker Village has been the chance to live and work in a historic building. When I first walked into the Trustees’ Office – once upon a time the building where Shakers conducted business with the outside world, sold products they created, and hosted guests to stay – I was in awe of its massive antique cabinets, shiny vintage radiators, and elegantly curved wood banisters.

Canterbury Shaker Village Trustees' Office

Old homes certainly have their quirks though, and I could barely sleep the first night because of all the bizarre whistling and banging noises I later learned were to blame on those vintage radiators. Now that I’m used to it, however, I revel in the chance to occupy a space that has known so much history over the past two centuries.

Trustees' Office at Canterbury Shaker Village

After I interned with a historic preservation organization, I became very passionate about the idea of reusing historic spaces – I think it’s important to give them new life in order to allow them to keep telling their story and fulfilling the purpose for which they were made.


Now, as I read a book of memoirs, Simple Gifts, written by Shaker scholar June Spriggs about her time as a 19 year-old working as a tour guide at the Village and living with the last Shaker sisters here, I delight in her stories of eating dinner in the Trustees’ Office with the last Canterbury sisters, I feel even more impacted by how I am part of a constellation of lives that have intersected in this building.

Trustees' Office at Canterbury Shaker Village

Parts of our stories are similar – I relate so much to Sprigg’s tales of being young and unsure of myself – while other parts are different – obviously I’m not an elderly Shaker sister! But living under the same roof as these other women who I will never know makes me appreciate and commemorate their lives in a way I couldn’t before.

Canterbury Shaker Village

Trustees' Office at Canterbury Shaker Village

Other posts to peruse:

The Canterbury Tales, Part 1: Prelude

The Canterbury Tales: The Power of Historic Objects

The Canterbury Tales Pt. 3: #Blessed by Shaker Built-Ins

A Legacy in Hallmark Cards: The Canterbury Tales, Pt. 4


Why it’s worth studying history

As much as I love history, every job has its ups and downs. Today was a particularly exhausting day of work and by the time 5pm rolled around, I felt like I needed to get out of the house. I drove 20 minutes to the outlets for a little “retail therapy” and cheese fries. It was pitch black by the time I got on the road again.

Canterbury Shaker Village at Sunset

As I headed home, pine trees rising up on either side of me, my high beams lighting up an occasional moose figurine-topped mailbox along the road, I put on a CD I grew up with: “Who Am I” by Scottish singer-songwriter Dougie Maclean. As a track rolled around to a song about Scottish people emigrating to America because of a famine, I started to get emotional. It hit me that I myself was driving through the land that my ancestors who came from Scotland settled.


I was driving through the land of the people who came before me, making it possible for me to have the life I do, while listening to music passed on to me by my parents, who learned it from my grandfather. I was struck by how, no matter where we wander, we carry with us so much of not just our own past but also that of those who came before us.

Country road in winter

With that, it’s worth taking time to get in touch with what came before us, so we can remember what sacrifices have been made as well as what mistakes. Even though working in history can have its frustrations, tonight reminded me that it also is a responsibility to tell people’s stories, to commemorate, and to give the people of today context for their lives and where they came from.  When you realize you’re part of a long line of folks, it’s humbling and empowering, which is why it’s important to tell more people’s stories when we teach history.

Historic buildings at sunset

Other posts to peruse:

The Canterbury Tales: The Power of Historic Objects

The Canterbury Tales Pt. 3: #Blessed by Shaker Built-Ins

Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten People

A Legacy in Hallmark Cards: The Canterbury Tales, Pt. 4

This was originally written for the Canterbury Shaker Village Facebook Page, published on February 11, 2018.

This week I had the pleasure of going through a scrapbook in the museum collections that was created by a friend of the last Shaker sisters who lived in the Shaker community in Canterbury, NH until the last woman passed in 1992. This woman grew up visiting the sisters with her mother and created a scrapbook of greeting cards the sisters sent her, guidebooks from the village’s early days as a new museum, and newspaper clippings of any and every article published about the Shakers.


From the collections of Canterbury Shakers Village (2018.2.1)

I love scrapbooks — they’re such a personal documentation of memory, untainted by outside editing, giving voice to anyone with paste and scissors. They tell a person’s story using the very material they collected from their daily life, broadening our understanding of history beyond just those who had enough social clout to publish books. This particular scrapbook reveals how much affection the creator had for the Shaker sisters, demonstrated by the amount of care and attention that went into collecting, saving, and assembling the objects within. The fact that someone would save everything the Sisters sent to her and seek out clippings elsewhere that related to them speaks loudly to the legacy they left, the imprint they had.


A spread of the scrapbook, feature newspaper articles about two of the sisters’ funerals and freeting cards from another sister. (Canterbury Shaker Village collections 2018.4.1)

Turning the pages of the scrapbook, the legacy of Canterbury became very real to me; when I came to a page documenting one of the last sisters’ passing, I started to tear up. I was struck by the sacrifice, hard work, and love that these last sisters put into continuing the legacy of their faith and community by forming a museum here. It’s easy for the individual personalities of the Shaker community to get lost in obsessions over the craftsmanship of their furniture or arguments over whose scholarship of them is the best.


Greeting cards sent from one sister to the creator of the scrapbook alongside clippings of pictures of Shakers-made furniture from an antiques auction catalog. (Canterbury Shaker Village collections 2018.2.1)

Seeing that they sent Hallmark cards on birthdays is a reminder that they weren’t a bunch of dour members of an odd religious order — they were human, loving and caring as they believed God called them to. And hurting as well. It’s interesting how many of the Shakers – particularly the women – were handed off to the community by new stepmothers who didn’t want them or other similarly traumatic stories.


A photograph of one sister, Gertrude Soule, from one of the newspaper clippings in the scrapbook. (Canterbury Shaker Village collections 2018.2.1)

Working here at the museum commemorating the Shakers who lived in Canterbury, NH, hearing stories and seeing objects like this scrapbook has made it clear to me that these women made a profound impact on everyone whose paths crossed with theirs. I feel honored to be a part of helping to continue their legacy as I work here, and inspired seeing from their example that living a life faithful to your convictions and conscious of the needs of others can make a tremendous impact, even if the acts seem small.


A greeting card in the scrapbook. (Canterbury Shaker Village collections 2018.2.1)

Other posts to peruse:

The Canterbury Tales, Part 1: Prelude

The Canterbury Tales: The Power of Historic Objects

The Canterbury Tales Pt. 3: #Blessed by Shaker Built-Ins

Party Like It’s 1838: Old Sturbridge Village Internship (Pt. 1)

The Canterbury Tales Pt. 3: #Blessed by Shaker Built-Ins

Written for the Canterbury Shaker Village Facebook page on February 3, 2018, this is a short report on my experience as a Collections Intern at the Village:

Getting to know the Village the past two weeks, I’ve been intrigued by the number of built-in storage units I’ve encountered in the museum buildings, including in my own room in the Trustees’ Building. Being a bit of a clotheshorse, I can never find enough places to store my clothing at home. I was delighted when I moved in to see that not only was there a huge built-in cabinet and drawer set, but also pegs lining three of my walls, very convenient for hanging clothes.


The Trustees’ Office, Canterbury Shaker Village (photo by Rebecca Gale)

One of the most impressive things I’ve come across thus far in the Village is the giant hallway of built-in storage in the Dwelling House. Being the modern materialist that I am, I wouldn’t mind having a walk-in closet that big for myself, but the Shakers valued simplicity, efficiency, and community, and this storage is a testament to that: enough storage in one place to provide for the entire village.


The style and functionality of these built-ins speaks to the Shakers’ taste for simplicity, order, and cleanliness. Pegs could be used to hang chairs, brooms, or whatever was needed, opening up spaces for community gatherings. And today I feel linked to the past as I use these handcrafted features for my own belongings, a demonstration of the Shakers’ enduring legacy through their handiwork.


The Canterbury Tales: The Power of Historic Objects

I was drawn to the opportunity to intern at Canterbury Shaker Village because I wanted the chance to work with historic objects. In the study of history, it’s so easy to get lost in the facts and dates and figures that you lose sight of the people who lived the events you’re studying. The excitement of working with historic objects is that sometimes they allow you to bridge that gap and remember the people who walked among the now-empty halls of museum buildings.

Door and shelf with jars at the Syrup House in Canterbury Shaker Village

Syrup House, Canterbury Shaker Village, New Hampshire

This week, on my second day of work in the Village, we were in the thick of writing down the catalog numbers of all the objects that have been on display in the Carriage House, when I gingerly picked up a petite, frail straw bonnet with a pleated cream satin trim tacked along the back to cover the neck from the sun (and perhaps add a hint of decoration.) I experienced an immediate moment of connection with the past, of realization that this bonnet was at one time an integral part of the literal and figurative part of the fabric of that her existence.

Shaker Straw Bonnet at Canterbury Shaker Village

Straw bonnet from the collections of Canterbury Shaker Village

Just as every day here at Canterbury I pull on my winter accessories without a second thought to go out and start work, so this girl would have slipped on the snug, close-fitting hat to go about her business, quite different from mine in many ways, but surely not too far off in others. Our lives may look very different, just as the clothes we wear do, but there are surely threads of similarity in both: frustration, disappointment, discontent, joy, laughter, envy, longing, wonder, tranquility, anxiety, hurt, affection. Hating the weather but loving the view. Getting bored of the conversation but not wanting to be alone. All lives have these commonalities.

Hydrangea in the Snow

Dried hydrangea in this week’s ice, Canterbury Shaker Village, NH

Realizing the humanity behind objects in turn prompts more questions for historical research and story-telling. There’s the human side of the story, the questions that the fellow woman in me asks: Did she love this bonnet? Did she hate it? What was her name? Who was she? What were her interests and passions? What was her past like before she got this bonnet? What was her future like after she outgrew this bonnet?

Schoolhouse door at Canterbury Shaker Village

Schoolhouse door the owner of this bonnet may have seen daily at school (Canterbury Shaker Village, NH)

Then there are the more practical questions: Since the bonnet is so small, we can assume it belonged to a child in the Shaker community. The Shakers required celibacy of their members so anyone with children who joined had to surrender exclusively raising their child. Children who were brought to the Shakers by parents who joined or by local orphanages were taught at the Shakers’ schoolhouse and cared for by sisters in the community.



As a child who was most likely brought here either because she wasn’t wanted by her family or her parent joined the Shaker community, the owner of this bonnet was not living in the Village because of her own choice. The whole situation seems so potentially heartbreaking to me that I have to wonder: Was she happy living in the Village? Depressed? At home? Lonely? How did she arrive there? Did she stay?

Old wooden floorboards at Canterbury Shaker Village

Floorboards in a storage room of the schoolhouse

The number of questions that flood my head are unending, and most of them probably can’t be answered. But it’s all an important reminder to keep in mind that history isn’t just a regurgitation of facts or a wrestling match over whose political, religious, or social perspective gets to be told – it’s about commemorating the people who came before us and ensuring their stories are passed onto future generations.

Light from window in Shaker Schoolhouse at Canterbury Shaker Village

Museums: Shedding light on history, one artifact at a time.

Other posts to peruse:

The Canterbury Tales, Part 1: Prelude

Explore New England (Well, Mainly Massachusetts)

Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten People

Party Like It’s 1838: Old Sturbridge Village Internship (Pt. 1)

The Canterbury Tales, Part 1: Prelude

In a week, I will start (yet another) internship at Canterbury Shaker Village, a museum in Canterbury, New Hampshire, working on researching and cataloging the museum’s object collection as well as assisting the curator with revamping the museum’s gallery space. I’ll also be living in one of the historic buildings that was part of the village, the home of a vibrant religious community between 1792 and 1992. I don’t believe in ghosts, but got a little nervous when the woman who interviewed me asked if I was comfortable living in an old house that creaks at night…let’s hope I leave this internship still skeptical of the paranormal.

Shaker Building at Fruitland Museum Massachusetts

A remnant of Shaker life (the sect only has one living member left) — a former office building from one of their communities in Harvard, Mass., now part of Fruitlands Museum

Some people think I’m bonkers for taking this internship; I graduated last May and I should probably get a real job, but I’m excited about this opportunity, not just because of the career preparation it will provide me with, but also because of the potential for personal growth that I see in moving to a different place, learning about a remarkable group of people, and building myself as a person. I will admit though, there are a few reasons to be terrified:

  1. Moving. I’m very close to my family, and in the two months I’ve been home, I’ve quickly settled back into my comfort zone of home life. Any move means transition and facing the unknown, which I often find emotional and anxiety-inducing. Not to mention, starting a new job is just plain intimidating.
  2. Being in a rural place. I have a secret confession: I love big box stores and strip malls. Seeing them makes my heart happy. I didn’t realize that until I lived with no car in a town consisting of a mile-long street with no stores. Living nowhere near a supermarket should be interesting…
  3. NEW ENGLAND WINTER. I am from below the Mason-Dixon line. I hate ugly winter accessories that are meant to keep you warm. I shiver inside of my own home. I really have no business being in New Hampshire during February and March.

Fruitlands Museum, Massachusetts: A shoemaker’s worktable from Harvard Shaker community

But more importantly, reasons to be excited:

  1. Living in a new place. One reason I love doing internships is they give me the chance to live in a completely different place from where I grew up, giving me a taste of the culture, history, and landscape of that location. So far this has taken me to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Western Massachusetts, and, most recently, Central Massachusetts. Being a suburbanite, I’ve enjoyed being in small towns where you’re closer to nature and historic buildings, things we tend to raze in suburbia.
  2. Learning new things. I love coming to a subject I know very little about and becoming intimately familiar with it through historical work. Shakerism embodies two significant portions of American history: the many religious sects that have arisen in our country and the many Utopian, communal societies that were formed in the early 1800s. With this internship, I’ll learn about a movement that represents important parts of American culture: our impulse to practice religion as we see fit, to pursue equality for all people, and to invent, innovate, and work hard.
  3. Gaining personal direction. On one level, I hope this gives me some direction for my career. On another level, as silly as it may sound, some part of me hopes that by having be close to nature, dwell with my own thoughts, and learn about the lives of others will give me some insight into myself. On that note, let me continue.

Harvard, Mass. Shaker community at Fruitlands Museum

I’m a big believer in taking time to wander around forests alone to gain inspiration for art and to get to know yourself better. That’s part of why I wanted to return to New England. I went through some difficult times this past fall as I lived on my own in Massachusetts, but I also found the built and natural landscape surrounding me to be awe-inspiring, peaceful, and empowering. As I processed through making difficult career choices, difficult feelings of loneliness and inadequacy, and processing heartbreak, I found myself drawn back again and again to the banks of ponds, the canopies of forest foliage, the shadows of bracketed historic buildings, the faded carvings of town cemeteries.

As I lost myself in long walks, tours of writers’ homes, snapping photos of gables fading into the sunset, and driving back and forth across the Mass. Turnpike with an “Autumn Leaves” Yankee Candle car deodorizer dangling from my rearview and Mary Chapin Carpenter singing a ballad about a dead man from New Orleans, I slowly emerged from my shell of brokenness, helplessness, and fear. I am adventurous, but I am also anxious. Moves like this force me out of my comfort zone and propel me to pursue independence.


Harvard, Massachusetts’ Shaker community, now part of the Fruitlands Museum

Ann Lee must have known as much when she decided to cross the pond from England to America in 1774, bringing with her a small, no doubt ragtag group of followers of her new faith – disparaged as the “shaking Quakers”, much like “Christians” once upon a time was an insult to a persecuted band of believers. She established a settlement in New York for the group, but also began seeking out converts in her new country.

The Shakers were defined by a commitment to communal living, hard work, celibacy, pacifism, and living as closely to biblical teachings as possible. While much of their life seems completely unrelatable to us today, as I began researching the Shakers in the past week, I realized there were many parallels between the values they sought to embody and the journey I’ve been on personally in recent years and the crossroads I find myself at today:

DSC03755 2

Shaker-made baskets at Fruitlands Museum, MA

The Shakers’ commitment to hard work, not to mention the sheer extent of their accomplishment, speaks to my own hunger to do, to work, to find my place where I can make a difference, to use the talents I have been given effectively.

Their practice of meditation prompts me to do the same — taking time to name my thoughts and feelings instead of simply pushing them away, to savor life as it passes.

The Shaker’s commitment to celibacy reminds me of my own pursuit to be content being single and become more grounded in myself before seeking out relationships.

The rural landscape they cohabited with is an opportunity to take a break from the breakneck speed of life and the technology that simultaneously tears me down and lifts me up.

The gender equality they pursued reminds me of my own recent transition from the narrow, traditional view of women’s roles I grew up with to seeking to build a career for myself and a self-concept as a strong, smart, capable woman.

Their unabashed pursuit of practicing their unique, oft-berated religious convictions reflects my own journey to navigate the spiritual landscape, blazing a middle ground between the religious tradition I grew up in and my own experience and convictions, often leaving me feeling isolated as I fit neither in the church I grew up in, nor the world outside of it.

Their emphasis on compassion and showing God’s love to neighbors is a reminder for me to be more self-sacrificing and understanding of others.

Their love of community points me to my own craving to experience true friendship, acceptance, companionship, and support in my relationships, which often feel shallow, conditional, one-sided, and neglectful.


Walden Pond, Concord, Massachusetts

In closing, I remember how during my junior year of college, my friend and I found out there was an Orthodox convent not far from our college campus. It was on state park land, with a beautiful lake, and the sisters sang in a choir together and made greeting cards to sell in the convent gift shop. I remember wanting to go live there, being young, depressed, lonely, burnt out, fed up with men, and unable to get a boyfriend anyways. Why not go live in a beautiful place where your life had clear vocation and you were a recognized member of a community. I figured old people usually love me and a simple, orderly life where each day was laid out for you sounded kinda nice.

While there are many benefits to having so many choices and freedom these days, sometimes the array of opportunities can become overwhelming. Ultimately, my desire to continue chasing romantic love won out over the attractiveness of making greeting cards with old ladies, but looking back, I can see the draw of such a place. As much as we value freedom, independence, sensuality, and spontaneity, I think many of us also have a part of us that craves the stability, community, and security that communal religious societies offer.

We want peace in the midst of the flurry of emails we need to respond to before we’re viewed as rude, sales to take advantage of before they expire, things to check off our to-do list before another vacation ends.

We want guidance and clarity in a world where even a simple trip to the grocery store can overwhelm you with the options before you.

We want community in a time when people leave texts unanswered and conversations face-to-face often get interrupted by those same devices that are supposed to help us keep in touch.


The Berkshires, Massachusetts

I don’t think the Shakers had all the answers. I don’t think their lives were perfect. I don’t think we all need to give up all our technology or join communes. But I’m curious to see how living where they did, walking in their footsteps, and studying their lives can give me perspective in the modern day. Because as foreign as life in the past may seem — and as awful as many aspects of it were — I think it’s always worth keeping an open mind to any culture and its practices to see what we can learn from it and apply to our own little world.

Sometimes you have to step outside your bubble, jump outside your comfort zone, so you can expand it to include things that will enhance it in the long run.

Learn More About Shakers:

PBS: “About the Shakers” (Ken Burns’ wonderful documentary about the group)

National Park Service: Shaker Heritage Sites

Hancock Shaker Village: History of the Shakers

Other posts you might enjoy:

Around Town: Summer Fellowship, Pt. 3

Explore New England (Well, Mainly Massachusetts)

Glimpses into life in the past at National Park Seminary historic district

Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten People

Blast from the Past (in Concord, Mass.!)

Dealing with the stress of decision-making

The past couple weeks (and honestly months) have been full of stress for me as I’ve been trying to figure out what to do next with my life and how to start my career. After graduating in May, I bought myself some time from having to find a job by doing a summer fellowship, though the entire summer, the thought of what to do next (and after that and after that) was relentlessly weighing on my mind. Finding a job in the museum field with just a BA proved difficult, so I decided to get more experience (and buy myself more job search time) by doing a fall internship. Now that I’ve finished that, the weight of figuring out my future is resting heavily on my shoulders again. Sometimes it feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest with all the stress I put on myself to figure my life out.


Sturbridge, Massachusetts

I’m not great at decision-making. I hate even choosing what to eat. So making choices that can seemingly determine the course of the rest of your life entail a lot of stress for me. Add to that the complications of relationships, finances, second-guessing whether your career field is a good fit, deadlines for applications, decisions about grad school, etc. and it’s enough to make you want to cry or just give up and stick your head in the sand, binge-watching Lea Remini’s docu-series about Scientology to reassure yourself that other people’s lives are more screwed up than your own.


Cavendish Beach, Prince Edward Island

As I’ve been working on approaching career and life choices without stressing myself out completely, I’ve been figuring out some ways to make the process a little easier. It’s important to take time out to rest during the process, and to make sure that you’re not letting other people’s opinions take over your choice. Here are a few other thoughts:

Schedule a “freak out” time. I oftentimes find myself letting anxiety take over my thoughts constantly, turning over decisions constantly in the back of my mind. Or I would spend hours on job listings, stressing myself out with the long list of positions that didn’t work for me. This can make the decision hold more weight than it should and just makes your miserable. Try scheduling an hour or two a day to focus on weighing choices, making pro and con lists, applying to jobs etc. When your mind drifts to your decision the rest of the day, tell yourself you have to wait until later.


Cavendish Beach, Prince Edward Island

Get in touch with your priorities. It’s easy to be swayed and overwhelmed by others’ input and expectations when making choices. While it’s worthwhile to listen to the advice people have to give, ultimately the decision is yours and it’s your life. Try making a list of what are the external pressures your feel from others and what are your feelings about what you want, what your priorities are, what experience you want to have, etc. It’s easy to get caught up in ideas of what someone your age is supposed to be doing, but you are the one who has to live in that place or work that job or date that person, so you need to make the choice that’s best for you.


Cavendish Beach, Prince Edward Island

Think long-term, but not too long-term. It’s good to have some sense of what direction you want to be headed in to guide you in terms of what skills you should try and gain in a job now, but don’t get overwhelmed trying to plan too far ahead. Sometimes, especially when you’re young, it’s helpful to just give yourself permission to think in terms of a simple, “What do I want to experience next?” It can be easier to break life into semesters, with a general goal of “I want to graduate in May 20-whenever with a BA in History.” I find myself trying to trace how my future would pan out if I took this path or that path, but ultimately I stress myself out for something that isn’t practical. We can’t predict the future, so sometimes you have to look at what opportunities are available right now and trust that things will work out in the future.


Exeter, England

Remember there’s no right or wrong path. Again, you don’t know what the future will hold, good or bad. A certain school or job or relationship can seem like your only ticket to the life you want or the only thing that can make you happy, but I’ve found that dream opportunities often can be very different in reality. Not to mention, you could take a job that you never thought you would and end up finding your passion. You could go to a school that was far from your first choice and form lifelong relationships. You could not end up with one guy but then months later meet the love of your life. We don’t know what life holds and sometimes we have to accept that some doors close and others open. There’s not a fixed path and we’re not doomed if we don’t do certain things in life, though it can easy to become convinced as much with the pressure other people put on us and the emphasis on Ivy Leagues, big-name companies, and meeting milestones.


Cavendish Beach, Prince Edward Island

Whatever paths you’re looking down, have faith that life is full of surprises. It’s easy to get discouraged about not getting jobs or not having relationships work out, feeling like that was our best chance. But so many people I talk to found their career by accident, practically falling into it, or met their partner when they swore they would never find love. So much pressure is put on figuring things out when you’re young, and it’s easy to look at all of the teenagers and 20-somethings in the worlds of sports and entertainment and feel stupid and accomplished for not having found your life passion or made a name for yourself, but those cases are the exception, not the norm.

Many great people whose accomplishments we celebrate didn’t peak until their thirties or even later. It takes time to build up a skill set, refine your craft, and gain experience and a network of people who recognize your abilities. Be patient with yourself, don’t stop pushing yourself, and don’t devalue the experience and skills you already have built. Seeing all the jobs, etc. you’re unqualified for or sitting in an interview where it becomes glaringly obvious that you’re not the right candidate can make you question whether you have any worthwhile skills, but you do. Know your worth and have faith in the future, but also remember to enjoy the present.


Exeter, England


The Scenic Route: Taking the Pressure off of Decision-Making


Sturbridge, Massachusetts

I always like to tell people that a road trip with me isn’t complete until I’ve taken a wrong road or missed a turn or screwed up something. I’ve been driving around up here in New England every time I have time because I love the scenery and I find driving so relaxing (sorry, environment.) Pretty much every time I miss a turn and end up lost. I always start out frustrated, seeing the ETA on my GPS change, but I could never stay mad for long because I would pass a group of wild turkeys crossing the road or see the sun setting over a pond nestled in a grove of pine trees. It made me realize that it was more of a scenic detour than making a mistake.


Sturbridge, Massachusetts

It’s interesting how we are so prone to frame things as right or wrong, labeling events that didn’t go the way we hoped or turn out positively as mistakes or failures. Oftentimes those times can be pivotal moments of growth for us, which makes me question whether they really can be called mistakes since they ended up playing a crucial part in our development.


The Mount, Lenox, Massachusetts

This past couple months, having another relationship I hoped would develop into something more not work out and simultaneously having the internship I took not live up to my expectations really brought this point home. A lot of times I felt like I had failed because I had yet again misjudged a person and built up my expectations prematurely. I consequently feel anxious when I make choices about my future and pessimistic about new opportunities for relationships that present themselves, doubting anyone could really be interested in me and wondering if I’m over-idealizing a person again and ignoring red flags like the last time.


The Mount, Lenox, Massachusetts

As I find myself in another time of transition with a lot of decisions facing me, I feel overwhelmed by the pressure to make the “right” choices. But the thing is, sometimes you just have to make a choice, there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong option; each avenue you could potentially take is just a different path. As cheesy as the metaphor sounds, it’s like hiking trails – sure you have to take into consideration how long one is or how steep, but for the most part each one is beautiful and relaxing, you just get a different view.


The Mount, Lenox, Massachusetts

Considering grad schools and job options, I feel overwhelmed by the pressure I put on myself to find the “right fit.” Having had to transfer in undergrad, partly because the school I thought was a perfect fit ended up just not working for me, I feel especially anxious about my ability to choose a good program. But as I make pro and con lists for different options, I realize that there are, quite simply, pros and cons to anything. There is rarely ever a perfect fit. It all works out and adds to your story.

Even difficult things have beauty and worth threaded throughout. In my relationship that didn’t work out, I experienced a ton of emotional pain, but that precipitated me to re-enter counseling, which I have experienced tremendous comfort and personal growth through (including many of the ideas in this post!) And subsequently, when I did have another opportunity to start to develop a different relationship, it made me value that new opportunity even more.


Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts

The failed relationship also empowered me in a strange sense as I had to at one point realize the other person wasn’t invested in the relationship, decide I deserved better, and take action to withdraw from that person and make an effort not to let worrying about our relationship consume my thoughts. This was extremely hard to do, but I did it. I stopped communicating with him for probably six weeks to see if he would initiate conversation and ask after me. It never came, which hurt, but gave me perspective on what I need in a relationship and, most importantly, made me feel empowered about my decision to respect and stand up for myself.


Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts

As for my internship, as many tough days as I had, there is the satisfaction of knowing I pressed on through those tough days and I pushed myself yet again out of my comfort zone in the type of work I was doing. I learned completely new things and I did a lot of talking to people even though I find constant conversation exhausting. I persevered. And I got to experience a different place, visit lovely museums, enjoy driving through the curtain of New England foliage over the Massachusetts turnpike, and meet a few lovely people…one particularly lovely person in particular…There were so many things I felt frustrated about that I eventually realized had small blessings hidden in them.


Naumkeag, the Berkshires, Massachusetts

I guess what I’m saying is, that if you’re like me and, because of things that have happened in your past, you question your judgment for the future to the extent that you can’t make decisions – it’s okay. Even situations that are difficult are redeemable. And for some of us more sensitive people, we just need an extra-long time to adjust, so something that seems awful may just need some patience and perseverance.


The Berkshires, Massachusetts

You don’t have to make the right choice, you just have to do the best you can to consider your options and choose what seems like a good fit. Maybe it’s the fastest route to your destination, maybe it’s the scenic route. Either way has satisfactions and frustrations.


Party Like It’s 1838: Old Sturbridge Village Internship (Pt. 1)

It’s been quite an interesting two months serving as an intern here at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. I’ve learned a lot as a historian and grown a lot as a human. A lot of people I’ve met have wondered what brought me up here from my home state of Maryland…It’s a valid question with a complicated answer.


I guess it goes back to when I was in middle school and I first fell in love with museums, in particular with living history museums where people in costume pretend to inhabit historic buildings, usually set up in a town or village setting, recreating life in the past. Old Sturbridge Village was one museum I distinctly remember visiting, and while I didn’t fall in love with it the way I did Colonial Williamsburg, I remember respecting it a lot (and loving the sheep.)


Fast forward several years to college…History majors from the first school I attended interned at OSV and I began to become interested myself in working in the museum field. I turned into some kind of internship maniac who would scour the Internet for museum internships to apply for. One that I found was OSV but it wasn’t until this past summer that I applied. I accepted at Historic Deerfield for the summer but asked if I could defer working here at OSV to the fall. The more jobs I didn’t hear back from, the better of an idea doing another internship sounded like.


Old Sturbridge Village is comprised of over thirty historic buildings that have been moved to the site to create a hypothetical rural New England Village. It doesn’t recreate any specific town exactly; it’s more of a sampler of some of the trade shops and homes and public buildings you might have found in a small town in the early 1800s. The village is set in a pretty overlooked time period of American history: the 1830s. Some visitors to the museum think we are colonists, pilgrims, or pioneers, but colonists and pilgrims would have been historical figures by our time period and pioneers would be living in places West of Massachusetts, like Ohio.


Probably the most notable thing about the 1830s is that the Industrial Revolution was picking up steam (no pun intended), though that can be harder for visitors to see in our quaint little village. Something I would say our village lacks, in my humble opinion, are buildings like textile mills that would have been becoming prominent in this time period as the industrial revolution came into play and was beginning to radically change American life. In fact, a young woman like me might have gone and worked in a mill to be able to earn her own money and be exposed to fashionable new ways of dressing, eating, and cooking. And after simulating what it might be like to work on a farm as a woman in the 1830s for 8.5 hours a day during this internship, I can start to understand the appeal of going and working in a mill.


My primary place of work during this internship has been the Freeman Farmhouse. The Freemans were middle class farmers so their house was a decent size, though the original property was just the front part when they bought it. Pliny Freeman, a housewright in addition to being a farmer, purchased the house at half its market value to pay off some of his debt by selling his old farm, and added on the back single-story wing, which has the kitchen, dairy room, and woodshed. You can also see the root cellar, underneath the boards in the center of the photo, and on the other side of the home is a large garden that would have been used to grow a lot of the household food.

Here’s a few (unfortunately bad quality) snapshots of the interior of the farmhouse. Most of my time is spent in the room pictured at the bottom – the kitchen. Female interns have to work in a house while male staff typically work on the farm, in a trade shop, or operating our four small mills. A lot of the museum’s interpretation of homelife focuses on what historians call “foodways” aka how food is grown, harvested, prepared, served, and eaten. While women definitely spent a lot of time cooking, this wasn’t all they did, though we can certainly give people that impression.


All the same, it was a lot of work and I respect the women who did it immensely. I find it tiresome and confusing, which makes me wonder if there what you would do in the 1830s if you hated cooking or were terrible at it. I guess we all have things today that we hate doing, but all the same, I’m more thankful than ever for pre-made food and happy to go home at night and pop a TV dinner in the microwave.


View out the front door. The picket fence was a fashionable new addition to the house in the late 1830s. It doesn’t make a lot of sense in terms of there being a practical use for it, which is always a good sign that something is being done as a status symbol.

Stay tuned for more thoughts on 1830s life to come!

Final Farewells: Historic Deerfield Fellowship Pt. 5

It’s hard to believe, but on Monday I finished up my nine-week fellowship with Historic Deerfield, a museum in Massachusetts. The last weeks of the fellowship were particularly intense as the six of us fellows were completing our 25-page research papers. We did have some brief breaks from research with fun workshops learning how to dance in 18th century America, harvest flax, and polish pewter spoons, which we used to eat ice cream!


Using metal files to smooth out the rough edges of recently-cast pewter spoons…Who said internships were all about making copies and getting coffee! (Photo by Penny Leveritt)

Researching my paper was both fulfilling and exasperating. The late nights made me wonder whether I had graduated, but ultimately I love having the chance to uncover the incredible story of a woman who has gone unrecognized for her prolific career in social work. It was inspiring to see how full of a life Elizabeth Greene, the subject of my paper, led, especially as I start off on my own career. She never stopped working, traveling, or getting involved in her community. And as a fun twist to my research, I found out that Greene was essentially a cat lady!

mv door

The extremely powerful and poignant entrance to Mount Vernon’s exhibit on slavery. The doors list the names of some of the enslaved people owned by George Washington and Washington’s statue can be seen beyond them. (Photo by author)

Once we had finished our papers, we gave each gave a 10-minute presentation about our research findings to the museum staff. I remember sitting down from giving my presentation, breathing a sigh of relief, and suddenly realizing the enormity of what I had accomplished this summer! We heard an incredible talk from an alum of the program, Jessie MacLeod, who curated an exhibition dedicated to talking about the experience of enslaved people at Mount Vernon. She shared some words of wisdom about representing a wider constellation of people when we tell history.

closing ceremony

Celebrating finishing our fellowship and giving incredible presentations! (Photo from Historic Deerfield)

After our presentations, we got to head out on a 9-day trip touring historic sites in Connecticut, New York, Delaware, DC, and Virginia as a reward for finishing our papers and a continued learning experience about how different museums are run.

We started off in Connecticut with a tour of three historic houses in the small town of Weathersfield. This stop was especially memorable because the creative executive director of these houses, the Webb Dean Stevens Museum, likes to use real food coated in hairspray to liven up the houses. Next, we visited the Yale University Art Galleries in New Haven, CT, which have incredible pieces from all different times and continents.


Getting a behind-the-scenes look at historic photographs in the conservation lab of the art museums at Colonial Williamsburg.

We trekked down to familiar territory for yours truly – Washington, DC – where we toured the Smithsonian Castle, the monuments, the National Museum of American History, and the White House. Even though I’ve lived in the DC area my entire life, I often forget about the museums and monuments right in our backyard. It was interesting to get a behind-the-scenes tour of some of these places and see how the Smithsonian is making an effort to incorporate the stories of more Americans into the museum. It was also extremely powerful to see the lunch counter from Greensboro, NC where student protesters staged sit-ins against segregation during the Civil Rights Movement.


Learning about Southern furniture, a previously overlooked area of decorative arts, in Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Art Museum.

Our next stops were Alexandria, VA and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. We toured the powerful exhibit on slavery at Mount Vernon, which I highly recommend visiting before it goes off exhibit later this year. We also toured Colonial Williamsburg, learning about how they are changing their historic spaces to be more interactive and engaging, and Winterthur Museum in Delaware, learning about their graduate program in American material culture studies. Our last stop was at Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, New York to learn about early Dutch American culture, agricultural practices, and slavery.


Panoramic of Mount Vernon (photo by author)

Overall, this summer has been full of learning opportunities and an enormous chance for personal growth for me. Stressful situations are difficult but also can change you as you overcome obstacles. I’m indebted to everyone who allowed me to have this opportunity, in particular Historic Deerfield and my professors at the Universities at Shady Grove‘s history program with UMBC. This is also sadly my last post here on Around the Grove, so I want to thank everyone who allowed me the chance to be a student blogger because I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Best of luck to everyone as you start a new school year!