Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Looking Ahead...

Thanks ever so much for your feedback on the poll thus far! I've decided to reactivate it for kicks, just to let anyone who wanted a say get their opinion on. It's funny, though, that the two things I intend to focus on in the coming year--massive amounts of sewing and a heavy dose of writing--are things you kind folks want to read about! Sympatico, readers--that's what we are!

So, as the new year approaches, a hopeful list of what I want to do:


1) I neeeeeed new stays. Real bad. For one, though my old ones still fit they are getting awfully wrecked up. For two, I would really like a pair of tabbed stays with straps. For three--and this one's the challenge--I want to make them gestational and nursing adapted. No--I am not expecting! But I want these to last for a good ten years, and I do figure that a stork will pop by at some point in the next decade.

2) 1940s dresses--I have patterns. I need fabric. I can't wait to whip these up and wear them dancing!

3) The short cloak/mantlet. I bought gorgeous dark blue wool this fall, and have yet to decide if it will be a short cloak or a shaped mantelet. I do know that I want to line it in something soft and lovely for extra warmth (perhaps a silk/cotton blend, though that wouldn't be quite 100% authentic from what I can find). And I would love to add fur accents!

4) Regency clothes. I'm getting more into other time periods--and I have plenty of opportunities to wear Regency clothes if I make them. I'll be starting from scratch here--I'll need chemise, stays, petticoats, gowns,'s a lot to bite off. But in the experimental phases, I'd also like to create some long tunic-style tops inspired by Empire-waisted gowns. For fun.

5) A chemise a la reine. It looks fun. The fabric is easily procured. I think it would be a blast to wear. And I already have the perfect hat. Pictures to come of Perfect Hat...

6) A new jacket for Mother. This one is priority as I promised it as a birthday gift...and Mother's birthday is a month away. Plus, aforementioned Perfect Hat? I stole it from my I owe her!

7) Set up the teensy room in the second floor of the new very old house as a sewing room. I claim it. It's mine. I put a flag in there and everything.


1) Revamp December, revamp query letter, hone the whole thing one more time and get back to querying. I fell off the wagon on the road to publication this fall to take a detour on Academia Avenue, and I plan to get truckin' again.

2) Keep working on Ye Nexte Projecte. I'm calling it, tentatively, The Miniature. I have piles of books to read as research. I'm quietly excited about this one.

3) Build more relationships with critique partners. I love my CPs, and am so grateful to them--I hope to expand and deepen those ties this year!

4) Get better about keeping an idea journal/brainstorming book. I have a gazillion ideas. I just need to get them down on paper so I don't lose them!

Other Stuff

1) Keep dancing! Husband and I plan to take Charleston and Lindy Hop lessons this spring. Yay!

2) Decorate. I can't wait to get my mitts on the new very old house--we get the key tomorrow. And then, watch out--I'm going on a furniture arranging, drape sewing, picture hanging, decorating bonanza. That's right.

What do you hope to do in the new year? Any projects or plans that you're particularly excited about?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Giveaway Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered--I loved reading your favorite holiday memories and traditions! To be fair here's on of mine:

My mother's grandmother had the best Christmas cookie recipe, and she passed it, along with all her cookie cutters, on to my mom. Over the years, we've collected more cookie cutters--whenever I see one that she doesn't have yet, I pick it up for her--so we now have an overflowing bin. It's a yearly tradition to bake and decorate Christmas cookies.

Well, when you add a new person into the family--in this case, my husband--you have to integrate them into the traditions. Being a pretty traditional guy, he wasn't too into decorating cookies, but he gave it a go, and even though he tried to make Santa into a nuclear sub and the Christmas ornament into a grenade, we had fun. Until he tried icing red mittens onto a gingerbread man.

Do you know what red mittens on a little gingerbread man look like? Bloody stump gingerbread arms.

He usually helps my dad chop firewood while my mom and I ice and sprinkle cookies now.

And now--without further ado--the winners!

1) Kat Zhang!
2) Caroline!
3) Mesmered!
4) Jasmine!

Please send me an email at hyalineblue079(at)yahoo(dot)com and list the books up for grabs in your order of preference. First to email me gets first choice, second gets first choice, or second choice that's still available, and on down the line. Please include a mailing address.

PLUS! Anyone who entered can email me for a small prize--a small paperback of poetry! Confession--these were favors at my wedding years ago, so they are a sort of re-gift. But isn't that what the holidays are all about, anyway?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Heroes and Heroism

A quick writing post--because I'm feeling inspired. Of course, before I forget--today's the last day to enter my book giveaway. Enter Here.

Susan from Let the Words Flow posted an awesome article about heroes--making your protagonists reflect the qualities you perceive as heroic in real-life heroes. She suggested the following: List a few real-life heroes and identify the qualities that make them heroic.

So it got me thinking...and instead of posting the world's longest comment (as some of my blog friends know I have a tendency to do on occasion) I decided to write my own post in response.

Now, for some odd reason, I gravitate toward war stories when I think about heroes. This is clichéd, I know, but there is something about the camaradarie, survivalism, hardship, and stripped-down immediacy of wartime to bring out heroic character.

The heroes who spring to mind:

George Rogers Clark: This is not the first, nor will it be, I project, the last time I wax poetic on GRC on this blog. I grew up reenacting the Revolutionary War as a member of "his" regiment--which set forth from Virginia in 1778 in hopes of capturing the Northwest Territory (now the eastern Midwest) from the British. He hatched the plan and convinced Virginia's governer, "Give me Liberty or give me death" Patrick Henry, to go along with it. He refused to give up even when he assembled only half the troops he expected. He cleverly used those troops to take several towns in the region by convincing the towns he had far more people than he did. And then, when part of the territory was recaptured by the British, he led his small army across half-frozen floodplains in a harrowing march to retake it. And he took the fort the British held with no casualties to his own regiment during combat.

But this--even give all the other stuff--is what makes him a hero in my book, from his own memoir: I viewed their confusion for about one minute, whispered to those near me to do as I did immediately, put some water in my hand, poured on [black] powder, blackened my face, gave the warwhoop and marched into the water, without saying a word. The party gazed and fell in, one after another without saying a word...

Talk about leadership! And foresight and innovation. And a strength of character.

And another:

Lieutenant Winters: If you've seen Band of Brothers, the HBO miniseries, you're familiar with this fellow. A quiet, strong leader, he was field promoted more than once and, in the miniseries, seems to garner respect in any situaiton. But he's not just a character--Winters is a real person, and was interviewed as part of the show. And this is where his heroism strikes me the most--you would never know this guy was a hero. He's just an old fellow who you might see at the grocery store or a baseball game. He's completely self-effacing, and everything that he did is reflected back on the group of men he served with. His triumphs weren't his alone--they're handed right back to his men. In one episode of the miniseries, this is portrayed as Winters attempts to write a report of an engagement--during which he performed with extraordinary leadership and valor. But he has to write the thing without saying this--because he won't take the credit for himself.

Which brings me back to a quote by George Rogers Clark: Great things have been effected by a few men well-conducted.

So what is a hero to me?

It's someone who recognizes the ability of one man--or a few men--to effect great things. That vision, plus innovation when the situation demands. Don't we love a clever hero? Who gets out of scrapes with brilliant ideas?

It's someone who has leadership--but not someone purely independent. Someone who recognizes the contributions and value of those around them.

Someone with exceptional conduct, as GRC says--the strength of character to continue to do the right thing or the thing one has to do, even when it would be much, much easier not to.

Of course, not every protagonist in a story can have this sort of forthright courage and honor. Some have quieter forms of heroism. So, one final example, another wartime story--but this of an entirely different nature. My favorite of the Anne of Green Gables books is the final book--Rilla of Ingleside. When WWI breaks out, Rilla is a teenager, but still a child--hopeful and idealistic, but also naive and self-centered. However, over the course of the book, Rilla proves that any person can effect great things. Her leadership with the local Red Cross refuses to let her be completely independent, and she has to learn to value what others can offer--and then they can accomplish bigger things together. She adopts a war baby--and even though it would be much easier to send him to the orphanage, she displayes exceptional conduct by keeping him. She is a hero, too.

Now, the hard part--imbuing my characters with these traits!

What do you think makes a hero?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Giveaway! And Poll!

Enter to win free books! Easy and cheery! Entries due tomorrow--so get your name in the hat while they're still time! (Did I mention I use a real hat? My technical inabilities have, in the past, forced me to adopt the "names on slips of paper, in the hat they go method. Any suggestions on which hat to use?)

Also--I've got a little poll running on the side of the blog to see what you might like to see more of in 2011. I aim to please, of course!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas in the Country

A friend of mine sent me this image, a print from 1791, in an e-Christmas card. Thought I would share with my history geeks here! Cool stuff to notice:

1) Those crazy-big caps on the ladies. Add some ribbons and they're like the Christmas sweater of the eighteenth century.

2) See the very large hunk of greenery in the back right, and couple kissing under it? Yep, mistletoe!

3) At the center of the image, the punch bowl!

This is Christmas Party weekend here at my house--I'm taking a quick break from making brie en croute, spinach pinwheels, and cranberry punch to post. I kinda wish I was wearing a giant cap and fathoming the punch bowl instead--somehow it seems a bit more festive!

Remember--enter to win free books!! There may even be a surprise for the entrants...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Writing Like It's Your Job

I ran across a writing article in the webberworlds that set me off a little. The well-intentioned writer made the suggestion that, to succeed as a writer, one must treat it like a job.

That's a great idea. You have to be serious about it, commit to it, write whether there's a muse standing over your shoulder dishing you inspiration or not. Yes, write like it's your job.

She then, however, went on to describe what that looked like--her method was to work on her writing, whatever stage she was at, from 9-5 everyday. She didn't work on the weekends. She wrote, literally, like it was her job.

So here's the thing. Show of hands, everybody--who here has the ability to actually treat writing like a job? I sure don't. I work in an office from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day. I don't have the option to write eight hours a day. If I didn't write on the weekends, I'd never get anything accomplished. I have to piece my schedule together like a puzzle in order to carve out time to write.

The thing is--it wasn't that she gave her schedule. It's that she didn't give any other option. The only way, if you took this article at face value, to write like it's your job is to not have any other job. That's just not practical for most of us, is it?

Here's my take. This semester, I was a part-time student in addition to working full time. I budgeted my non-work time to make sure I completed assigned reading, got work done on my research paper, all that good stuff. Most of us can't be full-time writers. But we can be efficient part-time writers. We just have to take the committment seriously, and budget our time accordingly. Everyone's different, but seeing how effective I was at meeting deadlines for class made me rethink the value of setting writing/revision/editing goals and actually giving myself assignments.

Then there's the issue of balance. I bet most of us aren't just two things--employee/student and writer. I bet most of us are also "friend" "brother/sister" "homeowner/roommate/tenant" "father/mother" "husband/wife" "volunteer" "pet owner" "partridge" and/or "pear tree" in addition. The article made a good point that, if you're balancing all these things, it's a terrible idea to "earn" writing time by first cleaning the house and taking care of the kids. If you make yourself complete a laundry list, plus the laundry, before you write, you'll never get done.

What it didn't address was balance. Come on--you know you have to clean the house sometime, right? And the laundry doesn't do itself. And if people are going to eat in my house, well, I best get in the kitchen (unless I want to force down my husband's version of spaghetti, which includes bratwurst). You're allowed to admit that you need balance. You're allowed to admit that you can do it all, but not at the same time, and that this might mean taking a day "off" from writing to unearth your cat from a mountain of laundry and eliminate a herd of dust bunnies from underneath the sofa.

Because, in the end, while you sure would get a lot done if there was nothing in your life but writing, would you really be happy? I wouldn't. I crave all the elements of my life--professional, personal, and writing.

PS So I blathered about my ideals, ignoring the practical "how" question, but writer-friend Julie has an excellent post about making time to write--and made the AWESOME point, regarding balance, that she'd rather be remembered for her books than her awesomely clean house. The next time I decide to write for the afternoon instead of cleaning the toothpaste spatter from the bathroom mirror, I'm remembering that sentiment!

PPS Of course, enter to win free books! Not many entries yet--so your chances are very good!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Golden Gowns

The Christmas season makes me think about parties. Swanky cocktail parties, cosy dinner parties, grand balls. Who doesn't love an excuse for a party--and what better excuse than Christmas (I mean, the house is already decorated, right?)

And Christmas parties got me thinking about Christmas-party-perfect gowns. So I went shopping in history. Which is the safest place to shop if you love beautiful things but don't want to risk actually buying anything.

And as I browsed, thinking about festively festooning oneself, I decided that red and green are a touch tired. I think I read in some fashion magazine that gold is "in" this year (it was out? Gold can be in or out? I thought it was know...a metal). So I decided to present several options in shades of gold and white.

First up, a late 1790s round gown, nearly all ethereal white (doesn't it look heavenly, that fabric? Like clouds--they knew how to produce truly beautiful yet simple fabrics). But the gold trim adds a touch of "this is something special."

I love how this particular gown really shows the shape of the turn of the nineteenth century--the high waist, yes, but also the flatness across the bosom--a woman would have worn short stays or transitional stays with this gown, compressing her front a bit and, well, lifting the assets. Also--prime display of the enhanced fullness at the back. The lady who wore this dress for formal occassions likely used a bum pad to enhance the derriere, and the beautiful draping of the skirt.

This next piece is much less subdued--I love the dark gold fabric! I tend to shy away from 1820s dresses like this--the sleeves can come off as silly affectations, the general shape with the rounded shoulders a touch too simpering for me. But this piece stays simple, exaggerated sleeves aside, and really lets the fabric shine.

I confess a fondness for this next piece. It's a regal 1880s ballgown, and even though there is *almost* too much going on, it keeps a level head. Until someone pinned a red flower to it. Then it hits swoonworthy.

I would love to get a closer look to see how the creator of this gown acheived the layers of sheer fabric gathered just-so over the striking gold. The pattern created by this effect is just astonishing. I also love these sleeves--they're like throwbacks to the elegant engageantes of the eighteenth century.

Finally, as we turn to the twentieth century, a final golden gown. I could take or leave the lace at the neckline and sleeves, but that fabric! It's a work of art in itself (appears from close-ups to be embroidery on shimmery silk, but it's difficult to tell--any ideas?), and they way the gown plays on the pattern is gorgeous.

Pick a favorite! I'd love to know which golden gown would be the chosen ensemble for my readers. And where you'd wear it! Any golden gowns of your own?

PS Don't forget to enter to win free books, just in time for snow days!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Meet Archibald Lampman--Winter Poetry

I first met Mr. Lampman, a nineteenth-century Canadian poet, through the music of Loreena McKennitt. Her version of his poem "Snow" plays perfectly with the detail of his language, picking up the hollow, cold, breathtaking beauty of the winter months.

A video featuring the song--I didn't create this one, but I love many of the images!

So I started scrounging for more Lampman poetry. Archibald was a failed high school teacher and a low-grade Post Office clerk, which proves once again that you never know what secret genius might run beneath the surface of the ordinary folk you run into on your errands. And despite earning some success with his poetry, he worked as a low-paid postal clerk for the rest of his short life. He died at 37 years of age of a heart condition and was buried in a cemetery he had earlier immortalized in a poem.

I love Lampman's work, but I think he is at his brightest when he writes about winter.

This first poem holds a special significance for me--the reference to snowshoes makes me think of the hours I've spent tramping through snow-covered woods as evening began its descent.

Winter Uplands

The frost that stings like fire upon my cheek,
The loneliness of this forsaken ground,
The long white drift upon whose powdered peak
I sit in the great silence as one bound;
The rippled sheet of snow where the wind blew
Across the open fields for miles ahead;
The far-off city towered and roofed in blue
A tender line upon the western red;
The stars that singly, then in flocks appear,
Like jets of silver from the violet dome,
So wonderful, so many and so near,
And then the golden moon to light me home--
The crunching snowshoes and the stinging air,
And silence, frost, and beauty everywhere.

What I think really strikes me about Lampman is his ability to weave language--the poem's meaning is not only the textbook definition of the words, but in the sounds and rhythms he employs. "Golden moon to light me home"--there is a roundness and a richness there that speaks of being overwhelmed by the beauty in the familiar and the tenderness of home--a sentiment that resounds with me when I think of my own snowshoe hikes.

There's a hardness to the next poem, an edge that reminds the reader of the bitter side of winter:

Winter Evening

To-night the very horses springing by
Toss gold from whitened nostrils. In a dream
The streets that narrow to the westward gleam
Like rows of golden palaces; and high
From all the crowded chimneys tower and die
A thousand aureoles. Down in the west
The brimming plains beneath the sunset rest,
One burning sea of gold. Soon, soon shall fly
The glorious vision, and the hours shall feel
A mightier master; soon from height to height,
With silence and the sharp unpitying stars,
Stern creeping frosts, and winds that touch like steel,
Out of the depth beyond the eastern bars,
Glittering and still shall come the awful night.

I hope you enjoy Lampman--as a reader, I fall headlong into him, and as a writer, I take inspiration from his deft use of language. More of his work is available online if you'd like to read more.

Plus I love his many-hued and textured ways to describe winter--what word or words would you pick to describe winter?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Giveaway!

I'm feeling jolly. Maybe it's the snow. Maybe it's the new Nook. Maybe it's just the general spirit (and yes, bless us every one).

But I want to give away some books!

Up for grabs--paperback favorites from this year (new or very gently used):

The Blue Flower (I didn't review, but the post that spurred me to pick this one up is here at Carrie's blog)--by Penelope Fitzgerald--on eighteenth-century Germany, with a very unique literary bent

O, Juliet (also not one I've reviewed--but a nice overview at Historical Tapestry)--by Robin Maxwell--a reimagining of Romeo and Juliet

The Piano Teacher (I reviewed this one waaay back in the spring)
--by Janice Y K Lee--a nuanced tale weaving wartime and 1950s Hong Kong

The Kitchen Boy--by Robert Alexander--the story of the Romanovs and the Russian Revolution through new eyes

To Enter you Must:

1) Have a little holiday cheer! I don't care which holiday, but share your favorite holiday story, song, or tradition in the comments!
2) Enter your comment here by December 20.
3) For an extra entry, follow me! Old and new followers alike get an extra entry. (Remind me in your entry comment that you follow.)
4) Winners will be posted here on December 21--I'll ask you to send me your choices in order of preference, and we'll have a little race. First one to email gets first pick, on down the line.

I forgot to add--Open Worldwide! Anywhere Santa or the US Postal Service will deliver.

Good luck!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Birthday Unwrapped!

Yesterday was my birthday. I am still younger than middle-aged but, I believe now quite offically, older than "early twenties." It was a very good birthday. First, there was snow, which is requisite for a good birthday for a northern girl born in December. Second, there was a lovely meal with my husband for which we both dressed up, which is a rarity for us in our advanced age of marriage (three and a half years--no excuse, is it?). Third, there was Christmas cheer applenty, in the form of a tiny Christmas tree to decorate, mincemeat to simmer, and Christmas lights to be viewed on a little detour we took on our evening drive, which, when you share a birthday with the Christmas season anyway, you may as well enjoy.

And, fourth, there was a birthday gift. Dear husband surprised me with....

...a Nook.

I had not, to be honest, expected to get on the e-reader wagon this quickly, but I.Love.It. I still love books. I must say that front and center--I love books, and any book that would be a permanent addition to my shelf will still be purchased in paper and ink copy. But I read many a historical PDF for research purposes, and this is SO much nicer that hauling a laptop about to read off of. Or, trees forgive me--printing eighty pages of "Treatise on the Marine Physick" to scour for useful tidbits on eighteenth-century whatevers.

In short, the pros:
1) Elegant design. The little touchscreen is a joy to use, the e-ink is super-readable, the whole thing feels very natural in hand.
2) Easy to use. Very intuitive. Read both official e-books and PDFs I uploaded with great ease and no fuss.
3) Quick charge, connected with no problem to WiFi in my apartment, and downloaded books in a flash.

1) It did randomly decide to take a few minutes to download an update while I was reading last night. I hope this will not be frequent.
2) You have to set up an account with to register it, and have to fork over a credit card number before you could download even free e-books from (even those that came already loaded). Obviously not a huge deal, but it felt a little "hard sell" to me.
3) I may, possibly, be addicted.

As a sidenote--the first thing I read was a few chapers from a WIP from my good friend June, and wow! Such an awesome experience to read a friend's work in this format. And much easier than on a laptop or computer. I now understand, 100%, why industry bloggers I read are behind this new tech!

Have you considered an e-reader? Bought one? Rejected the concept completely? Still on the fence?

PS It's almost Christmas so: I'm feeling jolly and will be hosting a book give-away here soon! Keep you posted :)

PPS New Year coming, thinking about the blog--and have a new poll. What do you want to see more of? Let me know!!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Merry Christmas from a Train

As I left my building yesterday to go home, after a long day that involved a trek across campus, a fight with the online travel system, and a crying student, I was frustrated to hear the approach of a train. My car was parked on the other side of the train tracks, and using the underpass took me well out of my way on a very frosty evening. I sighed, and began to trudge across the parking lot.

The despondent echo of the train's bell, set to a monotonous minor key, preceded it, and soon the behemoth engines were rolling overhead. The squeal and grind of metal on cold metal repeated with aggravating frequency as my feet found the sidewalk that snakes under the tracks.

For some reason I looked up, and I found myself smiling through my annoyance and, even beginning to laugh at what I saw.

Some impish sprite, perhaps the engineer, or a trainyard employee, or some local youth out for jolly kicks, had draped a bedraggled length of Christmas lights across one of the locomotives, and hung one of those cheap light-up snowflakes one can find at the drugstore from the window. It was the merriest incongruity I've ever seen--the hackneyed decor finding new life on a dirty train engine.

Sometimes the most cheerful things can be found in the oddest of places.

What surprises have found you lately?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Eighteenth Century Christmas--The Punch

One of the highlights of our eighteenth-century Christmas celebration was the punch. A very intrepid friend of mine who is incredible in the kitchen decided to make a traditional punch--and chose the punch referenced in Dickens' A Christmas Carol in Prose. Called "Smoking Bishop," it if course utilizes the five main ingredients of a proper punch: Some sort of alcohol, sugar, citrus, water, and spice. Except this one skips the water as the wine is already light enough in booze compared to, say, rum.

The punch is displayed on the table above--you can see, it is smoking. Just a little. (Next to the punch bowl are a pair of crowns--we had a traditional Twelfth Night Cake with a bean and pea baked in--the lucky finders get to wear the crowns, have good luck, and hopefully don't have a chipped tooth.)

I found a similar recipe online (because I have to make this myself sometime), and thought I would share. This recipe comes from Charles Dickens' great grandson, who says Victorians enjoyed many "clerical" drinks.

"Pope is burgundy, Cardinal is champagne or rye, Archbishop is claret, Bishop is port"

Full story here

The Recipe--Smoking Bishop

Bake four oranges and five grapefruit in a moderate oven until pale brown.

Prick each fruit with five whole cloves, put them in a bowl with a quarter pound of sugar and a bottle of red wine, cover, and leave it in a warm place for 24 hours.

Take the fruit out of the mixture, cut in half and squeeze the juice, then pour the juice back into the wine.

Pour the mixture into a pot through a sieve, add a bottle of port, heat (without boiling), and serve in a punch bowl (or glasses or mugs).

"A Merry Christmas, Bob!" said Scrooge with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. "A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I'll raise your salary, and endeavor to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

An Eighteenth-Century Christmas

Last weekend was my annual foray into the eighteenth-century holidays.

Doesn't it look inviting? The view from outside gave me shivers--with no electric lights or other modern intrusions, one could feel like one was spying on a party 200 years ago. Of course, I wondered if we might be creating family ghost stories, as the house was on a country thoroughfare...

The highlight, of course, was the people, and spending time in our favorite time period in a house that makes imagining it's 1780 easy. Fires roaring on the hearths, a bowl of punch, candles in the windows.

After dinner, we had dancing. A few rounds proved to us why dancing masters and schools were employed so heavily during the period. We spent fifteen minutes or so learning each dance, then dancing it was done in a matter of minutes. Just think, we thought, how much more dancing we would have done if we already knew all the dances! Even so, learning and dancing was quite a bit of fun.

After dancing we spent a few hours of conversation--some quiet, some uproarious. The punch bowl was refilled. The fires were stoked. Tidings of comfort and joy took on whole new layers of meaning.

Pure contentment, with a cup of hot punch, the warmth of the fire behind me, and the delightful rustle of silk whenever I moved.

And, of course, good friends.
Photos taken by various friends at the event and nicked from Facebook

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Portrait of the Author as a Powder Monkey

I recently found this photo on Facebook (ye trove of unfound wonders, Facebook) from an event last year. You may recall this event as Culinary Hurricane Weekend, but you wouldn't know I was mentally catalogueing cook times on vegetables while this photo was taken:

Though you can't see the cannon crew I'm working with, you can see the next crew over. A cannon crew includes the fellows you see hovering around the gun in the background, whose job it is to clean, load, and fire the weapon. The crew includes one more person--the matross who minds the ammunition box, affectionately dubbed the powder monkey.

In this photo, I am the powder monkey.

It sounds like an inglorious job, and it is less exciting (in my opinion) than working on the gun itself. You're away from the main action, you spend a lot of time crouched by the ammunition box (it's killer on your ankles), and if the gun is overrun or surrendered, you have the unfortunate job of running the ammunition box off the field. I have run that box off the field so many times I could stab someone with a ramrod. I am still waiting for a weekend--just one--where at least one wind sprint is not involved.

I digress.

The powder monkey.

So, as you can see, it's a job with more grunt and less derring-do than the other positions. Yet it's still vital to the functioning of the crew, and is in fact somewhat of a specialist position. Each time the crew fires the cannon, they would fire a particular kind of shot (we, of course, just fire powder--we don't actually want to maim the other side). Depending on the situation, the gun commander may find it wise to fire a solid shot, or canniser shot, or bar shot, or grapeshot. And who needs to know what each of those looks like, and deliver it promptly and correctly?

Yes, the powder monkey.
I have, by the by, no evidence that this term was used for field artillery in this period (my only evidence for "powder monkey" is shipboard--but I further confess that I have done very little research into the term). However, we use it freely in reenactor-speak, a language that also includes euphimisms for PortaPotties and inauthentic cookware.

In a moment of vanity, I have to confess that I love this picture of me--the murky black-powder smoke in the background, the crisp blue of the gown, the rakish way the powder box strap cuts across the gown.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas Pajamas--Historical Inspirations

Christmas morning, cinnamon rolls, and perky pajamas with matching robes all go together in my mind. Our sartorial forebearers had an answer to our lougnewear--the dressing gown. Informal and loose-fitting, dressing gowns manage to be relaxed without getting sloppy (no ratty lounge pants for the ladies of the Victorian Era, thank you very much). So, in honor of snowy mornings and festive holiday colors, some dressing gowns from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

First, this little ditty from c. 1870 would be right at home with Mrs. Claus at the North Pole, don't you think? The perky red print, the contrasting green trim, the pert little pockets, the...tassels?

I'm rather fond of this celyon green piece, c. 1880, with its eastern-inspired red flourishes. This, I do believe, is the sophisticate's answer to Christmas morning pajama-wearing. Again, with the requisite tassels. It's not really Christmas or a dressing gown unless there are tassels.

Finally, a green-print, sash-festooned garment from c. 1860. The wide sleeves and full skirt look cozy...and seem very "mom"ish to me. I see Marmee wearing this on the Christmas morning described in Little Women (except she'd already run out to feed the poor I guess she changed back into it just for the Christmas gift photo op I anachronistically envision the family having).

Would you wear any of these? Does your Christmas morning involve lounging around in your dressing gown--or your pajamas? How do you feel about tassels?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fathom the Bowl

I am so excited for the eighteenth-century Christmas party I'm heading to this weekend! Nothing beats a fire roaring on the hearth, singing carols with the ladies, laughing with the gentlemen gathered in the tavern and, if we're lucky, a few rounds of dances.

Eighteenth-century festivities bring to mind one beverage for me. No, not rum (depsite Pirate-y fame) or whiskey (despite the rebellion that bears its name) or, even, Scotch. Yes, I do drink my share of Scotch at many eighteenth-century festivities. But the beverage I have in mind is...Punch.

Those eighteenth-century folk certainly knew how to make their punch. You could think of punch as the first incarnation of the cocktail as we know it--liquor with other stuff added for kicks. The first punches were simple--sugar, water, lemon juice, spices, and the requisite spirits. This song (probably early nineteenth century, but you never do know) extolls the fine ingredients and their origins:

Fathom the Bowl

From France we get brandy, from Jamaica it's rum,
Sweet oranges and lemons from Portugal come;
But stout, ale and cider are England's control,
Bring me the punch ladle, we'll fathom the bowl.

chorus: Fathom the bowl, fathom the bowl,
Bring me the punch ladle, we'll fathom the bowl.

Trust me, it's a catchy tune. Fathom the Bowl, of course, refers to dredging out a cup of punch with the ladle. How much is left? Not nearly enough. Add some more, as with the punch a good friend of mine makes, Champagne and whiskey. Because those wily eighteenth-century punchmakers didn't stick with the simple stuff--no, they quickly tested new recipes that used oranges, wine, tea. All in the name of a good ladle of punch. More on the history of punch and the challenges of recreating it in this fine article. And a recipe for, it's said, Martha Washington's punch. Or, just do as those first intrepid punch makers did, embrace the spirit of the Enlightenment, and experiment!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

First Advent Candle

I hope no one minds if I get a touch...theological today. I'm Christian, and have an odd soft spot for the cycle of the Church calendar. Ask my favorite season, and I'm apt to answer fall or spring...but I hold back the answer Advent and Lent, the two Christian "preparation" seasons, for Christmas and Easter, respectively. I learned in church this morning that the first Sunday in Advent, which is today, is considered the first day of the Church year--lending a new light to the Church season.

For each Sunday in Advent, a candle is lit in service, and each bears a theme for reflection. The first Sunday in Advent is considered the Sunday of Expectation. Following Thanksgiving, what could be more apt? We've spent time appreciating all we have--and then look ahead and, dare I say, within to see what else is in store for us. And it goes beyond hope, doesn't it, expectation? We not only hope, we hope against hope. We know. Whether or not you are religious, I believe I can say there is something you know will come with a conviction deeper than hope.

Below--my favorite Advent hymn, sung by my favorite artist, Loreena McKennitt (nipped from ye YouTube).

I'm trying to take some time to reflect on what I can expect--and of what is expected of me--in the coming years. I had a plan to return to school, and am reconsidering whether that goal was a misguided one. I'm finding a pull back toward family and writing and, even, church, all things that were sacrificed for the time it took to excel in class.

And, of course, taking some time to enjoy this, my favorite Church season and my favorite cultural season, too. Can't wait to decorate the tree, listen to some Bing Crosby, and simmer the mincemeat!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Most Thankful Part

I firmly believe relationships are the most important part of life--that friends, family, loved ones are the vital threads in the net that keeps us hanging in this nutsy world. I was reading fourth century texts for a research paper (yes, it is scintillating, thanks for asking), and I came across this quote from John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople and eventually canonized Catholic saint.

For such is the power of love, it embraces, and unites, and fastens together not only those who are present, and near, and visible, but also those who are far distant: and neither length of time, nor separation in space, nor anything else can break asunder the affection of the soul.

That's something to be thankful for. That no matter what your faith or creed, there's a real power in the relationships we build with one another.

As a matter of theological honesty, Chrysostom was talking about the power of love surpassing death--this is taken from a letter to a grieving young widow. As a matter of personal disclosure, the truth I feel in that sentiment takes my breath away.

Happy Thanksgiving! Eat too much pie and thank those you love--and those who love you.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Blog Award--Thanks, Julie!

Julie E. has been kind enough to bestow the Beautiful Blogger award on this humble webspace, so many thanks! Go check out her blog--it's a really lovely writer's resource.

And, I'm game to play along! Seven things about me and seven blogs I'd like to pass this award along to.

About me--I'm going to list things I'm currently obsessed with, fawning over, or that are making my life (in honor of the blog award) a little more beautiful:

1) My current favorite piece of clothing is a grey wool, vintage Pendleton coat that's been sitting in my closet for years. It came from my Great-Aunt Georgie, and I have no idea how I ended up with it, but a spate of tailoring later, it fits nearly perfectly. Nearly because Great-Aunt Georgie was far shorter than me, so the cuffs hit well above my wrists. It actually makes me excited for winter weather.

2) My current favorite foods are a good, tomato-y, spicy, minty lentil soup and homemade bread. There is nothing more comforting that soup simmering on the stove while you knead bread dough into a pile of soft flour on the kitchen table. Unless it's eating that soup as dusk falls, with that a bit of herbed olive oil dripping from the bread .

3) My favorite extra-curricular at the moment, now that reenacting is done for the year, is swing dancing. My husband and I have been learning lindy, and there's nothing so fun as a good piece of music and a good lead to follow.

4) Peacock blue continues to be my favorite color.

5) With the Christmas season swiftly approaching, I'm allowed to start listening to my favorite holiday music again--Loreena McKennit's Midwinter Night's Dream and A Winter Garden (amazing version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen on that album). Plus my 3-disk Merriest Christmas Album ever collection, which sounds goshawful cheesy, but is actually a classy compilation of music from the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Very Norman Rockwell.

6) I confess that, with work being rather stressful and a large research paper due for class, my favorite unwind activity has been burrowing into the couch with my husband and NCIS on TV. Hi, I'm a dork.

7) I secretly love the bare, grey, shivery landscape of November.
Now, the beautiful blogs I'd like to pass along to! These ladies have lovely blogs and serve to brighten my day in one way or another on a regular basis. Thanks!

...and of course, as usual, I'm leaving out a lot of blogs I adore for the sake of playing along. Sigh--know that if I read you, I love you!
What's your current favorite?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Because Sometimes You Need a Gin...

Friends of ours hosted a Prohibition-themed party a couple weeks ago. Of course, we took the illegal side of Prohibition, not the law-abiding side. Though either side would have featured men in awesome three-piece suits and fedoras, ladies in kicky cocktail dresses, and great ragtime and jazz music. Some highlights:

a) One friend of ours brought amazing homemade beer (brew, ferment, or still your own was a Prohibition staple) and those who chose martinis had their prepared shaken, not stirred, in a Mason canning jar. Nifty!

b) The Fatwich. Our host prepared food he'd researched to the period (when reenactors have parties, this is what happens), and discovered that sandwiches in the 1920s were not precisely health food. The version he chose had bacon, cheese, onion sauteed in butter, and more butter. With butter.

The fatwich begins:

Do I look content? I should. That's fatwich in front of me. It was delicious.

3) There was a back room for the gamblers. Ok, no gambling actually took place. But there was a lively game of whist.

4) Dancing! A couple of us dance dweebs busted a move--and yes, that's an old crank phonograph in the back!

5) An excuse to wear my grandma's pearls. My grandma's pearls are not the traditional "grandma's pearls"--they're the crazy-long string around my neck in these photos. Grandma was a teenager and young adult during the 1920s--she had a sweet bob haircut and learned to dance the Charleston on her neighbor's front porch. When I got married, I got her old furniture. All the drawers were swollen shut from humidity, and when they finally opened, I got to go through the stuff--I found this and a few other flapper-style necklaces in a sliding compartment in the dresser.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

200th Post Celebration!

Huzzah! It's my blog's 200th Post Birthday! (Not, mind you, post-birthday--that sounds oddly morbid.) And I want to celebrate with all of you!

A while ago I blogged about finding myself wonderfully distracted, and how distraction makes for great inspiration. I thought it would be fun to do a link-and-share sort of thing, where I post something to distract/inspire you, and you post what you were inspired to create, and we all link so we can all see the varied, branching directions inspiration takes us.

I also said there would be free stuff...

So! To celebrate my 200th post, I want to have an inspirathon blogofest with you!

In the spirit of the dwindling gold of autumn, and the swift arrival of frosty winds, and the warmth of the Thanksgiving holiday next week, your distraction, a simple little video with some truly evocative music:

I hope it inspires you to share something with the rest of us! Writers--perhaps a poem, flash fiction, or even just a rumination. Artists--a favorite photograph, a sketch, a video. Musicians--fire back a piece of your own. Anyone--I'm put right in the mood to list or write about things I'm thankful for. Or to pull out a homecoming sort of memory.

Now, for the fun part, just post whatever you create and link to it via Monsieur Linké below, and link your post to this one so that your readers can explore what other folks did. I'll leave the linky open and have a big, fat button to get to this post front and center until December 4 (I want to give you NaNoers a chance to play, too!).

And...because I said there would be free stuff...the first 10 to link it up will receive a paperback book of poetry, just in time to cozy up with a cup of tea and a blanket.

So, in short:

1) Get distracted
2) Get inspired
3) Get creative and post something on your blog
4) Link your post to this one via Mr. Linky below, and link this post to yours in your blog entry
5) Get a cozy book
6) Go visit others' entries--and start again with get distracted.

Monday, November 15, 2010

December and Munster--Not the Cheese

I was planning on posting about another research tidbit from writing December this morning, and talk about serendipitous timing--Susan from Let the Words Flow posted some great thoughts about criticism that correlate very well with this little footnote.

The research: One character in December is a recently discharged pilot from the Army Air Corps (which later becomes the Air Force of its own accord--there, we already learned something). So, I dug into a few books detailing the history of the Air Force and the experiences of the men who served in it. My favorite was Masters of the Air, mainly because it focused almost exclusively on the memories and experiences of those who served. The texture and richness of the study of history and memory fascinates me, and the stories (so much like sitting next to a few vets swapping yarns) provided a hundred sparks of inspiration.

One story detailed the first American mission to bomb a German city--and the responses to bombing an essentially civilian target. The varied reactions were fascinating--some men protesting the decision, others more than willing to strike at the heart of Germany. The city in question was Munster (yes, it makes me think of the cheese, too).

How it wove into the story: In one flashback, the character recalls this particular mission:

“Lieutenant Bennett.” His navigator, Wilson, snapped from a leaning position to greet him.
“Wilson.” Nate began to rifle through the equipment piled in the back of the Army truck. It wasn’t his job, exactly, as the pilot of his Flying Fortress to account for all their gear, but he liked to have a quick look.
“Look, I gotta talk to you about this raid.”
“There’s not much to talk about, Wilson. You have the coordinates for Munster, right?” He pulled a pair of gloves from their box. “Hey, Jonesie! What the hell is a pair of gloves with holes in the goddamned fingers doing in my gear?” He tossed the gloves to Jones, one of his buddies in the ground support personnel, with a laugh. “So you’re clear on the coordinates, right?” he repeated to Wilson.
“Yeah, I got them. I’m clear, but Lieutenant—I don’t think I can fly today. I just—it don’t sit right, bombing a city. You know as well as I do that there ain’t a single military target on our coordinates. And it’s Sunday.”
“What does Sunday have to do with it?”
“Well, people will all be in church and…look, Hanowitz can take my spot, I just don’t think I can fly today, alright?”
Nate gripped the rails of the truck, then turned and grabbed Wilson’s arm. He pulled him behind the truck, out of view of the others. He spoke low, ensuring that the rest of the crew wouldn’t hear. “No, it’s not fucking alright, Wilson. You fly today, and that’s an order. You don’t want to follow it, I’ll send you up for court martial.” He released his navigator’s arm. “You don’t have to like it, ok? But somebody else makes those decisions, not you or me. So you’re going to do what I say, and I’m going to do what Command says, and that’s how it’s going to go. Clear?”
Wilson nodded, biting his lip. “Clear.”

Critiquer's Response: The extended version of this section was actually a favorite for most people who read it. However, it struck the wrong chord with one individual, for a really interesting reason. She was British, and took serious issue with Americans having a problem with this order. English people, she said, had been through the Blitz, and what right did Americans have to waltz over and say "Oh, that's awful, we shouldn't bomb German civilians."

I got her point. And maybe it's a point that means if I were ever published, the rights aren't getting snapped up in England. But--this happened. The conversation I wrote was developped from several actual accounts, and I decided I wasn't going to budge on this one. I wasn't going to smooth out a wrinkle that made the history more complex to avoid offense.

I was very grateful for this particular critique--it reminded me that everyone, each and every reader, brings their own particular predispositions and preferences. No reader has a clean slate, and what provokes one reader one way will provoke something entirely different in someone else. Criticism is how we improve--but we do have to keep ourselves at the helm of our own work, lest the direction be guided not by our own voices but by a mashup of others.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Movin' on Up

I've always dreamed of living in a historic house. I grew up in a log cabin that my parents built (no, really--it's the stuff of family folklore. They had contractors put up the big beams, then invited friends to camp out in their backyard (!) and help them finish building it (!) which is how we have incredible custom cabinets designedby a gunsmith (!) and stone animals hidden in the foundation and chimney (!) from the stone mason). So my childhood home was akin to a historic home, but without the drafts or bad plumbing.

Fast forward a few years. There's a particular house in our town that my husband and I have always loved. We passed by it a few weeks ago and saw a For Rent sign in the front yard. Aside from the sacrilege of such a unique place being a rental and not owned by some nice family that takes extravagantly good care of it, the thought of living there made me get a little giddy.

"Can't be in our budget," I said.

"Call and find out," he said.

And it was gloriously affordable. I finalized the paperwork to rent it today.

So, introducing our new abode:

Build in 1835, it may be the oldest house in our town. As a potential restoration, it would need a lot of work to restore it to its former state. For one, and this is a plea: Cease and desist on the carpeting, people! Some idgit carpeted half this place, which is sacrilege; wood floors are beauty incarnate in an old house. Still, for us living there for a year and a half, it has enough history and charm to more than please me. Original floorboards and woodwork. Fireplaces galore. Curtain rods built into the window frames that have been there since...a long time. Even the light fixtures are antiques, probably dating from the first round of putting electricity in the place.

The kooky folks who lived there many moons ago not only did some interesting painting, but carved a face in one of the exposed ceiling beams. And left the weird harem-esque lamp in the corner of the dining room.

Ok, we aren't moving in until after Christmas, but can't you just see that mantle draped in greenery for the holidays?

There's a fireplace in the bedroom. Sigh. We aren't allowed to use it as we're renting but still...swoon.

I had to share--and we can't wait to move in! I'll probably be doing some more research on the house, too, to satiate my curiosity about who lived here, when changes were made to it, and how the town build up around it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Armistice Day

I decided to do something a touch unusual this week--I'm not going to post, but rather leave this reminder in honor of Veteran's Day. Originally christened Armistice Day for the armistice that ended what many hoped was the war to end all wars on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, Veteran's Day is often, I find, a date traipsed over without much notice. Wars are controversial, ugly, political affairs, but the men and women who serve are honorable, courageous, and without artifice.

Please remember those who have served, those currently serving, and those who have died in the service of your country on November 11. I will be wearing a poppy, in what I hope is quiet appreciation and a continued prayer that war might be ended for good (though, apparently, the United States now says poppies are to be worn in memory of the fallen on Memorial Day. I say rubbish to that--but of course I also still persist in calling November 11th Armistice Day, too--so perhaps I am too old-fashioned). Please consider wearing one along with me.

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fabric, Authenticity, and Authentic Fabric (with my favorite links)

I went fabric shopping this weekend--eighteenth-century fabric shopping (in two ways--for eighteenth-century fabric, in "character" at an eighteenth-century market fair--look past the fire eating fellow and the two adorable children--that tent is chockablock full of fabric!!). It got me thinking. When creating reproduction garments, there's the extra challenge of finding fabric that accurately represents the period. With stage or personal/hobby costumers this often doesn't matter as much, as on stage, the look under the lights from a distance matters more than the look up close, and for a hobbyist the goals might not be complete historical accuracy--they might be aiming for capturing the essence of the period with a creative twist, or experimenting with the cut and drape. For a reenactor, capturing the precise look of the past is the number one priority. And that requires the right fabric.

To me, and this is my personal opinion, so feel free to chide, what takes a garment from a costume to a reproduction is the combination of correct construction and correct fabric. Using only one of these doesn't make an inferior garment, but it does make a garment that isn't a true reproduction. So, when reproducing garments of the past, we have to be aware not only of the look and general shape, but of the construction techniques and the fabrics used during the period.

Ironically, while construction technique and pattern feels like it should be the trickier of the two, once one has the right sources (and they abound for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) it's easy enough to decipher. There are even pattern companies that cater to reenactors (though this can get tricky--the unfamiliar should seek the guidance of someone more experienced, as many commericial patterns aren't quite right). But fabric--commonplace, ordinary fabric--can be a challenge.

The biggest sticking point for us eighteenth-century people is that the most commonly used fabrics by ordinary people--linen and wool--are tough to find and rather more expensive than our 21st century staple, cotton. Cotton was used and available in the eighteenth century, but was pricier (remember, no cotton gin) and usually of weaves somewhat different from our modern, standard "broadcloth" and, when printed, in particular prints not often available today. Oh, prints. Prints, you will be the death of me. Many a lovely reenactor's clothing has been marred by an incorrect print. And--this is my super-anal pet peeve--linen was usually used for undergarments like shirts and shifts. The look of a cotton shift or shirt just has that almost but not quite right look to me. Super-anal pet peeve moment over, and my apologies.

Thank goodness for the internet--before its advent, we were consigned to shopping at whatever fabric stores were local, and while I love JoAnn's, and my best-ever fabric score came from Hobby Lobby, the selection is often limited, as their primary audience is crafters, costumers, and folks creating modern clothing. Go figure, reenactors don't top the priority list. But now--now the niche retailers that have been selling to reenactors for years have a wider market base online, so anyone can order from them (though I recommend the experience of visiting them in person!).

My favorites:

Wm. Booth, Draper : In the interest of full disclosure, these folks are friends of mine. They are awesome people--very willing to talk historical clothing and very willing to teach. And their fabrics are divine, varied, and all more than vetted historically-speaking. They also carry a well-edited selection of patterns

Burnley and Trowbridge: Also a (tent) shop I've had the pleasure of visiting in person. Again, great selection, edited with the reenactor in mind.

96 District Storehouse: The location of this weekend's fabric shopping. So much wool. So much linen. A small selection of lovely prints, and marcella fabric to boot. Plus the largest selection of silk ribbon I've ever seen. Their website doesn't have much on it at the moment, but I imagine you can call for more availability, or try to catch them in person. Worth it.

The following aren't reenactor shops, but they are good resources: Sounds generic, but they have a wonderful selection of linen in a wide array of colors and weights. I've never been disappointed (the bolt of linen came from them).

Denver Fabrics: This used to be my go-to for silk, but their selection has been more limited lately. They do still carry a decent dupioni selection, but be wary of the dupioni--when it's super-slubby, uber-textured stuff, it's not the best for repro fabric. Some dupionis are great as substitutes for the more elusive silk tafetta, but some are just too over-the-top in their crinkly slubbiness to make sense for reproductions (but are awesome for curtains...). Check the decorating section in addition to the apparel section. They do have limited wool in stock, as well.

Reproduction Fabrics: Hello, lovely authentic prints. I'm Hyaline. I'm going to buy all of you. This site is wonderful for finding period-correct prints--something that's almost impossible to find in most fabric stores. Careful--the 1775-1825 section will have prints that are great for one end of that spectrum but not the whole time.

There are tons more out there--and don't even get me started on trims and tapes and ribbons. Have fun fabric shopping...and share your favorite sources in the comments!

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Letter from the Camps--In which I shop for fabric and fall on my bum

Dear Mrs. S--,

I was so pleased to see your smiling countenance, and that of your husband, in our encampment on Saturday! I suppose my husband contrived to procure passes for you. I do hope you were able to peruse the shops a bit, for they were filled with the most delightful array of items. I was pleased to find some very fine wool which I hope shall become a new mantelet or short cloak, if I can find a silk I like with which to line it. How I miss our afternoon sewing parties!

I must chronicle for you the more amusing events of the weekend. Firstly, the men had begun to move the cannon from its position in camp to a defensive position on the hillside (as they feared that, perchance, the British occupying the nearest town might attempt a foray on our camp). There being not many men to help, I willingly grabbed a toggle on the rope and began to pull with all my might, when, quite of a sudden, the rope snapped! And I fell flat to my rear, petticoats flouncing about me like a cloud. So, being without a second drag rope, we were forced to move the gun by lifting the trail of the carraige and rolling the wheels, which is most tedious, but the image of me flailing on the ground was, apparently, enough of a humorous distraction to keep the troops from annoyance.

Then, in the evening, we gathered ourselves around the fire, as the receding warmth of the setting sun left the air quite chilly and even laid frost on the ground. We did our best to remember all the songs we have learnt, passing broadsides between us and reading them by candlelight. It was at this time that I recalled the bottle of whiskey I had brought with me, which we passed around to warm ourselves. We were in the midst of a ballad when, at a pause, we heard a bawdy song from the camp next to ours. Of course, we all broke into laughter, and then, to a man, began singing along with the song in question.

Sunday we heard the sermon, which the parson abbreviated for the sake of the men standing in the shade of a tree with their feet turning to ice. Then the other ladies and I spent a good hour perusing the shops, all of us gathering around the fabric and creating imagined clothing from bolts of fabric. It was here I found my new wool--such a perfect shade of blue!--and our friend Mrs. R-- found a perfect pale green linen for a new gown. We contrived to persuade Mrs. H--to purchase some chocolate brown wool for a short cloak.

That is all I am able to write at the moment,

Mrs. Hyaline

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A moment to breathe...

...then back to the grind. And what a grind it's been lately--this is the craziest time of year where I work, and class has been rather demanding lately, and each weekend has insisted on my attention to some happening out of town. Apologies for the lack of posting.

But--check one thing off the list--I took the GRE today and even though sitting in what must be the dingiest basement computer lab ever created is not my idea of a fun morning, it is done and I can cross one thing--studying math--off my list. Huzzah.

This weekend I escape to my favorite place in the world for the last reenactment of the year. And then I'll really have a chance to breathe (but in stays. So small breaths, ha!).

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The 1930s Peacock Gown Steps Out

Last night the 1930s Peacock Gown made its debut. My husband is a relatively newly-minted naval officer, and the Navy celebrates its birthday each October with a ball. (History fact of the day: The US Navy is considered to have been "born" in 1775 after an act of the Continental Congress, which realized that, er, if it was going to fight the greatest navy in the world--Britain--it was going to need some boats.) So we got cleaned up and went to the Birthday Ball this year to celebrate the Navy's 235th.

We spent the afternoon and evening at a turn-of-the-century resort town in southern Indiana (previously written about after a visit this summer.)

A few photos, for kicks!

The lobby of the West Baden hotel, with mini-dome. The actual dome, which covers a huge interior atrium, was closed off for another event.

That's me, chilling in the library on a corner chair before getting dressed.

We spent some time wandering around the gardens. I love the Greco-Roman inspired architecture:

And the fountains, and the pared-down beauty of autumn mums replacing summer flowers:

The resorts are surrounded by national forest property; you can see the idyllic woodsyness in the background. While wandering up the hill, we spotted a doe and this year's fawn, now nearly grown.
Then--on to the ball! We took photos after the evening of dinner and dancing, so I was a little tired--the gown in repose:
Overlooking the main lobby at French Lick:

A pensive peacock:

He dresses up ok, I think :)

Thanks for staying with me on the adventures of this gown! I'm already plotting next year's historically-inspired piece.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Brief Complaint about Math

I am currently studying for the GRE. Mostly, I am studying math. I have not studied math in approximately eight years.

I admit that I'm not terrible at math, but there's a reason I majored in History and French. There's also a reason I spend my free time writing as opposed to working calculations. But the time spent writing is creating interesting side effects when working story problems.

Specifically, I'm just not buying the authors of these story problems. Where's the motivation? Where's the conflict pushing these people to action?

For instance, this one:

Jack has a bowl of marbles. Six are blue, five are green, seven are red, and two are yellow. What is the probability Jack will pull a green marble if he selects one from the bowl at random?

Do you see my problem? Why in the world is Jack picking a marble from a bowl? For kicks? What kind of loser just wanders aorund picking marbles out of bowls? Even worse are the problems in which someone's friend asks him or her to pick a marble--what a bizarre way to spend time together. "Hey, want to see if you get a red marble?" "Sure!" "I'm glad we're friends."

Come on, test question writers. You can do better.

How about:

Jack is abducted by an alien spacecraft, and must participate in a ritual to determine if he will be allowed to return to Earth or not. The aliens have a large bowl filled with marbles--59 are blue, 27 are green, and 5 are red. If Jack picks a red marble, he will be executed. If he picks green, he can return to Earth. A blue marble means he will remain with the aliens indefinitely. What is the probability he will not be executed?

See? There are stakes! There's a reason for Jack to spend his time picking a marble, and consider the likelihood of each outcome. As for why the aliens use a strange game of chance to determine the fate of their abductees, I couldn't tell you, but who am I to judge alien societies' cultural norms?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Peacock 1930s Gown--Nearly Finished!

In celebration of having a mere length of hem to stitch before it's complete, a quick glimpse at the 1930s peacock gown.

It also needs to be pressed. Clearly.

We didn't try very hard with these shots. My husband is not adept at photography, our living room is a less than ideal studio, and I'm trying to strike a pose that doesn't make me look like I have a pizza pooch (I had eaten a few slices moments before slipping into the dress--poor choice on my part). We will not be taking the fashion photography world by storm as a combo photographer-model team anytime soon.

I plan to take a bunch of photos at our destination this weekend--the gown and the turn-of-the-century architecture will pair nicely. I really, really hope I don't forget my camera.

But for now, a quick close-up at the bodice, which became my archnemesis during the construction of this gown. The muslin worked perfectly, but the charmeuse lacked the oomph to stand up to my...ah, frame. So not only was the drape all wrong, but I felt a touch exposed.

I solved my issue with some additional support and some artful draping. At least, I hope it's artful. And I'm particularly pleased with the asymetrical shoulder straps--the bitty one on the right is what the original pattern called for; the large drape on the left is the one I improvised to match the knots and loops of the front piece. And an improvisation it was--I put on the dress and just started pinning a tube of fabric to myself. Quite literally to myself at times. I have never more earnestly wished for a dress form.

The "new" bodice makes this piece far less 30s--which I'm ok with. The original pattern was, on top, almost too close to lingerie for me to pull off gracefully. The new twist, with the drapes, was really fun to experiment with, makes the dress more wearable for my shape, and modernizes the style a little without losing the 30s sweep and slink.

More to come :)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sublime Distraction

I was driving to my parents' house last weekend for a visit, and my timing was perfect--the fall leaves have bloomed like a million flame-colored flowers, the sky was that inordinate shade of blue reserved for midautumn, and the drive was just beautiful. I pulled some old CDs I hadn't listened to in a while...

...and somewhere on Interstate 31 heading north, surrounded by a whirlwind of falling leaves and harvested fields the color of flax, I got so completely distracted by a piece of music I hadn't heard in years that it's a good thing the Midwest is flat because I probably would have driven off the road otherwise.

It got me thinking about inspiration. We've talked about that before here, and many of you have, as well. But I realized--so much of inspiration is distraction. It's in the things that pull our attention when we "should" be doing something else, the little details that arrest our thoughts for a few minutes.

And clearly it was a long drive with little else to do besides look at beautiful autumn scenery and listen to music, because I began to scheme. Wouldn't it be fun, I thought, to try to distract you with something, and see how it inspires you. And even more fascinating--to see how different all the results of that inspiration are! And wouldn't it be even more fun to link all your responses, and have fun prizes or contests and other stuff.

So--let's give this a try. Sometime soon I will post a distraction--it might be a film clip, a piece of music, a painting, anything. I'll have Mr. Linky set up to collect your posts. And you can post anything you create in response to my attempt to distract you--writers can post a poem, a short narrative, a vignette; artists can post a sketch or photograph; history goofballs and seamstresses can post a design or creation.

And, since this is the first go, everyone who links gets a prize. Really. In the future maybe we'll do contests or the like, but this time--everyone is a winner :)

What do you think--sound like fun?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Other Side

I'm going to do something I seldom do around here--I'm going to comment on current events and (gasp) politics. But this article and the accompanying Anderson Cooper video really hit home for me, and upset me quite a bit.

In it, a Republican Congressional candidate is attacked for and defends his hobby--historical reenactment. He reenacts Civil War, WWI, and WWII. The issue? His WWII units portrays an elite German tank division--and the unit was part of the military arm of the Nazi party.

Now, I have no comment on this guy's politics because I frankly don't care and, even if I did, this isn't the place to try to espouse my political views. But this upset me as a fellow reenactor. I'm sorry, but if you're going to recreate the Revolution, you need the British. If you're going to reenact the Civil War, the Confederates are requisite. And if you're doing World War II living history, there are Nazis.

I get the stigma--really, I do. We recoil at certain things, like spiders, hydrochloric acid, and Nazis. But to say that this guy is a Nazi or is glorifying Nazis because he dresses as one to educate people about the war is as sensible as saying a Revolutionary War reenactor who portrays a redcoat is a monarchist. (I would say it's as silly as saying all Confederate reenactors are racist, but that's already a common misconception.) Dig deeper, and even on the "right" side of these conflicts, there are unfortunate mindsets and mores applently--racism, chauvinism, nationalism. Do we give a half-hearted narrative because part of the story is unsavory? No: We tell the whole story, even--in fact, especially--the parts that make people uncomfortable, because that's what we learn from.

I also wonder where to draw the line--yes, this fellow's unit in the Panzerdivision was part of the SS, which was the military arm of the Nazi party. But I question whether this issue would be raised if he was portraying Wermacht, the "regular" German army. I speculate that it would. Because, of course, anyone who fought for Hitler was a rabid Nazi, right? Easy-peasy. Nazis bad, Allies good, we're done.

Well...we know that's not the case. And it raises one of those uncomfortable points that living history can raise so well--participants in the past were people. I'm even going to go out on a limb and say something potentially offensive--Nazis were people. They were people who made choices. In some cases, they were people who were disenfranchised of their choices. Either way--we don't really learn from the past unless we understand that, and recognize how similar we are to those who committed the atrocities we condemn.

Regardless--we as reenactors want to give a full picture of the past, and that means that someone plays the other side. I've never in a lifetime of reenacting met someone who portrayed a unit because of personal political, moral, or ethical affiliations that connected with that unit's history or beliefs. Perhaps there are some goofballs who do live out crazy alternate histories by reenacting--but I've never come across a unit that would support that and permit Goofball to continue. Some people do get a kick out of playing the bad guy--but it's not because they agree with those mindsets. If anything it's often because they disagree so strongly they feel the need to make sure that part of history isn't forgotten.

Sorry for the rant--I just felt that Mr. Cooper and the writer of the article took something they did not understand and, without realizing it, attacked the entire living history community. What they don't get is that we are all in this together--after firing across a field at the British, we invite them to our camp for dinner. We're not enemies--we're united in presenting history.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Trianon Ballroom

I apologize for geeking out on the prose thing yesterday. Clearly, too much time on my hands. But today--another tidbit of 1940s December research. Much of this info is from a Chicago historical website devoted to the places and people of Jazz Age Chicago--much more great info there, check it out!

Dancing was a major social activity from the 1920s through the early 1950s, and Chicago supported its fair share of ballrooms. One that makes an appearance in December is the Trianon, a huge, state-of-the-art, beautifully appointed ballroom built in the 1920s on the south side of Chicago. The ballroom was designed to be stunning and elegant, with Louis XVI styled decor in the Grand Salon and a dance floor that could accomodate 3,000 dancers. It appealed to the rising middle class, who appreciated the sophisticated sensibilities and an admission charge they could afford. It drew its patrons from the burgeoning south side, but also from around Chicago with its placement near the L.

The urbane facade was maintained partially through exclusivity and imposement of upper-class ideals on the patrons. Though the motto of the Trianon was democracy--anyone who could pay could enjoy the ballroom--they actually had a whites-only policy and turned African-Americans away. The possibility of interracial dance partners would have, apparently, disrupted the elegant atmosphere. Only white bands were hired by the management. Additionally, the demure environment was enforced by "hosts and hostesses" who monitored the dance floor for "petting and spooning." Dancers were expected to refrain from the "hot" jitterbug styles of dance and to stick with more formal ballroom styles. Perhaps the most interesting rule involved smoking--men were permitted to smoke at the Trianon, but ladies were not. In keeping with traditional gender norms, this would have been considered crude for women.

I liked this little gem so much, and appreciated what it revealed about expectations of gendered behavoir, that it made it into a scene:

"Miss.” One of the tuxedoed hosts hovered next to their table. He stared at
Gloria, but she didn’t see him as she leaned in to hear a salacious joke of
“Miss.” Repeated, louder, it caught her attention.
“Yes?” Gloria turned and gave him one of her coyest smiles.
“I am sorry, but ladies are not permitted to smoke in the Trianon.”
“Oh, but I’ve just started this one. I can finish, can’t I? Then I promise to be a good girl.” She giggled, but her joking didn’t work on the man, certainly a seasoned veteran of flippant women.
“Please put it out immediately, or I will have to ask you to leave.” His voice was gentle as honey, but Emily could see iron control in his face.
“Honestly, it’s ridiculous. The men can smoke all they like, who cares if
the ladies do, too?”
“The establishment. And our patrons prefer a finer atmosphere in which ladies refrain from vulgar behaviors.” As though to emphasize his point, he shifted to reveal a “No Jitterbugging” sign posted near the dance floor.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Language as Meaning and Music

Janet Reid, blogger and linker of all things enticing and of-the-moment in publishing, linked to this NY Times article by Michael Cunningham, the author of The Hours. Her point was much more about the second half of the piece--who do writers write for--than it was about the first part. But it was the first part that struck me. Says Cunningham,

Let’s try to forget that the words “Call me Ishmael” mean anything, and think about how they sound.

Writers are told to read aloud for a variety of reasons. We are told to read aloud for clunky sentences. To catch the grammar goofs that slip past the tired eye but not the alert ear. To pick up on nonsequitors and nonsense of all sorts. When was the last time you were told to read aloud for the sound only--not the meaning, just the sound?

Exactly. But that is where poetry lies. From the article: Language in fiction is made up of equal parts meaning and music. The sentences should have rhythm and cadence, they should engage and delight the inner ear.

To play with this idea, try scanning something in a different language...try this (Apollinaire, "Le Pont Mirabeau"--selections):

Sur le pont Mirabeau coule le Seine...
Les mains dans les mains restons face à face
Tandis que sous
Le pont de nos bras passe
Des éternels regards l'onde si lasse... l'esperance est violente.

It doesn't much matter what it means--the sounds have an enchanting quality. Especially, for me--les mains dans les mains restons face a face. There's actually a cadence there, a cadence that you can't avoid as a reader. Even if you don't speak French.

And how about this, in English, with a very familiar story (Tennyson, "The Day-Dream"):

A touch! A kiss! the charm was snapt.
There rose a noise of striking clocks, isn't it cool how you get the round sounds here--rOse a nOIse--followed by the hard clacks--striKing cloCKs? Stuff like that...ok, reading again...
And feet that ran, and doors that clapt,
And barking dogs, and crowing cocks;
A fuller light illumined all, love the use of lllls here...soft, like a full light.
A breeze thro’ all the garden swept,
A sudden hubbub shook the hall,
And sixty feet the fountain leapt.

It's not only the language but the sounds of the words that paint the picture here. By the way, anyone guess the familiar story here? It's Sleeping Beauty, at the moment the palace awakens. For a real study in how language can create a mood thorugh cadence and sound, read the whole poem. Yes, it's old-school. But the contrast between language in the scenes of the sleeping palace and the waking palace is stunning.

A confession from me--I have been so enraptured with plot and character and those details lately that I had started to forget why I love writing fiction in the first place--words. Beautiful, confusing, bramble-thick, simple words. Then I found some old scraps while cleaning out my old room at my parents' house this weekend--and words were the only things I cared for when writing those bits. They were, of course, useless for anyone besides myself, the pitfall Cunningham encourages the writer to avoid in the second half of the article. But still--they reminded me why I got into this messy business to begin with, and it isn't plot or even character, but language.

Despite the demand for lively pace and the importance of an arresting plot, I feel there is still a place for poetry in prose. Writing is meant for more than to deliver a reader from Plotpoint A to Plotpoint B. It's meant to transport, to enchant, to awaken--and plot doesn't do those things by itself.

Thoughts on the importance of language in fiction? Am I overstating the case? Is it equal parts meaning and music--or should it be more heavily swayed in one direction or the other?