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:

Fabrics-store.com: 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. Still--in.love.with.this.site.

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