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:

Sewing:

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, robe...it'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 mother...so 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.

Writing

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 clich├ęd, 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 just...you 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.

Cons:
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 bn.com to register it, and have to fork over a credit card number before you could download even free e-books from bn.com (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 neighbors...so 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?