Category Archives: meta

Finding north

I wrote this a few months back, and it’s been sitting in my drafts folder ever since because I wasn’t quite sure where to go with it.

I went to a household gathering last week, the first gathering of the clan since Battlemoor of last year. (I didn’t go to Battlemoor this year, for a whole host of reasons that center on time, money, and emotional energy.) And I had a wonderful time, and I’m so glad I went, but I also found myself at one point just sitting in the dark empty back yard sobbing my head off.

I’ve been out of the game for so long. I feel so out of touch. There are new people coming up, doing amazing work and getting attention from the peer community, who I’ve never met. There are people who’ve been friends with my friends for twenty years, who’ve moved into kingdom from elsewhere or begun playing again while I’ve been out of the game, there have been divorces and remarriages while I’ve been gone, there are all of these new faces in what I think of as my established social circles. The children are all a foot taller than when I saw them last. I feel so lost.

Here’s the thing:

If I had been elevated before I was ready, I could have taken some time to process and reflect and figure out what that was going to mean for me and embrace my peerage in my own time.

If Juan had died, I could have picked up the pieces and moved on with the help of my friends and chosen family.

If I had started grad school, I could have put my SCA life on hold and come back to it as though I’d never left.

If I had moved to a new group, I could have connected with friends in the new place and found my feet pretty quickly.

But for all four of these things to happen at once –

The game as I knew it is gone forever; there is no coming back from that. There is only moving forward.

And as I can see the end of grad school from where I’m sitting, as I think about what life after graduation looks like and where the SCA fits into that and what I want to do with my SCA life – and I just don’t know.

I’ve simultaneously changed kingdoms and taken a break before, but that didn’t come with the attendant pressure of coming back as a peer. In fact at that time I was specifically and intentionally presenting myself as a new arrival, someone very conscious of not knowing the terrain. I can’t do that anymore.

As long as I couldn’t figure out how to finish that post, I couldn’t bring myself to update this blog at all, because I wasn’t going to let it turn into a series of unfinished ideas and whinging and unproductive navelgazing. I wasn’t going to talk until I had something to say or some idea of where the SCA fits into my future or whether there is any point in continuing to document this journey at all.

Somehow, in the intervening time since I started that post, I’ve begun to make sense of it.

At that time I was more or less going on momentum, trying to continue to do and enjoy the things that we did together, and it wasn’t working. It brought me no joy and just made me lonely and sad and confused. I’m beginning to understand that I cannot live my life exactly as it was when he was here, except with the big gaping hole where he used to be. I can’t fill that hole.

It’s strange to say I’ve only just begun to grieve, two and a half years on, but in some ways it’s true. The first year I was just too shattered to do anything except keep my head above water – stay employed, stay in school, pay the bills, survive. The second year I was consumed by a frighteningly black depression. It’s only now that I’m starting to actually do stuff, I’m figuringing out how to hold space for memory and legacy and continuing to do the things I used to enjoy in Juan’s company and continuing to bring to life some of the plans that we made, within the framework of something new and different.

I’ve been waiting for that to take shape, and I think it has. I have a new, big, forever kind of project, the kind of project that has the potential to hold my interest and generate a constant flow of smaller projects for the rest of my life. Something that he would have adored if we’d ever gotten around to it, that we danced around the edges of, but was not actually part of our life together in a significant way.

I’ve been possessed, recently, of a fascination with moveable type, printing, and Renaissance book arts, and particularly the spread of printed literature in vernacular languages and art printmaking across Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries.

I’ve been circling on this for a long time.

I’ve played around with block printing for years, probably decades. I took an history of incunabula class in grad school that I loved madly, and I did bookbinding in college, and of course I’ve done C&I for a few years now too. I got very deeply into papermaking for about a year and a half… twenty years ago? More? I always wanted to get back to it and never did. I love books as objects, I love typography, I love slow fussy detail processes, I love everything that goes into this. I can put all the late-period Spanish knowledge I acquired to use. I can make useful things. I can teach. 

One of my dearest friends started talking about this on Facebook, and a bunch of us who have all had this sort of ambient, latent interest in the subject for a long time said hell yes! in one voice, and formed a working group, and have been geeking on it for about two months now. And with this one thing, it all came back. I’m interested again, in a way I haven’t been in a long, long time. I’m making garb. I’m going to events. I’m talking to people and making plans. I have points of navigation again.

 

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I wasn’t sure I was going to Battlemoor this year; it was hard, both emotionally and logistically, and sad and scary.

Of course I went. Of course I had a wonderful time. I had no plans, I had no commitments, and so I was able to spend the entire war (or at least my three days of it) just talking to people, walking, looking at the stars (god, I miss the stars), laughing, holding my apprentice sister’s baby, petting dogs, sharing food and drink. I spent the entirety of Sunday, except for a little bit of shopping, in camp, noshing and day drinking and conversing deeply about SCA philosophy and love of the game and plans for the future, and it was glorious.

And I realize: part of why I’ve been feeling so at loose ends, out of place and lost, is because I’m not doing anything. The SCA is all about the doing. If I’m not researching something, planning and executing something, helping someone else execute something, making something, or practicing something, I’m not playing.

It’s not just since I moved to Denver, although my malaise has been especially deep since I’ve been here. For about a year before Juan died, I’d been working on some creative ventures outside the SCA. After five Battlemoors of turning out more than a dozen new garments over the summer in preparation for war, last year, I sewed one or two new pieces for each of us. Juan was doing stuff, but I was mostly on the sidelines watching and helping him. And after, I had no heart for it.

I came away from Battlemoor with:

  • plans for Gulf Wars (six months, y’all) and a (at this point very vague and open) trip to Trimaris sometime in the last half of 2017
  • a clear game plan for the next half-dozen high-concept costuming projects I want to work on, that will keep me busy for probably two years
  • a couple of schemes to facilitate, collaborate with, and promote a handful of underrecognized artisans whose work I find amazing and inspiring
  • a renewed commitment to getting back on the fighting field
  • a renewed commitment to do the groundwork research to prepare me for my 2018 trip to Lithuania and Latvia
  • a (for now) SUPER SEKRIT motivation for returning to work on the Motiño manuscript

And suddenly, I know what I need to do. I’m still sad, of course, for what’s lost, but for the first time in almost a year, I’m not unmoored. I love, I love, I love my people.

8-28-2016 178

a quiet moment in camp at dawn

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Link roundup: Towns and trousers

I am really all about the experimental archaeology aspect of the SCA, so it’s occurred to me that I need to follow happenings in the world of scholarly archaeology in a more organized way than “whatever interesting thing someone posted on Facebook this week, and also occasionally flipping through Smithsonian Magazine on my lunch break.”

So I spent some time this morning finding and adding some news services and journals to my RSS feed, and I’m going to start a little ephemera regular feature. I’m not sure yet what the posting frequency will be – maybe every other week or monthly to start. Partly this is for my benefit, to keep track of articles I want to look more deeply into or refer back to, but I also hope it will become a useful resource for others over time. Mostly news, mostly Baltic and Spanish, with a smattering of newly released research, other people’s blog posts, and more general-interest stuff.

First pants worn by horse riders 3,000 years ago – neat article with one (one! *weeps*) really lovely photograph. And the source research is behind a paywall, of course. Early for our purposes but useful for garment evolution theory.

Nieszawa – a medieval town reconstructed by non-invasive survey – I got a little weepy. Just a beautiful article and a beautiful video (captions in Polish). Watch it, watch it. This technology will change everything.

The routes of slave trade in Eastern Europe in the medieval and pre-modern period – I know very little about the slave trade in period, but it’s something I’d like to look further into.

 E-Journal of Portuguese Studies – Ten years of back issues, at least one or two good SCA-period-relevant articles in each issue, all free and .pdf. I found it doing research for a class, printed out a mass of articles for future reading, and have gone back several times.

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Corazon III: Post-assessment

I started drafting this post a week after the event, but then Kingdom A&S loomed large, and then, and then – suddenly it’s been two months and I still haven’t sat down to finish it.

I took part of a slow boring afternoon to rectify that. I’ve got the menu, a couple of recipes, and some other information up in their own section; this post is reflective.

This is the most ambitious feast I’ve done, by far. Over lunch on Sunday after closing out the site cleanup, my Laurel asked me, “Was it too ambitious?” I had to think about that for a minute, and then replied, “It was right on the edge.”

Right on the edge. It’s where I live. I feel odd – guilty, almost – if I’m not pushing myself to the limits of my capacity, growing my capacity, and pushing some more. There’s no question, I could not have pulled off this feast, this time last year. I’m proud of that, and yet it makes me anxious too. The reward for success is an ever-shifting goalpost.

What worked:

  • Kitchen crew! I had a solid crew, recruited in advance, and created a private Facebook group to share information and coordinate with them in advance. Kitchen ran incredibly smoothly all day and things that had to be started in advance finished at the correct times to come together for feast. And having several of the kitchen crew staying AT MY HOUSE could have been a wreck but actually worked out extremely well – we got good work done on Thursday and Friday, and had a lovely little after-revel (of the “fall about the living room and drink till our feet quit hurting” variety) on Saturday.
  • Pre-cooking/freezing EVERYTHING lunch-related. Lunch was “heat this, mix these three bags, set it out.” The only bobble was that the vent fans drew heat away from the ovens and caused their effective temperature to drop by over 50 degrees, which slowed down the rate of rotating stuff through. Once we turned off the fans, everything was fine. VERY GLAD we found that out at lunchtime and not in the leadup toward feast.
  • Hall Steward: Having someone who’s entire job is announcing dishes as they come out, rather than trying to brief servers and have them remember.
  • Pre-cooking!
  • It was awesome to have our own servingware and not have to worry about borrowing Dragonsspine’s. We need more. Working on an inventory, a “fill in the gaps wishlist”, and will be requesting funding for totes.

What didn’t work:

  • Prior to this year, we’ve always sold out and had people who still wanted feast and so were willing to serve. Since we didn’t sell out, we didn’t have that ready pool of serving volunteers. Next time: smaller reservation limit, to be raised closer to the event if we want to or kept sold out. Also, more advertising of need for servers in advance.
  • Also, because I cooked for 96 and we didn’t serve 96, lots of leftovers. I save a lot of money by shopping sales far in advance, but I could have saved MORE money by buying 2/3 to 3/4 of the food in advance and making a late decision about whether or not to buy the rest at full price just in advance. (For example, buying only 8 turkeys at .89/lb in November and making a late decision about whether I really needed the other 4 at $1.49/lb. I actually needed one or two, MAYBE.)
  • Cleanup crew: We were lucky on volunteers, especially after Garick started organizing people, but that was luck, not planning. Madhavi made an interesting suggestion of something they do in Trimaris: Hire a group (household, guild, or shire) to come in and JUST do cleanup. I will definitely be pitching this in the future.
  • I was pretty comfortable delegating longer cooking and prep tasks to kitchen crew (both pre-arranged and on-the-spot volunteers), but closer to the end, I ended up at the stove, doing the things that needed done quickly, instead of supervising the whole operation. Recruit a saucier – someone who comes in half an hour before feast is served and just runs the stove during service.
  • Could have done even more pre-cooking! I ran out of room in my own freezer (and fridge, and coolers…) but could certainly have been more organized about transferring finished pre-cooking to other people’sfreezers. And there were certain dishes that I wanted to cook fresh but would have been fine frozen in advance. FOUR DOZEN CREPES.

It’s strange to realize – after three consecutive years of “leveling up” in the complexity and scale of feasts, the next couple of cooking gigs I have lined up are far less ambitious – things I feel very confident about pulling off almost effortlessly. Maybe that’s a better approach – alternating challenging projects with ones that give me a little room to get comfortable in my own skillset and focus on details and precision rather than careening along the edge of the possible.

Some great pictures that my Laurel took and gave me permission to share:

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Theory of Weird Food

Just over two weeks out from Corazon, the doing of stuff is consuming my life and the documenting of stuff is, once again, falling behind. Inspired by a conversation on Facebook, I thought it would be fun to repost this material, originally written as part of a class handout in 2013. I promise at least one more process post between now and Corazon, and a really thorough post-assessment, with pictures! – a week or so after the event.

~~~

I have come to the conclusion that what people SAY they want about “weird” period food, and what they actually want, are two different things. I’ve seen people who self-describe as very experimental eaters balk at the most astonishingly simple things, and I’ve seen “nobody will eat that” dishes absolutely demolished, with a collective cry from the populace for seconds and recipes. In trying to figure out how to more successfully walk the line between interesting and accessible, I’ve developed the theory that people parse “weird” on three axes:

  • Exotic ingredients

  • Complex flavor profiles

  • Unfamiliar or elaborate presentation

How well a dish is received is all about how we mix and match these three qualities for a particular audience.

0 of 3 – Very accessible. Runs the risk of being boring – but doesn’t have to be! Good for the keynote side dish (starch or vegetable) in a course,  or potluck or buffet dish for an audience of known conservative eaters.

Examples:

  • Meat or fruit pies
  • Macrows
  • Modernly familiar sausage
  • Simple vegetable and meat soups (i.e. potaje de fideos (chicken noodle soup) from de Nola)

1 of 3 – Accessible. Good for the main dish in a course, a potluck dish, or a novice A&S entry.

Examples:

  • Period (cake-like) gingerbread
  • Simply roasted beef, chicken, or pork accompanied by fussy period sauce
  • Period sausages
  • Salads with fresh flowers

2 of 3 – Interesting. Good for complementary dishes in a course, a potluck dish for an audience of known adventurous eaters, a setting where people will be eating small portions of enough different dishes to pick and choose, or a more advanced A&S entry or one of several dishes in a survey-style A&S entry.

Examples:

  • Simply roasted treatments of exotic meat or fowl accompanied by fussy period sauce
  • Simpler tharids (Middle Eastern savory bread puddings)
  • Most seafood dishes
  • Fragrant, elaborate desserts grounded in familiar techniques and ingredients (custards, candies, fried pastries, stuffed dates).

3 of 3 – Ambitious. Good for tasting platters, an audience of known foodies, or a high-level A&S entry.

Examples:

  • More elaborate tharids
  • Middle Eastern acid-marinaded, highly spiced meat dishes (i.e. goat with pomegranate from Anonymous Andalusian)
  • High court dishes (i.e. stuffed octopus from Sent Sovi)
  • Lactofermented period-style pickle (i.e. pickled eggplant from de Nola)
  • Fragrant, elaborate desserts using ingredients or techniques not generally seen in modern confectionery (non-dairy custards, camphored sweets, fruit conserva).

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Project Asteroids*

After a lovely, very full, very social half a weekend (dinner, stay-over, breakfast with my apprentice sister and her fiance, Kingdom business meeting, afterparty), I spent a good chunk of my leisurely, solitary Sunday going through piles and laundry baskets of what I think of as “fabric bomb debris” – a chaotic, accumulated mass of yardage (earmarked for certain projects and not), scraps, half-finished projects, mending, old things discarded in hopes of salvaging the fabric, and just junk. Separated much of it out into linen-silk-other, yardage and scraps, and got that all put away; took two bags to the dumpster; that leaves me with one laundry basket full of projects-in-various-stages.

I’ve decided I’m not going to start any more projects until I clear at least a couple of these out, and in the future, I’m going to clear one out for every new project I start. To wit:

– a handful of non-SCA clothes mending – not more than an evening or two’s worth of work for the lot of it

– a couple of Bluebird 20-lb flour sacks to be opened up and hemmed for dish towels

– a yard of black flannel to be used as backing to frame some of Juan’s (amazing!) collection of English pub coasters

And SCA projects:

– a couple of pair of Tatar trousers needing hemmed.

three one pair of Spanish trunkhose needing taken in, and two half-finished pair

– one panel of a chiton to be converted to an apron, and a wool skirt that shrunk to be converted to another one.

a lightweight linen Tatar coat, which was “done enough to wear” last Battlemoor but still needs some seams finished.

– a little bit of work left on the Elizabethan corset I started to wear under the Sposa Dantiscana, before I realized that the Victorian corset gave a better profile and abandoned it.

– a choli that needs its ties taken off, properly finished, and put back on. And maybe some embroidery. Definitely embroidery.

– a plaid flannel half-circle cloak, cut out and ready to assemble.

– a couple of panels of vaguely Turkish-looking print to be hemmed for camp tablecloths.

caramel-and-chocolate damask for a doublet, very simply cut (maybe something like this) to show off the excellent fabric.

– ivory silk and (very good) faux suede for a Stibbert doublet.

and the Shirt of Doom.

Lots of busywork! Not as glamorous as researching, shopping for, and starting a new high-concept project (at least, until I get down to those last three!), but all stuff that deserves to get done.

I’ll come back to this post periodically and mark things off as I finish them. I’m sure I’ll also add a few more as I continue to organize and sort.

(*That’s “shooting down UFOs,” for those of you who are not children of the ’80s!)

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Plunging in

January has flown by. I’m completely behind on absolutely everything, but I’ve made some good progress on digging myself out of the hole.

Deadlines cluster. This is how it happens in my life: I have long spans of fallow time, and then EVERYTHING AT ONCE. The next three months are like that.

Feb. 2: Work kitchen crew for my amazing friend Bronwen of Hindscroft, who is head cook for the Barony of Dragonsspine’s midwinter event.

Feb. 25: Estrella War: not going, but have promised garb to people who are.

March 1: KAOS (the Outlands artisans’ swap). I want to have my gift finished in time to be sent and delivered at Estrella, actually.

March 15: Corazon. All the Corazon things. So many Corazon things.

April 12: Kingdom A&S. A TBD cooking entry based on the feast research; a textile entry; a research paper connected to the textile entry. Maybe a second research paper based on the feast. Probably not.

April 26: Shire of Windkeep’s Something Yummier IV. I’m teaching… something?

Also, all of these – except Something Yummier – have secret components! So I can’t talk about them except in the vaguest of terms!

This week I plan to:

– Finish the first stage of my Kingdom A&S textile entry (tonight; I have maybe two hours of work left on it), freeing up tools needed for the next stage in the KAOS gift, and get my teeth into that project.

– Make significant progress on the Estrella projects.

– Finalize and publicize the Corazon menu, begin working on shopping lists.

– Finish a gift for someone I’ll see at the Dragonsspine event.

– Try to find some time to do some writing.

I have been letting the intensive reading and learning I did over December and early January sink in and process.  It’s been a rollercoaster, a treasure hunt, a maze full of dead ends and tantalizing corridors. The 1580-1620 period in the colonies is incredibly complicated, especially in the area of food culture and food economies.  The importance and context of these events are grounded in what came before and illuminated by what came after, so my period of study spans the 14th to 18th centuries.  I’m trying to make sense of it all and tease out the connecting threads that will make my research all come together, but I’m not there yet.

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