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Glory Days

Posted on 2014.12.16 at 12:42
Many of us often joke about how things used to be back in the good ol’ days. Most of us have grown up listening to, and eventually telling our own versions of, tales that frequently begin with preludes such as “Back when I was a kid…”, or “In my college years…” This is really nothing new, or even modern. Heck, for geeks such as myself who studied Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon, the very opening line strikes a familiar chord, “in geardagum”, which translates roughly to “in days of yore” or “in glory days”.

“Glory days,” for many of us, means that in-between time in our lives. We have just enough freedom and determination to no longer be children, but we are not yet held down and limited by the responsibilities and roots of adulthood. We might go here. We might go there. We might pursue this concept or that. And while we are naïve as can be, we have enough energy and zoom-zoom-zoom in our soul and body to pursue whatever it is we want.

For me, my glory days take me back to my mid to late 20’s. I was out of college (thank the GODS, as I HATED college), and I was deeply entrenched in the SCA. And there, overly committed and busy doing too many things at once (I guess some things never change!), I had enough good health and youth and energy to not just do All The Things, but to dance. Indeed, at a time, I was probably known for dance more than all the other things that I did combined. At every single event that I attended, which certainly included every single Kingdom event, I taught like mad. After every feast (which often I helped serve, cook, prepare, clean-up, set-up, etc.), I would coordinate the break-down of the hall and the clean up so that I could teach and lead everyone in ECD and pre 16th century dance from around 9:15pm until sometimes as late as 3:00am or later. Event… after event… after event…

So what has changed? Simple. I am no longer in my own personal geardagum. Why? Because I am older and heavier, have less energy, less patience, and I have utterly destroyed my knees from too-much-teaching. Yet, what is frustrating is the fact that, while rusty, I still have a lot of information in my head that I would love, love, love to get out there for people to use.

Ultimately, I want to teach. But I don’t want to just teach dancers. I did that for years, and it really didn’t do a whole lot of good because, while the dancers had fun, the information was never carried on. What I WANT is to teach students who wish to become dance instructors. And this isn’t something that can be easily done in a one-off Collegium class. Been there. Done that. And rarely does it result in much of anything. I am looking to see if I can find some people who are interested – really, really INTERESTED – in learning about pre 17th century dance at a local level who can learn what I have to teach, and truly apply it to help make events better. This means people who are interested in dance theory (a rather dry subject for most, but something of fascination to us geeks).

My physical ability to lead by example is shot. But I can help others who ARE capable of doing it. And with today’s advances in technology, it is easier than it used to be.

So, good people out there. If anybody is interested – really, really interested in helping to recapture a bit of my own personal geardagum, I may no longer be able to physically do – but I can teach. Students who want to become teachers - serious students – make yourselves known to me. Do you exist?

Holiday manners

Posted on 2014.12.11 at 13:46

Ah… the smell of warm cider and cinnamon wafting in the air. Light holiday music plays in the background, while the crackling of the log in the fire reminds us all that regardless of how chilly it may be outside, all is well within.

Regardless of how one happens to celebrate the winter season, most if not all of us share some common ties in that we enjoy favorite holiday foods, time with friends and family, and perhaps the exchange of presents. Speaking for myself, I know that I am very fortunate. In my life, I have never been lacking – never lacking for attention (indeed, frequently I feel like the spotlight has been on me too much!), never lacking for presents (as my sisters like to remind me on a regular basis, they view me as a spoiled brat), and never lacking for invitation to various occasions (I love you all. I do! But some days, I really want to just stay home). But this does not mean I have been spared some of the unpleasant realities of the holiday season.

When it comes to presents, there is not typically anything that I really want. When someone asks me, “What do you want for the holidays?”, after drawing a complete blank, my brain often skips over to the next column, which contains “things that I NEED” or “things that I could probably find a use for”. I know that doesn’t really answer the question being asked, but it honestly is the best I can do. I’m just not a stuff person. Much to the contrary, one of my single favorite things in the world to do is to find That-Perfect-Thing for somebody. No, I really don’t like for it to necessarily be about Christmakanzakule, or birthdays or any other holidays. If it were entirely up to me, the spirit of giving would be much more of a year-round thing, and we would just give presents as we find That-Perfect-Thing for that person in mind. And every now and again, I luck out in that I just happen to stumble upon the most perfect thing in the world for exactly one and only one person.

Such was the case many years ago with someone I once knew. And it taught me a valuable lesson. The person in question was hard to shop for. We would be spending the holidays together, and I knew I needed to find something. Quite by accident, one day, I found THE perfect thing, which combined her love of two particular things – ancient Egyptian art, and cats. Yes, she was a crazy cat lady, and had been for the whole time I knew her. And also, she absolutely loved Egyptian art. One day, while combing through a catalog, I found this beautiful replica of the statue of Bast. It was beautiful, ornate, and just perfect! So I ordered it in plenty of time for the holidays.

Sadly, though, not long before the holidays, I received a letter from the company stating that it was on back order and would take more time to arrive. CRAP!

I explained to her what had happened, and that I found something ideal for her, but it was on back-order. What I got was a very snarky and cynical comment about how that wouldn’t have happened had I been better organized. (I bit my tongue, but frankly, I would be hard-pressed to give you an example of something that could possibly insult me MORE than to be referred to as disorganized!) I received her present, and while by this point, I cannot even remember what in the world it was. (I’m thinking it was a calendar, or a cookbook of some sort unrelated to anything I am interested in). In any case, I do remember it as being something that really made no sense whatsoever. Yet politely, I smiled, and oohed and aahed over it, and graciously said, “Thank you so much”. Why? Because that’s just what you do!

A week or two later, my order arrived in the mail. A little statue of Bast, as promised. It wasn’t as large as I had hoped, but I figured it would still look lovely in her curio cabinet with the rest of her Egyptian artworks. So at the next available opportunity, I went to visit her and let her unwrap her present. “WHAT?!” she said in a fit of exclamatory pique. “You mean you’ve kept me waiting, and all I got was THIS?!!!!!”

I wasn’t angry (yet). I wasn’t upset (yet). I wasn’t disappointed (yet). Rather, I was stunned – STUNNED! How could an adult behave that way? WHY would an adult behave that way? Who does that?!

Ultimately, I sucked it up. We never discussed it again, and I simply put up a bit of distance. Her little outburst damaged our relationship. Yet, it taught me a very important lesson. In short, I do not believe that one should take for granted a single thing during the holidays (or at any other time, for that matter.) Sense of entitlement is an artificially created delusion, and not only do I not tolerate it, but I won’t encourage it. I am perfectly happy to show you and your friends hospitality, until I feel taken advantage of. If that happens, you won’t be invited back.

While kindness, courtesy, generosity, and respect should be shown year round, at this time of year I find it especially important for us to all try our best to really display our best behavior. The holidays should be about pleasantry. So in conclusion. Happy holidays. Be nice. Be sweet. Be considerate. Be patient. And… well… just don’t be a dick!

Tradition! (Or is it just laziness?)

Posted on 2014.12.09 at 12:34
For the average SCA audience out there, many of you have heard the old joke, “How many Westies does it take to change a light bulb?” The answer is always some variant of “Change??????? CHANGE?!!!!! That light bulb has been around since A.S. Dirt, and by GOD, we are NOT going to change it!!!!!!!!”

As much as we kid around about such things, I think it only fair to admit that the SCA across the board tends to follow this type of behavior in that many of us become fierce defenders of what we view as tradition. And while in some ways I think that is a good thing, I think it is also part of the problem that we are seeing as our society prepares for its 50th birthday.

In many ways, tradition holds many virtues, one of the greatest being the establishment of a common core or culture. Let’s face it – the SCA is a very strange costume party. Unlike any other type of historical recreation group where all the players tend to have a much stronger commonality, people who play in the SCA can explore pretty much any type of culture or time period prior to the 1600’s. So how can you have a Tudor gentleman interacting with a 6th century Frank? Obviously this would never have happened in history, and there is really no easy way to have such disparate individuals interact – UNLESS you find some way to create commonality.

Enter Tradition.

While it is really hard to create a universal definition of tradition, I think we can all safely agree that tradition is comprised of those things that are intentionally repeated such that all participants will have some type of community and shared experience. Over time, as certain activities or actions or words are repeated, it becomes not just something that one witnesses or hears, but something that one experiences and comes to expect. And that is what makes it so that the Tudor and the Frank can sit together. Because while what they represent are two entirely different things, they are both part of the same culture. They both identify as Atlantians, or Midrealmers, or Calontirans; and they both look for the same type of thing in court, or respond the same way to certain familiar rituals.

Within the SCA, each and every kingdom makes a point to create tradition, as it is something that makes one Kingdom distinct from all others. In some Kingdoms, the crowd learns to yell, “Huzzah!” after the bestowal of a court award. In other Kingdoms, the audience may be conditioned to respond in different ways when particular verbiage is read. Some traditions may be incredibly subtle in that a particular song is sung as the fighters go off to battle. In other manners, tradition may be incredibly hard-core in that ONLY a particular ceremony can be used in order to accomplish a particular elevation. Through tradition, a Kingdom culture is established.

But are all traditions good? At the risk of hearing a collective GASP from many of the old-timers who have worked to defend all tradition, I would have to say emphatically – no, not every tradition is a good tradition.

Whether a tradition developed with a specific intent (e.g. I went out of my way to write The Perfect Coronation Ceremony back in A.S. V, and by God, as long as I breathe, I want All The Kings to use it!); or if it happened by accident (I wore blue at my elevation ages ago, and then the next person did too, and then the next, and eventually most if not all people just tend to wear blue for their elevation), tradition has a negative consequence in that it can often become a barrier – Yes, A BARRIER - to improvement and innovation. And to me, this is A Bad Thing.

Over and over, I have seen people play the tradition card with the intent of blocking a change. And that ticks me off. Yes, I fully understand that when people become ingrained in a particular culture – ANY culture – people develop the knee-jerk reaction of trying to resist change. Rationally, and logically I understand that. Heck, I do it myself. But at the same time, I think it is important – CRITICAL in fact, for us all to be mature and understanding enough to ask ourselves an important question, “Am I defending this thing because it truly is an IMPORTANT tradition? Or am I just falling victim to complacency?” And therein lies the difference.

In Caid, for instance, we have the Coronation ceremony. Yes, Kings and Queens can add some things here and there to customize it to their personas, but for the most part, the structure of the ceremony exists in a standard form, that many of us have come to know and recognize, and one can NOT change it without meeting much resistance. To many, the Coronation ceremony is an IMPORTANT tradition, in that it is something meaningful to many. But do all repeated actions carry the weight of tradition? Take a particular event that historically has always been held on the 3rd Saturday in August (just for sake of argument). Let’s say there is some freaky calendar conflict or something going on that year. Is it really the end of the world if the event is held at some other date? Is that the hill worth dying on when it comes to tradition – particularly if there is some better place to hold the event or better time to hold it?

In my years in the SCA, I have seen people doing the same idea in the same way for year after year after year. In my head, I’m thinking, “Ye Gods man! There are faster and more efficient ways to do that!” But when I make a suggestion, I quickly get shut down because, “this is the way we’ve always done this!” Um… in my mind, that does not make it right, best, or tradition. It is simply complacency and nothing more. Maybe, just maybe, the idea to do something in a particular way really did work well at a time. But that time has passed. And we need to adapt. Whether we like it or not, life changes. People change. Technology changes. Etc. And this brings me to yet another very important point to consider when it comes to tradition – disenfranchisement.

As traditions become established, some people become fierce defenders of said tradition because, in one way or another, they had something to do with the creation of said tradition. OK. Fine. That totally makes sense. And that’s good – for YOU. But what about the new person who just joined? Is it honestly reasonable for you to expect that this new person should not have some say in how things are done going forward? Is there no room for new ideas? Is there no room for new tradition? When we have a Kingdom calendar that is entirely full already into the foreseeable future with the same events over and over run in the same way by the same people doing the same activities; WHERE is the opportunity for new people to become involved? Where is the opportunity for new people to develop a passionate love for the society the same way that many of us did back in the day? Where is the opportunity for a different type of event? A new concept? A great new idea? I’ll tell you – there isn’t! And that right there is, in my opinion, one of the greatest problems we are facing nowadays in terms of the aging of the society and a lack of new membership.

What’s in it for them?
Where’s the hook?
Where is the opportunity to invest one’s OWN ideas and influence?
Where’s that newcomer’s chance to shine on his or her own ideas and merits?

Truthfully, I really do respect tradition. I do. But I do NOT necessarily believe that every single thing that many people label as tradition necessarily is one. I thought that in Trimaris. I think that in Caid. And I would say that to anybody in the West where Tradition is one of the most important values in existence.

There MUST be room for change.
There MUST be room for adaptation.
There MUST be room for evolution.

Otherwise, mark my words - our own traditions WILL indeed eventually die out as our playing population continues to dwindle without a new generation willing to carry them on.

I Just Can’t… Adult

Posted on 2014.12.03 at 12:23
The old adage reads, “you get more flies with honey than with vinegar.” I think it is important to mention this simply because, based on what I have been reading lately out there in cyberspace, it would seem that people are forgetting this.

Whether it involves religion, politics, work, social circles, or whatever; when a controversy develops, people often take sides – the greater the controversy, the more polarized the sides. This in and of itself isn’t a problem. The problem develops when extreme viewpoints are exposed, followed by bad behavior.

Personally speaking, I don’t really mind when someone disagrees with me. I really don’t. If you have considered the issue, weighed the pro’s and con’s, and developed your own conclusion based upon your own thinking, I really don’t feel as if I have any reason to complain. As far as I’m concerned, you are absolutely entitled to your opinion even if it differs from my own. I just hope that we can discuss it like civilized human beings.

What bugs me is when adults can’t behave like adults.

Frequently, I have seen people express their opinions on issues in the form of personal attack. Take politicians, for instance. Let’s say that a particular politician makes a statement that I believe to be egregious. How should I handle it? Write to him privately, expressing my upset and concern? Make public my upset and concern? Go out of my way to expose his hypocrisy or try to attack him in some deeply personal way? Call him cruel, horrible and insulting names? Try and discredit him by portraying him as a bigot or a racist or something else?

As I read through people’s various Facebook posts on issues ranging from SCA to religion to politics, I have seen all of the above tactics used in addressing disagreement – often in a really base and/or mean manner. And I have to wonder – is the person putting up the post giving any thought at all to the consequences of his or her post? Basically if the person’s only hope is to come across as an angry loudmouth complainer, then that mission is accomplished. But if the person is hoping to gain sympathy towards his or her cause, or get people to change their minds, I’m afraid that mission has failed.

It isn’t easy to do the adult thing. If it were, children would do the adult thing. Heck, many adults out there refuse to do the adult thing because it isn’t easy? Ultimately, if one wants to cause change – REAL change – or to encourage and inspire people to think outside of their own box, doing the adult thing is what has to happen. Rather than calling a politician a huge poopyhead (or worse), the more effective tactic often involves engaging his or her points, disarming them with facts, and then presenting a more viable or reasonable solution. Easy? No. It is certainly more difficult than just calling him names or exposing the photos of him and his mistress. But the impact is far greater.

I am not always effective at persuading people. Nor do I always communicate effectively. But I hope that this particular post gets a few people to think before typing. If your mission is to persuade, think about your tactics before hitting send. Because often, one of the unintended consequences of reacting in anger is to drive people who are on the fence to the opposite side.

On Taking Offense

Posted on 2014.12.02 at 12:38
OK gang. I have something that I really NEED to get off my chest. It involves humor and people who, in my humble and rather aggravated opinion, get unpredictably and ridiculously bent out of shape.

When it comes to humor, I would have to describe myself as quirky. I admit it. I embrace it. Sure, I’m a geek. It is part of my personality. And at the heart of it, there is a simple and basic truism – I enjoy making people laugh! But ya know, here’s the thing – I’m not in your head. I do not know what you are going to find funny. I don’t know what is going to push your buttons. And the worst part - I don’t know what is going to set you off – particularly if you are one of those few people who have decided to take it upon yourself to go completely bat-shit cray-cray when something I do or say becomes the catalyst for a Very Serious Lecturing or an utterly disproportionate nuclear strike!

For the most part, my various friends and acquaintances all seem to have a good sense of humor. I joke. I get a laugh. You joke. I laugh. It goes back and forth like a tennis volley. And frankly, that’s how it should be. That’s what friends do. Gods only know, we all have to be so serious at various times in our lives, it is nice to just let our hair down and kid around. But unfortunately, there are a couple of people out there in my world whom I can pretty much count on to go nuts at some point over something I say or do. I truthfully never know when it will happen – only that it WILL happen. Oh sure, it is perfectly fine for them to joke around or act like goofy people, just like I do. And for some reason, it seems perfectly fine for them to poke at me or tell jokes that are close to the edge. But if I do the same thing in response???? KABOOM! Soon I get a long email expressing “extreme disappointment” or a chastisement for being an ugly person. (No. I am not exaggerating. That is exactly what has happened to me). And rather than being mad or upset, I find myself more than anything in surprise and disbelief.

“WTF?!!!!!” does not even begin to describe it. It’s just… weird.

Now, truth be told, there was a time in my life when my humor was somewhat trained to be down n’ out vicious. Why? Because that happened to be the style of the circle of friends I had around me. WE knew it wasn’t serious. WE knew that it was all ok. But at the same time, sometimes we all got mean – myself included. And as I got older, I realized I just didn’t like that type of humor. So I have mellowed out and backed away from it. Oh sure, I can throw out a zinger here and there if the occasion warrants it. But for the most part, my humor tends to be more quirky or punny. Yet, on occasion, it still manages to push the buttons of a few of my acquaintances, which results in a completely disproportionate and unwarranted attack.

Because I just can’t tell when one of these people is going to go from Zero to Crazy, I usually keep them at arm’s length. In other cases, I have distanced myself further. And in a few extreme cases, I have ended contact and told that person in no uncertain terms to go and have a nice life far away from me.

Life is too short for such drama. It really is. So honestly, if you can’t remove the stick from your rear-end long enough to just chuckle at something meant to bring about a chuckle and nothing more, then maybe you need to realize that I am not the problem.

Thanksgiving 2014

Posted on 2014.12.01 at 21:25
Gobble Gobble

Pulling my Nana’s turkey platter out from the cabinet where it lives 364 days of the year, I plugged along in the preparation of another traditional Thanksgiving Day meal. This year, we had a full house, including guests from the bay area, and a great combination of conversation, drinks, silliness, and a huge amount of food! This year’s menu included the following:

Heirloom Turkey (lattice-wrapped in home-cured bacon)
Wild rice Stuffing
Dry stone-fruit dressing
Baked 4-cheese scalloped potatoes
Maple Sweet potatoes
Cranberry sauce
Roast string beans with nuts
Roast brussels sprouts in truffle salt
Lentil loaf
Pumpkin pudding

Now I’ll admit, it was utterly KILLING ME to farm off a couple of things like a dessert and the bread rolls. I don’t know if it is because I am a control freak or if I just like to challenge myself to do it all myself (probably a bit of both), but I just LOVE, LOVE, LOVE cooking for an army and feeding people!

Actually, I think the entire ritual of Thanksgiving is what I enjoy. I love getting that bird in the oven in the morning and then kicking back to relax in front of the TV, mimosa in hand, watching the Macy’s parade. Sure, it is commercial – that is the very definition of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. After all, it is sponsored by whom? But it is entertaining. And for me, it constitutes the REAL beginning of the December holiday season. Once I see Santa at the end of the parade, the festivities can begin. The one time that I saw the parade in my childhood would be the one year in ages where it poured rain non-stop. My parents were so patient. We were all soaked. We were freezing. But I WANTED TO SEE SANTA! But my parents were clever. As the parade travelled in one direction, they scooped me up and we walked in the other direction, watching the parade almost in fast-forward. And sure enough, in time, I saw Santa. And in my child’s mind, it was not only a wonderful occasion, but an accomplishment for my very limited checklist. So after the parade, it was off again to my Aunt’s where we could dry off, change into warm dry clothes, and warm up – me with a blanket, and my parents with some hot boozy drink. Ahhh… memories! Yet as much fun as that was, I don’t need to do it again. Instead, I’ll sit in my favorite chair, mimosa in hand, and simply enjoy the festivity, while the scent of turkey and other numminess wafts in from the kitchen.

I hope you all had a fantastic Thanksgiving, and will have a wonderful holiday season!

The Pizza Slicer

Posted on 2014.11.25 at 12:44
I can’t even remember what it was that had me in such a crazy search. “It’s gotta be in this kitchen somewhere”, I remember thinking to myself. Having all but given up, just for the heck of it I started searching through the bottom drawer full of spare dishware. “Well I’ll be a sunnuvabitch,” I said out loud with a half-smile on my face. There, underneath all the plates and glasses and cups and bowls… was my missing pizza slicer.

It was my sophomore year of college. Having survived a year in the prison-cell known as the college dorms, my best friend from high school, his girlfriend, and another friend that we knew from the dorms decided that we were going to do the more grown-up thing by getting an apartment of our very own. We were so mature. We were so ahead of the game. We were so cool. And over the summer leading up to our move, we were all looking forward to it. Oh… how little we knew!

Early on, we decided to cooperate by all chipping in with some of our extremely limited funds by getting various things as a group. I remember my parents helped out by finding a set of plates at a Goodwill, and I had my sister’s furniture that she had left behind when she moved out of state. The other roommates either all contributed things as well, or we purchased common items together. At first, things seemed fine… until the petty, childish, immature and passive-aggressive acts started. Now, I’m not saying that it was “all their fault”. Oh heck no. We were all four VERY different personalities and all very assertive. Combine that with college pressure, cluelessness, and poverty; and it was really the perfect storm. From one day to the next, I couldn’t figure out who was mad at me, whom I was mad at, and who of my roommates wasn’t speaking to another for something that was so stupid it made me laugh.

Somehow, someway, we managed to forge a truce to survive until the year-long lease ended, and we could figure out what to do next. But that didn’t come without its share of mentally exhausting spats, with the final one being a fight over stuff. By the time we were ready to move out, various people decided to lay claim to particular items bought in common. And while on the one hand, I thought to myself, “Hey, I helped to buy that!”, there was a part of me so incredibly exhausted from the endless bickering that I just threw my hands up in the air. So at the end, as the rest of the roomies stood over the spoils of war, one of them realized that I had claimed absolutely nothing, and a sense of guilt fell on them. “But Joe,” she said. “You shouldn’t go without anything. You should take something.” I really didn’t want to at that point, because I just didn’t want to get into a fight. But, I walked over and claimed the pizza cutter. I forget which one it was who began to protest when I finally just yelled something nasty and final about only wanting to take one thing, and just NOT wanting to fight about it anymore. And that was that.

Fast forward several years...

I was on the tail end of my failed first marriage, and things were getting tense. Randomly, my soon-to-be-ex would just show up at the house. One day, she was in a happy mood. The next, she was there to just take random things. And I never knew what to expect. It was extremely tense, and petty, and honestly had me consider filing a restraining order, since she was still able to get in even after I changed the locks.

I recall one evening she showed up, and she began riffling through various drawers in the kitchen. At one point, she held in her hand the pizza slicer. “NO!” I insisted. While at first she argued that it was something we purchased after moving in together, I adamantly argued that it most certainly was NOT! I knew all too well where that pizza slicer came from, and I was not about to have her lay claim to it!

Fast forward several years yet again…

I had moved out to California to be with Paul. And while most of my move was pretty smooth, adjusting to life in the house was not always easy. One of the issues that I ran into was kitchen organization. Basically, the organization of kitchen tools really didn’t make much sense to me. And often we would not have one thing that I needed, but three of another thing. Finally, one day, I told Paul that it was time to cull various implements. And this led to a stand-off. You see, my hubby is a bit of a stuff-a-holic. And for a long time, the default answer to, “Should we get rid of this?” was a very adamant, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Well, I’m pretty stubborn too. (No really… it’s true!) And eventually, I was able to convince him that there is no room for the new tool that I really need because we have three of another tool or a tool that we don’t even need. So together, we started going through the drawers. And I give him credit. While it made him madly twitch, he sucked it up and watched as I made a box of things to go to Goodwill.

“What about that pizza slicer?” he asked. “NO!” I said. “But Joe,” he said. “When do we use a pizza slicer? We always order pizza and we don’t need to slice it.” Truth be told, he was right. At the time, I wasn’t yet into making my own pizza. So… into the box the pizza slicer went…

…until he turned his back. And into the bottom drawer it went.

Fast forward several years yet again…

I finally got into making pizza at home. And the first time I did so, we couldn’t wait to try it. So searching through the drawer for a pizza slicer, I couldn’t find one! WAH! So out came the bone shears and I began cutting slices, mangling the beauty that was my first pizza. A few months later, I laughed hysterically when my dear friend, David, gave me a really nice pizza slicer at Christmas. And yes, I have put it to use ever since.

Fast forward to the other day when I went combing through the drawer…

“Well I’ll be a Sunnuvabitch! Here it is!” So I showed my hubby that we did indeed have one all along. “Well, since we have one already,” he asked. “Should we get rid of that one?”


Call me silly. Call me crazy. Call me whatever you want. But for whatever reason, I can’t get rid of it. It may end up as a decoration on the wall along with other kitchen tools, for all I know.

But some things… some silly things… you just can’t ever get rid of.

SCA Call for Commentary - A new peerage

Posted on 2014.11.18 at 12:37
November 17, 2014

Re: Proposed Change to Corpora, Creating a Rapier Peerage

To the Board of Directors of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA),

After much discussion and consideration on this rather controversial topic, the time has finally come for the Board to make a decision. Unquestionably, no matter what the Board decides, some people will celebrate, others will grouse, and a small few will make predictions of the end of the society as we know it.

Before I present my thoughts on this subject, I would like to provide you with a brief introduction for the benefit of those of you whom I have not met. I began playing in the SCA in 1989 in the Kingdom of Trimaris. In my time there, I had the honor of being elevated to the Order of the Laurel; working as a shire, baronial, and kingdom officer; and serving as a territorial noble in the Barony of Wyvernwoode. After moving to the Kingdom of Caid, I found myself having the additional honor of joining the Order of the Pelican, working as a baronial and kingdom officer; and serving once again as a territorial noble alongside my husband, Master Giles, in the Barony of Gyldenholt, where we continue to serve as the societies first same-gender nobles. In my time within the society, I have held more offices than I can recount, and have been through many experiences, both good and bad, exposing me to both the gentle side of the society as well as its harshness. And while on the one hand, I think most of us can agree that the SCA often does not readily embrace change, change is nonetheless an absolutely critical requirement for the overall growth and adaptation of our current middle ages. It is with that spirit in mind that I write to you today to advise you and give you my thoughts on the subject of a separate rapier peerage.

Very simply, I support the concept of those who have achieved mastery in rapier/cut and thrust having the opportunity to advance to peerage. However, let me be very clear, I do NOT support the proposed change to corpora as presented. Why? Because the creation of a completely separate peerage is not a wise or effective solution. Much to the contrary, it is only a temporary fix that has the potential of leading the society and the future Board members into dangerous territory facing future requests for peerage in areas not currently covered by existing definition.

I strongly advise the Board members to not only consider how to fix today’s issue, but to be proactive and forward-thinking about tomorrow.

If you change corpora to create a new peerage for Rapier/Cut and Thrust peerage, you are only addressing today’s hot issue. But you are not considering other martial areas. What about Unarmored Combat? What about Archery? Equestrian? Thrown Weapons? What about forms of martial activities that the SCA has not even yet addressed, but may some day in the future? To make a comparison – making an alteration to corpora is in some ways like making a necessary home repair. Sure, you can do a temporary fix today that is the faster and cheaper repair. But chances are, you are only delaying what will eventually be a much costlier repair that will not only involve extensive revision, but also ripping out the temporary repair. In situations like this, it is best to just do it right the first time, as in the big picture, it will do the least damage.

Many times, both publicly and in my correspondences with the Board, I have stated that I support the idea of elevation for those who have shown mastery in Rapier. But in my humble opinion, there is no need to create a new order of peerage when we already have the Order of the Chivalry. Currently, the only thing that I can find within Corpora to prevent a rapier fighter from being elevated to Knighthood involves a combination of two sections in the January 18, 2014 version of Corpora. In Section VIII.A.4.a.(i) “The Chivalry”, it states “the candidate must be considered the equal of his or her prospective peers with the basic weapons of tournament combat.” And later in section IX.C. “Rapier Fighting in the Society”, it states that “Rapier combat, not having been part of formal tournament combat in the Middle Ages, shall not be a part of formal tournament lists for royal ranks and armigerous titles.” To me, this is still somewhat open for interpretation in that it does not expressly forbid elevation into the Order of the Chivalry for rapier/cut and thrust. (after all, what does “considered the equal” to mean?) However, that is strictly my opinion and my interpretation. (and by all means, if I have missed a key section of corpora, please educate me on what I have missed!)

Over the years since rapier began in the society, I have heard many thoughts and opinions about whether or not to expand the Order of the Chivalry. I have worked very hard to stay open-minded on the debate, listening to all sides and arguments. Personally, I have no vested interest. I have never personally had interest in martial activities of any kind, other than a scholarly interest. Yet, the arguments for including rapier in the Order of Chivalry (along with the other martial areas that I mentioned) far outweigh any logical reason for excluding them.

Simply for your consideration, here I present to you some of the most common arguments that I have heard on this issue:

Rapier should just be included in the Order of the Laurel: With all due respect to the naïve few who have made this claim, I maintain that the Order of the Laurel is an order for art and research. And in my time as a Laurel, I have seen individuals recognized for their work in rapier and combat studies. But it has absolutely nothing to do with their skill on the field. It involves their research, or their knowledge, or their ability to teach or their ability to reproduce various implements used in the pursuit of the martial activity. But when it comes to one’s skill on the field, that is vehemently NOT the concern of the Order of the Laurel. Skill on the field is the concern of the Order of the Chivalry. Incidentally, I have also seen individuals who have worked tirelessly to promote and run and set-up and break down fields for rapier eventually elevated to the Order of the Pelican. Two order have embraced rapier. It is time for the other to do the same.

Rapier only covers a very small time frame of the SCA: If one were to fairly and equally apply this standard across the board to peerage, I’m afraid we would see very few peers out there. Would an Elizabethan clothing laurel qualify for a laurel? “Elizabethan” is only a very small time frame of the SCA. One of my own personal areas of expertise involves western European dance. The earliest known choreography that we have is dated to 1445. What about the other 1500 years or so of SCA society? I am unaware of any section in corpora that states that a fighter must be an expert in all forms of combat and combat studies for all time periods and cultures to be considered a Knight.

The Knights should be all about the Arthurian Ideal: Yes, we’ve all heard the stories of how the SCA was founded. Yes, we began as a bunch of happy college hippies trying to recreate a pre-Raphaelite version of the middle ages. But whether we like to admit it or not, the society has evolved in the decades since that first party – sometimes because we wanted to, sometimes because we had to, and sometimes because we just grew up. Tell me, how many of the knights of the round table were women? Is it part of the Arthurian Ideal to allow women to fight? Is it part of the Arthurian Ideal to allow plastic armor? Is it part of the Arthurian Ideal to hit each other with rattan sticks? The Arthurian Ideal involved the good guy killing the bad guy and riding off into a magical world of honor and glory. The SCA of today is a tournament society based upon a modern application of what we have learned and gleaned from history. We do not restrict a peerage based on gender. We do not insist upon period authenticity within the Order of Chivalry. To restrict an absolutely documentable form of martial arts is, I would argue, and absolute insult to the Arthurian ideal being bantered about.

The Order of Chivalry is and has always been about heavy weapons combat: Members of the Board, how many of you have seen the video of the very first tournament? I have. I have seen those silly and fun-loving college students, donning fencing masks and flicking fencing epées at each other. And that, was our very first tourney. What exactly is heavy weapons combat? Does that refer to Freon helms? Does it refer to carpet armor? Does it refer to rattan and PVC? Rapier/cut and thrust/unarmored are executed in arguably a truer to accurate form than any modern heavy-weapons fight.

The Order of Chivalry is about medieval combat, whereas cut and thrust is a later-period form of civil defense: While cut and thrust forms of combat are indeed later period, to state that the Order of Chivalry is only about medieval combat makes about as much sense as the other Orders restricting elevation consideration only to those concepts that were dreamed up in the A.S. single-digits. Did the first Pelicans ever consider recommending a Pelican for work in databases or web design? No – the real world and the SCA had not gotten there yet. Would the laurels have considered someone for elevation based on their reconstruction of the Pandolfo farsetto? No. We hadn’t dug it up yet, and could not fathom at the time doing such a project. Did the early Knights consider rapier and cut and thrust? Of course not – the early SCA probably had no idea that the concepts even existed or that the manuals existed. (Indeed, most were not yet translated). In short, “because we haven’t done it before”, is just not a good reason to prevent moving forward.

There is no way to gage a rapier’s skill if I, as a heavy weapons knight, do not do rapier: How does a pottery laurel gage a candidate’s skill in cooking if the laurel knows nothing about cooking? How does a Pelican whose service-background involves running events gage a candidate’s worthiness when the candidate is known for cleaning up after a feast? The job of a peer is not always easy. And sometimes, it takes extra work to do justice to our candidates. Sometimes, we talk about candidates who live in other states or other countries. Sometimes, we discuss candidates whom we have never had the opportunity to meet. Is it right or noble or fair to expect them to come to us and meet us on our own personal terms in our own personal arenas? If one wants to gage a candidate who is outside of one’s expertise, one needs to either learn to grow and expand one’s own skills, take council and advice from people who do know something about it, or stay out of the discussion entirely. To do anything less in any circle is to do injustice to the candidate and to the peerage that one is trying to represent.

The Order of Chivalry is about hand-to-hand combat only: I found this argument to be the most interesting, in that it does indeed allow consideration for rapier/cut and thrust; but excludes areas that are not hand-to-hand (such as archery, thrown weapons, equestrian, etc.) This is, perhaps, true today. But I would argue that this is no reason for the order not to evolve and grow for the sake of tomorrow. To be fair, I have seen changes and growth in the martial community. I have seen changes and improvements in armor, higher authenticity on the field, etc. What I have not yet seen is the evolution within the Order of Chivalry as a whole. Individual Knights have evolved and many have expressed a strong acceptance of the idea of adding other types of martial arts to their circle. So it should be.

It really doesn’t matter what the membership thinks or says. The Board has already made up their minds: I have heard this statement made not only about this particular issue, but about almost every controversial issue over the years, with many different Boards. And in very recent times, over an entirely different issue, I recall well being involved in a rather in-heated discussion with a former board member over the subject of change. I was told that the Board, by its nature, must make the most conservative and mildest change at any time simply because the membership at large just cannot handle large-scale change. I maintained then, just as I maintain now, this is utterly untrue. The society is resilient – far more resilient than what most of us (myself included) give it credit. I do not advocate that the Board make the single most sweeping change just for the sake of change. Nor do I advocate that the Board make the most conservative change just to avoid too much of a shake-up. What I DO advocate is for the Board to make the most appropriate change to make our society better. And no matter what the change, it should be about making this game of ours MORE enticing, MORE approachable, MORE interesting, and MORE encouraging; not just for today, but for tomorrow. And if that means losing a stuck-in-the-past person who has been around since 1972 in order to open the door for productive and enthusiastic newcomers in 2015, then so be it. In order to enjoy what we have learned from the past, we must look to our future.

My recommendation to the Board is to approach this subject differently, and with a greater forethought for the future. Rather than adopt the proposed changes that you have presented, my suggestion is that you simply change the sections of corpora that imply (not restrict, but imply) that only heavy weapons fighters be allowed into the Order of the Chivalry. From there, let the individual kingdoms do as they will. In kingdoms were Rapier is not strong or not allowed at all, they won’t have to embrace change. They won’t have to live under the shadow of a new peerage that they don’t even like or want. But in kingdoms that are and have been ready to make the change, they can. And the celebrations will be heard near and far. Nothing will be forced upon the Kingdoms. But they will have more freedom to do as they will, according to their own culture. This will leave the door open for future change as well, making the job of future Board members easier.

I thank you for your time and attention to this matter, and your willingness to consider change for now and for the future.


Joseph Cook-Giles
Ska Messer Giuseppe Francesco da Borgia, O.L; O.P.

The Destruction of Culture

Posted on 2014.11.17 at 12:44
After a fantastic (but exhausting!) day of helping to prepare feast for Frost Dragon up in Naevehjaim, Sunday became a serious Day of Rest! Pulling up in front of the house at about 11:00am, my hubby and I unpacked the necessities, and then began our ritual of rest. For Paul, that meant reading. For me, that meant crashing out for a little nap. OK, maybe it wasn’t a little nap, as I didn’t rise from my crypt until around 2:00ish.

On the one hand, I probably could have been somewhat productive after getting up. Oh, but no. The Sunday paper, couch, and warm cup of tea called my name. And who was I to ignore such strong pleas? After enjoying the Sunday paper and various puzzles, I quickly realized that there was nothing but rubbish on the TV, and it was time to rely upon Netflicks. Combing through the recesses in my brain, I finally remembered a few things that have long been on my “Must Watch eventually” list. So we treated ourselves to a themed double-header – Monuments Men followed by the Rape of Europa. For those of you who don’t know, Monuments Men is the true-story of a small task force of Allied servicemen at the end of World War II who were tasked with the job of tracking down and recovering stolen artwork plundered by the Nazis. The Rape of Europa is the documentary covering the same subject.

While it is nothing that I didn’t already know, it reinforced my utter contempt for the Nazis. Argh! They really wanted to just destroy the world! It wasn’t enough to simply butcher millions of people in a failed attempt at racial purification. They wanted to utterly obliterate history and other cultures from the face of the earth and from memory.

In The Rape of Europa, one of the things that really stuck with me was the very difficult job of repatriating found items. Sometimes, we have clear-cut documentation for where an item came from. But on other occasions, trying to figure out ownership is a beast! I think, for instance, of the hundreds of Torahs that were found. Personally, I find it amazing that they even still exist at all. I would have thought that the Nazis would have simply burned them. But for whatever reason, they kept them. And nowadays, many have been surrendered to Jewish historical societies and museums. One moment that really stuck with me involved the work of one German researcher who showed the cameras a pair of beautiful silver Torah Crowns. Removed from their synagogue and from their intended use, they sat in a drawer along with a bunch of others, waiting to find their homes. Fortunately, this particular pair bore the inscription of the patrons who commissioned and donated them for use at a synagogue. The researcher was able to identify the graves of the patrons (who died before the war), and then track down descendants here in the United States. The return of the Torah Crowns was, of course, met with much emotion, ritual, and celebration. And to see them once again adorn the top of a Torah felt good.

For me personally, I feel just sick about the whole thing. I am angry at what happened for so many reasons. I am angry because my grandfather’s family were effectively wiped off the planet – their possessions confiscated, and their lives cut short in the likes of Auschwitz and Birkenau and Sobibor. I am angry because I know nothing about them and never will. I am angry because I feel like a part of my own past and my own culture was taken from me before I was even born.

The treasure hunt is far from over. So many items still remain missing. Were they purposely destroyed by the Nazis? Are they still hiding in plain site, just like the paintings discovered in the dingy apartment of the son of a nazi art collector? Will more be found in an abandoned mine somewhere in Europe?

Only time will tell.

Traffic racket

Posted on 2014.11.13 at 12:38
Hustling back to my Jeep after running home for lunch one day, I reached to remove what I thought was a flyer stuck to my hood. “WTF?!” I said to myself. A ticket?! For WHAT?! I’m not parked in a non-parking zone. I have a sticker for this neighborhood. WTF?!

Reading through the ticket, I received a citation for not having proper registration on my license plate. That can’t be right! I have my registration. But just for the heck of it, I went to take a look… and the anger began to seethe! There, on my license plate, I could barely see the traces left in all four corners of the annual sticker, marking where someone had come along with a razor-blade to steel my sticker, taking with it the remnants of several years underneath.


The citation was for a significant amount, so naturally, I wrote in to protest. After all, I paid my annual registration fee. I have a copy of my registration in my car. And frankly, why couldn’t the officer just run my plates to see that I was up to date? In the meantime, I had to maneuver the anything-but-user-friendly DMV website to figure out how to order a new replacement sticker. The first response I received was a letter from the DMV indicating an incomplete application for a replacement sticker. Why? Because I didn’t pay a $19 replacement fee. ARGH! Not only did the website not tell me that, but it made my blood boil. My sticker was stolen! It really ticks me off to have to fork out additional money for the little add-on to the significant annual expense that I already paid for! But what can I do other than grouse about it? I wrote a check and sent it in.

The next thing I received was a denial of my protest for the citation. WTF?!!!!!!!!

According to the citation, it was considered a “Fix It” ticket, meaning that I could have my citation reduced to $10.00 if I get the replacement sticker AND have a police officer sign off that I placed it on my license. Oh mother of god!

Weeks later, the sticker arrived, and in my first open window (on Veterans Day), I went to the police station to see if I could find an officer willing to say, “Yup, that’s a sticker”. I found the police station. I found some officers. And they said, “sorry, can’t do it. It’s a holiday.”

Um… WTF?!

Apparently, unlike what the instructions claim, a citation like this doesn’t require a signature of an officer – it requires a stamp along with the officer’s signature. And the stamp was in the office, which was closed. But they sent me to another office that they said might be open. So off I went. You guessed it… closed. ARGH! FML!

The next day, I went to the police station. After waiting in line long enough to feel my joints stiffen, I spoke to the lady behind the counter only to learn that for traffic issues, I needed to be in the OTHER line – you know, the one with all the signs in Spanish.

Moving to the other line, I found myself behind this one party, all speaking sternly in Spanish to the woman behind the counter. Several gray hairs later, I got to the counter, and handed my citation to the person behind the counter. Gruffly, she asked me where I was parked. Indicating that I parked in the garage across the street, she angrily told me I would have to move to the “citation sign-off” spot. OK, fine.

“Oh,” she said. “That’ll be five bucks.”

“Five dollars?” I asked. “To have a police officer walk across the street and look at my license plate?????”

“Five bucks!” she angrily repeated. ARGH!

Luckily, the fates shined on me. Opening my wallet, I actually had a ten with me. I handed her the bill, and she pushed it back. “Exact change only,” she said as deadpan as could be. And before I could say anything, she said, “get change at the garage. NEXT!!!!!”

Pissed off, I went across the street, got change, moved my car to the place where she told me to park, and then I returned to the station where I had to wait in line AGAIN to deal with Miss Manners. As I got to the counter, she repeated again, “five bucks???!” I pushed the bill under the window along with the citation. “I’m not sure I have an officer available,” she said.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Then she disappeared for a bit.

Five minutes later, she returns to the window, with the citation stamped and signed off. Nobody walked with me to check my car. Nobody actually verified that I got the sticker. I’m happy that the ordeal is over. But seriously?!!!!!!!!

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