My thoughts following Caidan Art-Sci Fair

I had initially thought about posting this on the Caid laurel list until I realized it is really a much larger conversation. But if I put it on the Kingdom page, I bet that eventually the social media officer would thwack me on the nose (again) for expressing my opinion and getting people fired up. (aka the Spurtle Curse!) So, to minimize any inadvertent big booms, I am posting this here in my journal on my own FB page, and I would like to invite discussion about something that is rather near and dear to my heart – SCA arts and competition.

Having just come back from Caidan Arts and Sciences Fair, my mind has been spinning with thoughts and ideas. But before I discuss any of them, I want to make something very clear. I have NO criticisms on how the event itself was run. Au contraire, I think Mistress Caterucia and crew did an outstanding job. Arts and Sciences fairs, by their nature, are a beeeyotch to run. It is easy to forget little (but critically important) details, and hard as heck to stay organized with so many moving parts, people, and personalities. How this particular event is run is not my focus in this post. Rather, it is the form of the competition itself.

“Pentathlon” by definition is a specific competition where the entrant must submit at least “five entries spanning at least four categories. Those categories are as follows: Visual, Functional, Armor & Weaponry, Fiber, Culinary, Performance, Compositional”. To the best of my knowledge, that is what we have done here in Caid for quite a long time. (twenty years? Thirty? More?) Now, this form of competition does have its pluses. It challenges entrants to broaden their artistic horizons by trying things outside of their comfort zones. OK, fine. I totally get that. And as an A.D.D. artist myself, I kinda appreciate that simply because my focus (or lack thereof) is typically all over the place. Thus, people like me have a natural advantage. But bearing that in mind, here is my question - Is repeating this specific form of art-challenge every two years over and over and over necessarily the best thing for Caidan artists?

I know that many people out there are not fond of change. And I get that – I am not typically a fan of change, either. And I’ll be the first to say that if a process ain’t broke, I don’t believe in trying to fix it. But I DO think we should always ask ourselves the question – are we doing it this way because this is what we actually WANT and because it really is the BEST? Or are we doing it this way because, “that’s the way we’ve always done it?”

Personally, I think it is time to shake things up and to change the form of the competition. Why? Well, for a lot of reasons. For one, sometimes we need change to shake things up a little and to give us something new and fresh and different. But for another, I think we need to recognize that the challenge of Pentathlon in its current form is only one form of art challenge, but not one that is necessarily equitable in exhibiting people’s strengths. What do I mean by that? Let me give you an example. Take, for instance, a cook. Even if your only interest in historical art is cooking, there is a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE amount of study one could do. One can study cooking of different countries and different time periods. One could learn different techniques. One could geek out just over the type of equipment. One could focus just on food sculpture. Etc. There is a huge amount of things one could do just within the massive arena of cooking, and I don’t know anybody out there at all who can do equally well at everything. But Pentathlon, by its current definition, does nothing for the foodie artist who wants to show his/her breadth within this field (or any other specific field). Sure, you can enter the arts fair. But you cannot use your mastery in lots of cooking projects to compete.

So if we were to, say, either replace Pentathlon or even have some other form of competition/s side-by-side with pentathlon, what else might we do? Here, in no particular order, are some random ideas that I have which are all feasible and all have their own strengths and weaknesses:

1. Best overall journeyman Score: Allow entrants to enter one entry in any subcategory, with as many entries as he/she would like to enter. Tally up all scores that received AT LEAST a 60. Highest overall score wins.

2. “Draw 8”: at the end of the fair, the event steward draws subcategories from a hat. Those eight will be the target categories for the next fair. The randomness of the draw is such that a few subcategories might all fall under one category. So what? The randomness is what makes it new and fun and fresh. Best score of entries entered in the 8 special draw categories wins.

3. Depth-based entry: The entrant enters one finished display item. But that one thing reflects going as far as the period artist could go. (e.g. an illuminated scroll where the artist prepared the parchment, ground the pigments, made the ink, calligraphed, illuminated, gilded, etc.; or a Viking outfit where the entrant wove the fabric, hand-sewed the outfit, made the beads or metal accessories, etc.) Possibly, instead of a competition, this could be a special recognition given to more than one entry nominated by judges and vetted by the laurels. If a large majority of the vetting team concludes that the one entry reflects going as far as one can go, it can receive special recognition.

4. Theme challenge: A particular theme for the fair could be announced in advance (e.g. Battle of Hastings, the Mary Rose, the discovery of the New World, etc.), and entrants will be challenged to enter items all tied in with that particular theme.

5. Applied science focus: Yes, woad gives blue. But it also gives many shades of blue (or even other colors, depending on what you do). This type of competition could focus on using period data and conducting various experiments to try and come up with just the right formula to simulate what was done within a specific time/place.

6. Extrapolation focus: Within history, we have a lot of holes (e.g. not every specific time/place has an extant cookbook, for instance) This competition would focus on the not just the finished entry, but the process that the artist used to work with the existing hints and pieces from history to extrapolate what may very well likely have been done.

7. Rose champion: In honor of the Order of the Rose, entries should incorporate roses. (this could be a fun thing to do at a Festival of the Rose, actually).

8. Replication: Best overall entry that exactly reproduces some extant piece.

9. Originality: NOT a replication or reproduction, this is for the best overall entry that is a completely original design/recipe/creation; but documented such that it absolutely could have existed that way within history.

10. Category champions: Within the specific category, the person with the highest score because the champion of (compositional, performance, etc.)

The ideas above are just a few possibilities. And by no means do I believe that they are all necessarily better or worse than the current Pentathlon competition. What they are, however, is something different.

So now, I invite your thoughts. What do YOU think? Do you think we should keep pentathlon as it is currently? Or should we change the competition to something else? If you like one (or more than one) of the above, tell me why. If instead, you have an entirely different idea, great! Propose it!

But I have three requests before anybody starts typing. Please…

… be NICE!

The people who work their butts off putting on these events deserve that.

The Order of the Laurel, who constantly come under fire for not being able to please all the artists all the time, deserve that.

And above all, the artists who are brave enough to put forward their art to be critiqued deserve that!

Black Oak Lodge

I always consider it a treat when I have the opportunity to visit a different area, or see a new site, or attend an event that I have never gotten to attend; and this weekend I got to experience all of the above.

Heading up after lunch on Friday, my hubby and I found ourselves in the slow and traffic-jammed roads north on the 405. After wanting to attend Black Oak Lodge for at least a decade, but always having a schedule conflict, this was finally the year! I knew that the site was in Darach, so I kind of halfway expected us to be around Thousand Oaks. But no, as we exited not far from the Getty center, I realized this was going to be different than I expected. And different it was! From the highway, we found ourselves heading west where you could just smell MONEY in the air. And as the houses grew from houses, to McMansions, to quite-the-real-thing-Mansions in the Pacific Palasades area; I found myself getting more and more confused. Where in the world were we going? From what I understood, the site was a scouting camp. But there aren’t any scouting camps in kabillionaire-row… are there? Finally passing one gorgeous old stone-surfaced gothic styled manse; we found ourselves heading down a road that gave way to a view and trees. But… but… but… the road was starting to get narrow, and turn to dirt. Was this a driveway? A private area? An access road? It couldn’t be right! But just as we were about to turn around, we saw a sign for the camp. Oh wow… we really WERE going in the right direction.

The road was… interesting. It was long and windy and not necessarily in the best shape. So we took it slow through the curves and winds along the Pacific Palisades Cliffside. And WOW, what a gorgeous view! On a clear day, I’m sure you could see to Hawaii if you wanted. (OK, maybe not). And overhead, the white blossoms of native shrubs not only decorated the hilltop, but perfumed the air. We still didn’t really know where we were going, but there was only one way. Eventually, after all the twists and turns, we found ourselves at Camp Josepho (since redubbed by moi as Camp Giuseppe). Holy CRAP! Had that site been there all along? In the middle of a flat valley, I saw a stream, and hills, and trees, and wild herbs, and green, green, green everywhere! And in the center, a lodge – an absolutely GORGEOUS barrel-vaulted hunting lodge! The event geek in me was going nuts. Finally! We didn’t have to deal with a school cafeteria, but we had an appropriate looking lodge for the events! ATMOSPHERE!

Getting checked in, we had a private tour of the site – the grassy field, the stream, the facilities, the lodge; and then we were taken to our cabin. SQUEEEE!!!!!!! Cabin events! The cabins there are just gorgeous! They are small, but very neat, very clean, very new, and very efficient. And we had the good fortune of grabbing one right at the top of the steps – most convenient in terms of finding where in the world we needed to be!

The event itself was small, but I didn’t mind that one bit. It reminded me of the SCA that I joined long ago where shire events typically ran around 50ish people, and were laid back, fun, and intimate. And that was much the case with this one. I saw smiling faces, classes, conversation, games, etc. I’m sure there was some fighting somewhere outside, but needless to say, that isn’t my forte. Rather, I enjoyed my time in another wonderful feature of this site – the kick-butt kitchen!

In a lot of ways, I feel like this event is one of those “best kept secrets of Caid.” But I’ll tell you one thing about it – I enjoyed it SO MUCH that as long as there are no schedule conflicts in the future, I plan to make it a regular thing. The event and the site are Just That Good.

But shhhhhhhhhhhh…. Don’t tell anyone. Let’s just keep that between you n’ me. 

Guilt – a Reality Check

I find it fascinating that even at this phase in my life I am still learning things about myself. In many ways, I guess that is a blessing, right? Each day brings the potential to learn something new! But what is this grand new self-revelation?

I naturally default – DEFAULT - to feeling guilty - even when I did absolutely nothing wrong.

I guess in a lot of ways, that isn’t really all that unusual for an ex-Catholic. After all, one of the very first things that Catholics are taught is how we are all sinful, and miserable, and unworthy of forgiveness, etc., etc., etc. But with me, the sense of feeling guilty – even when I did nothing wrong - goes beyond catechism and religious teachings. It goes back to childhood.

One of the extreme drawbacks to being born not just last in my immediate family, but last in the entire extended family generation, was being surrounded by so many older and bigger and intimidating people. Whether it was my parents, or my sisters, or my cousins, or my teachers, or my aunts and uncles, or our neighbors, or all the people coming into and out of the house; I was always surrounded by people who were older and bigger than I was. That in and of itself wasn’t a problem. But the problem was the amount of instructions I received. It was like everybody around me took on the role of parenting and checking me on my behavior. I’m sure everyone meant well. But, it messed me up. While I learned the rules and regulations of social politeness, I also learned to doubt myself – a lot. If in my head I had a conflict between how I naturally wished to react vs. how I believed The Adults told me to react, there really was no choice – I had to do what I was told. I had NO sense of believing in myself. As I grew older, this conflict grew more extreme, as I began to question myself more and more whenever there was a conflict between what I absolutely knew to be true in my heart versus being told by An Adult what to do or think. And for me, that was hard. It was subtle. But it is something that really messed up my self-confidence as a young adult – and I didn’t even know it was happening.

I know that my description of this issue comes across a bit confusing, so please allow me to illustrate an example. The other day, I remembered very clearly something that happened to me as a kid. I remember sitting on the couch in the living room, reading a book. My mom and one of my sisters were there, and we were all having some quiet time. Then my father came in the door carrying a bag from the grocery store. He and my mom started having some sort of discussion that began turning into raised-voice arguing over something. I was so used to their regular bickering and yelling that it wasn’t at all unusual. And truthfully, I wasn’t paying much attention, anyway. I was really into my book. The next thing I knew, my dad was bent over the coffee table that was near me, and the grocery bag started to spill. I looked up from my book, and moved to try to catch the bag; and my dad looked at me with total anger on his face. He wouldn’t let me touch the bag. Instead, he quickly grabbed it all, stormed into the other room, and began yelling and cursing up a storm! You see… apparently after he and mom stopped arguing, he asked me to take the bag from him or something like that. I have NO idea what he actually asked me because I was nose-in-the-book and I did not even know that he called my name (if he even did). But no. My dad was CONVINCED that I was purposely ignoring him and disrespecting him. I looked up confused as could be, and my sister (I can’t remember which one), scolded me and said I deserved my dad’s wrath for my behavior. WTF? I told her that I didn’t hear him, but that was quickly dismissed by both mom and sister because if THEY heard him, clearly I had to have heard him. WTF? I felt such a swath of emotions. I felt angry because nobody would believe me. I felt scared because my dad was so angry. I felt betrayed. And I felt… guilty. Why? Because as the self-doubt came over me, I began to question myself and convince myself of the same thing The Adults were telling me. I began to think that maybe I really WAS the disrespectful person that they said that I was.

Dad called me into the other room. I felt paralyzed, but obediently went in. He was so angry he was shaking, and I felt terrified! But he kept his voice calm and asked why I did what I did. I told him plainly I didn’t hear him, and then he raised his voice saying that that was BULLSHIT because if both my mom and sister heard him, clearly I had to. So WHY did I not help him when he asked for help? My voice cracked. I didn’t know what to say. I began to cry. I opened my mouth, and noises came out. I really had no words. “You were disrespectful to me,” he said. “Yes,” I replied. He then went on for a little while about how rude and selfish I was. And the guild-takeover came over me as I simply agreed with him before being sent to my room in punishment. And there, alone in my room, I cried.

This was by far not the only episode in my childhood like this. It happened a lot. Now truthfully, I’m not complaining. For the most part, I had a happy childhood - truly. But events like this really did chip away not only at my self-esteem, but at my own sense of right and wrong. Whether The Adults in my life meant to do it or not, they taught me to question myself. And when others questioned me, it meant automatically that I was Wrong or At Fault or some other negative thing. And that carried with me into adulthood.

College was the WORST for this sort of a thing! As much as I enjoyed meeting new people and fresh faces, I experienced my share of conflicts with class-mates or co-workers made much worse by my own propensity to default to guilty. If at work something was not done (by somebody else) or someone other than me made a mess; and the manager mistakenly decided to yell at me for someone else’s goof; I stood there and took it. In my brain, I tried to rationalize it – maybe I really WAS at fault! I should have discovered the mess first so I could clean it up! I should have looked in that closet to notice that a bottle had spilled. I should have been more diligent; and maybe that thing would not have happened! And gods forbid, if a moody classmate heard half of something that I said out loud to person A and somehow thought I was saying something rude about them instead, I would catch an earful and spend the rest of the day feeling bad. I can’t even tell you how many countless times I have been on the receiving end of someone else’s wrath for something I didn’t even do!!!! And ya know the worst part, I didn’t even realize this was happening to me, because - this was normal. So yes, my own naturally-feeling-guilty behavior contributed a lot towards other people feeling comfortable using me as their whipping boy.

Well, at this point in my life, not only have I figured out that this type of crazy social interaction has plagued me my entire life, but that I have the power to change the outcome.

And starting right now - no longer will I take this kind of abuse.

I’m going to make a few new rules for myself and work hard to stick with them – for the rest of my life – for the betterment of my own peace of mind. Starting today, Joe, here are some new rules for life:

1. It isn’t automatically my fault just because someone else gets butt hurt. Prior to reacting, I will investigate. If I really did something wrong, I will apologize and work hard to fix the situation. (that isn’t different from yesterday) If it was a misunderstanding, I will offer an explanation. (that also isn’t different from yesterday) But after that, I will STOP! If the other person is actually an adult, they will accept the explanation and move on. Ideally, we will both laugh about it. (And that kind of thing has happened). But if they want to create drama and make a big issue where there need not be one, then b’bye.

2. Remember Joe…some people THRIVE on drama, and it is NOT my responsibility to fix them, make them feel better, or fix problems created by someone else. Some people love to manipulate, and they will use guilt as a weapon. Don’t let them!

3. One of my most powerful assets is my voice – whether it be my spoken word, my presence, my written word – it does indeed have influence and impact on some people. And there exist a few individuals who simply don’t like that! They resent it. They resent that I can do something they can’t. They resent that I support a different angle than they do. And they use guilt and drama as a weapon to try and silence me. I refuse to have my voice taken away by people who use guilt as a weapon of manipulation.

4. I don’t care WHO you are. I don’t care HOW long we’ve known each other. I don’t care WHAT we’ve been through. Whether we are relatives, BFF’s, close friends, or whatever - if you try to paint me as being some mean or nasty person who hurt you when in reality you are creating some sort of drama just to gain attention and sympathy, not only will I call you out on it but you will lose your access to me. Seriously!!!!

5. And finally, if you are the kind of person who makes me feel like I have to walk on eggshells to be around you, I don’t want to be around you!

I count myself very fortunate to know as many people as I do, to have met so many inspiring people, to have had the adventures that I have had, and to have yet so much more to look forward to. I am going to reserve my time and energy on the people who deserve it.

The New Threat to the SCA

There is a serious problem happening in the SCA. Many of us know about it. But nobody wants to talk about it. Well, for the betterment of society, I’m going to write about it here so we can raise awareness.

The issue? Scribes that lick their pigments!

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. Scribes have been licking pigments since A.S. Dirt. Dirt is a pigment, after all. Heck, getting lit on pigments was the highlight of the first party, right? Well, times have changed since then. Back then, scrolls were just mimeographed, and recipients got a bit of a buzz at most. But as knowledge and skill in illumination has grown, so has the problem. Just the other event I saw a guy obviously strung out on malachite. He had that tell-tale greenish tinge to him that’s a dead giveaway to what is clearly a problem.

Oh sure, you may think you become one of the “cool kids” if you join in. It starts out simple enough – a little taste of rabbit-skin glue here and there. But in no time at all, you find yourself having to get a glass muller just to grind away white lead all night turning your scriptorium into a powdery hooka-lounge. Before you know it, you are attending court, JUST so you can walk up with the other scribes and catch a quick lick of an AoA when nobody is looking. Oh, the shame! Oh, the indignity! Oh, the smearing!

Just last year, orpiment poisonings were on the rise from Calontir to Atlantia. And once a scribe gets to the point of licking their vellum clean, their chances of recovery are insular miniscule at best. Do any of your scribal friends have a problem? Here are things to look for – do they have more Windsor-Newton tubes than they can ever possibly use? Do you ever see them lick their brushes or quills? Do you see their hands smudged with who-knows-what? Do they display an obsessive need to buy yet another copy of an illuminated manuscript? Do they frequently talk about having to visit the Getty… yet AGAIN! Do they ever randomly act kinda strange to you? That person just might have a problem! (I cannot italicize this enough!)

Do NOT let the problem get worse. If you see a scribe who clearly has a problem, say something. We need to illuminate the problem! Sure, you may try to make them go to rehab and they may say “Verily Nay! Nay! Nay!” But do what you can. For Kingdom, for Crown, and for Society - remember….

…Friends don’t let friends lick their scrolls.

Service as a Crutch

So… here we are one full week after my surgery, and if I do say so myself, I’m doing really well. I’m moving around easily. The surgical wounds are healing nicely. And the only time I’ve felt any pain has been when I stupidly did something that I shouldn’t have. All in all, I would have to give my surgeon an A+. But comparing this operation to past surgeries probably isn’t fair. In the past 15 years or so, technology has improved, and treatment has changed quite a lot. I remember very clearly the first time I had a knee operation, things were not anywhere near this good. I remember waking up in a LOT of pain and nausea. Maneuvering was REALLY difficult. And the recovery took a much longer time. But through it all, I stayed busy. If you think I’m a spaz nowadays always having to stay busy, you didn’t know me back when I was younger.

I think back to when I had my first knee operation. It was… rough. There were a lot of things going wrong then. In addition to the surgery, the politics in my SCA world were at their height, and my relationship was on the rocks. (Obviously, this is pre-Giles for those of you who might be gasping). And whether it was a blessing or a curse, just as I was on the mend enough to get by on crutches, I was part of the event staff for a huge Kingdom event. Specifically, I was in charge of gate. And if I say I’m going to do a job, by the GODS, I am going to do it! Now, running gate might not sound like a big deal to many of you, but lemme tell ya – it was. Events back then were roughly 1,000+ people that went from Friday to Sunday (or sometimes Monday). We had to quickly process people through gate, and keep track of camping, cabining, one feast, two feasts, etc. The amount of money that went through our hands was obscene. And because of new financial policy enacted at the time by society after a particularly nasty Trimarian financial kuffuffle, we had to document the hell out of every single thing. It was no easy task. But truthfully, I welcomed the responsibility. Why? Because it got me out of the house, gave me distraction, and surrounded me by a comforting alliance of close friends who supported me while things were going to hell in my life. Besides - it was a sitting job. Heck, if I couldn’t teach dance like I normally would (which was just killin’ me!), I had to do SOMETHING, right?

I remember at one point or another, traffic had let up enough at the gate building that the gang told me to go and take a lunch break. I wanted to get up and out, so I left them in charge to head up to the main hall. So ya know how hobbling along on crutches can be a challenge under most circumstances – yes? Imagine being at an SCA event deep in the Florida wilderness and being on crutches. Maneuvering through fallen brush and branches while gimping along was… how does one describe it? It was a truly medieval experience! (I do NOT recommend it – EVER!)

After finally getting into the hall, I felt exhausted. My arms were killing me from using muscles that were not typically employed to aid in walking, and I needed to sit down. Nearby, I saw a good friend of mine whom I hadn’t seen in a while. So I hobbled over, sat down, and we began to chat. Well… that isn’t quite right. He chatted while I listened. And the irony poured out! Over the next half hour, I listened to my friend vent about how much work he believed he had done, and how the pelicans had not recognized him, and how he gave of himself sooooo much. The fact that he was doing absolutely NOTHING at this event while venting to a guy on crutches who was part of the event crew was totally lost on him. I sat there, just taking in the vent, all the while suppressing the urge to guffaw hysterically over the awkwardness of the situation. Yet, through it all, he never seemed to get it. Incidentally, it wasn’t all that long after that that he was made a Pelican. Me… not so much. But I digress…
By the time the event was over, we balanced all the deposits to the penny, closed up shop, and said our farewells. I felt physically exhausted and was hurting a little bit, but mentally I felt a bit recharged, having faced a challenging task that distracted me, for the most part, from the negativity in my life. And looking back, I really think that helped me to heal – not only physically but mentally.

So what’s my point of this age-old flashback?

Not everyone thrives or recovers in the same way. I think that for most people, “rest” means laying about, taking a nap, or maybe reading a book. And ya know what? That’s fine. But for me, I have a need to be needed. I measure the success of the day by how much I complete. It is just how I am hard-wired. I LIKE to physically move about and do things. I LIKE to try my hand at organizing things or taking on projects. I prefer to be over-burdened than under. It is just how I function and how I thrive. I know that sounds like hell to some of you, but for me, hell is having nothing to do and no purpose. Perhaps that makes me a bit odd, but I never claimed to be normal.

So thar it tis!

My confession

I have a confession to make... I... am a geek.

OK, perhaps that isn't so much a confession as much as it is a known fact. But to be a bit more to the point, I absolutely love BEING a geek!

Having returned to work now that my surgery is over and my recovery is well under way, I feel particularly inspired to get back to doing artsy things. My brain is racing as I think about cooking research I want to do and foodie projects and jewelry, and sewing and organizing, etc,. etc. I want to get outside and do some gardening. I want to see friends. I want to go down various rabbit holes and link together concepts to help us gain insight and understanding into who, where, why, and what. I want to look seriously into dance research again and focus less on performance and more on theory and teaching others. I want to inspire and be inspired. I want to work with my students and keep the fires lit under their butts so that they too will become infectious history geeks. I want to make all the things, teach all the classes, and learn all the things. Is it possible to do it all? Of course not! At least not in one lifetime. But I'll be darned if I'm going to waste any time when there are so many cool things to be done!

Look out world! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's... geek-dude!

A Lesson from the Ancient World

Thousands of years ago, people of all classes stood and watched in horror as one of the greatest temples ever built to the ancient gods burned to the ground. As legends tell us, the man who intentionally set the fire wanted to show his power over the gods and have his name known everywhere for all time. However, ancient judges were not stupid. In addition to sentencing him to death, they also made a decree that anyone who even spoke the name of the man would also be sentenced to death.

The result? His name is lost to history.

In a couple of days, this country will bid a fond farewell to the Obamas – a family of grace and dignity who led as best as I believe they could despite adversity, despite prejudice, and despite the “Party of No” blocking them as much as humanly possible. And sadly, we issue in a new era that has me very nervous. It’s no secret that I don’t trust the new administration. It’s no secret that I don’t like the new administration. And it is no secret that I am NOT the kind of person to bury my head in the sand when faced with adversity. So instead, I plan on meeting every problem head on and putting the spotlight where it belongs…with one exception. Starting now, I am going to do my best to do as the ancients did, and utterly IGNORE the person who is going to be inaugurated. Rather, I will shine the spotlight on the nutjob apologists such as Kelly Ann Conway, the blatant homophobes such as Mike Pence, and the white supremacists such as Steve Bannon. These are the people who are doing (and I’m sure will continue to do) REAL damage to this country, and they need to be called out on the carpet! As more and more Deplorables join the cabinet, I plan to hold them accountable for their actions. And to be fair, if they do good, wonderful! I will praise them accordingly. But I hold no false illusions or hopes. But as for the person who will be inaugurated, I will try my best not to speak his name, to ignore every tweet, and instead to shine the light on the problem rather than on the media storm. Why? Simple – he can’t be fixed. He doesn’t care. He is simply a narcissist who wants attention, attention, attention - whether it is good or bad matters not to him. So my friends, I pose this thought to you - just imagine if nobody cared about his tweets? Just imagine if nobody commented on his appearance? Just imagine if nobody paid any attention to the things he says? Just imagine if he walked down the street and nobody noticed? He’d go utterly mad! And as the spotlight shifts to the people he places in power, and they begin to get more attention than he does…. Oh the fireworks show that will create!

So my friends and family out there. As we all march together in the next few days in trepidation, and anxiety; let us don our Pussyhats, carry signs, make our thoughts know, show grace under fire, and dignity before deplorability. Let us demonstrate non-violently. Let us shine the spotlight where it needs to shine. But let us not play into the hands of that individual. He has taken enough from this nation already. Do not give him the one thing he wants more than anything – do not give him your attention.

Regardless of his net worth, he is not worth your attention.

Opinions are like….

I think it fair to say that as we look back upon 2016, many of us feel a sense of, oh I dunno… distaste? Nausea? Resentment? Anger? Division?

In addition to what seemed like an unbelievable number of celebrity deaths one right after another; we faced an election that tore this nation apart and shocked the crap out of many of us on all sides. And as if that wasn’t all enough, I also observed a tremendous amount of Facebook lash-outs. And with all of these things in mind, but particularly the last one, I write this post.

This past weekend, I attended an SCA coronation. And in the middle of the day at some point as I stepped out of the hall to get some air (as I was starting to feel utterly wretched) a friend of mine asked to speak with me. Much to my surprise, I received a bit of a scolding about a past incident. Given that the incident described was from at least a year ago, I cannot honestly say that I recall ANY of the details. But, that isn’t the point. I trust this individual, and I listened when she reminded me that my words have power and told me that my words have influence on people. Now, I have a confession to make. I have a really hard time taking that last part seriously. Why? Because truthfully, I just don’t see myself as having any more or less say on things than anybody else. I’m just a person – one of many. Why would my words have any more sway or less sway than another person’s? And why should my opinion carry any more weight? But that is just my belief. Who knows? Maybe she is right? So with that spirit in mind, here are some words that I hope we can all carry with us into 2017.

It is time to heal the rifts. People are going to have opinions. And people are going to voice their opinions. For better or worse, I believe that this is one of the things that makes our country great. But an opinion is not a barrier or a restraint upon you unless you – yes YOU - allow it to be. People are going to have opinions about politics, or fashion choices, or religions, or TV shows, or who you love, or what you do on your weekends. That is just a given. And some of those people are going to publicly voice their opinions – social media only furthers enables people to do this. You have no control over someone else voicing their opinion – nor should you, truthfully. But what CAN you control? How you react to it.

I mean seriously – THINK about this. If somebody tells you that you are going to fail at something, I can guarantee that you will – IF you allow that opinion to impact you. Ask yourself something – what is more important to you – someone else’s opinion about something, or your own opinion about yourself? So going back to my earlier point about words having meaning – if indeed my words really do have an impact upon people, my hope is that you take this message to heart. You are important. Your own goals and values and ideas and thoughts do matter. So whether or not I or your parents or your spouse or your neighbors or church members or anybody else around you approve/disapprove or like/don’t like whatever it is that you are doing – that is just an opinion and nothing more. Don’t let yourself be held down by what others may or may not think. Don’t waste your wonderful talent, time and energy reacting to someone else expressing their opinion. Instead, just go do what you want to do and enjoy it.

2016 burned up so much time and energy in flame wars. My hope is that 2017 is spent trying to mend the hurt, come together, and to respect one another. Opinions will still be voiced – no question about that. But how will you react to them? That’s up to you.

On Feasts in the SCA

By definition, the Society for Creative Anachronism is an educational not-for-profit organization devoted to the study of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. “As a living history group, the Society provides an environment in which members can recreate various aspects of the culture… of the period… we sponsor events such as tournaments and feasts where members dress in clothing styles worn in the middle ages and renaissance and participate in activities based on… period.

Based upon the above snippets, all of which come directly from the governing documents of the society, I’m sure you get the gist - ours is a game about history. We dress the part. We learn the part. We act the part. And we experience the part. At least that is what we should always be striving to do. Yet, there is one area where in my experience in this organization, I feel like I am frequently (MUCH more often than I find acceptable) banging my head against a wall to remind people to put the history into our game - and what I am talking about here is feasts.

I count myself very fortunate in that my home barony here in Caid takes feasts and period cooking very seriously. Yes, I have played a role in this development. But over time, it has just become part of the local culture – and I couldn’t be happier about that. But often, when I travel out of the Barony or out of Kingdom, I really never know what I’m going to get. Maybe the feast will be period (and I LOVE it when it is!). More often, the feast is “period-inspired”, which is to say a mix of modern and historical. And yet other times, there just isn’t even an attempt to do anything remotely historical. And yes, that bothers me. That bothers me a LOT! Why? Because, to be perfectly honest, there just isn’t a good excuse to not at least make an attempt – not nowadays when we have such a wide variety of books, sources, websites, and resources. Seriously gang – think about it for a moment. An SCA Feast is an actual activity of the SCA. Why should we expect any less attempt at history with a feast than we do anything else? And every time I hear somebody whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine that doing a historical feast is just tooooooooooooo haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaard, it makes me want to scream. So with that in mind, I have a few observations to make about feasting in the SCA:

“Period Food Tastes Yucky”: Luckily, it has been a while since I’ve heard this line of utter bullpucky stated. But taking this statement at face value, I just have to shake my head. With over 1,500 years of culinary history to investigate from multiple countries, I find it nothing if not the height of arrogance to completely dismiss all things prior to this modern age and culture as “yucky”.

“Doing a period feast is just toooooooooo haaaaaaaard”: Oh kiddies. Sitting in my rocking chair with my cane for a moment, lemme tell ya. At a time, this might have been true. Trying to find the information was not exactly easy. Heck, when I started, there wasn’t exactly a market for historical cookbooks. And in those days, before the world wide interwebz, you’d actually have to go to this thing called a book store to get a book. Did historical cookbooks exist at book stores? Of course not! So we had to either use these ancient portals called libraries to find copies of copies of university publications. Now fast forward to today. Not only has there been a huge renewed interest in historical cooking, but several books have come out in a variety of forms. Some are facsimiles of original texts. Others have been discussed, analyzed and redacted for you. And others down n out lay out the feast for you. Frankly, it couldn’t be made any easier nowadays if it was spoon-fed to you. (See wha I did thar?)

“How will your feast accommodate my allergies?”: OK, guys. I get it. Really, seriously, I do. I consider myself fortunate in that I am an omnivore without allergies. But I realize that not everyone can be. Some people really do have to work around anything from mild to severe health issues related to diets. And that utterly sucks. But, like anything else, that falls upon the individual who has the issues. In my experience, most people who have allergies (and off the top of my head, I’m thinking of everything from yeast to dill to mustard to meat to wheat to rice to barley, etc), have been exceptionally polite and have simply asked me prior to the feast what items they need to avoid. But every now and again, I have run into someone who expects – EXPECTS – that they will be given some other option simply because of their allergy. (Oh… millennials!!!!!) Or, to get more to the point, I have run into some people who magically expect that because they have a not-so-common allergy that I, as the cook, am supposed to A. Know that; B. Expect that; and C. go the extra mile to make some other dish JUST IN CASE someone has a problem with a key ingredient. To put it bluntly – no. Just… no.

One of the weirdest phenomena that I have noticed about American culture involves behavior in restaurants. For the most part, I think people are taught to use “Please” and “thank you”, and to show one another respect and courtesy. But for some reason unbeknownst to me, when people walk through the door of a restaurant, they transform. Suddenly, Bob is no longer just Bob. Bob becomes the Lord of the Manor. And the food-servers who work the restaurant are no longer Sally and Fred. They become the lower-class servant/slaves to Bob, Lord of the Manor. And if Bob finishes his ice tea and Sally isn’t there to refill it within seconds, Lord Bob gets angry! If Lord Bob’s steak arrives and it shows a trace of pink which is not what he envisioned in his mind, Lord Bob will read the riot act to Fred; as if Fred purposely went out of his way to offend Bob. The level of talking-down-to that occurs in restaurants appalls me sometimes. But what does this have to do with SCA Feasts? Oh, it has EVERYTHING to do with SCA feasts! Why? Because something about this rude “I am being WAITED ON HERE!” mentality often spills over to SCA feasts. I have seen people become livid at their server because a dish comes out cold. Aside from the fact that that particular dish may have intentionally been served cold, the server had nothing – NOTHING – to do with its preparation. Further, that server is a volunteer – not someone (barely) paid to put up with your abuse. Then let’s talk about the food itself. Did you read the menu before signing up for feast? If you did, and you bitch and whine the whole time that there is nothing being served that you can eat, whose fault is that? The people in the kitchen who are again VOLUNTEERING to bust their humps to feed people? No. It is yours. Volunteers deserve – DESERVE – your politeness and respect. And if you really think you can do better – PROVE IT! The proof is quite literally in the pudding.

So what if you really are a picky eater and/or have allergies and/or don’t like waiting for things to arrive at your table and/or don’t like period feasts? Simple – go to the Sizzler instead. Seriously! I do not mean that in any way, shape, manner or form as an insult or as a flip response. Sometimes, that really is the better option for everyone. You will be happy, as will the people who don’t want to sit around listening to you grouse. The SCA Feast experience, just like fighting or dancing or singing or fencing; can be a wonderful experience but really is NOT going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Heck, it can’t be. The people in the kitchen are not custom cooking dishes based on your individual order. They are cooking several dishes that they are hoping you enjoy en masse. Will you? Who knows? The same dish put in front of three different people will most likely get three different reactions. And yes, this is why many cooks often prefer to play it safe by doing modern foods. But if there is nothing else that I can convey in this post, it is the fact that American-Restaurant-mentality needs to be left OUT of SCA feasts. SCA Feast is NOT a restaurant experience! It is NOT, “We’ll have it your way”. An SCA Feast is the vision of the head cook. And hopefully, you will enjoy most of the things that you try. But there’s just not a guarantee of that.

So where am I going with this feasting rant that discusses various issues and potential problems? Well, very simply, I want to see a change across the board when it comes to SCA feasts. I want the food served to all be documentably SCA period – all the time – at every single event. Is it possible? Absolutely! Do we have the ways and means? Absolutely! Will it be to everyone’s tastes? No. But frankly, neither is any other SCA experience. It isn’t hard to find modern food – the restaurant around the corner has some. But an individual who attends his or her first SCA event should at least have a reasonable expectation to be exposed to history in each of the activities presented at an event – and yes, that includes the food (or at least it SHOULD).

For those of us who love and admire and appreciate history and historical experiences, we are being deprived of an SCA encounter that we wish to experience and have a reasonable expectation of being able to experience. So please, if you are a cook and are at all involved in preparing SCA feasts, please bear this in mind and add the one ingredient that many feasts are missing – history.

Bring on 2017

As 2016 approaches its end, I cannot say that I will look back upon it with fondness. With so much strife, and war, and politics, and passings and violence; it will be nice to see the ball drop and the calendar page flip. Even if nothing actually changes, just visualizing some positive developments makes me feel a bit better.

In 2017, I see a lot of challenges – nothing I can’t get passed – but challenges nonetheless. And while I’m really not big on resolutions, per se, I do like to set myself some tests – milestones if you will. Let’s see how well I do with them all:

Politics – No, I don’t like the pending transition in the White House – not one bit! But, what’s done is done. I sincerely HOPE the President-elect and his administration do right by this nation. I will not actively obstruct what he does simply because he does it. (I’m not a RepubliCANT after all), but I’m also not going to roll over and take it if I see them trying to pass legislature to limit my rights, or the rights of those around me.

Rest – While I reserve the right to Not Like It Even One Little Bit, I get it. Sometimes, I just need to step back and rest. And with surgery on my horizon, I will have no choice but to take at least a couple of days to sit on my butt and do utterly nothing.

People – The older I get, the less I have the patience to suffer fools. I don’t mean that to sound arrogant. I’m not referring to people who just do not know or have not experienced life. I’m talking about people who just love to bait and fight and make life difficult for others – effectively, trolls. I don’t care if you try to convince others (and maybe even yourself) that you are really a fighter for social justice or a defender of bullies – if you go out of your way to PICK fights and torment people, you yourself are a bully and a troll, and I’m not wasting my time with you.

Art – I have some personal projects that I Really, Really, Really want to work on as soon as my own helium hand gets out of the way. Note to self – stop volunteering to do things for other people so much! I want some cool things, too!

Non-SCA travel – I know, right? What a concept! But yes, in 2017 I want to do some travelling around where I am NOT worried about how to carefully pack my coronet, and how much space my garb takes up.

Health – I am soooooo looking forward to getting back to the gym, working out, losing my belly, and getting healthier. It’ll be a bit. But I’ll get there.

Work – I hope that 2017 is a year for positive change. I want some challenge and some positive change – not just the challenge that comes from having to constantly reinvent the wheel.

Relationships – I need to work harder to foster even stronger relationships with friends and family.

Happy New Year, everyone. Bye “Felicia 2016!