Thursday, October 25, 2012


Since starting in as a reader of blogs I've seen the blogger awards the we give each other going around and I thought they were rather silly. A lot of that sentiment was due to the fact that I was sure I'd never receive one. But ho ho, now I have! I admit I'm really thrilled. The lovely Elizabeth at Sew 18th Century  has awarded me the Versatile Blogger award  and even mentioned admiring my historical versatility. Thank you so much Elizabeth!

Accepting this honor means I need to:
1. Thank and link back to the person who nominated you.
2. Paste the award to my blog.
3. Tell 7 things about myself.
4. Nominate 15 other blogs.

The first two are complete, here goes with number three:
1. I suffer from wanderlust. Every few years I get the incredible urge to pick up everything and change my scenery. I almost always end up giving in in some way, the most recent "move" being from a job in the Upper Valley to one on the Seacoast. I'm hoping that one holds me for a while.

2. I am a cat person, not a dog person. I love my cat, snuggling, sharing the couch, even sharing the laptop keyboard. I totally do not understand dogs; they are noisy, smelly, and incomprehensible. At the moment the house is occupied by one cat and two dogs, and I think the balance will have to change pretty soon (Stephen watch out.)

3. I love the way I look in hats. I'm not crazy about the rest of my looks, but I almost always feel better with a hat on my head.

4. My current quest involves the search for the perfect storage solution for each of the timeperiods I acquire. Wooden boxes for the Medieval and Renaissance stuff, baskets for the 18th Century stuff, hat boxes and wicker for the 1920s, suitcases for the 1940s… I have not yet reached my goal, but I'm having fun in the search.

5. I am not a leader. I am a fantastic follower, I excel at solo tasks, I love teaching others. But give me a group that I am supposed to lead and disaster inevitably follows.

6. I am a very picky reader. I love to read, but I would rather read the same book for the 8th or 9th time than read a book that is not really my style.

7. I do not like onions. I've tried. I cook with them, I don't mind a diffuse onion flavor, I love garlic. But eating onion bits themselves give me the shivers. I pick them out of everything I eat.

Nominate 15 blogs! That is not an easy task. But it has meant that I've taken a closer look at both my Google Reader list and my bloglist here on the right. I've removed some of the blogs that are no longer active, I've removed some of the blogs that I've just stopped reading. Some of the ones that I most look forward to have been moved into my favorites folder, and those new moves are the ones that I am going to recommend here. These are the blogs that as soon as I see they have a new post it brightens my day. If I see they have a new post and I am not in a position to sit back and enjoy them I will save it to savor at a more appropriate time. These are the ones I would be very sad to loose, and some day I  hope to meet all these lovely folks to tell them their sharing has meant so much to me.

Companie of Saynt George one of the coolest European groups that I am aware of. Their blog always inspires me.

Applied History is an incredibly thoughtful blog using lessons from the past towards our future.

Skills, Scotch, and Surviving My husband's blog. He is a great teacher and knows a ton about a lot of random stuff.

Re: Living History Though Dan mostly reenacts Ancient Celtic life, he has a lot of good things to say about Living History as a hobby.

Historic Cookery One of the first blogs I started reading and still one of the ones that I most look forward to.

The Warp and the Weft is a lovely blog by a merchant out in California who makes trips to France, looking for unique items. She has a great eye.

FDIM Museum Blog really juicy clothing posts.

Laura Callaghan Illustration Pretty illustrations, with a retro feeling to them. I am so jealous of people who have illustration talent.

The Fashionable Past I am in awe of the sewing in this blog, totally impressive.

Wearing History Another impressive sewing blog with the addition of some really cool patterns for sale!

At the Sign of the Golden Scissors The authority on all things Rev War sewing related.

Storied Threads A friend of mine who is making her dreams come true.

Casey's Elegant Musings Casey has been posting less of late, but she has a lovely sense of style and history. Her sewing is also inspirational.

Romantic History Sarah sews for her entire family, and writes well about it.

An Historical Lady The photos of this lady's colonial home are amazing, and she's here in New Hampshire!

That is it for today's post, hope you find these other blogs just as inspiring as I do!

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Listening to others' stories

Strawbery Banke Museum role-players use a method of interpretation called First Person Interpretation  in our daily interactions with visitors. Since I was trained at Renaissance Faires I am very comfortable with first person, normally I have no problems making my way through a different century than those people around me. This season is my first reenacting someone in the 20th Century, and I am finding that first person is much harder the closer that you get to today.

When people walk into Shapiro house, especially folks of a certain age, the exclaim over the sewing machine, the ice box, the big stove, the carpet sweeper; many of them remember their parents having very similar items. As Mrs. Shapiro I chat about coming to the USA from Ukraine and many visitors have family stories also about emigrating from Eastern Europe. Mrs. Shapiro's story is important, but the visitors' stories are just as important. Why does first person interpretation make this a particular challenge?

When a visitor who looks to be old enough to be a grandmother herself comes in talking about her grandmother having a sewing machine just like mine, the real Mrs. Shapiro might react with incredulity that someone of her grandmother's advanced age would be around to have something so new. When a visitor mentions growing up with the same type of plumbing and had it in the house until the 1950s, is Mrs. Shapiro supposed to accuse the visitor of making up tales of the future? How could someone visiting her house have grown up in the future? In the buildings that are centuries earlier a gentle scoff in the direction of a visitor that is trying to play with the interpreter is fine, but as a museum professional I can not very well negate the personal connections that the visitors are making. I would not want to.

But I can not drop out of first person, that would not do at all. So what am I to do?

Sometimes it is enough to nod and smile. For Mrs. Shapiro, English is not her first language, so I play it that she probably thinks the mis-understood the individual words, but she understands the main point: a personal or family connection to her home. If folks go on too long I get a worried look on my face and then very deliberately say that I do not understand. Usually that is enough to make it clear to the visitor that Mrs. Shapiro must remain in 1919 while they talk about their own past. Sometimes I can steer them to talking about iceboxes, or immigration in a way that is less time specific so we can both talk about it.

Sometimes, I am lost for what to do; so I just go back to my cooking, cleaning etc. while the visitors chat with their own companions. I hate to walk away from a conversation, so if anyone out there has any advice on how to stay in first person while acknowledging the validity of modern visitors' stories, please let me know.
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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pies and Cabbage

Adventures in Historical Cooking
I've had many adventures in historical cooking over the course of the season at Strawbery Banke, including a newly found love of baking pies. who knew. My mother might be the most surprised about all of this.

As the season cooled I have thought of firing up the bake oven at Wheelwright house (where I cook at the hearth most Thursdays) but was reluctant. I've never done it before, it has been a fairly warm season, and I would feel bad firing it up without a good supply of items needing to be baked. Things came together recently when I had two days in a row in Wheelwright, and the weather has turned decidedly chilly. I took day one to read some of the materials in the house compiled by earlier hearth cooks and to make a ton of pie crusts and various fillings. 

I knew that the oven itself did not have a flue, it uses the main fireplace flue. I was worried about getting a fire started in there because of the airflow, but it turned out to be no problem at all. I started a good fire, kept adding to it, and all morning I watched the oven get hotter. By the time I thought to put an oven thermometer in there it was up to 650 degrees. Yup. I fired the oven. I raked the coals out, mopped the ashes with a soaked broom, then waited for it to cool down before I put in the first two pies. I did not wait long enough. The first two quickly burned to black. I waited a bit longer, and the next two turned out edible if you picked the burnt bits off the top. Ah well, I learned a lot.

I seem to have an admirer at the museum. I do not know what I did to deserve the praise I've received, but it does mean that I've attempted several cooking methods I might not have without of the confidence of others. This weekend in Shapiro house I made Sauerkraut. Actually, I started sauerkraut. It was not nearly as hard as I had thought it would be; I collected cabbages from various gardens throughout the museum, washed them, chopped them and then put them in a big crock and smashed the cabbage bits with a big masher. When possible I got kids to help me with the mashing, I probably should have got the adults to help me too because my hands were sore by the end of the day since I had made butter the day before and the motions were very similar. The reason why I saw I only started it is because to make sauerkraut the cabbage must ferment in its own juices. So I won't actually know if I've made sauerkraut for another couple of weeks. Just in time for the Museum season to be over. Sigh.
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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reischach Research

The Guest House in the center of the tiny hamlet of Reischach. The home of our fictional manor house.

I'm back in a blogging mood and I have a ton of things to write up, but before I did that I wanted to share some final history-related thoughts on our European vacation. A big part of the fun for me was the history research we got to do, specifically regarding out 16th C. Bavarian stuff. Since I do not read German my research in this area has always been limited, though I've done what i can. The fun part about being on vacation in Bavaria, was that the whole thing was research, in a variety of different ways!

The Southern Bavarian countryside
The scenery:
We motorcycled through the Bavarian countryside around the town that we'd picked for our fictional manor. I was amazed at the fertile farm land that we passed through! I had no idea there'd be the number of cows (though actually mostly it was the smell and the animal feed that alerted us to their presence. It is true that I do not know if that area was as cultivated in the 16th Century, but I feel fairly safe if I get into a discussion with a visitor about our home back in Reischach I can talk longingly about the farms and fields and not be giving false info.

The Art:
We did not go to many art museums, but we went to one in Munich with a ton of artwork from the 16th Century. Some pieces I'd been using as research for years, but had only ever seen on the internet. It was awesome to see them in person, get really close and get a feel for how close to reality the artists might have been trying for. I think I found the next dress I have to make…

Hans Wertinger, um 1470-1533,
Maria Jacobaa Herzogin von Bayern
Nursery Rhymes:
On our last day I stopped into a bookstore and went to the children's section. I picked up a CD of traditional children's tunes and a lyric book to go with them! I know that a lot of american traditional kid's tunes only go back to the 19th C. but now that I have them I can do some research to ascertain which are the older ones. It has bugged me for a very long time that we do not sing in camp, but in our modern lives we are almost never without music. I know folks walk into our camp and exclaim that it is so authentic because we have folks cooking, sleeping, repairing gear and all sorts of mundane tasks, but the fact that no one is singing while they work really bugs me. Easy to learn, stick in your head, nursery rhymes will hopefully be a good place to start.

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Reenactment European Style

Stephen and I are not too long back from our fabulous vacation. We toured quite a bit of Europe and had a smashing time. Since we are history buffs we did a number of history related things including two historical buildings that have been recently restored.

The first one we went to was The Residenz in Munich, the traditional seat of the Bavarian rulers. Much of the original building was destroyed in allied bombing during World War 2, but has since been restored, and filled with fancy furniture. I have to say, the whole tour was a disappointment. I knew we were touring an old building where hundreds of people had lived out their lives, but once we got past the massive medieval hall the ace felt pretty lifeless. We spent the next hour and a half touring tiny rooms covered in elaborate cloth, where a few pieces of fancy furniture had been set out. Every room was labeled with a different purpose, but the chairs and fancy side tables looked all the same to me. I could not imagine anyone living in those rooms. I could not picture the book tossed carelessly on the setee, or the bored servant sneaking a biscuit while they dusted. The whole thing felt sterile.

I had the complete opposite reaction at Castle Malesov in the Czech Repulic. While planning our trip I checked the calendars of the European reenactors whose blogs I follow, and lo, one of the most well respected groups that I have come across was taking part in a reenactment not too far off our scheduled path, in a medieval keep that was being restored. I emailed the owner of the keep and the blog admin and both assured me it would be a great time to visit. Stephen and I did not have room on the motorcycle to pack our own reenacting gear, but thought it would be fun to attend as members of the public. The GPS almost got us lost, but we did eventually find the town of Malesov. I thought I saw the big square keep to our left, and when we turned left encountered a marvelously dressed medieval lady hurrying down the street. We had arrived.

Stephen and I both take pride in our ability to sniff out anachronisms, and work hard in our own reenacting not only to be as historically accurate as possible, but to make sure it feels right. Starting at the ticket takers at the front gate the reenactment at Malesov felt right. Our hands were stamped with a carved wooden stamp, not a mass produced rubber thing. There were guards at attention at the gate. The few vendors were all selling out of hand hewn market stalls, and all the tables and goods storage containers were 13th Century in style, not a single cloth covered rubber tub in sight. The stairs did not have railings, the kids played along the wall where the drop was quite precipitous. I did see one cell phone pulled guiltily out of a pouch, one reenactor with a camera, and one pair of sneakers slipping out from a discarded rucksack, but all in all it was easy to imagine how the keep would have been 700 years ago.

The comparison is not exactly fair, Malesov was full of fascinating people, the Residenz was not representing a period in history that I am particularly interested in. But even just looking at the furniture in some of Malesov's unoccupied rooms felt more real, I could imagine butts on the seats, and a tired body leaning against the table, someone tripping on their way into the room spilling whatever they were carrying and cursing the mess. I'm not sure the reconstructed Rezidenz has ever imagined the touch of any individual, let alone a clumsy one.
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