Sunday, February 28, 2010

Time to get rolling.

It’s that time of year. Time to get ready for the next reenacting season. Time to decide if I’m going to mend the shift with the shredded sleeves (when you buy $6/yard linen, you get what you pay for), or make a new one. Time to try on Sweet Daughter’s event clothes and heave a sigh of relief that the gowns will fit another year, but just sigh when I realize that she needs new shifts worse than I do. Pat myself on the back for picking up new “good enough” event shoes for her in a bigger size last month when I wasn’t under a time crunch. Time to start churning out the stuff I haven’t been working on for the past 6 months because I was tired of looking at all of it.

It’s also time to start working on the details to improve our impression for the year – like edible hornbooks! The mold is an 18th century reproduction from Trier, Germany. The receipt is from Hannah Glasse’s 1774 The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy.

To make ginger-bread cakes.

TAKE three pounds of flour, one pound of sugar, one pound of butter rubbed in very fine, two ounces of ginger beat fine, a large nutmeg grated; then take a pound of treacle, a quarter of a pint of cream, make them warm together, and make up the bread stiff; roll it out, and make it up into thin cakes, cut them out with a tea-cup, or small glass, or roll them round like nuts, and bake them on tin plates in a slack oven.

First up, was to cut the recipe in half so it would fit in my mixing bowl. I decided to cut the amount of ginger in half so it wouldn’t be so hot, and substitute black-strap molasses for the treacle as it is more common on this side of the pond. That, and I couldn’t find treacle in the regional upscale grocery store, much less in the local Food Lion.

I threw two sticks of butter in mixing bowl, weighed the sugar, and creamed the two together. I added the spices and about half the flour. Then I weighed and added the molasses, some more flour, the cream, and the rest of the flour. The consistency was perfect. Not to stiff to roll out, but not so sticky that it clung to my cookie mold. I rolled the dough to a scant ¼” thick, pressed the mold into the dough, lifted it off, cut around the resulting design and put it on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. I baked them at about 325 degrees for about 20 minutes. I think I’ll cut the baking time back a little next time as these were a little dry. I don’t know why I was thinking they had to be baked to the consistency of hard-tack. Still, they were good – a very robust flavor, a little chewy, and not too sweet.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Who knew?

Way, way back, in a previous life, the last time unemployment AND interest rates were in the double-digits, I was making maps for a living. Considering my B.A. was a double major in American Studies with an Emphasis in Heritage Preservation and Geography, I was thrilled to have a job that justified my student loans and paid the rent. AutoCAD was a rarity in the private sector, and so topographic maps were edited by hand. The resulting image was digitized on a giant light table (again, by hand – Click. Click. Click.) that fed into a VAX system. Numbers were assigned to elevations manually using a temperamental stylus jabbing somewhat futilely at a crappy monochrome monitor while the other hand keyed in elevations. The resulting product was used to guide cruise missiles.

So boy was I surprised when I found out via an interview with Shaun White that I was culpable for the war in Iraq.

"It works well if you think about the Tomahawk missile, and that's what created the whole Iraqi War."
-- Kyra Phillips, CNN

Monday, February 22, 2010


Shorter Half (who was born after man walked on the moon) and I were watching curling the other night as I was sewing away. They broke for a commercial and I heard SH ranting about “selfish, greedy, narcissists”. I glanced up to see the commercial for Tom Brokaw’s special on the baby boomers.
“What?” I asked.
“Baby Boomers, he said.”
“WHAT did you call me?”
“You’re not a boomer!

“I was alive when Kennedy was shot. I’m a boomer.”

You’d think the reading glasses would have clued him in.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Bone

Or, “What Happens when a Rocket Scientist/EMT starts thinking about 18th Century Gunshot Wounds”.

You may have noticed a reference or two to 18th century living history on this blog. I’m a member of group that portrays a British Detached Hospital in North America. Most of the members are medical types and/or engineers. The Narrator of this tale, a member of our group and a Gentleman Engineer, who is also an EMT in Real Life, begins:

So the other day I was sitting around with my .50 caliber muzzleloader – great way to start a story, huh?

I had been hunting with it, but hadn't shot it in about a week. It was going to be awhile before I went again, and as you know, even with the modern synthetic powders, it's not a good idea to leave it in the guns for too long. So I needed to unload the gun. While there are other methods, the most expeditious procedure for unloading the gun is 1) point gun, 2) pull trigger. But it seemed like such a shame to just “waste” it. I needed something to shoot at. The butternut squash that got pushed to the back of the fridge and now needed to be thrown out was a tempting target, but oh look, the dog's old bone. A long time ago, someone had given her one of those really large cow bones that you see in the grocery store. She never had any interest in it, and I kept forgetting to throw it out.

My little mind started working – you know, I have to shoot a .50 cal bullet. If I shot it at the bone, I could be cool and have a bone with a bullet hole for medical demonstrations like Dr. Mike. So I got out my gun rest to make sure the hole would be nice and centered and, having heard them say they shot their bone at 6-8 feet, set up at a range of about 15 feet. Okay – when I say the bone exploded, I don't mean fell apart or pieces flying off. Think Wylie Coyote shoving a stick of dynamite into the marrow hole kind of explosion. Now while REALLY cool, and prompting a mystified eight-year-old to say, “Whoa …”, it did not produce the desired effect.

I have three thoughts as to what went wrong.

1. I think I remember the vet telling me that those kinds of bone have been hardened for the dogs. I can see how this could cause the bone to resist being punched through, but instead have all of the fibers act as a whole.

2. There was no meat on the bone. I supposed this could affect the velocity some and may even help hold the bone together.

3. (and I think the real problem) While my projectile had an appropriate diameter, it was not a ball. It was a 335 grain, conical hollow-point. I now have a new appreciation for what happens to the deer when it is struck by such a thing.

Okay – new plan.I have a friend who runs a family operated grocery store. They do all their own butcher work. We were in there Sunday, and I mentioned the kind of bone, with some meat, that I needed. She said she would find me something. I picked it up yesterday. Not wanting to reproduce my previous effort (at least not at this time!!) I thought I would call an expert.

So they called us. Shorter Half for his weapons expertise, and me for my reproduction flintlock pistol and digital camera. The cow leg was propped up. About 3 feet away (good 18th century pistol range) the pistol was primed and loaded with a single ball. The trigger was pulled, and “Click! fffft”. Misfire. The pan was re-primed, and “Click! Bang!” Direct hit. 

Powder burns and entry wound. Renmber, the muzzle was about 3 feet away.

Fragments from the lead ball.

Entry hole with the meat cleared away.

Exit wound
Follow up from our Gentleman Engineer:

I just came back from The Bone's inaugural demonstration at (Local Elementary School). Actually it was the same presentation for 8 separate groups. Now I have to tell you, it turns out, the bone shape you see in the picture is being accomplished by the cohesion of the surrounding tissue. When said tissue was removed, I now had a life-size 3-D bone puzzle. At first I was a little disappointed, but then I thought, “Why not show the true destructive power. This is supposed to be a demonstration.” So with the help of some industrial strength ceramic glue (which comes with the warning “only use outdoors or in extremely well ventilated areas” – no seriously, I feel fine) I had reconstructed Frankenstein's bone. The 4th graders' most common comment was “WHOA!!!

Frankenbone: Entrance

Frankenbone: Exit

Can you say "amputation"?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Happy Birthday, Michael!

Go wish Michael W. (a.k.a. as Mike, Dr. Mike, and probably some nicknames I don't want to know about) a happy birthday. He deserves one! Or leave a comment here for him. He usually drops by to check things out.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Knit Cap

While checking out some wonderful information on 18th century knit caps, I came across these two pictures.

I wanted to reproduce that striped cap, and the cook in our reenacting group graciously volunteered to be the recipient of the finished cap, even though I’ve never seen anyone in the hobby wear a striped cap. Besides what we dubbed the “rasta” cap, I found a striped cap in Hogarth’s Industry and Idleness series. The same guy with the eye patch shows up in several plates.

I started by knitting a swatch on my needles of choice. Then using Mara Riley’s pattern, I scaled my pattern up since I was using a finer yarn, and cast on the navy wool. I knit about 30 rows and realized that my scale was way off. I also noticed that in both paintings, the knit cap was worn over a linen workman’s cap. So … I ripped out all 3 inches, knit a bigger swatch, recalculated how many stitches to cast on (remembering THIS time that it had to go over another cap) and started again.

 I used the "Porter" painting to try to gauge the scale. I looked at how much of the ear the navy yarn covered, and went from there. The stripes looked like they were a finger and a half wide. I kept knitting until I had what looked like was going to be that distinctive “bell” shape and started decreasing. I didn’t like the way the top looked, so I ripped that out, pulled out my copies of Mark Tully’s “The Packet” series until I found the directions for his knit cap and tried again.
I was happy with it, so I wet it, blocked it, and put it over a "bouncy ball" to dry.

I’ll get pictures of it on our cook, complete with black felt hat, at our next event.

UPDATED to add: Another knit cap here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Oh, rats!

Our friend, Mike, delights in spoiling Sweet Daughter. He also does his best to, um, cultivate her sense of humor and develop her appreciation of the absurd. (Like I’m not doing a fine job on my own, thank-you-very-much. *grin*) When SD was two, he sent her a stuffed toy for Easter. It was a ‘possum. Yes, he sent her an Easter Possum. She was nonplussed at the time, but we managed to have fun with it. We'd startle Shorter Half on a regular basis by leaving it hanging from unexpected places. The shower curtain rod, for example.

Sweet Daughter has an affection for cats. She likes to pretend to be a kitty, complete with her own cat language, which I don’t understand. “Honey, I don’t understand ‘cat’. Please use real words!” This is handy for her, because I suspect she has cussed me out in cat language once or twice. Anyhow …

Mike decided that a proper kitten like Sweet Daughter needed her own rat for Valentine’s Day. He sent about 9 gummi rats in shades of red and orange. On the morning of V-day, I said, “Hey Sweetie! Mike sent you a Valentine’s present!”

She responded by stopping, taking a deep breath as if to resign herself to the inevitable, and said “What is it?”

I said brightly, “Here honey! It’s a gummi rat! He says a kitty needs her own rat! You like gummi bears, right? This is just a big gummi candy.”

She held the package, not sure she liked the way it quivered. The rat was removed from the package and she refused to touch it as it trembled gently.

“Ew, mommy! It feels likes REAL rat! Take it take it take it take it!"

(Note: We have friends with a marvelous pet rat named Cornwallis. She knows what a real rat feels like, and that it does not feel like gummi candy.)

The rat is placed on a plate. She contemplates her options. She swallows her disappointment.


“Momma, may I have some chocolate now?”

And I wonder why she has bad dreams.

For the record, she got her chocolate, and her bad dreams have never featured marsupials, rats or candy. Only the big, bad wolf. And I'm pretty sure she won't hold this against Mike.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Just to put all the whining, sniveling, teeth gnashing, and hair-pulling into perspective, the mid-Atlantic has had a hell of a winter, at least by local standards. We don’t a snowmobile tucked away in the back of the garage for inclement weather. Heck, a lot of people didn’t even have snow shovels 10 days ago. The belief is that if Mother Nature put it there, she can darn well clean up after herself and take it away. For those who have never lived north of the Sweet Tea Line*, there really is no frame of reference.

December 19-20, 2009: Snowpocalypse
February 5-6, 2010: Snowmageddon
February 10-11, 2010: Snoverkill

Check out the amounts so far this winter:

Washington D.C. National Airport - 55.9”
Old record: 54.4", Winter of 1898-1899
Average: 16.6”

Washington D.C. Dulles Airport, VA - 75.0"
Old record: 61.9", Winter of 1995-1996
Average: 22.3”

Baltimore, MD - 79.9"
Old record: 62.5", Winter of 1995-1996
Average: 20.8”

Wilmington, DE - 66.7"
Old record: 55.9", Winter of 1995-1996
Average: 20.5”

Philadelphia, PA - 71.6"
Old record: 65.5", Winter of 1995-1996
Average: 20.5”

Atlantic City, NJ, 49.9"
Old record: 46.9", Winter of 1966-1967
Average: 15.7”

Compare to these annual averages:

Barrow, AK - 29.7”
Colorado Springs, CO - 42.4”
Bridgeport, CT - 26.2”
Chicago, IL - 38.5”
Boston, MA - 42.2”
Detroit, MI - 41.1”
Minneapolis-St. Paul - 49.9”
Central Park, NY - 28.4”
Fargo, ND - 40.8”
Pittsburgh, PA – 43”
Green Bay, WI - 47.7”

And yeah. It’s supposed to snow again on Monday.

* The Mason-Dixon Line is not the dividing line between the North and the South, it’s the Sweet Tea Line. McDonald’s not withstanding, you know you’re in the South when restaurants have sweet tea ready made.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Always chamber check

We were watching TV the other night and saw this State Farm commercial.

The commercial wasn't even over before Shorter Half emphatically stated, "And THAT'S why you always chamber check your pistol!"


I got up this morning and went to check on the results of the overnight storm. It looked like I’d been stood up. Maybe a half inch of fluff on top of a quarter inch of icy slush. This wasn’t a bad thing, as I’d left my snow boots in the car. I shoveled off the steps, retrieved my boots, and contemplated the fact that I’d forgotten to pick up bird seed yesterday. I had a Red-bellied Woodpecker, a Blue Jay, two Cardinals and a Cedar Waxwing looking pointedly back-and-forth from the empty bird feeding to me. I’ve got thistle seed coming out of my ears (no finches this year, for some reason), but I only had a little songbird mix left. I pried off the frozen roof of the feeder and dumped the last of the birdseed in. And I felt bad because I was sure they were counting on me.

This is all rather ironic considering I have little bit of a phobia of things that flutter.* Flapping wings whether they’re birds, bats, or butterflies instantly puts me in fight-or-flight mode. It’s a challenge not teaching this response to Sweet Daughter, but I try. So I feed the birds because it seems like the right thing to do, and I do like watching them from the other side of the glass, and for some bizarre reason, we don’t have a squirrel problem. It could be that the starling and crow problem we have (greedy buggers) keeps the squirrels away, but whatever.

Then I went inside to fix breakfast. Sweet Daughter requested waffles, and since the guilt quotient wasn’t high enough for the morning, I made these. From the 1961 Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cookbook, I bring you:

Richer Waffles

3 eggs
1 ½ cups buttermilk or soured milk
1 teaspoon soda
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup soft shortening (fresh bacon fat is good)

Heat waffle iron while mixing batter. Beat eggs well. Beat in remaining ingredients with a rotary beater until smooth. Cook according to whatever works best for your iron, but I find I don't have to grease the iron first with this batter. (Ya THINK?)

Perfect fuel for shoveling out the driveway. Especially when the weather wienies are calling for another couple of inches of white stuff and 30 – 40 mph winds. Sorry, birds. Maybe I'll toss the leftovers your way.

*While looking here for whatever “flutterphobia” is called, I found this.

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia - Fear of long words.

That's just mean.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Son of the Snowpocalypse: The Return of Snowmageddon

So, our first snowfall of the season occurred at the end of Autumn. We got about 18” or so and the weather gods were kind enough to dump it on the weekend. It was novel. It was fun. We still had enough snow at Christmas to build a snowman. It was perfect.

Sweet Daugher and "Mr. Shivers". Yes, that's a belly-button.

Then, the last weekend in January, another little storm swept through. Probably about 7” when all was said and done, it was light and fluffy, and shoveled easily. The roads were passable by the next day, and our road had so much salt on it, it looked like the rim of a margarita glass. The novelty had not yet worn off

Then, a mere seven days later, it hit again. Snow. Then a layer of sleet. Then another layer of snow. We got a good solid 18” – 20” layer of winter, depending on where you measured. That, to put it mildly, was a bitch to shovel. Roads took longer to plow (due, no doubt to all the downed trees), and there was a dearth of salt and sand.

Now, a mere three days later, it’s sleeting. It’s supposed to switch to snow, and snow all day tomorrow. It’s not a weekend and I’m not amused. I got enough snow when I lived in Minnesota (13 years, and 2 weeks) to last me the rest of my life.

The bright spots? Sweet Daughter LOVES playing in the snow, and we have an awesome neighbor with a tractor and a blade who scrapes the end of our driveway for us. And I can think of worse things than spending a day at home with SD. I’m actually looking forward to it.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

So THAT's what you call it.

In an effort to not be a total sloth, I try to have some sort of project going on while watching TV. The Great Coat project took place in front of the boob tube and kept me warmer than a Snugli while I was at it. I’m currently trying to knock some knitting projects out of the queue.

Now keep in mind I don’t consider myself a “knitter”, but rather a reenactor who knits. My personal stereotype of a knitter involves projects made out of colorful esoteric fibers, “Celtic Women” playing on the MP3, and cats raptly watching the needles as they dance together, tip-to-tip. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not my thing.  95% of anything I’ve ever knit has been an 18th century design, in colors found in nature, from 100% wool. The cool thing about knitting these small projects (mittens, caps and the like) is that I found I can sit here with the laptop, cruising my favorite blogs, all the while knitting in the round. Shorter Half calls it “interknitting”.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I’m enjoying this way too much.

I’m enjoying this on so many different levels. First, as someone that sews way too much 18th century clothing, the costumes didn’t make me want to poke myself in the eye with a hot soldering iron. This is a good thing. As a reenactor, I love the whole concept of this piece. As a descendent of one of the Signers, I’m glad to see their message presented memorably. As someone who had a stint as a “nightclub” DJ in the 1980s and remembers when MTV played music and not reality TV, I love how this evolves. As someone who loves the movie “Last of the Mohicans”, I loved the scene with violin on the promontory. And as someone who has read bit about Franklin, I could SO see him shredding the guitar were he alive today. As Shorter Half put it, “He did not live life by halves. If he was going to have the circus, he would have all the clowns there.”

Without further ado, I bring you:


Halfway across the globe
And we're standing on new ground
Screaming 'cross the waves
You can't hear a sound
There's no fair trials, no trade, no liberties
No tea
We've colonized America; we won't stand for tyranny,
Oh king

And it's too late to apologize
It's too late
I said it's too late to apologize
It's too late

We've paid your foolish tax, read the acts
And they just won't do
We want to make it clear, we believe this much is true
All men were created with certain
Unalienable rights
Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit
Of happiness

And it's too late to apologize
It's too late
I said It's too late to apologize
It's too late

It's too late to apologize
It's too late
I said it's too late apologize
It's too late

I said it's too late to apologize, yeah
It's too late
I said it's too late to apologize, yeah

Halfway across the globe
And we're standing on new ground

John Hancock has the pen. The really long pen. That’s he’s stroking in an odd manner. Thomas Jefferson is singing, John Adams has the hair that makes him look like a Cocker Spaniel, Sam Adams is sloshing the ale around, Ben Franklin is the one that looks like, well, Ben Franklin. And if the gaze George the III doesn’t make you want to put a couple of rounds through your monitor, then I don’t you hanging around me or my daughter.

Original website here.

Interesting comments here.

And if you haven’t see the One Republic video that sparked this, go here. It explains the self-combusting portrait of GIII.
H/T to CTone!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

"Where a goat can go …"

William Phillips, born a commoner, was admitted as a gentleman cadet into the Royal Artillery Academy at Woolwich, England, at the age of sixteen. Unlike the British army and navy at that time, one could not purchase a commission in the Royal Artillery. He was one of very few British officers to be advanced by his ability alone.

Phillips rose to the rank of Major General, and he is said to have conducted one of the British army's most successful campaigns during the American Revolution. When he was in Petersburg, VA, in April of 1781, one of his standing orders to his army was that the “private property and the persons of individuals not taken in arms, are to be under the protection of the troops.” Thomas Jefferson described him as “the proudest man of the proudest nation on earth.”

For anyone who has ever hauled a gun around in Rev War reenacting*, he is perhaps best known for the quote he made as his men hauled their guns to the top of Mt. Defiance in 1777: “Where a goat can go, a man can go; and where a man can go, he can drag a gun.”

During the Second Boer War in South Africa in 1899, the Royal Navy landed guns from HMS Terrible and Powerful to help in the relief of the siege of the British garrison in the township of Ladysmith. The guns were transported inland, and for the the final part of the journey, sailors from the Naval Brigade manhandled the guns over very difficult terrain.

All that, to bring you this.

108 years have passed, and Ladysmith belongs to the Zulu Kingdom of KwaZulu-Natal. But the feat of the gunners from Powerful and Terrible has never been forgotten.

H/T to Dr. Mike for the link.

* Back in a previous lifetime, when I was in my early 30’s and just starting in the Rev War reenacting hobby, I had the opportunity to serve on a gun crew for a little 3-pound field piece. That is where I developed my affection for things that go “boom”, and *that* is a post for another time.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Reworking a Great Coat, Part 2.

So, if you care, here's Part 1. I'm reworking an "off-the-rack" 18th century great coat to look more appropriate. So far I've changed the buttons, opened up the pockets and cuffs, trimmed off the seam allowance and top-stitched so there were visable raw edges. The next step was to add a "cape" to update the coat to a more 1780’s silhouette. My copy of Beth Gilgun’s book, Tidings from the 18th Century* had a GC pattern in it, so I scaled up the collar pattern to fit this coat and pinned on one cut from a scrap piece of fabric.

It didn’t have enough flare, so I cut slits, measured the gaps, and transferred this to my next practice piece.

The next one looked pretty good. I transferred the alterations to the pattern piece,

and I cut out two new cape pieces, top-stitched around the edges, sandwiched the collar in between, and sewed them to the neck edge.

I added two buttons (the coat came with two spare buttons, yay!), and worked two buttonholes. Now I just have to redo the other 38 buttonholes by hand. But not today.

More good information on great coats/watch coats can be found here.

*This book has many valuable ideas, but parts of it are woefully outdated. Please don't use this resource without additional research.