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Motherhoode: Hearth and Home

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After my last post about my experiences as a work from home mother, I thought it was finally time to discuss something very near to my heart: being a stay at home mother.  To begin, I want to say that I’m not at all interested in entering the “Mommy Wars” of SAHM vs working mothers. In my opinion, every mother should do what’s best for her, her family, and what brings her the most sense of fulfillment. For me, that just happens to be staying at home. 

Secondly, I want to state that writing this article has proven surprisingly challenging for me. This is, in part, because I’m writing about my personal experiences and so my observations feel redundant or irrelevant when I read them with an overly critical eye. Another reason it has been tricky to write about this topic is that, because it is personal, I can’t help but feel that the points in this post may prove controversial or oppositional to readers with different goals and lifestyles. Nonetheless, I’ve read so many opines and judgements on stay-at-home-moms posted online that I felt compelled to say my bit in a more formal format than ranting to my sister via text. 

When I was a young woman, all my friends’ moms where stay-at-home, homeschooling moms whose work outside the home (if they had the time for it) coincided with their children’s extracurricular activities. For example, one set of musician parents both taught orchestra for a homeschool co-op and another mother was the administrator of the ballet school I attended. While the concept of a working mother was far from alien to me (my own mother worked full time for at least two years when I was growing up), it’s safe to say that, within my social circle, the mothers were all considered stay-at-home moms… And, trust me, there was never a bon-bon in sight. 

One thing that has really bothered me, as a stay-at-home mother is a pervasive attitude or belief that being one is either a luxury. I will not deny that I considered myself blessed to be with my children every day, but it is far from being a luxury. I do not spend my days on the sofa (unless I’m ill and even then, I still have small children to keep fed, changed, and out of trouble), and I also do not consider myself to be privileged. I still grit my teeth when I remember how a family member said to my husband that he “let me be a stay-at-home-mom,” as though it was some great magnanimous gesture on his part. 

To be absolutely clear, regardless of whether I work outside the home or not, I am not my husband’s property. He does not “permit” or “forbid” me anything, we’re partners and we made the decision together based upon what we both felt was best for our family and our personal situation. 

The reality for my family (and for many families with stay-at-home mothers) is that working outside the home has little to no financial benefit for my family. Despite having a Bachelor of Arts, the salary I would be able to earn working full time would go, almost entirely, to childcare. That doesn’t include the cost of fuel for the commute, and I should probably note that the last time I was offered an office job, my family only had one vehicle. Obviously, we wouldn’t have been able to afford a second vehicle because my earnings (and probably some of my husband’s) would have had to go towards daycare bills. Because the benefit of a second salary is completely eliminated, in our situation, it has always made more sense, financially, for me to stay home with my halflings rather than intrust them to someone else. 

Of course, working from home was ideal in our situation at the time because, even though I was working part time, all my net earnings went into the household finances. However, although I loved the people with whom I worked, after I was let go three years later, it felt like a signal that I had enough on my plate.

For my part, the decision to stay home with our children was made easier by the fact that I had a job, not a career. As much as my type-A personality loves to prove my efficiency, professionalism, and work-ethic, my work did not feed my soul and was not even in the field in which I had majored. Now, if I had been an English Professor or editor, I might have done things a little differently, but I wasn’t and so I was happy to stay home. 

I’ve written previously about the physical work that goes into taking care of a household, much less children. Working mothers have posited that they have to do all the same work I do with eight less hours a day. Because I have a chronic illness, I can’t afford those eight hours. After working a full shift in an office, I would return home too drained to do anything beyond general clean up. All my deep cleaning, laundry, etc, had to wait until the weekend. On most evenings, I would order take out on my way home from work and lay on the couch for two hours before I could get up to do the dishes. So, in addition to the cost of childcare eliminating the financial benefits of me working outside the home, the physical cost on my health is a price we, as a family, are unwilling to pay. (Especially my sweetly protective husband.) This physical cost also translates into a financial cost, not only in doctor bills for flare ups, but also because, now that I have small children who need my time and attention (while producing alarming amounts of dirty laundry), I not only have to stay on my toes as a housekeeper so that their environment is healthy for them, but I also need to have time to cuddle with them and teach them. I need the energy I would expend at work for my children and, as a result, we would have to accrue more miscellaneous expenses in paying for take out dinners and cleaning services to fulfill the needs I wouldn’t have energy (and sometimes even health) to complete. 

As I said, this arrangement is what works best for me and for my family. I recognize and respect that it’s not for everyone and, in every situation, there are advantages and disadvantages to take into account. The benefits of staying home, at least to me, are fairly obvious: I get to witness all the moments and milestones of my halflings’ growth, I don’t have to interact with other people every day (I’m an introvert), I can conserve some of my energy and limit autoimmune flare ups, and our children love having their mama with them all day. The drawbacks are that it is a 24/7 job that is meant to include part time help from a partner, you’d think the hours would be flexible, but children wake up like clockwork and need a set routine, and, because you don’t work outside the home, it is difficult to make others understand why you would need a break because, after all, you have it “easy.” Yet another drawback is having friends and family members periodically send you links to job openings as not-so-subtle hints.

One benefit that I hope to eventually enjoy is that, being a stay at home mother, frees me  to pursue some of my own interests and passions. (With very limited time and energy, but at least I have some to apportion towards them.) While being a mother is my favorite thing, it’s not all I am and I still have goals to make my older ambitions, writing for instance, a profitable endeavor. So, in more than one way, staying home with my children allows me to follow my dreams, rather than holding me back. 

In closing, I would like to also say that the mothers in my social circle all had degrees of their own which came to bear in teaching and raising their children, all of whom, in turn, were encouraged to explore and pursue their passions and cultivate them into rewarding careers.  (Did I mention that most of those children were girls?) There was only a single family in my sphere that raised their girls with the idea that their place was in a home raising children and they didn’t need to go to college for that. The rest of my peers became doctors, therapists, artists, teachers, and mothers , in no small part because of the intelligent and vibrant mothers who raised them.

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My Ladye Labours: Tips from a Work-From-Home Mother

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For many families, Covid-19 has created an enormous change in their daily routine. Since my lord husband works from home and I’m a home-maker, the only things that have really changed for us is that I haven’t been past my driveway since my last OB appointment which was over two weeks ago.  (I’m an introvert, so this is mostly fine with me, but I really hate not being allowed to run to the hobby store for crafting supplies.) 

Now, for the first three years of my eldest’s life (he turns five in June), I actually worked from home part time. It was an enormous blessing for us during the transition period between the start of our family to my husband’s salary increasing and, while I would sometimes feel like my candle was burning at both ends and in the middle, I loved the people I worked with and being able to add to the pot financially. 

Working from home seems like a luxury to those who haven’t done it (and it certainly is a boon), but it also poses new challenges and requires a slightly different tactical approach than working in an office. Obviously, the perks are getting to work in your PJs, skipping the commute, and having your pet in your lap, not to mention being with your children. However, children are noisy, schedules become hazy without the rhythm of office mates filing in and out of their cubes at the appointed times of day, and training yourself to focus in a new environment can be challenging for some. To be sure, all the same work pressures and obligations exist for those who work from home that burden office-workers, often with added pressure because, as a telecommuter you feel (and sometimes do) have to prove your value to your supervisors even more than your office-working colleagues. 

I was homeschooled, so the discipline of working at home was never difficult for me. In fact, I thrive with it. As I said earlier, I loved the people I worked with (and still do, for that matter), but, as an introvert with a chronic illness, simply being around people all day was emotionally and physically draining. During my stint as an office-worker, my Behcet’s flared up a lot until I got pregnant and then my pregnancy presented its own complications. —As it happened, being able to stay in my own cozy environment, where I could work from my couch and I had my sacred privacy was ideal and I was able to continue working for as long as my department had use for me. 

For others, however, the herd mentality of working alongside each other, or having the social interaction with coworkers is very important. This can make working without those things take some getting used to, especially when you throw children into the mix. 

Below are the tricks I’ve learned from my experience working with a little one underfoot and being a housewife to a work-from-home father.

  1. Adjust Your Expectations.

Working from home is not exactly like working in an office and you are absolutely setting yourself up for failure if that is your expectation. You will have to learn to rely more on written and phone communication and you won’t have the constant stimulus of visiting neighbors to distract you break up the monotony of the workday.There will also be new distractions you’re not used to, such as your dog constantly wanting you to throw his ball, your children interrupting you, your spouse asking you to take out the trash, etc. 

It’s very easy to let these differences frustrate and overwhelm you once you start working from home. They can either derail your focus because you’re caught up with trying to replicate an office environment or they will, frankly, make you into a real jerk that your family can’t wait to see the back of when social distancing is over. 

If you’re like my husband, then you may be stuck in the idea of “I don’t have distractions at the office, I need quiet.” —To this, I’m going to be your friend and call you on that fallacy. Offices are seldom quiet and they are not distraction-free. Your co-workers also interrupt you and make noise in your workspace, and even ask you to help with a light maintenance tasks in the office. Because you’re bound by social rules and niceties in dealing with them that are not present with your children or spouse, this can make it seem like your office is “distraction free,” but that is an illusion. 

The first thing you need to learn to do when you set up your home office is to accept that the people with whom you cohabit are as deserving of your grace as Chatty Cathy and Football Bill at the office. Their distractions are no more intrusive than your co-workers and, just as you must graciously share an office space with your coworkers, you must respect that your family has a right to exist in your home space as well.

2. Protect Your Time. 

One definite advantage for employers when their employees work from home is that, without the distractions of co-workers, the limitations of being in the office vs out of the office, is that many work-from-home employees can find their jobs become 5am-9pm (or worse), as opposed to regular work hours. One of my friends at my last job once greeted her husband when he came home from work with a quick vent about how much work she had been doing that day and he replied, “Have you showered today?” —She had started working at 5am that day and hadn’t even taken ten minutes for self-care. 

When you have children, you’ll certainly find that your schedule shifts a bit from a regular 9am-5pm grind. (For example, when Himself was a baby, I worked between 10pm and 4am because that’s when I didn’t have a baby screaming at me for being on a laptop instead of giving him my full attention.) However, having a healthy work balance is essential for your well-being. Your boss may not be particularly concerned with your overall health, obviously, but they’ll have a lot more inconvenience to deal with once you’re on sick leave for a nervous break down due to exhaustion.  

Protecting your time will also help to keep your family life healthy while you’re working from home. When children are competing for and begging for your time, it’s because they don’t feel they’re getting it. If they see you’re making time for them and protecting your time with them, it will make it a lot easier for them to share you with work. 

Just remember this mnemonic: 

SET

Shower —Keep your self care routines and the rest of your routines will fall into place.

Eat. —Keep meal times sacred so that you’re recharging your batteries and spending time with your family  —or just away from your computer!

Time-Out —Have a set quit-time, preferably one that gives you some time with your children before bed. If you have a couple more things to do, try waiting until the children are in bed and log in for a couple of hours in the evening.

Medieval Self Care combined Girl Time.

3. Adapt Your Work Method

Children want nothing more than their parent’s time and that is never more frustrating than when one is trying to work. This includes every form of engagement from cooking a meal, cleaning the house, to actually sitting at a laptop. 

As I mentioned previously, my early days as a work-from-home mother had me waiting until Himself went down for the night and staying up for the next four hours or better trying to put a dent in my file docket. One of my colleagues was a famous early-riser, on top of being an hour ahead of me, so I would often send her a good-morning email and a picture of Himself to start her day off before I went off to bed. Himself would wake up at around 8am and I would take care of his diaper, turn on Veggie Tales in the living room, and half-sleep on the floor with my shirt undone so he could have easy access to nurse. 

When Himself was older, however, I was able to keep him engaged watching PBS Kids or Veggie Tales for a couple of hours, then I would work my remaining hours during his naptime. (He used to sleep for 2-3 hours, it was wonderful!) Sometimes, I’d sit at the kitchen table, and sometimes, especially on the occasions when I had to spend more time working, I’d actually take my laptop to the couch and sit next to him while he watched tv or played on the floor in front of me. Just having me present really helped to keep him placated and made our days go more smoothly. 

If I found myself working from home today, I would actually try to do as much of it from my smartphone as possible. For some reason, Pumpkin could care less if I’m sitting on my phone, but getting out my laptop is another matter entirely. As I type this, he keeps touching my tab button, and this is a good day. Usually, he hollers at me as I sit at the table or tries to pull my screen off if I sit in the living room. I think simply doing my morning email-catch up from my phone as I sit with my children would be a huge temperament buffer. 

Furthermore, regardless of whether one has the distraction of present children or whether one is working in complete solitude, the absence of social stimulus can be mind numbing. Giving yourself background noise or stimulation like a podcast, playing an old show that you’ve already seen, can really help to stave off monotony and keep your juices flowing. To keep myself awake while I burned the midnight oil on only four hours of sleep, I’d play reruns of How I Met Your Mother or I Love Lucy.

What you may have gathered from this post is that a good chunk of the people I worked with worked from home and our team was fantastic at what we did. However, I did start with the company working in an office and a much of the work could be terribly redundant. Even in an office setting, we had to find ways to keep ourselves from losing our minds such as listening to podcasts, music, audio books, or comedy recordings. My own lord husband, whose job is a lot more cool than any of mine have been, has had to play EDM to keep his mind moving forward as he works. —It’s like working out: you need to find what propels you without harming your output.

This method actually really helped me both when I was homeschooling and, later, when I was doing mountains of homework in college. When my parents first started out homeschooling me, they put me at a bedroom desk or at a table and put my school work in front of me, and I would sit there until dinner time. I was so bored and so frustrated with having to sit in one place, that I couldn’t focus on the task at hand to complete it. —When their teaching style changed and I was allowed to do my work sitting on the couch or even watch tv during my “easier” subjects, I was actually able to be productive. I stopped falling behind in my course work and I was able to finish my schoolwork while there was still sunlight to play in.—That same method of having something to keep me relaxed while I studied was my saving grace in college when I was spending eight hours on campus and six or more hours in the evenings with homework.  Also, as my husband often teases me for bragging about, I did graduate magna cum laude. 

Find what works for you, so that you can be as successful working from home as you can be. 

4.) Communicate and Compromise

Since most of my colleagues were also work-from-home mothers, it really wasn’t a big deal to hear a fussy child (and not always mine!) on a conference call. Our boss would simply say something about what a blessing children are and we’d carry on with the agenda.

“Children are not a distraction from more important work, they are the most important work.” –C.S. Lewis

I was in a field dominated by women and was surrounded by very child-centered, working mothers. I got some of the best advice and support in balancing my home-life and taking care of my children from my bosses, of all people, and I will always cherish that experience. Not all fields are like that, sadly, which can make working from home challenging because few of us have sound proofed rooms and children are still children. As I have written previously in this missive, if one goes into a work-from-home setting with the expectation it will be exactly like working in an office, they are setting themselves up for frustration and failure.  

When my lord husband started working from home, there was (and sometimes still is) a bit of frustration around noise-levels, poorly timed interruptions, and the general difficulties of having young children cooped up in the dead of winter. (This was made even worse by the fact that I was suffering from hyperemisis gravidaarum all winter.) As I take stock of our current lifestyle in preparation for the coming change of adding a third child to our brood, I see that most of our biggest failings as a home-bound family could have easily been mitigated with a little preparation on the part of the adults.

Talking with your children about what they should expect and how they need to act, can help things go more smoothly. Children need preparation, as does the person minding them if applicable. It is so important to properly check in with your partner and your children so that they know what to expect and what is expected of them during the day. It only takes a couple of minutes, but I have found, too often, that little step gets overlooked in day-to-day dealings with children… Then as parents, we tend to get frustrated with our halflings for not behaving the way we expected them to despite the fact that we never told them what we expected of them in the first place. 

Barking that one has a meeting in thirty seconds as they rush through the hall is not adequate warning for the household to fall into reverent silence. Even worse is storming out of one’s office to berate a family member for not keeping their voices down during a conference call they had no idea was taking place. Unless you’re married to Charles Xavier and your mutant children all inherited his telepathic abilities, you need to take the time beforehand to prepare your spouse and children. This will help to prevent frustrations before they happen, make your children feel more secure and make your spouse feel respected.

I’m not saying that going over expectations with your children beforehand will be a magical cure for the mid-meeting meltdowns or even make trips to the grocery store suddenly be without incident. I have gone over rules and expectations before many an excursion only to have to march my little hellions back to the car. During my husband’s last conference call, there was still growling, running through the house sounding like a herd of elephants (how someone that small can make that much noise baffles me), and the pre-requisite making Pumpkin cry. —Still, it was a darn sight better than the day before and there were no complaints from my Working Warrior. 

Not only is it important to communicate with your children when you need them to keep their noise level down or entertain themselves, it also helps to manage expectations for the day. 

My halflings always raise a ruckus when my husband comes out of his office or happens to open the door. They then cry and pout when he returns to his work, despite the fact that he doesn’t leave the house save to complete errands. Why? Because we have failed to manage their expectations for the day to a reasonable routine and that’s something we have to fix.

What we should have done from the beginning, but were too disorganized to consider at the time, was to establish a set routine to work around, including family meals and set quit times, not only for the halflings, but also to give my wonderful ADHD-managing husband some structure to help with his work-day, and we should have begun the habit of actively communicating with Himself about what to expect. Thankfully, it is never too late to learn a good habit or to unlearn bad ones. 

Whether one is working from home with children or without, remember to have follow the SET rule, manage your own expectations and your family’s, and find the work method that suits you best. Hopefully, the quarantines, shelter at home orders, and lockdowns will come to an end soon as we learn how to manage this virus, but, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I hope a silver-lining of this ordeal is that businesses will finally begin to move out of arbitrary hours devised at the turn of the last century and into the modern age where many office jobs can be fulfilled on laptop from a couch.

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My Ladye’s Chaunges: Shifting Goals as a Medievalist

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I have been a goal oriented person since I was a young adult. At age 12, I was plotting out my career as a ballet dancer and my transition into theatre. (While my tenures in both were brief, I did dance and tour with a company and, after I retired due to my chronic illness and burnout, I did act in a few plays at my local community theatre.) In college, my eye was on my GPA. The first time I made honor roll was like the first time I tasted dark chocolate: I instantly wanted more. My academic career was spent trying to graduate magna cum laude and, when I finally achieved it, I spent my graduation ceremony quietly wishing that I had achieved summa cum laude. 

My Early Days as a SCAdian: 

Having read my brief history of abiding over-achieving and high standards, it is not difficult to surmise that my early SCA career had little variation from the pattern. For the first nine months, I was simply like Alice in Wonderland, taking in everything, trying all the new things, and simply grateful to be a part of it all. By the time I reached my first year, however, my SCA experience changed drastically. 

At my anniversary event, it was made painfully clear to me that a small group did not like or welcome me. Rumors swirled and, as they always do, made their way to my ear. By the Lilies in which I fell in love with my husband, the SCA dream had died for me. If it hadn’t been for Günther and Papa (Master Eadweard), I would have given up and donated my gear. 

But Papa encouraged my to ride it out and pursue my passions and I already had an ember kindling in my breast to become a laurel one day. Before my first year in the SCA, I had already had two fighters ask me about being their consort in Crown and two of my duchess friends had started grooming me. As it happened, Günther and I started dating after he had made it to the semi-finals in Crown, and he was pretty keen to give it another go. 

(This is, unfortunately the only video I could find of my beloved fighting in Crown. )

(Edited to add: A few years after I nearly quit, at least one of the people who disliked me clearly changed their opinion of me and we get along very pleasantly now… There’s always hope and grace!)

So, I worked my rear-end off for my Swan. I researched, I created, I experimented, and I liberally documented it all on facebook. After that, I began working my rear off for my Lily. (All while simultaneously working myself to the bone to graduate magna cum laude, I might add! It’s no wonder my health suffered.) But, no Lily came my way and I found myself too broke to attend events after graduation, despite working full time and assurances from my friends that my finances would change. By the autumn after my graduation, I became pregnant and my attendance and sewing output suffered due to severe morning sickness and relentless fatigue. 

My husband and I still dreamed of winning Crown one day. Even after our separation and reconciliation, we planned it to the point where we had a list of peerages to grant (if they hadn’t been given before we won) and we knew who would make up our household. After we married, we had another child and he took a break from fighting. (Mostly because his kit had needed an upgrade since we began dating eight years ago and I didn’t want him injured when we had two small children.) During that break, he learned more about CTE and decided that heavy fighting was a risk he could no longer take with a young family. 

And thus, both my SCA goals disappeared. 

To be sure, it didn’t happen overnight and, when the doors closed before me, it was with less of a resounding thud and more with a sigh and an “oh well!” That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have to process the change or that I didn’t mourn the loss of my dreams, I certainly did. As most SCAdians do, I had invested a lot mentally into my goals and it required me to learn to re-envision my future. That doesn’t happen overnight and it required some mental adjustment.

The End of the Dream: 

As my goals became unattainable, it quickly became clear that the way I enjoyed and played in the SCA had to change. This transition was probably made easier by the fact that motherhood and introspection had helped me to not only to put things in perspective, but also to go with the flow, as it were.

The first thing I had to accept in order to keep my type A, goal-oriented personality from spoiling my SCA experience forever (because it certainly has been spoiled from time to time), was that SCA awards are ultimately arbitrary. That isn’t to say that the people who receive them are undeserving (which couldn’t be further from the truth), I simply mean that awards themselves are neither an accurate measurement of skill or worth and it is unwise and unhealthy to view them as such. My rule of thumb is that it is lovely to achieve the bauble, but the lack of the bauble does not diminish one’s skill, knowledge, or worth in any way. 

Note: I wrote more extensively about SCA awards a couple of years ago; however, in those days, I tended to curb my speech for fear of offending people who, frankly, won’t like me regardless of what I do or say. Furthermore, time and observation has brought to light elements about awards that I either hadn’t fully considered or was too cowardly to mention; therefore, I plan to revisit the topic at a later date, either on this blog or on my youtube channel.  

Now to shift drastically back to the point of this blog post… The next thing I had to do was to adjust my priorities and focus on what I not only love about the SCA, but I what I want to gain at each event. For me, my “fun” comes from four things: making things, teaching things, singing my heart out, and spending time with friends.  

Now, is it possible for me to achieve all that at every event I attend? Not with two halflings in tow, I’m afraid. (And the third is due in June!) There is no chance of making things when the two hands I have are not enough to keep a hold of my youngsters and teaching with a toddler is QUITE an experience that involves lots of baked-goods, bribery, and bawling. Still, that is the period my life is in at the moment. It’s not forever (sadly), and I simply have to acknowledge that and adjust. I may not get to teach a full class at every event or find time to work on my latest project, but I can impart tidbits of knowledge in one-on-one conversations and I can sometimes manage to shop for materials I need to make things when I’m home. I can also enjoy seeing my babies explore and play in their adorable garb while enjoying a bit of fellowship with my friends. As for singing, Pumpkin loves it when I sing with him and both he and Himself are usually in bed at home with Günther or Papa when it’s time for post revels. 

My New Life as Medievalist:

Now that I have transitioned from the goal-seeking, avid player to the often-homebound mother of younglings, I’ve found that it simply isn’t practical for me to travel more than a couple of hours outside of my metropolitan area. I know people travel with halflings all the time, but I simply do not have the help or support system in place to keep it from being so onerous that it zaps the fun out of attending. (I do still have a chronic illness, after all, and I’ll soon have two little ones that will need to be on my hip most of the time.)

Luckily for me, there are at least eight events, including Lilies War, within an easy distance of my house. If a local group is hosting a rotating event like Crown, Coronation, or an Arts and Sciences competition, it increases the number of events I can attend without extending my drive beyond an hour.

The next self-preserving step I have taken is to avoid people who are snobbish about their SCA status. Not only can they occasionally draw me back into a mindset of wanting to achieve the bauble, I’ve found that they have can also make me feel as though I am beneath them because I’m not as highly ranked. —That’s wrong on so many levels and my new focus in the SCA is on crafts rather than the sub-culture of award-seeking and hat polishing.*

Finally, one of my goals is to find a creative outlet for my medieval-ness outside of the SCA. Thankfully, I live in one of the more open Kingdoms, unlike some groups where people will not share knowledge outside of their households; nonetheless, even with our fairly broad dissemination of ideas, I’ve not sometimes found a discreet limit in intellectual exchange. This ranges from withholding information from handouts so that an artisan’s work can’t be exactly replicated by others to a reluctance to share research or (especially) give credit to another’s work or research. These little omissions stem primarily from our award-focused culture where people can feel pressured to attain and maintain a level of preeminence in a certain skill.

Additionally, the SCA can be really insular, and even somewhat stifling at times. (“You can’t wear that, you can’t do this” etc.) As I see it, if I decide to recreate an outfit from a painting of Saint Catherine in which she is wearing a crown, I should be able to do that without being censored because I haven’t attained an imaginary title in a role-playing club. If I’m not wearing it to an official SCA event, then I should be left alone on whatever platform I choose to share photos of my hard-work and accomplishments. 

Part of the reason I took the plunge and made a youtube channel is because I saw that there was a broader sense of camaraderie and support among the “costubers” than that to which I had become accustomed. The most striking example for me was a video in which Bernadette Banner shared that she and Marika (Enchanted Rose Costumes) were both making a set of Edwardian Combinations, inspired by the same extant piece, and they would regularly exchange notes and resources. The thought of a social exchange unencumbered by a silent competition for awards and recognition was an extremely enticing one. Moreover, I am exceedingly excited to have a platform where I can engage and share my personal tricks and factoids on my own terms and in my own time since, as I mentioned earlier, teaching at every event I’m able to attend isn’t a possibility for me. (Sadly.) 

(My seedling of a YouTube channel.)

Before I sign off, I should emphasize that by no means do I wish to paint a picture of SCAdians as a bunch of snobs. —I have gained so much knowledge and support from the friends and resources I’ve found in the SCA and I couldn’t be more grateful for all that I have found in this hobby. There are people who have made my world a better place, whom I would not know if not for the SCA. My family absolutely would not exist if it weren’t for the SCA!

I merely share this because, while wonderful and engaging, life in the society is not all cakes and ale and I know I am not the only person to have had these frustrations or been faced with significant life-changes or even disappointments in their SCA careers. It is possible to make a fine tart out of the spoiling apples life gives you, if one is willing to adapt and make accommodations. Otherwise, I fear too many people simply throw in the towel in frustration when, like me, their SCA career does not take the path they hoped for or if they simply feel they haven’t found their niche within the society. 

Sometimes, it is simply a matter of adjusting expectations and carving out one’s own niche. 

*Hat-polishing: In the SCA, we often refer to coronets and crowns as “shiny hats” or simply as “hats.” The act of “hat polishing” is an equivalent of “brown-nosing” or “kissing up,” as it implies that the person doing the polishing is simply seeking the favor of the coronet’s owner.  

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Why We Turn a Blind Eye to Abuse

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First of all, please forgive my absence, I was ill last week and fell woefully behind in everything. 

It had been my intention to write a post about life’s goals changing (or SCA goals changing at any rate) and dealing with that, but after watching some of the more notable homages to Kobe Bryant at the Oscars and observing the vitriol towards anyone who dares to bring up the fact that he raped a young woman in 2003 (they immediately receive death threats), I felt compelled to discuss this inherent social immunity which sexual predators are so often granted. 

I should note that Bryant’s accuser eventually dropped the charges, after his legal team hounded her by name in the press, where she was slut-shamed and branded as psychologically unstable for having a history with depression. —In other words, they used the old fashioned play of, “She’s a crazy slut,” that is typically used to dismiss and discredit victims  of assault, either formally in trial or socially by word of mouth. 

What I find baffling about the scenario around Kobe Bryant’s legacy in relation to the rape accusations is that, in a post #MeToo society, when Harvey Weinstein faces trial on rape charges in multiple states, when Michael Jackson’s victims are finally being taken seriously after decades, and when even Woody Allen’s intimidating PR team can’t protect him from Ronan Farrow and his exhaustive writing, is that it has suddenly become taboo to call a spade a spade. Even the left-wing Vox has handled discussion of Bryant’s past with kid gloves compared to the near-scathing articles it published in the wake of Barbara and George H.W. Bush’s deaths. Why is that? Why can we not go there?

Most have stated that it is disrespectful due to his recent death and it has also been argued that he was so inspirational to the Black community that it is harmful to a marginalized group. While both arguments can certainly buoy the feelings of fans and defenders, neither are accurate. The real reason people have such difficulty with confronting Bryant’s history with assault has much deeper roots that are imbedded in our core as people. It’s the reason predators have flourished and have been permitted to continue living in their communities with near, if not total, impunity. The reason? It’s too damn inconvenient for us to reconcile our affinity for a predator with their actions and, ultimately, we deem the predator to be more valuable to our social group than the victim. 

In 2014, when Dylan Farrow came forward as an adult with an open letter about her abuse at the hands of her former step-father, an SCA friend of mine made a very impassioned appeal to end the culture of harboring predators within our social circles. I reached out to her privately regarding my experience with sexual assault in the SCA and she asked me who my assailant was. When I told her, her response was, “Did he apologize? Because that makes it different.” 

On the same day in which she had called for all sexual predators to be made unwelcome within our social group, she waffled over whether my assailant had apologized for his behavior because he was her friend. He was popular member in the social group and it was too emotionally conflicting for her to reconcile her fondness for him with what she had learned about his character. I didn’t blame her for this when it happened because I was used to the double standard by that point. In fact, I can remember physically shrugging when I recounted the correspondence to Günther because I recognized the plain facts of the situation. My assailant was more valuable to the social group than I was, which was why I had given up on trying to bring his behavior to light a year prior to this exchange.  

That same indifference, same passivity, same willingness to “forgive and forget,” can be found in every aspect of our culture. It’s why it is so difficult to remove predators from social circles even when their behavior is well-known. People simply don’t want the inconvenience of having to break up with a friend or face the fall-out of a confrontation. As a result, they decide it is easier to dismiss the victim as a liar, as crazy, or simply say “That’s not all to the story.” 

But that is all to the story and as long as we continue to permit the behavior within our group, the SCA will never be a safe place. It doesn’t matter if the victim was drunk, it doesn’t matter if she was blithely making out with another guy off in the shadows, it doesn’t matter how many people she has slept with, it doesn’t matter if they were flirting beforehand. None of those things entitle a person to use another person’s body as they wish without consent.  

For those new to this story, my assailant did not change his behavior and continued to assault women at SCA events and adjacent functions such as SCAdian weddings until he was finally expelled from the most recent Pennsic and banished from two kingdoms. There was no change in his behavior because there were no consequences for it. Those who knew about it covered for him, slut-shamed his victims into silence, and employed the good old boy network to dissuade men from speaking about him. —I learned recently that my husband was asked, “Don’t you want to be a knight?” when he attempted to bring my assailant’s behavior to light. 

Personally, I absolutely do not ascribe to the idea that every sexual transgression deserves the same punishment. If I had had the confidence and presence of mind to report my assailant to my kingdom seneschal after the incident, I would have expected him to be required to give me a formal apology and be banished from the lists for a few months. Moreover, that action could have been taken at any point after it happened, but instead it was made clear to me that it was my reputation, not his, that would suffer. 

Just think though… Wouldn’t this story have had a much better ending if he had been given the chance to learn from the consequences of his actions and possibly change his ways? Wouldn’t it, at least, have been better if failing to change his behavior resulted in his expulsion from the group before he caused more harm? Unfortunately, we’ll never know the answer to that because it was simply too difficult to ask a grown man to account for his actions, but it was very easy to tell his victim that it was her fault and she should keep it quiet.   

This has to change. 

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Twice Learn’d, Thrice Burn’d [Out]: A Ladye’s Muddled Musings on Arts & Sciences Competitions

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In my last post, I made a lighthearted comment about wanting to see the entries at Queen’s Prize Tournament and feel guilty for not entering myself. Naturally, the best jests contain an element of truth; I have gone to the event solely as a judge and felt a twinge of “I should have entered,” but, at the end of the day, I firmly believe that Arts and Sciences Competitions are what you make them to be for yourself.

My favorite QPT Memory!

At this point in my SCA career, it’s important for me to enter high quality work about which I am enthused and ready to have judged at the advanced level. (And that is fabulous!) If my real life prevents me from achieving that, then I simply abstain until I’m in a more flexible position. When I was new, however, it was simply important to me to participate and experience something new in the SCA.  (And that is equally fabulous!)

My best QPT experience was my second. I had made a collection of fourteenth century headwear accessories from hand and was putting forward a theory on veil shape that was a little “out there,” at the time. (My sponsor still thinks I’ve been exposed to lead-based paint when I discuss it.) My research was thorough, my technical skill had greatly improved, and I even convinced one of my judges, who had also been concerned about the lead levels in my house, of my theory on veil shape. —It was a very heartening experience for me!

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Another entrant saw that I was displaying a surplus of heardwear and asked for help with her veil.

Two years prior to this, when I entered my first QPT, I entered a dress that was mostly machine sewn with which I had received help making, my research was topical at best, and my judges politely opted not to use a numerical scoring on my sheet and gave me feedback instead. They pointed out my strengths and complimented the design, then gave me tons of tips on how to improve my patterning and gain confidence as a seamstress. —Overall, it was a very heartening experience for me!  

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My very first QPT in my very first surcote! See how much fun I had!

When one arrives at QPT, they inevitably discover that, although billed as a novice tournament, the entries range in expertise from the simplest t-tunics to ornate beds made with tools the carpenter made himself. Therefore, the most important thing for an entrant to keep in mind is not how their work compares to the other entries, but their own goals and objects for entering the event. Both my novice and advanced entries were thrilling experiences for me and both enabled me to grow as an artisan. My rate of expertise, ultimately, had no bearing on the fruits I was able to reap from my endeavors. 

As you may have noticed in the second paragraph, I place clear parameters over the circumstances under which I will enter, despite my anecdote about having positive experiences both as a novice and as an advanced-intermediate competitor. That’s because, when I was a novice, I embraced the fact that I was a beginner embarking on a journey and it was an accomplishment simply to be there. Now that I’ve progressed, however, I’ve found that I gain nothing from entering just to check a box or because I feel that I’m supposed to enter competitions because that’s what a good little artisan does. 

The year after I convinced my judge that a trapezoid-shaped veil could explain the awkward drapes on statuaries that can’t be achieved with a rectangular veil, I entered a surcote I had made a nearly year prior to the event just for the sake of entering. Not only was I unable to attend the event personally because I was ill, my judge’s sheet was lackluster to say the least and my entry underwhelmed even me. I gained nothing from that experience: not accomplishment, not feedback, and I learned nothing new during the creation of the project.

My lonely entry.

Arts and Sciences Competitions are first and foremost NerdCons. Their whole purpose, whether you’re a sprout, a sapling, or a venerable tree, is growth. You’re there to geek out about your interests and gain feedback from a captive audience that is all but contractually obligated to give you advice and allow you to pick their brains. Also, it’s important to note that this exchange of knowledge can and does run from the contestant to the judges based on the entry. Everyone, judges, entrants, and the people just there milling about, learn new things, are exposed to new techniques, and gain new perspectives on the Arts and Sciences of the Middle Ages and, as I feel I say ad nauseam, these competitions are the only events that truly facilitate this kind of dialogue. 

If you keep your mentality straight, check your ego at the door (judges included), everyone can benefit from the experience of participating in an Arts and Sciences Competition. First of all, while you should certainly take the time to learn about the other entries, don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others or vice versa. Each entry is unique and each entrant is on their own journey. (Remember, it’s a game of golf, not a tennis match. You’re playing against yourself, at the end of the day. Secondly embrace your own journey and remember that you determine what you walk away with at the end of the day. If you’re a novice, you’re going to be looking primarily for constructive feedback to grow on. If you’re advanced, you’re going to be welcoming the challenge.  –I’ve been on both paths and both are wonderful. 

So why did I enter QPT the third time if I wasn’t excited about my project? That answer is easy: I wanted to be a Lily (Calontir’s Grant of Arms for Arts) so badly I could taste it and one track to getting a Lily is to enter every Arts and Sciences competition at every possible event. I was simply checking the boxes. —Also, it didn’t work, in my case. 

Now, entering competitions is certainly not the only way to advance, but it is one of the better ways to get exposure for your work and award-oriented mentality is definitely one of which one should be mindful and careful. I still remember the time an entrant bragged to a GoA about how well their judging session had gone… while the GoA was in the midst of judging an entry. 

The moral of the story? Well, there are two. First of all, be honest with yourself about your ambitions and put them into the proper perspective. After five years of waiting for a GoA, I’ve learned that, while having it would certainly be gratifying, it’s not going to endow me with the super-power to read through an entire book in a minute (I’d settle for an hour), magically improve my handsewing, or even come with a free life-time subscription to JSTOR. —It’s just a bauble and I can grow (and have grown) as an artisan without it. The second moral is to have grace for the person at the competition who might step on your toes because they also want a GoA or even a peerage so badly they can taste it. All of us have been or will be in their shoes at one point or another in our SCA careers. 

Now, if you are new to QPT, please read to this handout for a class that I teach on entering it. In it, I discuss things like what to expect when you attend the event, what you need to bring, how to set up your table, and how to handle your judging session in a way that is productive. 

Remember: the goal is to learn, to share, and to have fun! You get to discuss all the wonderful things you’ve been researching with people who are on the same page, people who can help you, and sometime people who have never heard your little nugget of information before. Plus, there’s always lots free chocolate! What could be more perfect?

(Except perhaps a consort tourney complete with a gallery flowing with strawberries and mimosas, but that’s another event entirely.)

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Repost: My Ladye’s Guide to Achieving Justice in the SCA

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After a friend revealed to me that he shared a police report regarding a member committing sexual assault at an SCA event with baronial officers and nothing was done, I felt that it was important to repost this.

It pains me to say it, but I can’t help but feel that the onslaught of condemnation and the promises to make the SCA better were just empty words, making this advice all the more necessary.

I, for one, will not be camping overnight at any event in the foreseeable future.

………..

Let’s be honest: SCA events can be overwhelming. They entail a whirl of activity, the excitement of reuniting with friends, the glitz and glamour of the Crown, and the immersion into a medieval atmosphere that can be scarcely be found elsewhere in the American Continents.

I love that atmosphere, I love the community, and I absolutely love singing with my friends under the stars.

However, in the midst of this sensory overload it can also be very easy to lose your bearings and be unsure of how to proceed should a crime be committed against your person. When you’ve been immersed in a culture of Kings and Queens and Knights, it’s easy to fall back on a belief that their authority will intervene to give you help and protection. In reality, however well intentioned, these people are just as ordinary as you are and equally, if not more, as inept at navigating these waters as you are.

It is very important that you keep in mind that all the titles, offices, and ceremony that make the SCA fun and exciting are all PRETEND.

“Kings, Queens, & Knights, & I’m the only pawn.”

Your King and Queen are normal people who work normal jobs like you. Your Seneschal, your Kingdom Advocate, et al are rarely even paralegals, much less lawyers. Moreover, your kingdom laws are really club rules which have no bearing outside of the club, nor should they. We cross a very crucial boundary between reality and fantasy when we fail to relegate SCA roles to the SCA.

As I plotted out this article, I must admit that I could hear a voice in my head muttering, “In this installment of Rosalie Must Not Want to be a Peer…” My subconscious makes a good point: there are many who would view my statements as being dismissive or even derogatory towards the SCA. People who have striven or are striving toward SCA goals will naturally take issue with someone saying that something from which they derive a sense of achievement or responsibility is pretend, but if I didn’t also enjoy or value the SCA, why would I be a part of it?

One of my favorite inspirational images is from the film To Kill Mockingbird. At the end of a hard-fought trial, Atticus Finch is crest-fallen and beaten down. As he leaves the courtroom in shame and defeat, he never once sees the scores of people standing in recognition on the mezzanine above him. The lesson that moment in the film taught me is that, “Sometimes the victory is in having the courage to fight in the first place.”

“Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passing.”

Why am I talking about a Gregory Peck film in an article about a medieval reenacting group? Because, like the rituals in which we engage at SCA events, the film and the novel upon which it was based are both fictitious. Nonetheless,  being fiction does not preclude them from being able to communicate a deeper truth, just as the pretend aspect of the SCA does not preclude it from inspiring sincere personal growth.

The titles are pretend, the prowess, the personal journey, and the recognition of your friends are not. The kingdom is pretend, the feeling of belonging you have is not. The community is very real.

 

WHAT SHOULD ONE DO IN THE EVENT OF CRIME?

To begin with, in cases where you suspect that you may have been robbed, my recommendation is to first make a good faith search for the missing item without losing your head. In 2013, some items went missing at Lilies War and all of site was abuzz with rumors about a gang of teenagers stealing from unsuspecting campers. A friend of mine even recruited his teenage son to infiltrate the suspected gang and find the missing loot. After the War, I believe the item that caused the most concern was discovered whilst packing up and everyone felt very foolish for the uproar.

I think that the reason there was such a hullabaloo is because, in truth, human nature loves drama, if not Downton Abbey wouldn’t have lasted beyond two seasons and the only people who watched it outside the UK would be nerdy Anglophiles like me. Drama draws us out of the banality of our otherwise ordinary lives and I think it’s innate in humans to want to be part of something, if not epic, significant. It’s not something to be derided unless it becomes unhealthy or destructive, it is simply something to recognize and of which to be aware both in oneself and others.

Which is why this is my first recommendation:

1.) When a crime is committed against your person, tell no one outside of your (actual) family.

At least to begin with, keep your experience to yourself. In my kingdom, word spreads like wildfire and once it does, you’re invariably going to have people come involve themselves in your business. Remember, people are drawn to drama. SCAdians especially want to feel that they can make a difference because of their title, office, or connections. In reality, however, their personal bias either towards or against the person who has wronged you is going to affect their behavior.

Involving any extraneous parties will only create confusion and invite advice that is usually based in the idea that SCA peers have real-world authority and will, therefore, prove unhelpful in the long term.

“What do you think I should do?”

2.) Go to the Police Station/Call the Police

Do not go to the Event Steward, do not go to the Crown, the Coronet, the Baronetcy, the Seneschal, or even your peer. Leave site immediately and, as quietly as possible, go straight to the nearest police station to file a report. Tell no one what you are doing. If you are camping, leave everything set up and return for it later.

If circumstances prohibit you from being able to travel to the police station, then go out to the parking lot and call the police from there, and stay put until they arrive. You want to avoid being overheard which will bring interlopers who will impede and may attempt to dissuade you from involving the police.

Whether you leave site or stay, the most important thing is that you keep others from being able to interfere in your business and possibly prevent your aggressor from catching wind of your actions and fleeing the scene.

“You should know that I’m going to report you.”

3.) File a police report.

You will want to check facebook for your aggressor’s mundane name and any other identifying information for them. You will also need the names of those who may have borne witness to the incident. It doesn’t matter if you were drunk or dancing naked by the light of the moon when it happened, do not allow the police to dissuade you from filing a report.

After you have filed the report, go home with as little communication to others as possible. If you left your campsite, go pack up your gear. Again, have a care in whom you confide.

4.) File a Report with the Seneschal

Wait until you are home to file a report with the Seneschal regarding the incident and avoid speaking to anyone about you decision to do so.

Keep all your communication via email or another recordable, written form of communication. In Calontir, you will likely be contacted by the Kingdom Advocate. Always insist on written communication regarding the incident, even if they request a phone interview. This will enable you to create a written record should you need it.

A victim in Calontir attempted to file a complaint against someone who sexually assaulted her at an event. The kingdom advocate limited all interactions to phone interviews and told her there was nothing there and she should be more careful who she drinks with. Without any recorded evidence of this interaction, she had nothing concrete to present as evidence of this unprofessional and gross misuse of position. Keep it in writing!

5.) Be Careful in Whom You Trust

My husband recently had a strange spot on his chin. A dermatologist said it was unlikely that it was cancerous, but he couldn’t rule it out. Every time Günther refers to his cancer scare, my gut reaction is to insist that it was just an infected pimple. The idea of the my soul mate and best friend having cancer is anathema to me and I refuse to conceive of it.

People feel the same way when someone accuses their friend (or relative) of wrongdoing and whomever you have a complaint against will have friends and family. The gut instinct of most people when they are told that their friend has done something wrong is to deny it and they will go to any mental lengths they can in order to exonerate that person. This will include dismissing you, shaming you, accusing you of dishonesty, blaming you, and even launching a character campaign against you.

The second reason to keep your own counsel as much as possible is that the Seneschal, Kingdom Advocate, Crown et al are primarily concerned with protecting the SCA. Their purview is safeguarding the image of the group and its sense of safety. They will want to mitigate any blowback from the incident rather than pursue a lengthy investigation, or (in Calontir) a three-level trial-system as prescribe in the Kingdom Law

As my great-great Grandmother often said, “Keep your wits about you.”

By no means do I wish to imply that you should keep what happened to you a secret. Serial offenders thrive in a culture of secrecy. If it is what you need to do, share your story in every appropriate venue. Just keep in mind that you are likely to encounter someone with an agenda of their own. Don’t broadcast your movements until after the fact.

6.) Send a Complaint to the BoD if Necessary

If your Seneschal advises it or you are unsatisfied with your kingdom’s response to your complaint, compile all the correspondence you have archived and forward it to the BoD.

 WHY SHOULD YOU FILE A REPORT WITH THE SENESCHAL?

Now, my husband and I are in disagreement on this point: he believes that it’s silly to ascribe to SCA rules and courts for real life matters such as personal harm or theft because it is all pretend. He does make a valid point, but it fails to take into account the importance of self management and regulation.

To be clear, SCA processes should only supplement the real-world due process. That said, where the real world has certain limitations, the SCA does not. Especially in cases of assault and rape, the bulk of the case can be reduced to “he said, she said” due to a lack of physical evidence, inconsistent testimony (if a victim says she was wearing a red dress in testimony but mentioned a blue dress when she filed a report), and bias against the victim.

Woody Allen’s PR team like to tout that he was exonerated in court, but he was not. The judge explicitly said that he could not condemn him because he could not prove that he had harmed Dylan Farrow even though it was clear that Allen had harmed her. The judge was able to prevent him from having contact with her, but could not incarcerate him.

Closer to home, someone very dear to me outside the SCA was raped in Wichita, Kansas. She filed a police report from the ER where she was having a rape kit done and the officers went to her attacker, asked him about the incident, was told it was simply rough sex, and they left without arresting him. (The victim was disabled.)

In less dire circumstances, it must also be considered that while sexual harassment won’t get you arrested, it will get you fired and to that same degree it can warrant being kicked out of social groups and clubs like the SCA.

In the SCA, the Kingdom and the BoD have the power to revoke and deny a person based on the multiplicity of complaints, witness statements, etc, especially in the presence of a police report. This means that even if a real-world court is unable to convict a person on a technicality or police fail to arrest an aggressor due to corruption or misogyny, we still have the power as a group to remove such a person from our community. Conversely, if a person receives a real-world conviction due to their behavior, that censure does not automatically carry over into the SCA. In a sense, by filing a report with your Kingdom or the Board of Directors, you are alerting them to the presence of a person who has caused harm and may do so again. This enables them to protect others in the group from that person and make the community safer for everyone.

It is my prayer that no one finds themselves in need of this advice, but, like the fire extinguisher in my kitchen, I hope having it brings peace of mind.

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My Ladye’s Candle… Burns at both ends and maybe even in the middle.

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As I prepare for Clothier’s in two weeks, I find myself looking even further ahead to Queen’s Prize Tournament the week after.

Since I’m currently working on my third “ground up” project, I will not be entering the competition as a contestant. However, I feel a great sense of conflict over whether or not I should sign up as a judge for the event. The conflict I feel has nothing to do with the act of judging itself, but more to do with my own energy levels and how much is on my plate. Also, the event is a two hour drive from my house and I have to consider child care.

At Clothier’s, I will be teaching two workshops (one on fitting cotes, one on fitting sleeves for the cotes), and so the next two weeks are going to be a marathon of sewing and preparation culminating in a day-long marathon of teaching and keeping my baby out from underfoot.

If I were to go to QPT the week after, that’s another juggle and debate of can I leave my baby for an entire day while I travel two hours away? No, I can’t. What do I do with my baby while I judge? Bounce him on my lap? Probably not the best judging situation.

*heavy sigh*

I really do want to go. I want to see all the pretties everyone is making and feel guilty for not entering. I want to lend my help to an event that is usually desperately under judged to begin. I want to be a kind and friendly face across the table…

Motherhood is a balancing act, I know, but sometimes I just want to have my cake and eat it.

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My Ladye’s Wardrobe: Sustainability, Comfort, and Authenticity in the Real World

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What is a Lady to do when road conditions prevent her from attending Winter Coronation? Well, this Lady Mother further bored the youtube world with a video diary on 14th century clothing and godet placement… Because my lord husband may tune me out, but I can at least pretend someone is listening to me when I speak into the void of the internet. 

Another thing I managed to accomplish was to sort through my fabric stash in preparation for coming projects and, for the first time since I KonMari’d my fabric (and everything else) -I think I spelled that right.- I found myself saying, “I need to buy more linen!” 

My entire fabric stash.

Now, this isn’t because I got rid of fabric that I could be using right now, (the fabric I minimized was really useless to me and did not make me happy) it’s because all my fabric is destined for 14th century garments and in colors that reflect that. However, I’m not sewing only for my reenactments anymore, I’m also transitioning to a home-made mundane wardrobe to be more sustainable, more creative, and more… sincere in my dress. 

Personal Responsibility:

Over last summer, I did a lot of research and binge-watched videos about living more sustainably, and, found lots of talk about the merits of switching to a linen and wool wardrobe to be more “eco-friendly.” You see Fast Fashion, (that is the bulk of clothing bought from retailers) rarely uses ethical labor to manufacture it and the majority of the cheaply made garments end up in landfills adding to our greenhouse gas emissions.  

After learning this, I thought, “Well, I needed to transition my wardrobe anyway and I can sew linen clothes more affordably than I can buy them.”

Personally Practical:

For my part, the reason I need  (rather than simply desire) to switch to a linen wardrobe has less to do with the planet and more to do with personal comfort and my own sensibilities. 

Because of my Behcet’s, I have to avoid UV radiation in order to limit my autoimmune flare ups. This means that I wear long sleeves and maxi dresses in 100F.

Last summer, my lord husband and I took the children to a Fourth of July event and the dear man was sorely disappointed that our fun had to be cut short due to my lack of stamina. The heat was so oppressive I could hardly move. On the way home, Günther suggested that I wear short-shorts and tank tops with like other women, but those simply aren’t viable options for me. Because of my autoimmune disease, I’m more photosensitive and prone to sunburning; furthermore, UV exposure increases my chances of having a flare up. 

A summer ensemble complete with baby!

Ergo, if I am to survive another summer on planet Earth, let alone the American Mid-West (not to mention pregnant), then what I need is linen, lots and lots of it. Moreover, if the bulk of my current linen is destined for medieval garb, it naturally follows that this Lady Mother gets to make an order from fabric-store.com!  

Why linen? Well, not only is the production of it more sustainable, linen is a fabric that wicks moisture away from your body and breathes much better than cotton, which makes you feel cooler even in the summer. Once you try it, you won’t want to go back!

Personal Authenticity:

Finally, I do have a third motivation to make my own clothing; doing so would give me the medium to express myself in a more authentic way. Since my oldest was born, I’ve been wearing a wardrobe that was primarily passed down to me from my own lady mother (since I don’t like to spend money on myself and she hates seeing me in tattered clothes) and I found that I had really lost my personal sense of style.

Recently, I read this blog post by Cathy Hay wherein she discusses her reasons for adapting her historical clothing to everyday life and I was inspired by what, to me, translated not only as authenticity, but as bravery. I doubted at the time whether I could wear historical dress mundanely or if fourteenth century clothing was even adaptable, but I watched more videos with likeminded people on youtube and did some soul searching and some [horrible] sketches. As I did that I began to see how I could “history-bound” the wardrobe I was already planning to make, how I could adapt historical patterns I already knew how to make (thereby saving money and headaches since I absolutely do not do modern sewing and am self-taught), and how I could do so in a way that would make me feel beautiful without causing my lady mother to be ashamed to be seen with me in public. 

I can draft a pattern, but I simply cannot draw!

Speaking of my own lady mother, I showed her a Bernadette Banner video one Sunday and her response really surprised me. I told her I was thinking of making my own clothes and showed her some patterns; she was very supportive which affirmed to me that I am on the right track in these plans and not just having a flight of fancy as I sometimes do. 

The wonderful thing about the 14th century silhouette is that it lends itself very well to as neutral or as stated a “look” as one could want. For me, making my own clothing means making a neutrally, romantic (I love feminine, bohemian styles) look upon which I can add scarves etc to accessorize. Also, there are definitely practical household accessories which I could use to liven up my everyday life as a dreary homemaker: a smocked apron rather than a plain apron, a Birgitta cap to protect my hairstyle while I clean, etc. 

I feel so excited just thinking about it! 

What about you? Is your reenactment wardrobe fit for the historical red-carpet while you (like me) struggle to find a style that expresses who you are? How could you “history-bound” your wardrobe to lend confidence to your everyday life? 

I know some people who feel like Cindy (randomly selected name) is just the imposter they go by to pay the bills, but Gwendolyn, (also randomly selected) is the person they really are. Maybe the problem isn’t that Cindy is too mundane, maybe the problem is that she has been relegated to the mundane. 

If you could bring elements of your true life, the things that make you happy and feel authentic in your reenactment, what would it be? —Would you make a historically inspired bag to wear instead of using a drab purse you don’t even like? Would you pop on your annular brooch to brighten up a blouse, or wear the jewelry you save for reenactment weekends? Maybe the historical gown you love to wear could be remade with a shorter skirt, three-quarter sleeves and accessorized with a cardigan? 

What about your surroundings? Would your morning coffee or afternoon tea feel so much better if you had it in your “SCA” mug? Would your desk feel more inspiring with discreet historic or personal touches here and there? 

Please comment and share your ideas on ways to make real life feel as authentic and inspired as reenactment. I’d love to read them!

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My Ladye’s Bosom: What I Won’t Be Covering at Clothier’s 2020… Also, I have a youtube channel!

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First of all: I officially launched my youtube channel this evening with the following PSA regarding Clothier’s. Now, I believe that multiple mediums, helps to convey the message more broadly, so I’ll include the written (read: polished) version below. However, now those of my readers who don’t know me in real life can see that I don’t talk like a cross governess in person.

 

Ahead of Clothier’s seminar which is coming up on the first of February, I wanted to touch on something that will not be a focus in the workshops I’m teaching there on the fitted cote and why I have changed the way I teach the workshop. 

First of all a quick glossary: In the high Middle Ages, a person regardless of sex, would wear three layers of clothing: a smock or shirt for a man, a cote (also called a kirtle), and a surcote (which is sometimes called a cotehardie or a Gothic Fitted Dress, but could also be a very different overgarment such as a sideless surcote.)  –This would be extended to four layers if you count the mantle or cloak that would be worn out of doors. 

The cote, which is the middle layer, was the most fitted of the three garments, depending on when in the fourteenth century (and where) it was worn. For skinny to average body types, this garment can be fully supportive; however, once a lady’s bust exceeds certain proportions, achieving this support becomes more of an endeavor. 

When I first started teaching this class, I was the thinnest I have ever been in my life and I brashly thought in my youth that getting a support from a cote was simply a matter of good tailoring. Then I became pregnant and nursed two children (not at the same time) and I learned more about my breasts than I had ever understood before. Even though I could conceivably make my cote support my breasts when I’m supplement nursing a child on solids, I will not go without a bra while I’m nursing because I don’t want to risk a breast infection and I don’t want the discomfort of… sagging. 

In the Middle Ages, some women could support their busts with their cotes or kirtles, but other women had to resort to other means, such as a supportive “bra” like the ones found in the Luxembourg find, or a bath dress with a fitted bust. There are even written accounts of women sewing “bags” for to support their breasts into their garment. Long story short: supporting the bosom and fitting a cote are actually two separate projects, therefore two separate classes. 

Personally, I have known too many women who have struggled with finding garments that provide adequate and comfortable support in the modern world. My lady grandmother used to have deep, angry indents in her shoulders from where her bra straps lay, and I gained a new sympathy when I was nursing full time and saw my own shoulders begin to deform. By all means, I encourage women to make supportive medieval garments, but I do not believe in expecting a linen cote to do what a bra from a specialty shop can. I do not believe in putting that pressure on women, I do not believe in putting them through that discomfort, and I encourage you to wear the undergarment that suits you best and makes you feel the most comfortable and the most confident. 

Finally, I am doing something I have never done before which is to have a class fee for those who are planning to participate in the hands-on portion of the class. The reason for this is that I’m going to be providing materials to be used by the participants for which I will have to pay out of pocket. The fee is only $5 and includes roughly 2.5 yards of fabric for fitting, needles and thread, and pins. There is a cap of ten people for hands on participants just so that we can keep the workshops between 2 hour time slots; however, there is no cap on “auditors” or class observers who do not wish to participate in the hands on portion. Auditors will have no class fee.

If you are able to come, please come join us in Calontir, modernly known as America’s Heartland, and experience Clothier’s. We’ll have dozens of classes on costuming, displays of medieval garb, and super-nice people to share in your nerdiness! The link to the event is included below.

2020 Clothiers

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Fortune’s Wheel: My Ladye’s Audacious Plan to Harvest Happiness

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Earlier this week, I went to the market for my regular groceries. Because I’ve been suffering from hyperemesis gravidaarum since the beginning of November, my Lord Husband has been in charge of the shopping, so, I must say, it was nice to regain control over my pantry and that aspect of our budget. While Günther has fallen in love with one of the local chain stores and its abundant selection, I still tend to favor Trader Joe’s and its lower prices. (But the local chain stores do have gluten free sections to bring tears of joy to my eyes and my darling always endeavors to spoil me.)

Of course, there is little about this habit that is truly medieval. My medieval counterpart would have had a fairly self-sufficient manor that supplied her with most of her staples, all carefully stocked for the winter. Her cellar at this time of year would have been filled with root vegetables in crates full of sandy soil to keep the moisture out, salted and smoked meat, endless strings of dried fruit, and barrels of apples, grain, and fermented beverages.

My own “larder” consists of a cupboard, a drawer for potatoes, some counter space that I should clear off, and a refrigerator, all designed to be restocked on a weekly basis. In our modern world, we tend to buy food as we need it, with little thought for what the future may hold. It is unlikely that the supply trucks bearing fresh produce from warmer climes will halt any time soon, after all.

It’s a blessing in itself: we’re spared the toil of a long season of planting and tending, free from the labor of harvest and preserving the food we labored over during the summer, and, most of all, we live without fear of whether we’ll survive the winter.

I have been thinking, though, perhaps there is a spiritual or mental harvest which we would be wise to store up.

Last Saturday, I revisited a Messianic Congregation where I had worshipped when Himself was a baby. It really struck me, how far I had come from the young woman who had wept and prayed to God in a very similar setting (the congregation has moved locations since) for restoration and healing. That woman was completely broken with very little left to lose and it felt like it would take a miracle to set all the things that Günther and I had blithely broken aright.

After the Rabbi had had some time to remember me, he asked, “Weren’t you going through a break up? I remember you were on my prayer list for broken couples.” I smiled, showed him my cherished wedding set, and said, “We’re happily married and I’m expecting our third child now.”

It’s funny how we don’t think, in our darkest hours, that we’ll ever feel the sunlight again. We hope it, of course, but the struggle seems so endless when we’re in the thick of it. (I think it was Churchill who said that when one finds themself in the middle of hell, they should keep going.) Conversely, when our hearts are light and our yoke is sweet, we tend not to imagine that night follows after the day.

In the Middle Ages, people viewed life as a wheel of fortune that turns. The speed of the wheel changes, but the wheel always turns nonetheless. At one moment, you may be at the bottom of wheel and in the depths of despair or destitution, at another, you may be riding high as the king of the world, but you could be assured that, wherever you were, the wheel would turn and you would rise or fall with it.

My Lord Father, ever the philosopher, is fond of quoting this short Bible Verse: “This too shall pass.” He usually said it when my little sister and I were sad about leaving our friend’s after a slumber party. He called it the most bittersweet verse of the Bible because it meant that good times had to come to an end, but it also meant that the bad ones would too.

If we know, though, that our moments of joy are as transient as our sorrow, that our lives are full of summers and winters of the heart, then wouldn’t it be wise to shore up peace and hope during the good times so that it can buoy us during the bad? Is that even possible?

How does one even go about doing such a thing? I don’t pretend to be a psychologist and I’m certainly not a self-help guru of any sort; nonetheless, as I sit in the sweet peace of the hardest times I have yet to endure being far behind me at last, I can’t help but feel that there must be some way to be sure that I use this season of joy to its fullest. I don’t want to leave good fruit on the tree only to find myself at a loss when hard times come again.

Of course I tend to believe in my heart of heart that I can never be tried as sorely as I was before. I certainly pray that I’m not because the only thing that could be worse is a loss I don’t speak of out of superstition. But I think it is possible to use this time to gain perspective, to take stock, and make the most of my blessings.

Journaling Gratitude

In 2009 my grandmother passed away,  I came to the conclusion that there wasn’t a chance for me and the boy I had loved for years at that point, and I was in the beginning of having my autoimmune disease diagnosed. I began the year in England and ended it in the midwest and it was indeed a long, hard, year. During that time, however, I would journal out my feelings and my heart. I would write to my future self, my future family, willing myself to that future that I knew would make my late-teenage anxieties seem small and far away. (Ten years later, I’m very happy to report that has been the case.)

Honestly, journaling is always easy for me when I’m frustrated or times are difficult because I need the emotional outlet; however, when I’m happy I don’t feel as inclined. However, how much more would I get from my journals if I could look over them in hard times and be reminded that, as difficult as things may be in the moment, I have been richly blessed overall?

Take Stock of What You Have, Determine What You Need.

If we’re honest, or at least observant enough, we can acknowledge the areas of our lives where we have the most security and the areas that need some tending too. For some it might be improving communication in relationships, for others it might be finding more time for family, and for others it might be a matter of strengthening financial or household economy so that, should something arise, then perhaps it can be prevented from having a domino effect.

One area in which I have grown in my approach to conflict now as opposed to five years ago, is that I don’t let myself be embroiled in said conflict. I make my boundaries known, I communicate my feelings, and I move on. I think it is easier to do this when you accept that you cannot control or change others. For me, it’s also made easier because I usually feel that I have done so in a healthy way.

[That isn’t to say I never fall into bad habits when conflict arises. There have certainly been times when I have stooped to “their level” or taken a harder line than I needed to. (Remember, I’m in just leaving the first trimester of pregnancy and, hormonally, it was a doozy.) However, having the majority of my conflict-resolutions and solutions be conducted in a way that leaves me with a clear conscience and allows me to divest myself of any ill-will towards someone else, leaves me with a very good feeling.

Another area in which I am blessed and which should be shored up in the event of an emergency or crisis is that I have a strong supports system and I now live within five minutes a team of family and friends who love me. When I moved in and was stuck at the house awaiting contractors to fix some issues, my dad asked for my grocery list and brought it to the house. Four years ago when I went to the ER for severe vomiting, my sister and brother-in-law came and looked after Himself for me. I also have friends I have been able to call upon to help save my bacon when my pregnancy and the ensuing hyperemesis overwhelmed me.

An area which I need to strengthen? Teamwork and communication. I don’t actually call in the reserves (ie that awesome support system I mentioned earlier) when I need them, I wait for them to telepathically determine that help is needed and then appear on the horizon like Gandalf and the Rohirrim at the Battle of Helm’s Deep. I often fail at communicating with my husband when I’m frustrated (because I also expect him to cosmically know) and that’s something best worked on during the hunky-dory times, rather than high-stress situations.

Prepare for the Storm

People on the south eastern coast prepare themselves for hurricanes every year, Northern and mountainous states brace for heavy snowfalls, Californians have earthquake kits in their homes, and Midwesterner’s have a “tornado season.” We know bad weather will eventually come, we know the signs of its imminence, and we prepare for it.

Crises sometimes come without warning, but many hard times (at least those in my life) tend to escalate. When our employing company merges with another, we can be anticipate that there will be lay-offs as roles collide and conflict. When we have financial struggles, we know the stress can impact our marriage negatively.

Hindsight is 20/20, naturally, but, as an amateur historian, one thing I know for certain about history is that it repeats itself. I personally believe that learning from our past can help us to have a less rocky future.

Maybe the very idea that we can Harvest Happiness flies in the face of the transience of life or maybe the reason we don’t is simply the result of human short-sightedness? One thing I have learned from my parents and my grandparents is that experience helps to put things in perspective and causes them to change their reaction to catastrophes and human melodramas. Perhaps the act of Harvesting Happiness is something the wise learn on their life’s journey as they go from crisis to crisis. Perhaps it is something I can start as I embark upon my third decade of life and, hopefully, others can as well.

I hope these musings are helpful and I hope you, dear reader, find them encouraging and are not offended by my temerity.

 

Happy New Year!