Monday, December 28, 2009

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

2009 has not been the best year, that's for sure. From the election (sorry - not an obama fan in the least) through the rest of the garbage the year offered (socialism, here we come! Kwame Kilpatrick, the economy, the outsourcing of American jobs to foreign countries - hey! Don't they go hand in hand?), it's not been the best year America has seen. Then again, neither has the last twenty years or just keeps getting progressively worse.
And the spiral continues...
So, being the good patriot that I am (I am proudly wearing my "Don't Tread On Me" t-shirt I received for Christmas), I make sure I keep up on the current news and follow through, whether in praise or protest, where I feel is necessary.
That being said, where 2009 has been a good year for me personally is in the living history/reenacting world.

Filming a scene at Crossroads Village

Aww, who am I's been a GREAT year in living history for me, beginning with the celebration of President Lincoln's Birthday Celebration, through our big Memorial Weekend reenactment at Greenfield Village (As Promised - Pictures from the Memorial Day Event at Greenfield Village), through our first film shoot, our period-dress visit to Crossroads Village (Our Recent Return Visit Back to Crossroads Village), to the big Jackson event (Jackson, Michigan Civil War Muster), to our Christmas reenactments of recent weeks. I'm not certain how many events I participated in this year - more than 20, that's for sure - but I can tell you each was wonderful in its own way. But, there was one in particular that stood out up and above the rest...the small event that took place in Waterloo, Michigan this past June (Self-Hypnosis + Authenticity + 1st person = Time-Travel). This was one of those rare events that literally brought me back "there"... in time...ala the movie "Somewhere In Time."

My "wife" took wonderful care of me while I was "sick" in Waterloo. We stayed in 1st person even when no patrons were about.

Yeah, I'm nuts. But, you already knew that.
I remember thinking at the beginning of 2009 that there was no way the coming living history events could ever be as good as those I participated in the previous year.
And yet, they were.
Actually, they were even better!
Part of the reason is that I truly, actively, participated in the events. No tent sitting here! I did my best to stay in a 1st person mode of conversation while visitors were mulling about my 'post office.' Or even while I had "the fever" at Waterloo. And, I also attempted to stay in that manner while it was just reenactors around as well. Unfortunately, there are many (too many) reenactors that, for some reason, cannot - will not - take part in this form of progressive reenacting. (Fortunately, the wonderful reenactors at Waterloo truly did a fine job staying in 1st person). Not only do many not take part but, worse yet, they make fun of you for staying "in character" when the patrons have gone home. Now, some very good friends of mine - military reenactors - were able to sleep over night in the McGuffey Schoolhouse in Greenfield Village ( after the Holiday Nights presentation had ended. Not only did the men stay in 1st person mode the entire evening - remember, this is after the public had gone home - they played period correct games, read from Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol," read from the holy bible, and spoke of nothing in their contemporary lives.

Soldiers playing a period correct game at the McGuffey Schoolhouse

How cool is that? They did it for themselves.
This is what I would like to see happen more often.
My resolution for 2010 is to just ignore those 9 to 5 reenactors (please see my blog from last spring Are You a 9 to 5 Reenactor?) and make even greater strides in my living history impression.
If these guys in the military can do it, than so can I / we in the civilian contingent.
This is what makes me happy and I will not let any 9 to 5-er ruin my time.
Speaking of happy, a very good friend of mine, who also reenacts, likes to call the Firestone Farm at Greenfield Village her "happy place." This farm is a historic structure where she can visit nearly anytime she'd like to because of its proximatey to her home (about a half hour drive). Like me, she will dress in her period clothing to visit the Village and enter the farm to just sit...enjoying the fire, the kitchen conversations from the presenters as they cook food in the way it was cooked in the 19th century, and, really, just to get the over-all feeling of, well, being back there. She has also mentioned to me that sometimes she'll close her eyes and repeat over and over "it's's 1863..."

"it's's's's 1863..."

Need I add that this woman does a remarkable 1st person as soon as the period clothing is on?
All of the reenactments I do help me to reach my own personal nirvana much in the same way that the Firestone Farm helps my friend reach hers. I guess we all need our happy place to go to, whether to get away or to just plain relax. I thank God that I have living history to take me and my family away to such a place.
I can't wait for the 2010 season to begin. But, it couldn't be anywhere as good as the 2009 season...or could it?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Christmas Carol

The following are snippets of Christmas celebrations as described by Charles Dickens in his short story "A Christmas Carol." This is my most favorite of all Christmas stories, and it's from these wonderful descriptions that my family has attempted to base our Christmas celebrations upon.
If you have not ever read the book of "A Christmas Carol," might I suggest that you run out and purchase yourself a copy? It is a wonderful story that encompasses all that is Christmas, including the birth of our Savior.

At Fezziwig's Christmas Ball:'Yo ho, my boys!' said Fezziwig. 'No more work to-night. Christmas Eve, Dick. Christmas, Ebenezer! Let's have the shutters up,' cried old Fezziwig, with a sharp clap of his hands, 'before a man can say Jack Robinson!'

You wouldn't believe how those two fellows went at it. They charged into the street with the shutters-one, two, three-had them up in their places-four, five, six-barred them and pinned then-seven, eight, nine-and came back before you could have got to twelve, panting like race-horses.

'Hilli-ho!' cried old Fezziwig, skipping down from the high desk, with wonderful agility. 'Clear away, my lads, and let's have lots of room here! Hilli-ho, Dick! Chirrup, Ebenezer!'

Clear away! There was nothing they wouldn't have cleared away, or couldn't have cleared away, with old Fezziwig looking on. It was done in a minute. Every movable was packed off, as if it were dismissed from public life for evermore; the floor was swept and watered, the lamps were trimmed, fuel was heaped upon the fire; and the warehouse was as snug, and warm, and dry, and bright a ball-room, as you would desire to see upon a winter's night.

In came a fiddler with a music-book, and went up to the lofty desk, and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches. In came Mrs Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Miss Fezziwigs, beaming and lovable. In came the six young followers whose hearts they broke. In came all the young men and women employed in the business. In came the housemaid, with her cousin, the baker. In came the cook, with her brother's particular friend, the milkman. In came the boy from over the way, who was suspected of not having board enough from his master; trying to hide himself behind the girl from next door but one, who was proved to have had her ears pulled by her mistress. In they all came, one after nother; some shyly, some boldly, some gracefully, some awkwardly, some pushing, some pulling; in they all came, anyhow and everyhow. Away they all went, twenty couple at once; hands half round and back again the other way; down the middle and up again; round and round in various stages of affectionate grouping; old top couple always turning up in the wrong place; new top couple starting off again, as soon as they got there; all top couples at last, and not a bottom one to help them. When this result was brought about, old Fezziwig, clapping his hands to stop the dance, cried out, 'Well done.' and the fiddler plunged his hot face into a pot of porter, especially provided for that purpose. But scorning rest, upon his reappearance, he instantly began again, though there were no dancers yet, as if the other fiddler had been carried home, exhausted, on a shutter, and he were a bran-new man resolved to beat him out of sight, or perish.
There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and Boiled, when the fiddler (an artful dog, mind. The sort of man who knew his business better than you or I could have told it him.) struck up 'Sir Roger de Coverley.' Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs Fezziwig. Top couple, too; with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them; three or four and twenty pair of partners; people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance, and had no notion of walking.
But if they had been twice as many-ah, four times- old Fezziwig would have been a match for them, and so would Mrs Fezziwig. As to her, she was worthy to be his partner in every sense of the term. If that's not high praise, tell me higher, and I'll use it. A positive light appeared to issue from Fezziwig's calves. They shone in every part of the dance like moons. You couldn't have predicted, at any given time, what would have become of them next. And when old Fezziwig and Mrs Fezziwig had gone all through the dance; advance and retire, both hands to your partner, bow and curtsey, corkscrew, thread-the-needle, and back again to your place; Fezziwig 'cut'-cut so deftly, that he appeared to wink with his legs, and came upon his feet again without a stagger.

When the clock struck eleven, this domestic ball broke up. Mr and Mrs Fezziwig took their stations, one on either side of the door, and shaking hands with every person individually as he or she went out, wished him or her a Merry Christmas.

Christmas Morning:The house fronts looked black enough, and the windows blacker, contrasting with the smooth white sheet of snow upon the roofs, and with the dirtier snow upon the ground; which last deposit had been ploughed up in deep furrows by the heavy wheels of carts and waggons; furrows that crossed and recrossed each other hundreds of times where the great streets branched off; and made intricate channels, hard to trace in the thick yellow mud and icy water. The sky was gloomy, and the shortest streets were choked up with a dingy mist, half thawed, half frozen, whose heavier particles descended in shower of sooty atoms, as if all the chimneys in Great Britain had, by one consent, caught fire, and were blazing away to their dear hearts' content. There was nothing very cheerful in the climate or the town, and yet was there an air of cheerfulness abroad that the clearest summer air and brightest summer sun might have endeavoured to diffuse in vain.
For, the people who were shovelling away on the housetops were jovial and full of glee; calling out to one another from the parapets, and now and then exchanging a facetious snowball-better-natured missile far than many a wordy jest- laughing heartily if it went right and not less heartily if it went wrong. The poulterers' shops were still half open, and the fruiterers' were radiant in their glory. There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Friars, and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers' benevolence to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people's mouths might water gratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner. The very gold and silver fish, set forth among these choice fruits in a bowl, though members of a dull and stagnant-blooded race, appeared to know that there was something going on; and, to a fish, went gasping round and round their little world in slow and passionless excitement.

The Grocers'! oh the Grocers'! nearly closed, with perhaps two shutters down, or one; but through those gaps such glimpses. It was not alone that the scales descending on the counter made a merry sound, or that the twine and roller parted company so briskly, or that the canisters were rattled up and down like juggling tricks, or even that the blended scents of tea and coffee were so grateful to the nose, or even that the raisins were so plentiful and rare, the almonds so extremely white, the sticks of cinnamon so long and straight, the other spices so delicious, the candied fruits so caked and spotted with molten sugar as to make the coldest lookers-on feel faint and subsequently bilious. Nor was it that the figs were moist and pulpy, or that the French plums blushed in modest tartness from their highly-decorated boxes, or that everything was good to eat and in its Christmas dress; but the customers were all so hurried and so eager in the hopeful promise of the day, that they tumbled up against each other at the door, crashing their wicker baskets wildly, and left their purchases upon the counter, and came running back to fetch them, and committed hundreds of the like mistakes, in the best humour possible; while the Grocer and his people were so frank and fresh that the polished hearts with which they fastened their aprons behind might have been their own, worn outside for general inspection, and for Christmas daws to peck at if they chose.

But soon the steeples called good people all, to church and chapel, and away they came, flocking through the streets in their best clothes, and with their gayest faces. And at the same time there emerged from scores of bye-streets, lanes, and nameless turnings, innumerable people, carrying their dinners to the bakers' shops. The sight of these poor revellers appeared to interest the Spirit very much, for he stood with Scrooge beside him in a baker's doorway, and taking off the covers as their bearers passed, sprinkled incense on their dinners from his torch. And it was a very uncommon kind of torch, for once or twice when there were angry words between some dinner-carriers who had jostled each other, he shed a few drops of water on them from it, and their good humour was restored directly. For they said, it was a shame to quarrel upon Christmas Day. And so it was! God love it, so it was!

In time the bells ceased, and the bakers were shut up; and yet there was a genial shadowing forth of all these dinners and the progress of their cooking, in the thawed blotch of wet above each baker's oven; where the pavement smoked as if its stones were cooking too.

At The Cratchit's:Such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course-and in truth it was something very like it in that house. Mrs Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot; Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour; Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple-sauce; Martha dusted the hot plates; Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner at the table; the two young Cratchits set chairs for everybody, not forgetting themselves, and mounting guard upon their posts, crammed spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. At last the dishes were set on, and grace was said. It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board, and even Tiny Tim, excited by the two young Cratchits, beat on the table with the handle of his knife, and feebly cried Hurrah!

There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavour, size and cheapness, were the themes of universal admiration. Eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish), they hadn't ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular, were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows! But now, the plates being changed by Miss Belinda, Mrs Cratchit left the room alone-too nervous to bear witnesses-to take the pudding up and bring it in.

Suppose it should not be done enough! Suppose it should break in turning out. Suppose somebody should have got over the wall of the back-yard, and stolen it, while they were merry with the goose-a supposition at which the two young Cratchits became livid! All sorts of horrors were supposed. Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper. A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastrycook's next door to each other, with a laundress's next door to that! That was the pudding! In half a minute Mrs Cratchit entered-flushed, but smiling proudly-with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.

Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it
was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing.

At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a one; and at Bob Cratchit's elbow stood the family display of glass. Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.

These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and cracked noisily. Then Bob proposed:

'A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!'

Which all the family re-echoed.

'God bless us every one!' said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Radio - Another Frivolous Kenny G Rant! (Probably important only to me, but what the heck!)

I am finding I can't listen to radio anymore. Radio, simply put, is as stagnant as I've ever heard it to be. Take classic rock for instance: groups I used to love to hear - Steve Miller, Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, Pink Floyd, Bob Seger, Springsteen, Reo Speedwagon, Rod Stewart, and others I simply cannot stand to listen to anymore. The same groups. The same songs.
Why, when there is so much more to choose from?
Let's go to the local country station next. Wait - this is country music, right? Couldn't be - sounds more like classic rock than country!

Where's ol' Hank on the radio?

There is plenty of room for traditional sounding current acts as well as the classic artists but they won't play 'em on country radio. Why not? Remember, it don't mean a thang if it ain't got that twang!
Two stations in Detroit are 24 hour Christmas stations from November through Christmas day. Let's see...Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, Holly Jolly Christmas, Happy Holidays, Jingle Bell Rock, I Want A Hippopotomus for Christmas, Do They Know It's Christmas, Happy Xmas (War Is Over)...played at least every two to four hours minimum - some are once an hour! With all of the wonderful Christmas music readily available, we're stuck with the same mall music over and over...
How about the news station...OK, the health care bill again, H1N1 again, the war in Afghanistan again, no money for Michigan's schools again...the same worn out stories we see, read, and hear about over and over everyday. There's gotta be something else out there newsworthy, isn't there? Just a quick search on the internet shows me there is plenty of other news stories to tell. But, alas, not on the major news station.
OK, yes, I am aware of NPR - - their news is pretty much the same as the major station's news, although more left-leaning. Not for me. The music they play is OK but I can't stand the DJ's. They're just so...laid back (is that the word I'm looking for?).
So what do I do while driving in my van...?
Cable radio? I wish I could afford that. Other things (like food and clothing and bills) take precedence.
So, I guess I will continue putting my own collection of music on tape (I still have a cassette player in my van - OK, so I'm a bit behind the times in some areas of technology. At least my oil lamp lights during blackouts!).
I worked in record stores for 19 years and have amassed quite a collection of music, from Adam and the Ants to Stephen Foster to Doo Wop, to Glenn Miller to ragtime to Hank Williams Sr to Holly and the Italians to MercyMe to Nirvana...what a mix tape collection I could make!

Holly and the Italians - great early '80's power pop

Maybe I'll start with a Christmas tape: song selection - - The Boar's Head Carol, The Gloucestershire Wassail, The Holly Bears a Berry, Riu Riu Chiu, All You That Are Good Fellows, Light of the Stable...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas Time and Reenacting Go Hand in Hand

I can't figure some folks out. As much as they say they love reenacting, they stop as soon as the reenacting 'season' ends, as if there is a beginning and an end. Well, I realize that setting up a camp (and actually using it for its original intent) can be crazy this time of year - especially for those of us who live in the north - and I have to agree. But, that doesn't mean one has to stop taking part in living history activities, especially during the Christmas Season when people tend to look back to the past for their holiday traditions.
For 12 years I have taken part in the Holly (Michigan) Dickens Festival. Unfortunately, with the economy the way it is, those in charge have had to cut back...dramatically. This year I was one of those cut - ha! And I portrayed Charles Dickens himself!! However, I didn't prevent that little set back from dressing period and attending the festival anyhow, bringing along a few reenactor friends as well (It's Beginning to Feel A Lot Like Christmas).
And, it didn't take me long to find other period activities to fill in the gap, like Christmas at the Fort (Historic Fort Wayne in Detroit---
I was with other reenactors - positioned in an actual period home! - and we portrayed a family and friends gathering at Christmastime in 1864 Detroit.

Family and friends at Historic Fort Wayne

What a magical time this event was! The home was candle and oil lamp lit and each of us had our impressions. I, of course, was the visiting postmaster friend and spent time writing letters and spoke of the importance of the notes from home and goodies being sent to the soldiers to keep their spirits lifted, while other members of the home spoke on the activities of women on the homefront during the Civil War, including making bandages, repairing old blankets, and crocheting/knitting socks, scarves, and mittens, all to send to our men fighting in the south. And, in between the visitors (and sometimes during the group visits) we played the old parlor game Questions and Answers.

A busy gathering of the homefront in Detroit 1864

Of course, our table top Christmas tree was a highlight for the little ones who stopped in - they're used to the large floor-to-ceiling trees that most folks tend to have in our modern times.
I cannot express just how wonderful a time we all had and how well we all played off each other when our visitors entered the home...our least for the night. Speaking of how family's of the 1860's lived their everyday lives on the homefront at Christmastime made it all seem so real...

Yours truly writing a letter to son Robert fighting somewhere in the south

And, still, there is more reenacting to come. Without an official event, I like to make my own - so, on December 27th many of us living historians will dress up in our period finest and attend the Holiday Homes Tour in Greenfield Village. Over the last few years my wife and I seemed to have garnered interest amongst our fellow reenactors in attending Greenfield Village while wearing our period clothing, visiting the homes still decked in their Christmas finery, and having lunch at the Eagle Tavern.

Civil War reenactors visiting Greenfield Village during Christmastime

In previous years we’ve had not only members from our Civil War unit, but those from other units as well. The thing that Patty and I have most enjoyed about going on the last day the Village is open for the season (to be re-opened in April) is that the Village is not very busy (for the most part) and we can spend a bit more time with the docents, asking questions and learning beyond what the general public seems to be interested in. We even had the pleasure of hearing some of the ghostly tales of the otherworldly visitors that supposedly haunt many of the structures in the Village.
And it's just a great time to be with others with the same interests in a historic setting.
Then there are those who also participate in the Village's Holiday Nights (Christmas at Greenfield Village: Holiday Nights), where many CW reenactors, including my son Robert, give a scenario of winter quarters during the 1860's while in the William Holmes McGuffey School.

21st Michigan members Mike, Andy, and Robbie at the McGuffey Schoolhouse

The neatest thing is that, once again a number of us that reenact dressed up in our period clothing while attending this past December 4th -like the planned December 27 non-event coming up, we visited just on our own strictly as visitors paying our own way in - and enjoyed the Holiday Nights affair by becoming part of the atmosphere.
Yep - we're nuts! But, we're good nuts.
If you truly mourn the so-called end of the reenacting season, look about you - I'm sure you can come up with a few living history events to take part in, or do as I do and come up with your own and invite others along.
Heck, have a period Christmas party in your own home - even the most modern home will have a taste of the 19th century with folks dressed 'proper' amidst a candle and/or oil lamp lit room.

Patty and Lynn during Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village - dressing period whenever we get the opportunity!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas Meme

I saw my blogger friends do this so I thought I'd join 'em!

1. Eggnog or hot chocolate? Absolutely eggnog. Preferably C.F. Burgers

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? Santa wraps the gifts, whether child or adult.

3. Colored lights on the tree/house or white? Colored lights. But, we do turn them off and light our tree candles once a year. I would like to try white lights one year.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? Sometimes. This year we have a kissing ball.

5. When do you put your Christmas decorations up? My lighted houses go up right after Hallowe'en due to how long it takes to put it all up. The rest go up shortly after Thanksgiving.

6. Favorite holiday dish? Patty's stuffing that includes raisins and nuts taken from a very old (19th century) recipe.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child? The evenings after the tree is decorated: we'd have the tree lights on, candles lit, fireplace roaring, and Christmas music (usually Nat King Cole) playing. That set my future course for all following Christmas Seasons.

8. When did you learn the truth about Santa? At nine years old. My friend's uncle spilled the beans. I still enjoy pretending to this day, however, and even my grown kids enjoy it.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Not usually.

10. How do you decorate a tree? With a variety of items: glass bulbs, tiny wooden pieces of old-time furniture, "A Christmas Carol" and Nativity figures, birds, popcorn (fake but very realistic looking), and various other Victorian style decorations. And real candles.

11. Snow! Love it or dread it? I absolutely love it!! Especially when it shuts down the city. Yeah I'm crazy. But, only until after Valentine's Day. Then bring on the spring!

12. Can you ice skate? Haven't done it in many years.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? A record player in 1969. Now I could play Beatles records!! And a Lionel Train set as an adult, soon after I was married. Guys never grow up.

14. What is the most important thing about the holidays to you? It's easy to say the celebration of Christ's birth (even though December 25th is more than likely not His birthday), so, that being said, my 2nd most important thing is tradition. Celebrating the Season by doing fun things as a family (Christmas at Greenfield Village, the Holly Dickens Festival, cutting down the tree, and watching Christmas movies together).

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?
Pumpkin pie with real whipped cream. Oh yeah!

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Going to Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village (Christmas at Greenfield Village: Holiday Nights)

17. What tops your tree? An angel

18. Which do you prefer-Giving or Receiving? I'm not going to lie...I do enjoy receiving. But, it doesn't get any better than seeing your children's faces when they open up that special present that they were hoping for but not sure if they'd get.

19. Favorite Christmas song? "The Boar's Head Carol" and the original melody of "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

20. Candy Canes-Yuck or Yum? Eh - so-so. Better as a decoration than a treat.

21. Favorite Christmas show? The George C. Scott version of "A Christmas Carol"

22. Saddest Christmas song? 'Christmas In Jail' by The Youngsters from the early 1950's

I hope you all have a wonderful and blessed Christmas Season!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Greatest Generation

(Just some random thoughts that I have gathered on this Pearl Harbor Day.)

My mother and father are/were part of the "Greatest Generation" - that group of people who lived through the Great Depression and WWII. I'm sure that moniker irks some who feel that this generation is not the greatest. But, I have to agree with those that say they truly were the epitome of America at its best. Think about it, after the 'high' of the roaring twenties, life came crashing down, literally, for millions. But, for the greater majority of Americans, they persevered, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and working two, three, and even four jobs to eke out a living; my mother told me how her mother, a divorce', would sell apples at night after the kids were put to bed. She also told me of the Christmas present she and her three sisters received one year: two sisters received a baby doll, and the other two received a baby doll carriage. That was it. And now the four girls were forced to play together if they wanted to enjoy their gifts.
But they were very happy with what they got.
My great great grandmother, in her 80's during the 1930's, would buy a Hershey candy bar from the store and slice off and eat slivers instead of biting chunks to make it last a week or more.
Just two tiny examples of making due because of the Depression. All members of the family 'suffered.' That was just how life was and they made the best of it.

Then came the War. At the time of this writing, the National Geographic Channel is showing a special on Pearl Harbor, as I am certain the History Channel is as well. The United States was thrown into Europe's war whether they wanted to be in it or not. And the boys volunteered to sign up. They lined the streets, in some cases, for blocks to join the war effort. The folks in the entertainment field also did their part, sometimes to perform and other times to fight.
All proudly served their country.
Those at home collected rubber, metals, had paper drives, all to support the U.S. and its allies fighting overseas.
Then, when the war ended four years later, the men came home, many finding a bride, marrying and raising a family. Dad was off to work, mom took care of the homestead. was good.
Until their children became teenagers.
Can you say hippie?
Yep - all of a sudden, the 'greatest generation' was considered 'the enemy.' The hippies hated their parents, or so it was said. Maybe that was a media thing. Whichever the case may be, because of the media hoopla, these kids revolted, demonstrated against the war in VietNam (and I believe rightfully so in this case, although they should not have treated the fighting men so badly upon their return), struck out against America - the America their parents were so proud to be a part of, the America they fought to preserve just twenty years earlier.
Once again, however, these who were considered the greatest generation, stood steadfast in their ways and survived their son's long hair and beards, communes, wild music, drugs, and general psychedelia.
(Before I am attacked by former hippies, let me just say that in my family - and I believe in most families - this anti-parent attitude did not prevail. It was more of a media thing, but it sold papers and magazines.
I will add, however, that my father was not fond of his sons having long hair. That was a constant battle.)
So now, here in the early part of the 21st century, this greatest generation is elderly, and many are suffering all that goes with old age. My father passed away at a young age - 55 - while my mother, a lung cancer survivor, just celebrated her 80th birthday last month. She stood and told us tonight exactly what she was doing when she heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor - she was playing jump rope with friends on the front sidewalk of their home in Detroit. She told us about collecting rubber and tin cans for the war effort. She told us about Victory Gardens. Nickel movies. The "Pepsi Cola hits the spot" radio commercial. The thrill of riding in a rumble seat. Meeting, dating, and marrying my father, then moving in with his immigrant Italian family, feeling like an outsider because she couldn't understand their broken English.
My mother has been through quite a bit in her 80 years. From radio days to plasma TV's. From the old black and white film cameras to digital technology. From hippie children to having children become parents and grandparents themselves. (I can never make the claim to have been a hippie...I missed that scene myself due to my age, but I did witness it from a younger brother's view).
Contrary to what media and modern pop culture historians may say, there was no hatred or demonstrations at our house growing up. Nor were there in many homes of friends. Yes, there was long hair, wild music, even beads and waterbeds. But, most always showed respect to our parents.
Respect that they deserved as the greatest generation. Because of what those of their era lived through, I do not believe any other generation can come close to that moniker.

Monday, November 30, 2009

It's Beginning to Feel A Lot Like Christmas

Hanging Oil Lamp in the Firestone Farm dining room

The Friday after Thanksgiving:
Loading up the family into the van, we drove the nearly two-hour drive north to the Christmas Tree farm we have frequented for nearly 25 years, Western Tree Farm, up in Applegate, Michigan. This place really does it right. Yes, there is some commercialism, but it's very minute compared to other places I have seen. The folks here know us - they should after all these years - great people - so it's off we go on the hay ride out to the land of the spruces. As I was not feeling up to my normal self (I felt rather poorly on Thanksgiving Day...the flu bug hit me - - - fever, body aches, headache), I had my two oldest boys do the dirty work of cutting and carrying. Stopping off for good, greasy hamburgers on the way home is another highlight. Just one of our 21st century traditions, I guess. I love a good, greasy burger, but my body doesn't.
I eat them, unfortunately, less and less.
Home, the tree up, awaiting decorating. A fun day after Thanksgiving.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving:
On with our period clothing and its off to Holly with my wife to meet with friends at the Holly Dickens Festival. For 12 years - every weekend between Thanksgiving weekend and the weekend before Christmas - I was a part of this celebration of Dickens and his "A Christmas Carol." In fact, I was Charles Dickens! Unfortunately, the 2008 season, unknowingly at the time, was to be my last. The folks that run the festival, from what I understand, did not have the budget for me and many other participants, keeping only the wonderfully great Festival Singers. Imagine - a Dickens Festival without Charles Dickens.
Ahhh...such is life...

Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present
(the man in the background represents Big Ben)

But, we did enjoy being there nonetheless, visiting with my old Dickensian cohorts, watching the skits that I am normally a part of, and shopping the antique stores. Other CW reenactor friends joined us as well, including President and Mrs. Lincoln (I had no idea our 16th President and his wife traveled to England...*just kidding* - - - before all you historians chastise me with "He didn't, you knucklehead!")
From the Dickens Festival, all of us CW reenactors then journeyed northward to Flint, Michigan to the open-air museum of Crossroads Village, where they were beginning their annual Christmas celebration. Patty and I have not been to this Village for Christmas in around 15 or 16 years, and we had forgotten what it was like. I forgot about the countless Christmas lights strung hither and thither - literally everywhere one looked they saw Christmas lights. It was nice, although not historically accurate. But, historical accuracy was not necessarily what they were going after, obviously.
Anyhow, a good friend was able to obtain numerous free passes into the Christmas celebration there for those of us who do Civil War reenacting, and it was asked of us to meet and greet visitors, sing carols, and generally become part of the festive atmosphere. I must say, we had such a time! The customers were so friendly and many posed for photos with us. Stepping into the 150 year old homes decorated for the Holidays was one of my favorite parts.

Having a warm by the stove in the Buzzell House in Crossroads Village

It was nice to warm ourselves beside the wood-burning stoves in rooms lighted only by oil lamps. Cozy.
However, my most favorite part of this evening's a tie between singing the old Christmas hymns inside of the ancient church and/or the half hour train ride on actual period cars. you're going to make me choose between the two, right?

Singing Christmas hymns at Crossroads' church

Well, I guess I would have to say...Christmas hymns in church (the train ride had canned music...that brought it down a bit).
Just being with such good friends at this mini-makeshift reenactment was a wonderful way to help kick off the season.
But, there's more - - -
The Sunday after Thanksgiving:
It was a very dingy, gloomy day, with the heavy, threatening gray clouds giving the mid-day the appearance that it was approaching evening instead of, well, mid-day. As my dear wife had, once again, outdid herself for our Thanksgiving Day meal, and with all of the activities of Friday and Saturday, I thought she deserved a day of rest, to do what she wanted. So, while she did her thing, I took my two youngest (Miles and Rosalia) and drove to (where else?) Greenfield Village. I LOVE being a member! It's great to be able to come and go as you please!
Anyhow, the kids were all for it, so off we went, listening to hammered dulcimer Christmas music as I drove along the freeway, singing along...except for Miles, who wouldn't be caught DEAD singing.
Our first structure to visit once inside the wrought iron gates is the Firestone Farm, one of my absolute favorite places to visit...anywhere! Being that it was such a cold, dreary day, they had the oil lamps lit and the fireplace going. My daughter stepped into the sitting room and settled into the chair near the hearth to warm herself, stating to me that she wished we had a fireplace at our house.

Rosalia warming up by the fireplace in Firestone Farm

Sadie, the 'master presenter' at the farm, after a little prodding from her co-workers, went into the parlor and played 'Silent Night' on the 1880's era pump organ, much to the delight of my son (who LOVES the sound of an organ).

Can you not hear 'Silent Night' being played by Sadie on the pump organ?

We stayed inside the house for nearly 45 minutes before venturing off to see the other homes decorated for Christmas. And, just like at Firestone, the homes were oil lamp lit, giving them the old-timey cozy feeling one does not get from an electric light - even with a dimmer switch!
As we sauntered around the other houses, Rosalia told me how Firestone was her favorite house, how she wishes she could live there, how she likes the way it is furnished, how she wants old-time things for Christmas this year, and how she wanted to go back to Firestone Farm before we left.
You don't have to ask me twice! So, after seeing Noah Webster's home decorated for New Years, the Ford House celebrating an 1876 Christmas, and how the Daggett's did not celebrate Christmas in the 1760's, we hiked back to Firestone Farm. With the daylight now waning, and the hiding sun preparing to set - which cast long dark shadows - the Farm was even cozier. The ceiling lamps were now lit - a rare occurrence here (see photo at the top of this blog). Rosalia was in her glory - the workers were baking cookies, using the recipe from the Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping. She stood next to the docent and watched intently the way cookies were decorated back in the 1880's.
After another half hour or so of time well spent, we had to travel back to our own home. Rosalia put up a little fuss, but I told her we could light our own oil lamp and make our own home a cozy home, similar to the Firestone Farm. She knew that was true, and that satisfied her, so off we went.

~It's also cozy in our gathering room~

This was a very Christmas-y, busy, and yet relaxing weekend. Each day was special in its own way, and spending each day with family and good friends made it nearly perfect. (Time-traveling back to the 19th century or, in the least, going home to a farm or to a restored 19th century home would've made it absolutely perfect...I think.)
And virtually everything (but the gas for the car, lunch on Friday, and the tree) was free.

Good friends and family.
No malls.
And this is only the beginning.
I hope your Christmas Season goes as wonderfully for you.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving (a repeat post from previous years)

The following is a blog I wrote a couple years ago. I am reprising it again this year with some additions:

A number of years ago, around 1993 or '94, we had a discussion at my previous job about the Thanksgiving Holiday. A co-worker made a comment that of all the holidays of the year, he loved Thanksgiving the best because it was about eating and family and only about eating and family. I threw in that it was also about giving thanks to God, hence the name Thanksgiving. He adamantly denied this, stating that religion had absolutely nothing to do with this holiday. I asked him who did he think the pilgrims were giving thanks to, of which he replied, "To the Indians!"
I told him that, well, not really to the Indians. Being puritans (advocating strict religious discipline), the pilgrims would not have given thanks to the Indians themselves, but rather to God for sending the Indians to them to ensure their survival.
Well, other co-workers stepped in and, as usual in this day and age, I found myself in the minority in my belief - even with all the proof I had - and pretty much smiled and nodded and said, "You can revise history all you want, but the truth is there to be found if you'll search for it. But, I know you won't, so you'll go on believing what you perceive to be correct but in reality, is false."
Pretty much shut them down with that.

Now I even have the History Channel to back me up:
Although this feast is considered by many to the very first Thanksgiving celebration, it was actually in keeping with a long tradition of celebrating the harvest and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops.
Native American groups throughout the Americas, including the Pueblo, Cherokee, Creek and many others organized harvest festivals, ceremonial dances, and other celebrations of thanks for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in North America.
Historians have also recorded other ceremonies of thanks among European settlers in North America, including British colonists in Berkeley Plantation, Virginia. At this site near the Charles River in December of 1619, a group of British settlers led by Captain John Woodlief knelt in prayer and pledged "Thanksgiving" to God for their healthy arrival after a long voyage across the Atlantic. This event has been acknowledged by some scholars and writers as the official first Thanksgiving among European settlers on record.
Whether at Plymouth, Berkeley Plantation, or throughout the Americas, celebrations of thanks have held great meaning and importance over time.

And this, by the way, from President Lincoln 1863:

"I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union."

Abraham Lincoln

Most, if not all, of our older holidays have religious beginnings of some sort. It's the newer Hallmark holidays (such as Sweetess day - a "holiday" my wife and I refuse to celebrate) who's beginnings are mainly secular.

The Mayflower Compact:

"In ye name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread soveraigne Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britaine, Franc, and Ireland king, defender of the faith, etc."

"Haveing undertaken, for ye glorie of God, and advancemente of ye Christian faith, and honour of our king & countrie, a voyage to plant ye first colonie in ye Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly & mutualy in ye presence of God, and one of another, covenant & combine our selves togeather into a civill body politick, for our better ordering & preservation & furtherance of ye ends aforesaid; "

"and by vertue hearof to enacte lawes, ordinances, acts constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet & convenient for ye generall good of ye Colonie, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience."

"In witnes wherof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cap-Codd ye 11th. of November, in ye year of ye raigne of our soveraigne lord, King James, of England, France, & Ireland ye eighteenth, and of Scotland, ye fiftie fourth. Ano: Dom. 1620."

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Another Period Dress Meeting of the 21st Michigan Civilians

On Saturday, November 14, we had our fall meeting for the Civil War reenacting unit I belong to. Since I've become the Civilian Coordinator of the group a number of years ago, I have insisted on spring and fall meetings. The one in spring, usually held at my house, is to pump up the membership and prepare for the official start of the season, while the one held in the fall, which is usually at another member's farm, to speak on the good and the bad of the slowing reenacting season. And there is always a member or two that might also speak about something historical (this meeting a couple days ago dealt on seasonal foods). I like to pull members (sometimes without forewarning them!) from the 'floor' to share what knowledge they may have on a particular subject. Inclusive AND informative - that's what I like!

The November meeting: 21st Michigan members take a break to explore the Schroeder farm in Hillsdale Michigan

Since I began having these meetings some four years ago, I have insisted that the attendees dress in period clothing, try to serve period (hopefully, seasonal) food, and, at times, to maintain a first person persona.
At this year's fall meeting, we had a few brand new members join us and, since they had no period clothing to wear as of yet, they wore their modern clothing. But, they enjoyed being with all of us "Victorian wannabees" and were given the opportunity to ask whatever questions they had, examine our garments closely, and listen to and took plenty of notes during the speeches.
And, of course, after the morning meetings were over, we had the whole afternoon to enjoy each other's company
And that's one of the main reasons why I insist on period dress meetings - we are given the chance to visit as our ancestors may have; we are allowed to be ourselves - mistakes and all - without the public around to "catch" us in off moments. Generally, we stay away from 20th century speak - it helps to be in a historical or country setting as to give the impression you are in another time. Even though I live in a modern (1940's) house, our back gathering room (also known as 'The Greenfield Village Room') is very period, and while the guests are over we keep it candle and oil lamp lit.

21st Michigan members relax in my 'Greenfield Village' room during the spring reenacting meeting

And the Schroeder's farm (see the photo at the beginning of this entry) was built in the 1840's...well, the front half anyway. And they are surrounded by farmland. Very pastoral.

Might I suggest to any reenactors to try the same with the group you are in - - it's almost (I said, almost) as much fun as an actual reenactment!
In some ways, it is!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Daughter's School Adventures (followed by a rant!)

Rosalia: taken at the Cohen Millinery Shop at Greenfield Village
July 2009.

She loves to try on hats!

This morning I brought my (nearly) 9 year old daughter to her elementary school, as I normally do, placing her in line with her other classmates. Earlier, my daughter had informed me that they were having their annual book fair this week, which I always love, no matter what age group...I enjoy buying books for my kids as much as I love buying them for myself. Anyhow, I went into the building and stepped into the library, where the fair is held, and began to check out the selection: there were books about Hannah Montana, iCarly, Jonas Brothers, the obligatory selection of Obama books, joke books, riddle books, mystery and ghost stories, young and pre-teen stories, nearly anything an elementary aged child would want.
Except my daughter.
She wanted history books.
And they had nothing for her.
I know I can find anything she would want on or maybe at the local store, but it's just not the same for her. She wanted to spend her own money and buy a book from her school.
But, since she did not see anything "from the Civil War era or from the time of the Revolutionary War" she chose to hold on to her cash.
She came home so disappointed.
That's when I decided to see for myself what they had. Yup - she was right...nothing history at all. I did, however, find a version of "A Christmas Carol" suitable for one her age and bought that instead.
I brought it home and she was ecstatic! She must've over-looked the book while shopping. It'll be a good introduction for her and will allow her to actually read the "Carol" instead of watching the five or six different versions we own as we normally do multiple times a season. Within a couple years I'll pull out Dickens' own version for her to read - at the rate she's going, she'll be ready to read the original within two years!
It's a shame, however, that out of the literally hundreds of titles for sale that were spread out over the library tables and shelves, she couldn't find one rooted in history to spend her money on. When I was her age and my interest in history began to grow, I was lucky enough to buy many books of this nature - still have a few of them - and read and re-read them constantly. So, I guess I'll have to pull my old books off the shelf and let her enjoy them as I did.
Rosalia, who, by the way, is in the 3rd grade, will be portraying Susannah Winslow in her class project for Thanksgiving this year. And she is so excited about it! The kids dress up in their best make-shift pilgrim outfits (another 3rd grade class portray the Indians) and they become, for a whole week, their chosen person, with the culmination being a presentation for the parents on the day before Thanksgiving. Of course, Rosalia came to me to help her with her research of Mrs. Winslow, so I pulled out a few books I have on the pilgrims so she could write down whatever information she felt was important. We're also going to watch the docu-drama called "Desperate Crossing," a superb DVD about the pilgrims - the best I have seen so far. It will give her more of a feel for what those travelers went through before, during, and after their journey on the Mayflower.
I had to laugh when I found out, during a fun-facts of history segment of class, that Rosalia was the only child in her class that knew what a chamber pot was and exclaimed quite proudly that "I have one, and I use it, too!" She also was the only child to know what hard tack was and volunteered my wife to make a batch for the class. The kids look to my daughter for answers when it comes to history - at the ripe old age of 8! She loves it!
Rosalia is not shy and quite often will wear her Civil War era dress to school, much to the delight of the other little girls. And when she does, she attempts (successfully, I might add) the proper etiquette of the time. Even though so many of her young friends try to dress like the latest popular TV star, they are just as thrilled to come over to our house and try on Rosalia's 150 year old fashions. And, yes, she gives them etiquette lessons, especially during her tea parties.
I really think that's pretty cool and I believe that many of the kids would rather willingly dress in period clothing over some of the new fashions being pushed.
After reading what a blogger friend of mine recently wrote (....As becometh women professing Godliness.) it got me to thinking about my little girl and her place in today's society. It's extremely difficult to raise a child in such a world that we live in. We all want the best for our children, and we all (hopefully) do our best to raise our children in the best way we can. But, when one lives in a society where pretty much anything goes, it can get pretty tough to be a parent and teach right from wrong, especially when society (read: the mainstream media) tries its best to thrust its own morals and values upon our little ones. It's a challenge, believe me. But, we stick by our morals and our values, and it's worked...with my two oldest, and it seems to be working for my two youngest.
I just hope and pray that it continues to long as we keep her focused, it should.
But, it sure isn't easy..................................

The following photos were taken when Rosalia was just three years old. She was a ham and enjoyed making goofy faces for the camera.
I love these pics! They really have nothing to do with this particular entry - - it's just that I smile every time I see them.

(By the way, you might enjoy reading one of my early postings about Rosalia entitled My Daughter).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Great Discovery and the Hope for a New (old) Life

Those of you who have been reading my posts for some time must know that not only am I a living historian / reenactor of the American Civil War era, but a wishful think-er that one day I will wake up and find that my family and I have time-traveled back to that era (Hey! I'm allowed!). Well, since that will never happen, my wife and I try - ever-so-slowly - to incorporate the more traditional lifestyle of the mid-19th century into our modern lives. Considering the fact that we live in the city (just a half mile outside of Detroit) makes it rather difficult. Modern intrusions surround us, not only in scenery but in lifestyle as well. It's nearly impossible to attempt to live an (for lack of better words) antiquated life in this area. But, we try...morally (pretty successful here!) and, to a lesser extent, physically.
Our hope is to one day in the not too distant future move from this obtrusive locale into an area that is more suitable to how we would like to live - - Patty and I plan to put our heads together soon after the first of the year and see what we need to do to make our dream come true. Believe it or not, we spoke of living this sort of old-fashioned life on our very first date! Why we did not grab it with both hands early on...well, all I can say is this fool learned a good lesson. Hopefully, it's not too late.

Anyhow, since we are stuck here in the city for now, we have slowly been decorating the inside of our home in a very traditional style by use of paint color, period-correct wall paper, pulling up the carpeting to reveal our hardwood floors, and, of course, our antiques, of which we actually use. Yes, we sit on our 1890's sette', yes we rock in our 1850's rocking chair, yes Patty plans to learn to spin on our 1830's great/walking wheel, and yes we tell time by our 1880's mantel clock. And there are other items we use as well. There are some things, however, we either cannot find or simply cannot afford. Or, in the case of a butter churn, for instance, our 120 year old crock is lead-based. Don't want THAT butter on my bread!
Well, while searching over the internet for items to help us live a more 19th century lifestyle (quite an oxymoron!) I discovered a wonderful store that can (and has) greatly helped us in our endeavor to live this traditional life: Lehmans, sellers of period appropriate home items. You name it - they got it! And little did I know just how extensive a place Lehman's was - I received their full catalog when I ordered a wall oil lamp recently... (below right)

Holy Cow! My wife and I went crazy looking at all of the wonderful items they carry! Wood burning stoves for warming and cooking, oil lamps of all kinds, churns, juicers, old-time toys, farming and garden equipment, all kinds of kitchen items, milk bottles and glasses, ice cream makers, tools, books...just a treasure-trove of home items for folks who would like to live the traditional life.
Unfortunately, their prices are a little on the high side. I guess they can afford to do that since, as far as I can see, they are a one-of-a-kind store.
Not that we need or want everything they have listed - unless my wife and I decide to quit our jobs to chop wood all day long, I don't believe we could use a wood burning cook stove - but, the idea that we can purchase certain items that we have always wanted but could never find in usable condition is wonderful.
I suppose what I like most about a store such as Lehmans is that such a store exists, meaning that there are others - many others - out there who desire to live a more traditional life.
Patty and I are not alone!
(Actually, I knew we weren't alone in our endeavors...between reenacting and blogging I have met many others like us. That's a good feeling.)
We are hoping to take the 4 hour journey to visit the store sometime in the near future - if my wife has her way, it will be before Christmas. That's doubtful, but maybe in January or even February, as long as the weather is clear. I'd hate to be caught in a snowstorm so far from home.

Now, my dear Better Half has always knitted and crocheted, but, of late, she has found that her interests in traditional crafts has expanded greatly, and she is now doing much more in that vein than she ever thought - - she's sewn herself three dresses, three dresses for our daughter Rosalia, pants and a shirt for Miles, underdrawers (shhhh!!!) for our son Rob and for me, and she has made three bonnets for herself - silk, straw, and a winter bonnet, each one totally hand-made. Although for the clothing she used her electric sewing machine, she refused to use anything but traditional methods in her bonnet making - no glue gun here! - saying, "If I'm going to take the time to do this, then I'm going to do it right!"In fact, that's Rosalia and Patty in the above photo (center and right respectively, with a friend). Everything you see my wife and daughter wearing, except for her gloves and Rosalia's hat, was made by Patty.
Yes, I am proud!
I would love it if we could consistently dress in a more traditional style as well - not just at reenactments. That day may come, for Patty has repeatedly mentioned how she wishes she could wear her period clothing outside of reenactments, including her corset. She just feels more comfortable.
Wouldn't that be something - - - many in my extended family already thinks were wacko (in a cool sort of way) as it is!
Ultimately, what Patty and I hope to do is get out of the city living, find a home either in a small town or village (Romeo, here we come!) or a small farmhouse with a bit of land, and do our best to become as self-sufficient as we can. Use more natural lighting. Eat the vegetables we grow. Take pride in what we're able to do ourselves without society help. I'm not necessarily speaking of becoming Amish (although that is intriguing!) because I do enjoy a good movie, for instance, and I enjoy playing on the computer. Hot showers are nice, too. But, to become more independent of modern society. We have spoken of this quite a bit lately - it's an ache and a yearning we both have.
We just have to, with God's help (for I can see no other way), put it into motion.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dept. 56 Dickens Village

Please click HERE for the 2011 set up)

I spent pretty much the better part of my day today setting up my Dept. 56 ceramic Dickens Village lighted houses. In fact, I began around 6:30 this morning and, except for church and lunch, I didn't finish until 12 hours later.
Why am I putting up Christmas stuff on November 1st? Well, since this village takes so long to do, I'm not going to take 12 hours to put it up only to take it down a few short weeks later. So, it goes up right after Hallowe'en and stays up until the first part of January.
I've been collecting the Dickens Village series since 1989, the year I bought my first lighted house - the original Flat of Ebenezer Scrooge. Since I was (and still am) a major fan of the Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol," I thought having this lighted Scrooge home was the coolest decoration ever. I remember telling my wife how "I'll buy one house a year."

Yeah, right.
The following year we added a couple more houses to my one house collection, and each year thereafter my Village grew. And grew. One year - 1994, I believe - I used my Hudson's charge card and bought a whole slew of houses and accessories, much to the frustration of my beloved. Yes, she was angry...real angry... boy! I sure didn't do that again!

Except for a couple of pieces from other Dept. 56 series, I have mainly stuck to the Dickens Village, and I always have tried to keep it in the theme of Dickens' "Carol:" buying the homes of Cratchit, Fezziwig, Nephew Fred, and the Scrooge & Marley Counting House, etc., as well as structures from other Dickens novels, including the home of Mr. Brownlow (from 'Oliver Twist) and The Old Curiosity Shop. There are also buildings of businesses that every English village had - a blacksmith shop, a pub, a tavern, a coal merchant, and many others.

And then there are the accessories...all of the characters from "Carol" including Scrooge, Cratchit, and the ghosts, as well as a few from the pages of Oliver Twist and David Copperfield. Plus, vendors of all types, townsfolk, horse and carriages, "gas" street lamps, cobblestone roads, bridges, trees...the list goes on and on.
Little did I know when I bought that first Scrooge house that I would eventually have enough to easily fill four 6 foot tables.
The last year I put the complete collection on display it took me two full days! And it took almost as long to take it all down.

The last few years, however, I cut way back in both the purchasing of and the setting up of my village. It was just too much - too large. Even with a decent size room it was over the top. So, instead, I put just a few of my favorites on the shelf just to have them out.
I didn't like it. It wasn't the same.
So, what do I do?
The thought came to me to expand on my 'favorites' idea and to put out a decent display, but with only two tables instead of the four that I used to have. That would mean cutting out quite a few of the houses and people.
But, it's better than only four or five houses, right?

So-o-o, that's what I worked on all day today; figuring out what goes on display and what stays in the box for another year.
When family members saw me bringing bag after bag filled with the items up from the basement, my two youngest kids were thrilled, and my mom - who lives with us - was very excited.
So now, for the first time in three years, I have my Dickens Village back up...yes, it's condensed...but it's there. And it looks really nice.
Maybe one day I will put my complete village out.
Until then....this is it!

Seen here is roughly half of my Dickens collection. The rest will have to wait for another time...


Sunday, October 25, 2009

And the Reenacting Fun Continues...

My wife (right) and a very good friend before the Harvest Ball

Last Saturday, Oct. 24, my wife and I, along with nearly a hundred others, attended a Civil War era ball in Lansing, Michigan. It was held in a large hall, part of an old (but still active) church, decorated very appropriately for the season. The band - The Olde Michigan Ruffwater String Band - performed period music while band leader Glen Morningstar walked us through the steps of the contra-dances and quadrilles.
The 7th Michigan hosts this annual ball and they go all out to keep it period-accurate, and any seasoned reenactor that has attended the harvest Ball can see that they do a tremendous job.
And did we have a good time! The Virginia Reel, the Spanish Waltz...all of the favorites were played, and my wife and I danced the greater majority of them, usually with each other.

With my back to the camera, I am, with my dear Esposita in the purple dress, attempting to dance a quadrille with three other couples. We did pretty darn good!

For many of the reenactors, this is the last gathering of the season.
No more wearing of the period clothing until springtime.
I find that kind of sad...there are still fun period things one can still do during the so-called off season here in the cold northern part of the country if one chooses to do so. For us in the Detroit area we have numerous activities to keep our 'hobby' alive during the winter months. Maybe not to the extent of a large reenactment, but there is the opportunity to partake in some fine living history. For instance, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving many of us plan to participate in the Christmas at Crossroads Village event where a number of us have been asked to become townsfolk...become part of the know, walk around the open-air historical village, go in and out of the homes and shops, talk to the visitors...
I am really looking forward to this. I haven't been to Crossroads at Christmastime in at least 15 years. A great way to begin the holiday, don't you think?
Just a couple weeks after that we will be participating in Christmas at the Fort - Historic Fort Wayne that is, in downtown Detroit. I have not done this one yet but I have heard nothing but good about it. Plus, we'll be inside period-correct structures.
There is also the 21st Michigan's period-dress Christmas party, held in an 1872 schoolhouse. A traditional meal will be served and old-time fiddle music will be played - a true time-travel experience.
I hear that the Plymouth Historical Museum is hoping that the 21st Michigan visits once again next February for Lincoln's birthday.
So, as you can see, although they're a bit spread out we still have at least monthly events, giving us the chance to continue to bring the past to life throughout the year.
How about in your neck of the woods?