12-17-2014 Maple Syrup Day

The snow is disappearing. It still persists in heaps and in shadowed areas, and rain freezes and makes ice pockets, but it’s looking very March-like around here. We’ve got about half the wood stacked into the shed, but I’m beginning to worry that it won’t be all in before the Solstice. I’m working on it a bit every day, but not plunging into a “work until it’s done” thing, because I think that might turn into a “work until you drop” thing.
The other night I had a nightmare- a real one that woke me up panting and scared. It was about an SCA event (something I dream about the way other people dream about school or work) and I had overbooked myself so much, too much food to cook, too much to do, too little help, it was clear that this was a dramatization of the holidays. I am really looking forward to the open house this weekend. Everyone is so busy at this time of year that rather than having “a party”, we now ask people to just drop by if they have time in their schedule and are near enough. This has resulted in a weekend when there are times no one is here, and times when we have a half a dozen people.  I can’t do the party games I used to when there’d be several dozen people here at once, but it makes it easier to actually talk to the friends who make it. Sometimes folk who are traveling past to see family, or some other party can make a diversion to spend an hour here, and that’s wonderful. The older I get, the happier I am to talk to friends (although I still love a good board or card game!)
I do wonder if I’ve laid in more food than I have time too cook. I remembered how Mother, while dealing with cancer, would send for things like canvas shoes for summer- a symbol that she would be there to wear them when summer came. At least shoes could be sent back, one can’t do that with a pork roast. There may be fewer cookies this year. Not that we didn’t plan that. As with most people we are scaling back. Since none of us likes to climb ladders, we don’t have lights along the roof the way I like best- only around the door. I’d hoped to actually clear out the living room and dining room and switch their functions, but that’s not happening.

The big issue this week is that Willow’s laptop computer died. Last Wednesday she’d done a full back-up to a flashdrive, so when the computer shop declared it unfixable on Thursday, we sent for another one, confident that we could put all the saved material into the new one. Willow spent a day or so looking at all the available computers. Frustratingly, it would cost a hundred dollars MORE to get one that had Windows 7.0, which she’d been using than a brand new one with 8.1. Having been happy with the last one, she got another Acer. Sadly when it arrived, it turned out that when they switched from 8.0 to 8.1 they took out the ability for it to take back-ups, except from things it had backed up. Since this was a new, essentially empty, machine, it wouldn’t take the old material from the flash-drive. She’s spent the last three days on the computer, on many websites, the phone with tech support people (one, Dave, has been actually very helpful. Everyone send prayers and good vibes to Dave!), and griping to her friends on her desk top about the stress. It’s really irritating that she did everything “right”, she does everything you’re supposed to do (anti-virus, don’t open anything, etc.) and it still doesn’t work. It’s really frustrating to have people suggest things that you’ve already done (“have you gone to the website?”). I, personally,  went back to Amazon, where we bought it, and complained that there is no hint in the description that you can’t transfer the material from your old computer to your new one unless you buy a new one before the old one dies. Who does that? (Ok, yes, computer nerds get the new toys as soon as they can afford them, but most people I know keep using both their cars and their computers until they are dead, and a little beyond if possible.) Dave has helped her get some of the material onto the new machine.
Sadly the back-up information is split across about 80 folders that are all mixed up. Someone once told me that when storing information, computers look for empty space on the disk, and stick it in any hole they can find that’s big enough- I’m picturing it like tetris. So it seems that she’s got a deck of cards with all the information, but they’ve done the “52 pick-up” trick on her, and she has to go through each folder one at a time, figure out what’s in it, then sort all her old pictures, music, information, and everything else into some sort of proper organization so she can find them again. My theory may be totally wrong, because I really don’t know how computers work, but no matter how it messed up, it’s been stressful and frustrating, especially for Willow, but also for us watching her go through it.willow's CARDS
She’s also been finishing her cards. The woman actually paints a different picture on each card separately. Some are incredibly gorgeous, some just nice, (and of course, those are the ones she gets annoyed about). Yesterday between phone calls, Today she got to the write the addresses on the envelopes and put the cards in, and stamped them. Meanwhile, I’m mostly sending out cards when cards come in and I can copy the return address off the ones I get. I am slowly rebuilding my mailbox, thank goodness I printed out a hard copy a couple years ago, but I’m discovering that not all of the addresses are still good!
team_imbecile_s_lodge_by_kittywitchthesecond-d89ybeqMeanwhile Kat’s finished the commission for a picture of Dr. Who (4) and his companions on a planet with blue snow. I love the colors, the shadows, and the look on Tom Baker’s face. Now she’s cleaning for the party.

Last weekend we went up to the Barony Yule (held in the Outing Club at Dartmoth) a lovely hall, and we had a lovely time. It was held on the 13th, which is St. Lucy’s Day. We have adopted the tradition of Santa Lucia Buns DSC01632for years- the tradition is the youngest daughter of the house brings cocoa and saffron buns to their parents in bed on that morning. (The link will lead you to the recipe.) We started doing this when I discovered that I could get saffron at the Pepperer’s Guild at Pennsic for $5 a vial (it has gone up, but
buying at Pennsic is still cheaper than most places). In my opinion, breakfast buns requires making the buns the night before, even if sunrise isn’t pretty late (depending upon latitude). So this year, I doubled the batch, and apparently two batches is more than the bowl can hold. The recipe makes two to four dozen depending upon the size you make, so I figured that at three dozen, so 6 dozen would let me take 4 dz. to the feast (where they were expecting around 40 people) and have 2 dozen for the four of us. That worked out fine (even after some overflowed onto the floor and had to be tossed out).DSC01635
I had forgotten that it does take more than a minute (even for me) to roll out a glob of dough and form it into a bun, so CLEARLY it takes over an hour to make 60+ buns. I quickly stopped going through the many forms and just made a whole lot of Lucy’s Cats. Around midnight I gave up and covered and put the last batches in the pantry and finished them in the morning.
(oh yes, I discovered because the last batch I’d left in the oven after glazing with egg yolk were nibbled, that apparently the mice have returned. Time to start setting the mouse trap in the oven nights again. I think they probably are nesting under the oven to take advantage of the warmth. Phooey!)
(stupid cats!)DSC01637
So in the morning we packed the Gold Key into the van, along with my banner, Willow’s blanket she was working on, (I thought the quilting fabric we’d offered to Kris, I thought ), about 30 pair of old stockings (figured SCAers would be more likely to want socks with the heels worn through than “normal” people), and a couple of leather postoffice sacks that we think Ælfwine had picked up to make armor, and, of course, a HUGE basket of (some still warm) saffron buns, that smelled really good all the way up! We travelled in garb. This was an event that one can wear the wool gowns and cloaks without over heating. Once we got up past Concord, the snow seemed to still be there. Or maybe they’d had another storm because it was stuck to the trees- some hillsides were almost white even covered with conifers. It was amazing looking. We went through Manchester to pick up the St. Nicholas costume that was in the Gold Key. DSC01641Willow had realized that with her set of horns, a black wig and some makeup, she could do a reasonable Krampus (she wore an old tudor robe of James’); she also cut a bundle of switches from the forsythia bush. She posted on the Barony list to see if parents would object- figuring with modern parents they’d be afraid that the kids would be traumatized. Nope. One person volunteered his kid to go in Krampus’ sack!  (for some reason none of the several fat, white-bearded members of the barony weren’t there, so Frostalf/Tom ended up playing Saint Nicholas! Maybe next year we’ll have a more realistic one. Dennis, was, of course, down at Megan’s mother’s funeral- where apparently he got a broken rib. I am still waiting to hear THAT story. Eagerly.)DSC01644

At any rate we got there a bit after two- they had a very brief curia, Kat had a nominal Gold Key in the back room- which is good, because Knotty Cross (Dartmoth) is a student heavy group, and has a lot of new members. Around five, Willow got dressed as Krampus and they passed out the presents to the kids, and Willow and Tom got to do that shtick. Sadly, there were some middle school aged kids, and you probably know how they are. They criticized her makeup, her outfit, told her she wasn’t scary, and were generally obnoxious. So obnoxious that Willow had to go out side and calm down. And her parents made the kid apologize, but sheesh! Why do they do that!? About six there was the feast. It was a lovely pot luck (now if only they’d had room to put up a u shaped table in that lovely hall and still been able to seat everyone, it would have looked SO medieval! But there were as many as you could cram in.

DSC01648 DSC01647Still, the food was lovely, lots of meatballs, and soups- they had a large table of Gluten Free foods, (all the foods were labeled for possible allergins), first, so people wouldn’t accidentally contaminate the GF food with the wheaty stuff. If you think that the first item on the right (in the red and white tray) looks like a lump of coal for naughty children- it’s supposed to; they are really rice crispy treats with black food coloring! Not medieval, but fun and festive. Near the far left you can see our basket of saffron buns.
DSC01649Last night we had Mark and Steve over for Latkes (first night of Hannuka). Since we’re not Jewish, it’s simply an excuse for us to have them! I figured people LOVE latkes, and Lisa used to make 50 pounds of potatoes worth or more just for the three of them, but I’m trying to scale back, so I made 2 potatoes worth per person. (I’ve found when making french fries, that one potato per person leaves people feeling unsatisfied- perhaps because they’re used to commercial portions.) Sadly the proportions were wrong- FAR too many latkes (who’d have thought that possible‽) Ianthe posted her formula: one less potato than eater, one less egg than potato. Next year I’m going to try that. Mark left when I pulled out the Hannuka gelt and dreidles.
Steve, having to work in the morning, also left fairly early, but took a box of our old collection of audio tapes to turn into MP3s. It seems that everywhere I look I’m finding signs of the world changing around me (maybe because I’m cleaning and getting rid of old stuff). I don’t generally feel old, yet I feel like I’m reacting like an old person- I see the old tapes, which have been  in plain sight on the wall for years- and realize I haven’t even seen them. I don’t have a machine that will play them, yet, they hold memories of my past, the sound track of the life we had in the 80s and 90s. We are so caught up in what we’re doing now, I don’t think about those things until I hear an old song, see an old drawing or picture, taste or smell something I haven’t in a long time, and the whole time comes flooding back. I think that’s why we tend to make “traditional” recipes for holidays, whether the Christmas season, or any of the other ones. It connects us to our past so we don’t forget the good parts.

This week a distant cousin, Ben Conant, sent me a copy of the Richards Family Geneology: 1803-2014.
The earliest ancestor was born in the 18th century:
Edward & Mary Richards who
“begat” Samuel Richards in 1825, who married Ellen Creasey;John W Richards family

they had John King Richards (1827-1905) who married Elizabeth Winslow (1832-1871);
they had John Winslow Richards (1853- 1904) married Elenora Dodge (1856-1940)
they had 8 children, including Albert Dodge Richards (1895-1954) who married Nellie Booker (1898-1989)
they had 6 including Robert Philander Richards (1924-2013) who married Patricia Murray (1928-1996)
they had 5 including me (who married Nicholas Taylor and begat 4 who don’t look like they’ll be breeding).
Mom told me that when she and Dad got married they had 100 first cousins between them (her excuse for eloping). She had 11; he had 89.
I will spend WAY too much time looking at this fascinating booklet!

I am reading several books (as usual) this week. I finished Charms, Charmers and Charming (finally).
This book is a collection of papers on charms (verbal magick) from all over the world from a folklore society or conference. I enjoyed the papers/chapters more when I had some familiarity with the culture- context is so important! For example, the charms from medieval England were similar to the ones I know well from my studies of Dark Ages England, Madagascar or Indonesia, not so much. But I liked comparing the diversity for common elements. I think it took me so many months to finish because it’s solid research, not the kind of introductory stuff one gets from Llewellyn books. I wish the folklorists who collected the information weren’t quite so dismissive about the efficacy of the charms. On the other hand, mostly they didn’t put a lot of energy into trying to come up with some justification why the people they were studying were doing it, and didn’t come off as condescending as I’ve seen in other studies.
On the other hand I’ve really fallen into the book Being Mortal (the sig quote below is from it), written by a doctor looking into how we’ve medicalized old age (and death). It makes me a bit depressed because he found many people who tried innovating better ways to deal with the problems of people who need some help because of age (who kept the “home” in Nursing home) but how hard it is to avoid getting trapped by administrative problems (having the activities director getting residents out of the way for the cleaning staff, having the food staff coordinate with the medical staff, etc. I do keep tripping over the surprising (to me) point that so many people seem to be able to avoid thinking about the inevitability of death, to not think about it. I would have thought it was pretty obvious we all die. How can the question “Am I going to die?” not be answered in the affirmative? The doctor can soften it by pointing out that we’re all dying, the question is when and how, but then, that leads to the important questions about what you are going to do until then, and what’s possible given the state of your health. Again, I’m thrilled that Hospice has come so far, but before that, I’m happy that there’s evidence that it can be healthy and cheaper to have nursing homes (and communities) with animals, with privacy, with autonomy. The problem is how to get the ones that are set up already on a “hospital” plan, with life extension rather than life enhancement the main priority to change the way they do things. Inertia is a really powerful force!
I’m still reading Hild (a novel from Anglo-Saxon England in about my period), and also reading The Heathen School, which covers information about a question I’ve been trying to research for decades. We’ve all heard about missionaries, but what on earth makes someone think it’s a good idea to try to convert someone else to their religion? This goes back to the definitions I learned for the difference between pagan and heathen. Pagans are the ones like the ancient Greeks or Egyptians who lived before Christ and therefor had no ability to become Christian, but heathens are like the Vikings, Native Americans, or Polynesians who, having been told about “the good news” chose to refuse it. I’m not sure where I heard this distinction, but can recognize that people talked about “saving” the “little brown people”, and refer to the “heathen Chinee” and the “Pagan Philosophers”.  (Something like learning grammar naturally by speaking it, as opposed to learning rules like what a past pluperfect is…)
Ah well, time to have supper, and at eight do my podcast. No guest tonight, I’ll be talking about The Wild Hunt so if you want to call in between 8 and 9, please do (619-639-4606). I do SO much better when I have someone for feedback!
Hope to see you at the open house this weekend, if not, I’m happy to have you for a friend!

“Block [hospice specialist] has a list of questions that she aims to cover with sick patients in the time before decisions have to be made: What do they understand their prognosis to be, what are their concerns about what lies ahead, what kinds of trade-offs are they willing to make, how do they want to spend their time if their health worsens, who do they want to make decisions if they can’t? A decade”
― Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

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