University of Atlantia session #95

You may remember that back in June, MrH and I (and a couple of friends) attended the summer session of the University of Atlantia, a regional symposium of classes on all aspects of life in the European Middle Ages and Renaissance.

We gave the November session a miss, as it was way up in Maryland. But the February session was held at a community college only a couple of hours from home, which meant we could daytrip, and we weren’t about to miss it!


The University of Atlantia has its own registration system, but in the past I’ve just emailed a list of the classes I wanted to the registrar. This time, I decided to give it a whirl.

First, I had to create an account.

Clicking the link took me to a table with a list of fields to fill out – user name, first name, last name, email, all the usual stuff. Each of the fields was labeled, making the form easy to fill out using my screen reader.

The final field was for a captcha image. Well, darn it! Was I going to have to get MrH to help me after all?

No. No, I wasn’t. A little further down there was an option for an audio captcha. And, wonder of wonders, it worked! I was in!

After that, registration was just a matter of navigating to the description of the classes I wanted and clicking the “Register” button that now appeared. Voila!

I didn’t test the system’s limitations, but MrH reports that if the class is full, you can sign up to be on the waiting list, that the system won’t let you sign up for two classes during the same time slot, and that unregistering for a class is as easy as clicking a button.

Well done, University of Atlantia!

Rags to Riches: Rag Paper Production During the Middle Ages

Unfortunately, we got a later start than we intended, and I missed the first half of this class. On the plus side, I did get the handout, which meant I could catch up on the background later, and was there for the practical demonstration.

The art of making paper began in China and spread to the Middle East when a group of paper-makers were captured during a war. From there, it spread to Europe.

Paper wasn’t very popular in Europe at first, as people considered it a “poor man’s substitute” for parchment or vellum. But it got a real boost with the advent of Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press and came into common use.

The process of making paper by hand is very similar today. Fibers are dissolved into a slurry with water, then spread onto a screen and lifted free. The resulting wet sheet is removed from the screen and pressed between layers of “felt” – heavy cloth that absorbs water – and pressed, then allowed to dry. Sizing may be added either with the fibers or to the damp sheets.

This is definitely something I want to try, though it will have to wait until I can get my hands on the equipment. I wish I’d thought to ask if I could handle a finished (dry) sheet!

Fiber Felting and Fulling

My next class was hands-on, and probably my favorite of the day.

Wool fibers, it turns out, have a ragged cuticle, or coating, and when they are agitated, they grab on and cling to one another. This means that wool can be matted into cloth, or even sculpted into shapes.

We began with needle felting, a dry felting method which isn’t period, but is a heck of a lot of fun! Essentially, you press the fibers together and poke them with a special needle that has barbs on the tip. Repeatedly. This tangles the fibers and melds the pieces together, and is also very cathartic.

I stuck some roving (combed-out wool ready to be spun) and bits of fluff to my background material and brought home several scraps and bits to practice on. The result is very tactile – I could easily feel where the bits were stuck down and trace the shape of them – and I came away bursting with ideas for projects to make.

One word of caution: Felting needles are sharp! I pricked my fingers several times, and it really stung. The jabs didn’t bleed much, though, so there’s that.

I also got to try my hand at fulling, where you work loose fibers together in warm soapy water. The soap breaks down the lanolin on the wool and opens the cuticle so the fibers can mat together. I molded mine into a little heart, but with more fiber and a larger pan, you can make actual pieces of cloth for insoles, slippers, and even entire garments.

You can also use the technique on knitted or woven wool items to produce a thick, durable cloth.

Lunch and Convocation

This University was hosted by the Barony of Raven’s Cove, who saved us from having to go off campus by providing a delicious fundraiser lunch.

We had a choice of ham or turkey sandwich, vegetarian or ham and potato soup, choice of an apple or an orange, and two huge cookies. Oh, and water or lemonade to drink. Everything was delicious, and the portions big enough that I saved my apple for later.

Well done, Raven’s Cove!

After lunch, we went to the auditorium, where the Baron and Baroness thanked everyone involved in putting on the event and the Chancellor of the University awarded the degrees that people had earned by attending and/or teaching a certain number of classes.

Then it was off to class again!

Courtesans: Selling the Illusion of Love

I signed up for this class partly because it sounded fascinating, and partly to get background flavor for a character I’m writing.

The first thing I learned was that I really should have taken the instructor’s class on prostitution in the Middle Ages at a previous University, because it sounds as though it was full of great information. Ah, well. Another time.

The gist of it, I gather, is that prostitution was common and widely accepted for much of the Middle Ages, but at some point people began to frown on it and pass laws to restrict prostitutes to brothels, or forbid it altogether.

Enter the courtesan, who invited men into her house for parties and other entertainment and sold sex discreetly (or not so discreetly) on the side.

Courtesans especially flourished in the Italian states, where many men were attached to the Church and not allowed to marry. Courtesans were seen as luxury items, like a Lambourghini, and being able to support one was a mark of social status. They were usually not paid in money, which would have been seen as crass, but in housing, jewelry, clothing and other gifts.

Being a courtesan was often a family business, with mothers teaching daughters the secrets of the trade and selling their virginity to the highest bidder – sometimes more than once! It was also a cottage industry, with courtesans supporting many servants and hangers-on.

There was a lot more information in this two-hour class, including portraits of some of the more famous courtesans. I hope I’ve gotten everything correct, as I didn’t take notes during the class and am working from memory. If you are at all interested in this topic and have an opportunity to take the class, I highly recommend it!

Stroke in the SCA

This was my final class of the day, again two hours long.

I overlooked it on the schedule, because I thought it had to do with blows in heavy weapons fighting or fencing. But when MrH mentioned it to me and I realized it had to do with the medical condition, I switched my registration to attend it.

The instructor had a stroke at the age of 30, which was misdiagnosed at first because the ER personnel thought he was “too young to have a stroke.” When he collapsed the next day, he was admitted to the hospital for treatment, then went through rehabilitation.

He received a lot of support from his friends in the SCA, and participating in the SCA again helped motivate him in his recovery.

As he discussed some of the symptoms of stroke – aphasia (difficulty with words or speech), exhaustion, confusion – I teared up, because I identified with so many of them.

Those were the things that happened to me while Bob the Brain Tumor was slowly taking over my brain. But because they set in so gradually, instead of all at once, they slipped under the radar. I had a stroke in slow motion, I thought.

A quick way to remember what to do in case of stroke is to memorize the FAST acronym. If you or someone you know experiences Facial drooping or paralysis, weakness in the Arms, or Slurred speech, then Time is of the essence – seek medical attention immediately!

The instructor offered some great tips for participating in the SCA, which I think apply to anyone with a disability: Know your limitations. Go with a friend who can help you if you need it. Have a strategy in case you need to get away or rest for a while. Accept that you may not be able to do all the things you used to, and look for new ways to be involved.

Again, there was a lot of information and I’m only hitting the high points. If you have a chance to take this class, I highly recommend it.

Afterthoughts and Notes for the Future

I had an awesome time, and I can’t wait to do University again! I almost wish there were two of me, because almost every hour there was at least one other class, often more, that I also wanted to attend.

I collected handouts for each of my classes, but will have to either get someone to read them for me, or digitize them to read on the computer. I’m thinking about printing up business cards and asking instructors if they will email me the class handouts. I don’t know if everyone will be comfortable with it, as it is their hard work they are sending off, but it’s a quick way to get the information to me in an accessible form.

My biggest problem continues to be navigating between classes. MrH and I had planned to arrive early so I could get oriented to the site, but our late start prevented that, and as the classes were in several different buildings, it might not have helped. It didn’t help, either, that it was frigid outside and I didn’t want to linger to learn my way around!

Fortunately, SCA folks are some of the friendliest and most helpful people I know. People were quick to offer to guide me from one class to another, and I could likely have made it through the entire day without MrH just by accepting their offers.

Well done, SCA!

I want to teach at a University. I could probably put together a class for stick weaving or braiding, but I think it would be great to do a class on blind people during our time period and making the Modern Middle Ages more accessible to people with visual impairment.

How about you? Does University of Atlantia sound like your kind of event? Have you learned anything exciting lately?


Talk to Me!

It was the week between Christmas and New Year, and the restaurant was hopping. I wasn’t even in the door behind MrH, struggling to get a feel for the place, when a server swooped in to hustle us to a table.

Still not really oriented, I felt along one side of the table for a chair. Finding none, I checked the next side, just as MrH helpfully pointed it out to me.

I snapped at him that I had it now, thanks. And then it happened.

From another section of the restaurant, our server called out, “If she can walk down steps, I have another table in here. I just thought that one would be easier for you.”

At first I was a little irritated. The table was fine, and I hadn’t been talking to her.

My next thought fell somewhere between irritation and amusement. My eyes don’t work, but the rest of my body is just fine. Why would she assume I might not be able to manage steps?

And then the full implication sank in.

“If she can walk down steps…” If</em? she can walk down steps.

I’m standing right here.

Rather than speaking to me, the server had spoken to MrH about me, as if I weren’t there, or weren’t a full-fledged part of the conversation, like a child or a pet.

To be fair, there are a number of reasons the server might have addressed MrH instead of me that have nothing to do with my blindness.

  • By entering first and telling her how many were in our party, MrH established himself as the de facto leader of our party.
  • Having spoken with him, the server was already engaged with him, making it logical to continue.
  • She may have thought I was expressing dissatisfaction with the table to MrH instead of her, putting him in the role of a go-between.
  • She was busy, it was easier, and she really didn’t think about it.

It may be that my anger was misplaced in this particular situation. But here’s the thing…

I get this a lot.

Our server was only the latest in a long line of people who address my sighted companion instead of me, cutting me out of the conversational loop:

  • The healthcare professionals–a surprising number of them–who ask MrH some variant of, “Can she step up on the scale?” when he’s acting as my guide.
  • Cashiers who hand my change or receipt to MrH or one of our sons when I’m out shopping with them.
  • A lady at a business function who overheard MrH describing the layout of the room to me and butted in to ask, “Does she need somewhere to sit down?”
  • The woman who, when I asked MrH for input on a project I was working on, said to him–not to me–“You could have her…”
  • People at various social functions–again, a surprising number–who strike up a conversation with MrH but don’t really include me. One couple at a business social actually waited until he stepped away from my side to slip up and ask him about my blindness and what had caused it.

And the list goes on. This doesn’t even include the people who, seeing me sitting or standing at a social event, walk on by and choose another conversational partner.

What gives?

Why isn’t anyone talking to me?

I’ve been giving this a good deal of thought, and I think there are a number of reasons, sometimes overlapping, why people choose not to talk to me or to engage my sighted companion instead.

They don’t get the right body language cues

What do you do when you’re at a party or other occasion, looking for someone to strike up a conversation with? Chances are, you look around and make eye contact. Both of you may smile or nod, and you move toward each other or introduce yourselves.

Because of my light sensitivity, my eyes are usually shielded behind dark glasses. I try to look at people who are speaking, but in a crowd, I don’t always know whether someone is speaking to me or someone nearby. I may not realize it if you hold out your hand to shake.

So it may be that people, not getting the body language that signals, “Why, yes, I’d actually love to have a conversation with you!” walk on by.

They don’t realize that I’m actively engaged in my surroundings

I feel like some people think being blind is like being swaddled in a comforter and shoved in a closet. Noises you hear are muffled and indistinct, and you can’t tell where they’re coming from. Anything out of reach is effectively invisible.

What would a person in that situation have to talk about, and how would you relate?

They mistake my blindness for other disabilities

Some people seem to think that because I can’t see, I can’t hear either, or that I’m intellectually impaired, or physically fragile. These people tend to mistake MrH or whatever sighted person I’m with for my caregiver–and, by implication, to assume that I must need one.

They haven’t dealt with a blind person before and (maybe) they’re a little intimidated.

Let’s face it. Our society doesn’t do a great job of teaching us to interact with people with disabilities. “Be polite. Don’t stare. Help them out if they need help.” Beyond that, you’re on your own.

Also, many people haven’t spent a lot of time with a blind or visually impaired person, which makes us an unknown. And the unknown is scary!

“What if I don’t know how to talk to her? What if I accidentally offend her? What if she needs help and I don’t know what to do? What if she does something weird or uncomfortable?”

Nope. Easier to step back.

They’re afraid of blindness, or even blind people.

Losing ones eyesight is a common and pervasive fear. I once ran across a survey that, if I remember correctly, found that respondants would rather lose a limb or have to use a wheelchair than lose their eyesight.

Dealing with a blind person means confronting that fear head-on, which can be daunting.

I’ve met one or two people who actually seem to be afraid of me, as if I might suddenly reach out and grab them, or as if my blindness is catching.

What to do?

I’m afraid I didn’t handle the situation in the restaurant with perfect grace. Blame it on low blood sugar and a feeling of being rushed and disoriented.

I turned to MrH and, rather too loudly, asked, “Did she just say that? ‘If she can walk down stairs’? I’m right here!”

He assured me that, yes, I certainly was, and we got out of our coats and into our seats.

When the server came to our table, she was perfectly nice. She spoke to both of us and answered our questions about the specials and menu items, took our orders, and brought our food. (Which was, by the way, delicious.) We ended up leaving a big tip, partly because the food and service had been so good, and partly because I felt like a jerk after my outburst.

I usually don’t let such situations throw me, and over the years we’ve developed some better strategies for dealing with them.

If someone asks MrH a question on my behalf, he’ll shrug and say, “ask her.” Or he’ll say to the cashier trying to hand him my items, “Those are hers.”

I like to step up to a service counter and state my business before the person on the other side can ask MrH, and at restaurants I give my order as if I’m on a par with everyone else–because I am! I’ve gotten less shy about jumping into conversations, especially if I’m already physically part of the group that’s talking.

Most people are happy to take our cues. I think they’re often just uncertain about what to do, so taking the conversational reins in a friendly manner helps them out.

In social groups, I’ve found that people I’ve talked to before are more likely to strike up a conversation with me on a subsequent occasion, and sometimes even introduce me to other friends. I’m not always good at identifying voices of people I don’t know well, but I make an effort to learn names and associate them with details. People are really flattered to be remembered!

And of course I blog and try to be active on social media. The more visible I am, the more I put myself out there, the more I normalize blindness and blind people and the less scary we become. That’s the theory, anyway!

There are some things you can do that make conversation easier for me, and I want to talk about those in an upcoming post. But honestly, the #1 thing you can do is really easy. Just step up and…

Talk to me!

Thanksgiving Memories

A day late, maybe – but that just means I have one more to remember, right?

My dad was in the military until I was in my early teens, so in the years we were stationed overseas, holiday celebrations were sometimes just the four of us – Dad, Mom, my younger sister and me.

I don’t have many specific memories of those overseas celebrations, but I do remember one Thanksgiving (or was it Christmas) dinner we ate in the Army mess hall. We might have just moved, or just packed up to move, or maybe Mom wasn’t feeling well and my parents decided not to mess with an elaborate holiday dinner.

I don’t remember much detail – trays and long tables and the buzz of conversation you get when a lot of people are talking in a large, open area – but we were together and I seem to remember the food was pretty darn good and we all had a good time.

Home for the Holidays

Later, when we were back in the States, my parents would load us up in our 1968 VW minibus for the long drive from Massachusetts to Michigan, where both their families lived. My sister and I, seasoned travelers, would lounge out in the back with books or count a particular color of car or play the alphabet game to pass the miles.

One year – again, I don’t remember whether this was at Thanksgiving or Christmas – the heat pipe fell off partway into the trip. It got so cold in our little minibus that you could see your breath in the air.

Mom bundled me and my sister, still wearing our winter coats and shoes, under blankets in the back while she and my dad shivered in the front seat all the way there. She was worried about the two of us freezing, but we were snug as bugs in a rug. Needless to say, Dad fixed the heat before we began our return trip!

A Family Affair

After my dad retired we moved to Michigan, which shortened our holiday drives considerably!

We always ate Thanksgiving dinner with my dad’s family, and there were a lot of us! My grandparents, Dad’s brother and sister and their spouses, all of us cousins – nine, all told – and frequently some family friends as well. As we kids got older, there were our spouses and children as well. I It wasn’t uncommon for between twenty and thirty people to gather around folding tables for the holiday meal.

And there was food in plenty! Turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole and corn – the works.

My Polish grandmother made braised red cabbage, which I didn’t care for at the time. It was different! And a bit sour because it was made with vinegar! And it was different! Of course, I later moved to North Carolina, where greens are always eaten with vinegar. I suspect I’d really like Grandma’s braised red cabbage these days. I wish I had her recipe!

If we celebrated at my aunt and uncle’s in Grand Rapids, as we usually did, after dinner my parents would pack me and my sister into the car and we’d drive across town to visit my mom’s family.

Her parents had passed by this time, but there were more aunts and uncles and cousins – seven of us on this side.

Every year, my uncle would put up an elaborate, usually moving, Christmas display. This was back in the days before you could find that kind of thing on every street corner, and people would come from all around the city to see it. The entire time we were there, you’d hear cars pull up and stop to watch the display.

There’d be more food, and more talk…and talk…and talk. We cousins would wind up in the basement watching movies or playing videogames, or in my cousin’s room talking about how boring the adults were, because we were teenagers.

To be honest, I didn’t really appreciate our family gatherings as a teenager. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my family, I just didn’t see the point in being dragged halfway across the state to spend time with them.

Now, of course, I’d give anything to be able to spend time visiting and bonding with my extended family.

When I moved to North Carolina to be with my husband, I naively assumed we’d drive back and visit as my parents had. What I forgot to take into account were the economic differences between an Army officer nearing the end of his career and a young family just starting out. I have very few regrets about that move, but being so far from my extended family is chief among them.

Thanksgiving Generosity

Economics brings me to one final Thanksgiving story, a story of unexpected generosity. Time may have eroded some of the exact details, but this is the gist of it:

When our boys were young, we went through a spell of hard times. I wasn’t working, because any work I could find would have just about paid for daycare, and what MrH was making was just about – barely – paying the bills.

At one point, I lamented to a friend that it was a shame all the good deals on turkeys came now, at the end of the month, because the end of the month was usually neck-and-neck with the end of our money, and I couldn’t afford to buy one.

This wonderful lady, whose finances were probably not a whole lot better than our own, took me to Food Lion and bought us not only a turkey, but some of the trimmings.

To be clear, we were not completely without food. We would have eaten We would have eaten that Thanksgiving day, even if it was only beans and rice. But her kindness and generosity made it possible for our little family to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast – and several more meals – that we would otherwise not have had.

I’ve never forgotten that thoughtful gesture, and never ceased to be thankful for it. We’ve never been well-off in a monetary sense, and probably never will be, but we have abundant wealth in our friends.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving – if you celebrate Thanksgiving – this year, and if you don’t, I hope you had a wonderful Thursday. If you created any Thanksgiving memories, or have older ones you’d like to share, feel free to, er, dish in the comments.

Sweet Potatoes Galore!

Last week, MrHran across a post on a Facebook group he follows. A local food bank had just received a very generous donation – an entire truckload of sweet potatoesAnyone in the community was invited to take some – “bring your own bag.”

So Friday afternoon, as Hurricane Matthew chewed its way up the coast toward us, Christoph stopped by and filled a plastic grocery bag with sweet potatoes.

The potatoes were all different sizes and a few had gotten damp, so Saturday morning I spread them on newspaper to dry and sorted them by size. The bounty:

  • 2 great big potatoes
  • 11 medium potatoes
  • 29 itty-bitty potatoes

Sunday, when the worst of the storm had passed and we were sure the power would stay on, I went looking for ways to cook this bonanza.

I was most worried about the little potatoes. I’d always been told to peel sweet potatoes, but peeling these suckers sounded like a lot of work for not much potato!

Not to worry. A Google search for “How to cook fingerling sweet potatoes” produced plenty of recipes, all of which said not to peel. Whew!

I settled on this recipe, cut up ten little potatoes and oiled and salted the slices, then hovered over the oven to turn the potatoes every few minutes as instructed. When the disks were fork-tender, I dotted the potatoes with butter and put the pan back in for another minute or two to melt the butter and blend the flavors.

It tasted amazing!

The flavor was smoky, buttery, salty, with the distinct note of sweet potatoe shining through. The skins were a bit chewy on one or two slices, but no more so than the skin of a russet potato, and I’ve eaten plenty of them in my time. In retrospect, I was probably a little zealous about turning the potatoes – next time I’ll flip less frequently.

Okay, now I knew what to do with the little potatoes. This left me with the question of what to do with the large and medium ones.

I gave a couple of the mediums to a friend, which still left us a gracious plenty!

Wednesday night I microwaved the two large potatoes until they were tender, peeled away as much of the skin as I could while they were still hot, and mashed them with a little butter. I added cinnamon, nutmeg, and a good helping of brown sugar.

The result was delicious again, in a completely different way. My son suggested that adding some milk would have resulted in a creamier texture, which is probably true, but I liked them just fine as they were. And the two potatoes were enough for the four of us, though I wouldn’t have minded a bit more.

Saving some for later

I was left with nine medium and nineteen small potatoes – and a new dilemma. I didn’t want my family to burn out on sweet potatoes ,and I didn’t want the remainder to go bad before I could use them.

The internet reports that cooked sweet potatoes can be frozen whole, in chunks or slices, or mashed (pdf). Most sources recommend treating pieces with a lemon juice or ascorbic acid solution or stirring a bit of lemon juice into mashed sweet potatoes to prevent discoloration.

Yesterday I microwaved the medium sweet potatoes in two batches, cooled them until I could pick them up easily, and peeled them. I mashed the pieces as I had the night before, with butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves and some brown sugar

Finally, as directed, I stirred in a couple tablespoons of lemon juice. I was concerned about how this would affect the flavor, but if anything, it brightened it.

I froze most of the mashed sweet potatoes, but kept out a portion to try The Cookie Writer’s recipe for Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I didn’t follow the recipe to the letter – I eyeballed the peanut butter rather than fuss with a cup, and I didn’t add maple syrup since I’d already sweetened the potatoes. The first batch baked up into round balls, so I flattened the second slightly with my fingers as I laid them out. Both baked up fine, though the balls were a little less crumbly.

The flavor was great, though the texture was soft and not what I’m used to in a cookie. Best of all, MrH got to enjoy them, since they didn’t contain any gluten.

So Many Possibilities…

This leaves nineteen tiny sweet potatoes awaiting my attention.

I’m inclined to roast them, as that worked out so well. Since the surfaces are oiled and salted, I don’t think I’d need to worry about discoloration. Or would I? Anyone know?

And that will be the end of our sweet potato bonanza. But there are so many things to try…

I’d kind of like to try candied or glazed sweet potatoes, too, and find a recipe for that mashed sweet potato casserole with crispy rice cereal and marshmallows. And sweet potato pie! I read that sweet potatoes can be substituted in recipes that call for winter squash and pumpkin, which opens up even more possibilities.

I think I’m going to need more sweet potatoes. And a bigger freezer…

What about you? Are you a sweet potato fan? Got a favorite sweet potato recipe? Feel free to, er, dish in the comments.

Classes Taken & Lessons Learned: University of Atlantia Session 93

In my last post, I talked about my experience attending University of Atlantia’s 93rd session. In this post, I want to talk a bit about the classes I took and my overall takeaway from camping and the event itself.

The Classes

University offered six one-hour periods, and I signed up for five classes (one a double) to fill them.

Introductory English Country Dance

I found the SCA in 1988 and probably did my first SCA dancing in 1989. I’ve continued to take every possible opportunity to dance since I lost my eyesight, and though that hasn’t been often, I was sure I could handle this class.

At the beginning of the class, I let my fellow dancers know I was familiar with the dances but couldn’t see and might need verbal direction rather than just visual cues.

The class turned out to be a mixture of English Country Dance and bransles. That was fine with me, since I enjoy those too!

We did Sellinger’s Ronde, Maltese Bransle, Official Bransle, and War Bransle. (There may have been another in there, but I can’t remember it if there was.) We walked through Gathering Peascods, but time ran out before we got to dance it.

This was a fun class! I ended up knowing all the dances we did except War Bransle. I didn’t quite pick up the somewhat complicated chorus on that one, but I don’t think I was the only dancer who had that problem!

Improvization for SCA Life

I expected this class to cover suggestions for staying true to one’s historical persona and perhaps speaking more “forsoothly,” using period words and speech patterns. Instead, it centered around a more theatrical kind of improvization.

The instructor encouraged us to build on what our partner had just said, to establish a conversational rapport with our partner, and to build a mental reserve of “bits of business” that could be pulled out when other material ran dry.

To finish the class, we did several improvizational exercises, which felt a lot like games.

We went around in a circle, each person contributing a word that fit a given category, like “Things in a Garden”. We made up a story sentence by sentence, each person topping the previous contribution with, “Yes, and” Finally, we played a game where one person would begin singing a song, and when they faltered or looked around the circle for help, another jumped in.

I really enjoyed the class, though I was quite overheated by the end and I think it showed. Several times I had a concept in mind, and absolutely blanked on the words I needed.

I realize everyone has those moments, but in my case I suspect there may be some lingering aphasia from the trauma my brain went through. Frustrating! But if that is the case, I think practicing improvization games is a good way to exercise that part of my brain and possibly decrease the effects.

Introduction to Bobbin Lace

This was the class I most wanted. I’d been trying to teach myself bobbin lace from instructions posted on the internet (Don’t laugh – I’ve taught myself both kumihimo and stick weaving that way since losing my vision!( but wanted to see how the concepts I was reading played out in the real world. I also had some questions about notation and how I might be able to follow it.

It was also the class I most dreaded. I knew from previous observation in my sighted life that bobbin lace involved a lot of fiddly little pieces – the bobbins and pins – and relatively fine thread. I wasn’t sure my fingers would be able to keep up, and I didn’t want to be a drag on the class or a burden to the instructor.

Several times I considered dropping the class in favor of something less challenging, but in the end I figured it might be a long time since I got another chance to learn this. In the end, I decided to go for it. If I didn’t keep up with the other students, I’d focus on learning as much as I could and applying the concepts at home.

In the end, the class was a mixed success for me.

The bobbins were indeed small and fiddly, smaller even than regular bobbins, and tended to unwind themselves unexpectedly. They also kept popping out of line so that it was hard to know which pair a loose bobbin belonged with. The patterns weren’t pre-pricked, so I had to ask my seatmates or the instructor for help placing each pin.

On the plus side, I was easily able to manage the movements and stitches once I had the right pairs of bobbins in my hands. I learned that there is a notation that goes with the pricked pattern and that I can follow. And we all left with the instructor’s reassurance that “as long as you’re twisting and crossing, you’re making bobbin lace!” So now I won’t get quite so hung up on the patterns!

The Classes I Missed: Basic and Intermediate Gresley Dances

As I mentioned in my previous post, by the time I finished the bobbin lace class, I was exhausted and overheated. I was able to rest and recover somewhat in the shade at camp, but every time the sun fell on me, I felt weak and exhausted all over again.

I might have been able to sit through a lecture class or do some basic crafting, but I knew dancing would be a bad idea.

Here’s what I remember about the Gresley dances from a class I took a couple years ago:

The Gresley dances are in the process of being reconstructed from a student’s dance notes jotted down in a ledger dating from the 1450s. Both notes and music are incomplete, and it’s not always clear which steps go with what music.

The dances I remember doing consisted of simple steps such as singles, doubles, and turns. They’d be great for dance beginners or teaching to kids at demos. I do hope that I get a chance to take the classes, perhaps in a setting with air conditioning!

My Takeaways

I learned a lot from this University, and not just from the classes! Here, in no particular order, are some of my lasting thoughts and impressions:

  • I like camping! The four of us had a great time,a nd have agreed that we want to do it again, though maybe in cooler weather.
  • I am not at all acclimated to the heat and sun any more! I need a cooler outfit and a hat, and a sunshade for our encampment wouldn’t hurt.
  • I seem to have or be developing an innate sence of direction which helps me learn and navigate unfamiliar areas. By the end of the weekend, I was navigating the bathhouse and our campsite relatively easily. The sun helped me keep track of compass directions, and I suspect that after a few more days, I might have started navigating the paths and roads solo. This far exceeded what I thought I’d be able to do and was a great confidence builder! That said…
  • There was always someone willing to help. In our group, MrH and Z were always willing to take me places or describe things to me. D probably would have, too, but it didn’t really come up. In general, people were happy to help me get places, read or describe things for me, or help in other small ways I admit, I kind of expected as much at an SCA event, but again, it was a great confidence builder.
  • If we go camping again, I’d like to get some kind of noisemaker to post on or near our tent to help guide me to it. I’m thinking either a tiny windchime or a buzzer or bell I can set off with a small remote. Whatever it is, it should be pleasant or quiet so as not to disturb any neighbors.
  • This time around, I was content to let MrH, Z and D do most of the setup and takedown, but especially if MrH and I are going to go on our own, I’d like to be more involved. I think one of these weekends MrH and I should set up our own tent and mark the poles for front, back and center so I can ID them. I’d also like to learn to use the camp stove.
  • MrH and I need to get out more! It’s been rough because of tight finances, but it was so great for both of us to have some time away from work, chores, and the same old same old.
  • I need more projects! MrH took a bookbinding class, in which participants sewed together a small book with folded pages and a leather cover. As I felt it, I thought, “I could do that!” I spent most of the way home thinking of ideas for books and what I might be able to print in them.
  • I can definitely do bobbin lace, though I may need to start with bigger materials so my fingers can see what I’m doing. I’m thinking of using cotton crochet yarn with peg-style clothespins for bobbins. If MrH will print out the pricking and make the holes for me, I should be able to work with it.
  • I can also see the potential for doing more freehand bobbin lace. “As long as you’re crossing and twisting, you’re making lace!” may well become my new motto! lol

So as you can see, I had a great time at University of Atlantia! I’m glad I went, and I couldn’t have asked for better company.

How about you? Have you stretched your wings lately? Got any new craft ideas you’re excited about? Feel free to share in the comments.

Got Really Hot, Learned a Lot, Had A Wonderful Time! University of Atlantia Session 93

Last weekend, MrH and I, along with our friends Z and D, attended the 93rd Session of the University of Atlantia, at Elchenburg Castle near Yadkinville, NC.

The SCA is an educational organization that recreates various aspects of the European Middle Ages and Renaissance, and Universities are events where individuals with knowledge or expertise in an area can pass some of that on to others who are interested.

To the best of my knowledge, each SCA Kingdom (region) has a University, and Atlantia’s holds three sessions each year in locations around the Kingdom.

University of Atlantia is free to attend, though they request a $5 donation to help defray their costs, and instructors may charge a reasonable fee to cover the costs of their handouts and materials. All staff and teachers are volunteers.

Many Universities are held in venues like schools and colleges, but this University used an outdoor site with tents and pavillions set up to house the various classes. Thouse that could be housed in tents and pavillions, that is – there were also an archery range, a space for equestrian classes, and an area set aside for smithing.

There was space available for camping, and the four of us decided to share Z and D’s tent and cook our meals on site. There was to be a potluck feast Saturday evening, and we brought along food for that as well.

Yeah, I Was Nervous…

I’ll admit I had some reservations about the trip! I hadn’t been camping in over a decade, let alone since I’d lost my eyesight.

Would I be able to find my way to the bathrooms, especially if I had to go in the middle of the night? More important, would I be able to find my way back?

Would someone have to take me every time? Would I become a burden on MrH and our friends?

What about navigating between classes? None of the other three were taking the same classes I was, and I wasn’t sure they’d be available to help me get from one class to the next.

And what about those classes? I was pretty sure I’d be able to handle the dance classes and improvizational class I’d signed up for, but my fifth class was a two-hour session on making bobbin lace, which I’d never done before and which has a lot of fiddly little bits to keep track of. Would my fingers be up to the challenge?

I considered dropping the class and taking something more manageable instead, but I’ve been wanting to learn bobbin lace and this was a perfect opportunity. In the end, I decided that if I didn’t learn to make bobbin lace, I’d learn more about *how* to make bobbin lace and I’d be able to work from there.

How it Played Out

D had to work Friday, so MrH and I rode up with Z and the gear. The site was about four hours from her house, and we yakked the whole way.

When we got there, MrH and I went to the bathhouse, and my heart sank. The bathhouse was converted from part of a residential house, and the route to the bathroom was far from straightforward. A kind lady led me to the ladies’ room and helped me find my way back to the entrance. I was convinced I’d never be able to do it alone, but at least it seemed I’d be able to find people who could help me out!

Back at camp, MrH and Z unloaded the car and set up the tent and our campsite, with the assistance of a friendly gentleman who’d finished setting up his own camp and was wandering around helping others. Isn’t chivalry great?

I’d have liked to help, but I didn’t know the site, didn’t know the tent, and wasn’t familiar with how the car was packed, so I mostly held the pillows and stayed out from underfoot.

It was already getting late, so we heated chili and buttered cornbread and had a lovely dinner. We wandered around some more, fed D when he finally arrived, and turned in early. We wanted to be rested for our big day tomorrow!

The next morning, we ate breakfast, signed in and paid our camping fees (and made our donation) and learned where our classes were.

My first class, Introductory English Country Dance, was in the Castle, a roofless concrete masonry structure with door and window openings in each of the four walls.

MrH studied the map and told me that if I went out the east door, I could go north until I reached the row of classroom tents. My second class, Improvization for SCA Life, was in the last tent on the right side of the row. I thought it would be pretty easy to figure out directions, because it was easy to tell which direction the sun was coming from. I did worry a bit that I wouldn’t know where the path in front of the tents was, because there was nothing marking it, but figured people would be walking along it and I could ask for help if I wasn’t sure.

As it turned out, a lady in the dance class offered to help me find my second class. MrH picked me up from there, and I’d successfully completed my morning classes!

In the interest of keeping this post semi-manageable, I’m going to break out the classes into a separate post. I’ll get to them, promise!

By lunchtime, I was in bad shape. I don’t know whether it was dehydration, heat, the broiling sun, or some combination, but I was ready to drop! D found some shade behind the tent, and he, MrH and I moved back there, which helped a lot!

After lunch, I had two hours of Introductory Bobbin Lace. Z walked me to the tent and I settled in. Unfortunately, as the class wore on, the sun began to slip in and fall on my back. It felt as though it was burning right into my body, even through the thick fabric of my dress!

Class let out a little early so the instructor could set up for her next class, and the four of us regrouped in the shade behind our tent.

My last two classes were to have been Basic and Intermediate Gresley Dances, back at the Castle, but I absolutely wasn’t up to it. I felt better in the shade, but every time the sun fell on me I started to feel weak and sick again.

I really wanted those classes, and in my younger days I might have pushed myself through them, but I felt that if I did that, my body would pay a price later. Instead, I spent the last two class hours lying on a sleeping bag under the trees while the others attended class.

As the sun began to go down and the evening cooled off, I revived. The potluck was a lot of fun and my homemade bread and the cheese we brought were well received.

Somewhere in all of this, I was beginning to learn the bathhouse. I still needed help to the door of the ladies room, but I could find the toilets and sinks and make my way out again unassisted. I’m told there were showers as well, but I never went looking for those.

Home Again, Home Again

Sunday morning we got up relatively early, broke down our camp, and packed Z’s car. Once

We stopped for breakfast, then settled in for the ride home. Once again, we talked most of the way. MrH showed off the book he’d made in his Medieval Bookbinding class, and I bubbled over with ideas for projects and things to make.

D had some mechanical trouble on the way home , so we dropped back to follow him, and he managed to make it in one piece.

All four of us agreed that we had a good time, and we want to go camping together again – though maybe not until the weather cools off! Personally, the whole weekend really boosted my confidence, and I couldn’t have asked for better campmates. I can’t wait until the next University!

Next post: The classes I took, the things I learned, and reflections. on the experience

A Saturday Excursion: The Book Lecture

An SCA friend introduced us to Simon Spalding some twenty years ago, and our families have drifted into and out of each other’s orbits ever since.

Simon is a historian, a teacher, a musician, and an all around cool guy. Over the years, we’ve learned Colonial and Baroque dances from him, dropped in on monthly meetings of his Asian Games Club, run into him at SCA events, and enjoyed concerts featuring him both solo and harmonizing with his lovely and talented wife, Sara.

When I learned that Simon had written a book, I was intrigued. When I received a FaceBook invitation to a lecture about the book at a local public library, I knew we had to go!

The book, Food at Sea: Shipboard Cuisine from Ancient to Modern Times, is exactly what the title says – a historical overview of food eaten on board sailing vessels worldwide. It’s part of publisher Roman & Littlefield’s “Food on the Go” series, which so far includes one other book – about food eaten in the air and in space.

According to Simon, a lot has been written about shipboard food during specific eras, but this book is the first to cover the development of food at sea over extended periods and to consider how changes in ship design and crews affected shipboard food – and vice versa.

Simon’s lecture, like the book, proceeded in chronological order, and it was fascinating stuff. Here, from memory, are a few tidbits:

In every part of the world, Simon said, shipboard food seems to develop in three basic stages. First, sailors eat food which needs no preparation, such as dried meat. Next, vessels begin to carry pots and utensils, but put in to shore and prepare the food on land. Finally, ships begin to carry both the food and some means, such as a firebox, to prepare it at sea.

Being able to carry food and fresh water was important, because the amount of provisions a ship could carry governed how long it could stay out to sea. It was also important to keep the food and water from spoiling. Being able to carry more food and water and preserve it better could actually be a military advantage!

As ships grew bigger, live animals such as cows and chickens were sometimes carried aboard so that the sailors could have fresh meat during the journey.

Ship design could influence what was eaten aboard ship. Sailors frequently supplemented their rations by fishing from the stern. When ships began to carry stunsails, additional sails that helped increase a ship’s speed, the sailors were kept too busy adjusting them to spend much time fishing. When Stunsails were phased out, sailors were able to fish again.

But how food was cooked and eaten aboard ships could also influence ship design!

Traditionally, American military ships had a mess deck where food was cooked and eaten, while aboard British ships food was prepared in the galley and carried away by the sailors to be eaten in a separate mess area. But during World War II, the British military used American ships under the Lend-Lease program, and there was no way to rearrange the food preparation areas. So the American method was adopted, and British ships built after WWII used the same design.

These are only a few of the points Simon discussed, and I hope I’ve gotten them all correct. Any errors are strictly my own bad memory at work!

The book also contains recipes for some of the shipboard cuisine, and one of the librarians had prepared some of them for us to sample.

I particularly enjoyed “Salsa,” a combination of beans and chopped vegetables eaten by Mediterranean sailors in the 14th century. There was also a mild chicken curry over rice prepared from a recipe used on a British cruise ship. There were biscotti to stand in for ship’s biscuit. I’ve made hardtack (same thing as ship’s biscuit) and these were much better!

The librarian had made grog – traditionally a mixture of water, rum, and lime juice. Her grog used rum flavoring instead of actual rum, because the venue was a public library. It was somewhat bitter, but I think I’d get used to the taste if I drank it daily. I kind of want to try it with actual rum, because I think the sugars in the alcohol would soften the flavor somewhat.

All in all, the lecture was a lot of fun and the other people there seemed to enjoy it as well. I was already interested in the book, but the lecture cemented my desire to buy it when I can.

I think this book would be a lot of fun for anyone who likes maritime history, food, or the history of food. I think the recipes would be a hoot to try! It could also be a good resource for someone writing historical fiction or fantasy.

If you’re interested, you can check out Simon’s page about the book. You can order it from the publisher or via Amazon in hardcover, paperback, and electronic formats.

Or, if you want to be really nice, you can order it through your local indie bookstore, which will support a local business and might encourage them to carry a few copies for your friends.

I really enjoyed the lecture, and I hope to enjoy the book one day soon. Simon’s presentation was lively and entertaining, and if you ever get the chance to see him in person, you totally should.

[Disclaimer: Simon is a friend, but I wouldn’t have written about the lecture if I hadn’t enjoyed it, or recommended the book if I didn’t think it was worth reading. All opinions expressed here are strictly my own. I received no compensation for writing this post. The links to the book are not affiliate links, and I don’t get a thing if you order it through them. I won’t even know unless you tell me!]

Have you ever been to a book lecture? Was it fun? Did it convince you to buy the book?