Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tempestuous Tuesday

When my work week starts on a Tuesday, it's one heck of a Tuesday. Today was especially fraught because we were supposed to have a freight pickup (which would require me to take the company van across town to our loading dock), but someone dropped a ball somewhere, and by the time everything was straightened out, I'd spent an extra 45 minutes on the clock and had three or four of tomorrow's orders packed up.

My legs feel like jelly and all I want to do is curl up in a ball and sleep for a week, but instead I'll take a hot shower, make a batch of icebox cookies, and draw up a production schedule to get me ready for my next show. Hopefully tomorrow will go a bit easier on me.

Sunday, May 28, 2017


Despite some unexpected issues, this weekend went quite well. I found out once I'd arrived and begun setting up on Friday that my boothmate wasn't going to be able to come, which left me without help and without a kitchen tent. I also happened to set up during the hour of moderate rain that afternoon (if I'd waited a bit, I could've set up without everything getting wet, but I didn't know that and wanted to get stuff up before it got dark), and inadvertently positioned myself near the children's play area, which was decidedly noisy. As I sat there pondering my options, soaked through from the knees down, without a dry spot to cook dinner, and ready to strangle the next shrieking child, I decided that the extra gasoline I'd burn getting to and from the site every day was worth being able to sleep in my own bed each night, so I left my tent and gear there and came home to get some rest.

This was a good call. I came to site each morning refreshed, warm, and dry, having had enough recovery time from the previous day to deal with my exuberant, tiny neighbors. I made enough sales to cover my expenses and pay my electric bill this month -- not quite as good a show as I was hoping to have, but better than I feared, and enough to make it worth going back next year.

Being near the children's play area, I got to watch how kids interact with each other, and with their parents. Watching the onset of tantrums and wild displays of imagination was informative and listening to two tweens recite chunks of Hamilton was amusing, but there was one thing I saw several times that made me sad. A child would hesitantly approach the swingset at their parent's urging, and then the parent would attempt to instruct the child on how to use it. The sad part? The kids I saw struggling to learn how to swing were at least ten years old. How a child can get to that age without having spent enough time on a playground to know how a swing works is baffling to me.

On the whole, this was a good event, and I look forward to coming back next year. Three weeks 'til the next show -- plenty of time to procrastinate!

Thursday, May 25, 2017


When I interviewed for my current job, my boss saw on my resumé that I'm also self-employed, and she asked about it. I told her that, while I'm not doing window restoration anymore, I'm continuing as a merchant at medieval reenactment events. She thought that was terribly interesting and asked what kind of things I sell.

Trouble is, if you're not familiar with the reenactment world, my list of wares may make about as much sense as someone trying to explain a function in JavaScript. I make coifs, veil pins, stitch markers, belt bags, amulet pouches... they all fall into the "accessories" category, but an answer that vague only begets more curiosity from the asker. I sometimes try to modernize the descriptions, calling coifs "skullcaps," for example, but, being the pedantic sort, it's hard for me to say that without further explanation, because it's not really accurate. There's no modern equivalent of what I make, because life doesn't work the same way anymore. Keeping one's head covered at all times, and keeping skin oil and sweat from soaking into an expensive hat, is no longer something we think about, much less practice. So the coif, the easily-laundered, close-fitting head covering that kept one's hat from becoming soiled, doesn't translate.

I've always had slightly odd hobbies and interests, and I spent several years as a tour guide at an historic house museum, so I'm no stranger to explaining things to audiences that might not initially get it, but when the audience is someone who's just asking out of mild curiosity and to be polite, I sometimes wish I had an easier way of responding.

I'll be a little farther north in Vermont this weekend, selling my medieval wares at an event I've never done before. In previous years I've done an event in New York State this weekend, but that state's tax department is an inept, mercenary creature, and after they sent me a bill for an absurd amount that they pulled out of the air with no basis in reality, I refuse to do business there.

And anyway, the event I'm doing instead is much closer to home and has an equestrian focus, so the drive will be easier and there will be horses to admire. I can live with that.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Electric Avenue

In the three years I've lived in this house, the power has gone out maybe a dozen times, usually for only a few seconds, but never for longer than about half an hour. So last Thursday night, when the lights flickered and then went out around 9pm during a frenzied thunderstorm, I lazily found my flashlights and candles and turned off the switches that had been on, figuring I'd head up to bed, wait for the power to come back, do a quick check to make sure everything had come back on properly, and then call it a night.

When it got to be 10pm and the power wasn't back yet, I called the power company... on my land line with a rotary phone, which, surprisingly, navigated the touch-tone menus well enough to get me what I needed. The nice lady at the other end told me that the linesmen on scene thought they'd have power back by 1am. This was a bit of a shock, because it never takes that long, and it got me thinking about what might've happened. Lines and transformers are quick fixes, even when there are a lot of sites that need attention (as was the case that night), so it had to be fallen trees that were causing the delay. I thanked the lady and went upstairs to try to sleep.

At 2am I was still wide awake, and the power was still out, so I called again for an update. The lady said, "well they said they'd get it done by one, but... ohhhh, it looks like they encountered some complications. I'd give it a few more hours." Hours. Okay, then. I went back up to bed, pondering the possibilities. "Complications" probably meant multiple trees that hadn't just pulled down lines, but poles as well. I didn't envy the linesmen working in the muggy darkness, but I was thankful they were out there.

I managed to get a little bit of fitful sleep, awoke a little before 6am, found the power still out, and called again. This time the lady said it would probably be mid-afternoon by the time power was restored. I asked whether the neighborhood in which I work had power, and she said it looked like they did, so I got dressed, had breakfast, and went off to work a little early, taking my tablet with me so I could check email before punching in. On my way, I passed the road with the lines that supply power to my village, and there was a "no thru traffic" sign at the end of it. "Aha," I thought, "there's our problem."

I have an old-fashioned answering machine, the kind that only works if it's plugged in, so I had an easy way to remotely check on the power situation at home. I called home a little after 11am when I took my lunch break, and power was still out. It must've come back on a few minutes after I called, though, because I got out of work early and came home around 2:30pm to find one of my clocks telling me that power had been restored three hours prior. I made sure everything was ship shape, and then took off for the renfaire.

I took that road that I'd passed earlier (the sign had been removed by that point), and kept an eye out. I spotted two big trees that had fallen across the road and been cleared, plus at least three new poles and evidence of a transformer having fallen, ruptured, and caught fire. No wonder it took them fourteen hours to get it all fixed!

And y'know, with the exception of my well pump and my fridge, I didn't really miss the electricity much. I like the convenience of it, but I can keep busy and get quite a bit done without it, especially during the warmer and brighter part of the year. All the same, I hope it doesn't go out for that long again. The disruption in normalcy made it awfully hard to sleep!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Faire Weekend #2

I'm home sick today -- two weekends of faire have taken their toll, leaving me limping, sore, and unable to bend without stabbing pain, so I'm spending the day resting. The cats woke me up early this morning by chasing and cornering a mouse in my bedroom, and, not realizing that I'd done something to my knee, I nearly fell down the stairs on my way to relocate the rodent outdoors.

The second weekend of faire was lovely, if exhausting. We had good gate numbers both days, and we'll probably end up donating around $30K to our charities this year. Our crazy, record-breaking numbers last year seem to have been a fluke, so while we won't be breaking any more records any time soon, we still did quite well.

It seems there has to be a little bit of drama for every day of faire. The first weekend it was the tree falling on the power line on Saturday and then the weather forcing us to close early on Sunday. This weekend it was a possibly-rabid raccoon being removed from the grounds by the game warden (and someone putting a stuffed raccoon in its place by Sunday morning, spreading the rumor that it had returned from wherever the warden released it), and then a pack of eight volunteers suddenly leaving on Sunday because one of them got a call about her child being ill or in trouble or something (all she said was, "it's my son, I gotta go," so I'm not really sure what happened).

We worked through all of these issues and made it a great faire for our patrons, just like we always do. We have some things to work on for next year, all with the goal of improving the faire experience and increasing the donations we're able to give our charities.

But first, we're all going to take some time to recover. Faire is fun, but we all come out of it a little scuffed.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Simple Syrup

I've had lots of people tell me, as I'm talking about my various occupations over the years, or demonstrating a "lost" art/skill, or just telling an old family story, that I ought to write a book. But y'know, writing a book, especially the broad-spectrum memoir that these lovely people seem to be hoping for, is a lot of work, and I really don't have the time or energy for it. My life has been weird and complicated, and I'm really not the best person to put it into long-form prose.

Which doesn't mean I don't want to write a book -- I do get that urge every now and again. I want to write all sorts of books, mostly beginner-level instruction for people interested in learning a new skill. I want to write a beginner's guide to learning how to spin yarn. I want to write a book for homeowners who don't necessarily want to become professional glaziers, but want to do right by their house's windows. I want to write a book about the handful of recipes/techniques that can allow an otherwise inept/poor/square-footage-challenged home cook stretch their culinary wings and do amazing things in the kitchen.

That last one is on my mind tonight as I wait for a batch of simple syrup to cool before I put it in a travel container with some lemon juice so I can have instant lemonade at faire this weekend. Simple syrup is one of those things that, when it's mentioned on cooking shows, sounds like a fancy chef thing, but is really quite basic, easy to make, and versatile.

I use my electric kettle to set some water to boil, and then pour a few cups of sugar into my 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup. The basic recipe is equal parts water and sugar, but sometimes I go heavy on the sugar, especially when I know I'll be mixing it with something as tart as lemon juice. Tonight I put in three cups of sugar, and as soon as the water boiled I poured that in until it was almost to the top of the cup (a little over the 4-cup mark). Because the sugar dissolves, it's much closer to the 1:1 ratio than it might seem. Then I gently stirred the mixture until it turned clear (it may take a minute of stirring for all the sugar to dissolve), and left it to cool to room temperature before I pour it into a little plastic jug I saved after using up the agave syrup it came with.

This, I'll mix with an equal measure of lemon juice to make my lemonade concentrate. One part of the concentrate is diluted with four to five parts cold water (depending on how strong you like your lemonade), and savored one sip at a time on a warm day. This basic recipe can be augmented with things like lavender, or strawberries, or lime juice, or mint, or whatever strikes your fancy. The syrup + juice base lends itself to variation as wild and wonderous as your imagination and taste buds are willing to take it.

I also use the simple syrup to make sweet tea (brew iced tea, mix in syrup to taste) and an oh-darn-I-forgot-to-brew-it-ahead-of-time version of sekanjabin (a little syrup, a splash of white vinegar, and cold water until the vinegar is at "ooh, that's interesting" strength rather than "it's pickling my uvula" strength). For those who like their drinks a little higher-proof, simple syrup is an integral part of many a cocktail, where the sweetness can help tame a potent boozy flavor or accentuate a fruit liqueur.

And if you think I'm weird for going on for paragraphs about sugarwater, you should hear me wax poetic about a roux. Maybe next week.

Burning Sensation

Part of my job is washing out our mixing buckets, which usually have the residue of whichever spices were used coating the inside. A few of our blends include habanero powder. Guess what I accidentally inhaled yesterday morning.

The pepper. It burns. (I survived, but it wasn't pleasant.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Big! Huge!

"I just got a big order for you," she said as she zoomed through shipping to go do something else, "thirty-two sixty!"

Thinking there was a decimal point after the thirty-two (making it quite a small order), and that she was pulling my leg, I replied, "wow, huge!"

Then the boss lady brought me the order sheet... three thousand, two hundred sixty dollars.

It took me about four hours to pack that order, which kept me out of production (where they leave the radio on a top-40 station that makes me want to puncture my eardrums) for the rest of the day.

I doubt it'll happen again today, but golly, it was nice that one time.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Peeps Of A Different Color

There's something soothing about falling asleep to the chirping of Spring Peeper frogs. It's one of my favorite things about spring in Vermont.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Faire Weekend #1

Well, this has been one of the most eventful faire weekends I've ever seen.

Saturday was chilly and overcast with the constant threat of rain, but we had over 1400 people through the gate (a few years ago, 1400 was a record-setting day for us). About an hour before gates closed, a tree fell on power lines and caught fire, blocking our shuttle bus route and handicap parking lot access, as well as vehicular access to the site for vendors, who were starting to pack up for the night. Between the firetruck that solved the first part of the problem and the crew of linesmen who repaired the remaining damage, it was almost four hours of gawk-worthy non-renaissance entertainment for those of us who weren't going anywhere anyway.

Today's weather, while not biblical-level bad, was bad enough that we significantly lowered the entry fee, and when it became apparent that the rain wasn't going to clear, we closed the faire early. We had about 100 people through the gate, the last handful of whom showed up close enough to our early closing time that we let them in for free, because we're not going to charge people for half an hour of soggy, limited entertainment, especially when some of them had driven 3 hours to get to us. Because we were playing the whole thing by ear, there were lots of changes to the plan and sometimes different versions of the plan depending on which member of the management team we were talking to. At one point I had to grab one of the managers to approve a change for some of our shuttle busses that were getting stuck in the mud and making it worse. In the end, we made it work, and most of the patrons who came today said they were planning to come back another day, because what little they'd seen of the faire made them want to see more.

I am tremendously thankful for my faire family. After hearing that I hadn't slept Friday night due to not bringing enough blankets, and looking at the impending weather, one of my crewmembers offered me her guest room for the night. I'm glad I said yes -- her guest bed is just about the comfiest thing I've ever slept on, and it was blissful to get a solid night's sleep before dealing with today's craziness. Today, three of my guys stayed late to help me ferry stuff from my tent (which is staying on site all week) to my car, saving me half an hour of walking back and forth. One of them also made sure I had hot cocoa (by ordering it from our "faire moms," who keep volunteers supplied with snacks and beverages, before I even realized I wanted it) and a proper lunch (by choosing a large order of ribs for his own lunch instead of a small one, and holding the box of ribs in front of me until I took one) because he knew I was too busy and distracted to even think of taking a break to go get food.

I'm glad that I've had time to shower, unpack a bit, and unwind a lot tonight. Next Sunday won't be nearly so liesurely, but I'll worry about that later. This week I need to get my expired car inspection sticker brought up to date and make some poles for a new dining fly to replace the pop-up tent that died in a rainstorm last summer. And maybe relax a little, so I'm not so highly-strung next weekend. That'd be nice, too.

Friday, May 12, 2017

And Away We Go

Jeep's packed, the hey-we're-doing-something-different tummy butterflies are flapping madly, and my next trick is figuring out how to survive an eight-hour shift when my brain is already at faire. Wish me luck, and don't burn down the internet before I get home Sunday night.

Thursday, May 11, 2017


I'm packing for faire tonight (because I'm leaving straight from work tomorrow in order to have enough time to set up my tent before nightfall), and the only way I can manage it without important thoughts falling out of my brain is with lists. There's the Everything That Gets Packed list, there's the Don't Forget These Things In The Morning list, there's the Things That Go In The Cooler list... everything I could potentially forget before I leave the house tomorrow morning is on one of the lists.

This habit began after the first event my now-ex-husband and I attended after we moved in together. He was used to packing for himself, and I for myself, but this was our first event camping together, and we found out once we got to the site (a mere four hour drive from home) that our communication skills had been lacking. We were bringing his bedding, because all of my stuff was twin-sized, and I assumed he had packed it. He hadn't. I think we had sheets, but no blankets and no pillows. It got down to the high 40s that first night, and I couldn't sleep for my teeth chattering. That was when I discovered that the nearest 24-hour Walmart to the site was two hours away, and the nearest Target was an hour away.

I spent the night shivering, wrapped in both of my cloaks, his cloak, and every article of clothing I'd brought, and as soon as the nearest Walmart opened, I went on a bit of a spree. It should be noted that, under normal circumstances, I boycott Walmart because of their racist, sexist, and anti-union business practices, so the fact that I was willing to give them my money tells you how desperate I was. I got a thick comforter, a sweatshirt, some pillows, and a huge pack of Duraflame logs for our firepit (because they were sold out of the smaller packs, and I hadn't started making my own firestarters yet -- I still, four years later, have 75% of that pack kicking around), and the rest of the event was much more comfortable. But after that sleepless night and needless expense, I vowed that packing would be a more organized affair thereafter.

Thus, lists. Speaking of which, the next item on the Things To Do Tonight list is a shower, which I should do sooner rather than later so my hair has time to dry a bit before bed. It's no fun to wake up after falling asleep with wet hair and realize that you've got a Dali-inspired cowlick that no amount of combing will tame.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Signs, Signs, Everywhere A Sign

Saturday's pre-faire prep day didn't have enough hours in it to do all that needed to be done, so, being a helium-handed volunteer, I offered to do some work at home.

When I have the time, I use my computer to draft up actual-size templates for signs like this, and then use graphite transfer (scribbling on the back of the paper with pencil, and then tracing the letters so the graphite transfers to the sign) before I pull out the paintbrushes. These all had to be done tonight, meaning I only had two or three hours to work on the lot of them, so they're all freehand, with the simplest of pencil sketching for placement before putting paint to plywood.

Years ago I dated a guy who couldn't apply his hands to anything but a computer keyboard with any degree of skill. We were planning to go to a roller derby bout one weekend, so I got some posterboard, markers, and glitter glue, and made some signs in honor of our favorite skaters. The fellow watched as I lightly sketched out my designs and lettering in pencil, without using any templates or stencils, and was astonished. He had never seen anyone do freehand lettering before, and, it seems, he'd never even considered that it was something a person could do.

I'm not sure whether to credit the arts & crafts projects my mother had me do during the 7 years I was in 4-H, or perhaps the years of technical/architectural drafting classes I took with teachers who insisted we know how to draft by hand before we switched to CAD, but this is one of my favorite astound-the-muggles talents. I can't draw worth a damn, and my signature looks like a doctor's, but when it comes to lettering and calligraphy, I can whip up something spiffy in a jiffy.

Now if I can just figure out how to get enough rest before the faire starts Saturday morning, I'll be in good shape.

Monday, May 8, 2017


Today's reality check:

Yes, this is my actual bank balance right now. The last week has been interesting. It's going to get better, it just needs a little time.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

It's All Greek To Me

One of the gadgets my grandfather gave me last month is a little digital video camera. I don't see myself using it a lot, but I know I'll use it more if I know how to use it, so today, as a reward for tackling the other things on my to-do list, I decided to pull it out and play around with it.

Now, I know my grandfather used this thing, and I know he knows a few words in a few non-English languages, but when I turned it on, the default language was set to something I'm pretty sure he doesn't speak: Hindi. Had it been anything using the Latin alphabet, I'd've been able to get into the settings and fix it without having to read the manual, because I know enough of the roots for basic words in those languages to navigate the camera's menu. Hindi, though... that added a level of complication that I couldn't manage on my own. Luckily, my grandfather saves documentation for everything he buys, so not only did I have the original manual, I had two photocopies of it, along with his notes about when he formatted the various SD cards and charged the battery, and how to hook the camera up to his television set. A quick flip through the manual pointed me to the appropriate icons to get to the language menu, and now the camera speaks English again.

I think of it as a sign of the times that, in the language menu, only four of the options use the Latin alphabet. There's English, Spanish, French, and Portugese, and then Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Hindi. I wonder if our grade school foreign language offerings are going to change the way the menus in our gadgets have.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Big Chill

Those icebox cookies I mixed up last night were an excellent addition to breakfast this morning, if a smidge underbaked in my excitement to try them. I used this recipe, minus the zest and turmeric (between the lemon juice and the butter, they're plenty yellow for my taste), and they're delicious.

Now, off to the renfaire site to prep in the rain. Whee!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Sunshine Superman

And then there are the nights where a deadline is staring you in the face, and you just have to put some Donovan on the turntable in the sewing room, break out the heavy-duty thread, and get stitching.

At long last, the sun shade that I made (too big) for the span between the ticket booth and first aid booth at the renfaire last year has been resized to fit the space properly, and I can get up with the sun tomorrow morning, drive a few hours, and put it in the ticket booth, ready to be hoisted to its eye hooks the following Saturday.

Now to decide whether to mix a batch of icebox cookies before I go to bed. Hmm.

Cats and Dogs

It's raining domesticated housepets out there! I know this all too well, because about an hour ago when I was about to leave work, I noticed how hard it was raining, thought it'd be nice to have an umbrella, realized I had one, and then remembered that it was in the car, not in my bag.

It's a good thing I'm not the Wicked Witch of the West. Melting during a spring rainstorm would be a pathetic way to go.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Fill In As Needed

My bosses have found a solution to the not-enough-work problem: data entry! Yesterday my manager handed me a stack of mixing records that need to be put into a spreadsheet. Luckily, this is the kind of tedious, repetitive task that I love, so it's an excellent fit for me.

Unfortunately, they also announced that one of my coworkers has given notice, and I'll be taking over some of his duties, which include washing out our mixing buckets... my least favorite thing. But hey, it's work. My job description does include "fill in as needed," so I have to accept working outside my comfort zone a little.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Loaner Car

My beloved Jeep is in the shop getting some rust taken care of so it'll pass inspection, which means I have an older Subaru Impreza on loan from the mechanic in the meantime.

I hate this car. I mean, I love that my mechanic loans me a car for free when he works on my Jeep, that part's wonderful, but the cars he has are all beater Soobies with various issues. This one's got the check engine light on, a wicked shimmy when going up hills at speed, half-dead windshield wipers, and it smells like cheap air freshener and ArmorAll. The worst issue, though, is how uncomfortable the seats are.

This thing sits about a centimeter off the asphalt (I may be exaggerating a little, but only a little), so it feels like I have to get down on hands and knees and crawl into the passenger compartment. Once I'm in, even after I've made as many adjustments as I can, my knees are still higher than my hips (which is a painful position for me to be stuck in), and I have to lean the seat pretty far back so I don't have a mouthful of steering wheel.

I will be so happy tomorrow afternoon when I give this beast back and can take my Jeep home again. It'll be nice to be back in a vehicle that doesn't cause me pain every time I get into it.