First I want to say that I am sorry that it has been over a year since I posted anything. Life has a funny way of saying “You made plans! You’re so cute. Well let’s see about that.” But I also cannot say that I am entirely upset about it. Because this has been a long year of finding new things not just in the world of reenacting but for myself as well. Sometimes the journey of self-discovery is taken by surprise, or it smacks you in the face, then there are those lucky enough to decide they want to go on that journey. And I can honestly tell you this past year has been an accidental journey, one I hadn’t totally planned on or for, and truthfully didn’t want to take because it can be a very scary trip, but one I am so glad I took and am still taking. That is something I think a lot of people don’t realize either, you don’t just take a quick trip to “discover” yourself, it is a constant work in progress, sometimes you make huge leaps and bounds, then there are times you barely move an inch but it is always a trip. Before I get into any more I do want to take a moment to say thank you to all those who have helped me on this, they all know who they are so I won’t sound like someone who just won an Oscar for best comedic performance in a movie. But still from the bottom of my heart and soul, thank you.
As you all know I love 18th century cooking. The mystery of deciphering a recipe, and what they mean by enough flour to make a paste, size of what kind of egg, and is that even a real ingredient? Then the attempt to recreate it and hoping you are doing it right and as close to how it should be. The mistakes at times can be frustrating, but most times I find myself laughing at how spectacularly they fail, and yes even as I laugh I’m still frustrated. I’ll never get tired of the joy I have when something actually works and seeing the happy faces of those who share it with me, and the family that has created.
This year I was determined to do more than simply rummage through the index pages looking for names of recipes that sounded interesting, flipping through dozens of books. No this year I was actually going to sit down and read the cookbook and chose my recipes that way. And honestly I did and a whole new world opened to me. I didn’t make it out of “The English Art of Cookery” by Richard Briggs, and at first I thought I should be disappointed in that, surely I should have made it out right? No not really. Reading all those pages, combing through the recipes and actually reading them, and sometimes rereading them two, four, or even seven times to actually grasp what they are trying to say is hard almost as hard as actually doing the cooking. I learned why sometimes my recipes don’t actually work, or why my pancake batter is always so lumpy, yeah actually reading the instructions help, like I’m supposed to let it sit at least 2 hours before cooking so those lumps disappear. And guess what? They do and the batter and end product are so much better, so yeah, actually read the whole recipe, note to self.
My first step in discovering myself doing this, planning for 20+ camps (no I didn’t do all of them had to take two off, I was just too exhausted to do it. And yes I’m doing all 20+ next year), was actually reading the cookbook. Yes I know I just repeated myself, hear me out, and put up with it for a minute. By reading the book, I didn’t just figure out why something didn’t work. But, I got a glimpse a better glimpse into what a middle and upper class woman had to go through daily. Because tucked in the recipes and in between them are recipes for medicines, household cleaning solutions, dying tips, how to run a “proper” household. Cooking although a large part of life for a woman in charge of house it was a very small part, saying it during a demo is one thing, but finally actually understanding and seeing it is something completely different.
I wanted to know more about daily life outside the kitchen for women. Knowing what they do, and actually learning it and trying to put it to practice is something completely different and quiet humbling. I found that reading and using the recipes weren’t enough anymore. I needed more; I needed to know more, do more. I wanted to actually follow in those women’s footsteps, do what they did, live like they did, and not just for a weekend, although sometimes that is all I can do. There is more to them than standing over a fire, and feeding children. I knew that, but now I truly know that and it has started me on a new path, it is no longer just cooking for me, but I’ve added housewifery, which for me is everything outside the kitchen. Things that every young girl would learn from her mother, who learned from hers, and so on down the line, and would continue to teach their daughters. Learning things other than ingredients and the process of cooking, well it is a lot slower than waiting on a chicken to roast over an open fire. And not one I can say I accomplished in a year and am portraying completely now. Am I trying? Sure, but there is no way for me to learn what these women learned in a lifetime, because they literally never stopped learning even as they came west they had to adapt to their new life and new things around them.
Adapting is something I always thought I was good at. And that is the key I thought I was. This year not only did I move past the kitchen sink and add to it, but I added to me as well. This was my first year doing camps on my own. Yes you read right, I am setting up a wall tent and a whole kitchen, fire pit and hearth by myself. Then cooking all weekend, and then tearing it down and driving often times 4+ hours home. Sound daunting? Well it was for my first camp and even the second and third. But at my first camp, it rained a lot, and I felt like I had to prove to everyone that I could do it all on my own, I didn’t need help. Because if I ask for help then, 1. No one will believe that I can do it if I ask for help, 2. I have to prove I can, 3. I’m strong enough I don’t need help, 4. As a woman I have to prove I don’t need help because I have to prove I’m strong enough to do it. In truth, yes I proved it, but I didn’t need to and I learned that by the end of that camp. I know I can do it, those around me know I can do it, so why do I have to prove it? If I’m offered help I say yes, hey why work harder? It is one less thing I have to take down, one less thing stacked next to the trailer, on less step I have to take. I no longer have to prove anything to anyone but myself. And I know I can do it, but now I need to prove to myself that I am capable of admitting when I need help, and allowing someone to do it. Not an easy admission but after the first “Yes I could use the help thank you,” the next one was easier, and now I don’t think twice about excepting help from someone.
I will admit my first night by myself was miserable. For one thing I was soaking wet, (which is why you always bring extra modern clothes for tear down and set up if there is even a possibility of rain, I know it means more stuff to pack but you’ll thank me later) and cold because I couldn’t get a fire started because everything was soaked. I cried that first night, and literally contemplated tearing down in the dark and heading home and just plain quitting. But in the midst of my epic misery, I couldn’t help but think about all the women who had come before me. Those women who had lost husbands, other family members, who only had a tent, and their few belongings and maybe children, who had to set up by themselves, in the rain, no fire, children crying cause they were cold and hungry. They didn’t give up, sure they probably cried like I did, curled up in a ball cold, and wished it was different, to have someone there to help them. They didn’t give up so why should I? I didn’t, I changed, managed to get my brazier sorta started and cooked a hotdog on it, then went to bed buried under at least three wool blankets. I decided it wasn’t supposed to rain the next day, I could at least make it overnight and see if things looked better in the morning before I made any decisions. It was now my stubbornness that wasn’t letting me quit, and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I’m glad I did that. Because the next morning was bright and sunny, I managed to get a fire cook breakfast, hang up my modern clothes to dry and finish setting up. Granted other than that the first night when most of my friends weren’t there was a little awkward, and lonely. I’m used to being able to talk to someone, usually dad if we are the only ones setting up early, or at least know a dozen or so people there. I knew no one and had no one. But as people started showing up, my fire was going, I felt better. That weekend was a blast, I met so many people made so many friends, lifelong friends, that I cannot wait to see again and never feel like we left off. I’m glad I pulled on my Irish and stayed, and I hope that I made my grandmothers proud by not giving up, they didn’t so why should I?
By the second camp that I stayed at by myself, the first night when some people are still setting up or haven’t arrived yet, the loneliness was nice. The quiet, the sitting watching the sun go down and the summer night sky appearing. Then as people got done setting up they’d come and visit, it was nice. We sat relaxed, traded stories of what has gone on since last we met. But I have found doing camps by myself not so lonely. The first night if no one is there, I’m good with that; the quiet is nice before the craziness of the weekend ensues with the public. Then when everyone shows up the next day I’m ready to spend it with them, I want to talk, I want to visit, and if no one does I’m good with that too. I’ve become comfortable enough with myself that I’m good being alone, just like I’m great being with everyone. I love seeing friends I haven’t seen since October, catching up, laughing, crying, telling stories or sometimes just sitting next to the fire together without saying a word until we both realize it is way later than we though and we really need to get to bed. Those are my favorite times at camps, the nights when everyone is relaxing and visiting, and the early mornings when only a few of us are up, and those who are, are searching for hot coffee and maybe something to eat. It’s those quiet times I love and cherish the most.
I help with an event in the summer, and always before this year, I’ve always felt timid, I had to ask for approval, stay quiet and timid and hide that I know or can do something. I never wanted to upset anyone, never wanted to step on any ones toes, appear conceded or like I know everything. Something changed this year. I found a piece of me that I thought I had allowed others to kill, my confidence and courage was barely there if at all. This year I took a giant leap of faith and stepped out saying I can, I will, I know how. I did it, I stood on my own two feet, no net to catch me, no back up. On my own. Was I scared, oh hell yes, did I probably over think things, yeah that’s me, I’m getting better at it. But I found that courage, that voice to stand up for myself, that part that is hard to describe that I can, I will, I did, and will continue to. I found my voice, I found it was alright to say no, to stick up for myself, to defend those I care about and love, to tell someone to stop and back off. It isn’t causing trouble, it is about respect, I decided I deserved it and I was going to get it because I have sure as hell earned it. I am capable, I know how to do something why am I afraid to say so? Does it help the group? Can I help someone within the group? Then why am I sitting silently wishing I’d stepped up? I’m 34, and proud of it, that is 34 years of hard work, hard knocks, learning curves, tough choices, tough breaks, disappointments, broken hearts, and wonderful achievements. So why am I allowing it to stop me?
That piece of me I though was gone came roaring back to life, it may have started out at the first camp like a soft meow of a kitten, but that week it came roaring out like a lion. And it still is there. I have learned to temper it, and adding to the whole age thing, I think it is because of that. Yes I may still be “young” to some, but life has a way of making us much more wiser and mature than are actual physical age. I’ve learned how to say something with a smile that encompasses everything without being cruel or rude, but you know where I stand. I’ve learned not to react right away, cool off, think about it, face it head on but with grace and facts not feelings. While gut reactions are great and often we have to follow our gut feelings, sometimes we do need to take a minute and think before reacting. I’ve learned when to do that and when not to. I’ve learned how to defend those I love, when to allow the Irish come out in full force, and say you hurt someone I care for hell hath no fury like what you’re about to feel. I’ve learned it is okay to say I need help; it is okay to have an opinion even if it isn’t popular, to decide to prove someone wrong because I know I am right. To tell someone stop, this is a boundary and you can’t follow it well then we are going to have to reassess our relationship. It’s not being mean, or the other word that rhymes with witch, every person has this right, and we need to be teaching our children, our young woman that it is okay to do this. Do I still struggle with it? Well yeah of course I do. Do I still overthink things? Yes I do ask some of my close friends, I tend to apologize a few too many times because I worry about it. But good friends will help you learn you don’t have to, they’ll tell you if you’ve done something, they’ll forgive and move on. They’ll hold you up when you are struggling. They may tease you about it, but they will also hold you when you cry about it.
Because of that event, I’m no longer afraid to ask questions, ask for help, to stand up for myself. I want to learn something then I’m finding someone who can teach me and I’m gonna do the best I can at it. I haven’t thrown a tomahawk in years, I decided since I’m doing a trek later this year I need to learn I want to learn. It is a skill that frontier women would have had, how to use it in all ways. So I was and am determined to do it, be good at it or at least as good as I can be. Will I win prizes for it? Don’t know, would be fun, but that isn’t my ultimate goal, I just want to learn how to do it. Like my father is teaching me how to shoot a flintlock rifle, no I don’t have my own yet, (that is what paid demo’s are for and yes I’m starting to do those and that is a wonderful feeling), but it is something they would have been really good at. I want to learn things so I know how to do it, not because I have to prove anything, but I can’t always rely on someone being there to help me, and I know that most of this the women would have known. So to be as close to them as possible it is time I start getting into the harder work, the knitty gritty of frontier life. My goal no longer is just the cooking, but what did they have to go through every day outside the kitchen. Will I give up the cooking, not gonna happen I love it too much to do that. But I am working on adding everything else to the cooking, the knowledge these women had would put any 6 degreed doctoral student to shame. Why am I cutting a small section out? Well because that was what interested me first, and now, now I’m expanding like the frontier before them.
To better understand the cooking and how it is and was done, I need to understand the women who had to do it, and the only way to do that is to try and fully understand how they lived, what they knew, what they had to do. But for me to do that, I had to find that missing piece, and over the year to that one event, small little pieces fell into place, small pebbles of a foundation till the corner stone of it all came into place. Now I am building off of that. Will it be big pieces? Who knows maybe, may be smaller stones that continue to build me, then again it could be pieces in all different sizes. Either way, more than a kitchen sink helped me to here. Finding my first connection to my past, food, helped me find more connections, helped me grow closer to those women, and to myself. And by doing that, my relationships have grown stronger, I’m closer to my parents and in a new way, I have stronger friendships than ever before, I’m willing to make new friends and not sit in camp and let people come to me. I’m willing to step out, drag others with me, and say why not it will be fun! I enjoy trying something new, putting myself out there, learning something new, adding to what I already know, taking joy again in the small things. Being proud of my own accomplishments, being even prouder of those around me. Things I thought I needed I don’t anymore, because I’m not trying to fill that space that was missing, because I found it. My perspective on a lot of things have changed, I’m comfortable with me, with where I am and where I want to go. My voice matters just as much as the next person, will it always get heard no, but I’m ok with that, will it cause issues? I’m sure it will, it’s bound to happen. But you know what fine, perhaps I need to learn something.
This past year has taught me, that I’m still growing, my self-discovery journey will never truly be done, but I have found a large portion of me that wasn’t gone. Just buried and hidden because I was too afraid to even think I had the right to let it out. It’s okay to be afraid, it’s okay to ask for help. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone but myself. And if I know I can do it why am I punishing myself by forcing myself to always do it. Let someone help. I am my own person, I am strong enough, I am courageous and I have a voice. I can stand on my own two feet, will I always be right, uh no and I don’t want to. But I have the right to say no, I have the right to set boundaries, I have the right to be a strong willed woman, I have the right to a lot of things. My courage has appeared, granted I still have a lot to learn, but. I am more connected to those women I so long to honor and respect, and I hope I am making them proud with what I am learning about myself and pushing myself to do. If I don’t know how to do it, if I can’t well I’m making myself do it. I have learned I am so much more, I am worth so much. I am worth and can do so much more than just a kitchen sink.