Progress – Not

There’s been a change of leadership at MedFaire. The new director is a long time friend. Today, we stuffed the vendor contract envelopes. It looks like I will be doing much more administrative work with MedFaire, before, during, and after.

This makes me wonder about the future of the alchemy booth. I still very much want to do it, but it looks more like it would be something better for someone else to do, and I just help out.

Like many other state agencies (and MedFaire is a state agency, or at least a program from a state agency), with the budget cuts, when a job is vacated, they usually don’t fill it. Linda’s job was an exception, someone has to run MedFaire. AnnMarie was a part time assistant and was promoted to Linda’s position, meaning AnnMarie’s job as assistant is vacant and will probably remain so until the budget turns around. So I offered to help as much as possible – an unpaid assistant.

Of course, I also volunteered my ex to help mark the grounds the week before the Faire. I am not above volunteering other people when I know they probably won’t mind being volunteered. This gives my ex a chance to catch up with a couple of his old friends, friends he wouldn’t get to see this year since he’s not attending MedFaire this year in favor of attending a gun show in Tulsa instead.

I got a preview of the T-shirt design this year and will gleefully buy both T-shirt and sweatshirt this year.

And, with greater involvement in admin, I will have less time to even think about having a booth.

I admit the primary reason I wanted a booth was so I’d have something to do between the volunteer shifts, a place to stash my gear, a place to interact with the patrons, a place out of the weather to sit, and a place for the doggies to rest and relax.

I don’t know how much (or little!) time I will have to set up and run a booth at the Faire, and so I guess I will table it for now. Not give it up, just backburner it for now. In a year or two, I’ll look at it again.

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Books

A favorite author of mine has a new book out I’d like to get for Gosplodey’s: <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Spectacular-Chemical-Experiments-Herbert-Roesky/dp/3527318658/ref=pd_sim_b_24”> Spectacular Chemical Experiments</a> bu Herbert Roesky.

Other books I’d like to get include (but are not limited to): <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Chemical-Curiosities-Herbert-W-Roesky/dp/3527294147/ref=pd_sim_b_7#_”> Chemical Curiosities</a> by Roesky and Moeckel, translated by Russey and Mitchell.

<a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Alchemy-Chemistry-Picture-Story/dp/0471751545/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1289589778&sr=1-1”> From Alchemy to Chemistry in Picture and Story</a> by Greenberg.

<a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Book-Totally-Irresponsible-Science-Experiments/dp/076115020X/ref=pd_sim_b_8”>The Book of Totally Irresponsible Science</a> by Sean Connolly.

Aside for Wrist

My wrist is in sad, sad shape. At PT today, it had less than 2 degrees of movement in any direction, there’s shoulder involvement, the the internal stitches are not only not dissolving as they should, there’s infection in it. I’ve started antibiotics for the infection, but if the stitches don’t dissolve, they’ll have to open up my palm again to take them out.

I have 4 goals: to resolve the infection/stitches issue, get some movement in the wrist and shoulder – enough to get fully dressed, be able to drive again, and be able to hold a pen/lift anything over 6 ounces/eat right handed again. That would be enough to go back to work. The rest can come after that.

Modernizing Alchemy

True, the alchemy of Gosplodey is based on medieval alchemy – the symbols, the equipment, the styling of the booth, the costuming – but it has to be accessible to modern people who want to simply enjoy watching it. It also has to be accessible to those who want to participate.

I, personally, think it’s fun to spend 2 years creating a vegetable stone and I understand the language and terminology used in alchemy. But MedFair is a totally different situation. The people there want to be entertained, amazed, and delighted in 15 minutes. That means it needs to be quick, flashy, intriguing enough to want the audience to want more, and most important – understandable.

Distillation and calcination are the most visually engaging processes of alchemy. The creation of pigments and fireworks the most exciting, so those are probably the best options for demonstrations. I just purchased a copy of Dennis Hauck’s “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy”. It arrived today. A quick glimpse through it doesn’t seem to be as simple and introductory as I wanted, but perhaps with it as the guide, I can craft something usable for MedFaire and put together a chapbook for the apprentice alchemist.

It’s a good thing I wasn’t planning on being ready before 2012! I thought, when this first started, that it would take that long to create stock and design the booth and sew the robes and all. While all of that will certainly take time, it’s the selection of suitable processes that will take the most time.

It is said that the qualities of a good alchemist are found in the person who can cook an egg perfectly. Common tools in alchemy can also be found in most kitchens: glass bowls and cookware (some people wondered why I was so very excited when Pyrex created the Visions cookware – now you know), plastic strainers, cheesecloth, wooden spoons, mortar and pestles, baking stones,scales, glass measuring devices, wine and beer bottles, and corks. Also common ingredients are used: dried herbs, baking powder, baking soda, yeast, salts, lard, vinegar, alcoholic spirits such as vodka, wine, or brandy, and cooking oil. Add fire and with these, we can make tinctures, essences, elixirs, and vegetable stones.

For pigments and fireworks, we’d need slightly more ingredients. Artist sites have better pigment recipes than modern alchemy texts, perhaps because the alchemical processes of making pigments has remained in the artist community while falling into disfavor among modern alchemists.

Making fireworks also falls under the “no longer interests modern alchemists” but was a fascinating part of medieval and Chinese alchemy.

Some of the experiments on this page could fit into an alchemy booth, and this page has links to more. Now to pore through all this material and select the ones that would fit the project the best.

Thought Work

With my hand still out of commission, I have plenty of time to think and do bits of research. I’ve also been communicating with scientist friends who have been thinking along similar lines in different fields of science. One’s a biologist, specifically an entomologist, and she recently started considering a science club for adults involving mostly insects – mantises are holding their appeal for her because as insects go, these are both intelligent and less fear or disgust inducing than many other insects, making them an excellent “first” bug.

Others are doing other things to get adults involved in “citizen scientist” type activities. It’s all very steampunky to me. I know Gosplodey’s is set in medieval times (because of MedFair), and I’m going to keep it there to start with because if I don’t keep it small and limited, it will get away from me, become too big to do and I’ll abandon it because it became overwhelming.

The trouble is, with all this time to think and very little ability to actually do right now, Gosplodey’s is taking on a tendency to swell up and expand across the ages. I can so clearly see how well this would fit in at SF conventions as a steampunk thing (the aforementioned “Mad Scientist”), and how well it would suit anime (the Chinese and Japanese both had alchemy, the Japanese is less well known: Renkinjutsushi or 錬金術師) as the work is very suitable to the concept. And alchemy is making a huge modern comeback (although mostly as spiritual and self-transformational philosophy). It spans the ages. And thinking about it is letting it get too big.

So, I’ve been desperately dialing it back down to just the Middle Ages, and just in Europe, because if I let that roam, it will grab the Middle East and Egypt and again grow too big.

Even keeping it just in the European Middle Ages is tough – there’s the charlatanry, the lead-into-gold aspects, the spagyrics, the fireworks, the endless distillations. Much of alchemy is actually spent waiting and observing as the materials tick along through this experiment or that. Distillation and rendering and such are lengthy processes. I should have remembered that.

Spagyrics, however, is comparatively fast. And creating explosives is also much faster than creating vegetable stones and elixirs.

To make a reasonable display and demonstration, we’d have to spend a lot of time bringing things up to the final moment, and then just showing that bit. We could talk of the work leading up to that moment. I wonder if the time-consuming aspects of alchemy might not be off-putting to most people?

Exploring

I’ve been exploring the web to see on line resources there are for the endeavor. A lot of the sites were concerned with the philosophical and spiritual aspects of alchemy, there was a decent number of practical alchemy sites as well.

I’m pleased to see that modern alchemy takes advantage of modern materials and supplies.

Were I considering alchemy in a SF&F convention setting (a la “Mad Scientist”), I would gleefully use such things as 2 liter soda bottles, but Gosplodey’s is set at a Medieval Fair site and must make a serious attempt at looking medieval. No plastic soda bottles.

I have been collecting wine and beer bottles instead – and corks. It’s a pity I don’t drink very much, so I’ve asked friends to let me have their empties. As we head into the holiday season, I expect the pace to pick up some.

I’ve unearthed some of my old class notes and am translating them into English. There may be some useful things here.

Purpose

Now that I’ve settled in to this new location, it’s time to get down to business.

I named this blog “gosplodey” for a reason – I intend to develop a hobby into a very small once a year public demonstration at an event called the OU Medieval Fair for the nefarious purposes of having fun, having something to do when I’m not working on the staff, and to share my interest with as many people as possible. I doubt I’ll make any money at it. Indeed, I’m pretty sure it will be a financial sinkhole – I have to purchase/rent a tent, acquire tables (I have 1, it’s a start), stills that are portable (I have 1 portable still – a start but not enough), other lab equipment, chemicals and bottles and jars and other such “consumables”, create signage, develop interesting patter, find some visually appealing and possibly mildly explosive experiments to patter on about, create costuming for myself and any assistants I can attract to help with this, find some way to reimburse said assistants – if only to feed them, and print up booklets and make little give-aways.

Yeah, it’s going to be a real money drain.

But it’s going to be fun!

Playing With My Food

Sometimes, the food I come up with is classic, suitable for White Tie Dinners or to set before Royalty. Most of the time, though, it falls into the Weird Food category, earning double-takes, laughs, and the occasional request for seconds.

Halloween brings out the weirdness more than any other time of the year. I’ve created Flying Spaghetti Monster cookies and entrees, stewed monkey heads, gorilla toe stew, monster meatballs, flying saucers, buzzard claws, and more.

But weird isn’t just for Halloween. I hosted a Tea where I served Time Tarts – tiny tarts filled with dried cranberries and decorated to look like pocket watches. Or the All Pie Meal, where every dish was a pie, from the appetizer fried cheese pies to the sealed salad to the secret lagoon soup to the coffined entree and on to the more common dessert pies. Or the food onna stick, where I created Fried Dr. Pepper onna stick, and soup onna stick, and all of Thanksgiving Dinner onna stick.

So, I thought I’d share some of my food adventures here.

My trip into food experimentation began with spaghetti, so that’s where I will start here. I am very loose in my definition of “spaghetti” – the pasta can be any long, stringy noodle: spaghetti, angel hair, linguine, bucatini, vermicelli, capellini, bucati, spaghettini, spaghettoni, fedelini – you get the idea. The sauce, though, is always tomato based. It may or may not have meat, and the seasonings vary. All my spaghetti dishes have stringy pasta and a tomato-based sauce. All the rest can change.

My first spaghetti variation was spaghetti pizza. I made it 2 different ways, the second is my favorite.

The first spaghetti pizza used the pasta as the crust – cooked pasta was well buttered then coiled into a buttered pizza pan and baked until firm and slightly crisp, then topped like pizza and baked until the cheese was melted. This makes for a nice, thin pizza with a lighter taste than a dough crusted pizza.

But I love dough pizzas, so my second spaghetti pizza used pizza dough, tossed onto a clay baking tile and partially baked, brushed with garlic butter, coated with pizza sauce, then piled with cooked angel hair pasta tossed with spaghetti sauce, tiny meatballs sprinkled all over with chopped green peppers, generously topped with Mozzarella, Cheddar, and Romano cheeses, then baked again until hot, melty, and delicious.

I didn’t stop there, of course.

At one point, I shared a duplex with a family who ate Mexican all the time – that’s when I learned to make tortillas and to love burritos for breakfast. You guessed it – spaghetti burritos. I use the large tortillas and fill and wrap the spaghetti inside just like any other burrito, but I mix the spaghetti sauce with a nice red picante sauce and the meatballs are made with taco seasonings.

From there, it was a small step to make spaghetti tacos. Spaghetti tacos make splendid use of leftovers. For these, either tiny meatballs or loose thick meat sauce works best – and topping it with shredded lettuce and cheese and chopped tomatoes is pure awesomeness.

And, being from a strong fry bread state, topping Indian Fry Bread with spaghetti also made sense. I love that almost as much as the normal Indian Taco: frybread topped with beany chili, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese.

Spaghetti soup is also a natural variation of spaghetti, making the sauce thinner and soupier, adding chilies and flat Italian green beans and shreds of carrots and topping generously with shredded cheeses, and garlic bread on the side.

Rolled spaghetti omelets, spaghetti crostini, lattice topped spaghetti pie, fried spaghetti hand pies, spaghetti po’boys, spaghetti casseroles topped with garlicky croutons, and spaghetti topped salads have also made their way to my table. Perhaps the biggest hit among kids, though, are the shrunken heads – bell peppers and tomatoes hollowed and filled with cooked spaghetti, drenched in spaghetti sauce, topped with cheese and a “bone” hair ornament made of garlic bread.

Spaghetti also makes for comment-worthy appetizers: make tiny phyllo shells filled with spaghetti and topped with a pair of teeny meatballs or deepfry “nests” of spaghetti and fill with sauce and meatballs and cheese. Put a thin layer of sauce tossed spaghetti in a hot skillet, pour beaten eggs over it, dot with meatballs, fry until the egg sets, cut into bite sized portions, top with cheese (possibly broil to melt cheese well) and provide a spaghetti dipping sauce. This Spaghittata goes well as a fondue dipper, too.

Plan B – for “Beyond”

So, most people have a Plan A. It could be a small Plan A, like having oatmeal for breakfast, or getting to work 10 minutes early. Or it could be a grand Plan A, like going to college and majoring in rocket science.

Thing is, even the smallest and simplest Plan As can be derailed. Most of the time, when a small Plan A gets derailed (traffic delays you so you’re 10 minutes late instead of 10 minutes early), most people simply shrug it off and move on. It may not even dawn on them that they had a Plan, let alone a Plan A, so they automatically glide into Plan B mode (sorry, Boss, traffic was brutal today! I’ll make it up at lunch.).

It’s the Grand Plan As that can, when derailed, wreak havoc and destroy lives – literally destroy lives – because they never expected failure, never had a Plan B – “B” = “Beyond” so I don’t have to go “Plan C”, “Plan D”, etc. Assume Plan B stands for every plan past the original Plan A.

What many people don’t seem to realize is that giving up Plan A doesn’t necessarily mean giving up the goal Plan A is meant to achieve.

For instance: I have a friend whose mother was a gifted pianist – before she married. She was fame quality – they had recordings of her concerts. It’s possible she could have become one of the great pianists of the world, she had the passion and potential – until an indiscretion led her to the altar and presented her with a son 6 months later. Her husband didn’t hate music, he simply saw no point in it and wouldn’t spend the money to allow her to continue to play and perform. Her job, as he saw it, was to set aside her childish playthings and take care of him, the child(ren), and the house. She eventually had 3 children, and never, to the day of her death, played piano again. I don’t know what her goal was with the piano, but I always wonder, when I hear stories like this, if she could still have realized her goal, just on a different schedule or in a different way. Perhaps she might have become a piano tutor, or played in the church, or performed for family and friends at holidays – assuming music was her goal and not world fame.

All the gods know my own Plan As have been altered out of all recognition from when I began planning and plotting my life. A couple of times, I’ve been forced to completely walk away from the life I had and to rebuild a new life, other times, I simply had to re-aim my sights and look elsewhere, and my own physiology made a few goals impossible. When you’re young and still growing, dreams range everywhere – but I never grew tall enough to be an astronaut, laws forbade me to work in the field I’d chosen as second best, and by the time the laws changed, I was too long out of the field and chemo robbed me of my mathish skills to be truly competent in it.

That’s what life is – not failure, per se, although by the definition of that word, one could say I’d failed many times over – a constant re-evaluating of one’s life and needs and desires, and the plotting and planning to achieve those.

I let my children see what my goals were and how I achieved them – and what I did when Plan B became my new Plan A, how this new plan would get me closer to my goal. My children learned early that there was always another way to get to the goal. I admit, I played RPGs with my children – how better to teach them life skills where the character they created gets thwarted, blocked, and stalled and they have to find ways past the Evil GM (me) to win their goal and end the game. They applied those skills to life, so when they couldn’t camp in tents because of rain, they could camp in the cars, and when one job didn’t pan out, they could look for another, and when one dream was blocked, there were other ways to get there – and more help than they ever believed possible would be there, too.

An obstacle wasn’t a dead-end. If Plan A tanked, there were many more options than suicide. Death is truly the only dead-end. I haven’t figured a way yet to get past death to complete my goals. For me, death has never been a Plan B.

Sadly, it seems to be the only Plan B the children of my children’s generation and younger seem to have. So many young people take their own lives because they don’t see any other way out of their predicament – and they lack the experience and the teachings that no matter how dire and grim things may be at that moment, as long as one is alive, there is always a Plan B.

My children learned these lessons in games and camping trips and by watching me re-evaluate and changes paths to get to my goals. They saw me take jobs I didn’t want in order to pay bills and get to jobs I did want, to buy a house, to provide food and clothing, pay for their college, and to do the things that made me happy (and them). Unlike many of their peers, they learned flexibility and patience, and they learned that the things they wanted wouldn’t be handed to them just because they wanted it, and the things they wanted could be taken away by a single mistake they made or stolen by someone else’s mistake – but they could get it back, if they thought about it and re-negotiated their goal and the path to it. All was not lost, just – changed.

Death, however, truly ends it all. You can’t make any more Plan Bs when you Plan A is so terminally final.

“Functional Food”

http://healthland.time.com/2010/09/28/food-is-the-new-pharma-nestle-aims-to-enter-the-functional-foods-market/?hpt=Sbin

Now, that’s something that should rightfully terrify all of us – food pumped full of drugs and making spurious health claims.

I won’t be buying them. Real food has more and better benefits than pumped up, junked up, processed food.<p>I am considering a partial boycott of Nestle products or any other products that scream “Improves Digestion!” or “Prevents Diabetes/Obesity/Alzheimer’s/Heart Disease!”, “Now With Added Calcium!” – anything that has a “health” claim attached, although I may scale it up to a full blown boycott.

I don’t want a prescription to be able to go grocery shopping. I don’t want my food to be stripped of all its natural goodness and then be chemically enhanced to give it some level of artificial nutrition.

I want my food to taste good, to taste like the food it is – I don’t want cranberries that taste like apples or apples that taste like grapes, I don’t want cheese tasting like eggs or bread like steak. (I don’t know that the last two exist, but it seems inevitable, doesn’t it?). I don’t want “functional food”, I want real food.

The last paragraph of the article is a sane one.

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