Monday, September 14, 2015

Matthias von Greifsburg, Master of Defence

This piece is a strange amalgam of various German influences and I'm going to take a few moments to explain how I work on commissions and how these illuminations come to fruition. When someone asks me to do a peerage scroll, I very much want to make sure that they are an active part in deciding what art will live on their home wall forever.

Once upon a time, step one was packing a bag of books and meeting with the client. We would flip through pages and use dozens of sticky notes to explain what elements on each page were of interest. The magic of the interwebs has made my life a lot easier with Pinterest. So now, step one is working with the client to start a Pinterest board where we can both upload images that we think might be a good fit.

Sometimes the client picks a single piece they like, and sometimes I have a request to stitch several pieces together into a final illumination. At this point, I gather information like heraldry, favorite colors, and little nuances that the client would like to have included or about which they care deeply. In the case of this illumination the answers were something like: red, blue, gold, yay Teutons, my wife, my daughter, griffin, shiny. Yep, I can work with that. I also find out if the client want to know anything else along the way or just wants to be surprised at the end.

  • Layout: Gospel Book of Henry II
  • Central illumination: Martin Schongauer's The Eagle of St. John, c. 1450-1491
  • Figure design: The Codex Manesse
Then I start sketching, erasing a lot, sketching more, frowning at proportions and final sketching. Usually, this is where the calligraphy comes in if life is optimal. Sometimes the author is still writing it. Sometimes it is still in translation and you have to get started. Next is gold leafing followed by color blocking and detailing. In the case of this piece, the calligraphy was added last at it was painted in gold on top of the white paint. 


Hier im schoenen Trimaris / erzaehlt man sich solch' Wunder
Von lobenswerten Helden / und deren unzaehlige Taten
Im Dienste des Traums/ mit Leidenschaft und Talent
und vom unangefochtenen Adel von Don Matthias von Greifsburg.

Ein Beispiel zu allen Zeiten / Er fuehrte unsere Klingen in die Schlacht
Hoeflich und voll Gnade ist er / gegenueber dem Volk und denen an der Macht
Von vorneherein ist sein Sieg / im Kamp festgestellt
und seine Grosszuegigkeit gehoert aller Welt.

Wir, die Krone von Trimaris / mit Herz, Hand, und Verstand
an diesem 24. Tag des Mai / AS 50 vereidigen
unseren Don Matthias / als Meister des Ordens der Verteidigung
und uebereichen ein Patent des Wappenrechts mit unserer Hand.

To we in fair Trimaris / is many a marvel told
Of praise-deserving heroes / of valors manifold
Of service to the dream / of passion and skill superb
And the worthiness unquestioned / of Don Matthias Von Griefsburg.

A leader on and off the field / he took our blades to war
He's courteous and gracious / to all he comes before
Of victory in battle / his conclusion is foregone
And his generosity / never is withdrawn.

So do we the crown Trimaris / with heart and hand and mind
On this day the 24th of May / anno societatus 50
Name our don Matthias Master / of the Order of Defense
A Patent of Arms / does with this award dispense.

If you would like to see more about the creation of this piece:
Personae Dramatis

Limning, calligraphy and illumination: Mistress Maol Mide ingen Medra OL, OP
Translation to German: Mistress Mayken Van der Alst, OL

Tiny Terrarium

The wistful historical-loving scientist part of me has always wanted a terrarium for my home. I had dreams of Victorian miniature hothouses and collections of odd fungus and mosses.

Now, my scientific little heart is pleased. A friend gave me a small patina colored miniature greenhouse and a walk in the woods and division of a few tillandsias ended me up with enough species to fill my new terrarium.

Here's a nice close look inside:

Included species:
  • Fan-shaped jelly fungus (Dacryopinax spathularia)
  • Snow Fungus (Tremella fuciformis)
  • Common Haircap Moss (Polytrichum commune)
  • Pincushion Moss (Leucobryum albidum)
  • Perforated Ruffle Lichen (Parmotrema perforatum)
  • Resurrection Fern (Polypodium polypodioides)
  • Sphagnum Moss (Sphagnum)
  • Bartram's Airplant (Tillandsia bartramii)
  • Southern Needleleaf (Tillandsia setacea)
  • Air Plant (Tillandsia funckiana)
  • Wax Begonia (Begonia x semperflorens)
  • Violet Wood-Sorrel (Oxalis violacea)
  • Unknown bracket fungus (Polyphore)

I'll see how these species do in the terrarium and transfer anything out that seems to be flagging. I'll add more small species over time. Also, I need to figure out a lighting solution. Something like an LED lightbar that I can mount inside the cover would work nicely. We'll see what happens.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Graveyard Wander in Pennsylvania

During my recent trip to visit my sister and brother-in-law in Pennsylvania, we traveled to several graveyards to perform genealogical research. We visited the Washburn Street Cemetery in Scranton, Mount Carmel Cemetery in Dunmore and in the Fleetville Baptist Cemetery in Fleetville. 

Welsh text grave of Evan Lewis, died 1894
Washburn Street Cemetery is an old cemetery with a rich history of the Hyde Park section of Scranton and includes the graves of many of Scranton's Welsh coal miners and settlers. Here can also be found about 60 of the graves of the 110 victims of the Avondale Mine Disaster

The cemetery is partially in good repair in the newer sections, but many of the oldest graves are badly overgrown, tumbled over by time or vandals or almost entirely burried through settling. Finding anything in this cemetery can be a real challenge. 

The sections with the oldest graves can be found closest to Fillmore Ave or along the cemetery frontage at Washburn Street. There are hills, uneven ground, high grass and lots of obstacles, but the old stones are fascinating. Among the old graves, many graves written in Welsh can be found.

I was glad to see two people working in the graveyard doing upkeep, one on a tractor and one with a weed trimmer. Both were friendly and offered assistance.

Part of the "Old Section" of Washburn Street Cemetery.

Headstone for Savino Macchia, died 1920
Mount Carmel Cemetery in Dunmore dates to the mid to late 1800's and has burials that continue to this day. The areas of the cemetery from about 1930 onward are well ordered and records are on file at Mount Carmel catholic Church of Dunmore that can help you find the exact location of a plot of anyone burried from about 1940 to present. Many of the graves, even those dating into the 1940's are entirely carved in Italian, as this area was rich with Italian culture.

The older graves, however, have no records that remain. The oldest section of the graveyard sits to the far right of the cemetery. Some stones are worn smooth, some are gone, some have only iron crosses or a small stone that contains only initials of the deceased. 

One concrete cross has small stones pressed into it to spell the word MOTHER, but no names or dates are given. Unfortunately, all of the graves for which we searched either had no burial marker, the stone has been worn smooth, or the iron cross engraved with a name can no longer be read. 

Part of the "Old Section" of Mount Caramel. Most graves date from before 1910 in this section.
The Fleetville Baptist Cemetery was a lovely graveyard on the side of a steep hill. The entire yard was in good repair, most stones were upright and the cemetery seemed well cared for. With my sister's crazy luck, she found the grave we were looking for in just minutes.

Among the graves, I did get to find some lovely bits of nature.

Grass Pinks (Dianthus armeria)

Wood Strawberries (Fragaria vesca)

British Soldier Lichen (Cladonia cristatella)

Little Wood-Satyr (Megisto cymela)
Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis)

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Adebarsteine

Albrecht Durer ~ The Stork, 1515 
“Hope” is the thing with feathers- 
That perches in the soul-- 
And sings the tune without the words -- 
And never stops - at all - 

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard 
-And sore must be the storm - 
That could abash the little Bird 
That kept so many warm - 

I’ve heard it in the chillest land - 
And on the strangest Sea - 
Yet - never - in Extremity, 
It asked a crumb - of me. 

Emily Dickenson

     In Lohme, on the isle of Rugen, they left sweets upon the adebarsteine, the stork stones. They did not remember the stories.

Have you ever really listened to the stories meant for children? They are fantastic, sometimes beautiful but they are also warnings, as most tales of youth turn out to be in later days.

If you cry wolf when there is no wolf, eventually you will find yourself locked and luckless in a gaping maw. Should you find a cottage made all of sugar and delight then you should run far and fast away from the witch and her wide, waiting oven. If you place sweets upon the stork stones, the stork will bring a baby to the mother who makes the offering, but it may not be the babe for which she precisely hoped.

The tales are told with smiles and small words, in hopes that they will creep deep into the memory of each growing child and perhaps someday, stay their hand or quiet their shout. There is always a warning. A price to be paid for not heeding the tales.

Children grow to young people and continue to become slightly less young. They court and they dance and eventually they pair off like birds to nest. And then, chicks. Babies. Soft and pale and gurgling. Even the ones that cry all through the night, even they are prized with their tiny fingers, long lashes and chubby limbs. Everyone loves a baby.

Yet, some wives pass year by year with no children, empty knit blankets and cleverly crafted cradles waiting at the hearth-side. The hope and gleam in their eyes dwindles and their patience washes out to sea like the chalk cliffs, pain etched deeper by each wave. Wishes gone unanswered, prayers unfulfilled... but then in the sad oceans of their minds, a half-forgotten memory of a tale surfaces and washes up in a fading dream. The adebarsteine. The offering. The storks.

Desperation turns the warning veneer of old tales transparent. The wives remember a child's tale filled with sweets and storks and babies brought by birds. So silly, but they dare not dismiss even this least likely chance. Storks with their smooth bodies, white feathers and regal bearing. What could be more gentle? The last traces of fear slough off as easily and softly as preened down feathers.

By the pale blush of starlight and the moon glow on luminous cliffs each decides to try this far-fetched plea, but no woman dares to tell another for fear of shame and desperation revealed. Small feet, quiet feet in soft shoes steal into the night, for these things must always happen in the night. Past the sleeping village and beyond the dark oak trees the women go, each in her own time, down to the sea. A rocky shore where pebbles are stacked in tiny cairns, each a game of gravity. There the whisper of waves and the rasp of the spray beckon, each surge of water a tongue licking at the stone.

Like altars, the adebarsteine wait. 

Each wife filled with a dwindling dream of motherhood shucks off her shoes and hitches up her skirts. It is only ever a short wade to the stork stones. Knee deep into the Baltic, generations of barren wombs and hope-filled hearts make this pilgrimage and then set the bag of sweets upon the rock. Sugar, pure and white and sweet. It seems an easy trade.

A bag of precious confections, cakes, candies and sugared bits left upon the adebarsteine. In return, each woman takes one small pebble, a bit of grit no larger than a grain of sand and swallows it with a mouthful of the Baltic Sea. With eyes squeezed shut and a final, fervent prayer each wife flees the shore to duck back into their cottage, slip quietly back beneath the down coverlet.

The morning after a sacrifice is always the same. Sleepy wives and husbands wake, stretching and picking the rheum from their eyes. A quiet breakfast cooked and bolted down before the door clicks shut behind a husband off to work. It is then, in the quiet of a kitchen, beside the stoking fire, that each wife suddenly and surely becomes aware. Heaviness. A full feeling beyond that of a meal. The knowledge settles in that the offering has been received and something has taken root inside.

The bloom of expectant mother settles over each wife. Her smile quicker, her skin gone rosy as a spring blossom. Over the months they stretch and begin to distend in their middles, growing ungainly as every pregnant woman does. There is an ease to these pregnancies, a lack of sickness and swollen ankles. As their bellies round they press their fingers to their flesh hoping for the feel of a kick, a fist, a baby turning slowly over in a sleepy curl of comfort. Nothing.

Sometimes, late at night they feel a slow grind, as stone against stone or glacier over earth. Nothing smooth, or wet and wriggling. Just a big, firm belly filled where something is becoming. It is usually in these last months that the purposefully forgotten warning of a children's tale begins to seep up through the memory.

A bag of sugar and sweets and a swallowed pebble. A trade of one thing for another. There is a price. There is a charge.

In the village these wives smile through the day, being careful not to look too directly at the storks. Perhaps it was not that there were more of them. Perhaps there had always been so many, and now an awareness had been born. Hope is a funny thing: feathered and flapping faintly in the heart. The last month is always the longest.

And then one night, the wife rises from sleep with a sudden pain, something cracking deep inside. A half dressed husband is shoved out the door to fetch the midwife, leaving a wife in prayer and pacing. There is a sound that begins, faint at first but then louder: a clack and clatter. When the midwife and the husband rush back in, the midwife squints, assessing the wife and looking for the puddle of a babe about to be born and not finding what is expected. And then a sound: a staccato tap. The wife looks into the eyes of the midwife, a look of fear and pleading.

The midwife then stops still, breathes a quiet sigh and shoos the husband from the room where a new life is about to begin. It is for his own good. Go boil water. Go fetch towels. Go cook something so the new mother might have a filling meal after her ordeal. There are things a father should never see. Things a husband should never know.

In these births, few words were exchanged. A grunt of discomfort. A quick instruction of how to sit, or breathe or push. All the while amid the sounds of a husband flailing through a house in a clatter of pans and unfamiliar women's work, still there is a sound growing louder.

Tap. Tap, tap, clack.

A knocking growing insistently and unfailingly louder.

After the groaning and pushing and agony of fear, in a sudden gush of seawater the contents of the womb are expelled and caught by expert hands. An egg, white as sugar with a sheen liked an iced cake sits gleaming in the midwife's hands. The midwife, with an efficiency of practiced motion, walks to the window, throws wide the shutters and places the egg carefully on the sill, a bit of towel tucked around the bottom to keep it from rolling.

At the window the sounds from within the egg quicken and then cracks begin to show, spidering across the smooth and steaming surface of the shell. The midwife sits, hands on knees watching the window, and carefully avoids the eyes of the woman crouching in her bed and dragging the covers over herself, her hands wringing at the sheets.

A crack. A clatter. A flutter and crunch and then a hole appears. A sharp knife of a beak, a smooth white feathered head, a glittering black eye and a sinuous neck unfurl. In moments, a full grown stork stands upon the sill, slowly stretching ink tipped wings and gently preening at a milky white breast. With a last, unblinking stare, the stork turns toward the night and takes wing.

In the silence that follows, a low keening can be heard from the bed. A wife who had hoped against hope to be a mother with her heart broken as surely as an eggshell. With a single whispered command, "Schweig.", the midwife demands quiet, never looking away from the fluttering curtains and the wine dark sky beyond.

Softly. Softly so that the ear must strain and the heart must hope, a distant flapping cuts through the silence. Closer until the individual wing beats can be heard, a pale shape emerges from the night. A stork bearing a heavy burden, looking like a picture from a child's storybook, alights at the sill. A wriggling bundle is lowered down, set upon the towel and the crunching shards of eggshell. In the frozen moment of held breath and staring eyes, a small cry rises. With a last look from an eye black as a jet bead, the stork turns its golden bill back to the night and takes wing.

There are things that women do not say, even in the privacy of the birthing bed. There are glances that carry whole conversations, admonitions of deeds done in desperation. In the candle-flickering shadows, a midwife can pick up a swaddled babe from a window sill and carry it across the room to the shocked arms of a maid turned mother. A German woman, a world-wise midwife, knows how to do these things from the depth of her bones. She can stand straight and unshaken because that is how these things must be. There are no words for a night of old magic: a night of eggs and feathers and foundling babes. Such a midwife knows to place the pale and perfect infant into the arms of a new mother, collect her things and leave the room, pausing only to sweep the shards of eggshell from the windowsill and let them fall into the night.

There is a joy of relief when a deed is done and the hatched plan has come to fruition. A mother reshapes herself to curl around a perfect baby, her fingers exploring toes and ears and fingers almost too tiny to be real. Fathers steal back in to the room and join their new family in bed amid smiling and cooing. The new family begins to shape their world and lives to orbit this new, pale and perfect child. There is happiness and the feel of fear nearly fades away.

Some weeks later, word will travel in from afar. Perhaps from Griefsburg or from Hiddensea. A story of a baby stolen in the night will spread in all directions, a tale of caution whispered among mothers. Close the windows. Latch the shutters. Without vigilance it could be you who wakes to check upon the babe and finds instead a swaddle cloth filled with sea-smoothed pebbles and sometimes a bit of cake, a curl of confection on top.

The story swirls closer and eventually flutters into the house with a new baby. Fear blossoms and guilt flowers in the heart of a young mother and she tries never to meet the eyes of the midwife as they pass in the village. She begins to search for storks, noting each nest and watching for any that seem interested in the chimney tops of houses where pregnant women wait for their babes to be born. She starts to lock the doors at night, propping chairs beneath the knobs and checking each shutter twice.

And then, one night they will awaken to a soft tap at the window. They start awake and leap from their beds running first to check upon their baby, still pale and perfect in the cradle. Another tap, and then more and the mother is filled with fear yet finds herself going to the window and unlatching the shutter to see what is calling.

A stork stands on the sill and drops a bit of cloth from a keenly sharp bill. The napkin flutters open and spills a few crumbs of cake, a few grains of sugar upon the sill. Black eyes look first at the mother, then at the cradle and last turn to the scraps of sugar. With one last, long look into the fear-filled eyes of the trembling woman, the stork turns and drifts into the night with a flash of white and black against a blacker sky.

Understanding blooms. A deal has been made and must continue to be paid. There is no one-time transaction that covers the price of the thing the heart holds most dear. There is a debt. With tear stained cheeks and quaking hands, the mother fills a small sack with sugar, pale and perfect as her babe. Slipping out the door she streaks toward the ocean, feet blurring as she clutches a small sack to her chest.

At the sea, the rocks rise out of the water, no longer deserted. The Adebarsteine are the thrones of tall-legged birds who can fetch a heart's desire from a far cradle. There is a ransom still to pay. Wading out into the salty brine, she places the offering upon an empty altar and then backs slowly away, eyes wary.

In a flash of wings, the storks descend upon the confections, greedy for whatever can be grabbed. Pale beaks flash like knives as the birds squabble for a share. A lone stork leaves the quarrel and takes wing, alighting upon the stone closest to the shaken mother. It lowers a beak and delicately sets down a tiny glinting pebble, a grain not much finer that a bit of sand. Stepping backward, the bird quirks a head to the side, waiting to see if a new pact will be made this night.

The woman shakes her head, still backing away. She runs for the safety of her home, her heart heavy with the weight of a deal that was struck, a deal she did not fully understand. Once home she throws the bolt on the door and drags a chair to brace against the wood. There will be no more sleep this night.

She sits at the table, beside the fading kitchen embers and at once this mother understands two new truths. First, she must begin collecting sugar and hoarding confections against the next time the storks come calling. Second, she tells her heart that one baby is enough.

Kristen Gilpin 4/10/2015

Thursday, April 09, 2015

August was...

There was a time before copper tubing and compressed air created a cool breath of relief, back when August was a cruel time. Each day we started walking and then we slowed, trudging turned to crawling and slid down the wall to a dragging and wheezing stop. There we would melt, soft as new tar with the occasional flap of a fan, dying moths involuntarily shuddering tattered wings. A slow puddle of bone and flesh and sweat that oozed  toward shade and waited.

Some days, those puddles slid too close and mingled. Some days those pools of man seeped a bit through a floorboard, or trickled into an insect burrow, never to be seen again. When the long shadows pulled over us like blankets, when the cruel eye of the sun turned away from us, we would each re-compose ourselves anew, hoping only to have collected all of our parts.

Against the pillows and under sheets we would wonder with fingers, testing at the known terrains of our human landscape. Something different? A question of a fingernail that seemed too short, a toe a touch too long, our how our hands might look just a bit older. When you were told you had your mother's eyes by a Yankee aunt at Thanksgiving, you would try to hide the shiver, the unsteady shake of your hand. Your mother would studiously avoid looking at anyone.

The old days of August. These are the days of which we dare not speak.

Kristen Gilpin, April 9, 2015

Tuesday, April 07, 2015


Boil'd P-Nuts, the rickety road signs proclaim on every backwoods highway.

Peanuts stewing in an ancient brine, a pot that has been in continuous use for years of boiling. The hominy cooks slow and is creamed to grits with a measure of butter to further soften the corn. Our barbecue shreds at a touch and the okra slides down the gullet, a smooth swallow of green.

There is no need to chew here. The collards can be torn by tongue and the meat can be sucked from each bone. And oh, how the smoked mullet falls apart in your mouth, salty and succulent. Sweet tea will wash down any last morsels that trouble you. Just sip the whiskey and swallow the biscuit softened in sausage gravy, where the bits of meat are far too small to notice.

You'll not be needing those teeth no longer. Just sip the whiskey.

~Kristen Gilpin 4.7.15

Fruit Rats

The orange grove is ancient, twisted. Trees bend and bow beneath the weight of vines and slow rotting fruit in the fetid heat, dropping their unwanted bounty into the weeds where the rats stir.

They remember when the food was plentiful, when the fruit reflected back an orange kaleidoscope in their darkling eyes. Now, there is lean hunger and scabbed flesh, but from the edge of their decaying field they can see the lights of porches, houses, all beckoning with plenty.

The fruit of these groves will be different and might squeal as they slip in through the open windows with sharp teeth and hunger, but at least it will be a time of full bellies and soft, sleek grey fur again. New flavors are waiting, just across the road and tiny claws scratch at the dry earth, waiting for the right second, for the signal to move forward.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

On Feasts and Feasting

Here of the Chalice feast staff and servers. Probably 2013.
Photo by Jared Bluestein
A recent thread on the SCA Facebook group asked people to chime in with what they felt contributed to a 'bad' feast experience. The important stuff was there like under-cooked and unsafe food or food that has been burned. Yeah, no one likes that. It was nice to note the number of people who showed a preference for avoiding obviously modern foods and who understood that sometimes small mistakes can happen.

However,I have to say I was a bit alarmed and bothered by a number of the other responses. I don't wish to pick on any individual so names have been omitted, but here are a few comments that really caught my attention:
1.) Switching on the lights "just for a few minutes so we can clear up". Atmosphere = irretrievably gone. 
2.) Servers, imo, should eat first so they know what's being served. Went to a feast where the servers looked blank and said 'I dont know' when asked what something was. 
3.) Once with not enough food to serve the whole table, and bad servers. The food itself is always a toss up
Another person provided a substantial list of qualms:

  1. Dishes that are period in content, but unpleasing to a modern palate
  2. Long delays between removes, or separate dishes within a single remove not making it to the table at the same time
  3.  No alternative for small children who likely want mac-n-cheese or a hot dog instead of some fancy hot dish
  4. Too much food
  5. Too little food
  6. Not enough elbow room at the table
  7. Dry sites
  8. A rush to clean up and get out of the hall before site closes - inability to just sit and enjoy the meal  
  9. A constant flow of interruptions (toasts, entertainers, announcements, etc.) that prevent casual conversation among the diners (background entertainment is fine, but asking the entire hall to stop what they are doing to pay attention is disruptive)
  10. High prices

So, I help in kitchens fairly often. I serve feast pretty regularly. I have helped to set up crazy halls and stayed with other dedicated volunteers to do dishes until 2:00 am. Some of my dearest friends are SCA cooks who routinely turn out splendid and spectacular meals. Thus, I have a lot of thoughts about the feast process and I wanted to address a few of the 'issues' that were noted.

Modern Palate: We go to medieval recreation events to do medieval things, wear medieval clothes, make medieval arts, participate in medieval fighting and eat medieval food. Yep, it's possibly quite different from what you consider 'modern' food. Check the menu before the event and if it isn't posted, contact the cook. If food is being served that does not suit your palate then don't buy feast. We don't go to a restaurant with cuisine that we do not favor and expect to have an awesome meal. We usually just pick another place for dinner. Do that. You'll be much happier.

MayanMass Moot, 2012. Pre-columbian feast
with hall set as ruined Mayan temple and jungle.
Photo by: Jared Bluestein
Servers: Complaints were made about servers who were not attentive or 'nice' enough or who could not fully explain the food they are serving to a diner. Remember this: the servers at SCA feasts are volunteers. Many of them have been doing other things all day long at the event and are probably quite tired. They generally are serving you before they get a chance to eat. These servers are not professionals and they are receiving neither pay nor tip. They likely have not been in the kitchen all day and may not be able to explain the food which is why a hall steward should announce each course.

Feast service relies entirely on volunteer assistance. If the servers are unable to keep up with bringing all of the food to the hall at the same time, that means that they need more help. Get up. Offer to help. The SCA is a volunteer organization and we all need to pitch in every so often. I am a double peer and a baroness. I serve feast regularly and so do my associates, especially if word gets out that there are not enough servers for the meal. I have given up my seat at a feast to serve instead and then stayed to clear the hall and do dishes. If I can do it, you can too.

Allergies: I have food allergies. It is my responsibility to look at the menu in advance or contact the event cook to ask if there will be any problems for me or dishes I should avoid. If the feast is going to feature too many dishes I cannot eat, then I will bring my own dinner. Most cooks are happy to let you experience their hall even if you have to bring your own meal. Be realistic about eating feast if you have lots of allergies, are on a specialized diet, are a vegetarian, etc and don't expect a cook to cater just to you when turning out a meal for 50-200 people. It's unreasonable to ask.

MayanMass Moot, 2012. Pre-columbian feast
with hall set as ruined Mayan temple and jungle.
Photo by: Jared Bluestein
Children: If your kids are picky eaters, don't buy feast for them because they likely won't eat it. It is not the job of an event cook to provide for a child that only eats chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese while they are cooking for a large number of people. Bring food for your children from home or offsite. Contact the cook to see if you can seat your child at your table even though they will be eating outside food. You will likely be accommodated.

Costs: It seems that people in some places balk at a feast price over $5. Go to, say, Olive Garden for dinner. Split an appetizer with a friend, order an entree, a drink and a dessert for yourself. You are likely over the $15 to $20 mark. Where in reality can you get a multi-course sit down meal for less than $10.00? Pretty much no where. Don't expect SCA event cooks to turn chicken thighs to lamb shank for $8 a head. The food you are eating has to be purchased. Yes, cooks should do their level best to provide a meal that is not too costly but we need to be realistic. An adult can drop $10 at McDonalds for dinner. If cost is a concern for you, go offsite or plan ahead and bring your own food.

Dry sites: Some sites do not allow alcohol and this is not the fault of the event steward or the cook. If you require alcohol to have a good time at feast, perhaps the dry site isn't the problem...

Clean up: If there is a rush to clean up that means that your event has a set end time and the site rental likely stipulates a time your entire group must vacate site or the group will incur additional charges. If you'd like to stay later and chat then head to the parking lot, elsewhere on site (if your event has not ended) or offsite. Otherwise, volunteer to cover any additional fees and fines out of your own pocket. Additionally, if more people offer to help with cleanup it can be done faster. The people cleaning the hall are also volunteers who have likely been busy all day and would also like to get off their feet, go home, eat dinner or go to bed. They are not there to cater to any group of people who would like to linger.

In summary

MayanMass Moot, 2012. Pre-columbian feast
with hall set as ruined Mayan temple and jungle.
Photo by: Jared Bluestein
When you eat feast you are paying only for the cost of your food. You are eating a meal prepared by volunteers and served by volunteers in a hall that was set up by volunteers (sometimes over the course of 2 days for an extravagant setup) and will be cleaned up by volunteers at an event run entirely by volunteers. No one is making a single cent in the process of making your meal and serving it to you. People are donating their time and skill so that you can have a cool experience and likely, a good meal.

If feast isn't your thing, that's fine! You'll never be forced to go to a feast. If you are attending a feast, keep in mind the volunteer aspect of the SCA and that cooks learn more about making feast each time they produce a large scale meal at an event. Mistakes will happen. Something will go wrong every time, it's almost guaranteed. We are all human and are all playing at this crazy ideal of a dream in the same club.

Thank a cook. Thank your server. Thank the little boy with the pitcher of water. Thank the people who set up and clean the hall. Or, you can help and be part of making feast a good experience for yourself and everyone else.