Teaching in the SCA: the class that taught me how to write the Legendary Women of World History Series

Many of you know that for over 20 years I was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a medieval recreation group mostly centered in the United States and Canada that focuses on the time period between 600 and 1600 CE.  I was known at first as “Anne de Lyons” when I played as a student at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (SCA chapter: Shire/Barony of Mag Mor, Calontir), but quickly shifted to a nuzhen persona once I took Asian history courses at UNL.

sands point demo 2009

As my life took shape I eventually took up my passion for birds and made it part of the SCA in 2006 while living in Brooklyn, New York. Now known as “Biya Saman,” I focused my research on both falconry and aviculture in medieval China, engaging in a four year long research project asking “what happened to the Derbyan parakeet” that were often talked about in some of the great poems of the Tang Dynasty.

In 2010 I completed my research and had the opportunity to present it in Chicago at the November “Royal University Midrealms” event.  Here is that course entitled “Talons and White Crests.”

Talon and White Crest class handout

Why is the class important?  Because ultimately it taught me how to organize my research into a smooth, easy to understand narrative.  It is the beginning of my narrative history approach and the way I approach and write each Legendary Women of World History book.

Not everything from my research made it into that class of course.  There was much I could not do. But the point was to teach students who had no background in Chinese history, language or culture; no background with parrots or the quirks of living with them; and no background in falconry as practiced in either medieval Europe or Asia.

When teaching students with absolutely no experience or background in your subject, I find it helpful to use a narrative method, to make it all about the story which is exactly what you find in the above course and in each Legendary Women of World History biography.

As I came to do with the appendices of my books, I deferred technical information to my class handout.  Open up the handout from the above link and you’ll find I really explain how parrots and birds of prey are different (and yes, people often don’t know even the most basic differences between them).  Deferring the technical stuff allows me to focus on the story and maintain clarity.

 

Talons and White Crests was an important step in learning how to write the Legendary Women of World History.  I hope you will enjoy it.

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Happy Easter/Resurrection Sunday. My alternate hypothesis.

OnTheCrossToday is Easter Sunday/Resurrection Sunday 2018.  It’s a day when Christians celebrate as almost exclusively historical the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ whom they believe to be the Son of God.

I’m going to assume most of you know the official story told by the Church.

But in the spirit of free thinking and philosophy (warning: the apostle Paul says philosophy and individual thought is dangerous and we must not allow women to speak their minds here), I would like to offer to you a more historically plausible explanation for what happened in the 1st Century CE, for the origins of what became the Church and the Christian religion.

In brief: the church came first and invented Jesus as the “Son of God.”

So let’s go back to the beginning.

Cleoptra-955

The first century CE was the height of the Roman Empire as most people think of it. After defeating Marc Antony and Cleopatra in 30 BCE, Octavian Caesar has himself proclaimed the first Emperor, “Caesar Augustus” in 27 BCE and ruled until 14 CE as a living god in the eyes of the State and of the people.  In the Roman province of Judea, the Julius Caesar put an end to the in-fighting that still raged among the Hasmoneans and appointed Antipas to rule the region on behalf of Rome. In 40 BCE the Roman Senate set up Antipas’ son Herod as “king of the Jews” in a move that proved to be satisfying to the Romans but only the Romans. Chaos ensued with a string of governors and other rulers who attempted to maintain order and keep peace in the area — if only to keep the flow goods constant regionally from Egypt through Judea, and ultimately back to Rome.

It was, in essence, one very big mess — and that was only the secular side of things. Religiously things were in even more disarray, chaos stretching back centuries. The same in-fighting that led to the rise of Judah ben Maccabee continued into the common era. It was a time and a place ripe for revolution — religious and social.

Among the religious establishment were Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes (see http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/pharisees-sadducees-and-essenes).   These three groups more or less controlled religious life in Judea and, as you might expect, not everyone was happy with it. Organized religion in any form has a habit of becoming corrupt, of being easily bribed by power and money and the Pharisees and Sadducees were not exempt.

Across Judea educated women and men gathered together to express their displeasure at the world around them.  They organized and came together as communities to address abuses in the system around them. Leaders emerged decrying injustice for the poor and disadvantaged. They preached against poverty and the systems that made the rich richer and the poor poorer. They taught that we should help each other and do everything we can to alleviate suffering.  They taught tolerance and acceptance. Peace. Love.  They were not against the rule of law, but insisted that laws be just. They insisted that all people were people and that no person could own another.

forgive-optimizedThey fed the hungry. They clothed the naked. Sometimes they rioted to demand justice.  Sometimes they were rounded up by the authorities and put to death. Some were even crucified by the Romans who really did not care much to distinguish between a Jewish woman opening her home kitchen to the hungry and the zealot who believed in a conquering messiah (a pharisee teaching).  The name “Christian” was applied to all of them.

The Christians were not founded around a leader. They were not a cult to begin with.  They were a social-progressive movement founded around a mutual recognition that the world around them was a mess and they believed they could do something about it.

Then came a man named Paul. Paul (Saul) was a pharisee. He believed in a messiah. He believed in an oral Torah and the written Torah attributed to Moses. He believed in an afterlife and a fiercely patriarchal god who not only punished the wicked but considered most forms of female sexuality wicked. Paul unified Christianity and infused it with long held beliefs from the pharisees.  What was once about feeding the poor and healing the sick was now about his version of God and his belief in a messiah that had already come.

Stories were invented to support Paul’s claims.  Church oral history was put in service of Paul’s messiah who became the sole source of church teachings.  The original church leaders were turned into disciples of this one great master, this messiah, this “king of kings and lord of lords.”

To make it stick, the Gospels were written around Paul’s messianic mythology. And this figure — Jesus (a Latin name) – had to be defied.

Paul invented Jesus Christ. He took a beautiful social movement and he made a religion out of it designed around what Paul felt God was like and what he believed to be true about God.  Jesus was made in Paul’s image.

 

Now is it possible that there really was a Jesus Christ, a historical person who really was everything attributed to him and really was the center of the Christian movement of the early 1st century?  Perhaps.  But as a scholar, a historian, a philosopher I am forced to ask:  which is more likely: that every word of the New Testament is true and Jesus Christ lived, died, and taught everything attributed to him by people living decades after his alleged death and resurrection — or that Christianity began as a Jewish social movement designed to help the disadvantaged and that Jesus was invented later by Paul and others with a vested interest in hijacking the movement for their own purposes?

Time and time again we see “men of faith” using religion to service their ambition.  I see no reason to believe Paul was any different.

Though Jesus Christ is likely the imagination of the politically ambitious, the original movement centered around kindness and healing IS VIRTUOUS.  It is my hope that the church will rededicate itself to those wonderful teachings again and take a leading role once more in ending poverty, hunger, and disease. Christianity can be so much more than what it is today.

 

Happy Easter.

Recipe: “Fish” Fingers and Custard

Reposted from http://www.sugarednerd.com/recipes-and-how-tos/2015/7/8/fish-fingers-and-custard-1.

Amelia and 11

Amelia Pond gives the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) fish fingers and custard in “The Eleventh Hour.”

Fans of Doctor Who know all about the eleventh doctor’s favourite “fish fingers and custard” which IMHO sounds absolutely horrible.  Then I found this recipe where the “fish fingers” are not actual fish sticks/fingers (as in compressed pollack or similar fish coated in bread crumbs), but cake made to look like fish fingers.

Here is Sugared Nerd’s Recipe:

fish fingers custard recipe

ENGLISH CUSTARD

1 vanilla bean pod

1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream

4 large egg yolks

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/3 cup honey or light brown sugar

Split and scrape the vanilla beans out of the pod and put them, along with the pod, into a small saucepan with the cream.  Heat until simmering.

Whisk the egg yolks with the cornstarch and sugar until combined.  Remove vanilla bean pod from the cream.

As you continue to slowly whisk the egg mixture, add a ladle of the hot cream to the eggs.  This is called tempering.  Add 2 more ladles of the cream and incorporate, before adding the whole egg mixture back into the saucepan.  Continue to heat until the mixture thickens to about the consistency of a pudding.  Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl to cool.

Note:  My custard got a bit “ice-y” after storing in the fridge, so if that happens to yours, just set it out on the counter 15-30 minutes before you want to serve to defrost a bit for a nice, smooth custard.

“FISH FINGERS”

1 pound cake, cut into 1 inch slices to resemble fish sticks

2 egg whites

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

5 graham crackers, processed into fine crumbs

Butter cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350º F.  Mix together the egg whites, cream and cinnamon in a bowl.  Put graham cracker crumbs in another bowl.  Dip each piece of pound cake in the egg mixture, coat in the graham cracker crumbs, and put on a parchment or silicone mat lined cookie sheet.  When the sheet is full, spray with the butter spray, and put in the oven for 10 minutes, flipping once half way through.

A meal fit for a Doctor.

Recipe: 7 LAYER BURRITO – Taco Bell Restaurant Copycat Recipe

Reposted from http://tacobellathome.blogspot.com/2016/07/7-layer-burrito.html.

7 LAYER BURRITO 
Taco Bell Restaurant Copycat Recipe
7 layer
Shell:
1 package of 12 inch burrito shells

Filling:
1 can of refried beans (make the consistency thinner by adding water since it will be too thick if you just take it straight from the can after heating)
shredded lettuce
chopped tomatoes
guacamole
shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Mexican rice
sour cream

In the middle of the shell, put some refried beans, followed by the rice, then the cheese, sour cream, guacamole, lettuce and tomatoes and roll up.

Restaurant Style Mexican Rice:
1 (28 oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 cup neutral cooking oil, such as canola or safflower
2 cups long grain white rice
1-2 chile peppers, such as jalapeño or serrano, seeded and minced
4-5 garlic cloves, pressed
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
juice from 2 limes, plus additional wedges for serving

Place the tomatoes and onion in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer 2 cups of the tomato mixture to a medium saucepan. Stir in the chicken stock, salt, and cumin and bring liquid to a boil over medium heat. (Reserve excess for another use.)

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. When the oil is sizzling, add the rice and saute, stirring frequently until lightly toasted and golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the jalapenos and cook until they have softened, about 2 minutes, lowering the heat if necessary. Add garlic and cook for an additional 30 seconds.

Pour the boiling tomato mixture over the rice and stir to combine. Turn heat to low and cook, covered, until liquid has evaporated and rice is done, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and gently stir the rice. Re-cover the pot and allow to rest undisturbed for an additional 10 minutes. Add cilantro and lime juice; fluff gently with a fork. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Serve with additional lime wedges. Serves 6-8.

Recipe: Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes

The following recipe is reposted from https://www.pgeveryday.com/home/cooking-recipes/article/birthday-ice-cream-cone-cupcakes.

ice-cream-cone-cupcakes-1-size-3

Ingredients (serves 8 people)
1 box cake mix
¼ cup oil (follow amount listed on cake mix instructions)
1 cup water (follow amount listed on cake mix instructions)
3 eggs (follow amount listed on cake mix instructions)
1 package flat-bottomed ice cream cones
1 container frosting
Sprinkles or other toppings as desired

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F
  2. Prepare cake mix according to package instructions
  3. Transfer batter into a container with a pour spout. Pour batter into ice cream cones, filling each 2/3 of the way full
  4. Place cones on a cookie sheet and bake for 18–20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool
  5. Frost and decorate with your choice of toppings

 

November New Releases

Good morning!  My apologies for not posting since August. But when you see the results, I’m sure you will forgive me.

Hypatia of Alexandria webOn 1 August I took up a challenge I honestly did not think possible:  write “Hypatia of Alexandria” and release it before the first week of December.  Why did that seem so difficult?  Consider this:  it took nearly a year and a half to research and write “Empress Matilda of England” (LWWH book 7). And while it’s true I wrote Boudicca in less than a month (still my best-seller), Boudicca had ONE appendix in its initial release.  Hypatia has THREE.

And so I put aside the blog and really focused on writing.  In the middle of that I was a guest on the “Condensed History Gems” podcast hosted by Jem Duducu (@historygems) and Greg Chapman (@CondensedHist). Those interested can listen to my guest episode.

Persistence pays off and thanks to a lot of long days and nights, I succeeded in finishing Hypatia in September, allowing me to focus on the editorial and promotional work so essential to a successful book launch.

arban saman webIn the middle of that I had a bit of an attack of life, both personally and spiritually. Rather than blog about it, I decided to express what was in my mind in the form of historical fiction.  “The Arban and the Saman” takes me back to my roots in Chinese/East Asian history. The story begins in the year 1211, just five years after Temujin becomes Chinggis Khan when the Mongols first invaded the nuzhen (Jurchen) homeland. This is roughly the time period I played when I was a re-enactor in the Society for Creative Anachronism when I was known as “Biya.”  Biya means “the moon” in nuzhen/Jurchen/Manchu and it’s one of the few characters from the original nuzhen language used in the Jin dynasty that survived decades of warfare against the Mongols.

“The Arban and the Saman” explores the subject of soul mates and soul family. It’s a deeply spiritual historical romance that takes you far more intimately into my own life experience than really any other book I’ve written to date. In the book I take you into what it was like during some of my “near” death experiences and what I experience when I meditate.  I take you into Asian medicine. And yes, I challenge you intellectually to think about the subject of soul mates, soul family, and reincarnation and our assumptions about them.

It’s a beautiful story and one I hope you will enjoy.  And yes, that model on the cover is me.  The photo was extracted from a musical performance I gave near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the winter of 2006.

To my great surprise I finished and published “The Arban and the Saman” on 1 November, 2017 and released it immediately with the promotional blog tour scheduled for February 2018 in celebration of Chinese New Year: the Year of the Dog.

Hypatia of Alexandria launched on 10 November 2017. The promotional blog tour for Hypatia begins on Sunday 19th November, 2017.

Defend the light candle 2Prizes will be given during both blog tours.  For “Hypatia,” three lucky winners will “defend the light” with special votive candles, plus one grand prize winner will receive a signed paperback copy.

rose quartz pendants

To celebrate the magic and mysticism of “The Arban and the Saman” three lucky winners will each receive a beautiful rose quartz pendant. The grand prize winner will receive a selection of Chinese teas from http://www.enjoytea.com.

Happy holidays! Thanks for reading! And don’t forget to always DEFEND THE LIGHT of knowledge and wisdom.

Repost: The 9 Qualities That Help You Thrive Under Pressure

This morning I found this wonderful article from Time about traits that make a person successful.  Here is that article, reposted in full:

———-

young plantIn new and challenging situations, some people fold under pressure and some manage to squeak by. And then there are the people who really thrive—blossoming in the face of uncertainty or adversity. Now, researchers say they’ve pinpointed a number of personality traits and external factors that, when combined, can predict a person’s chances of thriving.

For their recent paper, published in the journal European Psychologist, scientists from the University of Bath in the U.K. reviewed a wide variety of research on what makes people thrive in all types of circumstances—physically, professionally, athletically, artistically and academically, to name a few. From those studies, they came up with two lists of variables—nine personal traits and six outside influences—that are common among people who continuously grow, learn and succeed in life.

People don’t have to possess every component on these lists in order to thrive, say the authors, but a combination of a few from each list could certainly help. That formula could include any or all of the following:

Qualities

The person should be …

  • optimistic
  • spiritual or religious
  • motivated
  • proactive
  • someone who enjoys learning
  • flexible
  • adaptable
  • socially competent
  • someone with self-confidence and self-esteem

External factors

The person should have …

  • opportunity
  • support from employers, family, or others
  • a manageable level of challenges and difficulties
  • a calm environment
  • a high degree of autonomy
  • the trust of others

These lists may not be very surprising—but the authors say that until now, there has been no real consensus for exactly what characteristics and circumstances help people thrive, or what we can do to increase our chances of doing so.

To sum up their research, lead author Daniel Brown, now a sport and exercise scientist at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K., says that the act of thriving seems to come down to “feeling good about life and yourself and being good at something.”

While some people maybe more naturally prone to thriving than others, Brown says there are things we can do to cultivate these important traits within ourselves. For starters, he recommends relying on internal motivations (things that are truly important to you) rather than external ones (things society says should be important to you), and trying to always look at new situations as opportunities for gain and growth.

There may be ways we can encourage thriving in others, as well—like our kids, our partners, or our employees. “It’s likely to be important for individuals to feel they have a choice in what they are doing, that they hold close and supportive relationships with people around them, and that they perceive themselves having some level of competence in the tasks they are completing,” Brown told Health via email.

More studies are needed to determine which factors are most important for thriving in specific scenarios, and the differences between thriving under serious adversity versus everyday stress, the authors wrote in their paper. But they hope their research is a good stepping-stone for understanding the psychology behind what it takes to be our best selves, no matter what life throws our way.

This article originally appeared on Health.com