Potatoes, Potatoes, Potatoes, and Eggs

Posted January 23, 2009

Some years ago my next-eldest brother taught me how to make fried potatoes, and ever since it's been one of my favorite things to serve for breakfast. Today I taught my youngest brother how to make them and also did my own variation of "Potatoes O'Brien". Here's what resulted:

Our usual fried potatoes:

The same thing done with sweet potatoes (for those of us on diets):

And the "Potatoes O'Ferrill":

Potatoes, anyone?

Another Long Week

Posted August 20, 2008

As the title implies, this past week has been very busy. Among other things I played in two indoor soccer games that week as opposed to one (we lost one and won one). Then we had a ball I was supposed to help direct on Friday over an hour away from our house.

The ball was themed from the time of the second war for independence (the - dare I say it - "Civil" War) so of course our entire family was in period costume (complete with sabres). The dancing went well, though I had to dispense with some of the dances I had planned since the vast majority of those present hadn't danced Scottish Country before. We did teach one or two new ones however and demonstrated an old favorite. I hope to start teaching Scottish Country on a regular basis again soon, but then I've said that before.

Practicing ahead with some friends

Dancing the Gay Gordons

My lovely sister and my not-so-lovely self. We never could have done the ball without her. She made a large share of our costumes by herself.

Dancing as a family

And Yet the Blade

Posted July 14, 2008

In our day and age many historically favored pastimes are rejected in favor of more "sophisticated" amusements. One example is the art of Celtic dance as preserved in the still practiced Scottish Country dance. Though there are thousands of practitioners worldwide, this art by and large has fallen off in favor of more modern "dances". It was enjoyed by people of all ages at various social functions. It provided simple dances for beginners and young ones, and yet still had compelling numbers for those whose greater skill called for more challenge. This has always led to personal development in both physical and mental realms (believe me, Scottish dance can be quite a mental en devour).

Another example of such a historical pastime is the age-old art of fighting with the longsword. The original weapon we here refer to was developed by the Germans and was used to great effect against Roman invaders in instances such as the little known battle of Touteberg forest. Germany having once included the modern nations of France and Spain (among others) as well as exerting a heavy influence on Great Britain by the Anglo-Saxon migrations may also take credit for later derivations of the weapon throughout Christendom. The most well known variant must be the standard European longsword popularized sometimes as "the crusader sword". It had a straight, broad blade, a cross-guard for protecting the hands, and a somewhat thinner blade than the length and breadth of the weapon would seem to demand, relying rather on precise geometric patterns to absorb the force of an opposing object (weapons, armor, etc).

Another well known strain of this line of weapons is found in Scotland. This weapon (known as the highland claymore) was rather shorter than other longswords in use throughout the middle ages, probably due to the marshy and mountainous nature of the territory it was generally used in. The claymore also had a distinction in the design of the cross-guard in that rather than branching out from the weapon at a right angle the two arms rather bent toward the blade at a varying degree, presumably to allow greater freedom to the wrists in combat. The shortness of the weapon inevitably led to its being lighter than the normal variant and therefore would render itself more easily balanced causing the claymore to be a faster and more agile (if not stronger) blade.

The great exception to this pattern is the famed Wallace sword. Named so after its owner William Wallace, this monster was more than a foot longer than its contemporary counterparts, probably due to the fact that the owner was himself of prodigious size and of legendary strength. This weapon when wielded by its master, would cleave through raised sword, shield, arm, helm, and skull.

In contrast modern fencing incorporates the techniques and weapons of a somewhat later period, namely the rapier and sabre. As firearms caught on, broadswords such as the claymore and other European longswords became cumbersome in a battlefield quickly being ruled by the speed of the warrior rather than the temper of his steel. The rapier was a straight, one-handed weapon used primarily for thrusting and sometimes useless for cutting except in cases of extremely tough steel. The sabre or saber as it's more commonly spelled today was designed as a cutting or slashing weapon. It was often fashioned as a backsword meaning it only had one sharpened edge and sometimes with a curve. This curve would shorten the length of the weapon making it more mobile without decreasing the actual blade length. These were a favorite amongst cavalry. The three categories of modern fencing are foil, epee (both taken from the rapier I believe), and the sabre. The actual weapons wielded by practitioners of this more modern art are merely stout wires with electronics wired in (for scoring).

The weapons I started learning longsword with (see my other sword post) were fashioned from two hockey sticks due to the toughness of the wood and that we just happened to have two lying around. They were measured for size based on a standard highland claymore. Even though these are much lighter than steel one half-hour's exercise will try one's arms sorely. Just this simple practice has given me a greater respect for my ancestors who wielded such a blade. We have recently acquired padding for the blades, allowing us to start full-force, full-speed training.

Fighting with longswords gives a greater appreciation for one's ancestors as well as strengthening the body and mind of the combatant. I hope to continue with my siblings and perhaps introduce other friends and relatives into this enjoyable exercise.

By Claymore and Gladius

Posted March 06, 2008

Since I mentioned our longswords in the sidebar I figured I should offer an explanation. Last year we were blessed to be able to attend Vision Forum's celebration of the Jamestown Quadricentennial in the Historic Triangle, allowing us to in one trip visit the actual Jamestown settlement, walk the Yorktown battlefield, and see colonial Williamsburg (a recreation of the former capital of Virginia). We saw many wonderful sights which for the sake of this post will be postponed to another time.

While we were there we came across a young entrepreneur who manufactured makeshift swords of various lengths out of PVC pipes, some foam padding, and half a ton of duct tape. We were so inspired that on returning my brother Joel pulled out a couple of hockey sticks he inherited from my older brothers when they got married and fashioned them into scale longswords measured against a standard claymore (not to be confused with the land mine of the same name). We now have besides those a shorter weapon roughly the size of the roman gladius which is my second choice when I must handicap myself against younger opponents. We fight at a slightly reduced pace seeing as how we currently don't have armor, but we do have a few scrapes and bruises nonetheless. For techniques I searched online and found an excellent article on the art of German longsword from which we base our style. Since Germany once encompassed most of Europe and influenced the rest greatly the longsword certainly may trace its history there.

Images of Unchoreographed Longsword Combat

Sparring Lefthanded With My Youngest Brother

Initial stances. (low roof guard and crossed fools guard)

I demonstrate a twisting thrust to get around his blade.

Mom wanted more action for the pictures so I switched to both hands (notice the blurred blade).

I think I was executing an overcut while changing guards.

A More Lively Combat

I almost took his arm off (not literally) with this thrust, but he voided (dodged) superbly and saved his torso (a killing stroke by our rules).

You can't see very well, but I'm twirling the sword one-handed around both sides of my body.

At this point he's lost (by our rules) his left leg via a fake followed by a direct thrust earlier on. Here you see a low right-side roof guard with the lower hand inverted for an undercut (foreground) and a left-side fool's guard (background).

"The Lads"

Here's me (top-left) with my three primary antagonists (the far-right one is our sword-smith). Here you can observe the extent of our sparring weapons: two knives (far-right), the longswords (second from right, top-left), and the gladius (bottom-left).

Looking tough. You can see a right ox-guard (top-left), something between a plow and roof guard (bottom-left), a low roof guard (second from right), and probably what would be referred to as an ox guard with the two knives (far-right).