I know, I know….I fell off the face of the earth again……

Not much to say – nor much time to say it, but here’s a quick nautical Christmas poem we have in the library at Ye Olde Boat Museum from 1922 to brighten the day… the best to you all!

Bill’s Christmases
by Cicely Fox Smith (from her book Sea Songs and Ballads, 1917-1922)

“Christmas,” said Bill, “on Christmas cards, it’s winders all aglow,
An’ lots o’ stuff to eat an’ drink an’ a good three feet o’ snow,
An’ a bunch o’ bouncin’ girls to kiss under the mistletoe.

Holly an’ robin redbreasts too, as rosy as can be,
An’ waits an’ chimes an’ all such gear as you never get at sea,
But it’s different things as Christmas means to a ramblin’ bloke like me.

The first I ever ‘ad at sea I was ‘ardly more ‘n a nipper,
An’ I’d took an’ signed, bein’ young an’ green, in a dandy Down-east clipper
With a bullnecked beast of a bucko mate an’ a rare tough nut of a skipper.

An’ we dined ‘andsome, so we did, off biscuits an’ salt ‘orse,
An’ finished up with scraper duff an’ sand-an’-canvas sorce,
An’ them as growled got seaboot soup by way of an extry course.

I’ve ‘ad my Christmas ‘ere an’ there, I’ve ‘ad it up an’ down,
I’ve ‘ad it sober on the seas an’ drunk in sailor-town,
I’ve ‘ad it where the folks are black an’ where the folks are brown,

And under many a tropic sky an’ many a foreign star,
In Perim, Portland, Pernambuck, Malacca, Malabar,
Where the rum bird-‘eaded totem poles and the gilded Buddhas are.

I’ve ‘ad it froze in Baltic cold an’ burned in Red Sea ‘eat,
I’ve ‘ad it in a Channel fog as busy as a street,
An’ once I ‘ad it off the ‘Orn, an’ that was sure a treat.

I was in the clipper Sebright then–a big ship, ‘eavy sparred,
With every sort o’ flyin’ kite an’ a seventy foot mainyard,
An’ ‘andlin’ ‘er in a gale of wind, I tell you, it was ‘ard!

We come on deck for the middle watch, an’ save us, ‘ow it blew!
A night like the devil’s ridin’boots, that never a star shone through,
An’ the seas they kep’ on poopin’ ‘er till we ‘ad to ‘eave ‘er to.

We snugged ‘er down, we ‘ove ‘er to, an’ there all night lay she,
With one mainyard arm pointin’ to ‘eaven an’ one to the deeps o’ the sea,
Dippin’ ‘er spars at every roll in the thunderin’ foam alee.

Till the wind an’ sea went down a bit an’ the dawn come cold an’ grey,
An’ we laid aloft an’ loosed the sails an’ squared the ship away.
An’ a chap beside me on the yard says, ‘Bill, it’s Christmas Day!'”

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It’s been a week of Oyster Wars and sleeplessness – of wounded Confederates and intense design charrettes.

It’s been a really awful, wonderful time.

But I’ll recount the wonderful.

We (and I mean that in the institutional sense because the Apprentice School and Hampton Roads Crane and Rigging did all the work) placed the replica turret on top of the replica Monitor this week as well as began filming for the battle film (hence the wounded….and I understand that they wounded some Union dudes too, so it’s all fair in cinematography and war…).

We began the long and wonderfully rich experience of reinterpreting thousands of years of maritime history with some really incredible, creative people. It felt like a doctoral exam – but much more fun.

We drank a toast to the Immortal Memory last night with several old friends – yes, nearly a month late – but no less heartfelt.

And I sang of the Oyster Wars once again today with one of my favourite old salts during a conference presentation.

And now – I really need to sleep. But it was glorious fun……

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Considering that the Weather Channel is intimating that the ingredients are out there for a somewhat attenuated version of ‘The Perfect Storm’ of 1991 – I thought I might relate a few lessons I learned whilst sailing on the fringes of that storm on Halloween 1991:

1. One must keep ones eyes on the horizon at all times.
2. One must not draw galley duty for breakfast.
3. There is no such thing as a leeward side in such a storm.
4. Taking the helm is a good thing.
5. Cinnamon and Honey Oatmeal tastes the same in both directions.
6. A good captain never shows fear. And we had a very good captain.
7. One cannot respond to distress calls when one is being blown backwards at full throttle.
8. Keeping the helm is the best thing of all.
9. Pizza is the food of the gods once one has entered a safe haven.
10. The shower stall ceases to move and the bed ceases to spin when the swells have been that big.
11. One should throw those sea sickness pressure point bands away as they are very very bad.
12. One should never read any book entitled ‘The Perfect Storm.’
13. But it’s a really good book. So read it anyway.

That’s all. May all the ships at sea be safe – as well as all those on shore.

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and all the ships at sea…..

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Well…if you haven’t already heard, there is no feline in the ordnance.

Having just recently attempted to squash Moby into a cat carrier, I concede that the theorem I had postulated awhile back is in fact true.

Cats will expand to exceed the available space when placed in the vicinity of a cat carrier.

Hence, Francis Butts is no longer in trouble with PETA.

sigh.

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Well, I survived the weekend.

Actually – it was wonderful! We had hundreds of people at the museum for four days – there were boat trips, bus trips, candlelight tours, receptions, reenactors, horses, big booming guns, lectures galore and really really good food.

We kicked off officially with a reception and then an absolutely brilliant lecture on Richmond in 1862 by Jack Davis from Virginia Tech. He is the epitome of what a history professor should be and I could listen to him for hours. Saturday began with Craig Symonds from the Naval Academy doing a marvelous lecture about Joseph Johnston. Craig is also one of those college professors you wish you’d had. His delivery is effortless, tinged with humor and altogether riveting. Then Harold Holzer from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and one of the premier Lincoln scholars in the country doing an illustrated history of the evolving imagery of McClellan and Lee. I’ve heard Harold lecture several times and he’s always fascinating (and full of such interesting information that it becomes fodder for many a dinnertime discussion) – but this had to be the best yet (which is saying a lot!). His hour was over far too soon and I’m even more anxious than ever to read his new book.

We then had a panel discussion with John Quarstein and Joe Gutierrez taking the side of the Confederacy (and Joe and John are always a treat) and Stephen Sears and Craig Symonds taking the side of the Union as they discussed joint operations of Armies and Navies during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862. These panels are always lively and we were not disappointed! Joe and John are absolutely two of my favourite people to work with (I actually used to work for Joe long ago) and the two of them together are a force of nature. I had the pleasure of working with Stephen Sears a couple of years ago when he came to the museum to review the work we’d done so far with the upcoming exhibition. He doesn’t do a lot of public speaking so we were thrilled that he agreed to come to our event! He was absolutely brilliant and a wonderful speaker- and I do hope he’ll come visit again. His books are wonderful, by the way – they draw you in and they make the past come alive quite vibrantly.

Then John Broadwater from NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary gave a presentation on the 30th anniversay of the sanctuary and a history of how it had come into being. He showed some really cool underwater photos that I hadn’t seen before along with some killer 3D animations that I have now begged for him to let me borrow. John always gives a great presentation and this was no exception.

We ended Saturday with a lovely reception at our CEO’s house on the James River – looking out on the waters that were home to the Monitor in 1862 and talking to old and new friends.

Sunday morning started with Chief Justice Frank Williams discussing Lincoln’s evolving role of commander-in-chief. If you ever have a chance to hear him, do try. He has never failed to deliver a juicy and interesting talk and he is such a delightful person.

Then it was time for my lecture – Life on Board the Monitor. Based on the audience response (and there were about 150 or more of them) they seemed to like it and lots of folks talked to me afterwards and said they really liked it. I got to meet a lot of new folks afterwards and made some great contacts, whom I’ve already been emailing back and forth with today.

My good friend Jeff Johnston gave the final lecture of the day. It was on the Confederate and Union Navies on the James in 1862. No matter how many times I hear Jeff speak I always learn new stuff. He is without a doubt the world’s leading expert on the construction of the Monitor and knows tons of stuff on every other naval aspect of the Civil War. It was an awesome way to end the symposium!

Then we all trooped outside for the keel laying of the replica of the Monitor/… I think I’ll save that for another day as I’ve been working 12-14 hour days for the past week and I think I’m going to bed now.

Anyway – it was fun – and I am constantly amazed that I get paid for this.

Before I forget – Best of luck to dublingirl this coming weekend as she has a gigantic museum event as well – KidVention 2005. Perhaps she and I will both get some needed rest soon. But I’ve always maintained that in the museum world – March is the cruellest month. It’s obvious T.S. Eliot never worked in a museum….

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So.

This week has been a wild ride already and there’s still a few days to go.

Saturday I was at Ye Olde Boat Museum bright and early to watch the ‘keel’ of the replica Monitor come in from the shipyard.

I timed my commute perfectly and met the 18 ton wonder at a stoplight and preceded it down the road to it’s penultimate resting place.

Here it is coming into the park.

I know, I know…It’s not *technically* a keel – but how do you describe the first part of a ship replica that is really classified as a piece of architecture?

So a keel it is!

I’ve been on the radio, television and in newspapers and magazines this week, promoting this weekend’s events. It’s been a lot of fun and the best part is that – so far – there have been no more clowns.

But today was an unexpected treat – see, I’m finally back in the office on a semi-regular basis and my friend Sara orchestrated a humongous ‘welcome back’ party that I never in a million years would have expected.

There was Hello Kitty stuff everywhere – including a custom made Hello Kitty cake. Balloons! Punch! and a wonderful card that I will absolutely treasure.

I only hope that I can make all of them proud of me one day.

Right now – I just have to make it through the weekend

thanks Sara!!!!

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So today was interesting in that way that random days are interesting.

I found myself in a coffee house reading the ‘Black Book of the Admiralty’ – which has such interesting rulings dating all the way back to Richard I – and lots and lots of Latin. Really really awful, medieval Latin (which – if anyone wanted to know is the language I offered to pass my Masters and Doctoral exams – yes, nasty, impossible Medieval Latin – and a language I haven’t read seriously since 1989…). And it was interesting in the way that only I can find interesting. I was giggling and nodding my head as though talking to an old friend.

Of course, I was reading about drawing and quartering… but hey, a girl’s got to have her interests, right?

But what made the day even better was the 15 year old kid sitting a few feet away who was breathing heavily and reading the ‘KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid Guide to the Kama Sutra.’

You know – I’ve got to give the kid points for the audacity of it – I mean – everyone in the place knew that’s what he was reading. There was no furtive hiding of the book inside another book – he was letting the world know what he was reading.

Gotta love the 21st century, that’s all I can say.

Tonight – we celebrated Mardi Gras by making a wicked good Crawfish Etoufee – complete with a 35 minute roux that I must say I was mighty proud of. It was a lovely deep butterscotch colour and gave the etoufee an incredibly decadent silky texture.

To make the holiday even more interesting – we decided to give up Lent for Lent for the 13th year in a row.

Of course – Moravians never did give up anything for Lent…..

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So today’s task was a monumental one as far as I’m concerned. It was akin to picking up the phone and making a dentist’s appointment, only without the threat of novocaine.

I put pen to paper. Virtually speaking of course – though there was a pen and some paper in my life today.

So it was a good day – and it’s not over yet. But sometimes one must take a break or all the momentum gets lost and your good intentions are for nought.

So I’ve got the bones of the dissertation committed to digital form, now. Like some sort of forensic reconstructor I now must put flesh to them and see how they turn out.

So far I like what I’m seeing.

But the danger in this enterprise is that I tend to go into hermit mode and forget what day it is, what time it is…I forget to answer mail and phone calls…Occasionally I will forget a meal – but not so often.

A girl has to have her priorities.

I will make a bit of a wrenching leap back into the 19th century for a bit tomorrow and then again on Friday as I return briefly to the world of ironclad goodness as the Monitor exhibit detailed design phase has now come to an end. Soon we will step out of the world of theoretical into the world of actual and I have no illusions that the two will be identical twins.

Maybe not even fraternal. But one has to start somewhere, right?

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I lost a colleague of mine this week.

His name was Joe, and I saw him every Tuesday.

Joe hid very little of what he thought – or at least that’s what it seemed like. If he was impressed with you, he said so. If he thought you were an idiot, well….he let you know that too.

But he was kind. And funny. And so remarkably talented that we showed his work alongside the works of past masters – equally.

He was that good.

But for whatever reason that I guess only he knew, he decided to leave us on Thursday – and we all said goodbye today.

It was one of the more difficult memorials I’ve ever been to.

A 21-gun salute. Taps. The exacting motion of a Navy farewell. The many recollections that made you laugh and nod your head. The memories that made you cry and wonder why this had to be so. It has coloured my entire day. I will not forget it easily.

I still don’t know why you left us, Joe.

But I’m glad I knew you. Fair winds, Old Dolphin.

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