Friday, July 15, 2011

Are you HOT in that?

"Are you hot in that?"
Dear Newbie hears this several times during the average event. Persons hoping to have history shared with them use this phrase to open a dialogue so the sharing can begin.

Today I'll explore how living historians can prepare for the heat and humidity, so they can calmly reply, " Hot? Well, some g'hals/b'hoys think so. (*Wink)"

The first part of preparation is knowledge. Knowing the symptoms of heat emergencies and how your particular body chemistry reacts to heat extremes will allow you to asses how you will meet the challenges.

Some common issues associated with heat include:
Sunburn- Redness and pain in the skin. In severe cases there is also swelling, blisters, fever, and headaches.
Heat Cramps - Heavy sweating and painful spasms usually in the leg or abdomen muscles.
Heat Exhaustion - The person becomes weak and is sweating heavily. The skin is cold, pale and clammy. The pulse becomes thready. Fainting and vomiting accompanies heat exhaustion.
Heatstroke/Sunstroke - High body temperature (106 degrees or higher) along with hot dry skin and a rapid and strong pulse. Unconsciousness is possible.

Another important piece of information to know is weather advisories from the National Weather Service. Everyone has a favorite media outlet for weather advisories, but it's important to be aware when advisories are given.

Advice is given by health professionals on precautions to take in the heat. They include things like dressing properly, hydrating sufficiently, and monitoring active activities. We as living historians would prefer to do so in a period correct manner. Let's explore each of those thoughts further.

Dressing properly for hot weather, in a period correct manner.
     A head-covering with ample shade for the face and neck is a must.
           For women, girls, and toddler boys, a sunbonnet does a bully job. Sunbonnets come in many styles and for all "economic levels" of impressions. The "mailbox" slat bonnet is a classic choice, but shorter slat bonnets can be had with confidence. A variety of sunbonnets that use cording to stiffen the brim are quite appropriate and can look quite pretty. For young ladies,girls, and toddler boys, a wide brimmed straw hat may be used instead. Please use care to select a period correct base trimmed appropriately from a reputable vendor.
          For men and older boys, a wide brimmed straw hat will do wonders to keep sunburn at bay. A number of felt hats are offered in wide-brimmed options, but the wool felt may get warm. Again, a period appropriate style from a reputable vendor is a must.
      Women and young ladies who wear fashion bonnets will also want a parasol. When your amicable companions are assembled for the event, the ladies with parasols in your group should practice opening, closing, and moving their parasols to avoid endangering their companions.
     Wearing loose weave, light colored clothing is another good suggestion. Wearing clothing of all natural fibers is important too.
           Women, girls, and toddler boys have many sheer fabrics options. For those ladies who have issues with "chafing" in hot weather, I recommend that drawers are a must for you. Powder may help too. Using a cage crinoline will eliminate the need for a multitude of petticoats, eliminating a few layers for you. Just remember to do as the Original Cast did and wear at least one under and one over the cage. Fabric with some drape to it will create and move breezes, so don't skimp on the skirt fabric and consider pagoda or other open style sleeves. From an historic standpoint, under-sleeves are optional with "sheer" dresses. That is a way for adult women to have almost "bare arms" while still having full length sleeves on the dress. You might consider one of the v-neck fashion styles, or for young folks a bateau neckline. You'd be surprised how much cooler just that little bit of bareness feels.
          Men and older boys will need to use light layers. Linen was a popular "suit" choice for gents in hot areas and was almost universally seen with white or cream backgrounds. If you use linen for trousers, you'll want drawers too. (hey! it's a family hobby and we'd like to keep it that way.) You can use a firm-woven cotton or linen for summer-weight drawers. Don't be afraid to go without coat or vest when the situation lends itself to such casualness. "The Rules" say that men weren't seen without a vest, but the historic record shows us that The Rules bended in certain situations.
          I will caution that going barefoot in a re-enactment/living history camp is not a wise choice. There are many things on the ground that may be very dangerous to step on. Placing the bare feet in cool water temporarily can do wonders to cool a person off, though. Allowing young folks to "play" in water, such as a laundry display, precious metals prospecting, model boat races, or such, may help them keep cool and occupied.
          Your family will want an extra change of chemises, shirts, drawers, and stockings for hot weather events. Fresh underpinnings can do wonders in making you feel fresh and cool(er.)
           A kerchief can be worn wet along the neckline to help regulate body temperature. Period tales include wearing a large cabbage leaf on the head under the hat will help a person keep cool moisture close to the head and therefore, the person feels cooler.
          My final thought on "dressing" for hot weather is SUNSCREEN. While you probably wouldn't trust a period recipe for sunscreen, and they did have them, wearing sunscreen is a must for many living historians. My "usual" brand looks like many of the ointments used in period toilette. I choose a period looking container, have my buddies at Paw Print Productions create a period-esque label, and I can carry my sunscreen to events without breaking my fellow companions' period moments. (Links below)

Hydrating Sufficiently
DRINK YOUR WATER is heard every summer from every media outlet and mother. The mid-19th century was an era where the drinking of copious amounts of water was suspect. Who can really blame them, when their water was not filtered as ours is. With the advances in technology, we can be secure that our water is (mostly) safe to drink, so we have no excuse not to. Event organizers generally go to great lengths to make certain sufficient safe water is available for the use of participants. With the Mother Bonnet firmly in place, I say a resounding, "DRINK YOUR WATER."
     Period containers for water can be had relatively cheaply. The military gents have their canteens and tin cups. The citizens can choose from a variety of period appropriate containers. Some excellent options include: ginger beer bottles, un-labelled wine bottles, wicker covered bottles, pottery jugs, pitchers in options from stoneware and red-ware to fine china and silver, tumblers of glass, or china, tin cups, silver cups, glass or crystal goblets or in a pinch a tea cup or coffee mug will serve. I've even seen a beautiful transfer-ware china canteen.
     For those who choose to "live off the land" as part of their event, water purification tablets are available in the camping and world travel sections of your local store. Read the instructions carefully and use as instructed.
     For those with very young children or nursing mothers, bringing a container of water from home is a good idea. Children are very sensitive to taste and you want to be certain they have water that "tastes like water" to them. Some event organizers contract their water from wells, springs, and sources that may taste a bit different. ...and if the tot accustomed to a "sippy cup" is getting as much water down his/her front than down the gullet, s/he will be all the cooler for it as the water dries.
     Those who prefer other beverages to "plain water" might enjoy lemonade, either made with real lemons or lemonade powder, switchel, fruit vinegar water, or ices. Lemonade powder was available in the mid-19th century. Switchel and fruit vinegar water are variations of a drink mixture my group refers to as "period Gatorade." It includes equal parts honey or molasses and  vinegar (switchel= apple cider vinegar, fruit vinegar water= fruit flavored vinegar),  diluted in water. Ices include a variety of period drinks, most of which include fruit, sugar, and iced water. (see the cookbook link below for specifics.)
     You will want to start switching over to period drinks and drinking more water several weeks before the event and continue to drink lots of water for several days after the event to give your body enough time to adjust to a change in routine.

Monitoring Active Activities
     In period, folks knew to do the heavy work in the early morning and include a rest time at the end of a long day. Ladies knew that planning a companionable time to sit in the shade and visit was best planned for early afternoon. And boys have long touted the benefits of a convenient creek in the shady woods on a hot summer day. Some may smile at the "quaint" romantic ideas, but there is something to those ideas. They understood what their bodies needed in relation to hot weather. We can do the same at our events.
     It is important in this time of air conditioned buildings and vehicles to become accustomed to life without air conditioning slowly, in small doses, so as not to shock the system. Find a walking trail near where you are and plan progressively longer walks in the heat. Be sure to take plenty of water with you. Don't be embarrassed to rest and stop when you need to...and don't be frustrated if you can only do short bursts at first. You will be surprised how quickly you are able to go longer distances and remain out for longer time periods.
     At the event, try to locate your tent near shade if you can. A fly placed over the tent (military style) will add an extra layer of shade to your sleeping quarters. Under canvas may still be hot, but it beats the blazing heat. Locate those water distribution points and the professional EMTs. Plan to make use of the ice vendors if the event has them available.
     You will want to plan your most active activities for early in the day. You will want to plan your sedate visits or possibly a nap for mid-day and early afternoon. Early afternoon is a good time for the children to find the creek or water tub.
     A campfire will serve to keep insects away, so cooking a meal or snack in the evening is beneficial. Plan for a lunch that doesn't need cooking, so you don't need to be around the added heat of a fire at mid-day. Keep the cool drinks coming throughout the day. Monitor your food items that need to be kept cool regularly.
     Remember that it is very easy to forget to monitor your health in the excitement of the event. Try to plan your activities with plenty of flexibility, so you can allow yourself time to "do everything" safely. Check on children and "neighbors" who may not be monitoring themselves effectively.

Therefore if you plan ahead, check for advisories, dress properly, hydrate sufficiently, and monitor your active activities, you should be able to attend a hot event with confidence.

Am I hot in that?

Some b'hoys think so. :-p

The National Weather Service
Heat Safety from the National Weather Service
Heat Safety from the CDC

Dos and Don'ts for Hot Weather and Refreshing Summer Beverages by Virginia Mescher
An extensive site with many, Many wonderful period cookbooks
100+ Recipes from the 19th Century for Fruit Vinegar and Shrub compiled by Elaine Kessinger
China containers that work well for ointments and creams... like sunscreen
Wood containers that work well for powders... like talc
Glass bottles that work well for liquids... like insect repellent
Pottery bottles that work well for liquids... like insect repellent- (try the inkwell)
A passable water goblet for a period table
A passable glass tumbler for a period tavern
A passable white-ware china pitcher (others will pass too)

A passable transfer-ware pitcher (look at the others too)
A passable pottery jug - (scroll a bit)

Walking trails near you.
Another Walking trails near you

Water Purification Tablets

No Refrigeration Required by Elizabeth Stewart Clark

Photo of a fly over the tent, military style... thanks, Mr. PJM :-)