Sunday, August 28, 2016

Stitching memories.

You may recall that I was out of town a couple of weeks ago. One of the things I did was to stop by the house where I grew up, and pick up my mother's old sewing machine.

Here it is, ensconced temporarily in my daughter Amy's room. It's a Kenmore Imperial, model number 117.591, manufactured by the White Sewing Machine Company (which also manufactured sewing machines under its own brand) and sold by Sears only in 1942. Which means my mother bought it when she was single; she and my father didn't get married until 1947.

These machines were all steel, and they were workhorses. I found this video where a guy demonstrates a restored one. He got it to sew through four layers of khaki, and even two layers of garment leather. Mom never would have tried sewing leather on this machine, but I'm pretty sure she sewed vinyl upholstery material on it at least once. It doesn't do zigzag or any other fancy stitches, but it can make buttonholes with a massive contraption that you hook up in place of the presser foot.

It's in the original cabinet, and I had never realized how small that cabinet was because Mom always had the leaves folded out like this. The cabinet is only about 32 inches wide when closed. To close it up, you drop the sewing machine on its hinges and then fold the tabletop extensions in. It looks like a small desk, and I suppose you could use it as one if you didn't want your sewing machine on display all the time.

The machine has no foot pedal. Instead, there's a switch that you control with your knee. Another unusual thing about it is that the hand wheel -- which on this machine is the bulbous extension on the left -- turns the opposite way from most machines. So instead of pulling it toward you to start stitching, you push it away from you.

I have a lot of fond memories of this machine. My mother sewed most of her own clothes and mine, too, and I would often stand next to her while she worked. I don't think I learned how to sew on her machine -- I'm pretty sure I learned in home economics in junior high -- but I made my share of stuff on it before Mom bought me a sewing machine of my own. She continued to sew for herself as she got older, but she suffered from dementia in her later years and eventually gave everything up. After she died, I was the kid who sorted through all of her stuff, and I held it together pretty well until I saw cobwebs on this sewing machine. To me, that was the true measure of how far she had slipped away, even before her death. The machine would never have been still long enough to gather cobwebs in the old days.

Anyway, it's here now. I'm tempted to have someone restore it, even though I don't really have a place for it and I rarely sew anything anymore. I'll let you know what I decide to do.

Three bits of news:

  1. The second edition of  A Billion Gods and Goddesses is out! You can get a free copy at Smashwords with coupon code NA58R. The coupon expires Sunday, September 11th, so don't wait too long to use it.
  2. I'm honored to have been featured on The Heroine's Journey today. The organizer, Peter de Kuster, has featured more than 125,000 professionals in his Hero's Journey and Heroine's Journey project to date.
  3. Yesterday, I was live on Facebook! The opportunity to be the guinea pig for the Authors Live! group popped up midweek, so I didn't have a chance to blog about it until now. Here's the video, in case you missed it. (I hope the link works. Technology: It's here to help us...) Enjoy, and I'll see you next week.

These moments of seamy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Time flies when you're having fun.

I am grateful to Facebook today. The first thing I saw in my newsfeed this morning was a reminder that five years ago -- on August 21, 2011 -- I notified all of my friends that SwanSong would shortly be available for purchase at Smashwords. 
Just like that, I became an indie author.

I don't think I've ever mentioned this here before, but publishing a novel had been on my bucket list since my twenties. Well, okay, we didn't call them "bucket lists" then; that wasn't until that movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman came out in '07. But the concept of making a list of lifetime goals has been around forever.

Here's the list I made back then, as near as I can remember it, and very likely not in order: 
  • Get married and have kids.
  • Make $20,000 a year.
  • Travel to all 50 states.
  • Visit Ireland.
  • Visit Czechoslovakia (yes, it was still Czechoslovakia when I was in my twenties).
  • Write a novel and get it published.
  • Lose twenty pounds.
There may have been a couple more, probably relating to getting out of the city I was living in at the time, but that should give you the gist of it. 

It's kind of fun to look back on, now that I've nailed all of the items on that list. Of course, the marriage didn't stick and the pounds didn't stay off (and brought friends when they came back...), and my salary goal seems ridiculously tiny now (and it ought to give you an indication of how much I was making back then).

But this put me in mind of another goal. Not long after I started this indie author thing, I told myself I would publish three novels a year. So far, I've kept to that schedule -- and when I add in the omnibus editions and short-story collections, as well as all the anthologies I've been a part of over the past few years, my publishing schedule looks crazy: thirty-three titles in five years. And 2016 isn't over yet. I've spent this weekend updating A Billion Gods and Goddesses; the new version should be out later this week. (I'll send out a newsletter when it's live.)

I've learned a lot over the past five years, and there are some things I don't yet have the hang of. Sounds like it's time for me to make a new bucket list -- and here's hoping I'm as successful at completing it as I've been at nailing the old one.

These moments of bloggy reminiscing have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Travel, punctuation, etc.

I'm on a road trip this weekend, so for tonight, I've renewed an old post. (The original post is here, if you're the sort of person who likes to see what has been changed.)

This allows me to:

  1. Point you to a cute, new Grammarly article that goes into further detail about the difference between et al. and etc.;
  2. Have an excuse to remind you that hearth/myth Editorial Services are available to serve your editorial needs (click here for more info); and
  3. Get out of writing a whole new post while avoiding yet another reuse of my On Vacation graphic. You're welcome.


    Not many indie authors use the abbreviations etc. and et al. -- but I do see them at work. Et al., particularly, is used in formal writing. But just so we're on the same page, punctuation-wise, I thought I'd explain a few things about them.

    First, et al. means "and others." Et is the Latin word for "and." It's not an abbreviation. Okay? So it doesn't ever get a period after it. That would be like putting a period after "and" every time you use it in a sentence.

    The al. part of et al. is, however, an abbreviation -- for alii (masculine plural), aliae (feminine plural), and/or alia (neuter plural). I'm not going to try to explain masculine/feminine/neuter nouns here; suffice it to say that Latin has 'em (as does Czech, by the way). As English speakers, all we really need to be concerned with is that al. is an abbreviation and et is not. So the proper way to punctuate the phrase is like so:
    et al.
    Clear so far? Excellent.

    So now, clever thing that you are, you have recognized that the first two letters of etc. are the same as good old et that we just talked about. And you're correct. In Latin, etc. is short for et cetera, which means "and the rest" or "and other things."

    "So how come," you are now going to ask me, "etc. gets slammed together into one word and et al. doesn't?"

    Good question, and the answer is probably similar to how, in English, "has not" turned into hasn't and "I am" turned into I'm: etc. is a contraction. Typesetters, who liked to save a space anywhere they could, dropped the space in et c. at some point, and etc. eventually became common usage.

    Got that? Et al. is a two-word abbreviation with no period after etetc. is a one-word abbreviation that gets a period. Good. Okay.

    Now. There's one more sticky thing about these two, and it comes up when you stick them in the middle of a sentence. They take commas on both sides. If you have a phrase like "the rain, the park, and other things make me very happy," and you want to replace and other things with etc. to save space, you need a comma both before and after etc. Like so:

    The rain, the park, etc., make me very happy.

    Don't be tempted to forget that second comma. Just like with a quote or some parenthetical material, you need to mark off the end of the Latin you've just inserted. Hence, the closing comma.

    Okay? Cool. Here's your reward for suffering through this post. Have a great week, everyone.

    These moments of bloggy renewal have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

    Sunday, August 7, 2016

    In which I go (green) bananas.

    Some of you may have already seen this photo when I posted it on Facebook yesterday. I bought this bunch of bananas last Monday. They were really green, so I let them sit for a few days to ripen.

    Five days later, they were still green on the outside. The fruit inside is ripe, but the peel is still mostly green -- and it's remarkably tough. Not tough like a regular green banana peel, but tough like the peel has gotten denser. It's older, but it's not ripening the way it should. It's weird.

    Nobody who commented on the photo had any idea what could have caused this to happen, so I turned to the intarwebz. In one article (most of which was over my head), I learned that wholesalers expose green bananas to ethylene gas before they're shipped to market. That encourages the fruit to turn ripe, as long as the bananas are kept thereafter at temperatures between 16 and 24 degrees Celsius (or 61 to 75 degrees, for those of us of the Farenheit persuasion). If the treated bananas are stored at temperatures above 24 degrees Celsius, however, the peel doesn't turn yellow, even though the fruit inside ripens normally. The article goes on to say that this phenomenon costs the banana industry big money in lost sales. Anyway, I figure that's what happened to my bananas: they were stored somewhere that was too warm for them.

    But that brought to mind another weird produce-related thing. Last fall, I think it was, I cut open an apple and let the two halves sit for a while while I did something else. When I came back, I noticed that the apple's flesh had not turned brown. So I let it sit for a while longer. It never turned brown.

    Thus reminded, back I went to the intarwebs. There, I learned that a couple of years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture started test-growing a genetically-modified apple that doesn't turn brown. The process involves inserting extra copies of the gene responsible for the enzyme that encourages oxidation. The apple tree reacts to those extra copies by shutting off production of the enzyme entirely. The apple will eventually rot, but it won't turn brown. And further, I learned that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the process last year -- as well as a similar one that keeps potatoes from turning brown when sliced or peeled.

    I'm sure this is not news to some of you. I confess that I have not been closely following the debate over genetically-modified foods; I knew that GMO foods sold in the U.K. must be labeled, but here in the U.S., the government has sided with growers and resisted calls for labeling these foods -- so far. Apparently three of our four current candidates for President support GMO labeling, with only Donald Trump opposing it.

    I like knowing what I'm eating, so I suppose I'm in favor of GMO labeling, too. But I'm especially in favor of fruits and vegetables that ripen naturally, because they taste better. My still-green bananas are okay, but that non-browning apple didn't taste like anything. My biggest fear is that we're breeding produce for shelf life at the expense of taste. Fresh fruits and vegetables are certainly healthier than the sugary/salty processed foods that jam our grocery store shelves. With obesity such a problem, maybe tasty produce ought to be a matter of public policy.

    These green yet tasty moments of blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.