Sunday, April 8, 2018

My Ghibli education.

Update: It turned out the USB Pet Rock I talked about last week was, in fact, an April Fool's joke. It's just as well. I'm not sure I need more tchotchkes.

I suspect if you mention Studio Ghibli to most Americans, you'll get a blank look in return. But the movie studio is famous in Japan, as well as among American fans of Japanese anime (pronounced AN-ih-may). Founded in 1985 by directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, it has released 21 animated feature films. The studio went on hiatus a few years back when Miyazaki retired, but he has since come out of retirement to direct a new film called How Do Your Live? It's due for release in 2020.

However, this past week, Takahata died at the age of 82.

My daughters Kat and Amy have been fans of Studio Ghibli's work since they watched My Neighbor Totoro at a friend's house when they were kids. Recently, they've been purchasing Blu-Rays of their favorites, and since I'd only seen a couple of the studio's films, I've been watching them along with the girls.

Although Disney has the rights to release these movies on disc in the United States, these are not Disney-type films -- and not just because of their distinctive animation style. Some are kiddie movies -- My Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo come immediately to mind -- but in many cases, the story lines are richer and more complex than your average Disney flick. And while the protagonists are often youngsters, the movies can certainly be enjoyed by adults.

Tonight, for instance, we watched Castle in the Sky, Studio Ghibli's first movie, directed by Miyazaki and produced by Takahata. A young girl falls falls from the sky into the arms of an engineer's apprentice. The girl, Sheeta, wears a magical crystal that protects her. That crystal is the McGuffin that everyone is after -- the military, a family of pirates, and a shady fellow who may or may not be working with the government -- because it's a link to a legendary floating castle called Laputa. Lots of hair-raising action ensues, much of it high in the sky. Think of it as a cross between Indiana Jones and steampunk.

Studio Ghibli's movies are decidedly Japanese. The Wind Rises is about an aviation engineer who designed the Zero fighter plane that Japan used in World War II. Of course, he was a hero in Japan -- not so much in the US. A lighter example is the No-Face in Spirited Away, a stock character from kabuki theater whose cultural relevance I'm still trying to figure out.

We have a few more Studio Ghibli Blu-Rays to see, including their version of Ursula LeGuin's Tales from Earthsea. I'm looking forward to seeing them.

One more update: My memoir project is moving ahead. Mom's House went out to my editors and beta readers this weekend. Stay tuned for more updates.

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

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Time to rock, baby.

Guys! I am so excited to tell you about this thing I discovered earlier today.

Here at hearth/myth, we remember the '70s like they were yesterday: the hairstyles, the bell-bottom hip-hugger jeans, the music, the fads.

Like the Pet Rock. It was genius! It came in its own cardboard carrier on a bed of straw, together with a 32-page manual of care and training instructions.

And it did absolutely nothing. That's right! People in the '70s actually paid four bucks for a rock. Makes those of us buying designer bottled water sound almost brilliant, when you think about it.

I mean, it was a perfect pet. It didn't eat or drink. It never ran up outrageous vet bills. It was never disobedient. And it never pretended to be anything other than what it was. Authenticity was a big deal in the '70s, let me tell you.

Anyway, pet rocks weren't around for very long. Some parents -- including mine -- refused to buy them for their kids, saying any old rock would do. So I never had a pet rock.

But today I discovered that pet rocks are back! And they've been updated! ThinkGeek -- which, if you've never seen this retailer's website, you owe it to yourself as a geek to check it out -- is now selling Bluetooth Pet Rocks. They come with their own charger and they pair with your phone or tablet. ThinkGeek says they last eight hours (standard use) on a single charge. And they're ethically sourced! You can't beat that with a stick!

I mean, I guess you could. But I'd advise against it. You might put somebody's eye out. Or break a window.

Now I know what you're thinking: "Oh haha, Lynne. I've seen the calendar. I know what day it is. You're a little late with your April Fool's joke."

And I say to you, unbeliever: click that link above. And then get ready to pony up $19.99. I haven't bought mine yet, but I fully intend to -- as soon as I'm sure the item is still for sale after April Fool's Day is over.

This moment of Pet Rock blogginess -- connected via Bluetooth, naturally -- has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Healthy harvest.

Everybody wants to eat better, right? I've found one way to do it. I signed up for a cool produce delivery service called Hungry Harvest. We received our third delivery today, and it's working out really well.

Today's harvest. Note the teeny-tiny butternut squash at left.

This isn't a Blue Apron meal-in-a-box thing. As you can see, there's nothing in the box but fruits and veggies -- which I suppose could work if you're a vegetarian, but even so you'd need to supplement with spices and stuff.

Nor is it community-supported agriculture (CSA), which is where you buy a share in the harvest from a specific small farm. Every so often during the growing season, they deliver a box of whatever's ripe. It's a great way to eat local and to support local farmers. But at least at its inception, you couldn't pick what you got in your box, which is a problem if your family includes some picky eaters.

This is a food rescue service, if you will. About 20 percent of fruts and vegetables never make it to the store for a variety of superficial reasons: the produce isn't a preferred size, or the wholesaler ordered too much, or something. This company collects those foods, packs them into boxes, and sells them to subscribers for less than you'd pay at the grocery store. Everything in the photo above cost $15. They offer bigger boxes, too.

Our first shipment.
This photo is of our first shipment, which also cost $15. There's an eggplant lurking in the back, right in front of the box. I'd never made anything with eggplant before, but I used this one to make ratatouille.

Box number two, which I forgot to take a photo of, included a couple of odd-sized beets, one small and one ginormous. I'd never made anything with beets before, either -- in fact, my acquaintance with beets was limited to the canned variety my mother used to serve occasionally and the one time I had borscht at a fancy luncheon place. I ended up boiling and peeling them, and then making a brown-sugar glaze. I thought it was pretty tasty.

By now, you're sensing a theme: we're getting more variety in our veggies than usual. But more than that, this outfit claims each box sold keeps ten pounds of produce out of landfills. And they've also donated more than 700,000 pounds of food to organizations that help people who don't typically have access to fresh produce.

And unlike with a CSA, you can customize your box. You can even add some stuff, if you like. Last time I ordered a dozen eggs, which we dyed on Ostara last week.

Hungry Harvest doesn't deliver everywhere -- it covers the mid-Atlantic and part of Florida right now. A similar organization called Imperfect Produce operates in San Francisco; Los Angeles; Seattle; Portland, OR; and Chicago. (I found out about Hungry Harvest after a friend in Seattle signed up for Imperfect Produce.) If you live in any of these areas, check 'em out. I've found it to be a tasty way to do a good thing. If you know of any similar organizations, let me know so we can spread the word. 

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

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Why we do what we do.

This is not a knitting post, although I'm going to talk a little bit about knitting.

I spent part of the past week attempting to knit a zipper into a sweater. Yes, this is a thing you can do. I even took a class with knitting designer Ann Weaver to learn how to do it. For the knitters, I'll explain the technique (and save you the $60 or whatever it cost me to take the class); the rest of y'all can skip down past the photo to the rest of the post.

The trick to knitting in a zipper is a gizmo called a knit picker. If you were ever into making latch-hook rugs, you will recognize the design right away: it's a teeny-tiny hook with a latch that pivots to open and close the hook. The knit picker also has a fairly sharp tip. You take your knit picker and poke through the zipper tape at even intervals -- Ann recommended making them a quarter-inch apart. You grab your yarn with the hook, flip the latch shut, and draw up a loop, which you then put on a knitting needle. Hey presto, you've now got a stitch. Keep doing that 'til you run out of zipper tape. Then use a different needle to pick up stitches on your garment. Now you can do what amounts to a three-needle bind-off to join the zipper to the garment.

Here's one side of my zipper partly loaded onto the needle. The knit picker is in the middle of the photo. (Yes, there's a squirrel on the edge of my yarn bowl. The Groot mug doesn't have anything to do with the process; it's just there for fun.)

As it turned out, knitting in the zipper didn't work for my sweater as I'd hoped it would, so I'm hand-sewing it in place instead.

Why a zipper for my sweater? The pattern (it's the Killybegs by Carol Feller, for those who care) calls for a bunch of hooks and eyes, but I think a zipper will work better. Why not use a sewing machine? Because the presser foot can catch on the stitches in the sweater, among other reasons.

But why not just, I dunno, go out and buy a sweater?

The answer to that question is more complicated.

I recently read a book by Leland Dirks called The Hermitage at Ojito Creek. It's a compilation of blog posts he wrote while building his own house in southern Colorado. So I'm reading along, and when he starts talking about building this house, I'm envisioning a small place -- a cabin, essentially, with maybe a couple of rooms and indoor plumbing. But then he mentions a guest bedroom. And the library. And eventually he admits that his house is 1,800 square feet. That's twice the size of my apartment. 

And he built the thing from the ground up. By himself. Well, he had some help, but it wasn't like it was a crew of twenty guys -- it was mostly him.

My mind boggles. I can't even imagine building a doghouse myself, let alone a house to live in. Part of my fascination with tiny houses is that someone else would build the thing and drop it on my lot. Poof, instant house!

So why didn't he just, I dunno, go out and buy a house? He talks about that. He wanted it to be as energy-efficient as possible, for one thing. He wanted to make sure he was living as lightly on the land as possible. There's a lot of waste and a lot of reliance on fossil fuels in traditional building methods -- he wanted to avoid that. Bottom line: he wanted to make sure his house was built exactly the way he wanted it.

Why didn't I buy my sweater? And why am I putting in a zipper instead of sewing in a half-billion hooks and eyes? Because I want to make sure it's done exactly the way I want it.

We humans are just crazy that way, I guess.

But if I ever decide to build my own house? Two words: general contractor.

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

Sunday, March 11, 2018

We've sprung forward.

Here at hearth/myth, we are in the Eastern time zone of the United States -- and so, as sure as spring (eventually) follows winter, we set our clocks forward an hour last night.

Not everybody in the US observes Daylight Saving Time (DST). Arizona and Hawaii don't. Neither do our territories, which include Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands. However, the Navajo reservation, which is partly in Arizona, does observe DST.

I hope the National Trust doesn't sue me for using this.
And folks in Europe have another couple of weeks before they have to set their clocks to Summer Time -- which explains why the National Trust thought it fitting one year to post the accompanying photo, showing workers moving the standing stones at Avebury in preparation for the time change in Britain (note the date on the article is April 1).

We go through this folderol twice a year -- setting our clocks an hour ahead in the spring and turning them back in the fall -- supposedly to help farmers. But as it turns out, it wasn't farmers who wanted daylight earlier in the day. No, this brilliant practice first began in Germany in 1916, with the hope that it would help save energy during World War I. But the original idea came from Britain -- from a fellow named William Willett, who suggested in 1907 that it would be fabulous if we had more daylight hours after work to enjoy ourselves in. He also thought we'd use less artificial light if the day started later.

Energy savings sounded pretty good to Americans, who enacted Daylight Saving Time in 1918. But we let the states set their own dates for daylight time, which caused a lot of problems for shipping companies and everyone else trying to get somewhere on time. It got so bad that Congress enacted official nationwide dates for the time changes in 1966.

I remember the clocks in my junior high classrooms were set an hour earlier during part of the 1971-72 school year, but I can't remember why. Maybe it had to do with the 1972 amendment to that 1966 law that allowed most of Indiana to stay on Eastern time all year around. (By the way, that went out the window in 2006; all of Indiana now observes daylight time.)

Time was always relative in my neighborhood, anyway. I mentioned a second ago that most of Indiana is on Eastern time -- except for a few counties in the northwestern corner and a few more in the southwest "toe of the sock," which are on Central time. I grew up in LaPorte County, one of the Central time zone counties. Our house was three blocks from the Michigan state line, and Michigan was on Eastern time. Michigan and Chicago observed daylight time, as did we; most of Indiana, including South Bend (our nearest big city in Indiana) and Indianapolis (the state capital), did not. So we were always on the same time as Chicago; we were always an hour behind Michigan; and we were either an hour behind or on the same time as South Bend.

You get used to it. But then you go away for a while and forget. The first time after I'd gotten a cell phone that I visited my mother, the alarm on my phone never went off. Signal strength was iffy in Michiana anyway back then, and I figured the phone had switched from a tower in Michigan to one in Indiana, or vice versa, during the crucial period. I made a point thereafter to set my phone to the "show this time, not that time" setting when I visited Mom.

Anyway, compared to what I grew up with, changing time twice a year is a piece of cake. Still, it would be great if we could quit messing around with the clocks altogether. Farmers actually hate daylight time, as it turns out. And a study done in Indiana after the whole state began to observe daylight time showed it doesn't help energy consumption; in fact, it makes it worse.

So there is absolutely no good reason why we'll spend the next week groggy and cranky while our bodies adjust to a practice that's based entirely on a British guy's whim. Why, I'm feeling cranky already.

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

Sunday, March 4, 2018

A maddening wind.

It's been a little windy around here lately.

Here in the DC area, we got the tail of the nor'easter that pummeled the East Coast from Virginia up to Maine. Further north, rain and snow were the order of the day on Friday. The wind and rain caused coastal flooding, particularly in Boston. Flights were canceled all up and down the coast on Friday and again yesterday, as the storm took its time moving out to sea.

Some folks whose flights got off the ground may have wished they hadn't when the plane tried to land. Passengers on multiple flights reported their planes were full of people throwing up. On one flight, the pilot said even the cockpit crew got queasy.

All we got was the wind -- which was substantial enough. We had gusts topping 60 mph, with some parts of the area registering gusts of 70 mph or more. As a comparison, a Category 1 hurricane packs sustained winds of at least 74 mph. Our sustained winds didn't get that high, but they qualified as tropical storm strength. We lost a lot of trees and tons of branches, and more than half a million people lost power in the DC area at the height of the storm on Friday.

Predicatably, the storm earned its own hashtag: #Windmageddon.

Ordinarily, I'm a fan of windy days. I have a theory that big winds can be purifying, blowing bad energy away. But this windstorm overstayed its welcome; the winds kicked up overnight on Thursday and didn't really drop back into a normal range until today. It didn't feel like a cleansing so much as a stiff hand in your face: "Stay back! Stay where you are! Come this way and you'll be blown apart!"

Strong winds were among the causes of a thing called prairie madness among the pioneers. Early settlers were isolated, living in primitive housing -- think tiny homes, but built of sod because there were no other building materials nearby -- and separated by long distances from other settlers. Plus there was no fast transportation and no means of communication with the folks back east. Once the snows came, they were pretty much trapped inside, staring at the four walls and each other, and listening to the moaning wind.

Authors like Willa Cather have used prairie madness as a literary device, but the condition was almost never as bad as it was depicted in fiction. People rarely went barking mad. They did, however, become depressed -- and their depression usually lifted in spring, when the snows melted away and sufferers could get outside again.

Today, we have all manner of ways to stay connected (maybe too many), and so prairie madness is a lot less common.

I'm grateful that my daughters and I came throught Windmageddon okay. Whether this big blowhard purified anything in DC, though, is still...uh...up in the air.

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

Monday, February 26, 2018

Your newbie indie author questions, answered.

I know, I know -- it's Monday. I fell asleep early last night and forgot to post here.

I don't post a lot about indie author stuff here -- or not as much as I should, anyway, probably. This post ran at Indies Unlimited yesterday. Some of you probably don't frequent IU, although I can't fathom why you wouldn't; we have tons of info about the process of writing, editing, publishing, and marketing your work (as you will see if you click any of the links below).

Anyway, here's the post. Have a great week, you guys.

Recently, I was invited to join a Facebook group whose membership includes a lot of new authors. I’d forgotten about some of these newbie concerns. I’d also forgotten how everybody asks the same questions over and over, to the point where those of us who have been at this for a while get kind of tired of answering them. So I thought I’d pull together some of these typical questions and answer them here. Feel free to bookmark this post and refer to it as needed.
Q: I have my plot, but I need interesting characters. / I have my characters, but I need a great plot. Can you help me?
A: Sorry, no. I have my own stories to write. (You may want to check Indies Unlimited for articles on developing characters and/or stories!)
Q: Do I really need an editor? Isn’t using Grammarly enough?
A: No. Just no. And running Word’s spellcheck and grammar check aren’t enough, either. Get yourself an editor. If you can’t afford one, line up some beta readers.
Q: What kind of music do you listen to when you write?
A: This is one of those time-waster questions. I mean, some writers use music to block out other sounds so they can concentrate on their writing; others find music too distracting and need to write in silence, or as close to it as they can get. My question to you is this: Why is that relevant to you? Instead of polling other writers about their musical tastes and habits, wouldn’t your time be better spent trying to write with and without music, to figure out which way works best for you?
Q: What’s your book about? What genre do you write in?
A: Another time-waster. I write in the genre of putting my butt in the chair and cranking out some words instead of trying to start conversations with other writers on Facebook.
Q: I don’t read books. Can I still write one?
A: Sure. But reading teaches you a lot about writing. Most writers learn about characterization, pacing, story arc, and so on by reading other people’s books. Plus you learn grammar and punctuation rules along the way. These are all important tools in your writing arsenal. Why would you forgo an opportunity to improve your toolbox?
Q: I can’t tell anyone what my book is about. I’m afraid someone will steal my idea.
A: Relax. Somebody once claimed there are only seven stories in the world. That’s probably an exaggeration – but guaranteed, somebody somewhere has thought of your terrific idea already, and there are likely multiple books, movies, TV shows, and so on that explore it. Mind you, that doesn’t make your story derivative and it doesn’t make you a failure. It means you need to tell your story in your own way. Besides, we all have our own ideas – nobody’s interested in stealing yours. And if someone does actually plagiarize your work, you can take them to court.
Q: Is it ever okay for your characters to go to the bathroom?
A: Depends. (Old joke, sorry.) Does the scene advance the plot? Does it explain something about your character that you can’t show another way?
Q: How about cursing? How about graphic sex?
A: I happen to curse like a sailor, and as for sex…oh. You’re asking about your story, aren’t you? Again, it depends. There are niche genres for just about everything. As a matter of fact, erotica sells really well. But on the flip side, if you don’t like reading about it, no one can force you to write about it.
Q: Are independent authors real writers? Don’t you need to have a contract with a traditional publisher to be a real writer?
A: Bless your heart.
These moments of FAQual blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Defining home.

The concept of home has been on my mind a fair amount lately -- ever since I closed a chapter in my own life by selling my interest in the house in which I grew up. I tell the story in the memoir I'm working on, so you'll get to read it eventually. But now I find myself in an odd position: for the first time in my life, I have the opportunity to define my own home.

For many people, I think, this is a no-brainer. Home is where they grew up -- the place where their parents still live, maybe, and where they return for family holidays. The house I grew up in doesn't have that kind of resonance for me. I moved out nearly forty years ago; for the first twenty of those years, I worked in radio, and scheduling prevented me from forming the habit of returning home for the holidays. Then, too, my father has been dead for more than thirty years; my mother, for ten. If you define home as people more than place, my childhood home has been gone for many, many years.

By my age, a lot of people have bought a house (or two) and settled in for several decades -- and then that structure becomes home. But owing to those years I spent in radio, moving from city to city and from job to job, I was rarely able to settle in one place for long enough to make that kind of planning possible. So for the most part, I've parked my stuff in a succession of rental properties. And while they all met the need at the time, and while I called them home in a colloquial sense ("I got home at..." or "I'll be home tonight" or something like that), they were never places where I put down roots for very long.

Again, if home is people more than place, then of course I'm home when I'm with my daughters. But it's different now that they're adults. We all live in the same apartment for now, but they have their own interests and friends, their own way of doing things -- as they should. It's natural and normal and I'm not sad about it. But home feels different than it did when they were little.

And now that I'm getting close to retirement age, I have an opportunity to define a place that might very well be home for the rest of my life. I'm without touchstones for this task. There's no need to base my decision on the usual factors: proximity to the job or to good schools. I almost need to rewrite my list of must-have and would-be-nice features.

And I have the whole, wide world to choose from, in a way that's never been available to me before. Sure, many places are impractical or impossible for one reason or another -- too hot, too cold, too expensive -- but that still leaves a lot of options.

It's all a little daunting.

I told a friend not long ago that my decision will ultimately come down to way the place feels when I get out of the car and put my feet on the ground. When the earth there reaches up and grabs me and draws those roots out of my soul, that's when I'll know I've come home.

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

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A taste of memoir.

I've been slaving away over a hot keyboard all day, finishing the cut-and-paste job on the memoir. It's going to be called Mom's House and it covers the period from January 1998, when my mother was hospitalized with colon cancer, until a couple of weeks ago, when the hassle over her estate and her house was finally resolved.

I mentioned last week that I've been writing this thing in bits and pieces as events unfolded. That's been very useful; as the details were fresh in my mind when I wrote everything down, I'm reasonably sure that my recollection of events is accurate. But I'd also included some stuff that, in retrospect, won't push the narrative along. So it hasn't been a straight cut-and-paste job -- I've had to edit as I go.

And then there were the little stories that I'd forgotten about until I ran across them in the journal entries. Here's one tidbit. It takes place during the summer of 1998, after my mother's second cancer surgery. I'd taken the summer off (thank you, Family and Medical Leave Act) to help her with her recovery and to drive her to radiation appointments. My daughters had spent the first month of the summer with their father, who was living with his new wife in Buffalo, NY.


Aquilitan | CC0 | Pixabay

In the midst of the radiation treatments, I had to pick up the kids.  I drove from Michigan City to Buffalo in a single day, stopping in Cleveland for a couple of hours to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  I stayed overnight in Buffalo and planned to pick up the kids the next morning and drive back to Mom’s.  Somewhere along the way, I concocted a plan to make the trip fun for the girls: I decided we could go wading in each of the Great Lakes.

Bruce and his wife were civil to me; they were giving up on Bruce finding a job in Buffalo and were moving back to the D.C. area as soon as his previous employer hired him back. The girls said goodbye and piled in the car, and we were off.

We drove all over downtown Buffalo, looking for a spot to put our feet in Lake Erie (something I wouldn’t have tried a decade or so before, for fear that pollution would have left me with no feet). Finally, we found one. We got our feet wet and I took a picture. Then we drove to Niagara Falls and stopped for a look. The girls had visited the Canadian side earlier in the summer with their dad, his wife, and her kids; they described going up to the top of the CN Tower to see the view.

We crossed into Canada and headed for our next target, Lake Ontario. This one was easy – we drove right past a little neighborhood beach and parked long enough to stick our feet in and get a picture.

Driving across Ontario, the girls fell asleep. I hit a blinding rainstorm and a road construction detour at almost exactly the same time; I spent a nerve-wracking hour or so following the tail lights of an eighteen-wheeler and hoping he wasn’t leading me off the road.

Eventually, the sky cleared and I could relax. We made it to Sarnia and Lake Huron at dinnertime. The beach was closed because the storm had created an undertow, but the lifeguards let us put our feet in and get our picture. We stopped for dinner at McDonald’s, marveling at the Happy Meal bags in two languages. Then we got back in the car and kept driving, getting back to Mom’s safely, if late.

Nailing Lake Michigan was no problem. We walked down to the beach and got that picture sometime before the end of the summer.

Unfortunately, I had never put film in the camera. So the pictures of our wet feet live only in our memories.


It's going to be a while before the book comes out. It's still in pretty rough shape, and I'm not talking just about story continuity. I didn't know as much about formatting then as I do now. The early entries have a ton of tab stops and extra spaces after periods, and they are all going to have to come out. But at least the heavy lifting is done. Now, maybe, I can relax.

Relax? Oh haha. I kill myself sometimes.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Hey, it's a knitting post.

I know y'all are all about the big sportsball match this evening, so here's a post that has nothing at all to do with it.

It looks like the last time I did a knitting post was in September. I've been busy since then with several projects -- including the Main Street shawl, which was partly done then. Here's what it looks like, all finished.

I moved on then to the Architexture shawl. This pattern caught my eye months ago, but I'd put off knitting it until I found the right yarn. Then it occurred to me that I'd picked up a suitable yarn at Maryland Sheep and Wool last spring and hadn't even realized it would work for this pattern. Here's a shot of the finished project.

Please excuse my sour expression. I really do like the way the shawl turned out. I was concentrating on a new photography technique -- grabbing a frame from a video to use as a still photo -- and forgot to smile.

The Architexture worked up pretty fast, but I had to put it on hiatus for a few weeks in December to work on another project -- that Craftvent Calendar shawl I mentioned here at the end of November.

The back story for the Craftvent shawl is this: My daughter Amy found the product online and decided to buy one for herself. It didn't take much urging for me to get one, too. She ordered the "jewel tone" colorway and I got the "wintergreen" one.

Mine turned out fine. I liked most of the colors but -- as usual -- I ran out of yarn in the first lace section. I finally figured out that I'm too generous with yarn when I do a yarnover; once I tamed my tendency to make those extra stitches REALLY BIG, I did okay. Amy, however, disliked her colors -- she was expecting a range of saturated colors and, well, did not get them. Plus she ran out of yarn, too. In fact, a lot of people ran out of yarn. The place we ordered the kits from had to ship packets of extra yarn to a lot of folks.

When I got to my last ball of yarn, it turned out to be the precise shade of neon green that I actively avoid. So Amy, bless her heart, went spelunking in her stash and found a bright blue-green that worked just fine. Here's mine. If Amy ever finishes hers, I'll post a photo of it, too.

To be honest, I'm impressed that I got so many projects done, considering I spent a huge chunk of the fall working on a shawl called the Find Your Fade. I'd picked up the kit at Maryland Sheep and Wool in the spring, and did not fully understand how big a shawl 1,500 yards of fingering weight yarn would make. To give you an idea of how massive this thing is, the piece of furniture with the drawers in the photo below is 44 inches wide.

It's wonderful to wrap up in, but it's impractical to wear to work. I've been leaving it next to my desk at home to wear while I write.

Right now I'm working on some little stuff. I used up some of the leftover yarn from the Architexture and Main Street shawls by making a pair of fingerless gloves. I also knitted myself a new hat and am working on a gaiter-style cowl to go with it. The pattern has a bunch of yarnovers in it. We'll see if I have enough yarn to finish the cowl. Fingers crossed...

I'm also working on a memoir. I can't remember whether I've mentioned this project before, but it's something I've been working on for probably 15 years, off and on, as the story unfolded. Events have recently reached a denouement, so I feel like it's time to wrap up the book. This weekend, I started the process of cutting, pasting, and rewriting the original material. It's gonna be a ton of work, but it will be rewarding in the end -- to me, anyway.

Have a great week, everyone, and may the best sportsball team win.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Indie author since 1965.

Before Seized... before SwanSong... even before The Maidens' War... there was Susie and the Talking Doll.

I included the story of this little book in my author bio on Amazon, but I've never shared it here on the blog. Earlier today, someone in a Facebook authors' group shared a photo of the first book he ever wrote as a kid, and it reminded me of my own first book. What's more, I knew exactly where it was. Or rather, I thought I knew; it turned out to be in a box on the bottom of a stack of boxes in the farthest recesses of my most inaccessible closet. It's no longer in pristine condition -- the bottom part of the cover has been lost over the years -- but I think it looks pretty good for having been written on a cheap, unlined tablet of paper more than 50 years ago.

I got the idea from Kenneth Barnes, who sat in front of me in second grade. One day he brought in a book he'd written. I have no idea what it was about -- robots or something, I suppose. But I remember looking at his book and thinking, "I could do that." So I did.

If I were to write a blurb for Susie and the Talking Doll, it would go something like this: "Six-year-old Susie tells everyone she is going to get a talking doll for Christmas -- and she does! Patty has a ponytail and a dress just like Susie's, and not only does this doll talk, she has a mind of her own. Together, Susie and Patty go on amazing adventures, many of which involve doing the jerk to Beatles records."

I'm not kidding about them doing the jerk -- the '60s version, obviously, not the hip-hop one. If you're unfamiliar with the dance, here's a video from "American Bandstand" that shows how it's done. (I found a video on YouTube from just a couple of years ago in which some guy tried to teach it, but he misses the point. It's not just about waving your arms up and down. If you do it right, your back gets a little hitch in it on the downswing.)

Anyway, what's interesting to me now about this book is how well I did with the mechanics of it. I used quotation marks and other punctuation correctly, and nearly all the words are spelled right. We hadn't learned about paragraphs yet, however, so each chapter is one long paragraph.

I'm fascinated by my prescience about certain things. I put the table of contents in the back of the book. That's something indie authors sometimes do these days so that the downloadable sample isn't taken up by front matter, although the reason I did it here is because I forgot to leave a blank page for it between the cover and the first page of the story. Also, as you can see in the photo, I priced this book at $1.00 -- just a penny more than several of my, uh, newer titles.

I will not be republishing Susie and the Talking Doll. The story needs heavy editing -- for one thing, there's not much of a plot -- and I'd have to find an illustrator, as the original pictures just aren't up to professional standards. (Interestingly, my drawing style hasn't improved much over the intervening decades.)

But there you go -- my very first foray into publishing. It's almost like I was meant to be an indie author from the start. Thanks, Ken Barnes, wherever you are.


On a sad note: For the past several years, I've been involved with an anthology group under the auspices of Five59 Publishing and its founder, Alan Seeger. I'm sorry to report that Alan died last week at the age of 58.

Alan had significant health challenges -- he was a paraplegic due to an auto accident -- but he was always upbeat whenever I talked with him online. He was tireless in encouraging new writers, and our anthologies were the better for it.

The last book Alan published before his death was the paperback version of 13 Bites Vol. V. He also wrote a sci-fi trilogy, the first book of which is called Pinball and which I enjoyed quite a bit. In addition, he co-authored several other novels and published a collection of essays. You can find all his books, as well as the Five59 anthologies, on his Amazon author page.

With Alan's death, indie publishing has lost a loyal and eminently capable friend. R.I.P., Alan. We'll miss you.


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

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Road tripping.

DeeDee51 | CC0 | Pixabay

My topic last week, lake effect snow, was not by random chance. Nope, I was on the road. I drove across the frozen plain from DC to the Midwest, a trip that was supposed to be for business and pleasure, and ended up being mostly pleasure, except for the snow.

I know people who avoid long-distance driving at all costs. They're the type of person who would rather take a two-hour flight than spend four or so hours sitting behind the wheel. Of course, today there's no time savings in a two-hour flight -- not when you have to be at the airport two hours ahead of departure. Plus, at the airport, you can't come and go as you please -- not unless you're willing to go through security again -- and once on the plane, you can't change seats or stop for a bite whenever you want. But hey, if you'd rather hang in a metal tube in the sky than control your own destiny behind the wheel of a car, you do you.

Besides, I tend to get airsick.

I actually find long-distance driving relaxing. Which is not to say soporific, although that can be a problem. But seriously, there's an open road ahead of you and hours before you're expected anywhere. It's a great opportunity to turn off your brain and just be for a while.

I don't, of course, fully turn off my brain. Someone this week asked me what I do to occupy my mind while driving -- do I listen to audio books? Well, no. I'm actually not a big fan of audio books. Either I get lost in the story and miss my exit, or my thoughts drift away from the story and it's too hard to both drive and go back to the place in the story where I checked out.

No, I tend to talk to myself. Or I have conversations with people who aren't there. Or I put in a CD and sing at the top of my lungs; as a bonus, the extra oxygen from singing wakes me up when my eyelids have begun to droop.

The older I've gotten, though, the less fun long-distance driving has become. I have a touch of sciatica, which gets worse when I hold my gas-pedal foot in the same position for a period of time. (Note to self: The next car will have cruise control.)

And on this trip, the roads looked like this for too much of the drive:

yapennington | CC0 | Pixabay

I don't mind driving in snow, but it's been years since I've had to do the unplowed-highway-in-traffic dance. I did consider myself lucky in one respect, though -- I managed to dodge a lake-effect snowstorm that dumped ten inches on the area.

But I'm home now, where the high today was 56 degrees, and I don't intend to make any other road trips for at least a few months.

These moments of on-the-road blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Lake effect snow.

Mareefe | CC0 | Pixabay
You thought I forgot about posting this week, didn't you? Of course I didn't forget. Today is a federal holiday here in the U.S. -- Martin Luther King Day -- and a lot of businesses are closed today. So even though it's Monday, it feels like Sunday. So it's like I'm posting on time, if you squint just right.

Okay, fine. The real story is that I have a bit of personal-life business to attend to this week, so I've driven from my home near DC to northern Indiana. Alert readers of hearth/myth will recall that I set Seasons of the Fool in this neck of the woods, and there are several scenes in that book that are set in the winter, and they involve snow. And today, true to form, I found myself driving through a couple of snowstorms to get here.

I explained this once before on this blog: I grew up on the eastern tip of Lake Michigan, 60 miles away from Chicago by land, 30 miles as the crow flies. The Chicago Loop is west-northwest of Michigan City's lakefront. In winter, storms typically sweep across the country from west, or north, to east. The wind blows across the lake and picks up moisture there, then dumps the moisture -- usually in the form of snow -- when it hits land on the east side. That's called lake effect snow, and the folks who live here get it all winter long.

I was commiserating with the locals about it earlier today. If Chicago gets two or three inches of snow out of a storm, the Indiana side of the lake gets a foot. Well, maybe six to eight inches. Although the difference hardly matters when you're shoveling the stuff. And you never quite know how much you're going to get -- it depends on how much snow the storm decides to dump on you.

The thing is, you get used to it. You get out your winter coat and boots in late October or early November, and you keep wearing them through March, or sometimes mid-April. The snow sticks around and gets dirty and ugly, and more snow falls on top of it. It piles up. You spend several months out of the year picking your way over snowbanks and hoping you don't get snow down your boots or your socks will be wet all day long. And of course you go to school, because the region gets too much snow for the schools to shut down every time a couple of inches is forecast.

It's been cold here this weekend, too. We had a cold snap in DC over New Year's, and I had to think back to how my mother used to dress me so I could stand on the corner and wait for the school bus without getting frostbite. As best I can recall, it involved a layer of underclothes, then a shirt or dress, tights, pants over the tights, socks over the tights with the pants legs tucked into them, a sweater, and shoes. Then came the winter coat, hat, mittens, and boots. Girls weren't allowed to wear pants to class when I was in elementary school, so when I got to my classroom, I had to shuck several layers -- coat, boots, sweater and pants -- before I could sit down at my desk.

When I got to junior high, the school board eased up a little bit; girls were then allowed to wear pants in class if the temperature was below freezing at 7:00 a.m. Something like that, anyway.

We didn't stay indoors all winter, either. We played outside a lot -- building snowmen and snow forts, and ice skating on the tennis court that the fire department flooded for the village every year.

It's been nearly 40 years since I lived in northern Indiana. Good thing I didn't completely block out the memory of those early years -- it's come in useful several times over the past few weeks. But I hope that when I get home, it's warmed up enough that I can shove the memory back in its hole for a good, long while.

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

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Women with agency and the fanboys whom they make uncomfortable.

First, a show of hands: Has everybody who intends to see The Last Jedi seen it already? It's been out now for several weeks, and...

Oh, fine.

***Warning: Spoilers! Turn back now if they would upset you.***

Are we good now? Okay.

There's been a fair bit of, um, consternation in the fandom over this movie, as there was over The Force Awakens. Certain male fans were dismissive of the plot of Episode VII -- it was derivative, they said. Too much like Episode IV (a.k.a. Star Wars for those of us who are old enough to have seen it when it was first released), in which a nobody, overly endowed with sensitivity to the Force, is dubbed the One Who Can Save Us All and is dragged into a galactic war. Except this time our savior is female.

So when The Last Jedi kept Rey as its protagonist and brought along a cast of multicolor and preponderantly female Good Guys, the True Fanboys (tm) complained even louder. The problem, though, as this post at Bitter Gertrude points out, is that the complaints about this movie are all over the block. "Derivative" makes a comeback, but a myriad of other criticisms tag along, many of which cancel each other out. The film wasn't funny, or it was too funny, or it was funny in the wrong ways. The plot is terrible, or the acting is terrible (really? Have these people not seen Episodes I-III?), or the pacing is terrible, or... something.

And Leia! How could she have saved herself from certain death in deep space? It's not like she could wield the Force herself or...anything... Oh, right. "There is another," Yoda says in Return of the Jedi -- another strong wielder of the Force than Luke, he means, and he ain't referring to Chewie.

But never mind that. Something is wrong with this movie. The True Fanboys (tm) are sure of it. They just can't quite put their finger on what it is.

It occurred to me while reading that Bitter Gertrude post that I've heard this song before. In fact, I've been hearing it since 2004 -- the year The Runes of the Earth, the first book in the Final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, was released.

As this third series opens, Covenant himself -- who has headlined the past six books -- is dead. He can't be the main character. Well, okay, he could be, but not plausibly. Not yet, anyway. Some other stuff has to happen first. So the author chooses Linden Avery, MD -- Covenant's lover in the Second Chronicles -- as the protagonist for the Last Chronicles.

Copyright by zorm |

That's Linden, in the crook of Frostheart Grueburn's elbow, helping the Giant fight off a skurj attack by wielding the Staff of Law.

Predictably, the fanboys didn't like it. Linden is whiny and indecisive. (Never mind that Covenant spent six books being cranky and indecisive. I guess cranky beats whiny?) She's too focused on her adoptive son (who's -- hello! -- missing). The book moves too slowly. It's too late in the series to bring in a whole new magical race that we've never met before. And so on. Some fans of the author even went so far as to start a conversation about how they would have written the book differently. (My response: You want to write a novel? Knock yourselves out. Let me know how it works out for you.)

But everything always came back to Linden. They just didn't like her. They wanted Covenant back.

Sure, part of it was that they'd grown to love Covenant. But just like with Rey and Leia and Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, part of it was that Linden wasn't male. And just like with today's True Star Wars Fanboys (tm), male fans of the Chronicles got really testy when I suggested to them that their reaction to Linden was gender-based.

My point, I guess, is that this discomfort with women in lead roles has been going on for a long time, and I think the only way it's going to change is if it keeps happening. At some point, women protagonists in traditionally-male roles in fantasy and sci-fi will become so commonplace that nobody will question it anymore. So kudos to Disney and the team behind this series of Star Wars movies. Keep doing what you're doing -- and may the Force be with you.

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