Sunday, September 16, 2018

Out off office.

Forgot to mention last week that I'm gone a-wandering this week. Sorry about that.

I fully intend to post next Sunday. See ya then. Have a fab week!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Way down yonder.

This blog is nothing if not educational.

Yesterday, Kat, Amy and I braved the damp to head out to a pick-your-own-produce farm that we've been to before. Kitty was most interested in their late-season peaches; Amy wanted apples; and I was up for Asian pears. The farm's weekly email also mentioned a thing none of us had tried before: pawpaws. So of course we had to snag a few.

Pawpaws grow on trees in a wide swath of the Midwest and South. The trees often grow together in clumps. You may be familiar with "The Pawpaw Patch," a traditional song (as near as I can tell) about sweet little Nellie, who's run away from her friends to harvest pawpaws.

The song has the technique right. Pawpaws are ripe when they fall off the tree. You harvest them by picking them up from the ground -- and they are beat-up-looking things. Here's a photo of a few on a tree (upper right corner), plus some on the ground. One of them must have split open when it fell.

Here's a clearer shot of the pawpaw's innards, plus a few others we harvested.

Whoever first tried eating one of these things must have been a brave soul. They don't look very appetizing, do they? But the flesh is sweet, very soft, and creamy like a mango, with hints of banana or maybe citrus. Pretty tasty. The skin is kind of bitter; Mama Google recommends peeling your pawpaws before eating them.

The seeds are round and flat, about three-quarters of an inch in diameter. I'm told they'll germinate. However, don't expect to see pawpaws at your local Safeway anytime soon: they bruise easily and they don't stay fresh for very long. Apparently you can freeze them or dehydrate them. But Big Ag has other, hardier fruits to make money from.

Now that I've tasted a pawpaw, I can't say that I'm a huge fan. But they're uncommon enough in our urban area that I look forward to finding them again next year.

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

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The "good enough" post.

Bear with me -- this will be a writing post eventually.

It has been years since I did any embroidery. I used to do it quite a lot, but let's face it, a lot of the designs of yesteryear were pretty bland: flowers, vines, more flowers and more vines. One can only embroider so many dresser scarves and pillowcases before one needs to move on.

Well, gods all bless the Millennials, because they are making crafting edgy. Even embroidery.

I stumbled on a bunch of embroidery kits in a shop in Old Town Alexandria a few weeks ago and was charmed by these new designs -- so much so that I picked one up. The kit is by cozyblue and the design I bought is the Lunar Blossom. Here's what you get in the kit: preprinted cloth, floss, a hoop, a needle, and a photo of the finished item with directions on the back.

I'll be honest -- I picked this kit partly for the moon phases and partly because of all that running stitch. I knew it would work up fast. And yet it's been sitting on the coffee table for the past several weeks, while I've been beating myself up over the knitting and writing I was supposed to be doing.

Now here it is, a three-day weekend, and the highs are supposed to be in the 90s, which is way too hot for knitting. I figured I could get the embroidery project done this weekend and I could say I'd actually accomplished something. So I started working on it yesterday.

Have I mentioned that it's been a while since I did any embroidery? Like decades? I tell you what -- my eyesight was a lot better when I was in my twenties. I finally broke down today and got out my needle threader, so it wouldn't take me five minutes to re-thread the needle every time I pulled the floss out accidentally. (Of course I do that. So do you -- don't lie.)

The directions say you can do any stitch you want, but if you want to do what the designer did, to use running stitch for the petals, backstitch for outlining the moons, and padded satin stitch for filling in the moons. Well, the running stitch went fine. I got three stitches into outlining the moons and realized I was doing split stitch instead of backstitch. But it looked okay and she said I could do whatever I wanted, so I kept going.

Padded satin stitch, though. Regular old satin stitch I was familiar with, but padded? So I asked Mama Google and she gave me some sources. Basically, before you do your satin stitch, you outline the section and then fill it in with whatever stitch moves you; most folks seem to prefer straight stitches, but I also saw some do chain stitch. One woman cut a piece of felt to fit and stitched it in place for the padding. Then once you've done your padding, you do your satin stitch perpendicular to the direction of your infill stitches. 

I watched one video where the woman doing it had a very soothing voice -- kind of like Bob Ross but for embroidery. She recommended using one strand of floss for the satin stitches. Her reasoning was that a single strand would produce a more uniform appearance, as multiple strands would twist and not lay flat as nicely. So I tried it her way. It took forever. I did the next moom with three strands, which was a lot faster, plus I liked that it was more poufy. Also, I'm not doing museum-quality work here. Have I mentioned that it's been decades since I've done any embroidery at all?

Here's what I mean. On the bottom is the lovely, uniform single-strand satin stitch; in the middle is the poufy three-strand satin stitch, and at the top is the padding.

Note that the padding isn't even. It doesn't matter whether it's even -- no one's going to see it. You might (if you're picky) notice that my satin stitched sections aren't perfectly perfect, either. Now, I could go back and pull all of that out and re-do it until it's perfect. I'd use a lot of floss and waste a lot of time. And who's going to notice?

A lot of writers agonize over their work. They re-work paragraphs and sentences until they're perfect. They spend a lot of time doing that. Some writers work so hard on the details that they never actually finish anything.

Listen: At some point, you've got to let it go. 

Over the years, I've learned a few phrases for just this situation:
  • You've probably heard this one: "Close enough for government work." 
  • I learned this one from a former co-worker: "Ain't making a watch." 
  • And here's one I heard fairly recently: "If a man riding by on a horse can't tell the difference, it's good enough."

Perfect is good -- but it's also a trap. It's okay to settle for good enough. 

I'll probably go back and re-do that single-strand moon with three strands, though. Just so it'll match.

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

Monday, August 27, 2018

A tale of two authors.

The girls and I just got home from a weekend trip to Philadelphia. In all the years I've lived in the DC area, I've never been to Philly until now. Which is crazy -- it's closer than New York City, which I've visited several times. So when a great hotel rate came together with an Amtrak sale, I figured it was time.

Philadelphia is known more as the birthplace of the United States than as a hub of literary activity. The Second Continental Congress was held there, after all, at which the Declaration of Independence was approved in July 1776. And the Constitution was adopted there as well, in 1787.

Present for both events, though, was Philly's homeboy -- a well-known and well-respected printmaker named Benjamin Franklin. Franklin is known best nowadays, perhaps, for flying a kite in a thunderstorm. But he started life in Boston as the youngest son of Josiah Franklin, a candle-maker and soap-maker, and his second wife Abiah Folger. Franklin the elder fathered 17 children by his two wives. That's a lot of mouths to feed -- and so young Ben was apprenticed to his brother James, a printer in Boston.

He hated working for his brother. At 17, he ran away to Philadelphia and worked for printers there. Eventually, he set up his own print shop and published, among other things, the Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper and Poor Richard's Almanack.

In Franklin Court, not far from Independence Hall, the National Park Service runs a museum devoted to Franklin. There's a cool archaeological exhibit outside where you can view the foundations of Franklin's house (the house itself is long gone). And the NPS has also set up a printmaking shop, so you can see how Ben plied his trade. The most time-consuming part of printing is setting the type; once that's done, a printer who knows what he's doing can print a page using this printing press in maybe 20 seconds.

Later in life, of course, Ben Franklin got into politics. Besides signing all those founding documents, he was the first Postmaster General of the United States, and he also served as ambassador to France. In addition, he became well known for his witty sayings -- and for more practical inventions. If you wear bifocals, for example, you can thank Ben Franklin for inventing them.

But publishing was in his blood to the last. His last will and testament begins: "I, Benjamin Franklin, of Philadelphia, printer..."

And now we fast-forward about fifty years to another famous writer who called Philadelphia home: Edgar Allan Poe. Poe was also born in Boston, but his parents were actors; his father abandoned the family and his mother died the next year. John Allan and his wife in Richmond, Virginia, took the boy in and raised him, but eventually John and Edgar had a falling-out over money; Poe attended the University of Virginia for a year, until the family ran out of money to keep him there, and then joined the Army. Eventually he entered West Point, but he abandoned his military career to become a writer full-time.

He married his first cousin Virginia before she'd turned 14, and her mother moved in with them to run the household. In 1838, the family moved to Philadelphia, and there Poe wrote and published many of his best-known short stories: "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Masque of the Red Death," "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Tell-Tale Heart," and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," the first detective story ever published. He also worked as editor of several literary magazines -- and he battled melancholy, in part due to his wife's ill health (she died of tuberculosis in 1847). He also had a problem with drinking.

The Poes moved several times while they lived in Philadelphia, but only one of those houses survives. Today the National Park Service runs it as the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. The part on the right in this photo was a later addition, and now houses a small gift shop, some exhibits, and a room where visitors can watch an introductory video. The Poes' rooms are only partially restored, with wall murals standing in for how things might have looked in Edgar's time. The overall effect is somewhat creepy -- in keeping, perhaps, with Poe's writings.

Today, we'd put most of Poe's tales in the horror category, and shunt him off as a genre writer. But he worked for literary magazines, and his fondest professional dream was to publish his own literary journal -- which he did, briefly, before it failed. Financial problems were a recurring theme in his life; even then, it was hard to make a full-time living at writing. But Poe found acclaim for his poetry and literary criticism as well as his prose, and many authors have cited him as an influence on their work (Yours Truly included).

In early October 1849, Poe turned up, ill and incoherent, on a street in Baltimore. He was hospitalized that night and died a few days later, at the age of 40. No one knows why he was in Baltimore. His medical records and his death certificate are missing. In the end, his death was as mysterious as his works.

The Poe National Historic Site is away from the typical tourist trail in Philly, but it's within walking distance of the Liberty Bell, and it's well worth a visit if you're a Poe fan.

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