Sunday, May 5, 2024

"Your data likes this. Here's more!"

I'll get to the cryptic post title in a sec. But first I thought I'd update y'all on my progress on the runner rug. I finished the weaving Friday night, a titch ahead of schedule, and cut it off the loom the same night. Here's how it looked when it was halfway off the loom. I'm stoked that my idea for the center diamond worked as planned. (Yes, the motif is supposed to be off center. I'm okay with that.)

Lynne Cantwell 2024
As you can see, it's Tigs approved -- so far. We'll see how he feels about it when it's stretched out on the bathroom floor.

Right now, the rug has been soaked and is hanging to dry. Then I'll iron it and hem it on the sewing machine. I'm hoping to finish it tonight. 

(Before someone asks: The Ruggable box contains a runner for the kitchen. It's still in the box because the new kitchen counters are going to be installed tomorrow -- at last! -- and then I have to tile the backsplash. I'll put the rug down once all the construction is done. But for those who can't wait to see it: this is the way.)

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Now about that quote.

Longtime hearth/myth readers will remember when I was all excited about tiny houses. I spent years exploring the idea of downsizing to a tiny house on wheels. I even blogged about it here, here, here, here, here, and probably some other times when I didn't tag it. It wasn't the "wheels" part that excited me, but the tiny-dwelling part. Back then, I was living in an 850-square-foot apartment. It had a generously-sized living/dining room and a great galley kitchen. The bedroom was big enough for a loveseat and occasional table along with the bed and dresser. I thought it had a lot of wasted space. I was sure I could downsize to 500 square feet with no problem. (And I did when I first moved to Santa Fe. But I needed another closet, so I bought the condo, which is about 1,000 square feet.) 

Eventually, though, I dropped the idea of getting a tiny house. It wasn't the size of the living space that put me off; it was the inability to get one close enough to urban, or even suburban, amenities. Cities don't want tiny dwellings unless they're temporary units for unhoused persons. They're just now beginning to approve accessory dwelling units for folks with single-family houses to put in their backyards for Grandma to live in. But a sub-750-square-foot house by itself on a city lot is beyond the pale for a bunch of reasons, including city infrastructure, density, tax base, etc., etc., etc. So by the time I retired in 2020, I had given up on the idea.

Mama Google, though, remembers all. As recently as this week, Google's news page on my phone has suggested an article about tiny houses to me. It's been four freaking years since I moved to Santa Fe, lady -- give it a rest already!

But that speaks to the quote in the title, doesn't it? The search algorithm just keeps serving up links like the links you've already clicked on, whether you're still interested in the thing or not.

The quote is from Jordan Klepper, one of the hosts on The Daily Show when Jon Stewart isn't there. Klepper and his co-host, Ronny Chieng, were interviewing Kyle Chayka, a staff writer for the New Yorker who has a written a book called Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture. I haven't read the book, although it sounds interesting. But that quote struck me so forcefully that I wrote it down. 

Here's the thing about algorithms: When they have you pegged, how do you break free? I talked here recently about kitchen renovations. That same Google news page on my phone has been serving up kitchen remodeling articles, even though I've already past the decision phase on the kitchen. I started looking up other home improvement topics to get it to quit showing me kitchen stuff. It hasn't worked very well.

This is a minor topic to be inundated with links about. But what about major topics? What about, say, politics? One of the points Chayka made in the interview, and presumably in the book as well, is that algorithms peg our politics and then keep us pegged. Voters in the US have been funneled into one of two political buckets. How do you climb out of the bucket you're in? It ain't easy. And as many others have observed, the polarization of our electorate is damaging the country as a whole.

I wish I had an answer, but I don't think we're going to get one any time soon. For sure, the solution won't come from an algorithm.

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These moments of algorithmic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Crafty baby (stair) steps.

Tonight's post is gonna be a quickie, because I want to get back to the loom before I lose my mojo again. Here's what I'm currently working on (read: sick of looking at): 

Lynne Cantwell 2024
The pattern is called the Stair Step Rug. I got it from Gist Yarn, but their yarn colors didn't really go with my decor, so I'm using Maurice Brassard yarn instead. The blue, which I'm using for both the warp (the long threads) and some of the weft (the back-and-forth threads), is a cotton/linen blend in the Peacock colorway. The other stuff is a cotton slub yarn, kind of like boucle, in the Turquoise colorway. Here's a photo of some of the photos in the pattern, so you can see what it's supposed to look like when it's done: 

I started it in October or November, I think, and I'd already be done if I hadn't decided to double the length and make it a runner. It's taking forever because this yarn is a whole lot skinnier than the Churro that I've been working with lately. The technique is called crackle weave; I won't bore you with too much technical lingo, but basically I'm alternating the colors -- one row blue, the next turquoise -- with the blue rows all in plain weave and the turquoise rows in a twill pattern. Warping the loom to make all that work was a joy, let me tell you. But it should be very cool looking, with a big Southwesterny diamond in the middle, when it's done. 

The only other project I've finished since my last crafty post is this shawl: 
Lynne Cantwell 2024
The pattern is the Moroccan Lantern Shawl. When I started it last fall, it had been quite a while since I'd knitted anything. I wish I knew what possessed me to pick a pattern with a lacy stitch for my first project after my knitting hiatus. It was kind of a slog. But it's now been done for a while, waiting for me to block it so the points on the bottom edge stand out more clearly. I might get to that here pretty soon. Or maybe not. We'll see.

Speaking of getting to things, I'm going to stop here and get back to weaving. I figured out that if I sit at the loom every night this week, I could have the weaving done by next Sunday. The rug wouldn't be done done, but at least I'll be able to take it off the loom. I'll let you know how it goes.

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These moments of crafty blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Sad neutrals, begone!

One of the few good things to have come out of Social Security withholding my benefits for way too many months was that it allowed me more time to think about some of the things I want to do with this apartment. 

That's also one of the bad things. Over the past few months, I've spent an inordinate amount of time checking out various blogs and online magazines for redecorating tips. Kitchens are the biggest moneymakers -- HGTV quotes HomeAdvisor as saying a regular kitchen remodel today can cost between $14,611 and $41,432, or about $27,000 as the midpoint -- so of course there are a blue billion articles full of advice on improving your kitchen. Bathrooms are the next biggest gold mine in terms of remodeling, so there are a lot of articles on that, too. 

I say "moneymaker" and "gold mine" with good reason. Virtually all of these articles -- like every article about redecorating in general -- is designed to make you feel inadequate. Because their advertisers, or in the case of influencers, the companies bankrolling them, want to convince you to do something to make your home more comfortable/luxurious/minimalist/maximalist/coastal grandma/spa-like/easy to sell/whatever. For the last few years, as near as I can tell, what you were supposed to be striving for was a farmhouse kitchen with a minimalist aesthetic everywhere else, or something. Anyway, there was a lot of beadboard. And everything from the walls to the sofas to the kitchen cabinets was supposed to be white. A slight deviation from white was allowed, as long as you stuck to neutrals. So beige was okay. Then gray had a moment, and so did greige, an unholy alliance of beige and gray.

It should have been apparent that once designers got on board with greige, neutrals had just about run their course. So now the self-appointed experts are doing a 180. Color, we are now told, is in. No more sad beige! 

Some folks have not quite gotten the hang of this color thing. Here's a screenshot of a Facebook ad I've seen a couple of times. It's from a video posted by an influencer (or maybe the company set up the account themselves -- it's hard to tell these days) who says that with this quilt, her sad beige days are officially over! 


So I'm looking at this and thinking, "If that's your idea of color, honey, we need to talk."

Alert hearth/myth readers who have seen my art quilt headboard and who recall the saga of the stripey chair will understand why I say that. I've never been a fan of neutrals; I lived in apartments for too many years, where all the walls were white unless you painted them yourself and made them white again when you moved out or you didn't get your deposit back. If there's something in my space now that's a neutral color, there needs to be a damn good reason for it -- and resale value is not a good reason when you don't intend to move again for a really long time. And there had better be something fun nearby to balance the bland.

Now I get it. I do. Bright colors take some getting used to. Generation Jonesers may have a leg up on it, given that pop art was, well, popular in the late '60s and early '70s. Some of it is still around; Peter Max, who helped to define the genre, did this poster for Earth Day 2000, 24 years ago tomorrow: 

That's another screenshot, this one from Max's website. You can buy this poster there -- signed and dedicated! -- for $355.

Decorating experts and influencers have a long way to go before we're back to including pop-art colors regularly in interior design. Baby steps for now, I guess.

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I have to share this with y'all. At the bottom of the article on coastal grandmother style (admit it -- you thought I was kidding about coastal grandmother style) was a link to an offshoot they called coastal cowgirl. I don't think it took.

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Oh hey, there's an update to my kitchen remodeling adventure: The new countertops are finally on their way! I'll share pics when they're here in a couple of weeks. Also, the twelve-year-old fridge started to go bad, so I replaced it this week. I'm hoping the stove will hang on 'til I have the cash to get an induction model (and new cookware that will work on it, which is another story).

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These moments of colorful blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Happy Earth Day!

Sunday, April 14, 2024

In which I reconsider the hill I said I would die on.

I may have mentioned that I'm Czech on my mother's side. My maternal grandparents came over from the province of Bohemia in the late 1800s and very early 1900s. My grandfather's family settled in southwestern Wisconsin and then moved to the Chicago area; my grandmother's family migrated to Chicago and stayed there.

Mom's family was closer geographically to us, so we spent a lot of holidays with her side of the family. And of course Mom did all the cooking at home. So I have a fair acquaintance with Czech foods -- particularly baked goods. 

Besides the Chicago area, Czech immigrants to this country settled in several other states, including Iowa, Nebraska, and Texas. (The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library is in Cedar Rapids. I've never been, but I should probably visit sometime.) The Texas Czechs apparently came from the province of Moravia, arrived in America through the port of Galveston, settled in west Texas, and about 50 years later, started churning out kolaches for sale. Except these Texas kolaches are not the same as the koláčky I remember from my childhood. Ours were cookies. The Texas variety are more like Danish -- some with the fruit and cheese fillings I remember and some filled with stuff like sausage and jalapeños.

To me, this has always been WRONG. I could stretch my personal definition of koláčky to the bigger fruit buns, but savory ones are right out.

Yesterday at the grocery store, I saw some of the savory ones in the freezer section, and it just caught me at the wrong moment. I posted this on Facebook: 
In the ensuing discussion, during which certain of my friends stood up for the Texas kind, I stumbled across a website called Cook Like Czechs. And that's when I figured out where I'd been going wrong. 

It turns out that there are two Czech pastries with similar names:
  • the kolache -- the Danish-like yeast bun, which in Czech is spelled koláč in the singular and koláče in the plural; and 
  • the koláčky -- the cookies -- of my youth. Here's the thing: koláčky is the plural form; the singular is koláček.
When I read that, a light bulb went off. See, in English, we add "little" before a noun to show that something is a small version of something else. Spanish does the same thing by adding a diminutive suffix: -ito or -ita. With me so far? Okay. Well, in Czech, the diminutive suffix is -ek. So a koláček is a little koláč

I'd never heard the singular form -- they were always koláčky in our family. Mom might have used koláč to mean one cookie, which would have added to the confusion.

Anyway, Petra at Cook Like Czechs lists similar traditional fillings for both kolaches and the cookie version: apricot, peach, cherry, prune, poppyseed (my all-time fave), and cream cheese. Petra uses a sweet yeast dough for her kolaches and a cream cheese dough for her koláčky. My mom used yeast dough for her koláčky but made them square and folded the opposite corners in, like in the photo of the recipe at Cook Like Czechs. I make mine with a cream cheese dough but cut them into circles and put a dot of filling in the middle, like thumbprint cookies. 
Lynne Cantwell | 2015 or so
You have perhaps noted that so far, I haven't mentioned any jalapeños. 

So there is a thing called a klobasnek (in Czech, klobásník). It seems to have been invented by those Czech immigrants in Texas. It uses kolache dough as the wrapping; originally the filling was chopped meat, but over the years it has expanded to include all sorts of savory things, including eggs, cheese, sausage, and yes, hot dogs and jalapeños. Of course, because America, klobasneks became conflated with kolaches -- I guess because they use the same dough? 

Anyway, now "kolache" is the generic term for both the sweet buns and the savory things. Let's call them Tex-Czech, okay? Maybe it will keep me from stroking out when I see them in the grocery store.

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Fun fact: I mentioned above that kolache is the Americanized form of koláče, which is plural. So people who say "kolaches" have pluralized the word twice. Considering there are Americans who routinely call an ATM an "ATM machine", I can't say I'm surprised.

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I learned something else from the Cook Like Czechs website. There's a festive braided bread that's often made at the holidays. We've always called it houska. But this blogger says that's because our family immigrated around the turn of the 20th century. Later on in the Czech lands, the name of this bread changed to vánočka. It's the same thing, just called by a different name. If you go to Czechia now and ask for houska, they'll bring you a braided white roll. Times do change, don't they?

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These moments of Tex-Czech blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Dobrou chut'!