Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Grumpy Cat calendar caper.

Who knew a brain fart would turn out to be so expensive?

Several weeks ago, while my daughters and I were killing time in a card shop after dinner out, Amy stopped in front of a section of Grumpy Cat merchandise and said, "Ooh! There's a Grumpy Cat page-a-day calendar! You could get me one of those for Yule!"

A quick bit of back story, for those of you who have been living under a rock for the past couple of years: Grumpy Cat, whose real-life name is Tardar Sauce, is a sweet little kitty with a permanently cranky expression. Her debut -- a photo with the single-word caption, "NO" -- went viral. It spawned lots more picture memes (many of them with hurtful captions -- I guess some people can't help but be jerks) and got her humans a book contract and a movie deal. Reports that she made $100 million last year are apparently exaggerated, though.

Back to the card store, and my daughter telling me she wanted a Grumpy Cat calendar. I expect I said okay. I mean, I probably did. And then I forgot all about it. I'm old, okay? If it's not written on my to-do list -- or sitting in my email queue at the day job -- I tend to...SQUIRREL!

Come Yule morning, as we finished opening our gifts, Amy said, "Hey, I didn't get a calendar."

"Did you want one?" I asked. And she proceeded to remind me about the Grumpy Cat calendar. "Oh, right," I said faintly. And then I perked up. "Not a problem. I'll just go back to the card store tomorrow and get one."

Of course, they were out.

So was Barnes & Noble. So was Amazon had them -- all from third-party sellers, starting at $39.99 plus $3.99 shipping.

You got it. Scalpers had moved into the Grumpy Cat page-a-day calendar market.

My older daughter, Kat, suggested I try eBay. Lo and behold, somebody there had one for sale. I bid $20 and was immediately outbid. I increased my bid to $23 and moved into the lead. Go me! But the auction had another day to run, and I figured I'd be outbid again before it was over. So I went back to the Zon and bought the $39.99 calendar.

Keep in mind, the list price on this thing is 15 bucks.

You already know what happened, right? I won the auction -- after the one I bought from Amazon had already shipped.

So Amy's got her calendar, and now I have an extra. Anybody want to buy it from me? I hear it's quite the collector's item.

My heartfelt thanks to everybody who bought a copy of the Pipe Woman Chronicles Omnibus while it was on sale for 99 cents last week. And thanks, too, to the hundreds of readers who have already downloaded Seasons of the Fool since it went free on Friday. I hope y'all enjoy. And welcome to hearth/myth!

Seasons of the Fool is still free through Tuesday, December 30th, so if you haven't yet grabbed a copy, you've got time. Not a lot of time, mind you. Better run over to the Zon and get it now, before you forget....

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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Bringing in the Yule.
Happy Yule! Today is the winter solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere -- the shortest day of the year. I thought you might like a glimpse of how Elsie and Thea, those nice older ladies from Seasons of the Fool, celebrate the holidays.

When Elsie heard the car pull up in the driveway, her eyes widened in guilty surprise. Quickly, she stowed what she had been working on under the farthest corner of her loom.

And not a moment too soon. The front door of the cottage sprang open, letting in Thea, a Colorado blue spruce, and a few snowflakes. The taller woman briskly shut the door behind her and began to remove her hat.

"What a lovely tree," Elsie said.

Thea paused in the act of unbuttoning her coat. "I thought you were going to get the decorations out of the closet."

"I was, dear," Elsie said, turning pink. "I was. But I got sidetracked."

"Well," Thea said, softening, "we need the stand, at least."

"Yes, of course!" The plump woman shot of her seat at the loom and bustled through the hallway door. In a moment, Thea could hear her banging around in the closet. She smiled fondly as Elsie returned, triumphant, brandishing the tree stand. "Here it is!"

"Right in front of the window, I think," Thea said. "Don't you, dear?"

"I do." And the two ladies set about wrestling the tree into the stand.

"Oh, it's perfect," Thea said, clapping her gloved hands together, as she stepped back. "Come and see, Else."

"I would if I could get up," said Elsie from the floor. Both ladies chuckled as Thea gave Elsie a hand. "I might be getting too old for this," Elsie said in chagrin as she regained her feet.

"Nonsense," said Thea, and hugged her.

"It is a lovely tree," Elsie said again, leaning her head on Thea's shoulder.

Thea laughed softly. "It would be even lovelier with the lights and decorations, don't you think, dear?"

It was Elsie's turn to laugh. "Be right back," she said, and went to fetch them from the closet.

While she was gone, Thea deftly extricated a tiny box from the inside pocket of her coat and slid it behind a chair. "What got you so distracted, anyway?" she called to Elsie.

"Now, Thea," chided Elsie as she returned with a stack of boxes. "You know better than to ask such questions this close to Yule." She dropped the boxes on the footstool and began opening them: old-fashioned glass balls, hand-crocheted snowflakes, and the lights. Thea took one end of the strand of lights, and together they began to decorate the tree.

At last, it was done. Thea plugged in the lights and stepped back. The ladies leaned against each other, admiring their handiwork. "Happy Yule, Elsie," said Thea.

"Happy Yule, dear," Elsie said, and kissed her.

Baking is another of the ladies' holiday traditions, and kolaches (in Czech, kolačky) are Elsie's specialty. My own mother used to make them with a yeast dough. But Elsie uses a cream cheese dough -- and as it happens, her recipe is the same one I cut out of the Chicago Tribune many years ago.

3 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup flour
1/16 teaspoon nutmeg
Fillings of your choice (see below)
Powdered sugar

Cream together the cream cheese and butter; work in the flour and nutmeg. Shape the dough into a roll about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate for several hours.

When ready to bake the cookies, slice the dough into rounds about 1/4-inch thick and place on a cookie sheet. Spoon a small amount of filling in the center of each slice. You can either fold two opposite edges of each slice together in the center, or leave as is. Bake for 10 minutes at  400 degrees. When slightly cooled, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Makes about three dozen cookies.

For the filling: You may be able to find Solo brand canned filling in the baking aisle of your supermarket. The poppyseed and apricot are my personal favorites. If you can't find them, you could make one or more of these fillings (the cheese filling is excellent), or just use fruit preserves.

Two quick notes: The Pipe Woman Chronicles was featured today at Kindle Books & Tips -- it's just 99 cents at Amazon through Saturday. And from Friday the 26th through Tuesday the 30th, Seasons of the Fool will be free at Amazon. Happy holidays, everyone.

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

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Street team news! And Native nativities.

We're getting ready for Yule here at La Casa Cantwell. The tree is up, the gifts are (mostly) bought, and the cookie baking leviathan is cresting the hill and picking up steam on the downhill run. (Which is to say that I made three batches of cookies this weekend.)

But I've also taken a few minutes to get the Woo-Woo Team up and running. I've set up a Facebook group, which you can join by clicking here. I've got the group permissions set to "closed", which means that you'll be able to see that it exists, but your friends won't be able to see what we're posting unless they join. (Muahaha....) Ideally, my team members will read my books and post reviews of them. But really, I'm thinking of the group as just one more tool to help you guys find out about my newest work. And team members will get perks now and then. And maybe we'll create a little community along the way. It's been known to happen.

If you've got a blog, feel free to grab the team badge, too. Hope you'll join us!

I was poking around on teh intarwebz the other day (probably in lieu of something I should have been doing instead -- the circumstances are a little hazy now) and ran across some photos of Native American nativity sets.

Now I know you guys realize that Native Americans don't all live in tipis and aren't all godless heathens. But apparently a lot of people don't know that. And folks are sometimes surprised to learn that many Native Americans are Christian, even if they also honor the spirits that are important to their tribe.

The Native nativities come out of the tradition of the storyteller figurine, which Pueblo artists were making as early as the 1870s. By the early 1960s, Cochiti potters including Helen Cordero were making "singing ladies" or "singing mothers": a woman with her mouth open in song, as children clung to her. Cordero was commissioned in 1964 to make a male figure in a similar pose. She called it a storyteller. Artists from other tribes took the idea and ran with it. Today, you can find storyteller figurines just about anywhere that sells Native American-style pottery; in fact, I have one that I hang on the tree every year.

Anyway, given that Christianity is as widespread among Native Americans as it is among the general population, it's not surprising that potters make nativity sets. And some of them go for big money. The Field Museum in Chicago is selling one on its website right now for $585.

But it's not just the price tags that struck me about these nativity sets. It's that all the major figures have their mouths open. They're all singing. They're all telling the story of Jesus' birth.

I bought my storyteller ornament because of the obvious-to-me connection -- I'm a mother and I tell stories. But now that I've seen these nativity sets, I wonder whether it's supposed to be Mary with the baby Jesus. And here I am, a Pagan, putting it on my Yule tree. Ah well -- it doesn't matter. There are many, many routes to Spirit, after all, and plenty for all of us to sing about.

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

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Knitting silliness, or: why I don't have an Etsy shop.

It's my birthday, so I'll talk about knitting if I want to.

Neither the Lady Morgana nor this shawl will be available on Etsy any time soon.
I was poking around a yarn shop the other day when I overheard a conversation that I could relate to. Another customer was chatting with one of the clerks about how, when she wears something she's knitted for herself, people will not only compliment her, but they often want to know whether she ever makes things for other people. You know, for money.

The same thing has happened to me. In fact, one of my friends has suggested more than once that I start an Etsy shop for my knitting.

To be clear: I don't have an Etsy shop, nor do I ever plan to start one. It's not because I have anything against Etsy; I don't. But in my case, I don't see the cons outweighing the pros.

The biggest issue is cost. You can buy inexpensive yarn at a craft store, but I learned pretty quickly that stuff you make with cheap yarn Nowadays, I buy yarn at local yarn shops, and at shows like Maryland Sheep and Wool. I don't typically go overboard and buy really expensive yarn (except for that qiviut blend I bought in Alaska -- but hey, I was in Alaska!), but even nice sock yarn can cost $20 per skein. And shawls, for example, take two skeins or more. For a women's sweater, you can easily drop more than $100 on a good wool yarn. And that's just the yarn -- it doesn't count needles or buttons or other supplies. Or my time. A sweater can take 40 hours or more to make. Let's say I'm charging $8/hour, which would be crazy cheap. But even at eight bucks an hour, that's $320. Would you pay $420 for a sweater? I didn't think so.

And knitting-to-order would suck all the fun out of it. Early in my knitting journey, I read a book about the women who knitted the first Fair Isle sweaters. They were turning out one of those beautiful sweaters a week. One a week! With fine yarn on skinny needles! That's a miserable production schedule. Just thinking about it makes my hands hurt.

Finally, I would lose control of the process. As it is now, I pick the patterns and the yarn colors that appeal to me. But if I took orders, other people would be picking that stuff. And in the past, whenever I have offered to make something for someone, they usually say they want it in black. Let me tell you something: I have knitted with black yarn. It's boring. It can also be frustrating -- the stitches are difficult to see if I'm knitting in low light. I swear that the next time someone asks me to knit something for them in black, I am going to drag that person into a yarn store and force them to pick a different color. It's not like they don't make yarn in every freaking color of the rainbow.

So yeah. No Etsy shop for me. I make more money writing novels than I ever would at knitting -- and the raw materials are significantly cheaper.

A couple of bits of business before I close for this week:
  • As alert hearth/myth readers know, Seasons of the Fool's release date is this coming Tuesday, December 9th. The offer I posted last week still stands: I'll send you a copy of the book now, plus gift you a Kindle copy of the book when it's released, plus send you a signed copy of the paperback, if you'll promise to post a review of it when you're done. I've had some people take me up on the offer already -- thank you! :) 
  • The street team is still in development. Holiday prep, family stuff, and my birthday all sucked up my time this week. Sorry. But the good news is that you still have time to let me know if you want to be in on the ground floor. I did come up with a name for it, though: Lynne's Woo-Woo Team. What do you think? I guess we'll need a secret handshake or a decoder ring or something. You guys work on that and get back to me.
  • Oh, right -- Winter Tales is out! It's an anthology brought to you by the Five59 Publishing, the same folks who do the 13 Bites books. This new collection contains stories centered around the winter holidays, and it includes two short stories by Yours Truly. Hope you like 'em.
These moments of entrepreneurial blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.