Sunday, July 14, 2019

The future of housing, maybe.

Alert hearth/myth readers know I'm a big fan of tiny houses and I'd love to own one myself as a retirement place. The problem I keep running into is where to put it. City officials and urban planners see the words "tiny house" and envision a bunch of little boxes as a solution to homelessness. Which is a step up from their initial opinion, which put them in the same class as RVs -- which means they're illegal to live in full-time, and too mobile to be considered housing at all, really. 

You could put a tiny house out in the middle of nowhere, but that makes them impractical for older folks who want to age in place. At some point you'll be too old to drive, and then how are you going to get to town to do your shopping and see the doctor?

But designers keep playing with the concept. And this past week I toured one* that might finally put paid to the notion that tiny houses have no place in urban America. It's called FutureHAUS, and it was developed by students at Virginia Tech University. For the next few weeks, it's on display in Alexandria, Virginia, just down the street from La Casa Cantwell and, not-so-coincidentally, only a few blocks from the future site of Virginia Tech's Innovation Campus.

FutureHAUS Dubai | Flickr
I borrowed the exterior photo from the project's Flickr account, since I forgot to take one when I was there. The rest of these are mine. (If you'd like to see better ones, check out the Flickr link.)

The house is designed as several modules. Here in Alexandria, they literally put up the whole thing in two or three days. But it's no unfinished shack. The interior is a tech gadget lover's dream, from the solar panels on the roof (the house generates more electricity than it can use), to the special Amazon delivery closet just inside the front door for your drone deliveries, to the induction range top that only heats up where you put your magnetic pot. The wall behind the range and sink is a giant monitor that can show anything from a video chat to a TV show to the recipe you're using. 

Induction cooktop and backsplash-sized monitor.
The living room and office are split by a movable wall, so you can adjust the size of each room depending on what you're using them for. 

The bedroom has a drop-down Murphy bed; when it's closed, the bottom of the bed features a full-length mirror that can not only suggest outfits for the day based on the weather and your calendar, but can also tell you where in the closet you can find your choices.

The magic mirror.
And then we have the bathroom. This is a either a technological marvel or a privacy nightmare, depending on how you look at it. 

The toilet raises and lowers (as do the countertops and cabinets all over the house) as a way to encourage aging in place. The sink has three spigots, and has another smart mirror on the wall above it. The bathtub and shower are separate, which is kind of nice. But the tub -- ah, the tub. Not only is there another monitor built into the glass wall between the shower and tub, but you can program either one to have your bath or shower ready at a specific time with the water at a specific temperature -- no waiting! And the tub itself has whirlpool jets. And it's self-cleaning. 

"Self-cleaning?" I said to the student conducting our tour. "I want one of those."

"You can get one right now," he assured me. "It's a Kohler."

"For a mere several thousand dollars, I'm sure," I muttered. And I was right -- I looked it up. They're in the neighborhood of $5000 each.

Which begs the question: How much would one of these pop-up houses cost? Our tour guide said this particular model would retail for about $900,000. But the team is studying ways to bring the price down to as low as $100,000, depending on the features a buyer would be willing to pay for.

Still -- 900 square feet, $900,000. And the design won the Solar Decathlon Middle East 2018 in Dubai. Maybe eventually, city planners will get the message that tiny houses are more than just boxes for the homeless.

* To be clear, at 900 square feet, FutureHAUS is a "small house." Tiny houses are typically 400 square feet or less. I can't find a definitive upper limit for a small house, but I seem to recall it's somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 square feet. By comparison, the average size of a new house built in the US today is 2,600 square feet.

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

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Adventure awaits.

Oh hey -- before I get any further, I should let you know that Treacherous Ground is now available in paperback.

And now, this week's post.


We're wrapping up an extra-long holiday weekend here at hearth/myth; the day job shut down (as much as a law firm ever shuts down) on both Thursday and Friday for the Independence Day holiday. I was off so long that I was losing track of which day of the week it was. Pretty sure today is Sunday, which means I owe y'all a blog post.

I have to tell you that it's been really, really nice, having this string of days off -- which is either a preview of how great it will be when I retire in about a year, or a rotten tease because it's Not. Here. Yet.

To beat back the "rotten tease" part, I'm creating a sort of hybrid calendar/journal. You can buy these as blank books -- they're called planners. And as it turns out, planners are where the paper crafters went after scrapbooking went digital. All the pretty papers, stickers, diecut shapes, and so on work as well in a planner as they do on a scrapbook page (although everything needs to be downsized from 12" x 12" to 1.5 inches square, give or take). A number of companies have created blank journals, with Staples' Arc brand being perhaps the least twee.

My problem with a lot of the preprinted planner stuff is the same problem I had with a bunch of the scrapbooking stuff: It's not me. Anything with a Bible verse on it is a non-starter for this Pagan -- but that's not my only issue. A lot of the offerings are either aimed at young women (pastel narwhals! cute sushi!) or busy mothers (little stickers featuring washing machines, school buses, vacuum cleaners, coffee cups, and for the really bad days, martini glasses and suitcases). Then there are the words in various fonts that are supposed to be encouraging, but are basically nagging you: "Gym," "Laundry," and so on. (I saw one sticker that said, "Do your damn laundry." Even though I'd be the one putting it on the page, if I ran across that in the wrong mood, I'd throw the planner across the room.)

It just seems like all this stuff is aimed at people who are trying to keep up, when here I am, trying to wind down. Oh, I've seen some retirement-related stuff, but most of it looks like it's for a scrapbook page for a retirement party. Or it's meant for what comes after -- the Winnebago, the Adirondack chair, and the joke about what you call the person who's happy on Monday.

So I'm falling back on different images: dream catchers; dragonflies, which symbolize transformation at a mature, permanent level; and this Death Tarot card, which for me encapsulates the true meaning of what's often seen as a scary card: killing off that which has outlived its usefulness in order for new, healthy growth to occur.

Although there's room for fun stuff in my planner, too. I've laid in a supply of llama stickers. And if you're looking for stickers for the days when you just want to throw your computer out the window, here you go.

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

Sunday, June 30, 2019

"That ceiling, though": Treacherous Ground is live.

I wanted you guys to be the first to know: the ebook edition of Treacherous Ground, the second book in the Elemental Keys series, is live on Amazon as of right now. And yes, that's Collum, Raney's favorite gnome, on the cover.

For this book, the action has moved to Ireland. Our Elemental superheroes -- Raney, Collum, Rufus and Gail -- are helping to return some of Collum's dead brother's things to his parents, who live in County Kilkenny. But they're also trying to beat Raney's father, Damien Jones, to... uh, a magical thing. I don't want to give away any big plot points, so let's just say the thing Damien is looking for is not what the team members think it is.

Anyway, Ireland is an amazing place, and I am stoked because I get to tell readers all about the cool stuff I saw when I was there three years ago. Well, not all the cool stuff I saw. That would take more than a blog post, or a book, even. It would certainly take more than a novel, because you've got to work in some kind of plot or else it would be a travelogue.

I did, as it happens, blog about the trip, but that post only highlights one small portion of it. One of the things I left out was my visit to Kilkenny Castle, so in Treacherous Ground, I let Raney and the gang take a tour. And one of the coolest things about the castle -- other than, you know, it's a castle -- is the portrait gallery. Here's Raney's description, but sometimes words don't do a thing justice, so I'm including a photo, too.


Portraits aren’t really my thing, but it turned out the paintings weren’t the main draw. Gail and Rufus were standing in the center of the room, craning their necks to look up. So I did, too – and was gobsmacked again. The whole ceiling – rafters, braces, and walls – was painted with beautiful designs, including Celtic knotwork, and the ends of the cross-beams were capped with gargoyles. It was as if someone had taken the illustrations in an illuminated manuscript and transferred them to the ceiling.

I managed to do the polite thing and give a little attention to all the old Butlers hanging on the walls. That ceiling, though.


Gobsmacked, she was. So was I. And when I was there in 2016, I snapped a photo of the informational sign at the door to the gallery:

If you're ever in Kilkenny, I recommend the castle tour -- as well as a stop at the Kilkenny Design Centre across the street, where you can find lots of Irish souvenirs, including yarn. Not that I would have bought any yarn in Ireland.

Anyway, Treacherous Ground is available now -- and in the nick of time, too, as Camp NaNoWriMo starts again tomorrow and I was planning to draft Book 3 then. I'll get a late start on that, as I still need to format the paperback edition of the second book. I can catch up over Fourth of July weekend, though, right?

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

Sunday, June 23, 2019

When crafting gets political.

b0red | CC0 | Pixabay
Some weeks I'm scraping for a blog post subject, and some weeks I'm spoiled for choice.

Take this week, for example. We're getting close to the release of Treacherous Ground, book 2 in the Elemental Keys series, so I could talk about that again. I could also talk about planning for book 3 (assuming I'd gotten started on it, which I kind of have, but not really).

Or I could talk about an article I read a couple of days ago about the ages at which people begin to experience a performance decline at work. In fact, that's what I intended to write about this week -- but I'll keep the idea in my back pocket for another week or two, because just today, I got a better one.

Alert hearth/myth readers know that among the websites where I'm active, if sporadically, is Ravelry. It's a free website, privately owned, where eight million fiber artists from around the world get together to talk shop. Mostly I'm there to post photos of my completed knitting projects -- partly for the kudos, but mainly so I can keep track of which yarn I used for what so I don't machine wash something that isn't machine washable.

The Ravelry logo, sporting a rainbow flag for Pride Month.
The site includes message boards, and of course people go off-topic. And just like on every social media site, sometimes people start talking politics, and sometimes things get ugly.

Now for those of you who still think knitters and crocheters are all little old ladies who sit in their rocking chairs, sipping tea, while their G-rated work flies off their needles or hooks, let me point you toward the graphic up top. It's a pussy hat. Knitters around the country made thousands of them to protest the election of President Trump. I made several of them myself -- and I found the pattern on Ravelry.

Today Ravelry posted a new policy, effective immediately:
We are banning support of Donald Trump and his administration on Ravelry.
This includes support in the form of forum posts, projects, patterns, profiles, and all other content...  We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy. Support of the Trump administration is undeniably support for white supremacy.
  • You can still participate if you do in fact support the administration, you just can’t talk about it here.
  • We are not endorsing the Democrats nor banning Republicans.
  • We are definitely not banning conservative politics. Hate groups and intolerance are different from other types of political positions.
  • We are not banning people for past support.
  • Do not try to weaponize this policy by entrapping people who do support the Trump administration into voicing their support.
  • Similarly, antagonizing conservative members for their unstated positions is not acceptable.
In their announcement, the moderators at Rav reference a similar policy enacted last October by, an online gaming community. That site posted a list of Trump-related links supporting their decision. If you need anything more, I'd refer you to the most recent coverage of the way this country is treating migrant children at our southern border: separating them from their parents and putting them into #Trumpcamps where the kids aren't even allowed access to soap or toothbrushes. This isn't a political issue anymore. It's a moral issue.

For anyone complaining that these sorts of policies violate the First Amendment, let me take this opportunity to remind them that the First Amendment protects your right to speak freely without being censored or sanctioned by the government. Private enterprises like Ravelry -- and for that matter, Facebook and Twitter -- are free to set any rules they like.

That is, until their rules allow foreign governments to illegally influence our elections. But that's a whole 'nother topic, and anyway I doubt very much Rav has attracted many Russian bots.

Anyway, kudos to Ravelry for their new policy. And let's make sure the migrant camps become known far and wide as #Trumpcamps. I can't take credit for the term, but I'm happy to do my part to popularize it. After all, he loves seeing his name on stuff.

Sorry -- I still don't have a firm release date for Treacherous Ground. Stay tuned.

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

Sunday, June 16, 2019

An Elemental Father's Day.

Annalise Batista | CC0 | Pixabay
In our last exciting post, I promised that this week I'd talk about Treacherous Ground. It's Father's Day here in the US, so I might as well talk about the fathers in the book.

I feel like I haven't said a whole lot about the Elemental Keys series at all, and here we are, nearly ready to shoo the second book out the door. So here's a quick recap.

In Rivers Run we were introduced to the four major characters: Raney Meadows, Collum Barth, Rufus McKay, and Gail Oleander. All of them are half-human and half-magical-Elemental-creature. So Raney is half undine, a Water Elemental; Collum is half gnome, an Earth Elemental; Rufus is half magical salamander, a Fire Elemental; and Gail is half sylph, an Air Elemental. They all meet in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and there they also run into another major character: Damien Jones, a wealthy sociopath who happens to be Raney's father.

Damien would never win a Greatest Dad contest. He had captured Raney's mother and held her prisoner as one of his collection of singular things. When she tried to escape by disappearing into water, he moved her to his home in the desert. But when the monsoons came, someone left a window open and Ondine departed among the raindrops, knowing she was carrying Damien's child and vowing he would never find out.

And then Raney went and blew it by calling him "father" the first time she came face-to-face with him.

The thing is, Damien's been possessed by an ancient evil creature, and this creature intends to destroy the Earth. First it must collect a series of Elemental Keys from where they've been hidden around the world; then it must use them to unlock the door that the Doomsday device is behind. And Raney, Collum, Rufus and Gail are tasked with stopping Damien...while Raney is trying to hide from him.

For all that Raney, as an undine, feels emotions deeply, she doesn't react to her father as a daughter might. She feels him pulling her to him, but she can tell there's no love behind it. And too, he gives off an unmistakable aura of evil. Suffice it to say that he won't be getting a Father's Day card from her, let alone a gift.

There's another father in this saga: Collum's. Part of Niall Barth's job as an Elemental gnome is to guard certain magical places. Right now, he's keeping an eye on one in County Kilkenny, Ireland -- and in decamping for Ireland, Niall left Collum in charge of guard duty in Harpers Ferry. As your typical stoic gnome, Collum is not one to let his feelings show. But Niall's been gone a long time, and Collum has build up plenty of anger and resentment. The Barth family dynamics come to something of a head in Treacherous Ground. Let's just say Niall would be lucky to get a tie from Collum on this Father's Day.

All that, and golems in a bog, too. Treacherous Ground will be a fun ride...

I was originally aiming for publication this coming week, but the schedule has been pushed back slightly. I'm now hoping to get it out the door the following week -- June 26th or so.

I do need to publish it soonish, because I've been planning to write Book 3 during Camp NaNo in July. Time's a-wastin'!

I'll have more info on all that next week.

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

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Journalism isn't going to save us.

Tama66 | CC0 | Pixabay
Brace yourselves: This post is going to be political.

When the movie All the President's Men came out in 1976, I was in college, majoring in journalism. I admit that I came away a bit starry-eyed about the profession I was aiming for.

In the movie, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose work went a long way toward bringing down President Richard Nixon and his corrupt administration. The movie opens with Redford, as Woodward, sitting through a routine court arraignment -- the sort of thing a young reporter might be relegated to by an editor looking to fill a few column-inches with details of local burglaries. Woodward comes to attention, though, when he realizes the prisoners are charged with breaking into the Democratic National Committee's headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. And they have ties to the CIA.

Woodward is teamed up with Bernstein, and together they follow the trail to the highest reaches of government. Everything you know about Watergate -- from the Plumbers to Deep Throat to Nixon's resignation -- all of it began in June 1972 with Woodward paying attention at a nothing arraignment of crooks involved in a third-rate burglary attempt. Two years later, Nixon resigned.

As a journalist, Woodward and Bernstein were, if not my idols, then certainly icons I looked up to. Investigative journalism seemed like a noble profession.

Oh, how times have changed. Here we are in 2019, increasingly aware that our current President is a crook. The Mueller Report has detailed ten counts of obstruction of justice against him, and strongly suggests, without coming right out and saying it, that the House of Representatives ought to begin an impeachment investigation.

But where has the press been? Where's our latter-day Woodward and Bernstein?

As it turns out, a lot of what Special Counsel Bob Mueller detailed in his 400-plus-page report had already been in the news. But as the Washington Post's media columnist, Margaret Sullivan, wrote in a column today, journalism is a different business now. In 1972, we had a very small number of national news outlets doing daily journalism: ABC, NBC, CBS, and a few national newspapers, mainly the Post and the New York Times. Cable news hadn't been invented yet, much less talk radio, podcasts, or blogs. If you watched the national news on television, you watched Harry Reasoner, John Chancellor, or Walter Cronkite. There wasn't anybody else.

Fewer choices made it easier to be a news consumer -- and to trust what you were being told. Now, as Sullivan says, we're subjected to "a polluted firehose blast of information mixed with disinformation." Sure, the TV networks sometimes toed the government-issued news line a little too closely back in the day (as one example, a lot of Americans today don't understand that the people who are coming here from Central America are fleeing political unrest that our foreign policy caused). But nowadays, it's hard to figure out who to believe. Especially when the President routinely calls the news media liars and "enemies of the people." (Not to put too fine a point on it, but dictators including Hitler, Stalin, and Mao have used the same phrase to undercut popular trust in news reporters.)

At the local level, newspapers are going under at an unprecedented rate. More than one in five closed up shop between 2004 and 2018, and those that remain often don't have the resources to cover their localities the way they should be covered. Investigative reporters like Woodward and Bernstein are usually among the first to get the ax.

The reasons for these changes are many; it would take a book, if not several, to detail them in-depth. The point is that journalists aren't going to play the same role in bringing down the current corrupt administration as they did during Watergate. Even impeachment looks dicey. Our best hope for justice is probably the ballot box next year.

Apologies for the political rant. I'll talk about Treacherous Ground next week -- it's politics-free, I promise.

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

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Book marketing 101: Why not to sell to other authors.

I'm a member of a bunch of indie author groups on Facebook, so I see this a lot: An author puts their book on sale and, with dreams of shooting up Amazon's bestseller list dancing in their head, immediately posts about the sale to every author group on Facebook to which they belong.

But a lot of these groups don't allow marketing posts at all. Or they limit the posts to certain days in threads specifically set aside for that purpose. Groups always, always post their rules -- either in a pinned post at the top of the discussion section, or in the About section, or (ideally) both. And still it happens.

I had to spike a buy-my-book post this weekend in a group where I'm an admin. I was in a good mood, so I tagged the author in a new post and explained what had happened to hers. Her reply was along the lines of: "But it's a free book! We can't post those in here, either?"

Well, no. You're still asking people to buy your book. It just so happens that the current price is $0.

Then it occurred to me that maybe folks don't understand why so many author groups ban buy-my-book posts. I'm sure a lot of folks think it's because the ads would clutter up the discussion, so that eventually, actual discussions would be lost. And yes, that's part of it. But the other part is that marketing to your fellow authors is not going to do your career much good.

What every author dreams of is a huge, dedicated fan base, made up of readers who will buy their newest book as soon as it comes out. Right? Well, the way to find these superfans is not to hit up a group of authors. Yes, authors are all readers (or we should be, which is a topic for another day) -- but we read, and write, in all sorts of genres. My books are mostly urban fantasy. Laurie Boris writes mostly literary fiction. Chris James writes sci-fi thrillers. K.S. Brooks writes both thrillers and children's books. Shawn Inmon writes speculative fiction and memoir. Leland Dirks writes contemporary fiction, often co-writing with his dog Angelo. J.D. Mader writes gritty urban thrillers. All of these folks are kickass writers, by the way, and if you haven't read their stuff, you should. But we'd have a tough go of it if, for example, we traded newsletter mailing lists to try to drum up more readers for our own work. Our fandoms might overlap, but not by a lot.

Even if you do make fans out of a bunch of fellow authors, it won't help you much at Amazon beyond that initial sale. Most indie authors are leery of writing a review for another author because the Zon has a habit of deleting such reviews -- especially if they can figure out the authors know one another. (You can still post a review of a pal's book at Goodreads, as far as I know, but getting involved at Goodreads opens another can of worms. I think a lot of authors are still steering clear of it, lest they say something that enrages somebody and cause their books to be showered with one-star reviews.)

And yes, putting your book on sale for free is still selling your book.

All that said, there are Facebook groups for readers looking for their next good book. Those groups would love to have you post there. There are also a host of websites and newsletters dedicated to book marketing; many of them cost money to advertise on, and some don't work as well as they might. The best way to find out what's working right now is to check out indie author groups on Facebook like 20 Books to 50K. Just don't post a buy-your-book ad there.

And as always, I recommend as the best website for indie authors.

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

Sunday, May 26, 2019

A body image myth, debunked.

John Hain | CC0 | Pixabay
For the past several months, I've been working with a dietitian to get my eating back on track. Recently I had a revelation that I want to share with you.

I want to make it clear upfront that I'm not looking for dieting advice. I've been dieting off and on for 50 years. No kidding. At the age of eleven, tired of my brother teasing me about being fat, I went on my first diet. I lost 20 pounds that summer. Of course, later on, it all came back -- and then some.

By the time my kids were tweens, I'd yo-yo-dieted enough times to know that dieting doesn't work. And I told the girls that. Too bad I didn't follow my own advice.

Over five decades, I've counted calories and fat grams; I've done NutriSystem (800 pre-packaged calories a day!); I've done Weight Watchers a whole bunch of times. Almost always, I've lost weight. Often I would lose 30 or 40 or 50 lbs. in less than six months. I am really, really good at losing weight. I've had a lot of practice.

But then I'd plateau forever, and I'd get sick of eating so little with no results. So I'd drop the diet and the weight would come back.

It happened so many times that I ended up hating my metabolism. I'd joke about my Eastern European peasant genes that were so good at getting through my ancestors through famines. But really, I felt like my body was betraying me. I couldn't control it, and I hated it.

So anyway, the dietitian recommended to me this book called The F*ck It Diet: Eating Should Be Easy. The author is Caroline Dooner. It took her a lot less time to get fed up with diet culture, and to conclude that dieting doesn't work, than it took me. But she connected the dots in a way I hadn't thought about before, and it only took her repeating it 20 or 30 times before I finally got it.

Here is what I realized at last: My body hasn't been betraying me when it packs on pounds after I drop the latest diet. My body has been trying to keep me alive.

Dooner cites a World-War-II-era study on starvation. The aim was to learn how to rehabilitate starving people, once the war was over. So they recruited 36 mentally and physically healthy conscientious objectors. At first the men received about 3,200 calories per day -- which was considered normal for men back then. A few months later, the men's diets were cut in half, to about 1,600 calories per day. In those days, 1,600 calories a day was considered semi-starvation; today, we consider 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day to be adequate for people on a diet.

Think about that for a minute.

And then think about what happened to those semi-starved guys: They lost interest in everything except food. Their heart rates slowed down, they were cold all the time, and they had other physical ailments. All of them suffered from depression and anxiety. Their sex drives deserted them. And they experienced body dysmorphia -- in other words, they had wrong ideas about the size and shape of their own bodies and others'. When the experimenters began feeding them again, the guys who got a lot of food -- 5,000 or even 10,000 calories per day -- made the best recoveries. And even then, some of the subjects said they felt hungry for months or years after the experiment was over.

You can extrapolate a lot from this. I mean, just about everybody's been on a diet at some point, which means we've all practiced self-starvation. And a lot of us have yo-yo'd back to where we started, and then some. And most, if not all, of us have believed ourselves to be weak-willed and lazy when it happens -- not to mention judgmental of others.

Expand that to our national preoccupation with what we're eating and what everybody else is eating. And a diet industry that makes more money every time a dieter fails. And a medical establishment that thinks anyone overweight ought to be on a diet. And you might begin to wonder whether our obesity epidemic hasn't been caused by chronic dieting (among other factors, of course).

As for me, I've started by apologizing to my body. Instead of hating it, now I'm grateful to it for keeping me alive. And I'm never going to deliberately starve myself again.

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

Sunday, May 19, 2019

A travel post.

You would think a person who has been gone for two weeks on a European river cruise would come home rested and refreshed. And you might be right, if the person hadn't come home with a sinus infection -- which, to be fair, probably originated far in advance of her departure date, but achieved its full flowering on the trip home.

Several days later, pumped full of antibiotics and a full day's worth of sleep, I'm nearly ready to rejoin the human race. But first: pictures!

Our adventure began in Amsterdam, where we boarded the Monarch Countess and cruised down the Rhine River to Basel, Switzerland. From there we went on to Luzern by bus. I've posted some of these photos on Facebook already, but a couple of them are new. Hopefully I won't bore you.

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
Amsterdam has gotten rid of nearly all of the iconic windmills within the city limits -- but they've left this one so tourists can get a shot of Rembrandt's statue with it.
Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
One of our excursions was to Marksburg Castle, which has stood for 800 years overlooking Braubach, Germany. In olden times, the castle garden flourished partly because the privies were directly overhead. Thank goodness no one's sitting on those thrones these days.

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
Also in Marksburg Castle. I'm sure the instrument on the left is a hurdy-gurdy and the wind instrument standing at the back is a recorder, but I'm stumped on the others. The one on the floor might be a vielle, and one of the two on the right bench could be a rebec. Anyone have a better guess?

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
I really like the moodiness in this photo.

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
It's not just Amsterdam -- a number of cities we visited had old towns crisscrossed with canals. This is in Colmar, Germany.

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
This guy is an Alpine chough. We met at the top of Pilatus, near Luzern, Switzerland.

The trip wasn't all castles and churches -- we got some culture, too. I can heartily recommend a visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, if for no other reason than to see the his "Sunflowers."

On our last night in Luzern, we attended a concert with the Chamber Orchestra of Berlin and Vienna, with solo violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. They played an all-Mozart concert, which was very nice. But you can go here to for a clip of her in a new recording that might be more of a crowd-pleaser.

That's it. Back to real life tomorrow.

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

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Everything you know about haiku is wrong.

I know, I know -- the title is clickbait. I'll get to that in a minute. But first, some news:

  • Rivers Run got a lovely review this week at Big Al's Books and Pals. My favorite part is the reviewer's last line: "However, then she lays down a sentence like this, 'Her mournful rasp sounded like the barest trickle of moisture in a desert creek bed.' And minor imperfections are quite forgiven." Did I really write that? Huh. I guess I'm not half-bad, after all...
  • The first draft of Treacherous Ground, the next book in the Elemental Keys series, is very nearly in the can. I have fewer than 1,400 words to write in order to win Camp NaNoWriMo, and I'm pretty sure I'll wrap up the story line at that point, too. Hoping to do that tonight before I go to bed. We'll see how it goes.
And now, about that haiku thing.

Every year, the Golden Triangle Association in DC runs a haiku contest. The Golden Triangle is the designation for the part of downtown DC that the office for my day job happens to be in, and so every spring I see some of the winning entries posted around town. This year, I posted a photo of one of them on my Facebook timeline -- and several people complained that the poem wasn't really a haiku, because it didn't have the 5-7-5 syllable scheme we were all taught in school: five syllables for the first line, seven for the second, and five for the third.

Turns out we were taught wrong. That format is not what makes a haiku a haiku at all.

Just as fiction writers have National Novel Writing Month, haiku enthusiasts have National Haiku Writing Month, or NaHaiWriMo. And they have covered this very topic on their blog, because it comes up every year. It stems from a misunderstanding about the Japanese language -- which counts sounds, not syllables, when crafting a haiku. For example, as I learned at the link above, English speakers consider the word haiku as having two syllables. For a Japanese speaker, though, the word has three sounds -- ha-i-ku. In fact, most Japanese words have more sounds than we would count syllables. So a five-syllable line in English would have far more words than would a five-sound line in Japanese. 

Moreover, haiku's emphasizes the content of the poem, not simply its form. A proper haiku, or so the article says, includes a kigo -- a word indicating the season in which the poem occurs -- and a kiregi, or cutting word, that divides the poem into two parts. Ideally, one part of the poem will be a juxtaposition of the other, and both parts will focus on concrete images that allow the reader to feel what the poet felt when viewing the event.

Here's the photo I posted on Facebook earlier this week. It doesn't look like a haiku under the rules we were all taught, but with our new understanding of the process, I think it qualifies. And I think blackbird is the kigo and turn is the kiregi. What do you think?

One more bit of housekeeping: I'll be on vacation for the next couple of Sundays. Alert hearth/myth readers know two weeks is an unusually long hiatus for me. I'll try to put up a post on one or another of those days, but I can't promise, as wi-fi access is liable to be spotty.

And now I'm off to put a lid on Treacherous Ground. Wish me luck!

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

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The love of money.

New cars today have a lot more bling than they did when I bought my last car in 2008. Remote door locks were just becoming a thing, and you had to pay extra for high-end stuff like cruise control. Now, it seems, electronic keys and cruise control are pretty much standard.

Another thing that was brand new in 2008 was satellite radio. Back then, I thought it was a crazy idea -- why would anybody pay for radio when they could get it over the air for free? But then the radio business changed and stations seemed to switch formats all the time, and I couldn't find an oldies station that played more than the Beatles and a few other hits I'd heard a million times before. (This phenomenon is worse for people who worked in top-40 radio. Each radio station used to have its own music director -- an actual human who decided what songs to play. Now stations are programmed by consultants who use committees called focus groups. Members of focus groups always give high ratings to songs they recognize, and in the case of oldies, they recognize songs because they got a lot of airplay. But even now, the guy who gave them all that airplay is heartily sick and tired of them. Like retail-workers-at-Christmas-carol-season tired of them.)

Anyway, I had pretty much quit listening to the radio in the car, except for my own CDs. And then I got Eli, who came with a trial subscription to Sirius XM. Once I found the '60s and '70s channels, it was all over. I'm hearing songs I haven't heard in decades -- including this one by the O'Jays from 1974.

For a moment, let's leave aside the irony of hearing a song about the evils of money on a radio station I'm paying to listen to, when I first heard it over the air for free.

It did, however, get me thinking about morality and how things have changed. Wikipedia says what spawned the song was a Bible verse, specifically 1 Timothy 6:10. It's the one about how the love of money is the root of all evil. I've seen a few truncated versions of the verse -- most often, "Money is the root of all evil" (the Monkees had a sampler on the wall of their pad), but also the snarky "Money is the root of all."

But the original text is about the love of money, a.k.a. greed. I'm no biblical scholar, and maybe a Pagan shouldn't be sticking her nose into this at all -- but my understanding has always been that simply having money isn't the problem. Money is neutral -- neither good nor bad. What's problematic is grabbing and hoarding as much money as you can.

I find it interesting that back in the mid-'70s, this song got a lot of airplay. Not long after, though, we started to see wealth, and the pursuit of wealth, put on a pedestal -- and some of the biggest pushers of the idea were megachurch pastors who told their faithful to send money to fund their big church buildings in order to glorify of God. I guess their mansions and fat bank accounts were meant to glorify God, too.

This idea that wealth is okay as long as you're not a miser seems to have fallen by the wayside, though, in this new Gilded Age, where the top 1% of earners in the US make, on average, 26.3% more than the bottom 99% combined. That's higher than the income disparity in the last Gilded Age. In 1928, just before the Great Depression, top earners made 23.9% more than the rest of the work force. What's more, income inequality has risen in every state since 1975. That's right about the time the O'Jays were singing about the dangers of the love of money. What a coincidence, huh?

A certain faction of the American public talks about making America great again. I think going back to those mid-'70s values, when the top 1% of earners made just 8% of total US income (compared to 22% in 2015), would go a long way toward that goal. I'm not saying America was perfect in the '70s. It wasn't -- not by a long shot. But at least the middle class had a decent standard of living back then.

I'm moving right along with the first draft of Treacherous Ground. April has been a busy month, but I'm happy to say that I'm at 40,000 words as of tonight, so I should have no problem making it to 50,000 words by the end of the month. That puts the book on track for publication in mid to late June. As always, I'll let you know how it goes.

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

Sunday, April 14, 2019

On press freedom and Julian Assange.

And why the two are pretty much mutually exclusive. At least in this case.

Gerd Altman | Pixabay

Julian Assange founded WikiLeaks -- a shadowy organization that calls itself a publisher. He has been holed up in Ecuadorian Embassy in London since August 2012, avoiding extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault charges that have since been dropped. As you have probably heard, on Thursday Ecuador withdrew its protection of Assange, allowing the London Metropolitan Police in to arrest him. He faces trial on the bail-jumping charge in London -- but his biggest concern is whether England will extradite him to the United States, where an indictment was unsealed on the day of his arrest, charging him with conspiring with convicted spy Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer.

Ecuador has given a number of reasons for rescinding the sanctuary it extended to Assange for seven years -- among them that he didn't wash often enough and he didn't take care of his cat. (The cat, we are told, was relocated to friends of Assange's months ago.) Perhaps the biggest reason, however, was their claim that Assange continued to direct WikiLeaks' activities from inside the embassy, using a cell phone he wasn't allowed to have.

There has been quite a hue and cry amongst Assange's supporters and others, saying his arrest and potential prosecution in the U.S. will have a chilling effect on press freedom. The New York Times has gone so far as to say that "most of what he does at WikiLeaks is difficult to distinguish in a legally meaningful way from what traditional news organizations, like The New York Times, do every day: seek out and publish information that officials would prefer to be kept secret, including classified national security matters, and take steps to protect the confidentiality of sources." And these same people say that prosecuting Assange for that type of activity could lead, down the road, to charges against any journalist who publishes government secrets -- thereby weakening the press freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment.

But Assange isn't charged with publishing any government secrets. He's been charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion -- in other words, he's accused of helping Manning break into that computer at the Pentagon in March 2010. Manning, who was working as an Army intelligence analyst, had already given WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of classified documents, including information on conditions at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. According to Assange's indictment, Manning was having trouble cracking a password that would have helped her access more documents, and provided the partial password to Assange; Assange later told her in a private message that he was working on it.

It's true, as a number of news outlets have opined, that investigative journalists thrive on leaks of documents and information that they shouldn't otherwise have access to. The classic example is the Pentagon papers, in which Daniel Ellsberg got hold of classified documents indicating the Johnson Administration had ramped up the Vietnam War and lied to the American people about the extent of our involvement there. The New York Times began publishing the papers in 1971, but the Nixon Administration issued an injunction against the paper -- whereupon the Washington Post picked up the baton and began publishing its own series of articles. Nixon sought an injunction against the Post, too, but a D.C. judge -- and quickly thereafter, the Supreme Court -- ruled against the administration. The ruling was hailed as a victory for press freedom. (The 2017 movie The Post tells this story better than I ever could.)

So what's the difference between Julian Assange on one hand, and The New York Times and the Washington Post on the other?

Here's what it comes down to for me: In 1971, the newspapers didn't actively help the whistleblower. Assange did. If the charges against him are true, he actively assisted Manning with attempting to break into a Pentagon computer. He didn't just publish the stuff Manning handed him -- he tried to help her get more. That has nothing to do with the First Amendment. That's not investigative journalism. That's espionage.

WikiLeaks has published secret documents that have blown the lid off of a number of questionable incidents. In some cases, it has been a force for good; in others, its motives have been iffy. But in no case should WikiLeaks be disseminating documents it broke the law to get hold of -- and if it has, then whoever was involved in breaking the law should go to jail.

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

Sunday, March 31, 2019

A forever home.

The concept of home -- specifically, the concept of a forever home -- is intriguing me this week.

SergeyNivens | Deposit Photos

We talk about how home is where the heart is. Going home for the holidays is idealized. When we discuss adopting a pet, we talk about giving them a forever home.

But home is also where you find it, as your adopted pet can tell you. And home may not be where the heart is if the heart was badly hurt there, through abuse or neglect.

Lots of people have become nomads. It's estimated that 40 million Americans move every year at least once. That's 40 percent of us. Some may move for work and some for retirement or other reasons. And certainly, many of them may have an idealized vision of their forever home in their heads -- maybe they lived there once and want to move back, or maybe they believe, or at least would like to think, they're moving there now.

And sometimes you think you've found your forever home, but things change and you find yourself moving on.

Home is sort of a sub-subplot in Rivers Run. Collum Barth is a gnome -- an Earth Elemental -- whose family has lived in (or near) Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, for centuries. He has put down roots there, as an Earth Elemental would. He is the family home, and by extension the region surrounding it.

But he's the only one left. His brother left for college and when he returned, he settled nearby -- but not in the old family home. Collum's parents, too, have moved away (we'll explore their new home in the next book, Treacherous Ground). But Collum identifies with the old place -- the one that straddles our world and the Otherworld.

By contrast, Raney Meadows spent her youth on the run. She's an undine -- a Water Elemental -- and at home in fast-flowing water. Her mother constantly moved them from place to place, sometimes at a moment's notice.  Now Raney is an actress with a beach house in Malibu, but she doesn't talk about it as if it's her dream home. It's a place to hang her hat -- and submerge herself in the soaking tub and the swimming pool. But a forever home? She may not have one.

I'm not sure I have one, either. Unlike Raney, I didn't move around a whole lot as a kid. But unlike Collum, I haven't lived in one place all my life, either. When I was in radio, I moved around a lot -- from Indiana to West Virginia to Tidewater Virginia to the DC area. Then we lived in Denver for a few months. For many years, I thought Colorado would be my forever home; now I'm not so sure. My current candidate is Santa Fe, but it occurred to me last week that I might not stay there forever, either.

And tonight, I learned that whole rural villages are still for sale in Spain. I'd read a few years ago about one village up for sale, and figured that was the end of it -- but no, apparently that one was the vanguard. There are lots more now. And they're cheap. I don't know how difficult it would be to retire there -- the EU has rules about letting Americans move in, after all. But...hmm.

As for Raney and Collum, I'm not sure where their relationship is going. Raney's career is in LA, and I doubt Collum would move there for her. I guess we'll all have to wait and see.

Camp NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow, and I am rested and ready. I punched up the outline this evening and am ready to hit the ground running. I'll let you know how it goes.

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

Sunday, March 24, 2019

RIVERS RUN is live.

I know I promised last week that Rivers Run would be available for purchase this past Thursday -- but Amazon was speedier than I expected. The Kindle version actually dropped Wednesday. Thanks to everyone who has already bought a copy of the book -- you're all my best friends forever. For the rest of you, here's the Amazon US link, and here's the one for Amazon UK. (I'm terrible about remembering to post links for the non-US Amazon stores. Sorry about that.)

I was hoping I would have good news tonight about the paperback edition. Alas, it's still in process. The explanation requires a bit of "inside baseball," so bear with me.

Up until now, I've been using CreateSpace for publishing my paperback editions. But Amazon has decided to shut down CreateSpace and bring all of its indie publishing operations under the KDP banner. I tried the KDP paperback setup for the hard-copy version of the Pipe Woman Chronicles Omnibus (a steal at just $18.99!), but the system was in beta then, and it was almost exactly like publishing via CreateSpace. So I figured getting Rivers Run through it would be a piece of cake.

Oh haha. KDP is using a different cover creation process.

I forget what my favorite CreateSpace cover template was called, but basically you took your cover image from your ebook, created a back cover image, and dropped both images into this template. The template had preset parameters for the spine -- the number of fonts and colors was limited, true, but I was always able to find one that worked, and that I could carry across a whole series.

That template is now gone. KDP has a sort of similar one, where you can drop in your ebook cover art and put the text of the blurb and bio on the back. But this time -- unlike nearly every other time, when I've forgotten to make the back cover image until I was uploading the book to CreateSpace (whoops!) -- I'd actually created the back cover art ahead of time. And I really liked it. I wanted to use it. But the only way I could see to do that was to download one of KDP's cover templates and -- shudder -- make my own spine.

For the paperback edition, of course. I still have an actual spine installed in my back.


I downloaded the template Friday night, threw together the paperback cover image, and uploaded everything. When I woke up this morning, I had an email from KDP saying there was a problem with my cover. Which I could have predicted, as this is the first time I've made a full cover from scratch in, -- oh, since SwanSong, I think, in August 2011.

So I fussed around with it and uploaded it this morning. I'm hoping this version will pass muster. Here it is -- isn't the back gorgeous?

Fingers crossed that KDP accepts it. I tell you what, every day's a new adventure for an indie author.

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

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The run-up to Rivers Run.

I've just a quick post tonight, as I've been working on Rivers Run all day and I'm kind of tuckered out.

The good news is that we're on track for publication this Thursday, as promised. I still have to finish the formatting and write the author's note. But here's the cover, which I finalized today:

And here's the description:

The last thing Raney Meadows needs is more notoriety. She has come east from Los Angeles to escape her life as an actor by getting back to nature. But while hiking the Appalachian Trail, she finds a body in the Shenandoah River -- a drowned kayaker who was neither a kayaker nor a drowning victim -- and the river's goddess tells Raney she has to make it right. Why Raney? Because she's a Water Elemental. Her mother is an undine.
Before long, Raney discovers she's not the only Elemental in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia – Earth, Air, and Fire are here, too. Moreover, these four Elementals have been brought together for a purpose: an ancient evil has awakened, and only by joining all of the Elements together can the earth be saved.
Raney wants to help, but she is torn, because getting involved would put her mother in danger. Her very human father has been looking for his undine – and he may be involved with the ancient evil that aims to destroy the earth.
Once the Kindle version is live, I'll put notices in all the usual places: Facebook, Twitter, and my mailing list. I usually aim to get the paperback out at about the same time as the ebook, but I suspect it will be next weekend before I can get that done. I will let you know.

The other good news is that I signed up today to do Camp NaNoWriMo next month -- during which I'll be writing book 2 of this series, which now has the working title of Treacherous Ground (oooh!). Stay tuned for more on that.

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

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Eli's here.

Among my excuses for not finishing up Rivers Run is that I've been car shopping. Last weekend, I bit the bullet and bought a new car.
Eli's on the left, Fitzy's on the right.
My old car was a bright blue 2008 Honda Fit (a Jazz, for you Europeans). He was named FitzPetey, which means "son of Petey," and yes, therein lies a tale. My all-time favorite car ever was my mother's 1967 Mustang, but for a long time my favorite car I ever owned was the beige Chevy Chevette I bought used when I lived in Huntington, WV. I've always been in the habit of naming my rides -- the car I owned prior to Fitzy was a 1974 Plymouth Fury I dubbed Sherman the Tank -- and when contemplating the Chevette, the name Petey came into my head and stayed. So Petey it was.

I loved that car because it was all the things Sherman was not: It was small and cute and fun to drive; it got pretty good gas mileage for the '80s; and it could carry a four-drawer dresser when I dropped the back seat down. It was, in sum, a perfect car for twentysomething me.

Petey was succeeded by a series of sedate sedans of the Toyota Corolla variety. By 2008, the year my mother died, the kids had gone away to college and I wanted something less sedate. So I scoured the Consumer Reports car issue and discovered they loved the Honda Fit. It was small and cute and fun to drive, especially in a 5-speed; it got terrific gas mileage for not being a hybrid; and thanks to the back seat style, I could move a kid to college without renting an SUV. And I could get one in bright blue. So I test-drove one. It was the most fun I'd had behind the wheel since driving the Chevette. So I bought it and dubbed it FitzPetey.

Eleven years later, Fitzy was still rolling along. And he was still fun to drive. But he was getting to the point where I was pretty sure I would have to sink some money into him. And too, I wasn't crazy about the prospect of driving a ten-plus-year-old car when I retired. So I started thinking about what I'd want to drive as I got older, and researching my options. The first thing I learned was that Consumer Reports was no longer so crazy about the Honda Fit -- which was okay, as I was thinking of going a little bigger anyway. But not too big. I flirted with the idea of buying something with enough towing capacity for a small trailer (not a tiny house!), but they seemed like a huge step up from my little Fit.

Then I started looking at crossover SUVs, which weren't a lot bigger than Fitzy -- but it appeared the manufacturers were all trying to out-muscle each other in body style. (I sat in a Hyundai Kona, which most of the car ratings sites love, and felt like I could be warming up for a stock-car race. I'm sure there's a market for them, but it's not me.)

And then I started looking at hybrids, and that's when I found the Kia Niro. It's bigger than Fitzy, but not by that much. It's got more cargo space than Fitzy, and better gas mileage than Fitzy ever had. Kia is marketing it as a crossover SUV, but it's a lot friendlier-looking than the tough-guy vehicles the other guys are selling. Here, take a look. This one is a 2017, but the front of my car looks the same.
Mr.choppers | Wikimedia Commons | CC 3.0
So I bought it and named it Eli, which only makes sense if you know anything about 1960s singer-songwriters. See, the car model is a Niro, which is pretty close to Laura Nyro, who wrote a bunch of hits in the '60s and '70s before dying of ovarian cancer in 1997. Among the songs she wrote is Eli's Comin', which was a hit for Three Dog Night in 1969. (She also recorded her own version, but this is the one I remember.)

The one thing I may regret about buying this car is that my kids can drive it. Neither can drive a stick shift, so Fitzy was mine, all mine. I believe I'm about to learn the joys of sharing a car again, as Kat drove it last night and appears to be hooked. But I've already made it clear that I have dibs on putting the first scratch on Eli -- and that it won't happen for a long, long time.

I admit, the wait for Rivers Run is getting ridiculous. So I'm committing now to a release date of  Thursday, March 21st -- just a week and a half from now.

That will clear the decks for me to finish writing Book 2 during CampNaNo in April, with publication probably around the solstice in June -- let's call it Thursday, June 20th.

The final two books aren't much more than a glimmer in my eye at this point, but surely I can get the third one out by the fall equinox -- say, Thursday, September 19th, although I may have to push that forward a week. Then the fourth and final book would drop sometime around Yule.

Wish me luck.

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

Sunday, March 3, 2019

As promised: a knitting post.

Knitting, they say, is a great stress reliever. They often say this just before throwing their current work in progress across the room in frustration, but anyway.

Since we last chatted about knitting back in October, I've been flying through projects like the hounds of Hell were after me. I'm not sure why. I think it's partly because I've had weaving on my mind since taking that two-day workshop in November and would like to get the loom out again -- but I had several knitting projects queued up, with patterns and yarn purchased, that I wanted to finish first. Too, the queued projects all use wool yarns, and I'd like to finish them all in time to wear them before the weather gets warm again.

First up: a cardigan. The pattern is called Old Growth and it's in the Tin Can Knits pattern book that I bought in Colorado last summer. I loved the design as soon as I saw it -- the button bands are offset from the center front, which allows for a tree-shaped lace panel on the wider side. That panel, I knew, would not only look awesome, but would keep the boring torso portion of the sweater from being too tedious to knit. I even found buttons with a nubbly surface that looks like tree bark. Here's how it turned out:

Next, I resurrected a shawl project called Sepia. I don't typically have many UFOs (UnFinished Objects) lying around -- I tend to start one project and stick at it 'til it's done. But this one I started and put aside. The pattern calls for increases along the center ridge of the triangle and at either end -- pretty standard stuff -- but in this case, the designer used backwards-loop cast-ons for the increases, which are super easy to do but I'm not nuts about them. To make matters worse, you're supposed to pay attention to the slant of the loop -- so you'd twist the loop one way for right-leaning stitches and the other way for left-leaning stitches.

I ripped out and started over a couple of times, trying different increases, but in the end I gave in and did what the pattern said to do. Mostly. I also gave myself permission to not stress about whether I'd done the correct slant for each cast-on stitch. I'm sure a fair number of the increases are slanting the wrong way, but it doesn't seem to matter much.

My third project was another sweater -- a pullover called the Pavement. You start at the top and knit down in stockinette, in the round, except for garter stitch at the collar, cuffs, and bottom edge. There were short rows in the collar back and for the shirt-tail hem, which kept things interesting. In all, it was a surprisingly quick knit -- partly because I was rushing to finish it and shorted the sleeve length by an inch or two. Ah well. It looks fine with a turtleneck underneath.

I might pull out the garter stitch and lengthen the sleeves someday -- but not right now, because I've moved on to my fourth and final queued project. It's another shawl, called the Level, and it's my third Nancy Whitman pattern -- she designed the Eden Prairie and the High Street shawls that I've enjoyed knitting and wearing. This one has her characteristic blocks of color, but this time they're narrow lines on a plain background, with a lovely wide border.

I'm not very far into it yet, as you can see.

Eventually I'll have three copper-colored stripes and three blue ones. It's been going pretty fast, but the rows get progressively longer. And then I get to knit the border. Let's see, it's the beginning of March...spring will be here in two and a half weeks... Hmm. Well, at least I got the sweaters done in time to wear this winter.

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

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Let there be more light!

I went out adulting today. I bought myself a new lamp for my bedroom and some seriously bright light bulbs.

Why is this a big deal? Thereby hangs a tale... 

The story starts about a year ago, when the kids finally convinced me that we needed to move out of the construction zone that was our former apartment. We toured a bunch of apartment communities -- and when I say "a bunch," I mean nine or ten. The list of potential apartments took some serious research and planning, nearly all of it done by Amy. What made it tougher than your typical apartment search was that we were looking for a three-bedroom place -- or at least a two-bedroom with a den -- so each of us could have a real door we could shut. (In the old place, we'd used Japanese screens to make a bedroom for Kitty out of the dining room.) A second bathroom was also on our wish list, as well as access to public transit and a short commute.

After all that work, after touring all those properties and looking at our preferences...we had zero properties that all three of us liked. We reconsidered our criteria and decided to go back to a couple of places that could work if we worked at it. One of them was this place, which was awesome in nearly every way -- except that the den, which someone would have to sleep in, was an interior room with no window. (Which is why they couldn't call it a bedroom, I suspect. Bedrooms have to have two means of ingress and egress in case of fire.) Other than that, it was a great apartment. I mean, the location is stellar and the kitchen is to die for.

So guess who fell on her sword and said she'd take the den?

I didn't think having no natural light in a bedroom would bug me as much as it does. But I recently realized I've been doing a lot of knitting -- way more than I've been writing. And it's partly because the knitting chair is by the big window in the living room, and my desk is in my bedroom. Once I figured that out, I realized Something Needed to Be Done.

I think you'll agree when I show you these. Here's the before picture, a.k.a. The Cave:

And here's the after, a.k.a. Sunshiny Day:

The extra lamp made a difference, but the real key was the type of lightbulb I put in it. I picked up a pack of GE's Refresh LED bulbs, which are billed as providing energetic daylight. "Recommended for home offices," the package said.

"Sounds good to me," I said.

I expect I would be less thrilled with this "energetic daylight" thing in the lamp next to my bed. But at least now I'm looking forward to sitting at my computer. Who knows? Maybe I'll even get some writing done.

I'll bore y'all with a knitting post next week.

Oh, one piece of housekeeping: Google Plus is being dismantled, and one of the first casualties is the G+ comment plug-in on blogs like mine. So hearth/myth is back to the native Blogger comment system, which has never worked particularly well. Apologies for that.

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

Sunday, February 17, 2019

A distraction-free weekend.

Every Presidents' Day weekend, my daughters attend Katsucon, a massive anime convention across the Potomac River from us in National Harbor, Maryland. (When I say massive, I mean massive. They have 21,000 attendees this year.) Kitty is the assistant head of Video Operations, so my kids get there a day earlier and stay a day longer than the regular attendees.

Which means I've had the apartment to myself since I got home from work Thursday -- or (checks the time) approximately 76 hours. And counting.

Creative Market

Yesterday, Kitty texted me to ask whether I could run something over to her in a few hours, after she got some sleep. Sure, I said. Then she offered to send me a reminder text.

"I think I'll be okay. There's not much here today to distract me," I said.

She LOL'ed and offered to text me earlier, "if you wanna cut the boredom sooner."

And I replied, "I said 'no distractions,' not 'bored'.''

"Same diff," she said.

But it's not the same diff. At work, I sit in a doorless cubicle in a hallway. My phone has twelve active lines. There's always background noise -- conversations, phones ringing. Then to get to work, I take public transit, and there's always background noise there, as well -- announcements over the intercom, other commuters' conversations, trains and buses starting and stopping. It's distracting.

And at home, our schedules are different enough that someone is always coming or going, or listening to music, or sleeping, or having a conversation.

It gets to the point where it's hard to find a minute to think.

This weekend, though, I've had oodles of minutes to think -- and to do other stuff, too. I've made headway on an editing project and spent lots of time knitting. I haven't been bored at all. In fact, it's been very relaxing -- so relaxing that I'm weighing whether to send the girls somewhere for a few more days. If I feel this relaxed after 76 hours, imagine what it would be like to have the place to myself for a whole week...

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

Sunday, February 10, 2019

On blackface.

I cannot tell you how disheartening it has been to be a Virginian this week -- standing by and watching our top elected officials' careers implode.

First it was Governor Ralph Northam. After he made a statement about an abortion bill that abortion opponents deemed too soft, a conservative website got hold of his 1984 medical school yearbook and found, on his page, a photo of two people, one in blackface and the other in a KKK hood. Immediately, folks on both sides of the aisle began calling for Northam, who's a Democrat, to resign.

First Northam apologized for the photo. Then, in a stunning reversal, he said neither of the people in the photo were him and he didn't know why it was on his page. He did, however, wear blackface to dress up as Michael Jackson in his youth. Moreover, he wasn't going to resign.

Then on Wednesday, attorney general Mark Herring, who's also a Democrat, met with members of the General Assembly's black caucus. When the meeting was over, Herring admitted that he too had worn blackface -- at a party in 1980. In a you-can't-make-this-stuff-up twist, before the announcement of his own transgression, Herring had been among those calling for Northam to resign. Now there were calls for his resignation.

Normally in Virginia, if the governor resigns, the lieutenant governor would step up and become governor. But Lt. Gov Justin Fairfax -- a Democrat and the only actual black man of the three -- is now embroiled in his own mess. Two women have accused him of sexual assault. And of course, there are calls on both sides of the aisle for him to resign.

(It's not lost on anyone that if all three men are ousted from their positions, next in line would be the Speaker of the House -- who's a Republican.)

You would think sex assault charges are the more serious. But this is Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy. This is Virginia, where in the late 1950s, under Massive Resistance, the governor ordered public schools in several localities closed rather than submit to court-ordered integration. This is Virginia, where in August 2017 a bunch of white boys brought tiki torches to Charlottesville and one rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing one of them.

This is Virginia, where racial prejudice still runs deep.

So this isn't just about blackface. But for the record: blackface is unacceptable.

Library of Congress | Public Domain
The practice of white folks donning makeup to appear black has been occurring for hundreds of years (you can bet Shakespeare's first Othello was a white guy under the paint). It became especially popular in the United States in the 19th century, during the heyday of the touring minstrel show, in which white performers would don blackface with clownish red lips. Wikipedia says, "Stereotyped blackface characters developed: buffoonish, lazy, superstitious, cowardly, and lascivious characters, who stole, lied pathologically, and mangled the English language. Early blackface minstrels were all male, so cross-dressing white men also played black women who were often portrayed as unappealingly and grotesquely mannish, in the matronly mammy mold, or as highly sexually provocative."

The practice continued well into the 20th century, moving from vaudeville to movies (Al Jolson appeared in blackface in the first-ever "talkie," The Jazz Singer) to radio's Amos 'n' Andy.

African-Americans see blackface as demeaning, and they're right. Blackface implies all blacks are like the caricature -- shiftless, lazy, cowardly buffoons -- when of course they are anything but.

In an interview yesterday with the Washington Post, Northam said he believes there's a reason why this has all come out now -- a higher-purpose-type reason. He intends to stay on and finish the rest of his term, and he's adopting as his mission an effort to make Virginia come to terms with racial equality and white privilege. "There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia," he told the Post.

No kidding.

I wish him the best of luck. It would be great to be able to say someday, without embarrassment, that I live in Virginia.

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