Sunday, July 12, 2020

Two sad stories and an ongoing saga.

Mercury retrograde is over -- it ended early this morning Eastern Daylight Time -- but the chaos lingers on.

Sad story #1: Remember last week, when I told y'all I'd be able to stay on at my day job, working remotely, through the end of this year? Yeah, well, the happy dance we all did was premature. It turns out that Human Resources had a lot of problems with the idea of paying a staff member who wasn't living in a state where we had an office. "Red flags all over the place," was what I was told. A last-ditch effort late this week to salvage the plan fizzled. So my last day at the firm will be Friday, July 24th.

It's probably for the best. I had assumed we would be working from home for most of the rest of the calendar year. But no -- the firm's US offices are opening for Stage 1 of our carefully-thought-out five-stage reopening plan tomorrow. In Stage 1, everyone is expected to work remotely, but if there's an urgent business need, we may be called into the office. There are oodles of rules -- everybody needs to wear a mask, the number of people allowed in the office at one time is cut way back, the cafeteria is closed, and so on. But the bottom line is that the firm could conceivably require me to show up, in person, on short notice, and that would be impossible to do from Santa Fe.

So #EscapeVelocity is back on. More on that in a minute, but first...

Sad story #2: I've been entertaining my Facebook friends this week with the Story of This Chair.

Cute, right? Sometime this spring, I saw it on World Market's website. I wanted it; they wanted $500 for it (and still do); I regretfully turned away. But I used my Google-fu and discovered Target also had it, and for less. Then they ran a sale and an online coupon deal, which made the chair just $250. At that price, it was totally worth buying. So I ordered one. The delivery date was far in the future -- the first week of June -- but that was fine. I wasn't going to need it 'til I moved in July.

Sometime in late May, I began to get emails from Target, pushing back the delivery date. I received the final email on June 12th, saying the chair would arrive June 17th. Well, June 17th came but the chair didn't. So I called Target on the 20th. The customer service person said, "Have you spoken with our Higher-Level Team?" I said I didn't know they had one. So I got the phone number from her and called. This new customer service person gave me a Case Number and assured me I would receive an email shortly. Of course I didn't. So on the 29th, I called again. This time I mentioned that I was moving in July, and I needed the chair to be here by the 13th or I would have to cancel. That rep assured me my chair would arrive in plenty of time and to expect an email within 48 hours. You guessed it: no email.

On July 6th, I called again. This time I said I was pretty sure I was never going to get my chair and to just cancel the order. This nice rep said she would start two inquiries: one for the whereabouts of the chair and one for the cancellation. "Look for an email!" she said.

This time, I did get an email! My chair was to be delivered Thursday, July 9th! What we've surmised is the manufacturer printed the label on the 7th so it would get paid. Target charged my card for the chair on the 8th. And on the chair.

On Friday the 10th, I called Target back to say the chair had never shipped. And the nice rep said his screen showed it had, in fact, shipped, and that FedEx would deliver it on Sunday, July 12th. Whoo hoo!

All day yesterday, I eagerly tracked this shipment -- from suburban Chicago, to the Pennsylvania Turnpike where the driver must have stopped for dinner, to Hagerstown, MD, very early this morning. By 6:30am today, the chair was on a FedEx truck, heading for my place!

You know what's coming, right? It's now 10:30pm, and I don't have my chair. FedEx has marked the delivery as Pending. Now, our leasing office is closed on Sundays, so it's possible the driver got here and couldn't get in the building. But why hasn't the status been updated to show the next delivery attempt? Which, honestly, needs to be tomorrow.

So I called FedEx customer service a little while ago. The nice rep has sent a message to the driver. Stay tuned.

Of course, the reason the chair needs to be here tomorrow is...

The Ongoing Saga: I'm moving, as you know. The container comes on Thursday. The movers are going to load it up for me and make sure it gets sent on its way to New Mexico. The chair isn't going to fit in the back of my car, so it has to go in the container. (So really my drop-dead date for the chair is Wednesday, but I wasn't going to tell Target that.)

As I said last week, I hit the road on the 27th. And as if this whole process hasn't been crazy enough, once I get to New Mexico, I get to self-quarantine for 14 days. Thanks, COVID-19. Good thing Santa Fe has Instacart, right?

So for the next three days, it'll be a little hairy around here while I'm packing my stuff -- and also while working on Tuesday and Wednesday, which I didn't originally expect to be doing. At least I was able to sell the IKEA wardrobe I've used as a closet since we moved here. It was a bear to put together, but it has been perfect for my needs for the past two-plus years. Today, a nice man came in, took it apart, paid me for it, and took it away. Things are looking up!

These moments of hairy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Wash your hands! Wear a mask!

Sunday, July 5, 2020

#EscapeVelocity update.
This post is going to be good news/bad news/good news, more or less.

As alert hearth/myth readers know, I have been counting down the days until I could retire from my day job and leave the Washington, DC, area. After a period of waffling, which I deemed "location research" so it didn't sound quite so bad, I decided at last to relocate to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

And after a further, mostly concurrent period of waffling, I settled on a date for my last day at work: Monday, July 6, 2020. Which is tomorrow.

The update, in short, is this: I'm still moving to Santa Fe, but tomorrow will not be my last day at work. And it's all thanks to COVID-19.

Like a whole lot of other companies, the law firm I work for sent everybody home with laptops in mid-March, as a test of whether our IT system could support the strain -- and then told us to stay there. We've been working from home ever since. This is a radical departure from the firm's historical stance on secretarial work. Our former manager once told me flat-out that legal secretaries would never be allowed to work from home. Well, that was then and this is now: Everything we do, with the exception of running errands, is done electronically. And a lot of the hands-on stuff -- for example, making sure catering is delivered for meetings -- isn't happening right now because our buildings are closed.

So as I said, we all went home. And then I went on my two-month sabbatical, as scheduled, on April 17th. When I "came back to work" on June 17th, we were still working remotely, but a whole bunch of stuff had changed. A new law -- the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act -- allows eligible employers to take a tax credit for keeping employees on their payroll. Our firm decided to take advantage of that. So most secretaries were switched to four-day-per-week work schedules. The few who were already working four days per week were moved to a three-days-per-week schedule. All of us got to keep our full-time pay and health care. (The changes do impact accrual of paid time off, but my PTO accrual was already whacked this year due to the sabbatical.)

Anyway, two things happened when I got back to work: 1) I was put on a three-day-per-week schedule for my last three weeks; and 2) the attorney I've worked for the longest persuaded me to stay on until the end of 2020 (not coincidentally, that's when the CARES Act provisions are set to end). I said I would do it if I could keep working remotely, even from New Mexico, and he said he didn't have a problem with that. It's a sweet setup for me: I get a part-time job at full-time pay, including benefits, and I can let my 401(k) recover for several more months. (Another plus is not having to get a part-time job to pay for Obamacare, as the job market is lousy for nearly everyone right now.)

There have been some nail-biting moments this past week, with more likely to come. While our Human Resources and Finance people have been figuring out how to do tax withholding for the resident of a state where we don't have an office, the "leaving the firm" machinery was still grinding away in the background. I received an email on Thursday from Payroll with a question about my final paycheck on 7/6. I told them I wasn't leaving. Then I forwarded the email to HR. A couple of hours later, I had a new tentative retirement date of 7/31. That gives the firm enough time (I hope!) to work out the rest of the tax withholding bugs so I can stay on 'til the end of the year.

Regardless, the movers will be here for my stuff on 7/16, and on the morning of 7/27 I am hopping in Eli and hitting the road for Santa Fe.

I say all this with some trepidation and a whole lot of gratitude. Nearly three million Americans have tested positive for this virus so far; as of today, 132,000 have died from it, and far more who have "recovered" continue to be sick; and millions have lost their jobs due to the economic shutdown. I realize how lucky I am to be able to keep my job and to retire on my own terms.

So that's the update: the Big Move West is still happening but retirement is delayed. And heads up that I probably won't be posting on Sunday, August 2nd.

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

Sunday, June 28, 2020

If you don't like what I like, that's okay.

tumisu | CC0 | Pixabay

I've come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of people in this world: the kind who know what they like, and the kind that think everyone would like what they like if only they gave it a chance.

This observation came to me after a conversation with friends on Facebook this week. The discussion was prompted by a meme that said: "If you could end Coronavirus by sacrificing one genre of music, what would it be and why country music?" I laughed and nodded, because I don't like country music. And then I shared it.

Some folks ignored, or read right past, the last four words and offered up their own nominees: opera, electronic dance music, dubstep, rap and/or hip hop, head-banger music, and polka all got their moment in the sun. And then somebody stood up for country, and I said I'd shared the meme because I don't like country. And then it was open season on people's taste in music. Mostly mine.

Maybe I asked for it by posting the meme in the first place. But I honestly thought folks would get a chuckle out of it and then scroll on by. Silly me.

To be clear: I like country rock -- the crossover stuff that was popular in the '60s and '70s. I like bluegrass. I tend to like folk music. But I don't like the stuff country radio stations play. Back in the early '80s, I worked in the news department of a country music station, and I could not stand the music. I don't know what it is -- whether it's the Southern accents or the twangin' guitars or the lyrical emphasis on beer and trucks and the good ol' USA -- but it just doesn't do it for me.

Well, a couple of folks took that as a challenge. "Listen to this song! How can you not like it?" Uh, because it's country? "But if you stopped listening in the early '80s, you haven't heard alt-country. Try this!" Okay...and nope. "Now this one, if you don't like it, you must be dead inside." Huh. I guess I'm dead inside.

Why do people do that? I mean, I've been known to inflict Flook on people, but only after they've said they like Irish trad.

No, really, I get it. I do. People fall in love with something and they want to share it. And music is a natural for that, being so tightly entwined with emotion as it is. The best music evokes a strong emotional reaction. We say it speaks to us.

Some of us are primed to hear the message of certain songs -- to feel the feelings the music is trying to evoke. And some of us just aren't. And that's okay.

If you like country music, have at it. More power to you.

And if you don't like Irish trad, that's okay, too.


In case you followed the link above and wondered whatever happened to my adventure with the Smithsonian Boomers Chorus: I enjoyed the experience for what it was, but a lot of my fellow singers had no musical experience and we didn't have anywhere near enough rehearsals for those folks to perfect the music. Next time I'll look for a group with a higher level of musicianship, even if it means having to audition for a spot.

And also the spring session was canceled due to the coronavirus lockdown, just like everything else.


Who's Flook? I'm glad you asked. Here's a taste -- but feel free to skip if it you don't like Irish trad.


So what's going on with that #escapevelocity thing? We're closing in on the final days, aren't we?

We are. And some things are changing. The situation is still kind of fluid so I won't say more right now, but tune in next week for a full report.


This bloggy musical interlude has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep washing those hands and wearing that mask!

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Guerrilla warfare by social media.

There's an iconic photo circulating on social media of President Trump's rally in Tulsa, OK, last night. The photo was taken by Washington Post photographer Jabin Botsford. I'd use the actual photo in this post, but Getty Images is distributing it, and those people would nail me for copyright infringement in a heartbeat. So imagine this: A sea of blue stadium seats like those in the copyright-free photo above, empty except for one. In it sits a man wearing a mask and holding a Trump campaign sign that says, "Make America Great Again." (If imagination isn't doing it for you, you can go here to see the photo. It truly is iconic.)

Alert hearth/myth readers know that I am a liberal. Well, a progressive. Actually, slightly to the left of the Dalai Lama. They also know I avoid talking about politics on my blog. So I will not speculate on what the low turnout (just 6,000 people, by the Tulsa Fire Department's estimate, in an arena with 19,000 seats) may portend for the president's chances for reelection. And I am definitely not going to get into the Trump campaign's excuses for the low turnout, and their dismissal of reports that a bunch of teenagers reserved so many of the free tickets that the campaign was tricked into believing a million people would show up.

Those kids, though. That's worth a blog post.

The New York Times reports it all began on June 11th, with a more-or-less innocuous tweet from the Trump campaign encouraging folks to use their phones -- otherwise known as pocket computers -- to reserve tickets to the rally. Fans of Korean pop music (known as "K-pop stans") began sharing the info on TikTok and encouraging their friends to grab some tickets with the intention of not showing up. Fellow members of Generation Z, or Zoomers, amplified the message on both TikTok and Twitter. Some videos featuring the sign-up information were viewed millions of times. The kids weren't stupid about it, though -- many of the videos were deleted after 24 to 48 hours to keep the Trump campaign from finding out.

They punked their parents, too. A number of adults tweeted after the rally that they were just now finding out their own teen had snagged a ticket or two or ten.

This is not the first time K-pop stans have been credited with -- or vilified over -- guerrilla warfare by social media. Late last month, Dallas police encouraged people who had video of illegal activity related to protests in the city to upload it to the police department's iWatch app. K-pop stans obliged with "fancams," or videos of their favorite performers singing and dancing. That crashed the app. When the police got it back online, the kids modified their tactics -- adding some actual protest footage to the front of the fancams. Thousands of these videos were uploaded before the cops shut down the app.

But back to the Tulsa rally. The kids are claiming victory, saying their efforts ruined President Trump's rally. There's some doubt about whether they affected attendance, as an unlimited number of tickets were available. Less in doubt is whether the prank affected the mood of the Trump campaign. I would hazard a guess the campaign's claim of handing out a million tickets was exaggerated by a factor of 10, at least -- but to have just 6,000 people show up when you were expecting 100,000 would be a gut punch for anybody.

I called this a prank a minute ago. But I think I came up with a better description above: guerrilla warfare. It's in the same spirit as the tactics used by American troops during the Revolutionary War. The Americans didn't have as many men as the British did, but they had learned guerrilla tactics from fighting Native Americans. So they waited in the shadows to pick off British troops one by one, or lured away a small group of British soldiers to a spot where the odds favored the Americans. Military historian Max Boot says the British troops couldn't handle it. "Armies do not like fighting guerrilla wars," he told NPR. "They regarded it as being beneath them, because they don't regard guerrillas as being worthy enemies."

I've heard time and again that we can't count on young people because they don't vote. And it's true that younger Americans don't turn out at the polls the way we older folks do. But that doesn't mean the kids can't be a force to reckon with, and I think we dismiss them at our peril.

These bloggy song-and-dance moments have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Wear a mask! Wash your hands!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Dear Past Me: Shut up.

True confession: I straight-up stole this photo from Google Maps. It's a satellite image of Washington, DC, bounded by 17th Street NW on the left (west), 15th Street NW on the right (east), K Street NW at the top (north), and the White House at the bottom (south). Your cross streets, from the bottom up, are Pennsylvania Avenue NW, H Street NW, I (sometimes written as Eye) Street NW. (Fun fact #1: There's no J Street in DC. Fun fact #2: If you go one block farther west on H Street, you'll come to the building I worked in, back before COVID-19 sent us all home.)

The stretch of 16th Street NW that you can see on this map is the part that's been renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered city crews to paint the slogan on the street after the Trump administration ordered federal forces to clear the peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park (all that green between Pennsylvania Avenue and H Street) with tear gas and flashbang grenades -- all so that President Trump could stroll across the park and hold up a Bible outside St. John's Episcopal Church (on the northeast corner of 16th and H) for a photo op.

You can't see it very well in this photo, but there's more painted on the street at the end of the slogan. It's the DC city symbol -- three stars above two bars -- which was put there by the city, and an additional phrase added by Black Lives Matter themselves: "Defund The Police".

Like a lot of white folks, I was taken aback by the wording. Defund the police? Like, disband them? Surely you don't mean we'd go without police protection at all.

On Facebook, I shared a post of George Takei's, in which he suggested "demilitarize the police" would be a better way to put it. I agreed with him, and I went on to say:

[B]y stepping straight to "defund," telegraphing they're not interested in compromise. They want all police to go.
It's the same issue I had with repurposing the word "privilege." That used to mean the 1%, the people born with silver spoons in their mouths. Now we're told every white person is privileged. I understand now what they mean by using "privilege" in this context, but I didn't to start with - and I was angry, frankly, to be lumped in with the rich and powerful who are controlling all of us.
That was a week ago. In the interim, I've read a number of articles and posts from black folks who have detailed the microaggressions they put up with, day after day, year in and year out.

Now, white folks face microaggressions, too. I certainly have. Random strangers on the street have felt the need to tell me I'm fat. Other people have accused me of being smart, as if that's a bad thing. (Although Americans do view intellectuals with suspicion. And everybody hates a smart woman.)

But here's the thing: I've never lived in fear of my life for being fat and smart. I've never had to worry about a cop pulling me over for a minor infraction and then killing me because of my brainpower -- or my waistline.

So now I understand that after years and years of experiencing these daily microaggressions, and of hearing platitudes from politicians about how things must change, and of watching police kill black folks for no reason and wondering who's next -- I can see how you might not want to couch your demands in acceptable language. You might want to shock white folks. Because then maybe they'll pay attention and actually do something about these injustices.

In short: Past Me, shut up.

These moments of bloggy humility have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Mask up, people!

Saturday, June 6, 2020

All aboard!

Welcome to my home away from home for the next seven hours or so. I am aboard Amtrak's Southwest Chief, traveling home from Santa Fe (where I've spent the past week - yes, in a pandemic, and let's all hope I don't end up regretting this little jaunt in a couple of weeks).

The point of the trip was to find an apartment in Santa Fe, which is where I'll be relocating shortly as part of our #escapevelocity program. More on that pretty soon.

A lot has been happening in the U.S. this week, what with COVID-19 and George Floyd's murder and the subsequent protests across the nation. It's been a little surreal to watch momentous events happening two blocks from my office from two-thirds of the way across the country. I'll have more to say on all of it, probably next week. But right now I'm parked on a train in La Junta, Colorado, waiting for crews to clear a brush fire ahead of so we can be on our way.

A brush fire wouldn't stop a plane, you say? True enough. But travel by train has so many other things going for it that I've decided to create a listicle of the pros - and the cons - to long-distance train journeys. (Also, this is the first time I've written a blog post on my phone, so I wanted to keep things simple.)

The Pros:
  • It's way more comfortable. The airlines have made it their business to maximize their profits by making coach seats ever smaller and legroom ever shorter. They even have the audacity to charge you extra for a seat with a few inches of extra legroom, although the seat itself is no wider than others in steerage. On Amtrak, you get wide, well-padded seats that have footrests built in. You can even recline your seat without worrying about squishing the passenger behind you. In coach!
  • Passengers aren't treated like cattle. One of the most annoying things about air travel is having to undress and unpack in order to get through security. On a get on the train. You find your seat, and by and by, the conductor comes by and scans your ticket. That's it. 
  • If you need to get up and stretch, you have choices. You can go to the cafe car for a snack, or the dining car for a sit-down meal. On cross-country train, the top floor of the cafe car is an observation deck with even more spacious seating and a great view of the landscape. And if nature calls, you have multiple bathrooms from which to choose - and no crew member will scold you for standing outside an occupied restroom.
  • First class is affordable. On a long-haul route, "first class" includes sleeping accommodations. The ticket is more expensive than coach, but when you realize you're wrapping your hotel and meals into the price, it's not so daunting. That's right -- room and board.
I sprang for a roomette on this trip. The roomette accommodates one or two people. It's not a very big compartment, but the seats (two of them, facing each other) are even wider than in coach, and there's a pull-up and fold-out table in between. At night, the table folds away and the seats drop down to make a bunk, while a second bunk folds down from the ceiling. (Some roomettes come with a toilet in them, but this route doesn't have that feature.) Because of the virus, you can have the attendant bring your meals to you. Posh, huh?

There are, however, some drawbacks to train travel in the United States. The Cons:
  • The train takes longer. You can fly across the country a lot quicker than you can get there by train. DC to Chicago is a two-hour flight; Amtrak leaves in the afternoon and arrives the next morning -- about 16 hours. (Driving time is comparable to the train, assuming you have someone to switch with you when you get tired.) 
  • Amtrak doesn't go everywhere in America, nor do its cross-country trains leave more than once a day. That's due to decisions made by Congress in the '50s and early '60s to prioritize auto travel by building out the interstate system. Then in the '70s, the government consolidated all passenger travel under rhe Amtrak banner - but didn't buy or build its own tracks (except for the high-speed Acela service in tbe Northeast corridor). A big part of the reason it takes 16 hours to get from DC to Chicago by train is that your train is guaranteed to spend time just sitting and waiting for freight trains to go by. Why? Because the freight trains own the tracks.
  • Food selection isn't super, especially for those with dietary restrictions. A sleeper car isn't as much of a deal when you have to bring your own food along.
  • Many of the long-haul trains don't have wi-fi. And I've hit a surprising number of dead spots for cell phone service on this trip, too. So don't count on electronic entertainment -- bring a book or something.
Still, if I have the time, I'd rather take the train than fly. It's a much more comfortable, and more humane, experience.

Ah, the brush fire must be out. We're moving again. I'd better wrap this up before we hit another dead spot in cell service...

These moments of clickety-clack blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Amtrak requires masks in their stations and on their trains - don't forget yours!

Sunday, May 31, 2020

An argument for sentient balls of moss.

Neerav Bhatt | CC 2.0 | Flickr

Last weekend, I shared a story on Facebook about a phenomenon called glacier mice. They're balls of moss -- often the only green things on a white expanse of glacier. And as researchers Sophie Gilbert and Tim Bartholomaus from the University of Idaho discovered, they move around. Synchronized, more or less. With no visible connection or means of propulsion. They don't scurry, mind you -- it's very slow movement. But they do move, and they move pretty much in concert with one another. 

I posted NPR's story about this discovery with the caption, "Maybe they're sentient." I knew folks would get a kick out of it. But really -- what if they're sentient?

What we're talking about here is animism, which the Oxford Dictionary online defines this way:

  1. The attribution of a soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena.
  2. The belief in a supernatural power that organizes and animates the material universe.
With our glacier mice, what we're after is the first definition. And as a Pagan, soul is a more Christian term than I'm comfortable with, so let's replace soul with spirit. 

A lot of cultures around the world attribute spirit to a whole host of non-human things. In Animism: Respecting the Living World, author Graham Harvey recounts a conversation from the 1930s between anthropologist Irving Hallowell and an Ojibwe elder in Manitoba. Hallowell asked the older man,
"Are all the stones we see about us here alive?" Hallowell continues, "He reflected a long while and then replied, 'No! But some are."
The question came up, Harvey explains, because in Ojibwe and some other Algonquian languages, the word for rock is treated the same way you'd treat the word for a living person, with plural endings and such that are usually reserved for humans. Why is that? Because some rocks have been observed to move. On their own. With no visible means of propulsion.

That story reminded me that in Czech, there are different plural forms for animate masculine nouns and inanimate masculine nouns. Most animals, if the word for them is masculine, get the inanimate treatment -- but not dogs. Dogs get the animate masculine plural form. I expect anyone who has ever had a canine companion can understand why Czechs would think of them as people. (The word for cat in Czech, in case you're wondering, is a feminine noun, and the language doesn't differentiate between animate and inanimate in either the feminine or the neuter case. Which probably says something unpleasant about ancient Czechs, but I digress.)

Okay, dogs are animate. So are cats, dolphins, crows -- lots of animals. I think we can agree that they exhibit the ability to think, to plan, and to communicate. Just because we can't always understand what they're trying to say to us (an idea that has birthed ten thousand memes), it doesn't mean they're incapable of communicating. And they're probably better at communicating with their own species than they are with us. Right? So animals have agency -- they can act independently and make choices of their own free will.

What about bugs? Are they animate? Of course -- probably more animate than we'd like for them to be. Do they have agency? I think so, within certain parameters. A bee might be programmed to make honey for its queen, but the queen doesn't dictate which flower it visits today. A spider has sufficient free will to pick a lousy place for its web. Ants have a whole social hierarchy -- they send out scouts to look for food sources. And when they find one, they go back to their anthill and communicate the information to their fellow ants. But how do they get the word out? They can't talk.

Or maybe they can, but it's in a language we humans can't understand.

I'm reminded of Tolkien's Ents. They lived a long time and talked very slowly, and their own language was nearly impossible for humans to speak. Granted, Ents are fictional. But it wasn't that long ago that we figured out whales can talk to one another, and we don't understand their language, either (except in Star Trek IV, and even then it took some doing).

In The Wakeful World, philosopher Emma Restall Orr discusses the real-life trees that grow on Earth. She observes that a tree recognizes the resources available to it -- sunlight or shade, water, other trees nearby -- and adapts itself to them. It recognizes the seasons and understands what it is meant to do in each one. Just because we humans don't recognize all that activity as the sort of conscious thought we're used to, it doesn't mean it's not happening. And just because we don't understand the language of trees, it doesn't mean they don't have one.

Maybe rocks have a language of their own, too. Maybe it's so slow and moves so deeply that humans can never perceive it. If so, that's not the rocks' fault -- it's our fault for assuming that any language we can't perceive doesn't exist, and that any mode of thinking that isn't exactly like ours doesn't count.

The more I think about it, the more I disagree with the definition of animism that I quoted at the top of this post. Even changing soul to spirit doesn't fix it. Animism doesn't have anything to do with whether a chunk of God or spirit resides in each human or rock or tree -- or glacial mouse -- but with whether each of these things deserves to be recognized as a sentient being. Or, if that's too big a leap for you, whether each of these things might be a sentient being -- and then, erring on the side of caution, treating them as if they are.

Once you get to that point, environmentalism becomes a whole new ballgame.

These moments of sentient blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Wash your hands! Wear a mask!

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Adventures with yeast.

As you know, ever since mid-March, certain things have been difficult to find at the store. Toilet paper and paper towels are among them, of course; ditto for hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes. Around La Casa Cantwell, I've begun to see TP and paper towels returning to shelves, especially if I go fairly early in the day. (You have to actually go, I'm convinced; if you order it from a delivery service, you'll never get it.) I actually picked up a couple of bottles of no-name hand sanitizer at the grocery store a couple of weeks ago. I brought one inside and left one in the care of Eli, my Kia Niro. Eli lives in an underground garage, so there's zero danger of the bottle spontaneously combusting in sunlight (and Snopes says it won't happen anyway).

But other things have disappeared from store shelves, too. Flour, for instance. And yeast. For a while at the beginning of the stay-home order, 100% whole wheat bread was another thing that was always out of stock. Apparently once everybody stocked up on TP, they decided to spend the next six or seven weeks of their time at home baking bread.

I used to have little envelopes of active dry yeast that I kept in the freezer. Alas, when I checked them about six months ago, they were long past their expiration date, so I threw them out. If only I'd known!

So I could only look at posts on social media about the delicious baked goods my friends had made, and sigh. But then I read an email from our local Great Harvest Bread outpost, saying if you asked, they would sell you some of their yeast. So I stopped in and asked, and they did! Except it didn't come in a little packet like I was used to.

*Fresh* yeast? Whut?
It turns out that real bakeries use fresh yeast. It comes in a big block, I guess, and you lop off however much you need for the number of loaves you're making. I'm told it's the same as the compressed yeast, or cake yeast, that I used to see in stores when I was a kid. I haven't seen it in a long time, though, and I've never baked with it. I always just bought the little packets.

Luckily I have friends in the UK, where grocers are not as squeamish about selling fresh yeast to home bakers, and they told me how to use it. It's mixed in at a different point in the process. Dry yeast is added to the liquids (water or milk, depending), and you have to be persnickety about the temperature of those liquids or you will kill your yeast. (I used to make all my own sandwich bread. I might have killed the yeast a few times.) Fresh yeast, or wet yeast, is added with the dry ingredients, and then you add your liquids, and the liquids don't have to be quite as warm. (Here is more info about liquid temperature rules for different types of yeast.)

The process didn't seem difficult -- I mean, people have been making things with yeast for hundreds of thousands of years, and it didn't always come in little packets -- so last weekend I gave it a whirl. I had a can of poppy seed filling and a powerful need to make a coffee cake. But after I talked up the project to Amy, I realized I'd have to make it gluten free. No worries -- we had measure-for-measure gluten free flour.

What I forgot was that baking with gluten free flour is a science unto itself. The coffee cake rose, but not much. It was very dense. And I also put too much butter in the streusel topping, so it ended up in big glops on top instead of little crumbles. The coffee cake tasted okay, mostly, but it was a far cry from what I had envisioned.

Major poppy seed coffee cake fail. Sadness!
I put the remainder of the yeast back in the fridge. Last night I remembered it was there, and I also remembered a friend mentioning they'd made raised waffles using sourdough starter. So there I was at 12:30 a.m., mixing yeast waffle batter with gluten free flour -- and there I was at 2:00 a.m., stirring it down and putting it in the fridge so I could make waffles this morning.

Which I did. And they were good.

Raised waffles. Yummers!
At this point you're probably expecting a recipe, so here is the one my mother gave me for raised waffles. Looks like she got it from a bag of Gold Medal flour. I made half the recipe (using two eggs instead of three) and got 10 waffles, so we each had three. Also, because I was using the wet yeast, I did it backwards: I mixed the flour, sugar, and salt together, crumbled the yeast on top, and then added the milk and the other stuff. It was fine.

2 cups lukewarm milk
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt

Crumble into mixture 1 cake compressed yeast or 1 package dry yeast. Stir until yeast is dissolved.

Beat in:
3 eggs
1/4 c. soft butter
2 c. flour (The recipe calls for Gold Medal "Kitchen Tested" Enriched Flour. I used Bob's Red Mill GF cup-for-cup to use it up. King Arthur's GF cup-for-cup is better. The recipe also calls for sifting the flour, but I was not interested in sifting flour at midnight.)

Cover, let rise at 85 degrees for about 90 minutes. Stir down, cover, and set in refrigerator overnight or until ready to use.

Stir down again. Pour onto hot waffle iron. Bake until brown and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes.

Fair warning: The recipe claims to make about eight 7" waffles, but my handwritten note says, "Hah! Made about 18 waffles..." Which is why I mixed up only a half batch last night. Thanks for the tip, past me!

These moments of adventurously yeasty blogginess have been provided, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Whether you're cooking or not, wash your hands!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Mask up!

I guess you can tell what's at the top of my mind these days, huh? My last several posts have been about COVID-19.

I know I'm not alone -- the virus has pretty much been on everybody's minds around the world. And as I said last week, this business of staying home is wearing thin. Which reminds me -- I have a couple of updates for you on our adventures in apartment living: Remember when I said if our new downstairs neighbors complained again about the noise we weren't guilty of making, I'd offer to trade with them because the folks above us had a newborn? Well, the joke's on me; the baby belongs to the complainers.  And our new upstairs neighbors? Stomper still stomps. And they've had friends over both days this weekend. I'm not gonna be a Karen and report them, but I'm annoyed. Social distancing isn't a joke, people!

And that brings me to the subject of today's post, which is the claim made by some folks that requiring them to wear masks in public violates their constitutional rights.

I've just discovered that the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia has produced a number of podcasts about this and other challenges to the government's response to COVID-19. (By the way, the National Constitution Center is a nonprofit, not a government agency.) In the first podcast mentioned at the link, they talk about why requirements to wear masks don't fall foul of the Constitution. TL;DR: The Founding Fathers had a lot more experience with epidemics than we do today, and quarantine was a universally recognized way of handling them. Not only do the rules and regulations we've been under lately not violate our constitutional rights, but they're actually helping us to preserve our inalienable right to keep living.

But some people need more persuasion.

As I'm sure you've heard, the fabric masks we're wearing everywhere now aren't designed to keep us from getting sick ourselves, but to keep us from spreading germs we have to others. And as I'm sure you've also heard, COVID-19 spreads most readily for a couple of days before symptoms appear -- assuming they ever do. So for someone to say, "I'm not gonna wear a mask! I feel fine!" is pretty dumb. Just because you're not feeling sick right now, it doesn't mean anything. You could still be a walking disease vector.

But apparently for a lot of folks (or maybe a relative handful of really noisy folks), that kind of altruistic appeal falls on deaf ears.

So what we need is to find some way to get through to them, the way we have on another public health issue: seatbelts.

When I was a kid, we didn't have seatbelts in cars. Zero, zip, nada. Parents routinely let their kids ride on their laps or in the back of the family station wagon or -- horrors! -- in the bed of the family pickup truck. All without wearing any kind of restraints. It's a wonder any of survived.

But even after seatbelts became mandatory equiment in new cars in 1968, there was a lot of resistance to wearing them. My dad used to say he'd seen people survive accidents by being thrown clear of the wreck, which wouldn't have happened if they'd been wearing a seatbelt. As late as 1980, only 11 percent of people were doing it. States then began to mandate seatbelt use and eventually allowed police to stop and ticket drivers who weren't wearing them without observing any other violations.

At last, states were getting drivers' attention. But the decades-old slogan, "Buckle up - it's the law," needed work. It was North Carolina that came up with the keeper in 1993: "Click It or Ticket."

What I'm saying is we need a P.R. campaign for mask wearing, and it needs a catchy slogan. I've seen a couple of suggestions on Facebook over the past few days, but it wasn't until I saw this meme today that I realized we had our keeper.

Got your attention, didn't it? Feel free to share it far and wide. And kudos to the anonymous meme-maker.

These moments of attention-getting blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. And remember: #MaskItOrCasket

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Gotta shop?

So there's still a pandemic on, most states' curves have not yet flattened, and we have neither widespread testing nor reliable treatment protocols nor a vaccine for COVID-19. We're still learning about the effects of the virus on the human body; until last week, we thought kids didn't get it, but then epidemiologists in New York realized there was a new rash of kids dying of an unusual disease that appears to be linked to this coronavirus.

All that, and yet governors around the nation are beginning to reopen the economy in their states. Some are moving more cautiously than others, and in some states customers have yet to flock to stores. But this weekend in Arkansas, this was the checkout line at a TJ Maxx.

Supposedly the store had a sign on the door that masks were required for entrance, but clearly a whole lot of shoppers didn't bother with them.

I've also seen a photo from a restaurant in Castle Rock, Colorado, that violated that state's reopening restrictions by letting people dine in. The restaurant, by all accounts, was packed.

This all happened on the same day as the death toll from COVID-19 in the US topped 78,000. (Mama Google tells me that today's death toll, as I write this post, is 80,562.)

But why? What is behind the need to get out of the house, go to a physical store, paw through physical merchandise touched by many other (possibly unwashed) hands, and exchange droplets with other shoppers who can't be bothered to wear a mask, let alone stand six feet from you at all times?

I know, I know. There are Americans who have been told, and who truly believe, that COVID-19 is a Democratic hoax, or else it's germ warfare that was released deliberately by the Chinese, and anyway we're all going to get it eventually and lots of people recover, so why are we hiding from it?

Besides, there are upwards of 20 million Americans who have filed for unemployment insurance since we all went home in mid-March. A lot of them work in the service industry, but not for an essential service like a grocery store or car repair place. These people would like to see a paycheck again.

And we have a contingent of folks who aren't safe at home for a variety of reasons, including poverty, lack of food, and domestic abuse.

But then there are the folks who just have to shop. That's their hobby -- they get in the car and go to a store. And I believe they've been trained to behave that way.

I used to practice simple living back in the day. I ended up not being very good at it and gave it up. But I was still involved in the movement on 9/11, and so I was shocked when one of the first things out of President George W. Bush's mouth after the attacks was to encourage Americans to go shopping.

He couched it in terms of not letting terrorism win. But I honestly think there was more to it. I think the real aim was to keep the US economy from tanking.

Back in 1992, Bill Clinton beat Bush's father to become president with a campaign whose slogan was famously described by campaign strategist James Carville as, "It's the economy, stupid." It's a truism in American politics that presidents are usually re-elected when the economy is ticking along. in '92, Clinton convinced voters that it wasn't. In 2001, Bush the Younger was in the first year of his first term, but he knew voters would remember 9/11 and whether they'd felt safe, both physically and economically, with him at the helm.

Fast-forward to 2020 and COVID-19. The virus has no political agenda. It does not have the mind of a terrorist. It just does its thing -- whether or not we have a vaccine or a cure, or even a reliable treatment protocol. The safest thing to do -- the thing that will save the most lives -- is for everybody to stay away from everybody else for as long as it takes to develop a vaccine or a cure.

But President Trump is up for re-election this year, and it's still the economy, stupid. So our politicians will keep businesses closed just long enough to make sure the infection rate isn't going to overwhelm hospitals with new COVID-19 patients. Then all good, patriotic Americans will need to go back to work, shopping, and eating out.

Actually, maybe we won't keep things closed that long. Some governors -- and President Trump -- think the economy is more important than the lives of regular Americans. They're reopening even though the curve has yet to flatten. They talk about the death toll as if it's not real people dying.

The phrase that keeps coming back to me is cannon fodder. Back before we housed our front-line troops inside tanks (as we did in the war on Iraq in 2003), armies included a lot of infantry. They were the men who went in first, on foot, and it didn't matter whether they all died because they were a dime a dozen. Oh, we still called them heroes, especially if they didn't survive the battle. They'd given their lives for a noble cause, right?

Two months ago, when we all went home and were told to stay there, we began hailing our medical personnel and other essential workers as heroes. The idea made me squirm. Medical personnel are highly trained; presumably they had an idea of what they were getting into when they took the job. But grocery store cashiers? Uber Eats drivers? Not highly trained. Dime a dozen. Cannon fodder.

Now some retail workers are being told by their bosses they need to come back to work -- and if they don't, they'll be considered no-shows and will lose their unemployment benefits. Of course we could pay people to stay home and stay safe, if people were our priority. But they're not. The economy is our priority. And low-skilled workers are a dime a dozen. More cannon fodder.

The folks working shoulder-to-shoulder in meatpacking plants where the owners routinely flout health laws anyway, the people held in prisons, old folks in nursing homes -- they're all cannon fodder, too.

And those folks shopping at that crowded TJ Maxx? The ones who could not stay home a minute longer? I just don't think they understand how little their lives are worth to the people calling the shots.

These moments of less-than-cheerful blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell, who is planning to stay home 'til we have a vaccine.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Apartment living in a pandemic.

Jacob Riis, Lodgers in a Crowded Bayard Street Tenement |
Public Domain
I have very little sympathy for the people who have been risking their own health and that of their loved ones to yell at their governors to re-open their states.

Besides the obvious reason -- i.e., they're risking their health and that of their loved ones to complain about not being able to hang out with their friends -- I'd hazard a guess that very few of them live in an apartment building.

So you've been cooped up in your house for weeks and weeks, and you feel like the walls closing in? Cry me a river, Toots. Try doing it in a 1,200-square-foot box, with other families in similary-sized boxes all around you.

Our apartment is a decent size, as apartments go -- but split between the girls and me, it's 400 square feet each. And while we live in a nice building in a nice neighborhood, the place has its flaws, not the least of which is that the walls, ceilings, and floors are really thin. Like, really thin.

We knew that when we moved in. But as alert hearth/myth readers may recall, the building we moved out of had turned into a construction zone. It was actually quieter here than it was at the old place.

Yeah, well, now that we've all been stuck inside 24/7 since March 13th, the thin walls are becoming a problem.

We got a call from the leasing office about a week ago. People had recently moved into the apartment right below us and had called to complain. Someone in our apartment was making a rhythmic thumping late at night and disturbing their sleep. Not that kind of rhythmic thumping! Like bouncing a ball, okay? Jeez, people.

Anyway, Amy and I were puzzled. Maybe it was just us walking around? But Kitty told us later that she'd been hearing it, too, and had assumed it was either the people next door to us or above us.

I suggested to the girls that if we heard from the office again, we should offer to trade with our downstairs neighbors, so they could be below the family with the newborn who cried at all hours.

I had thought the new parents were right above us -- but maybe not, because I was still hearing the baby even after we learned this week that the apartment above us was vacant. Now we have new upstairs neighbors. They moved in yesterday, and they've been stomping around up there all day. We are hopeful they'll be quieter once they finish unpacking, but who knows?

Then there are the joys of the package room. One of our amenities is a locked interior room next to the office where everyone's packages are left. The delivery folks log the packages in an electronic system that sends the addressees an email or text with a unique code for each package. You punch the code into a device next to the package room and it unlocks the door so you can retrieve your package. The packages are left on shelves by floor, so you often have to sift through a bunch of them to find the one with your name on it. Plus it's a small room in which social distancing is impossible. I went down there today, wearing a mask, to retrieve two packages for us -- and it's a good thing I had the mask on, because two other residents, both maskless, came in while I was in there to find their own stuff.

But there are bright spots. The people two floors above us have a toddler who likes to drop stuff over the side of their balcony. So far we have found on our balcony a stuffed carrot; a plastic zip tie; a drink straw, one end well chewed; and a cotton swab with both ends painted green. (We gave the carrot back.) Unfortunately, not everything makes it onto our balcony; the courtyard planter below us is decorated with a number of crayons and, at one point, her mother's cellphone. Mommy had to go to the office to retrieve the phone, as the courtyard is locked down due to the pandemic.

The best news? Our lease is up in July.

These moments of crowded blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. I know it's been forever, but keep wearing a mask and keep washing your hands!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Sometimes a craft project works and sometimes it doesn't.

Holy cats. You mean I haven't done a knitting post since August? I'd better rectify that.

Some projects work out the way you think they will, and some don't. So it is with the first project in this batch -- the Sun Glitter Shawl, which I completed last summer. A friend bought the yarn on a trip to Ireland and gave it to me. I carefully blocked the finished shawl so the lacy panels would have a concave curve along the bottom edge, just like the photo on the pattern -- and as soon as I wore it for ten minutes, the curves stretched out. Oh well. (Also, my photo is lousy. Sorry about that.)

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2020

I'm not going to show you the next project I finished because it really didn't work out. The sweater is called the Dacite. It's long-sleeved, with an interestingly-shaped collar that comes all the way up under the chin. The problem is that the designer, bless her heart, didn't respace the knitted-in buttonholes for the larger sizes -- which is to say the neckline is too tight and the collar doesn't lay right. To make things even worse, I tried to do a fancy thing and add pockets, except the sweater is designed to be waist-length and the pockets ended up being girly pockets (i.e., too small to be of any use). In short, the sweater needs an overhaul. I have plenty of yarn left, so now that I am on sabbatical, I'm going to rip back the bottom edging and lengthen the sweater by several inches, then rework the pockets so they're a usable size. I'm also going to sew those knitted buttonholes shut and install snaps. Then I'll post a photo on the blog.

Next up was the Dotted Rays Shawl, designed by Stephen West and knitted with yarn I bought at his shop in Amsterdam last spring.

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2020

Toward the end of February, I started working on a long, shawl-collared vest. The pattern is the Everyday Favorite Vest. It's written somewhat confusingly, but I've done enough sweater-type things by now to figure out what she was after. I finished it today.

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2020

You're supposed to use a decorative hook-and-eye closure, but of course I had a better idea. Since I was knitting it in Silky Wool, which has kind of a rustic vibe, I decided to make ties from some latigo leather lacing I bought years ago. How to attach the ties to the knitted fabric, though?

At first I planned to loop the lacing around the shanks of some buttons I already had, but the shanks were too short. Then I remembered I had used some interesting metal closures with screw backs on a shawl several years ago. I went searching for the manufacturer and learned the closures were called conchos. Now conchos are used in leatherwork. Moreover, if you look for conchos on Etsy, you can find approximately a billion designs in all sorts of sizes -- plus they're about a third of the price I paid for the ones I bought at a yarn shop.

The vest took me longer to knit than normal because I stopped partway through it to make masks. And then when those didn't suit (I'd essentially glued the two pieces of fabric together, so I couldn't breathe through them at all), I used a better mask pattern to make a couple more.

Having powered through all of that, plus the kimono-style jacket I wove... Wait. Did I not post about that here, either? Well! Here is the kimono-style jacket I wove. It took four loom warpings, a fair amount of cursing at my sewing machine, and Fun With Tear-Away Fabric Stabilizer, but I'm happy with the way it turned out.

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2020

Now then. Where was I? Right. Having powered through all that, I picked up a quickie embroidery project and finished that today, as well. This requires some explanation: Sometime last year, as a way to help mark the passage of #escapevelocity time, I bought myself a bunch of trinkets and stuck them in paper bags, one for each week I had left, with a piece of chocolate in each bag. The idea was to give me something to look forward to on Mondays (by the way, it worked really well). Among the things I picked up were oversized safety pins with three little loops on one straight side, one each in gold, silver, and bronze finishes, plus charms to hang from the loops. Once assembled, they would be shawl pins. I made sure I opened the bag containing the card of safety pins fairly early on, but I mixed the charms in with the rest of the trinkets.

Fast-forward to last week and the start of my sabbatical. I have opened all but the bags intended for my three post-sabbatical, pre-retirement Mondays. The silver pin has been completed long since. I have a gold pin, a bronze pin, two gold charms, and two wooden circles that are meant to be cross-stitched. (Looks like they've been discontinued. Sorry if I got you excited.) I remembered having trouble finding bronze charms, but I couldn't remember if I'd meant to use one or both of the earring blanks on the bronze pin. So...I peeked. And in two of the three remaining bags I found one more gold charm...and one more silver charm.

I don't know what the hell I was on.

Anyway, I stitched up the earring blanks today and ordered a bronze charm from Etsy. Here's where we are.

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2020

Anybody want a silver Celtic knot charm? It'll be available to ship in early July.

These moments of crafty blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Practice physical distancing! Keep washing those hands!

Sunday, April 19, 2020

We're all more anxious than we think we are.

A couple of days ago, a friend posted on Facebook about some odd dreams she has had recently. These dreams were of the "I forgot something important" variety. I'm sure you've had similar dreams -- for instance, you showed up for a test and realized you'd never seen any of the material on it, let alone studied it. Or you arrive at work without wearing pants. I used to dream occasionally that I had to deliver a newscast without having written the copy for it.

Anxiety dreams can be caused by a past traumatic experience, or they can be due to stress about a current situation. My friend the dreamer wondered whether she was more anxious than she thought she was. I responded, "We're all more anxious than we think we are."

Gods know we're all under tremendous stress these days. COVID-19 has upended society. Many people had to suddenly begin working from home, while millions of others have lost their jobs entirely. Essential employees, from doctors and nurses to grocery store cashiers and freelance Instacart shoppers, are doing their jobs without sufficient protective equipment and wondering whether they'll be the next to fall ill from a disease for which we have no vaccine and no cure.

As tough as it is for folks to go without gym workouts, parties, and family get-togethers, we don't have enough test kits to determine who has been infected on a wide enough scale to allow society to re-open. And yet there are those pushing to make it happen.

This past week, seemingly from out of nowhere, protestors began showing up at several state capitals, demanding that their governor lift their stay-at-home order. These protestors say the orders violate their constitutional right to peaceably assemble. They're fueled by right-wing media commentators who claim the virus isn't as dangerous as the Centers for Disease Control says it is. In at least one case, protestors were told not to wear masks or gloves because such personal protection would be "counterproductive to the movement."

And President Trump is okay with it.

msavoia |
Americans certainly do have the right to peaceably assemble. Whether it's prudent right now is the question. And the other question that occurs to me -- actually, it occurs to me first -- is who's behind this push to get everyone back to work, even if it's not safe.

The answer? Wealthy conservatives.

Journalists have traced the organizers of these supposedly spontaneous protests to a handful of far-right groups - the same groups that have staged gun-rights rallies and other pwn-the-libs protests over the past three or four years. Organizers of the protest this past week in Lansing, Michigan, have received funding in the past from relatives of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Organizers of the protest in Idaho included the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which has received funding from the Donors Capital Fund, a dark money group tied to the Koch brothers, who also funded the Tea Party movement.

These wealthy conservatives are making it possible for hundreds, even thousands, of Americans to gather at state capitals to harass their governors to open their states again. These protestors -- these Americans -- are being told to show up without masks or gloves because it wouldn't be a good look. They are essentially being used as cannon fodder.

And why? Because shutting down the economy is costing the rich money.

How soulless do you have to be to think it's okay to encourage people to risk their lives so that you can keep your fortune?

I know money and power have been the catalysts for every war in the history of ever. But for some reason, this seems worse. Maybe it's because it won't be just the cannon fodder who will suffer. They'll bring the disease to the rest of us. Keep your eyes open for a spike in new COVID-19 cases in a couple of weeks.

And I'm sorry if this post made you more anxious than you already were.


These moments of scary blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Wash your hands, wear a mask, and don't buy into the 1%'s bullshit.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The things the store carried.

First, thanks very much to everyone who has bought Beach Magic. I hope you enjoy the end to Raney's tale and I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your support. The book got a glowing review from one of Big Al's Pals on Friday, and I'm told another Pal will review it tomorrow.

I'm going to keep the price for all of the Elemental Keys books at 99 cents through at least the end of this month. It's the least I can do for those of us sheltering at home from COVID-19.

Speaking of which: Here's an essay about my trip to the grocery store today. I hope this piece is more successful than our shopping trips these days.


The Things the Store Carried

(With apologies to Tim O'Brien)

I went to the store today. I carried my purse, a habit left over from the time before the virus; my phone, with a debit card and store loyalty card tucked into the pocket on the back; a list of the things we needed; some coupons; and a mask.

Actually, I wore the mask. I made it from a pattern I saw in the newspaper. It is two thicknesses of quilting cotton glued together with a type of iron-on interfacing that's adhesive on both sides. Because of the interfacing, it's stiff and ill-fitting; the channels for the tie ends are too stiff to gather the way they are supposed to. The mask fogs up my glasses when I breathe, so I tuck a tissue into the top of the mask. It helps when I am standing still and admiring my handiwork in the mirror.

I do not stand still in the store, however.

I was not supposed to go to the store today. I was supposed to have my groceries delivered. I booked the slot two weeks ago. Today was the earliest slot I could get for delivery at the time. Once I had grabbed the time slot, I filled up my online cart. But supplies of some things have been erratic, so I checked two nights ago to see what had been deleted from my cart, and discovered my delivery had been canceled.

I hear from friends online that this happens to them, too. Or their shopping service will reschedule their delivery for a few days later. There is no explanation for this, or at least not one that resembles anything like the service we would have received a few weeks ago. Supply lines, they say now. We order what we need but it doesn't come on the truck. We are doing the best we can. We appreciate your understanding in this uncertain time. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Before this uncertain time, I shopped once a week. The store rarely was out of what we needed. Now, however, we have become modern hunter-gatherers. We are making two or three trips a week, going to stores where we rarely shop and making do with unfamiliar brands.

Here are some of the items on my list today: eggs, sour cream, unflavored gelatin for a recipe my younger daughter wants to make, body wash for my older daughter.

Last time I was here, the egg case was barren. Today, the store has eggs -- an Easter miracle. It has sour cream, too. I get the biggest container so we will not have to look for it again soon. It has my daughter's body wash, but not the scent she prefers; she will try yet another store this coming week. There is no unflavored gelatin. My daughter tried a different store yesterday and they did not have any, either.

Today, the store had 100% whole-wheat bread. Last time, there was none, nor was there 100% whole grain bread, but there were many loaves of cinnamon-swirl bread.

Frozen pizzas were sold out today. However, there were plenty of the single-serve entrees that I used to take to work for lunch, back before the virus forced our firm to allow everyone to work from home.

My younger daughter prefers the gluten-free chicken nuggets carried by a particular store. They have been sold out for weeks. Sorry for the inconvenience.

The store I went to today never seems to have toilet paper anymore. Or paper towels. We have enough of both for now, but it worries me.

While searching for the body wash, I realized I had been adjusting the mask constantly, which meant any germs on it, or on my hands, were already on my face. I took off the mask and tossed it in the cart, even though the store was crowded this Easter afternoon. There was an announcement reminding shoppers of the six-foot rule -- a rule that is impossible to maintain anywhere in the store. I got in one of the checkout lines, parking my cart at the mark on the floor. Then someone stopped a clerk with a question. The clerk stood right behind me. Did it help that she was facing away from me? What about the customer with the question, who was not six feet away from me, let alone from the clerk? Were any of them wearing masks? I felt too uncomfortable to turn around to look.

At last I got to the car. I reset my mental self-isolation clock for another two weeks -- about the time my rescheduled grocery order is supposed to arrive. I reminded myself to keep an eye on that virtual cart to make sure the store does not cancel the delivery again. That is all I can do. After all, they have apologized for the inconvenience.

These moments of inconvenient blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell (who, thanks to friends, will be properly masked the next time she has to go to the store).

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Coronavirus crafting: Mask day...after day.

So now that the Centers for Disease Control have finally admitted that homemade masks can help stop the spread of COVID-19 (not because they're any good at filtering the air you're breathing, but because they stop your own droplets at the source), mask making is the new DIY craft. And of course I had to get in on it.

Lots of patterns were floating around the internet even before the CDC released its recommendation. As I understand it, the key in homemade mask design is to find the sweet spot between no filtration protection to speak of and not being able to breathe at all. It appears the middle ground consists of two layers of closely-woven fabric like quilting cotton and an inner, stiffer layer. Shop towels are apparently the gold standard for that inner layer, but interfacing also works.

Today, the Washington Post published a pattern for a fabric mask that was developed by an assistant professor at Parsons School of Design. (Go ahead and click -- it's not behind a paywall.) As I looked over the materials list this morning, I realized I had everything here at home. Moreover, I could go the directions one better -- instead of hemming the outside edge and zigzagging all over the place, I could cut out the pieces with my rotary cutter's pinking blade and use some leftover interfacing that's fusible on both sides. Cut out the pieces, fuse them with the iron, stitch the darts and the elastic casings (the designer calls them tunnels), thread the elastic through the casings and tie the ends -- poof, done. Shouldn't take more than a couple of hours.

Oh haha. If I'd made just one mask, it would have only taken a couple of hours. But I decided to make five. Why? Because that's how many I could make with my spiffy interfacing.

I started early this afternoon. It is now almost 11pm and I am not done yet. Oh, the masks are all sewn -- here's photographic proof. (The mask at top left was my prototype. I realized I'd laid out the fabric the wrong way after I cut it out. Whoops.)

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2020

The problem I'm running into is getting them to stay on. For one thing, I didn't find out 'til I watched the tutorial video that you're supposed to cut the 14" of elastic in half and make loops that go around your ears. So I tried it -- and the elastic loops wouldn't stay put. I think the earpieces of my glasses are getting in the way. Either each piece of elastic is going to have to be longer or I'm going to have to make tie ends that I can tie at the back of my head.

Maybe I'll play with it some more after I'm done posting this.

Things sure have changed, haven't they? As my daughter Amy said the other day, if you'd worn a mask to Target two weeks ago, you'd have been followed around by a cop. Now, other shoppers give you dirty looks if you're not wearing one.

We are living in strange times indeed.

The good news for you guys is that the final version of Beach Magic has been uploaded to Amazon, and we are locked and loaded for release this coming Thursday, April 9th.

Even better news: I've dropped the price to 99 cents. If you already ordered a copy, it's all good -- you'll only be charged 99 cents on Thursday. In fact, every book in the series is now just 99 cents. (And they're all short. So if you buy the first three books now, you should be up to speed by Thursday when the new book comes out.)

And better news yet: The paperback version may go live earlier -- possibly as early as tomorrow. Keep an eye on my Facebook page. I'll announce it there.

These moments of masked blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep your social distance! Wear a mask! Wash your hands!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Book news for your self-isolation.

This will be a short post, although jam-packed with news -- the pleasant kind, I hope. And it's been updated with links to the new book -- see below.

Item: As promised, Book 3 in the Elemental Keys reboot, Gecko Magic, dropped on Thursday. I really like this cover. (Yes, of course there's a joke about the gecko in the book. Did you even have to ask?)

The book is currently priced at $3.99, although I'll be knocking it down to 99 cents here shortly, because...

Item: Beach Magic is going up for pre-order. Yes! At long last, Raney's story will be coming to an end.

Here's the cover. I weighed several options for the sort of mischief Tiger should get into for the cover of this book, and decided at last that she'd be the kind of cat who would be attracted to a Fiery Portal of Doom.

She also doesn't appear to mind getting her paws wet, which is fairly unusual for a cat. But she's unusual in lots of other ways, too.

Gecko Magic ends in Colorado, where there are, of course, no ocean beaches. So given there's a beach on the cover of this book, you might have deduced that it jumps from one location to another. You would be correct. The gang will end up at Raney's beach house in Malibu -- but that's not their final stop. And that's all I'll say about that.

Beach Magic is the final book in the Elemental Keys tetralogy. The list price will be $3.99 and it will be available April 9th. If you pre-order it for your Kindle, it'll automatically download on the release day, which is pretty freaking cool. 

I know you guys have been waiting an extra-long time for this book. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your patience. And I hope you decide the end to Raney's story has been worth waiting for.

These moments of book bloggy excitement have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Hang in there! Wash your hands! Stay home and read!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Isolation tales.

I was originally going to call this post "Quarantine tales," but that's a misnomer. We are not in quarantine here at La Casa Cantwell. Nobody's sick so far. But we'd like to keep it that way, so we're practicing self-isolation.

CongerDesign | Pixabay | CC0
So far, not too bad. Kitty, Amy, and I have been home together for ten days, with only a few trips out into the world, and nobody's snapped yet. But then we've had practice. As Amy observed, who knew that cruise we took in August and September, when the three of us shared a stateroom, would be a dry run for this? Our apartment gives us significantly more room than the stateroom did, and here we have individual bedrooms with doors we can shut. But on the cruise, we had the run of the ship, plus someone cooked every meal for us. So there are pros and cons.

Then again, none of us was trying to work while on the cruise. Amy and I have been working remotely at our respective jobs for the past week. I really, really, really like working remotely. The things that are lacking in a work-from-home setup are the same things that have been driving me crazy at work: phones ringing incessantly; people holding conference calls with their doors open; people forwarding me emails with numerous documents attached and asking me to print the documents. (One day, pre-pandemic, I printed more than 80 documents. Needless to say, I didn't get much else done that day.) Not to mention my new 30-second commute is a real time-saver.

The one drawback is exercise. I am one of those folks who hates exercising as an end in itself; I would rather work walking into my day. But I'm no longer walking from the bus stop to the train and from the train to the office, and I'm not walking half a block to heat up my lunch in the next building these days, either. So I'm going to have to steel myself to take a walk every day, just for the sake of it.

I did get out and take a walk yesterday. The experience was a little disconcerting, especially when I ended up at the drug store. There I was in one aisle, and at the other end was a man with his little daughter. He and I eyed each other warily, judging how to manage staying the recommended six feet from one another if the kid made a break for it. I solved the problem by ducking out of my end of the aisle.

Eventually we'll stop eyeing each other warily, I know. But it's going to be weird in the interim.

Thanks to those who picked up a copy of River Magic this past week!

On Thursday, I made good on my promise to publish book 2 with its new title and cover. It's now called Bog Magic. Here's the new cover:

By the way, I took the photo at the ruins of Tullaherin Church in County Kilkenny, Ireland. I stopped there with a friend in 2016 while on the way to find the Long Cantwell. This is the place I had in mind when I wrote the book -- besides the 10th century ruins, the site also features an ogham stone. No bog next door, though, and no Good Neighbors that we noticed.

The coronavirus reading project continues! Look for book 3, Gecko Magic, to drop this Thursday, March 26th.

These moments of housebound blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay home! And wash your hands!