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!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Reading options for your coronavirus cabin fever.

What a difference a couple of weeks makes. When I blogged about Mercury retrograde and the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 two weeks ago, the situation was a lot more uncertain. Now, health officials are telling people to stay home. Schools are closed, professional sports leagues have suspended their seasons, and lots of entertainment events have been either postponed or canceled outright. Social distancing is one new buzzword, and flattening the curve is another. The idea is to keep everybody from being sick at the same time, because too many cases requiring hospitalization would overwhelm our healthcare system and lead to a situation like Italy's, where they're in danger of running out of intensive care beds. The country reported 368 new deaths from the virus today.

As I type this, the Centers for Disease Control has recommended canceling gatherings of 50 or more people (not counting schools and businesses, inexplicably) for the next two weeks.

This is a serious situation. But of course there are opportunists out there like this clown: He and his brother cleaned out the stocks of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes from the shelves of every store in several counties, and then sold the stuff online at a stiff markup. Ah, capitalism. But now he's being investigated for price gouging. And he has donated all the stock he couldn't sell (because Amazon and eBay cracked down) -- including nearly 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer -- to churches in Tennessee and Kentucky.

We at hearth/myth would never stoop to that sort of crass commercialism. But we sympathize with those who will be stuck at home with very little to do for next several weeks, and so I have discounted the price of the Kindle version of the Pipe Woman Chronicles Omnibus to just 99 cents starting tomorrow through the end of the month. That's about 20 cents per book. Even if you've read them all, maybe it's time for a re-read?

In addition, I'm rebooting the Elemental Keys series with new covers and titles. The book that used to be called Rivers Run is now entitled River Magic. It was released this week and it's just $2.99. Isn't the new cover spiffy?

The rest of the series is getting similar cover treatment, and the new versions will be coming out directly. And when I say directly, I mean directly. Book 2, which used to be Treacherous Ground but is now Bog Magic, will be out this week. Book 3, formerly Molten Trail and now Gecko Magic, follows next week. And Book 4, which nobody's read except my editor and me, will be out April 9th.

I may do a preorder for the final book. If so, I'll let you know.

So now you're all set with reading material for the next few weeks, right? And I'll be busy getting the new versions of the Elemental Keys books ready to go. We'll get through this together.

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

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Ada Lovelace, countess and calculating woman.

I am apparently five years behind the rest of the world in learning about the world's first computer programmer. The bicentennial of the birth of the Honourable Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, was celebrated in 2015 -- but I'd never heard much about her until tonight, when I attended a performance of Ada and the Engine by Lauren Gunderson. 

On the off-chance you'd never heard of her either, I thought Lovelace would make a good subject for a post on this International Women's Day.

By Emgravey - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Ada was the daughter of Lord Byron, Romantic poet and notorious rake. Her parents split when Ada was five weeks old, and her mother raised her, insisting that she be educated in serious subjects like mathematics, in an effort to keep her from developing any of her father's defects of character.

In 1833, seventeen-year-old Ada was introduced by one of her tutors to Charles Babbage. At the time, Babbage was developing a difference engine -- a machine designed to take the drudgery out of some mathematical calculations. Here, Gunderson's play takes some liberties; the playwright suggests the story of Ada and Babbage is one of unrequited love as well as mutual admiration. A lot of their correspondence survives, and apparently there's nothing in any of the letters they exchanged that indicates they were anything more than friends with a mutual love of higher math.

Babbage's difference engine was never built; the British government pulled its funding when the project never progressed to more than a model. Babbage was bitter about the decision, but eventually he came up with an idea for an even grander machine: an analytical engine, to be programmed by punch cards, the same way rug weavers programmed their looms. He delivered a paper on this marvelous device in Turin in 1840, and it was published -- in Frence. By then, Ada had married William King, the first Earl of Lovelace, and borne him three children. She offered to translate the paper from French into English, and add some explanatory notes of her own. Her notes ran three times as long as his paper, and contained what is considered to be the first computer program. 

The whole thing was set to be published -- but then Babbage insisted on including an introduction he had written anonymously. The introduction criticized the British government for pulling the funding on his difference engine. Ada refused, realizing the public would blame her for it -- and she won. The work was published without the introduction.

At that point, Ada offered to oversee the construction of their grand project. Her proposal would have put her in charge, with Babbage as chief technical officer. At first he turned her down flat. But then he came around.

Sadly, the analytical engine was never built, either. Ada developed cancer (Wikipedia says it was uterine cancer, a 2015 article in Wired says it was cervical cancer) and died in 1852 at the age of 36 -- the same age at which her father died. She'd had a troubled relationship with her mother and requested that she be buried alongside her father in Nottingham, England. And she made Babbage the executor of her will.

While Babbage and Ada were never lovers, requited or un-, their relationship was a boon to the development of computers. Happy International Women's Day, Ada, and thanks for your vision.

These moments of zero-and-one blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Beware of planets moving backward.

I'm sure you've heard about the coronavirus that has migrated from a market in Wuhan, China, around the world in just a couple of months. According to the World Health Organization, if you're infected with COVID-19, your most likely symptoms will be fever, tiredness, and a dry cough. Some people with the virus also have a runny nose and maybe diarrhea. Some get no symptoms at all. But 1 in 6 people -- often the elderly or people with other medical issues -- will develop difficulty breathing, and about 2% of those who are infected die. That's worse than the death rate from the flu. Only about one-tenth of a percent of Americans who come down with the flu die each year.

The WHO says it's believed COVID-19 spreads not through the air, but from contact with respiratory droplets from the cough or sneeze of someone who's infected. But because the virus has a long incubation period, and because at least some folks who have it might never have any symptoms, just staying clear of someone who's coughing or sneezing isn't a sure cure for staying healthy. First and foremost, the WHO says, wash your hands. And keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth.

But of course rumors are rampant in any developing situation (and the current administration in the US isn't helping, but I digress). Even though the virus doesn't spread by air, sales of masks have gone through the roof. And China's reports on the progress of fighting the disease at the source of the outbreak have been compared to propaganda.

Enough Chinese workers are sick that it's impacting the country's manufacturing sector -- and that's impacting our stock market. At market close on Friday, stocks were down more than 10% from their peak. Wall Street gurus call that a "correction." If they continue the slide to 20% of their peak, it's then called a "bear market." A "crash" is a one-time event -- the current situation doesn't qualify. And it's way too soon to know whether this downturn will result in a recession, let alone a depression. Still, it's tough to watch your retirement account lose value, particularly when you're getting close to your target date.

Stocks tanking...a mystery illness ramping up...a big presidential election coming up... Why, it's enough to make you wonder whether the world's gone mad.

It hasn't. Yet. But it didn't surprise me when I realized all this was coming to a head during Mercury retrograde.

Because of the way other planets' orbits appear to us on Earth, it sometimes looks like a planet is moving backward in the sky. Mecury has the shortest revolution around the sun, so Earth passes it several times a year. Because of that, we have several Mercury retrograde periods every year. The current one started February 17th and will end March 10th, give or take a day for your local time zone.

Mercury is the Roman god of travel, commerce, and communication, among other things. And as you'd expect, the lore says all of those things can be affected during a retrograde period. Communications, both personal and business, can be problematic. Some folks have trouble making decisions -- or making good decisions -- during these times. It's common advice to avoid signing any contracts or while Mercury is retrograde.

Of course, miscommunications can happen any time, and some people don't need the stars' help to make bad decisions. And lots of folks will simply laugh at the idea that the motion of the planets could have anything to do with what happens to humans on Earth.

I hope they're right. Because we have two more Mercury retrogrades coming up in 2020, and the last one will start October 14 and end November 3 -- also known as election day.

These cheerful moments of star-crossed blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. For the love of the gods, people, wash your hands!

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Hometown tourist - with history.

If I ever had a yen to write historical fiction, I'd never need to leave Alexandria. This city is steeped in history.

It starts well before the colonial period, with Native Americans who lived here as long as 13,200 years ago. Someone even found a Clovis spear point on a riverside bluff near the southern edge of the city -- during an archaeological dig for a different purpose: to find and mark the locations of the graves of free African-Americans who were buried at the site around the time of the Civil War.

Anyway, the city of Alexandria was founded in 1749. It's named for John Alexander, a Scotsman who owned much of the land on which the oldest part of the city was built. George Washington had a townhouse in what's now Old Town. He took his meals at Gadsby's Tavern around the corner, and had a pew at Christ Church. His townhouse is gone, but there's a marker where it used to be.

Robert E. Lee, who commanded the Confederate Army in the Civil War, grew up in Alexandria. His boyhood home in Old Town was on the market for quite some time, but it's not for sale now.

And speaking of the Civil War, the city has preserved one of the forts built in the mid 1800s as a defensive perimeter for Washington, DC. Fort Ward now houses a museum, an outdoor amphitheater, and picnic areas. My kids attended Girl Scout day camp there. I've driven through it lots of times, but I'd never gone off the road until today.

The park preserves a lot of the fort's military fortifications. A majority of the defensive earthworks are still visible. Here's one of the ditches.

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2020
And the Northwest Bastion has been restored to its original condition. The outer walls are impressive.

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2020

The white stuff you see on top of the bank are cannon emplacements. Here's what it looks like from inside.

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2020

Note the "NO SLEDDING" signs. The city tries to keep people off the embankments to keep them from eroding, but of course it's a losing battle. I saw kids climbing all over them when I was there today.

Those embankments reminded me of the other earthworks I've seen, paticularly the ones built by  Hopewell culture in Ohio. The ones at Fort Ward weren't meant to be ceremonial, of course, and they were never used as burial mounds. It just struck me how humans have been heaping up earth for various purposes for millennia.
Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2020

After the war, and for the next 100 years, the land Fort Ward was built on became an African-American neighborhood known as The Fort. A lot of the folks who lived there worked at the Episcopal seminary and school nearby. They had their own schoolhouse and Baptist church. The church cemetery is still at Fort Ward, as well as the remnants of a family cemetery, but other physical reminders of that time are gone. The community was torn down and all who lived there were displaced when the city turned the land into a park in the 1960s -- a troubling history of a different sort of war.

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

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Politics as spectator sport.

Does it seem to you like this presidential campaign has been going on forever? It does to me. The first debate among the Democratic presidential candidates was in June. It was a two-night event because they couldn't cram all of the 20 candidates who qualified onto the stage at once. Remember that? Tons of candidates have already dropped out -- and we're just now, finally, getting into primary season.

As usual, the media are treating the campaign like a horse race. Pundits quote the latest polls and project a winner, never mind that the general election is almost nine months away. And the talking heads pontificate endlessly on which candidate is most electable, never mind that the most reliable indicator of electability is winning the election.

It's almost like the candidates' platforms don't matter. The players are warming up and the bookies have set the odds. Place your bets, people! And may the best horse -- uh, candidate -- win!

marjan4782 | Deposit Photos

I'm nowhere near the first person to notice the way we treat politics like a spectator sport in this country. But there's a political scientist at Tufts University named Eitan Hersh who maintains a lot of us treat it like a hobby. And he wrote a book about it. It's called Politics is for Power, and it got him an interview on NPR's Hidden Brain this past week.

Hersh says a lot of us watch news shows and "news" shows on TV not just to be informed, but also to be entertained. The line has blurred between politicians and celebrities -- helped along by our current celebrity president, of course, but it's been blurring for a long time. President Reagan was an actor before he moved into the White House. And I could name others. Remember the WWF wrestler who became governor of Minnesota?

The problem, though, is we've become interested in political figures the same way we are in celebrities. We're not tuning in for substantive coverage of the issues, but for what amounts to gossip.

Hersh also observes people are more interested in the presidential race than they are in their local government. He makes it sound like that's a new thing, but I first noticed it at least 30 years ago. It's too bad, too, because while local issues are often boring (if you have trouble sleeping, I recommend attending a meeting of your local planning and zoning board -- you'll be snoring in no time), they're the ones that have the most direct impact on your life.

It's not that Congress and the President don't make decisions that affect you. They do. But if your city council decides to replace the storm sewers on your block, that will hit you a lot quicker.

Hersh says he thinks of politics as neither horse race nor hobby, but as a way to help people have a better life. For my money, that beats celebrity gossip any day.

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

Sunday, February 9, 2020

It's full of stars.

yabadene belkacem | CC0 | Pixabay
I'm in taking an online course related to Paganism. It's being taught by John Beckett, a Druid priest who blogs on the Patheos Pagan channel. The class is called "Building a New Myth: Scientific, Animist, and Polytheist Foundations for the Future."

Come back here! It's not as weird as it sounds!

Did you notice the word "scientific" in there? You may be surprised to learn that unlike followers of certain other religions, Pagans have no trouble with science. Paganism is, after all, a nature religion (broadly speaking), and science defines -- or attempts to define -- things that happen in the natural world. We're good with that. Honest.

What we don't have, unlike those other religions, is a book of mythology that everyone adheres to. And here I'm using mythology not in the popular sense of myths being lies, but in the formal sense of myths being stories that underpin a religious or cultural tradition. Pagans don't have a shared mythology. Celtic Reconstructionists have Irish myths and the Mabinogion, Asatruar have the Eddas, and so on -- but we don't have one single book that tells us how to live. So the intent of the course I'm taking is to help each of us develop our own personal mythos, which we can then use as a touchstone for ethical behavior.

With me so far? Okay. So last week's module was about astronomy, among other things. For homework, we were encouraged to find an app that uses a phone's camera to pick out stars in the sky, even if they're not visible, and then go outside, observe the sky for a little while, and write our impressions of the experience. I really liked what I wrote, so I'm sharing an edited version with you.

La Casa Cantwell is in a very urban area. (Feel free to refer to my Facebook post earlier today of photos of our neighborhood.) Light pollution here is so bad that we regularly play the "Is that a star or an airplane?" game. About the only heavenly body we can reliably see is the moon. So the phone app was a revelation -- all those stars we can't see from here! No wonder modern humans tend to think of ourselves as the only thing that matters in the universe; we look up and see a vast blankness where the ancients saw billions of stars.

Although maybe it's not just modern folks. People in Galileo's time didn't have any problem believing themselves the center of the universe either, despite their lack of light pollution. Of course, they didn't know -- or didn't believe, or couldn't imagine -- that each star they saw was a sun, maybe with orbiting planets that were home to other forms of life.

Which brings me back to our modern world, in which we can imagine such a thing, but still we have trouble wrapping our brains around the vastness of space. Science posits that the universe began in a Big Bang, and we are still rushing away from that explosion. But what was before the Big Bang? Where did the matter that exploded -- the stuff in that infinitely dense point -- come from? What if the matter that makes up our universe has always existed?

"What's at the edge of our galaxy?" is a similar question. Does our galaxy have an edge? What is it like? Is it impenetrable or permeable? And if there is in fact an edge or boundary, what's on the other side? More galaxy? ("Moar galaxieeeee!") Or maybe -- shudder -- nothing at all? Or maybe -- bigger shudder -- it has always been here and will always be here.

Humans are linear thinkers, and our science demands a beginning point and an end point. Some of those other religions also require a beginning point and an end point. I'm thinking of one in particular, where God begins the world two different ways in Genesis (look it up) and ends it with an apocalypse in Revelations.

Modern Pagans haven't bothered with developing creation myths like the ones in Genesis. I think that's because our concept of time is different. We think of it as not linear, but as a wheel that keeps turning. We're okay with believing that the stuff of our universe was always here.

But back to science: It ain't perfect. Let's face it, the scientific method is useless for determining how the universe began. We cannot create an experiment to replicate the Big Bang -- we simply don't know enough about the variables that existed then. And what if the Big Bang is followed by a Big Squish, in which the universe snaps back like a rubber band to that singular point?

We don't know. Nobody knows. We're all just guessing.

So we make up stories about how it all went down. Or we write a poem. Or we create a myth. When faced with unanswerable questions, it's the best we can do.

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

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Imbolc is upon us.

While y'all are busy with your sportsball game (I'm rooting for the team in red*), I'll return to a topic that I've written about a couple of times before: the Pagan sabbat of Imbolc.

You may have seen some stuff on Facebook that yesterday was the day. And so it is, I guess, in Ireland, where the whole thing started. And the Catholic Church celebrates St. Brighid's Day on February 1st. But I'd always thought the Pagan holiday was the 2nd.

By definition, Imbolc is the day halfway between the winter solstice, otherwise known as Yule, and the spring equinox, or Ostara. It turns out that if you're calculating the exact midpoint between the astronomical winter solstice and the astronomical spring equinox, the midpoint can be anywhere from February 2nd through the 7th. Last year, according to this website, it fell on February 4th in the UK; this site has an interactive chart that shows Imbolc was on the 3rd last year in North America and on the 4th this year.

We Americans like to keep the dates of our holidays simple, though -- which is why, long ago, we moved every public holiday we could to a Monday. So let's just pick a day, shall we? I'm calling it Imbolc today.

Spring, by Giuseppe Arcimboldo | Wikimedia Commons
Another oddity: In Ireland, Imbolc is considered the first day of astronomical spring. Ireland's weather benefits from warm ocean currents that bring a lot of rain (and here we all thought Ireland was so green by the grace of God) but also mostly mild temperatures. So while a lot of North Americans are usually shivering in our boots and parkas in early February, in Ireland the snowdrops have begun to bloom and the ewes are pregnant and getting ready to give birth. The modern name for Imbolc derives from the Irish word imbolg, which means "in the belly."

That gives me a natural segue to Brighid -- who, after her saintly remodeling, was said to be the midwife at the birth of Jesus. As amazing (and very likely untrue) as that is, the Irish pagan goddess was pretty amazing in her own right. Goddess of medicine she was, and of poets, and of smithcraft. And like the Greek goddess Hecate, Brighid is also a goddess of crossroads.

I was thinking earlier this week about how well all those things fit together. When you get right down to it, they are all creative paths. Smiths use fire to transform raw metals into useful and beautiful things. Poets and writers use the "fire in the belly" to fuel their creative endeavors. And midwives ease the births of new humans, each possessing their own spark of life.

Are you sensing a theme here? Have I mentioned that Brighid is a fire goddess?

I'm honestly not sure how the crossroads thing works into the legend. But if you're at a crossroads in your life, you can ask Brighid in meditation for help in deciding which way to go. I've done this a few times over the years and I can tell you it works.

Blessed Imbolc, everyone.

*(Both teams this year have red uniforms. It's a joke, people.)

I've been pretty fired up lately over making new covers for the Elemental Keys series. The books will all have new titles, too. I'm hoping Amazon will let me keep the series title, but we'll see how that goes. In any case, stay tuned for the relaunch and the release of Book 4!

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

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Marketing follies.

You would think a person who's been writing and publishing her own books for as long as I have woul know what she's doing by now, wouldn't you?

Sometimes that's true. And sometimes it's not.

A couple of weeks ago, I ran across an ad for a five-day free course on how to make a profit from Amazon ads -- those little advertisements you sometimes see on the page of a book you're thinking about buying. I knew who the instructor was -- I'd heard him speak at a conference a few years back -- and I realized upfront that the free course would be a come-on for his paid course. But I'd also heard that doing Amazon ads was tough, and I figured it was worth five days of my time to see if I could figure out how to do them. Also, as you know, I'm in the midst of editing the fourth Elemental Keys book and I thought this would be an excellent time to advertise the first three, so the final book would get a good send-off. So I signed up, and began with ads for Rivers Run.

Making the ads wasn't hard at all. And Amazon is showing them to people. I've gotten 1,502 impressions for my books since the challenge started about two weeks ago. But only one click. And zero sales.

I posted about it in the Facebook group for the challenge, and a friend gently pointed out to me that my book cover and title weren't like any of the top-selling books in my genre. Nobody who reads romantic fantasy (which is apparently how Amazon categorizes stories with elves and magic and whatnot in them) would be intrigued enough by my cover and title to think they might, maybe, be interested in reading the book.

The good news is I'm only out the cost of that one click. The bad news is that the rest of the series has titles that are just as genre-nonspecific as Rivers Run. So the really bad, time-consuming, and potentially expensive news is that I'm going to have to change the names of all the books in the series, and get new covers for all of them, too.

I looked at the top 100 ebooks in romantic fantasy and saw way too many shirtless male torsos. I know those covers sell like crazy, but I just hate 'em. Plus I can't envision Collum with six-pack abs. Rufus, maybe, but only because he has the metabolism of a racehorse.

So I did a little more research and discovered this series would fit just as well into humorous fantasy. Think Good Omens, although not that absurd. Or The Dresden Files without the noir overtones. I looked at covers in that sub-genre and felt better. There's a distinct lack of naked male torsos. However, virtually every cover has a front-facing main character on it -- and that makes me nervous. For one thing, you never know for sure what kind of release the model signed, and that could come back to bite you later. For another, it's a chore to go through gazillions of stock photos of people smiling or frowning or looking surprised or what-have-you to find the perfect model with three (in my case, four) poses you can plan covers around.

But then I saw one book with a cover that was obviously generated by a 3D graphics program, and began to wonder. Heck, I know enough about GIMP to slap together a decent cover (genre specific or not), and I taught myself digital video editing so I could make book trailers. How much harder could 3D graphics be?

(insert uproarious laughter)

But seriously, folks: I found a freeware program with basics that aren't too terribly difficult to master. It's called Daz 3D. I've been playing around with it for the past couple of days -- I did a couple of the tutorials, which were enormously helpful -- and I think this is going to work. Here's an image I made from one of the tutorials. Not too terrible, right? I mean, it's not Raney. But for an elven warrior, it's pretty good. Plus learning a new skill is fun.

Now for the titles. I've decided "Magic" is going to be one of the words in the title of each book. Might as well hit 'em over the head with it, right?

Anyway, I'll let y'all know when the new and improved versions are ready.

These moments of bloggy 3D fun have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Teeny-tiny house madness.

As alert hearth/myth readers know, I am planning to retire from the day job this year (in 168 days, according to the countdown app on my phone). And after much touring of parts of the American Southwest and much weighing of the pros and cons, I have decided to settle in Santa Fe, NM.

I don't think I've shared that here before. I know I've talked about my location scouting, particularly in this post from June 2018. The ending of that post threw some people off; I guess it sounded like I was going to put down roots in Back of Beyond, Colorado. Yeah, no. I have lived in cities for too long -- I need my amenities. Restaurants and grocery stores, movie theaters and museums, musical venues and yarn shops -- all of these things make for a well-rounded life for me, and all of them were hours from Back of Beyond, CO.

But Santa Fe has it all, plus history, intriguing architecture, and amazing sunsets. It's also a lot smaller than DC -- about 85,000 people, compared to about 160,000 in my current city. Comparing metropolitan areas, Albuquerque-Santa Fe has about 1.2 million people, while metro DC has 6 million or so. (This is not necessarily a drawback. Living cheek-by-jowl with 6 million other people can get stressful, especially when we all need to get to work at once.)

Alas, like nearly all cities of any size, there's really nowhere in Santa Fe to park a tiny house. So I am planning to rent an apartment to start with, and then maybe buy a condo. Or keep renting. I've been a renter for most of my adult life and it's worked out okay. (Your realtor will tell you that's nuts, but there are a number of advantages -- from yardwork-free weekends, to not having a plumber on speed dial, to moving without having to paint/repair/declutter/sell your old place first.)

But every now and then, I get those ol' kozmic tiny house blues again, mama. And I start to think that maybe I'll need a retreat. Someplace quiet, with a teeny-tiny house where I can hole up and write for a week or so. That would be the best of both worlds, y'know?

That's how I discovered the people who make the Escape Traveler series (the tiny houses I toured at a dealership in southwestern Virginia three years ago) have begun offering teeny-tiny houses that aren't on wheels. You can get just the shell, or you can kit it out fully with a kitchen and bath. They even have a solar setup for life off the grid. They start at $12,000. And they deliver.

I was pretty excited -- but then I did the math. A fully outfitted EscapeSpace would cost me $30,000. That seems a little steep for a 96-square-foot shed, even if it does come with solar power and indoor plumbing.

It's a crazy idea. But still I'm intrigued. I wonder if there's a cheaper way to do it...

These moments of teeny-tiny-house blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

A musical interlude.

Earlier this week, I ran across an article (shared by a friend on Facebook, naturally) about how singing in a choir makes you happier. It turns out that singing triggers chemical reactions in the brain that release a number of feel-good substances: endorphins, which blunt our pain receptors; dopamine, the happiness hormone; and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps us regulate appetite. In addition, music plows durable pathways in our memory. Folks suffering from dementia can sing along with songs from their youth, surprising themselves as well as their caregivers. And music has the ability to transport performers -- and listeners. When I shared the article on Facebook, I confessed that listening to my daughters' high school choir performances would leave me in tears, and not just because I was the proud mama. Oddly, drum and bugle corps performances have affected me the same way. Not so orchestra or band concerts, maybe because I performed in enough of them as I was growing up that I got over it.

Anyway, I'm about to put all of this stuff about singing to the test. I signed up for a Smithsonian Associates program called the Boomers Chorus. We'll be singing songs from the '60s and '70s -- which is perfect, because I kind of specialize in knowing those oldies, having grown up listening to them on the radio.
cdd20 | CC0 | Pixabay
Unlike other musical groups I've been involved in, the program for this concert is already set. The choir director emailed us, explaining that because there are no auditions for this group (you pay your money and they have to take you) we're likely to have people with all sorts of musical ability and experience, from those who sing regularly, to those who used to, to those who have always wanted to. So while some of the songs will be performance-ready by the time the concert rolls around in March, not all of them will be -- and that's okay. The point is to get people singing, learn a new skill or brush up on an old one, and have some fun.

When it comes to experience level, I'm sort of a hybrid. The vast majority of my musical experience has been instrumental, although I sang in the chorus of my high school musicals every year. And of course, I always sang along with the radio. Given the state of audio technology back then, I might have to relearn some lyrics.

I'm especially excited about one of the songs on the program: Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." It's a great choice for a choir, with that symphonic ending. When I was in high school, we played an arrangement for symphonic band that raised the hair on everyone's necks -- and I mean that in a good way.

Here's the original from 1970. I hope we do it justice.

These moments of hair-raising musical blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The modern hunter-gatherer.

Alexas Fotos | Pixabay | CC0

The Washington Post published an op-ed this weekend that has raised a few eyebrows. The author of this piece is a middle-aged white male who works as a creative director at an ad agency in Cleveland, and he says everyone should do what he does and shop for food every day. Not just at one store, either. No, this overachiever visits three or four a day, and five or six on Saturdays.

I'll save you from struggling with the paywall and sum up his argument: Shopping more often keeps food waste down. He says, "In the United States, we waste up to 40 percent of the food we produce, and a sizable chunk of that comes from people throwing away spoiled food, which, in landfills, releases methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Planning ahead might be good for retirement, but not for food shopping. How do you know what you’re going to feel like eating for dinner next Thursday night? What if you end up working late? Or your kid’s soccer game goes long and you stop for pizza on the way home? There goes the graying ground meat you planned to use tonight."

But saving the environment is a side benefit to his real reason for living the way he does: the joy of the hunt. He shops every day, or nearly so -- at an Asian market, an Indian market, a Lebanese market, his neighborhood grocer, the local farmers' market, and so on. An avocado, he says, is only perfectly ripe for six hours, and he's willing to go to five stores to find one.

He is, in sum, the modern hunter-gatherer. Let's call him MHG for short.

My mother was a hunter-gatherer, too. Thursdays were for grocery shopping. On Wednesdays, she would sit down with the local paper and go over the display ads from the grocery stores. She would write down who had what on special that week, including the sale price. She clipped coupons. And on Thursday mornings, she'd drive the 20 minutes to town to do the circuit. When I was a kid, it was National, A&P, and Kroger. Later, she added Al's. Then it was Al's, Kroger, and Bernacchi. (We had a Jewel but Mom thought they were too expensive.) When my hometown got an Aldi, she added that to the mix.

But all of them were grocery stores -- not the sprawling supermarkets of today. You can get through a little grocery store quickly, especially if you stick to your list. Mom would leave around 9:00am, visit all the stores, and be home by lunchtime. And too, she could shop on a weekday morning when the stores weren't terribly crowded.

I can't do that. And I can't do what MHG does, either. In fact, I'm one of the folks MHG takes issue with. I have a day job in a large metropolitan area. I ride public transit to and from work. My preferred time to shop is 8:00pm on a Monday, because the store is virtually empty. Weekends are impossible -- all the other worker bees are shopping then, clogging up the checkout line and snarling traffic.

And yes, I only go to one store. I might visit a second store, but not on the same day. Who has time?

I'm like MHG in one respect, though: we both live in metro areas that can support multiple grocery stores. I'm not sure he's aware of how lucky (some would say privileged) he is, but I am. I don't live in a rural area where the only choice is cheap packaged food from Family Dollar. And I don't live in an urban area where the only choice is 7-Eleven, if that. We, too, have multiple international grocers, organic markets, specialty cheese shops, and so on. I just don't feel like blowing every evening and/or a whole day on the weekend to shop at all of them.

So kudos to MHG for making his lifestyle work for him. I have zero interest in doing the same.

These moments of not-so-foodie blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.