Sunday, December 25, 2022

A Santa Fe holiday.

On the theory that nobody wants to think too hard on this Christmas night, I offer you pretty pictures.

The local tourism folks tout Canyon Road as the place to go to buy art here in Santa Fe. There are galleries all over town, but they are pretty much wall-to-wall on Canyon Road. And every year, the merchants sponsor what they call a "farolito walk" on Christmas Eve. I'd never been, so last night I went. 

Lynne Cantwell 2022
Lynne Cantwell 2022

Anatomy of a farolito.
Lynne Cantwell 2022

Here in northern New Mexico, a farolito is a paper bag in which is placed dirt (to anchor it) and a votive candle. Elsewhere in the Southwest, they're called luminarias. But here, a luminaria is a tiny bonfire like the one on the right. People light the bonfires to give folks viewing the farolitos a place to stop and warm up -- because, you see, this is no drive-by. The city blocks off Canyon Road for this event, so everyone has to walk along the road to see the farolitos. Some of the galleries are open, although not all, and folks also offer hot drinks for sale -- apple cider and hot chocolate -- along with some sweet treats. But the main attraction is the lights, not all of which are of the candle-in-a-paper-bag variety. 

Chile ristras get the light treatment.
Lynne Cantwell 2022
Lynne Cantwell 2022
Not to be outdone, the plaza -- a few blocks away -- is also all lit up for the season. And we are nothing if not ecumenical here.

Lynne Cantwell 2022

Lynne Cantwell 2022

Whatever your religious persuasion -- or not -- I hope you're having a great, relaxing weekend.

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

Sunday, December 18, 2022

My holiday gift to you.

I'm having some trouble finding stuff to watch on TV right now. All the limited-run shows seem to have paused over the holidays, which I guess makes sense because everyone is busy getting ready for their celebrations. But I've binged everything I'm interested in, and it seems like all that's left is Christmas rom-coms. 

I don't mind a good rom-com, to be clear, but most of these aren't. Even star power guarantees nothing. I watched one last night that starred Julie Andrews and James Garner. I was embarrassed for them -- the script was terrible. Of all the places the writers could have gone with the secondary plot, they went for cliches. And yet the movie has a 7.2 on IMDb, which I guess shows you that people don't care about the plot of a Christmas rom-com as long as they get their happily-ever-after at the end. 

Anyway. I haven't written any new books this year, but I do owe you a holiday ficlet. This one isn't exactly a Christmas rom-com -- a thousand words doesn't give you enough room for the usual complications -- but it's got a holiday tree and presents, and it has "Christmas" in the title. Also, the characters aren't from any of my books. But I hope you like it anyway.

By the way: Even though this ficlet says it's for Christmas, like all of my holiday ficlets, it covers the waterfront. So happy Hanukkah, happy Yule, happy Kwanzaa, and happy whatever else you celebrate in this sacred season in which the light returns.


wacomka | Deposit Photos
Christmas Gifts 

Kelly grabbed another tissue and wiped her eyes. Christmas rom-coms always made her puddle up, but this year it was worse than usual. She and Rob had moved cross-country to Washington, DC, after his graduation from Stanford Law School. He had a great job with a big law firm, and everybody said he was on track to make partner in record time – but he was stuck at the office every night and most weekends. She told herself she was reconciled to being alone so much, but her blubbering this year over terrible plots and happily-ever-afters belied that.

Even now, on Christmas Eve, Rob was late getting home. Something about a regulator dumping a big document request on his team. “The feds always do that,” his secretary, Sasha, had told her. “They clear their desks by sending out these requests just before Christmas, so they don’t have to work over the holidays.”

Ten more years of this ‘til he makes partner? Kelly thought. I don’t know if I can take it. 

She had hoped they could get back to California for Christmas. But when it became clear they were staying put, she had reluctantly pulled out their decorations. She gazed now at the twinkling tree as the credits rolled. The ornaments reminded her of happier times: the wine bottle from Napa, the little bear on skis from Palisades Tahoe back when it was Squaw Valley. They’d been so much in love – so there for each other. Kelly wasn’t sure that was true anymore.

The key turned in the front door lock. She flipped the TV off. Hastily, she wiped her eyes, smoothed her hair, and put on her brightest smile. “Merry Christmas, honey,” she called.

Rob came into the living room of their apartment, stamping his feet and shedding his coat. “Sorry I’m so late.” His greeting had become habitual. He crossed to the couch and kissed her, then went to hang up his coat. “Merry Christmas. It’s brutal out there.”

“It is?” She turned. Sleet was pinging against the window. Wrapped up in her own unhappiness, she hadn’t even noticed.

He plopped down on the couch next to her and took her chin in his hand. “You’ve been crying again,” he said.

“Yeah,” she said, laughing a little. “Dumb movie.”

He sighed and pulled her head onto his shoulder. “Dumb job. I’m sorry. I know it’s been rough on you.”

“But in just a few years…” she said, trying to rally for him. 

“Yeah.” He sighed again. They sat that way for a few moments, their arms about each other. Then he said, “Hey. Let’s not wait for tomorrow to open our gifts. Let’s do it now.”

“But we’re supposed to do a Zoom with the family at ten,” she reminded him. Ten a.m. Eastern, seven a.m. Pacific. She was getting good at calculating time zones.

“I know, but we can open our gifts to each other separately, right? They don’t have to be in on that,” he wheedled. “Let’s do it now.”

“Okay, I guess.”

He was up off the couch before she stopped speaking. “Great!” He dug under the tree, sorting through the packages – their families had sent them a lot of presents. “Here’s the one from you to me...” It was a large box, wrapped in red paper. He shook it briefly with one ear to it, which made her laugh. He grinned. Then from way in the back, he pulled out a small black-and-teal bag and handed it to her. “Here.”

“Thank you,” she said, as he resumed his seat on the couch next to her. “You go first.”

He ripped the paper off. Inside was a tiny toaster oven. “Oh,” he said.

“You always say you’re eating dinner out of Sasha’s candy dish,” she said. “This way you can have a decent meal. I got you a subscription to a meal service, too – they’ll deliver to your office every day. See the envelope on top?”

“Yeah, I see it,” he said in an odd tone. He set the appliance box aside.

“I thought you’d love it,” she said, baffled.

“I do,” he said. “I do. But open yours.”

Still bemused, she pulled the tissue paper out of the bag. Inside were two envelopes. She looked up at him, more confused than ever.

“Open them,” he urged.

The first contained lift tickets to Palisades Tahoe for New Year’s weekend. “Wait,” she said. “We’re going to Tahoe?”

Now he was smiling. “Open the other one.”

Inside the second envelope was a letter on the stationery of one of the biggest startups in Silicon Valley. It began, “We are pleased to offer you a position in our corporate legal department…”

“We’re going home?” she squealed. She threw her arms around him, laughing.

“Yep! The pay is slightly better. And I’ll be home every night for dinner.”

“Home,” she said. She liked the sound of that. A lot. “But why didn’t you tell me you were applying?”

“I didn’t want to get your hopes up,” he said. “You’ve been so unhappy here. I didn’t want to make it worse.”

She put a hand to his stubbly cheek. “I love you, Rob.”

“I love you, too, Kel.” They kissed for quite a while.

She pulled back and looked at the toaster oven. “This kinda makes my gift useless, doesn’t it?”

“Kinda,” he said with a laugh. “Do you have the receipt?” 

“I do. And maybe we can switch the meal service to our new address.” She picked up the lift tickets and sighed happily. “Is it so terrible that I want to start packing right now?”

“I thought you might say that,” he said. “I have boxes in the car.”

“You really do think of everything,” she said, and kissed him again.

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

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Assault by meme.

Now that I'm an official old fart, I get to yell at clouds and stuff, right?

This week, Facebook served up a meme that's definitely worthy of a scream or three. Here it is: 

I did not need to be reminded of this, but here we are.

Yes, we were forced to wear these in the '70s, in both junior high and high school. It was basically a onesie, with snaps instead of buttons. It was made from cotton broadcloth that didn't stretch. The legs of the shorts were much longer than these -- mid-thigh, maybe. I've learned from comments on the Facebook posts I've seen that they came in multiple colors; ours were light blue. I had no quarrel with the color; I like blue. But the fit was not flattering to anyone.

When I saw this picture, repressed memories came flooding back, and not just about the uniform. I hated gym. I was bad at everything -- except badminton. Badminton, I was good at. But everything else required physical strength or endurance, and I had neither one. 

And then there was the locker room. Having to change before gym class was bad enough -- I'd do it fast, with my back to everyone. But after class? We had to shower. In a big communal shower room with no dividers between. And I was a big girl in a class full of skinny girls, which only made it worse. I'd hold my wholly inadequate towel in front of me, douse myself fast, and hurry back out to the lockers -- right past the teacher standing at the shower room entrance, checking off names to make sure we went in and, I suppose, came out damp. 

Hygiene and cleanliness were far more important in the '70s than privacy, at least to the old farts in the school administration. Or maybe the showers were a state education requirement, I don't know. All I know is I hated the whole thing. And I'm grateful that I will never have to wear one of these outfits again.

On to a more cheerful subject: I decorated the Yule tree yesterday. So far, Tigs hasn't messed with it. He didn't mess with the tree I had last year, either, so maybe we'll all survive. 
Lynne Cantwell 2022
These moments of cloud-yelling blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Old fart birthday, new holiday tree.

On Wednesday, I'll be 65 years old. 

Sixty-five used to be a major milestone; at last, you'd reached your senior years. But these days, like so many things, official old fart status comes in dribs and drabs. AARP lets 50-year-olds join, for crying out loud. Those people are practically babies! 

The IRS will penalize you for withdrawing from your 401(k) until you hit 59 1/2; after that, hey, knock yourself out. Social Security considers early retirement to start at 62. Even 65 isn't the magic retirement number it used to be -- if I'd kept working full-time, I wouldn't have been eligible for "full retirement" benefits until 66 1/2. (Your mileage may vary; "full retirement age" for Social Security is based on your birth year, and if you're younger than me, well, plan to work longer.) The only thing that's still a lock for 65-year-old Americans is Medicare.

Other than that, you're only as young as you feel, and so forth. But some things do change, regardless of how you feel. Take, for example, the holiday tree.

I always put up a tree. Just one, thank you. Last year I made sure I had some sort of tree-like decoration in every room, but there's ever only one full-on decorated Yule tree in this house. I know, I know, some folks my age don't bother to decorate if they don't have anyone coming home to appreciate them -- but screw that. I decorate the tree for me.

And I always get a real tree. Always, always, always. I remember when I was a teeny kid, my dad would go buy a tree off some lot and bring it home, and Mom would decorate it, and it'd stay up 'til January 6th -- and then Mom would take it down and complain for months afterward about the mess from leftover needles. So we finally got an artificial tree. That's the tree I really grew up with. It was not one of those aluminum abominations on which you'd shine a spotlight with a rotating, color-changing disc. Oh no, ours was green. With metal brackets on a green pole that you stuck the individual branches into. And a top part, a sort of mini tree itself, that you shoved into the top of the pole. It was my job to put the tree together every year. Then Mom would do the lights and the tinsel, and I'd hang the ornaments.

As I got older, I was put in charge of setting up the tree from start to finish -- except for the tinsel. I didn't have the patience to put on each strand individually. (I still don't, to be honest. Sorry, Mom.)

Anyway, I got pretty sick and tired of putting Tab A into Slot B of our fake tree. Plus it didn't smell like Christmas; it smelled like the attic where the tree was kept for 50 weeks out of the year. So after I moved away from home, I'd buy a real tree -- sometimes from a lot, often from a Christmas tree farm (the key to getting an absolutely fresh tree is to cut it yourself), but always a real tree. And I wouldn't get it 'til after my birthday, because it's bad enough to have a birthday in the middle of the holidays without Christmas creep eclipsing your cake and whatnot.

But y'know, the price of real trees keeps going up. This year, the average price for a real tree from your corner lot is supposed to be close to $100. For that kind of money, I could get a fake tree, use it for two years, and be many, many dollars ahead.

So I did. Behold: my new fake tree. 

Lynne Cantwell 2022
It arrived yesterday. It came with the branches already attached -- no Tab A in Slot B, just bend them away from the trunk and each other -- and with the lights already installed. It needs a little more shaping; I only set it up today to make sure it would fit in that corner of the dining room. (It's already dropping needles. Take that, Mom!)

But I'm sticking with one tradition: This is as far as it goes today. I refuse to finish decorating 'til after my birthday.


These moments of bloggy bending to the inevitable have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, November 27, 2022

What women want.

Not long ago, I got around to watching Three Thousand Years of Longing. (I admit it: I skipped the in-person theater experience and waited 'til the streaming price had dropped below ten bucks.) I had really looked forward to this film. It seemed promising: the stars are Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba, and it included some Arabian Nights-like tales. 

And at first blush, the film delivered: it had humor and tenderness and love, and if not a totally happily-ever-after ending, then at least an as-happily-as-things-could-end ending. I came away from it oddly satisfied.

But as the glow faded, I started thinking about what I'd seen. And I came to the conclusion that I'd been had. 

First, though, the premise: Swinton plays Alithea Binnie, a narratologist -- a scholar of storytelling. She is in Istanbul for a conference of like-minded scholars when she runs across a decorative bottle in a junk shop. Impulsively, she buys it. The next morning, as she's cleaning who knows how many eons of grime off the bottle, the top pops off and out swirls a djinn, played by Idris Elba. The djinn tells her he's been trapped in that bottle for a couple of centuries. Then he pesters her into making three wishes, as djinni do -- and they must be for her heart's desire. "I know what women want," he says at one point, or words to that effect. There must be something her heart desires.

She shrugs. Her heart desires nothing. She is happy with her life in London and with her career. She had a love affair once that didn't work out, and now she is happy to be single. The only thing she wants is to know how the djinn got stuck in that bottle.

Thereby hangs the majority of the movie. The djinn recounts his adventures -- or rather, misadventures -- with several women, starting with the queen of Sheba and ending, always, with him trapped in a container of some sort for the next several hundred years. 

His tales have an extraordinary effect on Alithea. She decides what she wants, more than anything, is to be loved the way this djinn had loved the queen of Sheba. And because his nature requires him to grant wishes, he does.

As Alithea observes, though, in any story involving the granting of wishes, there's always a catch. In this story, the transition for the djinn to the modern world nearly kills him -- so of course he and Alithea can't be together forever. They work out a sort of truce -- that's the as-happily-as-things-could-end ending I mentioned earlier.

I don't think I'm spoiling much by telling you all this. The published reviews I've seen cover the same points -- and as most of those reviewers have said, the best parts of the movie are the stories the djinn tells. Once he has granted Alithea's wish, he stops telling stories, and the rest of the movie kind of flits by.

But as I've said, I liked it when I saw it. I liked that things didn't work out perfectly for Alithea and the djinn; that's how love affairs typically go, even when they don't involve a magical creature. My problems began later, after I thought about what I'd seen.

My main issue was that the djinn never explained what he meant when he said he knew what women want. And after ruminating on it, I realized that what he may have meant is this: No matter what a woman says -- no matter how happy she claims to be -- her heart's desire is to be loved and cherished by a mate.

And here I thought the heart's desire of all women was to have functional pockets.

No, really. Many of us are perfectly happy alone. The implication that when we declare that happiness, we are lying to ourselves -- that we doth protest too much -- is an insult.

But that never occurs to Alithea when she jumps from "I'm happy with my life the way it is" to "love me like you loved the queen of Sheba." I get that the movie is supposed to be a love story, but come on. 

The film has other problems, implicit racism being one of them. But this was the thing that bugged me the most. 

If you've seen it, let me know what you thought.


I still maintain that the thing women most wish for is functional pockets.


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

Sunday, November 20, 2022

My crafty fall.

I have another topic I wouldn't mind writing about (actually, if I wanted to go all political again, I have a few topics I could write about), but I've been promising y'all a crafts post for the past several weeks. So here we go.

This is not just knitting this time, oh no, and it's not just weaving, either, although we'll get to both of those in a minute. First, let's talk about the table fail.

Maybe a year and a half ago, I bought a used equipale table from someone on Facebook Marketplace. Equipale furniture, by the way, is made in Jalisco State in Mexico; Mama Google says the name comes from ikpalli, the Nahuatl word for chair. (I'd post a link, but all the sites I've found so far look kinda sketchy. You're welcome.) It's characterized by thin cedar planks criss-crossed for the base, plus leather upholstery for chairs and either leather or copper for tabletops.

My tabletop was covered in leather, but it was worn out; I tried leather cleaner on it, but it was just too far gone. So I planned to rip it off and redo it, maybe making it look like copper. Here's what it looked like as I was pulling off the leather: 

Lynne Cantwell 2022
As you can see, it was pretty rugged underneath. I'd planned to fill in those cracks and things with wood filler, but it turns out that I suck at using wood filler. It ended up all lumpy bumpy. I painted it with metallic copper spray paint anyway, but it just looked terrible. 
Lynne Cantwell 2022
So I purchased a random orbital sander, sanded off the mess I'd made, and repainted, this time with metallic copper spray paint that included primer. The result wasn't perfect, but it looked so much better! So I went ahead and put a few coats of polyurethane on it and called it done. 
Lynne Cantwell 2022
Next up: weaving. Right after I moved into the condo, I'd purchased memory foam cushions for the dining room chairs. Here's the problem with memory foam cushions: if they're not very thick, they flatten out pretty fast. If you're just grabbing a bite, they're more or less fine. But if you want to sit at the table for a while, well. It's not the most pleasant experience. So I decided to make my own cushions. I have four chairs, so I'd be making four cushions total.

I bought the yarn last December. (It's churro wool from Tierra Wools here in New Mexico.) Then I spent several months dithering around with the design while my cataracts got worse. Finally, I got started on them several weeks ago.

The first step is to measure out the warp threads (the ones that go the long way on the loom). There are a few ways to do this, but for the table loom, indirect warping -- measuring out the warp on a warping board and then moving it to the loom -- seems to be the way to go. I needed each warp thread to be five yards long, so I could do two cushion covers at once. Here's how the warp threads looked on the board. Well, technically, this is how half of one warp looked. I had to do this a total of four times -- two warps for each set of two cushions.

Lynne Cantwell 2022
If anybody really wants an explanation of the difference between direct and indirect warping, I'll tackle it in a different post. For now, let's just move on. Here's the loom all warped and the first cushion cover about a quarter done: 
Lynne Cantwell 2022
Once the loom is warped, the weaving takes no time at all. But then I had to sew the covers together and stuff the polyurethane foam forms into them. I also braided some of the leftover yarn into ties for the cushions (those will probably get swapped out for something less stretchy later, once I figure out what to use instead). A few days after starting the project, the first two cushions were done, and Tigs put his stamp of approval on them shortly thereafter. 
Lynne Cantwell 2022
The final two cushions are woven and nearly finished; I need to sew the second tie onto one of them and finish sewing the sides and ties on the other one. I'm hoping to finish that tonight, once I post this. And I have plenty of yarn left over, so I'm going to make a table runner to match -- although hopefully it won't take me another year to design and it. (It won't. I just need to the additional warp yarn I've ordered to get here.)

Finally, I completed the knitting project that's been the bane of my existence since last winter. On Ravelry, I called it the Spiral Sweater of 897,000 Ends to Weave In. 

Lynne Cantwell 2022
It all started at Taos Wool Festival last fall, when I bought a couple of bundles of Fusion 800 yarn. Each bundle contained 100-yard lengths of eight yarns, all in the same colorway (mine is called Aurora Borealis), but each a different type. One was tweedy, one was spun with sparkly strands, one was a boucle, one was mohair-like -- you get the idea. Every time I ran out of a 100-yard length and joined the next one, it created two ends to weave in. And I switched yarns a lot

I knitted this sweater top-down, and it occurred to me last spring as I was about to finish the body of the sweater that the stitches I'd put on holders for the sleeves were in the boucle yarn. Which meant picking up stitches in boucle under the arms. Which wasn't going to be any fun. Plus I had to measure out and split the yarn I had left so that each sleeve would more or less match. And hope I had enough left of the yarn I'd used at the neckline and sweater bottom for the cuffs. And weave in all 897,000 ends. 

At that point I made an executive decision: It was getting to be too warm to knit with wool (not to mention the cataracts), so I set the project aside for the summer. This fall, I put on my big girl pants and dealt with the damn sleeves and all those ends. And as you can see, it turned out fine.

To think I could be writing a novel this month instead...


These moments of all sorts of crafty blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe! And for my American readers, happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Read this book.

I used to have a book review blog called Rursday Reads. I started it because my TBR pile had gotten so big that I needed a kick in the seat to whittle it down, and a commitment to review a book a week seemed like just the thing. Once I got the TBR pile under control, though, I lost interest and shut down the blog. (Nearly six years ago? Wow, time flies.) 

Anyway, the point is that I write very few book reviews these days. But I am moved to write one about the novel I just finished today: Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. 

I'm not sure I'd even call this a review. It's more of a fangrrl thing.

Kingsolver has been one of my favorite authors ever since I read The Bean Trees. (It's a wonderful tale of a young woman from Kentucky who moves to the Southwest and, along the way, is given a little Cherokee girl under mysterious circumstances. There are a couple of sequels that are just as good as the first book.)

Demon Copperhead is a lot longer than The Bean Trees -- the new book clocks in at 560 pages. It also differs in that the new book is a modern-day update to Dickens's David Copperfield.

I read David Copperfield about a million years ago, but to be honest, I don't remember much about it. So I'm not really able to tell you about the parallels between the stories. (In its review, The Guardian does what I can't.) I can tell you, though, that it's not necessary to have ever read any Dickens to enjoy this book.

Demon, whose real name is Damon Fields, narrates his own story with a voice that is pure Appalachia -- and that's a good thing. The vast majority of the book takes place in Lee County, VA, in the extreme southwestern corner of the state. Demon lives with his alcoholic mother in a single-wide trailer owned by the Peggots down the road. He's forced to mother his own mother, getting her through her days, until she dies of an overdose on his eleventh birthday. Then he's thrown into foster care, enduring one bad situation after another -- abuse, child labor, drugs, the works. His luck turns and he becomes a star football player in high school, but a knee injury knocks him out for the season and the only real treatment he's given is a prescription for pain pills. This is the era of the opioid epidemic in Appalachia, and Demon and his friends all end up addicted.

Kingsolver takes an unflinching look at the foster care system and the damage opioids have done to the region. But to be honest, Appalachia has been forgotten, except as the butt of too many jokes, for decades. The opioid crisis is just the latest in a series of exploitations of the people who have lived there for generations; as someone in the novel observes, if it hadn't been OxyContin, it would have been something else.

The book is infuriating in places, too, as when we learn that none of the money from the opioid legal settlements has ever gotten back to the victims.

But it's not all grim. Kingsolver is masterful in describing the beauty of the land. And there are funny parts, as when Demon describes an outfit his friend Maggot is wearing: "...the neon mesh sleeves and giant black pants that he and his Batcave pals got at their Goth outfitters place over to Christiansburg. Chains all up and down the legs, so if you needed to put the boy on a leash you'd find many convenient attachment points."

Dickens shone a light on the ills of London society and helped to make things better for the downtrodden. I'm not sure Kingsolver's book will have the same kind of impact -- our society is too different, our attention scattered and our interests siloed -- but I hope it gets people's attention, if for no other reason than to convince folks to lay off the hillbilly jokes. As Demon observes, "We can hear you."

The Washington Post review says Demon Copperhead may be the best book of 2022. It's definitely the best I've read this year.


For those who care about that sort of thing, I paid for my copy of Demon Copperhead.


I'll do a crafts post next week, I promise.


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

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Democracy on the ballot.

Happy Day After Daylight Savings Time Ends! I hope y'all got good use out of your extra hour today, whether doing chores, having fun, or simply sleeping in.

Here in the US, we have an election coming up this week. I feel like I ought to say something about it, even though I've already voted and, I suspect, a whole lot of you have, too. 

Lynne Cantwell 2022

It's too late in most jurisdictions now to vote early. If you haven't cast your ballot yet, or sent in an absentee ballot, then please make plans to get to the polls on Tuesday.

I keep seeing how this is the most important election of our lives. Funny how it seems like every election these days is the most important of our lives, isn't it? But it's true. Midterms don't usually fire voters up unless they're mad about how things are going and they want to throw the bastards out. That means that during non-presidential-election years, the party that doesn't hold the presidency usually takes control of the House and Senate. But Democrats are trying hard to keep that from happening this year. President Biden and former President Obama told campaign rallygoers yesterday that democracy is on the ballot. (Tucker Carlson, predictably, begs to differ.)

Now I know you know that democracy is not technically on the ballot this year.  But we had an honest-to-gods attempt in January of last year to overthrow our federal government so that the guy who lost the 2020 election could stay in power. That same guy is hinting broadly that he'll run for president again in 2024 (as much to distract from his many legal woes as anything else, and also to keep grifting his donors, but still). Many of his supporters who agree that he was cheated out of the presidency in 2020 are on the ballot this year, in the midterms, running for local and statewide offices -- and a lot of them, if they win, will be in positions where they can pull shenanigans to make sure that guy wins in their state, even if voters there vote against him.

So it's pretty darned important that those of us who like having our votes counted the way we cast them -- which I hope is everybody reading this -- get to the polls on Tuesday, if you haven't voted already, and vote for candidates who won't turn the 2024 election into a raging shitshow.

In other words, get out and vote!

If we do this right, the 2024 election will be the last one where democracy is on the ballot for a long, long time.


That's all I've got this week. Next week I'll talk about crafts or something.


These moments of super-important political blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Vote! And stay safe!

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Samhain lights.

The Wheel of the Year turns, as ever, and so tomorrow is Samhain -- known as Halloween to most, and as New Year's Eve to many Pagans. Samhain is the final harvest, both of the growing season and of our personal goals for the year. 

I'm not sure why, but I find that I'm welcoming the encroaching darkness this year. I waited 'til mid-October to put up my Halloween/Samhain/Día de los Muertos decorations, and for some reason, seeing them in their proper places cheered me up immensely. 

I've added something new this year, too -- a mutant maple tree. 

Lynne Cantwell 2022
I thought about getting one last year, but thanks to the supply chain problems, the prices were just ridiculous. I'm glad I splurged this year, even though this poor fake maple tree has fake acorns and tiny pumpkin-shaped lights on the tips of its branches. Almost every tree around here turns yellow in autumn, so the red maple leaves add welcome bit of color. And I figure I can segue seamlessly from Samhain to Yule if I leave this tree in place until I break out the fake birch tree in early December. Last year I left the birch up through Imbolc (that's Groundhog Day to you non-Pagans), and I liked having that light on the porch so much that I expect I'll do it again this year.

So yes, lighting the darkness seems to be a theme for me these days. 

Back in September, I was chatting with a group of women and the topic of Zozobra came up. This is an annual Santa Fe tradition in which people pay to put a "gloom" -- a thing they'd just as soon get rid of -- inside a massive marionette, which is then set afire right before Labor Day. One of the women said she'd thought about putting in a serious gloom, but all she could think of was to ask to banish her shadow side, which she didn't want to do. 

Well, yeah, of course not. The idea is not to get rid of your shadow side, but to integrate it into a whole self. The way to heal is to shine a light on the stuff that you've hidden away in the dark. But it's not a bad idea, I think, to keep some of the shadowy parts of your personality in reserve. That way you can draw on them if someone crosses you or tries to take advantage of you. But first, you need to know those shadowy parts are there and what they're capable of; that's what the light is for.

And anyway, there are plenty of gloomy things you can have Zozobra burn up for you -- mass shootings, COVID-19, student loan debt, the war in Ukraine, homelessness, world hunger, and on and on -- without giving up any of your power. 

Now that's what I call lighting the darkness. 


I keep meaning to post an update on my fling with carbon steel cookware. Now is as good a time as any, I guess. 

I must have bought my carbon steel frying pan about a year ago, because that's when I first blogged about it. I'm still using it, but I'm not as entranced with it as I was when I first got it. First, I can't cook anything acidic in it or it'll take the nonstick patina off -- which means using chunky salsa as an omelet filling is a no-no. Second, it seems like the only way I can get the pan to be truly nonstick is by using bacon grease -- but actually cooking the bacon in the pan is a problem because the bits of leftover bacon in the grease stick to the pan. So I'm frying my bacon in a regular nonstick pan and pouring some of it into the carbon steel pan to make my eggs. Oh, and third, this particular pan has a hot spot in the center where it seems like stuff sticks no matter how much bacon grease I use.

Might eventually toss this pan and just get a frying pan without the nonstick coating. Or else resign myself to buying a new nonstick pan every year or two. 


These moments of bloggy illumination have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Blessed Samhain! Happy Halloween! Don't forget to vote!

Sunday, October 23, 2022

The problem might be in your TV, after all.

Here's that serious post that I was going to write last week but ran out of mojo. And in it, I'm going to admit that I was wrong.

maxxyustas | Deposit Photos

For the past six plus years, I've been banging the drum about how serious journalists shouldn't take sides. Report on all sides of the story, I've been saying, and let the audience sort it out. It worked for Edward R. Murrow, I said -- he reported dispassionately on Sen. Joseph McCarthy, simply showing him in all his Red-baiting glory and allowing his viewers to draw their own conclusions. When McCarthy realized Murrow was on to him, he targeted the journalist, as I noted in another post: "[T]he senator got mad at Murrow and accused him of being a Communist himself. Why didn't Murrow call him out as a liar? Because in attacking Murrow, McCarthy showed his true colors. Murrow didn't do editorials. He was a journalist. His method was to give McCarthy just enough rope to hang himself." It worked. Public opinion soon turned against McCarthy -- not before ruining a lot of lives, particularly in Hollywood, but it did turn.

I learned about Murrow and his role in bringing down McCarthy in journalism school in the 1970s. Journalism, we were taught, had a critical First Amendment role; it was the marketplace of ideas, where all sides aired their views. The lesson we journalism students took away from the Army-McCarthy hearings, as well as from the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, was that if journalists did their job and presented all sides objectively, people would figure things out on their own

I believed it. For decades, I believed it. I don't believe it anymore.

Margaret Sullivan served for many years as media columnist for the Washington Post. Her job involved critiquing the way the news media, including her own paper, covered the stories of the day, and in many cases how they could have done it better. She has a book coming out this fall -- a sort of memoir of her decades in the newspaper business. And in a piece in the Washington Post Magazine last weekend, she wrote about how the Trump presidency changed her view of how journalists should cover him. For many decades, she too believed in traditional journalism and the marketplace of ideas. But now she writes: "As [former President] Trump prepares to run again in 2024, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the lessons we’ve learned — and committing to the principle that, when covering politicians who are essentially running against democracy, old-style journalism will no longer suffice."

Journalists can no longer simply repeat what newsmakers say. Discernment was always part of the job -- if the sales manager asked you to do a story about his big account, you didn't do it unless there was an actual news angle. But at certain levels, particularly in day-to-day political reporting, the idea was to tell people what the guy said, and then tell what his opponent said, and your responsibility pretty much ended there. 

As Sullivan says -- heck, as we've all seen -- Trump saw how it worked and capitalized on it. He spewed endless bilge, and news managers covered every second of it because his bilge drew eyeballs for their advertisers. Journalists should have called him on his bullshit a lot sooner than they did. Even now, six years down the road, I see too many euphemisms in stories about the guy. Baseless claims. False this or that. Why don't they just come right out and say he's lying

I suppose one reason is that news organizations are skittish about being sued for libel. But another thing I learned in journalism school is that the first defense against a charge of libel is the truth. The lies Trump and his minions tell have been disproven many, many times over. It's clear they're lies -- not falsehoods or baseless whatevers.

Moreover, it's not like Trump didn't know the 2020 election results were legit. Many of his advisors told him so. So did members of his family. He even admitted it in private. And yet he has continued to lie in public that the election was stolen from him. Maybe it was because he didn't want to think of himself as a loser. Maybe he wanted to keep the grift going so his supporters would continue to send him money. Maybe both, and more.

Sullivan's point is that if Trump runs again, things have to be different: "I’m convinced that journalists — specifically those who cover politics — must keep a sharp focus on truth-seeking, not old-style performative neutrality. Does that mean we throw objectivity out the window? Of course not. We should be resolutely objective in the sense of seeking evidence and approaching subjects with an open mind. We should not, however, resort to taking everything down the middle, no matter what." Simply handing  each side a microphone isn't going to be enough: "We should be thinking about what coverage serves the public best."

She also criticizes traditional political coverage -- reports on the latest polls, stories based on "conventional wisdom", "campaign in disarray" articles, and the like -- as a distraction from the bigger picture that a chunk of one of our political parties seeks to end democracy.

That doesn't mean playing favorites or going soft on the other party, she says. What's required is for journalists to make a habit of putting their reporting in context: "They shouldn’t just repeat what’s being said, but help explain what it means."

Another thing I learned in journalism school is that every news story should answer six questions -- the famous five Ws and an H: who, what, when, where, why, and how. It's the why that Sullivan is addressing here: We need not just the facts, but the truth, in context. Trump and his supporters will howl about the unfairness of it all -- but they'll howl regardless. Journalists must do it anyway. Our democracy is on the line.


These moments of bloggy truthiness have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe! And get out and vote!

Monday, October 17, 2022

Weaving and reweaving.

I was going to do a serious post this week, but I'm a day late and anyway I'm not feeling sufficiently lugubrious today. So you get a crafty post instead.

Alert hearth/myth readers are probably sick of hearing that I've been volunteering this summer at El Rancho de los Golondrinas, a living history museum here in Santa Fe. I've talked about how I wove a rebozo and a sash for my volunteer costume. 

That sash has been a problem all season. I didn't make it long enough. I could just barely get it tied in a square knot, but it took a lot of pulling and tugging. So I decided to make a new one. And make it in a different weave pattern and at a different sett. All of that required more weft yarn than I had left, so I had to dismantle the old sash to finish the new one. But I think it turned out pretty well. Here's what the new sash looks like: 

Lynne Cantwell 2022
Here's a close-up so you can see the weave structure. The stripe on the end is a 1/3 twill; the rest is a 2/2 twill that's supposed to look like a zigzag, but owing to technical details, it's more like a chevron. The fabric ended up very dense -- stiffer than the old sash -- which to be honest is probably a good thing. 
Lynne Cantwell 2022
Also, I decided to go with twisted fringe this time. How does one make twisted fringe, you ask? Well, it so happens that I made a short video to show you the process. 

So there you have it. Now I have a brand-new sash that is not going to drive me crazy. I only have two more volunteer gigs this year, but that's okay -- it'll work fine next year, too.


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

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Another traumatic anniversary.


Alexis84 | Deposit Photos

This month is the 20th anniversary of the DC sniper shootings. An angry man and his teenaged acolyte drove to the DC area in a Chevrolet Caprice with the back seat and trunk modified into a sniper's nest, and began shooting random people. Over the course of three weeks, 13 people were attacked out of the blue by John Muhammad and Lee Malvo. The victims were doing normal things: pumping gas, crossing the parking lot of a big-box store, getting off a school bus. Ten of those shot were killed. 

It turned out later that Muhammad and Malvo's killing spree had begun months earlier on the West Coast. In all, they were responsible for 27 shootings, 17 of them fatal.

Muhammad was put to death for his crimes in 2009. Malvo, who was 17 at the time of the murders, was sentenced to six consecutive life terms. He could not be given a death sentence because of his age. He has since been denied parole.


I first realized it had been 20 years since the shootings when I saw this headline last week in the Washington Post: "The D.C. snipers terrorized a region. Here's what it was like." 

I skipped the article. Then, a few days later -- after I'd screwed my courage to the sticking place -- I went ahead and read it. It relays the body count and something about each victim, but it doesn't fully explain the terror. 

Keep in mind that 9/11 had happened just the year before, in September of 2001. The whole world focuses on the destruction of the World Trade Center towers in New York City, but the Pentagon was attacked, too; I've talked about my experience that day on the blog before. Also, just after 9/11, there was a rash of incidents in DC in which several media outlets and two US senators were mailed packages or letters laced with anthrax, a deadly poison. So everybody in the region was pretty much on edge in the fall of 2001, starting on September 11th and lasting through early October.

A year later, we were moving past the fear and trauma -- and then Muhammad and Malvo showed up and started shooting people. You never knew when or where they'd strike next.

And today, on the 20th anniversary of the sniper shootings, the whole world is still in the midst of a global pandemic.


Collective trauma is the term for the psychological impact on members of a society when a traumatic event occurs. That society can be as small as a family, or as big as a major metropolitan area -- or the world.

Sometimes I think that between political shenanigans and mass shootings, we as a society lurch from trauma to trauma, never really processing what we've been through before the next thing happens. Maybe that's just the nature of life: you deal with stuff as it comes at you. But when upsetting event follows upsetting event, how do you deal?

Some researchers say one thing that doesn't help is to forget about the traumatic event. Not only do we need a ritual or commemoration to put the thing behind us, but if we don't learn from history, we are at risk -- as the saying goes -- of repeating it. That's what happened after the 1918 flu pandemic: the disease became endemic and the survivors got on with their lives, and society retained almost nothing about behaviors that would help us cope when COVID-19 hit.

So I guess retrospective articles like the one at WaPo last week are a good idea. And I promise not to hide from them. Just please give me a minute before I have to read them.


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

Sunday, October 2, 2022

It's coming on comfort season, and that's okay.

 I bet you thought I forgot about Mabon, didn't you? Well, you would be wrong.

vika-mermaid | Deposit Photos
(I wish I could say it was Tigs in this photo, but it's not. My cat would never be so cooperative as to pose on a plaid afghan with a carefully arranged book, leaf, and cup of coffee nearby, and he certainly wouldn't be so chill as to fall asleep while so artfully posed. Tigs will never be a model.)

Mabon -- also known as the autumn equinox -- was a little over a week ago. It coincided with a fairly abrupt change of season here in northern New Mexico of the sort that rarely happened when I lived in the mid-Atlantic. Today, the DC area is shaking off the remnants of Hurricane Ian -- the one that caused so much damage and misery in Florida last week. I remember what that kind of weather feels like: sticky and dreary. Here, monsoon season is just about over; we had a thunderstorm this afternoon, but the high temperatures are forecast to be in the 60s this week, and people I chatted with today complained about how cold it felt.

Maybe that's why I've been in the mood for comfort TV these past few days.

I've recently picked up the habit of watching television nearly every night, after decades away. It used to be that I'd turn on the TV only when there was something I definitely wanted to watch. My excuse was that after working for many years in broadcasting, I knew too much about how the sausage was made to watch TV for fun. 

But lately, I've been turning on the tube (although I guess it's not a tube anymore) even when I'm not looking for the latest episode of a specific show. Oh, sure, I'm keeping up with certain series; right now it's She-Hulk, Rings of Power, and The Great British Baking Show. And I'm eagerly awaiting the new seasons of several shows, most notably three Star Trek series: Discovery, Picard, and Strange New Worlds. Then there's Ted Lasso (I assume another season is coming) and season two of Good Omens. I've also watched a couple of series that didn't get such great ratings but that I'd like to see more of: Upload and Moonhaven, both on Amazon.

I dunno if you noticed, but there's not a lot of serious drama in that list. There's definitely nothing that counts as a thriller or a police procedural (okay, I did watch Dark Winds -- it bugged me). My list is also missing grimdark fantasy other than Rings of Power. I'm skipping House of Dragons -- I didn't watch Game of Thrones past the first episode, and I expect House of Dragons has the same charming features (sex and violence for the sake of sex and violence) that turned me off of GoT

I've been hunting up lighter fare in movies, too. Some have been pretty terrible. (There was this one absurd flick set in a ski resort town with a woman who falls into a job as a housesitter for a guy who turns out to be a European prince. Of course he abdicates for her.) But I've also watched Roxanne with Steve Martin and Darryl Hannah for the first time. And I saw a movie the other night that I'd never heard of: Elsa & Fred. It stars Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer, Marsha Gay Harden, Scott Bakula, George Segal, and James Brolin, among others. Prime viewers gave it a 4.4, but it got just 32% on Rotten Tomatoes. Screw Rotten Tomatoes -- I liked it. It came out in 2014. What was I doing in 2014 that I missed it? Who knows?

Anyway, it strikes me that my chosen fare these days is what GoT creator George R.R. Martin has called "comfort TV". I don't think he meant it as a pejorative, and I'm not taking offense. In fact, I'm embracing the term. This is a good time of year for comfort TV, as we turn to the darker half of the year. It's maybe even a good time of life for it, what with the country's political mood and the continuing conservative sideshow.

That's not to say that politics aren't important -- they are. (Roevember is coming, y'all.)

But it turns out that these days, I'm okay with kicking back in the evenings with my knitting and watching some compelling -- and sometimes some completely ridiculous -- TV. 


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

Sunday, September 25, 2022

A calming noise.

ifee | Deposit Photos

You've heard of white noise, I take it? Well, there are other colors of noise, too.

A couple of days ago, the New York Times ran a story about brown noise. I had never heard of it, but apparently it's been a thing for for several years. Like white noise, brown noise is a combination of every frequency that the human ear can hear. The difference between white and brown is that white emphasizes higher frequencies and has a hissing quality to it. Brown noise, by contrast, emphasizes the lower frequencies and is more of a rumble. Think of the sound of heavy rain, strong wind, or a waterfall. 

What's the deal with the colors? That's thanks to engineering. Somebody decided to base the hierarchy of these types of noises on the rainbow. Brown, which emphasizes the lowest frequencies, is akin to the red end of the rainbow; red light has the lowest frequency of light waves. On the sound scale, after brown comes pink, then white, then blue (which sounds like the static you get on an FM radio between stations). You can hear short samples of these different noises here. (The New York Times article also lists violet noise; there's a sample of that at the link in the second paragraph.)

White noise machines have been around for many years, of course. People use them as sleep aids. I've also seen them placed outside of therapist's offices, the theory being the white noise will drown out whatever confidential conversation is going on inside the office and keep people in the waiting room from eavesdropping. But the Times says brown noise is now becoming popular with those diagnosed with ADHD. Reportedly the rumble helps them focus.

The jury is still out on whether brown noise -- or any color noise -- can help alleviate anxiety. Some people may find that having such noise gives their brain something to do other than dwell on anxious thoughts. But others might find the constant background noise distracting or even irritating.

By the way, a survey done two years ago of scientific studies about the efficacy of white noise's use as a sleep aid found it's...not all that helpful. There's no harm in using it, but the reason it's helpful may be more about masking other annoying sounds that are keeping you up at night -- such as a significant other's snoring.

In fact, there doesn't seem to be any harm in using any of these types of noise on a regular basis. So if you believe it helps you sleep or concentrate better, have at it. I'm not really a fan of any sort of noise -- I prefer silence, especially when I'm writing. But if I had the choice to listen to either a rushing waterfall or FM radio static, I know which one I'd pick.

In fact, sitting by a waterfall sounds like a good idea any time. 


These moments of noisy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe! The pandemic may or may not be over, but Covid isn't leaving any time soon.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Speak up!

This past week, my friend Kim and I attended a presentation at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture here in Santa Fe. The speaker was Diane Bird, an archivist for the museum and one of the curators of the revamped "Here, Now and Always" exhibition. Since its inception in 1997, the idea behind the exhibition has been to explain to museum visitors that Native Americans didn't disappear when the Wild West ended -- they're still here, and their history and culture are way more interesting than those old Westerns ever let on.

Bird is a member of Cochiti Pueblo, and among her responsibilities during the revamp of the exhibition last year was to plan the portion dealing with Native survival, both in the past and today. Tribes and nations from across the Southwest were consulted in the creation of the entire exhibit, and they had input into what would be displayed. Several times during her talk, she mentioned that some of the Pueblos didn't want the Pueblo Revolt mentioned anywhere. 

kieferpix | Deposit Photos
Quick history lesson: Spanish conquistadores first came to New Mexico in 1540, searching for gold (which they never found) and causing a lot of trouble with the Natives who were already here. Coronado and his men eventually departed, but about 60 years later, Don Juan de Oñate brought settlers up from Mexico. Oñate put down a particularly bloody rebellion at Acoma Pueblo, killing or enslaving hundreds and ordering that all men of the pueblo who were 25 or older have one foot cut off. Missionaries came, too, and forced the Natives to convert to Catholicism. By 1680, the Puebloans had had enough. In that year, an Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo leader, Po'pay, led a revolt against the Spanish. It was coordinated by sending runners to each pueblo to give the leaders knotted cords. One knot in each cord was to be undone each day; when all the knots had been untied, it was time to attack. The result was bloody but successful -- the Spaniards were forced to abandon Santa Fe and retreat south to present-day El Paso. The Natives' victory lasted twelve years, at which point the Spaniards returned (how peaceful that return actually was is a story for another time).

Okay, back to the presentation last week. After the curator had said a couple of times that some pueblos didn't want any mention of the Pueblo Revolt, I asked her why. Why wouldn't they want people to know that their ancestors fought back against the invaders and won? 

Bird said it was because people didn't like to talk about it. That first Spanish occupation was a horrible experience; for hundreds of years, it was never spoken of. It wasn't until the pueblos began organizing an annual commemorative run in the late 1990s that Native kids began learning about the Pueblo Revolt.

Then another attendee spoke up. She was Jewish, and she said she was raised to never speak of the Holocaust for the same reason: because it was so painful and horrible and because so many people were killed. 

So many of today's ills are exacerbated by people not speaking up. From the burning of Black Wall Street in Tulsa in 1921 to incidents of domestic violence, heinous acts committed by humans against their fellow humans are hushed up. Sometimes it's deliberate -- those in power don't want the stories of their cruelty to spread. But too often, it's the victims who refuse to speak up, because of fear or embarrassment or pain. They don't want to relive the experience, so they don't. They try to forget. And so, succeeding generations never learn.

But as writer and philosopher George Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." 

Humans have ugly impulses. We commit atrocities on a regular basis. 

It's so easy to forget that. We are routinely lulled into a false sense of security about how good and just and peaceful we are. 

But we can't fall for the lullaby. We should strive to keep all of humanity's behavior in perspective -- even the heinous parts -- and that involves a regular acknowledgement of how awful we can be to one another. 

Because otherwise it will happen again.


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

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Not everything is a sign.

 First, a couple of housekeeping things:

  • After I shared last week's post about Medicare, folks who've been through the gantlet reminded me about a couple of things:
    • Not everybody pays the same monthly premium for Part B. It's tied to income, so some folks pay more. But I think a majority of folks on Medicare pay the base rate, which is $170.10 for 2022.
    • It's a really good idea to shop for a Part D (prescription) plan every year. Insurance companies change their drug formularies at the drop of a hat, so the plan you have this year may not cover your meds next year at the same rate -- or at all, even. You can only change your Part D plan during open enrollment, which runs from October 15 through December 7 every year.
  • Today is the 21st anniversary of 9/11. If you're interested in reading (or re-reading) what I experienced that day, here's a link to the blog post I wrote a couple of years ago. (Linking to it saves me from having to type it all out again.)
Okay, onward. | CC0

If you thought, by looking at the photo, that I was going to write about politics again, you're forgiven. I'm not, though.

A couple of nights ago, I attended a small gathering of fellow Pagans at someone's house. She's kind of out in the country, with a good-sized chunk of land around her house, and so she gets a lot of local fauna roaming through. She also has a permanent labyrinth set up just the other side of her driveway, which is a cool feature that I wish I had enough room to do myself.

We were sitting outside in lawn chairs, socially distanced, next to the labyrinth. And as we talked, various critters made their way around us. This has happened before; during our get-togethers, we've seen a lizard and a few types of birds. It's their land, too, right? They were here before humans got here.

This time, as we chatted, a tarantula trucked across the labyrinth behind us, making for a copse of trees on the far side. It was a good-sized critter, about the size of your hand with your fingers extended. Some of the women got up to get a closer look, but I stayed in my seat. (Now I wish I'd gotten a photo; if I had, I wouldn't have have to resort to a stock photo for this post. Hindsight is 20/20, etc.)

Here's the thing: Our host was convinced that the tarantula was a sign -- for her. She'd never seen one on her property before, and here it was, crossing her labyrinth. And during our meeting, too! She was both fascinated and kinda scared, I think. 

This group tends to talk about animal sightings and What They Could Mean anyway, so I'd brought along my copies of Ted Andrews's books, which I mentioned in a post not too long ago. I looked up tarantulas and found them mentioned in the section about spiders. Andrews says the bite of a tarantula is poisonous, but the effect on an average human is no worse than a bee sting. He also says tarantulas don't weave webs, per se. Rather, they live in holes in the ground and catch food that comes near the rim of their hole. Of spiders in general, he says, their keywords are creativity and the weaving of fate.

A few of the other women at the meeting told our host that autumn is mating season for tarantulas. The females stay in their holes, and the males go walkabout in search of them. They said there was probably a female in a hole in the copse, and our boy was just heading over for a little boom chicka wow.

But our host would not be dissuaded. That tarantula was meant for her. Never mind that there were nearly a dozen of us at the meeting, so it could have been for any of us -- except that it stayed well away from our circle.

As I said last time this came up on the blog, "The biggest to not read too much into what you're seeing." It was cool to see a tarantula in person. But given the season, I'd say this was a spider doing spider things -- not any sort of message from the Universe.

These moments of spidery blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. The omicron vaccine is available -- get boosted!

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Medicare For All? Forget I said that.

I used to be a big proponent of Medicare for All. But I will be turning 65 in a few months, and now that I'm running the Medicare gantlet*, I have changed my mind. 

Nobody should have to do this -- certainly not anybody who has spent 40 or 50 years of their working life having their health insurance choices dictated to them by their employer. Medicare, as the system stands today, is overly complicated -- very possibly by design. It's also weighted toward private insurance companies. And if things keep going the way they've been going, Medicare as we've known it for generations will very likely cease to exist, only partly because it will "run out of money".

First, a quick primer. Everybody's eligible for Medicare once they turn 65. It has four parts:

  • Part A covers hospitalization. It's free, and everybody gets it.
  • Part B covers outpatient stuff like doctor visits. It is not free -- this year's premium is $170.10 per month -- and you don't have to get it. But most people do. Together, Parts A and B constitute "Original Medicare".
    • Parts A and B don't cover every expense, though, so a lot of people also pick up a Medicare Supplement (a.k.a. Medigap) plan. These are designated by letter (I'd like to get hold of the genius who decided that both Medicare's Parts and Medigap Plans should have letter designations), and while these plans are sold by private insurance companies, the government decrees what's covered under each lettered plan. In other words, if you buy a Plan G, no matter who you buy it from, it has to cover the same stuff as every other Plan G. Below is a chart that I cadged from Medicare and You, the handbook that the government will send you when you enroll. (Ignore Plans C and F; if you turned 65 after January 1, 2020, you can't get them.) Most folks go with either Plan G or Plan N. Now despite that the coverage in each plan is mandated by the feds, premiums vary -- sometimes by a lot. The highest premiums are usually charged by the companies that do a lot of advertising (AARP, I'm looking at you).

  • Part D (I'm going out of order intentionally) is drug coverage. It's provided by private insurance companies, and the premiums vary widely. Plus each company has its own formulary, or tiers of drugs they will pay for; just like with the drug coverage you have now, generics are cheapest and brand-name drugs can be hella expensive. has a search function where you can plug in your prescriptions and your favorite pharmacies, and it will generate a list of Part D plans available to you, which you can then sort by cheapest combined premium and drug costs. Most people who do Parts A and B also pick up a Part D plan.
You can see why people might get bewildered by the choices: You don't just get Medicare, poof! done! You get Parts A and (maybe) B, and (maybe) a Medigap plan, and don't forget your drug coverage. There are a lot of moving parts. Even folks whose employers served up a cafeteria plan might find this overwhelming.

There's another choice, though: You can leave all this confusion behind and go with Part C, a.k.a. Medicare Advantage. You've probably seen lots of ads for MA. It sounds like a terrific deal. Many policies include drug coverage, just like the insurance you have right now. Some policies include dental, hearing, and vision benefits, which Original Medicare doesn't cover even if you buy a Medigap plan. (I'd like to get hold of the genius who decided that Medicare shouldn't cover dentures and hearing aids.) You can even get a policy with a zero premium! How can that not be a great deal?

Well, here's how:

Medicare Advantage is regular old insurance. The vast majority of plans are either HMOs or PPOs, which means each plan has a network of doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers that they want you to see. Maybe your primary care doc is in-network, but what if she wants you to see a specialist? You're back to the game of "Do I need a referral?" and "Do they take my insurance?" -- games you don't have to play with Original Medicare.

There's also the matter of out-of-pocket costs. Your MA plan may not charge you a monthly premium, but your maximum annual out-of-pocket cost could be thousands of dollars higher than Original Medicare's -- to the tune of as much as $7,550 in-network or $11,000 out-of-network per year, compared to $233 per year for Original Medicare. (I saw this bullshit with Obamacare over the past couple of years. A whole lot of plans on the exchange have cheap premiums and insane annual deductibles.)

But here's the biggest problem with MA. You see, Original Medicare pays per service: Your doctor provides your care, and Medicare pays the doctor a set price for that care. But MA insurers are paid by the government per customer. Most are for-profit insurance companies, so they have an incentive to pocket as much of that fee as they can -- which means they have an incentive to deny care, sometimes even care that would have been covered without question under Original Medicare. Also, the government pays more for customers with certain diagnoses -- the more diagnoses, the better. So these insurers have been discovered combing customers' health histories and having their customers complete "health risk assessments" to find diagnoses to add to their charts, thereby bilking the government out of $12 billion in 2020 (and, by the way, making their customers look sicker than they are). All of this came out in a hearing held in July by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. The subcommittee also heard evidence that many MA customers in their last year of life switch to Original Medicare -- an indication that MA plans aren't providing the best care for their sickest customers.

In addition, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, is looking into possible deceptive advertising practices by insurers that provide MA plans. Wyden says the federal government received twice as many complaints about MA plans in 2021 as it had in 2020. He's seeking information from 15 state governments about complaints they've received about MA plans.

The percentage of older Americans enrolled in MA plans is expected to top 50 percent within the next couple of years. MA was supposed to save the government money on senior healthcare. But some MA plans cost the government more than they should, and some aren't providing the level of care that Medicare requires them to provide. 

I'm mindful of the fact that conservatives have wanted for years to get rid of Medicare (and Social Security). And my inner conspiracy theorist is urging me to say that it's no accident that Original Medicare is so confusing while MA plans seem so simple. My rational mind is holding my inner conspiracy theorist back. But I will say this: I've set up a spreadsheet for my Medicare choices, and none of them are MA plans.

And when I said before that Americans should have Medicare for All? What I meant was single-payer insurance -- like Medicare's Parts A and B, but better.


There are a ton of websites and YouTube videos purporting to help you through this process. This video has a good summation of the pros and cons with MA plans, but in linking to it, I'm not endorsing her company in any way.


*Before somebody says I misspelled gauntlet: A gauntlet is a type of glove. A gantlet is the thing where people form two lines and have you run between the lines while they try to beat the crap out of you -- which is a pretty accurate description of the process of picking Medicare coverage.


These moments of bloggy clarification have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe out there!