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There are probably things that I should have done today other than what I actually did today, but it is too late to worry about that problem now.

What I did spend a lot of time doing is reading. I decided to catch up on John Scalzi’s blog, and since I wasn’t sure where I left off, I just started with the beginning of April. That seemed like a fairly safe, not too time consuming plan. Silly me. Down the rabbit hole I fell, and gladly.

There have been five Big Idea posts so far this month. Well, actually, there have been six, but I skipped the Wil Wheaton post. The others were from Leah Cypess, Adam Oyebanji, Nancy Werlin, E.C. Ambrose, and John Dodd. I am not familiar with any of these authors, but now I am intrigued by them all. Is every single book the kind of book I like to read? Not necessarily, but that part isn’t important. There are all sorts of books for all sorts of readers out there, which is as it should be. Something piques your interest? Check it out. If it turns out not to be your thing, then put it down and pick something else.

All of the posts dovetailed nicely into my current enthusiasm for learning about storytelling and writing processes. Leah Cypess wrote about how and why she used the same idea twice. She retold the same fairy tale in two different books and from two different points of view. I like retellings. I like different points of view. What really perked up my learning antennae, however, was the part about the difference between writing a story from an adult’s point of view and writing one from a child’s point of view. What can a fully grown person do that, say, an 11 year-old cannot? What are the differences in options and choices?

The first story “Stepsister” is available for free on the author’s web site. Glass Slippers is the new middle grade novel, available at your bookseller of choice. I look forward to reading both. (By the way, Glass Slippers is the second in a series of retellings. The first, Thornwood, is a Sleeping Beauty retelling.)

Braking Day by Adam Oyebanji might not be too high on my reading list because I am not a big fan of space exploration stories, but his line of reasoning for how he developed the story is insightful. It meshes well with the concept I wrote about in my Plan Comes Together post from a few days ago.

He started with a dream he is passionate about and that he would love to make come true and then built the story as a way to make the dream come true. He explains it way better than I am summarizing it, so just go read his post. I like the conflict in the premise, so I downloaded a sample. If I like the writing style and the characters, I will add the book to my list.

E.C. Ambrose followed a similar path to write Drakemaster, except that instead of following and reasoning out a dream, he followed a paper trail of research. He started small, with a footnote referencing a medieval Chinese astronomical clock. That’s a pretty specific starting point, right? His research led him to the rise of the Mongol Empire, which eventually covered more contiguous land than any other empire ever. Needless to say, that was a bit much to cover and too far away from the clock which started him down this path, so he went back to the city where the clock has been built and found the conflict he needed for his story in a rebellion against the Mongols.

The authors describes Drakemaster this way: “A team of rivals in a desperate race across medieval China to locate a clockwork doomsday device. The rest, in this case, isn’t history—it’s the future.” Historical fantasy — sign me up.

Healer & Witch by Nancy Werlin and Ocean of Stars by John Dodd both had to wait their turn, and the books had to wait years between original writing and finishing and publication. They are both labors of love, and they are firsts for their authors. Healer & Witch is Werlin’s first middle-grade novel, and Ocean of Stars is Dodd’s first published novel.

Werlin had to put her story aside (a story which she wrote out longhand by the way) so that she could fulfill a contractual obligation for another book and because she was told at the time that there was another similar book already on the market. (The story sounds pretty unique to me, but I certainly haven’t read everything.) In the end, that story waited patiently in a cabinet for 25 years to be rediscovered as a source of comfort for the author during the pandemic. Of the group, Healer & Witch is the book I am most excited to read. (Yes, I am technically a grown-up, and yes, I love reading books written for all different age groups. A good story and well-drawn characters are worth reading no matter the age group targeted by the author or the marketing team.)

In 2014, John Dodd wrote a million words. A million. In a year. He finished six novels, but the seventh, Ocean of Stars wouldn’t behave and wouldn’t be finished. He put it aside for a while, and then he got some input. Then he worked on it more and got more input. Eventually he wrangled it to completion, and it is now his first published novel.

Based on Dodd’s Big Idea post, I would call the story alternative futuristic historical science fiction. As a space story with time travel, the book doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, but I am going to give it a chance because I am interested in the character Caterina, who sees that the mistakes of the greedy and powerful continue to be repeated and who wants to take the necessary stand to stop it.

Well. So that was a good chunk of my day in a very large nutshell, and I haven’t even gotten to reading the excerpts I downloaded. They need to wait until I get at least one book read this month. I might have more to say once I get that far. In the meantime, if you want to read these and other Big Idea posts, they are all grouped together here, starting with the most recent.

Happy Easter!

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Poor Legos. They have been weaponized. When did that happen?

It is a common curse I have seen on social media — something along the lines of wishing someone a Lego block under every barefoot step.

I read a blog post about exercise, and the author had taken up running but didn’t much care for it. He thought that he should have pursued something easier and more pleasant, such as walking on hot coals or jumping up and down on Lego blocks.

The Smithsonian magazine even published a big article about why stepping on Legos is more painful that walking on hot coals or ice.

My version has long been the little green army men, ever since I saw a friend’s mother step on one, and I felt powerful to stop it even as I watched it happen. It was one of those slow motion moments.

Maybe little green army men aren’t as painful because the plastic isn’t as strong? I would think that they would have a higher chance of becoming embedded, which would be extremely painful. Then again, it might be splitting hairs at that point.

It has been a mostly sleepless couple of days (nights?) this week, so weaponized Legos are all I have tonight. Pick up your toys, kids!

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I really wanted to make the title of this post “If I want exposure, I’ll get my tits out, but the internet being what it is and working (or not) the way it does, I wasn’t sure if it would be risky or risque, when it is actually neither. It is the honest and slightly caustic response of one brilliant fiber artist to a request that she donate a large amount of her time and wares because it would be good “exposure” for her business (i.e. work for free).

The fiber artist was the Countess Ablaze — a dyer of yarn and spinning fiber in amazing colors with (to say the least) irreverent names. She ran an amazing business for ten years before she moved on to her next adventure. Other than her amazing yarn, she will be remembered for a venture called the Tits Out Collective.

Two events precipitated this movement. First was the above “offer.” In response to that offer, she dyed two special colorways and donated a significant portion of the sale of each skein to a woman-supporting charity. Second was that another dyer bought a skein and copied the colorway.

In response, the Countess published the color recipe she used, encouraged other independent dyers to create their own version, and they all released their yarns collectively on July 1, 2018. This blog post from A Woolly Yarn provides a bit more background.

Click on the image to watch a Facebook live video for the original announcement. It is a bit choppy, and the language is a bit salty, but you don’t need a Facebook account to watch it. If you have an account, you might be able to go further back in the feed to find more posts.

The Countess holding her two charity colorways “Shit Tea and Tray Bake” and “If I Want Exposure, I’ll Get My Tits Out. Copyright Countess Ablaze

If you listen carefully, you’ll hear a reference to Etsy raising the fees sellers pay to do business on the site, and she flat out tells people to raise their prices accordingly. Supplies are expensive. You should be fairly compensated for your time and expertise.

It is now almost exactly four years later, and Etsy, which did HUGE business during the pandemic even as so many makers and artists struggled, is raising prices again. In between, I have noticed (and heard from a few sellers who moved away from the platform) a push to offer “free” shipping and discounts on items added to a wish list or the shopping cart.

As a result, sellers are going on strike, putting their shops on “vacation” from April 11-18 and encouraging customers not to shop during those days.

A percentage point or two might not seem like much, but it adds up, and it eats into already miniscule profit margins. Yarn and dye and dye studios and all of the tools for dyeing are expensive. Payment processing fees are expensive. Shipping fees and materials are expensive. And that’s just the overhead. We haven’t even talked about actually paying the person or people doing the work — dyeing, twisting, labeling, photographing, listing, packaging, and shipping.

At least with yarn dyeing, there is a tangible item which might justify more expense. It is more difficult with patterns. Even a simple pattern needs to be written, edited, test knit (with yarn which much be purchased), and formatted. Then there is the expectation of introductory discounts. Some designers can sell thousands of copies of a single pattern, but they are few.

Designer Ruth Brasch wrote this blog post where she breaks down the effect that fees from sites such as Etsy and Ravelry have … and she only includes the parts of the cost which she pays someone else (yarn and tech editing). She doesn’t include her time spent knitting, writing, photographing, and formatting.

Some small businesses are surviving or even thriving, but so often creative businesses struggle to even be seen, much less turn any kind of profit.

Don’t just shop small. If possible, shop direct. And if you love the work of a particular small business (artist or no), tell everyone you know in every way you can.

Every drop into the ocean makes a ripple.

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Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing. ~E.L. Doctorow

I have been doing a lot of thinking about writing publicly, as in resurrecting the blog.

Ever since (and maybe a bit before) I heard those words “president-elect Donald Trump” come out of my kitchen radio on that fateful day, I have felt less inclined to keep quiet and more like I have something to say.  Out loud.  And not just to the cat.

In the last couple of years, my eyes have been opened not only to the depth of misogyny and racism and intolerance of whomever might be the “them” of the moment still so prevalent and entrenched in this land of the free and home of the brave but also made me really angry about it.  It has also made me angry that I hadn’t realized just how safe and isolated my life is.  And how luxurious.

I have a house and a car, neither of which has been threatened or destroyed by wildfire or hurricane or tsunami or earthquake.  I have heat and electricity and drinkable hot and cold running water.  (Hot running water is my absolute most favorite modern luxury.  There aren’t too many things in life better than a nice, long, hot shower.)  I have plenty of clothes and food.  I have a tiny bit of money in the bank.

As I was becoming more angry, I was also becoming more grateful.  Every night, especially if it has been a difficult day and I am having trouble falling asleep, I make a gratitude list.  If job stress is keeping me awake, it can be difficult to be grateful that I am employed, but I can still be grateful that I don’t live in a war zone, and the roof is still attached to the house.

2018 has been a challenging year.  A number of major events which I knew were inevitable came about in fairly quick succession.  They were the kinds of things which I expected to be horribly devastating and had no idea how I would handle.  I didn’t always handle them well, and there were moments when I definitely wanted the world to stop so that I could get off, but I survived them all not too much the worse for wear.

I might write about those events.  I might just write about food and yarn and books and movies.  I might rant about the injustices of the world.  But I am pretty sure that I need to stop thinking about writing and start writing.

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Okay, so maybe not eternal, but frequent and the subject of much debate.  I’m not sure that I can add anything new to the conversation, but as I become more experienced as a knitter, I do more research into techniques and fiber, and I pay more attention to the technical side of knitting — how needle size and fiber content and ply affect stitch definition, drape, and gauge.  When I ran across this post from Love Knitting, I felt compelled to add my two cents’ worth of input to the conversation.

While I see the value of a swatch, especially for a garment which needs to fit, I don’t think that it is the be all and end all. It needs to be a guideline because a 4×4 inch square is only going to tell you so much.  If there is more than one stitch pattern involved, make a swatch for each because your gauge may vary significantly.

Washing and blocking the swatch gives you some indication of how much the piece might grow, but it doesn’t tell you what the sheer weight of the fabric will do to your gauge or how long term wear will affect the item.

If it’s a cowl or scarf or shawl, maybe I don’t want to match the gauge in the pattern. Maybe I want something tighter or with more drape. I take it on a case by case basis.

When the gauge on a pattern matches the gauge listed on a yarn’s ball band, I get a bit suspicious.  Did the designer really match the yarn’s ball band gauge exactly?

The real reason for knitting a gauge swatch — or otherwise determining gauge —  is that each knitter’s gauge is unique.  And the knitter is not the only variable.  Needle material and shape, yarn weight and fiber content, and the combination of the two are all factors.  (Therefore, I’m not sure how much sense it makes to compare worsted weight knitting on square wooden needles to fingering weight knitting on round metal needles, as was done in the aforementioned post, unless it was to make that same point.)  In addition, each knitter’s preference is unique.  You might get the recommended gauge and not like the fabric.  If so, find a gauge which gives you a fabric you do like, keeping in mind that it may mean making other modifications to the pattern (i.e. stitch count or yardage requirement) in order to end up with a pleasing (and properly fitting) finished object.

While I am far from an expert knitter, my advice is this: do what makes you the most comfortable and yields the best personal results.  Don’t be afraid to experiment.  Realize that not all experiments will be successful.  Be prepared to try, try again, whether by ripping out and re-knitting or starting a new project.  Practice, practice, practice.  With or without a gauge swatch, your knitting will definitely improve with practice and persistence.

ETA: Shortly after I finished this post I came across Jill Wolcott’s thoughts on the subject of swatching and wanted to include them because she has lots of interesting things to say about knitting.

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A little snow

Front of the house

Mailbox

Path to the patio, under the grape and hop trellis

The patio, fire pit, and bird feeders

Back under the trellis

The fence is about six feet tall, so minimum three feet of snow on the ground in the back yard.

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The inspiration for this particular food riff (aka “the egg thing”) came from this recipe: http://www.sassyradish.com/2013/01/gruyere-and-pancetta-quiche-with-hash-brown-crust/
I have made several variations (I rarely make something exactly the same way twice due to on hand ingredients, whim, etc.), and it is a grand and glorious thing, but it is rather labor intensive.  I wanted the same experience of essentially a meal in a slice  – potatoes, eggs, veggies – without quite so much work.
The first egg thing
Grease a 9×13 Pyrex pan with unsalted butter.  Don’t skimp here.  Make sure the pan is well coated.  None of this cooking spray nonsense.  Not only does the butter add a little extra savory yumminess, but it also makes the thing practically hop out of the pan, making it easier to serve and clean up afterwards.
Slice 3 or 4 fist-sized potatoes into ¼” slices.  I am a fan of red potatoes.  And I don’t peel them.  Use pretty much whatever potato strikes your fancy, although I wouldn’t recommend large “baking” potatoes.  Peel or not, as you prefer.
Line the bottom of the pan with the potatoes and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.  (If you grease the pan with salted butter rather than unsalted, skip the salt here.)
Slice up whatever other veggies you want to use.
The first time I did half a medium-sized onion, a small-ish zucchini (maybe 6 inches long), a yellow squash the same size as the, and a handful of small plum tomatoes, layering them over the potatoes in that order.  This last time I didn’t have yellow squash, and I added portabella mushrooms between the zucchini and tomatoes.  I think I sliced up a couple of shallots as well as a small onion, too.  I am a fan of sweeter onions, but any kind will work.  Scallions, too.  Or leeks.  I separated the onion slices into rings.
The layers shouldn’t really reach more than about halfway up the side of the pan.  (If they do, you’ll need more eggs and longer cooking time.)
I haven’t done a meat version, but adding cooked bacon or sausage or prosciutto or ham or pancetta could certainly be a happy thing.
Sprinkle some shredded cheese over the top.  I would say no more than a cup.  A light covering.  Not like pizza topping cheese.  I like to mix a bunch of cheese blends together – parmesan, asiago, romano, mozzarella, provolone, cheddar, Monterey jack.  You could crumble in some feta (and add some olives while you are at it – ooh!  and marinated artichokes – go for that Mediterranean feel) or add dabs of fresh ricotta.  (It’s not a recipe!  It’s a food riff!)
Beat half a dozen eggs together with a good splash of milk (I totally don’t measure – 3 or 4 tablespoons maybe?) and about ¼ cup of sour cream.  (I just scoop out a nice heaping tablespoon – flatware tablespoon as opposed to measuring tablespoon.)  I prefer light sour cream.  You could certainly use whole fat, but I would not recommend fat free.  Also, you could use crème fraiche instead if you like that sort of thing.
The main thing I learned from the quiche with has brown crust recipe is that the sour cream is key to helping the eggs set nicely.  That and beating them thoroughly to aerate them.  I beat with a fork for probably about 90 seconds.  An electric mixer can probably do it in half the time, but then you have to clean the electric mixer.  A whisk works, too.
Add salt and pepper to taste.  If you like herbs and/or spices, add them to the egg mix now.  I like some Bouquet Garni, Herbes de Provence, or an Italian blend.  Fresh basil, rosemary, tarragon, etc. are good, too.  If you like heat, add some chilies or red pepper flakes or a clove of minced garlic.
Pour the egg mixture over the layered potatoes and veggies.  They will not be completely covered.  The eggs will expand and mostly cover them as they bake.  If you are really concerned that there is not enough egg, beat up one or two more and add them.  (I did that the third time, and I don’t think that it turned out quite as well.)
Bake uncovered at 435 (yes, 435 – I like to add 5 or 10 degrees, might just be my oven) for about 35 minutes.  Maybe check at 30 minutes.  Inserted knife should come out clean.
Let sit for 5 minutes or so after removing the pan from the oven.  Cut and serve.
It reheats nicely or could even be eaten at room temperature.  I eat it as is, but you could top with more sour cream or salsa or whatever strikes your fancy.
Have fun!

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Tumblr

Since writing “real” blog posts has become daunting for some reason, I have started a tumblr blog.

 
Longer than a tweet, shorter than a blog post, but still something to say and share.
 
I’m still getting the hang of it, and the layout is a bit boring, but so far it’s kind of fun.


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2013 was a busy year for me.  And an expensive year.  I did less of some things (reading and writing) and more of others (canning and knitting).  My activities were generally more, well, active, except maybe the knitting.  Knitting is a sedentary activity for sure, but I spent a lot of time knitting at the local yarn and fabric shop where I perhaps bordered on social, getting encouragement and soaking up inspiration and creativity from fellow knitters, which does wonderful things for the energy level.  But canning and cooking are decidedly physical activities.  And getting rid of stuff, which I managed to do a bit of, tends to be a physical activity.  Most physical of all is going to the gym and working with a trainer on a regular basis.  One of the handier side effects of going to the gym has been impressive relief for the muscular issues associated with the tendonitis in my right elbow.  Those issues kept me from knitting much at all in the last several years

The things I did more of have inspired me to continue to broaden my horizons in those directions.  The success of Project Homemade Homegrown Christmas has me plotting what to knit for gifts in the coming year (and they may not all be Christmas gifts).  I discovered that there are nieces with interest in knitting and cooking, so I am back to thinking about the family recipe cookbook project which has been dormant for quite a while.

I pickled eggplant as well as cucumbers, and there are jars of red wine vinegar and white wine vinegar fermenting in my basement.  The cucumber pickles are getting rave reviews, so I wonder what else I can/should pickle and ferment.

I added applesauce, tomato jam, carmelized red onion relish, and apple butter to my repertoire.  While I plan to make all of those again this year, the books those recipes came from have plenty of others which I want to try.

I dabbled a bit in baking — oatmeal cookies, sea salted toffee chocolate chip cookies, and cheddar cheese scones.  Take note: warm cheddar cheese scones spread with homemade apple butter are the stuff of pure happiness.

The next few months will be about planning as well as doing, but I definitely want to keep up with the more active pursuits, so I don’t know yet what will become of this blog.  It always seems like a good idea to record recipe adventures, but once I get caught up in the process, I have to pay enough attention to what I am actually doing that I don’t take notes or pictures.  Once I am finished, I am often too tired to sit down and write about it right away, and the aforementioned lack of notes and pictures makes it difficult to do later.  I have considered a voice recorder, but electronics and food preparation don’t necessarily get along too well, especially if there is a lot of liquid and steam involved.  Then there is the matter of transcription.  Maybe shorter posts.  I’ll have to keep thinking about it.

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“Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed. Eh bien, tant pis. Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile, and learn from her mistakes.”

― Julia ChildMy Life in France

More Julia quotes here: http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/3465.Julia_Child

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