Caveat Emptor

Which is a high-falutin’ (Latin) way of saying “let the buyer beware.”

There is a certain genre of books that are called “bodice rippers” for a reason.  The heroines may or may not be “girlie,” “spunky” and/or “kickass” and may or may not have an unpleasant/traumatic/triggering  past history. The heroes are overburdened with muscles, steeped in testosterone, have the sex drive of an 18-wheeler, and are toxically masculine — but only just a little bit.  There is a lot of heavy breathing, groping, throbbing, and pulsing going on.   Ditto angst, stürm und drang.  In short, these are essentially rape fantasies with their faces washed and their hair combed that are pretending not to be one.

There is a subgenre of this which is called “paranormal romance” where either the hero or heroine, or both (but usually just the hero), is some sort of paranormal being — a were-animal or a vampire — which throws an extra helping of hand-wringing and angst into the plot.  Yeah.  Twilight.

An awful lot of this whole genre is written in first person (as though the main character is telling you the tale — I did this, I felt this, etc., rather than third person, he, she did thus and so. )   All of these particular books were.  I hate “first person narrators.”   These all read like “first person shooter” games for girls.

They are usually pretty easy books to judge by their covers.  I ran across a series of them on Amazon looking for something else. They were cheap.  I was bored.  Yeah, you get what you pay for.  They were poorly written, poorly edited, and poorly proof-read (revision crumbs — where you revise text but don’t remove all the bits of the text you changed, words left out, words used incorrectly).  And stuff like “identic” (eidetic) memory.  Really?  Neither one of the authors knew how to use the word “deign.”  Get a clue, girls!  “Deign” is an intransitive verb that is typically followed by the infinitive of whatever it was you did or didn’t deign to do.

Wrong:   “I didn’t deign him an answer.”  (direct quote)
Right:  “I didn’t deign to answer him.”

They also committed the unpardonable one that makes me scream:  “in the meanwhile!”  It’s either “in the meantime,” or “meanwhile.”  AAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGHHH!  Evidently their target audience slept through English class, too.

Those kinds of books are not usually my cup of tea, but I have identified some authors who have a firm grip, not only on the mechanics of English, but on how to tell a paranormally ripping yarnPatricia Briggs is one who comes to mind.

Right after I finished wading through the above-mentioned hot mess, I read “Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance,”  by Lois McMaster Bujold.  It was like going from a pot-holed, washboard of a dirt road to a recently-paved four-lane divided highway.  There’s a reason she’s won 7 Hugos and 3 Nebulas.   She writes “space opera” (the Vorkosigan books) — where the emphasis is on well-fleshed-out characters and the predicaments they get themselves into and out of .   She also writes fantasy (Chalion, Penric’s Demon).  She’s one of those like C. J. Cherryh  and husband/wife team Sharon Lee and Steve Miller whose characters seem like they could step right off the page (and if they did, you’d invite them to pull up a chair and ask them what they’ll have to  drink).

Mouse and Dragon” by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller addressed many of the same issues of emotional, physical and sexual abuse that one of the above noted “bodice clawer-offers” raised, but in a much less heavy-handed, more sympathetic, and way less triggering way.  (Aelliana and Daav are my two most favorite of their many great characters.)  But if you’re interested, “Mouse and Dragon” is part of a series and the best place to start it is with  “The Crystal Variation” which is a nice, thick omnibus edition that contains the first three books in the series (“Crystal Soldier,” “Crystal Dragon” and “Balance of Trade”) at a really good price.   The first two books are real page turners which detail how M. Jela, soldier, and Cantra yos’Phelium,  pilot, got together to found Clan Korval.   And if you’ve read one of the other Clan Korval Liaden books  and want to know what the deal is with the tree, “Crystal Soldier” is the book you need to read next.  Hmmm.  It may be time for a reread.

Books Read in 2020

46. *Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Bujold, Lois McMaster
45. *Rescued by Bears, MacKinnon, Skye
44. *Beast of All, McKenzie, J. C.
43. *Shift Work, McKenzie, J. C.
42. *Beast Coast, McKenzie, J. C.
41. *Carpe Demon, McKenzie, J. C.
40. *Shift Happens, McKenzie, J. C.
39. *Meow: Catnip Assassins #1, MacKinnon, Skye
38. *The Omega Objection, Carriger, G. L. (re-read)
37. *The Sumage Solution, Carriger, G. L. (re-read)
36. *Marine Biology, Carriger, G. L. (re-read) (novelette)
36. *A Gentleman’s Position, Chambers, Joanna (re-read)
35. *A Seditious Affair, Chambers, Joanna (re-read)
34. *A Fashionable Indulgence, Chambers, Joanna (re-read)
33. *The Ruin of Gabriel Ashley, Chambers, Joanna (re-read)(novelette)
32. *Unnatural, Chambers, Joanna (re-read)
31. *The Gate That Locked The Tree, Miller, Steve and Lee, Sharon (short story)
30. *Meat Cute, Carriger, Gail (Novellette)
29. *Enlightened, Chambers, Joanna (re-read)
28. *Beguiled, Chambers, Joanna (re-read)
27. *Provoked, Chambers, Joanna (re-read)
26. *Introducing Mr. Winterbourne, Chambers, Joanna (re-read) (novelette)
25. *A Closed and Common Orbit, Chambers, Becky
24. Resurgence, Cherryh, C. J.
23. Emergence, Cherryh, C. J. (re-read)
22. *Rogue Protocol, Wells, Martha
21. *Artificial Conditions, Wells, Martha
20. Convergence, Cherryh, C. J. (re-read)
19. Visitor, Cherryh, C. J. (re-read)
18. Tracker, Cherryh, C. J. (re-read)
17. *The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Chambers, Becky (reread)
16. Peacemaker, Cherryh, C. J. (re-re-read)
15. Protector, Cherryh, C. J. (re-re-read)
14. Intruder, Cherryh, C. J. (re-re-re-read)
13. Betrayer, Cherryh, C. J. (re-re-re-read)
12. *The Finder, Lorin, J. E.
11. Deceiver, Cherryh, C. J. (re-re-re-read)
10. Conspirator, Cherryh, C. J. (re-re-re-read)
9. Deliverer, Cherryh, C. J. (re-re-re-read)
8. *All Systems Red, Wells, Martha
7. Pretender, Cherryh, C. J. (re-re-re-read)
6. Destroyer, Cherryh, C. J. (re-re-re-read)
5. *The Stonecutter Earl’s First Christmas, Harris, Adella J.
4. Explorer, Cherryh, C. J. (re-re-re-read)
3. *The Mystery of Nevermore, Poe, C. S.
2. *The Ghost of Ellwood, Osborn, Jacklyn
1. Defender, Cherryh, C. J. (re-re-re-read)


Sanity in the Time of COVID-19

I have a feeling the hygge-ers, the binge-watchers, and the cocooners (speaking) are going to make it through the pandemic with a lot more sanity than the social butterflies,  the “people” people, the oxytocin junkies, the herdies (who can’t go anywhere or do anything unless accompanied by one or more friends), those who have been helicoptered to the point that they don’t know how to occupy themselves, and those poor folks who have a deep-seated need to have their  existence independently verified by somebody else to the point of panic at the thought of being alone.

We have lost the art of solitude, and it is an art.  We don’t know how to be still anymore.  Some of us have forgotten how to take the mind out of gear and just let it coast; some of us either don’t know how or, worse, are  totally unaware that it can be done.   Apparently, there is a widespread myth that there is a lot of thinking involved in it.  To understand solitude is to understand the difference between fishing and catching fish.  Sometimes you sits and thinks, and sometimes you just sits.

There is a certain zen state that happens when the hands are busy with a repetitive task, the sort of task where your body is doing something and your eyes are keeping an eye on it, but  the part of your brain that balances checkbooks and reads recipes, and decides you’d better take an umbrella is not needed for the task at hand.  It’s been called “being in the moment.”   It’s a neat trick if you can do it.

So now that you’ve got more “me-time” than you know what to do with it, here are a few suggestions:

Project Gutenburg offers free downloads of books no longer under copyright.  The downloads are available in several different formats for the various e-reader platforms.  The Kindle app (which uses .mobi  format) is free.

Seat 14C and Avatars, Inc.  are two websites that offer free bespoke SciFi anthologies.

Go to Amazon Kindle and type in “free Kindle books.”  There are more than you might think.  Be adventurous.  Try this one with this fantasy cast.

Learn how to do something by hand.  That’s why God gave us YouTube.

For that matter, there’s a lot of goodies from  British TV on YouTube– twenty seasons’ worth of “Time Team,” or David Suchet playing the title role in several Agatha Christie “Hercule Poirot“dramatizations,  or the above mentioned Jeeves and Wooster with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry,  or a bunch of David Starkey historical documentaries, Michael Wood documentaries and Lucy Worsley documentaries.   There’s all kinds of amazing stuff down the YouTube rabbit hole.

Jigsaw Planet is a free-to-join free-to-use website that allows you to upload pictures (.jpeg, .png  formats) and turn them into jigsaw puzzles. You can customize the number and shape of the pieces.  You have the option of letting others work your puzzles, just as others can opt to let you work theirs.  This website works best on a laptop or PC with a decent sized monitor screen, or, ideally, a smart TV that lets you bluetooth a keyboard and mouse, and can access a web browser.

If you are a knitter or crocheter and have never been on Ravelry, it’s free to join and use, and boy, are you in for a treat!  Lots of free patterns for everything.

If you’re desperate for something to read, try this.


Almost a Dozen of Quite The Best Geekery

There’s guy and their stats and geeks and their minutiae, and then there are guy geeks, which is a horse of quite another color.  But, never mind.  Just watch the drawing and let the sheer geekery of it roll over you.

And in case you need your memory refreshed, . . .

Oh, and did you remember what the dormouse said?

See also footnote 15.

Find a comfy teapot to snuggle into and fasten your seatbelts, kiddies.  It’s going to be a bumpy year.

Those Blooming Trees

Those durn ornamental flowering pear trees (Pyrus calleryana) are blooming again.  They may be pretty, but my sinuses are having a wall-eyed fit.  Commonly called Bradford pears.  I am not alone in my antipathy to them.  Invasive is right.  I counted over twenty of them in the five minute drive to my mom’s house.  My system is so full of antihistamines and decongestants I’m like the zombie apocalypse.  The picture at left was taken a couple of days ago.  Today was rainy and foggy.  So foggy, in fact, that when I was on the way to my mom’s house, two blocks away was like a fog bank.

Don’t know what these plants are but they’re wild and they’re all over some of the lawns around, including my mom’s.  The grass people use for lawns here is a species of Bermuda grass, which dies off in the fall and comes back from the roots in the spring.  Long about this time of year, people set their lawn mower blades way down and “scalp” off last year’s dead growth practically to ground level so the new growth can come out.  So, that whitish stuff is dead Bermuda grass.  The flowers on this plant are teensy and look a lot like snapdragons.

There’s this house up on 19th Street, the “main drag” that runs along one side of Texas Tech University — your classic southern style “mansion,” two storey, red brick with white pillars in front.  It was built in 1928.  Because 19th is such a large, busy street, and there’s no curbside parking on it, the people that owned the house had a semicircular drive put in.  They excavated a pile of dirt in order to do it, and instead of having the dirt hauled off and the lawn leveled out again, the lady of the house had them just smooth out the piles of dirt and plant grass because the berm of dirt deadened the traffic noise.  The landscaping people planted a bunch of early spring blooming ‘bubs’ (that’s Texan for “bulbs”) — crocuses, daffodils, narcissus, snowdrops, etc. — all over the berm.  They just scattered them about and mixed them up.  The bulbs come up and bloom and are done by the time the Bermuda grass comes out.  I think it’s a cool idea.

I binge-watched “The Witcher” ‘s first season on Netflix yesterday and worked on my “Mrs. Crocombe’s Braided Delight” shawl.  I had to fast forward through some of the monsters and a lot of the battle scenes.  (It’s very violent and gory.)  Yes, Henry Cavill is very drule-worthy and well worth watching, but I can do without all the flying blood, guts and body parts.  So if that kind of stuff bothers you, be forewarned;  it is very graphic.  Also, there’s nudity of both sexes front and back (although not full frontal male nudity), so if that bothers you, be forewarned.  (Yes, I did rerun the whole bathtub scene several times.  Bite me.)   If it is true, as purported, that Cavill did all his own stunts, I hope his costumes had a lot of padding.  He got thrown about and bounced off walls an awful lot.

I’m not sure if I can access Star Trek: Picard in a way that will enable me to binge watch it on my TV, but I think I can watch it on line.  The reviews I’ve seen of it are good.  I’m seriously starting to think it might be more worthwhile to just cancel my cable TV and subscribe to Netflix, Amazon, Starz and HBO.  The cost would be about the same.   All I need to get them on my TV is internet access.  Cable TV has so little worth watching, never mind anything I’m interested in watching, and I can’t see paying for something I don’t watch because it’s mostly utter junk.

I test-fitted the “Assssin’s Daughter” shawl and decided I’m going to use all seven skeins of yarn.  Both it and the Mrs. Crocombe’s shawl are now too big to work on at the computer, which is why I was binge watching stuff on TV.

I need to organize my yarn stash, and while I’m at it, I need to go through my embarrassingly large pile of WIPs* and do a FO or frog **.  I need to start knitting hats for the cancer center again, too.   I’ve got several hats that need finishing and a whole plastic storage tub full of donated yarn.

I think I’m going to have to haul my folding banquet table out from under the bed to block shawls on.  The floor is the only other place big enough, and I have no business doing any kind of kneeling on the knee I had replaced.  Because the shawls I need to block are all made from acrylic yarn and I plan to kill the yarn, there’s going to be a wet tea-towel and a steam iron involved, so that lets out my dining table.  I’ve got two boxes of the blocking mat tiles.  I may need to get more T-pins, though.   I’ve got several shawls that need blocking.  I’ll have to do all of them at once, and I should do it before the weather starts getting hot.  I’ll also have to locate a spot where there’s enough floor space to set the table up — preferably somewhere close to an electrical outlet .  Now, what did I do with those roundtoits . . . ?

*WIPs -- Works In Progress**FO or Frog -- either Finish the Object or completely unravel (frog) it and recycle the yarn into another project.

Sunday Evening Sweetness

Mentioned that I had a collection of penannular brooches.  Here’s one of the more elaborate ones, actually more suited to cloth because the area on the pin between the fancy bit and where it crosses the “C” of the body of the brooch is rather narrow.  (I keep trying to spell “brooch” as “broach,” which is the verb meaning “to pierce or penetrate,” as broaching a cask of liquor, or “to raise a topic for discussion,” as well as the name of the medical instrument used by orthopedic surgeons, which is where I know the word from.)  Examples shown are approximately 2-1/2 inches in diameter, big enough to do the job well, but small enough to be light in weight.

Penannular booches are a rather nifty and ingenious bit of ancient hardware.  The pin has a ring on the back of one end through which the C-shaped piece is threaded.  The ends of the C-piece are finished/decorated in such a way as to keep the pin from sliding off.  The tip of the pin is allowed to swing down below the opening in the C-piece so you can fastened it in an in-and-out fashion through both layers of the fabric, the end is pulled back up through the opening, and the C-piece is turned 90 degrees.  They’re basically designed to let you make a square or rectangular piece of fabric straight off the loom into a cloak without cutting it up, thus retaining its ability to do double duty as a blanket.   They fell out of fashion once people started wearing cloaks that were purpose made garments intended solely for that use  and that were fastened with ties, obviating the need for additional hardware to keep them on.  Also, the pin has to have a sharp point in order to penetrate whatever you’re pinning with it, so there is a safety factor involved. . .  but anyway, they make great shawl pins (if there are no babies or small children involved because sharp points).  It is the third example I’m using at the moment on my Sunday evening Malguri Morning, and it is working a treat.

I have just finished shoving a sandwich made with roast beef and Muenster cheese on lightly toasted rosemary and olive oil bread into my little kisser, followed by a small dish of cottage cheese be-sprinkled with pineapple tidbits, I have a fresh pot of chai tea to hand, Soma FM’s Drone Zone playing through the ear buds, and I am about to settle into some fingerless mitt knitting (pattern on left monitor)  and catch up on the YouTube video channels I follow (on right monitor).  Bliss.

I have made a slight shift in my knitting agenda.  I will be setting aside Mrs. Crocombe’s Braided Delight temporarily so that I can finish the row and do a temporary bind-off on The Assassin’s Daughter shawl to see if five skeins is sufficient, after which I will frog out the bind off and either continue on to skein #6, or else finish the shawl.   I am doing this because of the “teal feather’ color Malabrigo sock yarn that has been whispering in my ear.  I have an idea for a semicircular shawl using Turkish cast-on instead of garter tab which I think I’m going to do on US7’s (4.5 mm), and I think I have spotted what I want to use for a knitted on border.  I’m also going to use KFB (knit front and back) as the increase instead of yo (yarn over), just for grins.

Using the Turkish cast on to start a top-down shawl instead of using the traditional garter tab allows you to have a decorative knit-as-you-go top border that’s knit in both directions at once from the center line.  It’s a bit tricky, since you have to start off using a short and a long circular needle for the border and a double-pointed needle for the center bit until you get enough knitted to shift everything over to the long circular needle.  That’s how the Ilisidi triangular shawl (at left) is constructed, with the seamless braided cable for a top border.  Here’s a picture of it a little farther along so you can appreciate the construction.

Fee, Fly, FO, Phooey

I finally wove in the ends on the fingerless mits that had been finished since months ago, got them photographed, and put the pattern up on my knitting blog.  This is the pair I knit in a navy DK weight yarn.

The Caron Simply Soft yarn also works very well.  (Caron says their Simply Soft yarn is a “Medium:4,” which is worsted weight, but it’s on the far end of the skinny side of worsted.)  (see at right)  I did change the pattern up from the way I knit these two example pairs in that the ribbing around the base of the fingers and the thumb is done in twisted rib to give it more spring-back when it’s stretched.   I’m doing another pair in some discontinued-brand snob yarn (cotton/silk blend) I got on sale in 2018.  They are 50 gram skeins and I’m going to see if I can, indeed, get two mitts out of one skein.  (I do have two skeins of this pewter grey — in case I can’t.)  (When in doubt, hedge your bets. ) I’ll do the twisted rib as (re-)written in the pattern on this pair.

My current digs are in a two-bedroom duplex.  The bedroom I’m using as a bedroom (I’m using the middle one as an “office”) is at the back of the house and has a sliding glass door from the 1970’s (as in ‘no energy efficiency at all’), and even with three pairs of drapes over the door, it still gets durn cold back there when the temperatures dip below zero.  I like to read in bed for the comfort and warmth, but that’s also where my knitting nook is.  When I’m knitting, a lap robe does for the legs and lower torso, but the fingers get cold.  Fingerless mitts I could both  knit and read in seemed the obvious solution.  Les voilà.

Of course, now that it’s half past winter (and only two years after I started it!), I’ve finally finished my “Malguri Morning” shawl.  (I made one for C. J. and one for Jane, and kind of got burned out on making a third one for myself.). It’s nice and big, just like I like a shawl to be.  Like a big warm hug.   I’ll be using it as a transition piece as the weather warms up — wear a long-sleeved, but lighter top, and wear this shawl over it in the mornings and evenings when I need a little extra warmth.

The Malguri Morning shawl is a very, very simple knit.  So simple a beginning knitter could make it.  All you need to know is knit stitch, purl stitch and knit front and back (kfb).  It’s made with bulky yarn, in garter stitch, with a two-stitch stockinette stitch border and doesn’t need to be blocked.   This one’s made with the Loops and Threads Charisma yarn, which is acrylic, but very soft and squishy.  This done in the colors “Northern Light” variegated and “Electric Blue” solid yarns.

“Mrs. Crocombe’s Braided Delight” is coming along nicely.  It’s in a bulky acrylic yarn that I bought in the early 1980’s that’s long been discontinued. (I’ve had it for almost 30 years — talk about deep stash!) Once I finish it, I’ll wash it and use (hair) conditioning rinse as fabric softener to alleviate the scratchiness, and then I’ll “kill” it when I block it to give it a nicer drape.  It’s going to be quite a long rectangular shawl as I want to be able to wear it with the right end thrown over my left shoulder.  I’ve got a couple of repro ancient Celtic penannular broochs, and one of them would be killer to pin it in place with.

The  off-center braided cable detail is understated, but elegant, and adds a nice texture against the garter stitch.  This is another one of my mindlessly easy shawl patterns.  This would be a good “intro to the braided cable” piece for a beginning knitter.  Bulky yarn on US15 (10 mm) needles goes fast.   Unfortunately, it’s at a size now where it’s almost too big to knit on it at the computer.

I am STILL being plagued by a fly.  Apparently, There Can Be Only One.  I kill that one, and the next day, there’s another one.  I’m durned if I know where they’re coming from, but I’ve had enough of the little buggers to last me til the peanut butter season, to quote a certain Possum. 

Well, only one thing to do:  Put on a Zepplin playlist, work on the right mitt I’ve already gotten about two thirds knitted and slide on into the weekend.  Valhalla, I am coming. . . .  plus ça change . . .