*Save Our Sanity.

Emilio Sanchez-Perrier Winter in Andalusia 1880

I worry about those people like my mother who have a wide circle of friends and derive a lot of satisfaction from socializing.  This is a hard time for such people.  Social isolation is very telling on the psyche.  (That’s why solitary confinement is a punishment, y’all.)  It would not be so worrisome if she didn’t live by herself.  This social isolation thing has cut her off from a major source of what makes life fulfilling for her:  Interacting with her friends.  She has never been very tech savvy (operating cable TV is a challenge).  She has no smart phone, and has no idea there is such a thing as Skype or FaceTime, never mind how to use it.  Unfortunately, she has a significant hearing loss, which makes following dialogue problematic so she mostly watches game shows and sports on TV.   Reading does not appeal;  she neither knits nor crochets.  (How can I be related to this woman???)

When the social isolation is beginning to tell on you and you are bouncing off the walls from boredom, give a thought to people like my mother.  Call them, chat with them, engage with them.  Back when AT&T was just a telephone company, their advertising slogan was “Reach out and touch someone.”  Guess what.  That reaching out and touching someone works both ways.

Personally, I’ve not noticed a big change in my life in the time of COVID-19.  At my end of the spectrum, solitude is peace, and I cherish it.  I’m pretty much doing what I’ve always done, blogging, reading blogs, keeping up with the YouTube channels I follow, reading, knitting, watching Netflix.  I’m lucky in my self sufficiency, seeing as how I’m in three or four high-risk groups.

Avebury House

I thought I’d share a couple of pieces of eye-candy from my collection, as well as some goodies I’ve discovered:

The Corning Glass Museum has a YouTube channel with commentated videos of glass artists making glass art using varied techniques.  This stuff is fascinating, educational, and suitable for children.

Some of us are old enough to remember when Pride and Prejudice was a BBC miniseries on PBS, and Colin Firth was (the definitive IMHO) Mr. Darcy (the lake scene!!).  Elizabeth Bennett was played by an actress named Jennifer Ehle.   For those of you who are into audiobooks, here is a YouTube series of Ms. Ehle reading the book.  If you’re on Instagram, Ms. Ehle’s ITV channel there is the source of these videos, and you may prefer to follow her from there (it’s ehle_jennifer )

For the knitting crowd, Arne & Carlos are having a quarantine knit-along on their YouTube channel with free patterns on their blog.  It’s color work, so if you haven’t tried it, you might give it a go.  They have how-to tutorials on their channel, oddly enough.

There’s a YouTube channel with relaxing ambient music.  If you like that kind of music, check out Soma FM which offers that genre as well as many others.  It’s all ***commercial free*** music you can listen to for free, but if you like what you hear, contribute what you can.   They’re listener supported and you can buy stuff from them with their logos to help keep them on the air.

Stay safe and stay sane, y’all.  We’ve got this.




Wish I Was There

As long-time readers of this blog will know, I have a “double barreled” setup — a desktop PC with two 21-inch monitor screens.

Let me digress:  I was a medical transcriptionist (typing reports dictated by doctors for hospital medical records) for nearly 30 years before I hung up my foot pedal.  I worked “in-house” for the first six of those years — went to the hospital to a room in medical records that had a large computerized dictation machine that was hooked to word processors and a pair of printers.  I worked from 2 pm to 10 pm, put on makeup, dressed professionally, packed a lunch, drove to and from work, etc.  But then, entrepreneurs took advantage of these large computerized dictation machines to set up companies with server farms that could connect through the phone lines to serve hospitals all over the country.  It also meant that they could hire people all over the country to connect to the server farms over the phone lines and work from home to type up the dictation and send it back to whichever hospital they were working for at the time.  For most of my working life (until the advent of DSL), I had two home phone lines and my computer had its own phone.

This was back in the day when the internet still went SKWEE SQUAW tweedle-deedle-deedle.  For the vast majority of my working life, I worked from my back bedroom (tough commute!), with kitties sleeping either on or by me, from 9 pm at night to 5 am in the morning.  Because I  worked from home, I didn’t have to worry about walking alone through dark parking lots at night so I could work those hours that nobody else wanted to work (evenings, nights and weekends), the hours for which companies paid extra (shift differential) as an incentive.   I could forget about makeup, wear whatever I durn well pleased and didn’t have to worry about “looking professional.”  (This was why  when I traded in a  1987 Toyota Corolla in 2014, it only had 48,000-odd actual miles on it!).  I worked from home for years before working from home was even a thing.

Because of my work, I had to have a word processing program to do the actual typing on, plus a transcription company program that would send and receive sound files and text files within an encryption envelope, plus another transcription company program that would enable me to play their sound files, plus the proprietary software I needed that would enable my computer to use a foot pedal to manipulate those sound files, plus a web browser. (I was using Google before most folks even knew what a search engine was.  I found out about it from an article in Discover Magazine.)  I also had to play back the dictation over headphones (and later, earbuds) to protect the privacy of the patients because all this dictation I was typing was somebody’s person healthcare information and could have been overheard by somebody else if I played back the dictation over speakers.

Then I found out about a switch (it’s called a KVM switch, BTW) that worked with Windows 7 that would enable me to hook two monitors to the switch and hook the switch to the computer’s monitor port and toggle back and forth between screens by tapping the ESC key twice.  Having two screens made juggling all those programs so much easier than having all of them open on the task bar and shifting between windows by clicking with my mouse.  I used that KVM setup for years.

Toward the end of my working life, I discovered a little cord gizmo that would let me hook up a second monitor directly to the computer without having to install a second monitor board/port (It’s called a VGA splitter, in case you’re interested).  I could then extend my display across both monitors and have access to both monitors all the time without having to click a switch.

My current setup is a legacy from my working life.  Because I have two monitors,  I can have a knitting pattern open (which I am either writing as I go, or following) on one monitor and a YouTube video open on the other.  I can have a word processing program open on one screen, and a dictionary program and a “character board” of pictures open on the other.  I have a set of speakers, but they’re put up in the closet somewhere, because for 30 years I sat down at my computer and put on headphones/earbuds.  I have an extension cord with an earbud jack taped to the underside of my desk that lets me plug in a set of earbuds just under the front edge of my computer desk.

Because I’m me, and because I can, I have a wallpaper program with a whole folder full of pretty pictures that changes the wallpaper on the two monitors every 10 minutes.  A while ago, this painting was the one being used as a wallpaper.  My monitors are 21.5-inch diagonal size, so I could get a good look.

What would it be like to live in houses like that?  How would you make your living if you lived there?  What would the rooms in those houses look like?

A while later, this painting appeared.

What would life in this picture be like? What would the building be?  Why would these boats be there? What kind of society would build a place like this?

See where I’m going?  This is how you play mind games with yourself.   You find some internet radio music you like, google yourself a painting or photograph you like, kick back and wish you were there . . .


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.