Sunday, January 29, 2017

Cats in hats...getting your mind off the apocalypse

Rice Cake in his dinosaur hat

Sometimes, to keep from tearing your hair out, it's a good idea to keep your hands busy and your mind occupied. I've started crocheting again and I'm still plugging away at learning to sew.

To get my hands back into the motions of crochet, I chose this small project: a hat for the cat. I purchased a book called, appropriately, Cats in Hats by Sara Thomas. It includes some crochet and some knit patterns.

The first hat I wanted to make was the stegosaurus or dinosaur. Rice Cake approved it. Sort of.

The problem was that this hat was in the knit portion of the book and I don't knit. I've done it. But I don't care for it. And I wasn't about to start up again for a cat hat. So, I chose a base from the crochet section and then just created the fins on my own and attached them. This is what I got:

Not bad, right? The next part involved getting the cat to wear it. I spent a couple of days introducing the hat to both cats. Squeakers was very suspicious of it and wanted nothing to do with it. But Rice Cake didn't mind it so much. At first, when I placed it gently over his back, it freaked him out a little and he walked all hunched like until it fell off. But I used it as a plaything and put it on his head a few times until one day, he was sitting on the sofa and I tried it on him and he just let me do it.

I didn't tie it on and I think I'll tie up the ends and try to slide it on him next time. Looks like I'll be making some more hats for the cats--this cat, at least. Maybe if Squeakers sees Rice Cake in his fancy hats, he'll be more interested in the idea. We shall see.

As for sewing, egad.

Do you remember the t-shirt I made by tracing one of my favorite tees to create a pattern? Well, I wanted to embellish the hem because I didn't like the length very much. So, I did it. Here's how it looks now:

It looks okay, but the trim is stiffer than I expected.

I made some jammy pants. This was actually my second pair. The first I made according to the size on the pattern and they are really too big and baggy. So this pair I made in a smaller size. I wear them all the time.

I made this shirt and added this really nice trim to it. I'm still having trouble getting necklines to lie flat.

Again, the size I was supposed to make according to the pattern was too large on the shoulders and under the arms, so a lot of tailoring went into making the shirt look this way. And in doing all that, it moved this rather large dark spot right over the boob. I wear it anyway.

And I'm still working on this next top.

Another major tailoring  project. When will I learn that I'm going to have to seriously try to fit these patterns before cutting out the fabric? Anyway, the fabric here turned out to be super sheer and delicate so I ended up creating a lining. All by myself! I still have to sew the sleeve hem and then it's ready to wear.

The problem is that I keep making these tops that are too fancy for every day wear. What I need is t-shirts for wearing around the house and to the store. So, I took another one of my favorite tees, this one with set in sleeves (The one above doesn't have set in sleeves, it's called a kimono sleeve. The sleeve is part of the bodice pieces. Very simple to make, but the fit isn't as neat.)

I even took an online sewing class on how to create a pattern from your own clothes. That class, naturally, had nothing to do with creating a pattern from a knit top, but I figured, piece of cake, right? And I've done it once already.

So, I laid out the top and started putting pins in it, then I connected the pin dots on the paper. But every time I tried to double check my work, the lines were different. It was very frustrating, especially when it came time to do the sleeves. They looked pretty wonky.

Well, I took some fabric that I had left over from an earlier top and made one. Here's how it turned out so far.

You can see where I've been pinning it to shorten the sleeves (there's a story in itself!) and the hem. The neckline is too low. That's part of the sleeve story I guess. It goes like this...

When I held my new pattern up to my body, the neckline seemed way too high. And rather than trust the pattern, I lowered it. And now I don't like it. I had planned to make the sleeves longer anyway. So I measured my arm from the edge of my shoulder down to about where I wanted the sleeve and then I extended the sleeve pattern by that much--and ended up with grotesquely long sleeves.

Honestly, I don't get it! (Not entirely true. I should have extended the pattern piece from the top of it, at the shoulder, not from the bottom edge. Honestly, sometimes I don't know about myself.) Nothing measures correctly. (User error, I'm guessing.) Nothing turns out right. (Well, that's life, isn't it? I mean, just look at this whole Trump thing!) Just more and more work. (Oh, it's good for you, stop whining.) But I'm doing it. (Damn right you're doing it.) And it is kind of fun, even when the projects turn out unwearable. (Not even good enough for Goodwill!) So, I guess I'll add some kind of binding to the neck of this thing and wear it around the house.

I have registered for a sewing expo! How cool is that? It's in Lakeland. I'm going over on a Friday afternoon and coming back late Saturday. I've signed up for three sewing classes and I'll spend the rest of the time hanging out and buying stuff.

So, get a craft going and get your mind off things for a little while every day. You'll be happier. Maybe. It's worth a shot.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Our Big Year's a bird thing

This week there was a video going around of a local alligator eating another local alligator and at the very beginning of it, I heard a familiar bird. I've grown up hearing this particular bird call, mostly around ponds and so I associate its call with my childhood.

When I wrote Always Magnolia, I needed to know the names of a lot of the birds I grew up with, as a lot of the story takes place in the scrub. So, I listened to bird calls on the Internet. When I came across the red-winged blackbird, I was pretty sure that was the sound of the bird I'd known as a child.

So, I posted the alligator cannibalism video on Facebook and asked if anyone knew for certain and got confirmation. I was also shown some pictures of the bird. I can't say I have ever seen it. And I wouldn't have thought that was the bird making the call. I always assumed the bird was a water bird...with a long neck. What do I know about birds, right? Nothing.

So, today, hubs and I went out on our very first birding expedition. We brought a small set of binoculars that were barely up to the task, my iPhone and his camera, and set out for the Viera Wetlands. We were not alone. There were wildlife photogs out there with enormous lenses on tripods, and plenty of amateurs driving around in their cars. We walked and took pics and notes and got sunburned and learned a lot. I think the biggest thing we learned is that we don't know anything about birds.

Some of my notes are:
small gray bird
orange beaked black duck
white beaked black duck
laughing hyena sound
turtle on log
tiny brown birds

And I think those might not have been crows, after all.

Hubs is at his computer right now comparing his pictures of the "tiny brown birds" with a long list of flycatchers trying to figure out which one we saw.

I think the lesson is this: you're going to have to know birds to look for birds.

That being said, we saw a lot of very cool birds and I will post some of the pictures for you. We also saw a lot of alligators. A few of them were small, maybe three or four feet. But then we saw a large one that I say was six feet. Hubs says eight. And after that an even larger one! That was an eight-footer for sure. Of course you can't tell how big they are without anything to compare them to. So, I walked right up next to them so you could----just kidding!

So, here are some birds. If you know what kind they are, be sure to comment and let me know.

1. I've lived in Florida my entire life (well, okay, except for that year in Denver) and I've never seen a white pelican. All the pelicans I know are gray and hang out at the pier begging for fish scraps. But these have to be pelicans.

2. Well, it's white and it's tall. And it has a yellow beak. Is it a heron or a big egret? I'm always getting herons and egrets mixed up.

3. Or is this a heron or an egret? It's gray, with a yellow beak. My notes would say "big but not super big gray bird."

4. Tiny little gray birds in the grass, possibly flycatchers.

5. Ducks? They don't have beaks like ducks. Their beaks are pointed-ish and white, although some looked pretty much the same with orange beaks. And the duck(?) up top looked...mottled. And on the board at the park there actually was a picture of a duck that was called a mottled duck...or something like that. So, I'm going with that. I saw a mottled duck.

6. Cormorant, right? Please tell me it's a cormorant because that's what I've been calling this bird for years. (Update: probably an anhinga. They're a lot like cormorants, but not the same.)

7. This bird was as big as the sand hill cranes we see in our neighborhood, but its head is totally different.

8. Here's a sand hill crane. So what's that one above?

9. Here's the bird I thought was a crow, but it could be a grackle. But then again, what if a crow is a grackle? How is a person supposed to know? This could take a lifetime of study.

10. Here's another shot of the grackle crows. If you look a the vertical beam in the middle of the picture, just above it is the moon. I thought it was very artsy, but it was better in person.

We got to see a bald eagle, but only through the binoculars. There were lots of cormorants, some hawks, osprey, some little white birds with split tails that dove into the water and wouldn't sit still. Lots of black vultures, ibis, alligators, and a turtle or two. Oh, and an adorable caterpillar. Here are some pics:

The six-footer (imo).

The eight-footer with teeth!

Smaller gators:

And the caterpillar:

I thought the caterpillar was the cutest thing we saw. He had quite a big personality. We stayed by him while he crossed the road to make sure he made it to the other side safely. I wanted to bring him home, but I'm pretty sure we're not allowed to molest wildlife in the parks.

All in all, it was a great day birding and a good start to our Big Year! I'll have to do some bird study before we go again...not that it will help.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The upside of technology...failures to connect

I'll think about it...
Photo by Kenneth Freeman via Flickr

Emanuela has been desperately trying to get in touch with me. I get emails from her all the time, or at least, Wayward Cat Publishing does. I haven't got a clue what she wants because her emails are always blank. Nothing but an attachment that I suppose she wants me to open. Well, I didn't fall off the turnip truck yesterday, Emanuela, so you can just forget that.

I'm not really all that easy to get in touch with, considering I'm all over the place. Three websites, all the social media, books, etc. We still get calls to our landline phone (It feels weird writing that. Back in the day, it was just the phone.) They all go to the machine, just so you know. This one guy keeps calling and saying, "Hello? Hello? Hello?" Then he hangs up and tries again the next day. I'm not sure I get the perseverance, but I suppose I have to give him some credit.

Other people call and start talking. Some of them can go on for quite some time without requiring a response. Once there's that opening, they pause, and then say, "Hello? Hello? Hello?" One message I get repeatedly is a tick noise. Just one tick. The problem with that one is that by the time I realize it's the tick call when I'm deleting messages, it's often too late and it ends up in my stored messages. Then I have to go into the stored messages and be sure to press delete as soon as I hear the tick. It's rather bothersome, but there is a certain amount of satisfaction in standing in the kitchen listening to all of these people trying to make contact, and waiting a few weeks to finally delete forty-two messages.

Sometimes I'll run across a message I didn't know I had and then I feel bad. Apparently, for instance, my last bone scan wasn't all it should've been cracked up to be and now I have to take more calcium and Vitamin D. I could have started a week or so ago, but now I'm behind on that. Damn bones.

Anyway, the point is that I'd like to tell Emanuela that she should just say something. Anything would be nicer than an attachment. And I wonder if it's the same attachment over and over again or if she's sending me new stuff and doesn't realize that in America, we don't open unasked-for attachments. I say, America, because I looked Emanuela up by her email address and found out she's from someplace called Eurocamp. You can see her picture there with all the other people who run the place. Eurocamp is apparently some kind of sports camp, probably for kids, but I'm not sure. And I suppose I won't ever be sure because Emanuela is as afraid to talk to me as I am to open her attachment.

Sometimes, over the past year or so, I've wondered if maybe something more sinister is going on. I mean, think about it... What if Emanuela thinks I'm someone I'm not? Like, her spy contact. Or worse, her crime syndicate contact. What if she's stuck over there at Eurocamp, undercover, and just really wants to tell the boss that there's nothing going on there to do with espionage or meth and she wants to come home now. But no one will answer her emails, as they've been sent as attachments, as she was instructed to do. But nobody is answering her because she's sending these encrypted attachment pleas to "contact" at Wayward Cat Publishing instead of "contact" at Forward Fats Flushing or something.

Or worse! What if Emanuela is being held captive at Eurocamp and she's trying to find someone to help her get away from her captors and she can get to an email program but can only send attachments! And she found, somehow, the Wayward Cat Publishing website and the translator told her that it was a Wayward Kidnappees Helpsite and she's been trying for over a year now to get help and no one will respond!

It makes you feel sad. In a way.

So, I would like to tell Emanuela that I can't respond because it's just not a good idea from where I sit. And she should probably just tell me what she wants, if she can. But then again, I can't say I'll respond even then.

Lots of people do actually contact me and tell me what they want and I still don't answer them. Sometimes it's because I don't know what to say. Sometimes it's because I don't get the message for a month and then I feel stupid and think it's best to just leave it alone. Sometimes I plan to respond, but I set it aside for just a moment or two and completely forget about it.

It's an introverted bubble that's not easy to pop. If I had any advice to give, it'd be this: state your business and if you don't hear from me, I'm sorry, but I just don't want to respond.

If you like, you can try again, but I think after a year or so you should probably give it up.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Dear God, not the Facebook bubble!

Photo by Beatnik Photos via Flickr

I can’t be the only one who’s heard this argument: If you only have Facebook friends who always agree with you (like that’s even possible) and don’t expose yourself to different worldviews, you’ve created a bubble. And bubbles are bad!

Of course, this is said lately after you say you unfriend people for supporting the Great Orange Buffoon.

I think I’m a typical Facebook user. When I started out all those years ago, I gleefully accepted every friend request I got, and sent out plenty more. I had friends all over the country and the world. Most of my friends came to me because I’m an atheist. Facebook was becoming one big atheist convention.  And then everyone I went to high school with, and everyone who ever went to that school, and everyone in my home town joined my friends list. I was a veritable socialite, which is nothing to snort at for an introvert.

Remember when we watched the count of how many friends we had and imagined the day we’d reach that upper limit? What would we do? Oh, dear, what on earth would we do? I never had to find out.

Turns out, that guy I “friended” in California was a vegan or fruitarian or some such, and posted diatribes against what I like to eat, namely hamburgers. And that woman up north was a member of PETA and kept posting pictures of animals being tortured. Even typically normal, as in not fanatical, “friends” posted pictures of suffering animals, wanting me to spread the word and stop the abuse! (Look, I eat some of them, but I don’t want them to suffer. And I can’t get through the day without crying if I have to look at your most-likely photo-shopped pictures and quite often disingenuous claims. What I’d like to know is, how do you get through the day constantly spreading that stuff? No, don’t answer that. I don’t want to talk to you anymore.) Anyway, then that anti-Muslim guy liked to post pictures of beheadings and gays being tossed off buildings. There was at least one guy who couldn’t seem to go a single day without calling Ayn Rand a cunt. Another guy who had a seriously deranged issue with Sarah Jessica Parker’s face. And then Trayvon Martin was killed and about fifty of my so-called “friends” clearly couldn’t think rationally.

At some point I decided that I wanted to enjoy Facebook. You social on it. Have fun. I didn’t, and still don’t, require a place on the Internet in which I engaged in battle on a daily basis, and if I did, it wouldn’t be the same place I shared pictures of my cats and kids. Like hell.

So, the “unfriending” began. Call a woman a cunt? Good-bye. Show me pictures of dead or tortured people or animals. Gone. Idiots? No more. Can’t stop ranting about your pet brand of crazy—astrology, homeopathy, and the insanity that claims vaccines cause autism? Booted from my list of people with whom I’d like to interact.

Once the unfriending began, it got easier. You know how, when you go out shopping, but you’re loath to spend money. It just takes that first purchase...that first silly little thing that costs twenty bucks and the next thing you know you’ve got a $500 mixer in your cart. It’s the same with so-called friends on Facebook. You might think maybe this guy isn’t so bad. So you check his wall, scroll down, just to be sure. By the time you’ve unfriended fifty whackos it’s nothing. You just posted a diatribe against Black Lives Matter and you want me to “share” it to show that I agree that “Cops Lives Matter?” What are you? Some kind of idiot? Gone. Gone. Just gone.

And then came Trump.

With Trump, I learned that nearly every person I went to school with, every person who lived in my hometown, was dumb as toast. And I “unfriended” them without a tear.  No hesitation.

“But...but,” people were saying. “Just because we support Trump, or like Trump, or post pictures of Hillary Clinton with a target on her face doesn’t mean we’re racists, or misogynists, or stupid.”

Yes it does. I don’t want to interact with you. Ever. Again.

“But...but,” too many people have been saying, “if you live in a bubble...”

Give me a break.

Actual “conversation” I had on Facebook:

Guy who thinks you’re doing it wrong if you aren’t being confronted on a daily basis about something: If you unfriend people, you’re creating a bubble and that’s not healthy. (paraphrased, of course)
 Me: So you’re saying your entire life revolves around Facebook?
 Stupid guy: No. But if you create a bubble in any part of your life, that’s still a bubble.
 Me: OMG, you’re stupid. (paraphrasing still, of course).  Turn off your computer and go outside.

What kind of people are getting their sole information about the world, their only socializing, their only education and food for thought...from Facebook? They’re not. And they should stop pretending they are. Stop pretending that Facebook is your plug-in to the world. If it is, you have serious problems that I’m not qualified to go into here.

What is Facebook, anyway? It’s a social network. So, when you chastise me for unfriending people who say Donald Trump is a great man, you’re telling me that if I meet this troglodyte at a party, I should stand there and listen to him and his friends go on about Trump’s plans to build a wall, and make Mexico pay [us back] for it. Of course, I could tell him he’s out of his mind and that’s never going to happen. Then we argue. And the party is ruined. But I’m still supposed to go back to that party sometime in the future and stand with that guy and let him say the same, or equally, stupid nonsense, and engage him again.


Other people will say I don’t have to talk to him. If I don’t like what he says, just move along. But here’s where the entire idea starts to break apart. Because this isn’t someone else’s party—it’s not someplace I go and play by someone else’s rules. It’s my party. My Facebook wall. And it’s in my house.

I don’t have to sit down for some social time on my Facebook wall, only to have to work to ignore people who idolize a man I find so repugnant that it angers me just thinking about him. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who thinks Donald Trump is a good man, a great man, a successful man is an idiot. And anyone who supported Donald Trump’s campaign for president is either racist, misogynistic, or a bully. And if not, they cheered one on, so what’s the difference?

And now people are trying to tell me that if I “unfriend” these people, I’m living in a bubble. An echo chamber. Walling myself off from the world.

"Engage!" they insist.

Dude. The world is still there. The Great Oompa Loompa is soon to be President of the United States. There is racism out there, and misogyny, hate, suffering, fascism, corruption, nuclear weapons, and dying children and pets! It’s all there for everyone to see. Facebook is not my world. It’s not the world.

And frankly, it’s bad enough trying to find the pictures of my “friends’” cats while wading through the articles and rants about Heir Drumpf posted by people with whom I tend to agree. Why must I suffer idiots, racists, and bullies, too? No. It’s not a bubble. It’s my party and I’ll enjoy it the way that I want to.

Granted, it’s really sad about my hometown. But it does do a lot to explain my sad and lonely childhood.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Another year...bother.

Squeakers will miss the box.

I tore down Christmas early and with rather more enthusiasm than was necessary this time around, starting the week leading up to the grand new year. I pulled ornaments off the tree, letting them remind me of places we'd been, from Yellowstone to Jamestown, and boxed them up. Somehow I ended up with a small box left over, empty. Perhaps in my zeal I packed the balls and state-sponsored baubles and artsy cultural memorabilia a tad too tightly. They'll jostle against one another more roughly than usual in the dark of the closet awaiting next year's light. Hmph.

I got down to the bare essentials well before New Year's Eve, taking down the advent calendar with its wooden twinkle-light that had been tucked into the Dec 24th pocket for too long and the hanging decoration of Santa Claus rising out of, or being sucked into, a chimney that I made in TOPS so long ago. Taking down from around the house all the greens and reds and joy of the season. Left with nothing but the tree and its lights and the paper angel atop it that one of the boys crafted in preschool. How many years ago must that have happened?

Then I realized that the fancy Christmas kitchen towels would have to be washed before they could be packed away and laundry day, as it happens, is today. And so the lit tree remained for the remainder of the year, ever so much lighter without all the baggage, begging me to remove the angel off its head. But I can't reach the angel. And so it remained.

Today, I pulled the lights. Unwound them again and again and the final string that tangled at the very tip top, when yanked good and hard, sent the paper angel floating to the floor. Fitting.

Once the box, long ago torn in two and taped up separately to make for tree hauling into the attic an easier experience (we're getting older these days), is brought down and dropped dully onto the carpet, I'll say, "Boys, tear down that tree." And they'll do it. And we'll put it all away wondering who will be here with us next year. We started at five and are now at four, the oldest having flown the nest. One day there may only be two--all the parenting done. And another day long, long after that, perhaps only one. And the tree may not go up at all then. The angel may be taken out either way and cried over.

All this ritual is meant to make our lives richer, to give them meaning, but the whispered message is the passage of time and the droning, on and on, of change that never changes. Not really. And as I stand in the open doorway, looking out into the neighborhood of tightly packed homes, our sad attempts at greenness, feel the warmth of a Florida January on my cheek, the last whiffs of pine flit past me, reminding me I still must take the nearly dead wreath off the wall, twist the evergreen branches out of the wire and dump them into the mulch bin. Crows caw from the trees, shadows of ibis dart across the lawn. A slimy frog snuggles deeper into its dark refuge under a bench.

A new year has begun for those of us who track the ceaseless turning and circling of the earth. But I know the truth--that I am small and insufficient to the task of holding the universe together.