Carry On

I’m concerned, hearing more people talk about relaxing their covid regimes.

“Oh, it’s fine, I’ve met up with them before,” one woman I paused to talk with on my walk said about her plan to spend Christmas with sixteen family members from three states, in a rental house in Oregon.

“We saw each other in August.”

“But isn’t the question what they’ve been doing since you met them?” I said. “It’s the going out and shopping, the kids at school, and doctor appointments…?”

She waved a dismissive hand. “It’ll be fine. We’re all family.”

“Well if you’re all masked that will help,” I say, letting my doubt show.

“It’s okay,” she says again, but looks away, and I don’t believe she’s saying they will all mask. “Masks, it’s so hard to find any that fit. Besides, you can’t live in fear.”

A quote at which I decide I don’t care any more. But now, hours later, I’m a bit ashamed. Of course I do care. Covid doesn’t distinguish between relatives or intentions, fear or bravado. It only wants opportunity. But I have a sad feeling that nothing I could say would take the shine off this woman’s plan with the lovely house in Oregon and her sixteen relatives from three states.

Please, friends, be careful. Don’t drop your guard. Don’t let the weariness of this strange and strained regime we try to follow get your guard down. We can still do this. And we must still care.

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A Change in Pace

Working in the studio during this lockdown seems so unchanged, and yet the news is ever on my mind, challenging my concentration. I cannot believe the latest series I’ve produced is unaffected.

I pulled up a lot of images of persimmons — not the ones I grow, but my neighbor Ginny’s Hachiyas. I also opened up my sketchbooks and found my drawings of persimmons on my passageway counter, plus the dried persimmon leaves I saved from last fall.

This set of three paintings are the results of my staring at these various items and rearranging them in my mind. I plan on at least two more before I go to some other topic….

Here’s an image showing how I start, a rough sketch in colored chalk — complete with rub-outs, and a placement of my darkest darks.

Here’s how that sketch ended.

And since I waited I can now show number five.

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Garden Hours

morning harvest mid July 3

I wander through the garden before the warmer hours and blinding sun are full on, (cataracts make a difference in the dazzle when you’re outdoors, even with a hat.) Hanging from the netting, beans beckon, fistfuls of NorthEasters, a superb Roma type stringless and of superb flavor, Carminat long and slender the color of garnets in sunlight, and the old staple from the 1850’s, Kentucky Wonder. Then I must pay some attention to the Oriental Express eggplants, gleaming curves so purple they verge on black and shining smoothly under fuzzy leaves like felt.

Tomatoes next, a puzzle of which can be left one more day to bring their sweetness up– but please pick before any one goes mushy. Black Krim, Amish Pink Paste, Cherokee Black, Brandywine, Striped German, Japanese Trifele, Marbonne, Nepal, Indigo Cherry, Rose, and of course Sungold. Who creates these names? Purple kale, cucumbers (Piccolino are fantastic),then some sprigs of rosemary, basil and a handful of hot peppers, Serrano of course.

kale and tangerines

I set the basket in the moving shade of our sycamore tree then take another basket to go after fruit. My navel oranges, Washington and Roberts are mostly past, so I take a few Fremont tangerines, three Mexican limes, some Eureka lemons, late-season apricots (only good for cooking), Dapple Dandy plumcots and a few ready-to-fall Pettengill apples. The first and second plantings of zucchini have given up but I have some nearly grown new plants out, and there will be more squash before two weeks are past. Pleanty for my give-away box at the end of the driveway.

Which reminds me, there’s been a wonderful aspect to this time, in that people are responding to that give-away in more personal and enthusiastic fashions. We receive envelopes with greetings, bottles of preserves made from our produce, and even though the bin has a big sign on it “FREE–GRATIS!” I’ve found embarrassing presents of money in it. I have a small collection of the hand-written notes, and fine memories of people calling out with a thank you or a description of what delicious meal they made with our produce.

It’s enough to keep me busy, planning meals around this garden’s generosity, but don’t forget, the corn’s ready too. Lovely ears only marred by corn borers. Does anyone know why corn borers are so variegated in hue and pattern? Are they really several species of these aggressive moth children, with an identical fondness for sweet corn? But they look the same to an uncritical eye when they emerge from their pupae. You’d think on such a diet they would reward the eye with colors and pinwheels of pattern, but no…dusty brown gray is all we get for the loss of tasty kernels.

Yesterday I set several sixpacks of soil I seeded with eggplant, zucchini, and even a few tomatoes into the coldframe my husband rebuilt. You look at me askance. Coldframe? It’s summer isn’t it? Yes, indeed it is, but remember we have an ocean influence here, so our nights drop into the fifties most of the year, even in summer. And temperature, as my father taught me, is vital in encouraging germination. I don’t know if he would have shaken his head over my trying a few late tomato sets, but I think it’s worth the experiment. I’ll report later, how that goes. The sun’s on full, and I’m retreating to think about food.

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Night Must Wait, new edition in 2020

I spent a while resisting working on formatting my novel Night Must Wait for a revised edition release as an e-book, because I was lazy and didn’t feel like I wanted to learn a new set of skills. The rights to the book reverted to me some years ago from the original publisher, but I kept finding reasons why I wasn’t ready to sit down and grind through the process. I didn’t have a new cover painting–that was one excuse. Those of you familiar with this blog probably will laugh pretty hard hearing that excuse, knowing how many paintings I paint a year!

But I’ve done it. I figured out the rules of reformatting, and I took a section of an existing painting out of my past oils of Nigeria, and I navigated obtaining a new ISBN (you can’t re-use the ISBN the original publisher gave the book because that number belongs to them and this is a new edition with many changes, deletions and completely different spacing,) and I managed to get the copyright registered with the Library of Congress. If any of you are considering working out the process for your own book, you can settle for the free AISN that Kindle will give you and you don’t have to get an LCCN. I wanted these extra things because I’m vain about this book, its subject matter and characters and I think the text has legs for the long run. I also have seen how various on-line ‘free’ book sites have stolen it over the years, and that made me mad. Not so much because of the theft, but because they butchered the book! You couldn’t read the hash they made of my poor novel!

How hard was this to do? Not so bad. The ISBN and LCCN processes were the most anxious parts. Reformatting? Two days and a half of intense work.

So, here are my hopes. I priced low because I want people to read this story. I also signed up for free promotions; thus, if you have a Kindle Unlimited account you’ll find the book is free right now.

If you want to do me a great favor, download it, and when you have an opinion, put in a ranking and even a one-sentence review. In my estimation, even a ‘bad’ review is better than no review. As a writer I’m still working on becoming a better writer– I’m not done yet. Input helps. Bear this in mind too, for any other writers you know– the best gifts you can give to any of us are to obtain the book and leave a review. Once a fellow writer couldn’t read a book of mine– she apologized because she found it too disturbing. and dark. I asked her to leave it a one-star review, please, and to give her reasons. But she was too kind, and thus, my profile still lacks that one-star review! (By the way, she has read and enjoyed Night Must Wait, and honored me with a review of it.)

Now you ask, what’s the story? A historical thriller set in 1960’s West Africa, in Nigeria.. I’ll give you a version of the back cover blurb:

Four best friends from college– but one is a liar and a murderer. They went to Nigeria to seek adventure and satisfy ambition, yet none foresaw civil war erupting in the country. War tears them apart, but one of them plans to sacrifice them all to her purpose, unless something or someone stops her.

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The Halyard h600 Mask

1 complete 2

I’ve made several masks of different types since leaving you with the brief description of one that worked. But I do have a new favorite, very fast to cut and sew, and the best fit yet. If you look at the models of what happens when you sneeze inside a mask you’ll see that the leakage from the sides can be a real issue. This mask does far better–even though I admire the Olson, which can take a coffee filter in its front pocket…lovely idea, but not as good a fit.

I was inspired by this video,   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZBbkn-g-vE   and then made up my own template of which I will share a scan.

4 scan pattern

I really like the material this young professional recommends, the Halyard h600. But let me note that if you wash it, it will lose its waterproof qualities and become no better in its function than any other fabric mask, except that it may fit better, which is after all one of the reasons to try it– it is endurable in warm weather because of its lightness and breathability. You can either put is aside for a minimum of 72 hours after one wearing, or cook it at 165 F for thirty minutes (per University of Florida College of Medicine, Dept of Anesthesiology.) Bleach or other cleansers will degrade the material. In the pursuit of completeness, I also must note here that Lancet had the observation that particles of this virus can persist on fabric for seven to ten days, a truly dismaying figure. I understand this finding is being contested, and if I find out it has been amended, I will later try to get an edit in on this page. Or perhaps one of you will correct this!

2 Halyard h600 fabric

The Halyard h600 comes in large sheets, two-layered. Cut out the mask template so that you have the double mask shapes, one blue one white, then cut two strips of  the double-layered 24″ Halyard. The strips you’ll split into four pieces by pulling apart the layers. Take 24″ pieces of pure cotton twine , lay one down the center of each strip and sew the twine into the fold, thus creating four flat ties, two for each side of the mask. No need for perfection, just function.

4 ties

4.5 tie strap on s m

Sew along the top nose line of the mask, stitching the two layers together. Cut a piece of flexible stout wire, (number 5 is good,) and bend the tips in so no cutting edges are where they will poke through your mask. Shape this to fit the curve along the top nose part of the mask and stitch this into place, essentially pocketing it.

3 wire bent A5 how nose wire will fit between

This photo shows final placement of the nose wire, but it’s much easier to first sew the two layers together along the top, insert the wire in this orientation, and then pocket it in place by stitching through both layers to trap the wire firmly.

6 nose wire 2

Attach the flat ties to the mask with zigzag stitching for security, giving some attention to the angle at which they attach so that they will pull the mask appropriately against your face without creating rumples.

7 attaching ties A

Now stitch the two side darts, making sure you catch all layers of the Halyard fabric without gaps. As you can see from my photos I have become very fond of the cloth sewing clips which have one huge advantage of leaving no holes in your mask other than the ones the sewing machine must make!

8 dart pre s A

9 chin stitching

Last, sew the chin angles together. Try it on, molding the nose wire to your nose, and see if you need to re-set any of the ties or resew any gaps. If not, you are done. If you can do a fit test, please do!

11 complete

Tie the top tie up high, above the ears or across them so that the edge is uncomfortably close to your lower eyelids. Then tie the lower tie snugly behind your head, which should draw the mask down so that you can wear it comfortablt. Mold the nose wire tio fit your nose and you should be good to go.

 

 

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Painting in progress– chaos

fin ptg cropt

Above you see the finished work. I’m not sure I’m going to actually call this painting “Chaos” because it is actually too ordered for that, but I think the subject matter is one of those challenges for the painter that are inspiring. The landscape in question is out in no particular beauty spot by customary rules. It’s a batch of brush and struggling trees on the edge of an open area that has gone dry with the end of summer, and the pale stems of grass and tree branches form an interplay of old and dead and retreating. This comes from my last year’s sketchbook, and a scribbled shape on a page, enriched by memory.

I paint generally in arepresentativemode,veering at times into fauve and often circling around impressionism. Here is a sequence of shots I took as I put this painting together. There’s a bit of glare on these shots for which I apologize– looking at the camera at the time I thought I’d done better!

ptg stage 1 goodptg stage 2 gl

You can see how the underlayment of structure rescues the piece from the chaos in the title of this blog post!

fin ptg cropt

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The person that books made

art books from front door copy

I’m watching the Chinese fifty-episode series called ‘The Untamed‘ … for the second time. The first round, I missed a good deal. Of course I do have the English subtitles on, but my long-neglected college Chinese is kicking in. Here’s what I learned– that speech in dialogue generally is fairly uninventive, repetitive, and the vocabulary narrow. When I put the lens on what I hear in the street daily from strangers practicing social distancing, or from the news, it’s borne upon me as it has been before, that a great deal of what we really say to each other is limited, and in word-choice, dull. Inflection and expression, body language and gesture are what we lean into to understand nuance. ‘The Untamed‘ is quite good at that. I delight how it lingers, pondering facial expressions in a leisurely fashion.

The writer’s trick is to change that paucity of our normal expression, without creating a barrier to the reader. I know my vocabulary expands if I’m reading books that have great writing. I’m also aware that the cadences and complexities, the various forms of dependent clauses that I craft, all are affected by my concurrent reading.

There’s a delightful book by Francis Spufford with a similar title to this blog post, The Child that Books Built. https://www.amazon.com/Child-That-Books-Built-Reading/dp/0312421842  that I recommend without reservation. Spufford gives thanks for all the wonders his reading brought to him, the rich ethical dilemmas and imagined worlds that shaped him, in a fashion I wish I had the grace to emulate. The little volume is a reminder of the debts so many of us owe to the transfixing and transformative works that stand upon our shelves.

When I went to college, I was afraid to leave home. Even though we as a family had travelled and lived in many places– three different places in Nigeria, the family home in New Hampshire, a little house in Nebraska, a run-down farmhouse in upper New York State near Rochester– I had never left my family before. I was desperately afraid that I would turn tail after a night or two and head for home on the Grayhound bus. So I packed books. These might not be family, but they were next best– they were friends. I felt even then that having a shelf of books was having your world with you. All those people, all those voices, all gathered up in pages softened by handling, bindings faded by years. T.E. Lawrence, Austen, C.S. Lewis, Degler, Heinlein, Terkel, Blish, Sayers, Cooper, LeGuin, Dumas, Gide, Hugo, the list was long and the boxes heavy.

A fellow student, a senior to my freshman status, lived at the end of my third-floor hall and she told me years later that when she saw my room, she was offended. As an English major she felt that you came to college to acquire books, that my long row of friends was a boast. It implied that I came with all the books I needed already. She discovered within the week that I would hand them out with glee on loan to anyone who showed the least interest. She took the occasional volume, always, as she said long after, with the suspicion that I wanted to convert her in some way, whether to religion or philosophy, she was not sure, but she read and read, tugging for a thread. I had books she’d never heard of, like The Seven Pillars of Wisdom and Slippy McGee. In time I had a two-part revenge on her for all her suspicions. I put her in a novel, and she married my brother-in-law.

PP post booksale copy

But what was I saying? That books are such friends. It’s even said by Louisa May Alcott as played by Winona Ryder in that older version of Little Women. I felt as though my line had been lifted when I heard her suggest this to Dr. Bhaer, (as played by Gabriel Byrne.) Most of us who read, are made by books.

Maybe it’s the best of gifts, to be built by friends.

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Lemon Meringue Pie

done 2We’re all cosily settled at home, well, maybe.

My poor husband is trying to run a College and plan out teaching a course, all long-distance, but of course the resources offered by the University cannot handle the surge in needy faculty that just arrived on the virtual doorstep of Instructional Resources. So now comes the stressful busines of trying to figure out how to give a lecture on-line when the accomodations don’t accomodate. When he said to me, “couldn’t we have a lemon meringue pie, or maybe lime”, I said “I’ll think about it. ”

The actual first act is to take out and seperate the eggs, because egg white is the opposite from whipped cream. Cream for whipping needs to be as cold as possible. But egg whites for whipping need to be room temperature.

egg sep1egg seperation

I set my four separated eggs aside to warm in the kitchen to room temperature while I make the pie crust. Only a single crust, that I start by preheating the oven to 425 F. Then I mix flour butter, sugar and salt with a Cuisinart, using the single sharp blade.

I use 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 reaspoon sugar and a third of a cup of butter, cut together to resemble cornmeal. Then as the Cuisinart blade spins, drop in about two tablespoons of grapeseed oil, or any other flavorless oil. Dump this mixture into a bowl. and dribble in about 1/3 cup of ice water with a squeeze of lemon juice in it, gently tossing until the water is scattered well into the flour mix. Go lightly, do not stir this mixture about with enthusiasm or you will get a crust like cardboard. There are a few tricks hidden here– the sugar and the lemon both act as tenderizers,  and the ice water doesn’t melt the butter–but  delicate handling is also essential to keep a light tender crust. A real traditionalist would never use a Cuisinart, but I’m lazy, so this is how I make a  mealy though tender crust. If you want a truly flaky crust, you need to use a pastry cutter instead, or two table knives with narrow blades to cut the butter in. I used to do that when baking in the college dormitory kitchenette, which had no equipment worth the name.

Now turn the ragged dough about with your hands, but try not to warm it with too much contact. Press lightly but firmly and toss the ragged dough until it begins to come together. Add a little more ice water if you must. When the dough comes together enough to be patted into a rough slightly flattened shape, you have done enough.

I use a favorite roller and a pastry bag to roll my crust. I do not like the rollers that have handles and ball bearings because they have no finesse, and you cannot truly feel the dough.

good roller and piecrust bagunbaked crust

Bake this in the preheated oven after weighting it down with beans or any of the weights made for the purpose. Should I confess that I don’t do this? I pierce the crust in many places with fork tines and then check it as it bakes, several times, to re-pierce it so it doesn’t bubble up and make an uneven crust. But that’s not what you’re supposed to do!

pie crust baked

Note that I put the crust in its pan to cool, on a nice dry oven mitt. If your are unlucky enough to place your pyrex pan on a bit of water on the counter, it may shatter, leaving an incredible mess and no crust. Of course that’s a problem that isn’t there if you use a metal pan, but since the very acidic filling of these pies eventually does leak into the pan, you will get a metallic flavor from the combination of metal and acid after a day or so. That’s why I will generally prefer to use a pyrex or ceramic pie pan for this type.

I said acid, and here is the mixture I like for beginning the lemon and or lime filling.

Grate about 1 teaspoon of lemon peel, and squeeze enough lemons or limes or both to give you at least 2/3 cup juice. I sometimes use even more– this depends on the lemons and your personal love of acid. Stir up the four egg yolks in a small bowl or a two cup pyrex measuring cup and leave the fork in it for later use.

Combine well, in a stout pot:  2 cups white sugar, 4 tablespoons cornstarch, 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour and about 1/8 teaspoon salt.

unmixt sugar and additionsmixed const flour and sugar

Mix this so that you don’t get lumps later! Heat 2 cups of water to a reasonable heat, not boiling, and add gradually, stirring. Again, be careful because you don’t want the water to cook the cornstarch immediately and make a lumpy filling.  When all the water is mixed in, cook while stirring constantly over high heat until the misture boils. Lower the heat and continue to cook for two minutes. Take it off the stovetop.

P1040182

Beat by the hot spoonful into your raw beaten egg yolks, using the fork to beat briskly while you add, to keep from cooking bits of egg. When you have mixed about a quarter of the hot goo in, then stir your eggyolk rich mixture briskly in to the pot’s remaining contents of translucent goo, and cook again until boiling. Continue at a lower heat to cook this for two minutes, then turn off the heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of butter. Now add your grated peel and lemon juice to your personal taste. As I said, I like a strong bite to the filling, because it will be eaten right against the purely sweet and fluffy meringue. I’d use a minimum of half a cup of lemon juice, but I’ve been known to graze perilously close to a cup.

lemon filling

Now for the meringue. Your four egg whites should be a proper room temperature by now. Have them in your mixing bowl  with possibly a splash of lemon juice, or best of all 3/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar. Add 3/4 teaspoon of vanilla. Start beating with a balloon whisk in your mixer, and once you reach the early soft peak stage, begin to gradually add 8 tablespoons of sugar. Warning, don’t be too slow or you will end up overbeating the whites. You want glossy slightly relaxed peaks that hold well, but not a clumpy meringue. Clumpy means you beat them too long, and the product won’t be as attractive.

peaking

Now pour your warm lemon filling into the cooled pie crust and cover with your meringue, making sure to bring the edges of meringue out all the way to the edge of crust so it doesn’t shrink back during baking. Bake in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes until meringue is golden on the peaks and well set (see above and below). Cool before eating. Okay yes, I know people who have no patience and eat this hot. If you do that, the pie will be a mess and the filling will run and not present that beautifully clean appearance most people love. But it will still taste good!

 

lemon meringue a

 

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Behind the Mask

pinning elastic

I’ve been working on cloth masks as I promised, but what I’ve discovered is how difficult it is to create one that a person will actually wear. My friend who works in the Emergency Room locally, made the crack that “compliance is based on comfort,” which I can easily believe. The first masks I made were based on a design I found on the internet, but those masks had a flat line at the top which mean that the top would ride up into my eyes. Too uncomfortable. Plus it made me keep tweaking it down, which meant cross-contamination on each tug.

I won’t bore you with all the variant versions to date, but i am guardedly accepting of my most recent pattern. The main points are:

a.) the nose needs to rise higher than the cheeks

b.) pleats are necessary for comfort

c.) side supports for the elastic or the ties, are needed so there’s not a single-point stress that deforms the shape of the mask during wearing, and an across-the-back tie or elastic, is far better than loops  around the ears.

d.) an angled center tuck  top and bottom helps increase close coverage and comfort.

e.) if possible try to find a strong wide twist tie to attach to the top of the nose so that the mask can be pinched in to fit your wearer’s nose.

f.) your iron is your friend. Use him a lot; he is the next best to an extra pair of hands.

I’ll just post a sequence of photos of my most recent mask in process, made of a close-woven cotton. For the sake of my pride let me say that I do not like to sew, and I have no refined skills at it. I am solely a purpose-driven seamstress. As I continue I’m likely to keep experimenting, but I probably will neaten up this product as I go– I sure do hope so!

number onenumber twonumber three

side view

I’ve cut two pieces here, a front and a back shown folded together print side out to check the angles top and bottom. Each single piece looks a bit like a butterfly when laid flat because the center front nose is still attachedtuckspleatsedit on machinepin elasticfinished mask rear viewfinished, side

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Love in a Time of Covid19

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I started some weeks ago looking around to assess which of my neighbors in this raggletag neighborhood might be elderly and in need of extra support in this time of social distancing. Then I realized I’m elderly too…a little, around the edges, you might say. The idea made me smile, because of its sheer absurdity.

I may have arthritis and a skunk-streak of silver in my formerly black hair, but I can swing a pick axe to dig out a new vegetable bed, just fine. I can do hours of field work on my garden, or hours in the studio, or hours at the computer writing a novel, and it’s all work, and feels pretty good until the end of day, when some joints are impolite enough to comment on excessive enthusiasm. Spoilsports.

One thing I figure I can do is to keep my give-away bin streetside filled with citrus and fresh hot peppers. Washington navels, Fremont tangerines, Eureka lemons, Minneola tangelos, Trovita navels and Roberts, kumquats and Mexican limes. Sometimes strawberry guavas as well. I’m picking with disposable gloves on and not washing the fruit, and I put out a short note on the box telling the public I’m using gloves, also requesting people to select with their eyes and take all that they touch.

Oranges in bin

Now the local hospital is calling for not only factory-made masks, but home sewn ones. Another new job, and so I started thinking about how many pleats I should put in and whether I could insert a new twist tie to help the wearer mold the nose more tightly. Then I read an article https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/5/4/e006577  and quote from it here “Penetration of cloth masks by particles was almost 97% and medical masks 44%”. So, no wonder they speak of the false sense of security that anything under a N-95 mask gives.

Thinking the project over, I believe it still makes sense to sew and donate masks. Here’s my thinking– over all, these masks protect not the wearer but the others who meet with that wearer. So if every suspected case upon entrance to the ER dons one, this may help protect the ER staff, our most valued resource. And if I can figure out how to do a fast turnaround, I might be able to create enough of these to preserve half a box worth of medical masks for the medical staff or the intake volunteers. Every mask counts.

It’s a storm, and a long one. It’s a war. Maybe every generation needs a war to start to think more widely about community. I could wish we didn’t need it, but I am seeing some truly inspirational behavior among my neighbors and strangers.

This generation possibly more than any of the past may need to understand this and pass it on to their successors… the evolutionary fact that, that when there are this many of any one species populating the earth, pandemics are inevitable.

We cannot stand alone any longer, believing we can be independent and rugged posing against the sun, because there’s always someone else in sight… hopefully at least six feet away.

 

 

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