Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Thank You On Behalf of Friends...

(This post is applicable to the United States. Amazon links may behave differently in other countries.)

As most of you already know, Amazon offers two forms of commissions on sales through associated or affiliated blogs. When readers buy things in the ordinary way, using the precise link they see on this web site, Amazon adds a small commission to my for-profit account. Readers can, however, shop for the same items at, which directs the commissions to the charities of bloggers' choice.

When you click on the Amazon links at this web site, they usually open the page for what Amazon wanted you to see first at the time of posting. That was days or years ago. There's a high probability that another seller on Amazon is offering a better deal by now. As a result, even when you buy things to which I've linked, I don't get a commission. That's not a problem so long as you remember to type the "smile" in front of "" before buying that item that's a better deal. Then you should, in theory, get a choice of which charity you'd prefer to receive the commission.

Most links at this web site go to my for-profit account but I also link to two charities: Heifer International, in memory of the blogger known as Ozarque (, and the Adventist Disaster Relief Agency, in honor or memory of the occasional writer known as Grandma Bonnie Peters.

Heifer is so called because it places farm animals, such as a heifer, a female calf, with poor farm families. A poor farmer who invests the work in rearing a heifer for a few years will soon have a cow who repays the farmer with milk. There are other ways this Arkansas-based charity supports small businesses in poverty zones like Ecuador and Cambodia--you can give a goat or chickens, or vegetable seeds, or tuition for a needy student. They have a "gift catalogue" at This is a legitimate, well established poverty and disaster relief organization.

Despite their focus specifically on disaster relief, ADRA actually offers similar benefits in areas where people are recovering from physical disasters. Their "gift catalogue" at looks similar to Heifer's, with options for donating the cost of chickens or chicken coops, vegetable seeds, tuition, shelter meals, and so on.

(Today's Amazon book link is an ordinary for-profit link, unless you browse around to Amazon Smile.)

In a 1960 book called The Seventh Day, Booton Herndon described a recent ADRA mission after an earthquake in Mexico: "Most of the damage was in the nice part of town where people were used to new things, and the Adventists did not let them down," having previously been blessed with shiny new plastic-wrapped bedding. As a child I remember hearing people ask GBP whether ADRA raised money to deliver brand-new stuff to the rich. Actually the gift catalog doesn't even discuss shelter supplies. Adventist churches generally collect, refurbish, and redistribute store overstock and gently used stuff through a separate, volunteer-run, local-church-managed program they (used to) call the Dorcas Society. Let's just say that when they do hand out clothing it's likely to have all of its original buttons.

Both charities support ongoing missions in some parts of the Southern Hemisphere; both web sites display those familiar images from poverty pockets in Africa and India. Both are, in fact, global. There has never been and will never be a charitable organization that didn't "lose" a fair bit of donated money on operating expenses, and in many countries on bribes to local honchos; Heifer and ADRA are two of the most efficient.

So when I get an Amazon giftcard, I personally like to run it through Amazon Smile and give a few pennies on the dollar to one of these two beloved elders' favorite charities.

Today Amazon started a new thing. Amazon always reports on the tiny amount of commissions this web site has earned on for-profit sales. They mail out the check when affiliate site commissions reach US$100 and this web site is...actually quite report that, at the current rate, this web site should receive a check in approximately 75 years. (I'm already over 50 years old; GBP is over 80--and we're going to split that check.) But today they also e-mailed out reports on the amounts our charities have earned. According to Amazon, Gentle Readers, you've raised over US$2,500 for ADRA and over US$23,000 for Heifer.

Presumably Amazon Smile aggregates funds directed to these charities through all uses of Amazon Smile, not only those referred by this web site, to calculate these figures...

Anyway, you have been most generous in supporting two legitimate charities that don't promote a political agenda or build up a handout culture. Thank you. Thank you all.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Mailing List Update

Well...let's just say nobody seems to be hanging out on Twitter any more.

Lacking faith that Twitter can continue to exist very long in its current form, I am hereby, as a matter of policy, blocking all corporate tweets that aren't relevant to any ongoing conversations. Jack Dorsey had every right to offer to "promote" corporate tweets by shoving them into everyone's Twitter feed, if he hadn't insulted his audience by "filtering" our tweets out of each other's feed. There are still writers I follow who still use Twitter to promote their books, and I'm still not seeing their tweets in amongst all the corporate rubbish.

So, until all private individuals' free accounts are reestablished as Prime Accounts and the Lifeblood of Twitter, all accounts of the other kind will be blocked. I'm sorry about this. As mentioned before, I think insurance companies could make a worthwhile contribution to the Glyphosate Awareness page...if Twitter's "filtering" system weren't preventing them from even seeing what their self-advertising sludge is interrupting. Sorry about that, corporate accounts. Unless there is a two-way dialogue you do not have my permission to fill up my Twitter stream.

In order to give corporate accounts the kind of exposure they claimed to want, New Twitter blocked the dialogue. Buzz! Buzz! Wrong answer. On social media, there is not and should not be much tolerance for anyone blaring on without listening to other people and participating in a social conversation. On Twitter there has generally been a high level of tolerance for lots of different conversations among people who aren't interested in each other--Twitter has made it easy to tune those out--but, even if you're paying for maximum exposure, you can't get that exposure by insulting and locking out the people who are talking to each other. That is just too rude.

There is, still, a way private people can counter the rudeness. In addition to tagging each other so we see one another's tweets, we can block the commercial squick. Banks, insurance agencies, and car manufacturers can continue to tweet to me--if they tag me, directly, and reply to something I've said. Otherwise they can pay to tweet exclusively to one another, and I wish them joy, screaming their throats out in a room without a single listener.

Everyone is cordially invited to join me in hitting that "block" button every time we see anything from a corporate account we don't follow. It'll be fun. If Twitter goes into a fatal tailspin, well, it seems to be heading in that direction anyway.

Meanwhile...I'll continue to post links to all the good stuff I find online at Twitter, as long as Twitter continues to be there. I'll continue to host the Glyphosate Awareness chat, ditto. You should be able to find the Glyphosate Awareness chat a little longer but, since Twitter is not enabling us to chat easily, I'm asking those who want to continue to hear from me to sign up for either an e-mail or real mail list.

I've considered, even tested, allegedly free mailing services and decided against using them. Mailchimp, the one that's sometimes considered most trustworthy, is currently making no secret of its ambitions to go all-for-profit and become spammier. I don't want to do anything spammy. I don't want to send out e-mail in a way I would object to receiving it. So, no Mailchimp, no Paracom, no; if you sign up for my e-mail you'll receive individual e-mails, no automated list for hackers to gank and sell.

E-mail will be free. Once a week you'll receive an e-letter that summarizes the week's Bayer Boycott News. It will be plain text; it will be short; you'll see only your and my e-mail addresses.

Real mail will cost me money. Again, I don't want to run afoul of the elaborate and ridiculous laws that govern bulk mailing for reduced rates. I'm not doing Glyphosate Awareness for profit but I will have to charge a fee for printing and postage. That fee will be an even amount in U.S. dollars, covering the cost of printing and mailing whatever number of pages the weekly newsletter amounts to. People who choose this option can choose small, medium, large, extra-large, or huge print, and they can choose to receive links, abstracts, or full text of documents cited.

I don't want to know anything about you except your e-mail or mail drop address and any information, whether published or "anecdotal," you choose to share about glyphosate and the Bayer Boycott.

To join either mailing list, please send the appropriate address (yours) to the appropriate address (mine) at the bottom of the page. Real mail to P.O. Box 322 should be addressed to "The Boxholder."

Quality Park 9 x 12 Clasp Envelopes with Deeply Gummed Flaps, Great for Filing, Storing or Mailing Documents, 28 lb Brown Kraft, 100 per Box (37890)

No, weekly newsletters won't (usually) require big envelopes...but Amazon's picture of small, plain, cheap envelopes, which are white, didn't stand out on the white background. Newsletters will be mailed in the plainest, cheapest envelopes the post office offers. You will not have to pay for fancy packaging.

The Bayer Boycott Song

I promised a theme song...Y'know, boycotts have grown smaller in my lifetime, while corporations have grown bigger. In view of the number of different kinds of pain people have after glyphosate spraying in the neighborhood, this trend needs to reverse here. The Bayer Boycott could easily be, and should be, the grandmother of all boycotts past, present, and future. Make the grape boycott in the 1970s look small! We need a good song. We need several good songs. By way of encouragement, here is a song. I make no claims that it's especially good. Write a better one, please.

The Wiz

There may be a better Winning Protest Song than "Everybody Rejoice," in The Wiz, but since I don't know it, I've used the tune of "Everybody Rejoice." Most of us can't reach Diana Ross's top notes. So, lower the key by a third, or a fifth. It's still a great tune for marching or dancing.

Well, Bayer's on the run! Do they remember 1945?
The day of profit's come and gone! They are just trying to get out alive!
Their glyphosate makes people sick a dozen different ways,
Yet they debate, to wear out cancer patients' dying days!

Join the Bayer Boycott now!
Join the Bayer Boycott now!

Headache trying to begin? Drink some water, take a good hot bath.
Throw out the aspirin! Make Bayer feel the loss and do the math!
Lose Dr. Scholl's--just buy some shoes that really fit your feet!
Bayer controls less of our lives than they thought, ain't that sweet?

Dog or cat has fleas? Then boil their blankets and flea-comb their coats.
No need to make them wheeze, no need to burn their noses and their throats.
Pets' allergies are mostly chemical reactions, just like ours.
Ban things like these*, relief lasts more than twenty-four short hours!

Tampering with genes will feed more population growth, or so they claim?
Bosh! All that means is profit for themselves, their only aim!
No vitamin pill undoes the damage Bayer's poisons do!
They've made us ill! That's why the boycott's good for me and you!

* "These": Printable list at .

Car Show, or There Must Be More to Life than Glyphosate, Politics, and Cats

On the way to work this morning I walked facing a parade of nostalgic old cars in all their glory, all on their way to Duffield for one of those Antique Car Shows the auto parts shop stores find such a festive way to attract business.

Although the cars may be up to a hundred years old, local tradition requires that the winners be roadworthy enough to be driven to the show. There is scorn for "garage princesses." The cars people admire most have been tagged and insured throughout most of the years they've existed.

This is possible because of the local custom of buying a second car as a showpiece.

The typical local motorist's first car is a clunker. He bought it secondhand, to have something to drive to a minimum-wage or student-labor job, and chose the most recent, most popular junk car possible because most of the working parts already needed replacement. Although he may later remember this car fondly, he is currently embarrassed by it, and may even buy one of those "My other car is a..." bumper stickers. The day when the auto parts store guys tell him "They're not making those any more," he'll be glad to sell the thing for scrap and buy another car, probably an economy model, probably also secondhand.

Meanwhile, when he can afford it, he buys the showpiece car. This may be a blatantly impractical model; it may already be a "classic," or it may just be a very, very expensive car. It will sit in the garage and nonverbally tell people "Somebody in this house has surplus income" for years during which it's driven only when the working car, or truck, is not working.

Actual road trips are taken in old Ford Escorts, Chevy Cavaliers, Toyota Corollas, and Honda Accords, or if a new car has to be bought, in Ford Fiestas, Chevy Sparks, Honda Civics, and new Toyota Corollas; or in pickup trucks or minivans.

Driveways hold Bel Airs, Chevelles, Mustangs, Corvettes, Camaros, Lincolns, Cadillacs, Beemers, Mercedes, Lexus, Volvos, and Miatas, which are tagged and insured and driven, if all goes well, fewer than fifty miles in a year. If the family fall on hard times their tags may be taken off. If the owner is desperate they may be sold, with an eye to their future value as antiques.

Some people do drive the more expensive of two or more motor vehicles the family own, if it's the one that gets better fuel mileage or the one that's still covered by a warranty. If people have a Prius, they drive it. However, Bel Airs seen on the road are usually on the way to or from a car show.

When these vehicles converge on a local town, road conditions become...well...nostalgic. Oh the roar of engines lacking mufflers! Oh the stench of exhaust systems lacking filters! Real antique cars have never had these innovations. Some of them never had seat belts, either, and some are so low-slung that oil pans, as well as any muffler or filter the car might have, seem likely to fall off if anything as big as an incompletely squashed rabbit happens to be in the road. In a part of the world where private roads often demand a minimum of 19" clearance, a car with less than 12" clearance still makes a statement.

From time to time it's good for middle-aged and older people to note some ways in which "the former days" were not better than these. Vintage car shows are jolly social occasions and generally bring business to the towns that host them, but automotive technology really has improved.

Amazon book link? But of course. For every vintage car fancier there's a book in this series...

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Twitter Is Crumbling

I paused the chore of tagging every Tweep in order to take care of some other tasks, and see what was going on with Twitter. It's not looking good, Gentle Readers.

Twitter says it's no longer filtering tweets from private, free individual accounts out of my feed. So why is my Twitter feed still a lot of slick corporate rubbish full of graphics?--Did I say that?--Yes, I said that. The first accounts I followed on Twitter were newspaper accounts. For years I used Twitter mainly for the links to headline news from around the world. The real Washington Post and Times, which I would read every day if I still got them on the same day, and the real New York Times and Los Angeles Times and Guardian and other newspapers from far-away places, which I would read every week or two if they came free in the mail, would not reach me on the day they're printed. The headlines from all those papers do, via Twitter. I'd miss the headlines, too, if they disappeared, but a funny thing happens when I open Twitter lately. I'm looking for my Tweeps, who were censored en masse a few weeks ago. A respectable newspaper tweets a legitimate news headline--freak weather here, celebrity funeral there--and I catch myself thinking "Oh turn it off, who cares if some movie star's dead, WHAT'S HAPPENING TO TRACY DOE?" Real news items blur together with ad-garbage in my mind as I scan for Tweeps' tweets and find jolly few of them.

Well, we've had a holiday weekend. Despite the officially solemn nature of Memorial Day, the timing works against solemnity. Most Americans now pay people to tend graves and, even if people do trudge out to lay a wreath on a stone and remember a grandparent, in the morning, mostly Memorial Day weekend is about picnics, boats, and barbecues. When the weather is favorable, as in much of the U.S. it has been, people take week-long vacations, go to the beach or the mountains, and unplug. This accounts for some of the drop in individual Twitter activity...but not all of it.

When people opened New Twitter and saw that their Tweeps had been declared "low-quality" because they weren't paying to advertise their store locations on the Internet, we were insulted. Admit it, Dorsey, that's an insult.

Current reality is that in much of the United States, certainly in my home town, even most of the private businesses aren't paying to maintain phone lines that any random person can call, any more. Blame the telephone companies that raised monthly fees, allowed employees to talk back to customers, failed to maintain public computer centers, then left business phone numbers out of the local phone directories, all of which made people feel that paying a monthly phone bill was more trouble than it was worth. If you don't have a physical store that takes a lot of phone orders, you don't have a phone line, any more. (I'm sitting in a cafe that does have a phone line, looking out toward a row of businesses: one still has a phone, four don't; one has a phone line but makes and takes calls only for about an hour a day, only three days a week.) Individuals have cell phones. Most of those cell phones don't pick up most of the signals for ordinary conversation-type calls during the warmer two-thirds of the year. Probably a majority of them are either tax-subsidized "Obamaphones," for which the service can hardly aspire to reach the level of "pathetic," or else very fancy "smart phones" purchased by their children, for people who want to live alone in their own homes after age 80, most of whom have never figured out how to use even the normal phone functions on their "smart phones." (Two of my elders, after trying to call and chat with each other for about a year, broke down and disclosed their phone numbers to me in hopes that I could make it possible for them to call each other. I got each of their phone numbers plugged into the other's phone. I've yet to hear whether they've succeeded in calling each other and making conversation, the way they used to do every day when they were paying for traditional wall-mounted phone lines.) Most of the cell phones that are actually being used run on prepaid minute plans, and if you waste a phone minute even on social pleasantries when talking to a friend, you are likely to be punished by having your calls ignored when they do get through, the next time you try to call that friend. New phone etiquette bars the older conventional "How are you all doing?--Well, Grandpa's out of the hospital, Grandma's still trying to get the sink re-plumbed, etc. etc. etc.--Well my mother-in-law's still sightseeing in Italy, Grandma's put the car up for sale, etc. etc. etc.," that used to while away a happy half-hour or an hour before any two Southerners got to the actual reason for a phone call. Now, when a friend's call does get through, a polite conversation sounds like "I'm at the corner."--"Right."--Click!

So I've received a few plaintive letters and e-mails lately from people who "would like to talk about this or that, but don't have a phone number for you." One of them appeared to have been hand-typed by one of Congressman Griffith's office staff. And if I still had a phone they could call, I would take the time to talk about bills with Congressman Griffith's office staff. Actually I know a few Republicans who would be chuffed to host a phone date for me with Congressman Griffith's office staff--but even the ones who still maintain phone lines that reliably receive incoming calls, for no extra charge, would have to schedule time in advance to be nearby when those phones ring. Telephone culture has changed a great deal in my lifetime. Now I'm not even in a super-frugal minority when I say: I don't have, and unless a client pays for it I probably will never have, a phone that people can call.

I can just see Twitter's corporate sponsors' eyes crinkling and teeth clenching with frustration. "But now that everybody carries a cell phone, we should be able to bombard everybody with sales calls, all the time!" I saw an advertisement yesterday--"Why let your message be lost among 800 e-mails? Let us help you send text messages directly to people's cell phones!" No waaay. People have to pay for unwelcome text messages and, if businesses do start advertising by text messaging on a large scale, next year's legislature will undoubtedly have to choose one of a dozen different bills, by popular demand, imposing a fine on anyone who sends unwanted text messages to private people's cell phones. You can't communicate with me by phone, people. Deal with it. Even if you are one of a few stores I've invited to e-mail me notices of what's going on sale from week to week--and, funnily enough, for some reason those e-mails never have come through; try typing text only, with no live links and no pictures--that in no way implies that I'm willing to pay actual money for letting you waste expensive cell phone minutes, or memory, either, for that matter, are you out of your flippin' MINDS?! 

So, no, there is not and will never be a live phone number connected to my Twitter account. Nor to most of my Tweeps' accounts. Calling us "low-quality" for that reason is an open, shameless, trashy insult. Twitter might as well add remarks about our mothers to our account pages. And so, not too surprisingly, after people went to their account pages and saw that, people are staying away from Twitter in droves.

What could Twitter possibly do to make up for that? I have no idea. I've continued to use Twitter, in spare minutes while watching for developments; but then, I'm both a writer and an activist, so I've grown a few emotional calluses my Tweeps apparently lack. I don't know how much grovelling Twitter needs to do to get them back, but my advice would be for Jack Dorsey to maintain contact between his forehead and the floor or ground, when communicating with the private free users who are Twitter's reason for existing, throughout the next year or two.

Maybe a campaign of segregating accounts associated with publicly traded corporations, identifying them as "lowest-quality accounts," might help. Lowest-quality accounts' home pages should feature headers continually reminding the corporate employees, "You are PAYING for the privilege of interacting with your Lord and Master the Honorable Prospective Customer." Every time these wretched people log into their lowest-quality accounts, at the top of the page they should see a "Promoted Tweet" from a private individual whose account Twitter insulted this spring, and until they have responded to that tweet to the satisfaction of that private individual, even though they're paying, the lowest-quality accounts' tweets should not be visible to anyone else. The purpose of this rigmarole would be to make it clear to the corporate social media consultants that old-school social bullying is no longer an acceptable way to advertise anything. Nobody has to read what you're saying about your product, Sony, Burlington, Zulily et al. You have to type, by hand, "Thank you for sharing your lovely flower picture. Please may I share a picture of this cell phone or guitar or raincoat or whatever else I'm selling?" And you have to wait, lowest-quality account that you are, for the Honorable Prospective Customer's permission to do that.

Y'know, before this censorship deal came out, I had no particular feelings toward Merck. Companies make mistakes. Some companies' mistakes are more disastrous than others. If the Ace Gift & Toy Company sells you a yo-yo that fails to yo properly, you may or may not bother demanding your money back, or just tell the kids to let that be a lesson to them not to spend money on stupid toys. When Toyota had to recall some cars because the rather endearing fast acceleration feature had got out of hand and become dangerous, that didn't make me feel that all Toyota cars are unsafe even when stalled at intersections and need to be banned. I imagine that Boeing, which built a lot of good planes before building a few not-so-good planes, is building good planes again by now. I imagine that Toshiba, which built laptops that were worth their little weight in gold before building some not-so-good laptops and then a few laptops with a flaw that allowed some of them to explode from overheating, is building decent laptops again by now. And I would have assumed that Merck, which unfortunately sent out a batch of vaccines that were contaminated with something that caused a few patients to die, would have reacted in a normal way--huge insurance-funded payoffs to the bereaved, recall of that batch of vaccine, destruction of the equipment on which it was manufactured, probably razing that wing of that building to the ground, and then rebuilding and getting back to producing safer vaccines...if Merck hadn't publicized that, instead, it was demanding censorship of complaints about its toxic contaminated vaccines, even to the point of advocating discrimination against entire religious groups.

Well, now I hate Merck. I'm neither a Jew nor a Jehovah's Witness but I am an American. Like most Americans I feel some sympathy even for Jehovah's Witnesses, and quite a lot of sympathy for Jews, who don't even go around annoying people with silly little tracts. Scum who bash either of those religious groups? Y'mean our fathers and grandfathers did not all but literally pound them into the ground, driving them into their underground bunkers to commit suicide, in 1945? Hey, we have a job to finish here!

By "lowest-quality tweets" I mean the ones from the stores that sell legitimate merchandise I don't happen to be buying. I do not mean Merck, and I do not mean Bayer, and I do not mean Lilly. Some things need to be beaten into the ground like the venomous snakes they're worse than.

As of yesterday Twitter was still "promoting" tweets from loathsome corporations, my Tweeps were not on Twitter, and a Bayer shill whose Twitter name is @29aatea was gloating (in French) "The anxiety-producing tweets are going to disappear." Rrreally? Ecoute bien, mon petit...Twitter may well disappear; if it continues to consist of one big clamor of news reports and advertisements screaming at each other, with no audience listening to either, Twitter will disappear. I've already checked out two web sites that aren't well enough designed to displace Twitter, but honestly, if Google + or even Tsu came back to life tomorrow, New Twitter would be dead by Monday. An intelligent adult has seriously proposed Mylots as capable of displacing New Twitter. I don't think Mylots can, but if Live Journal can keep its glitches from popping up every day or two, Live Journal could easily displace New Twitter.

So, yes, #GlyphosateAwareness is going to e-mail. I'm working on that today. I expect most of our e-mail will go directly into people's Bacon Folders.

If you don't have a Bacon Folder set up, here's my rant about why everybody needs one:

And this long rant about how to keep your bacony e-mail out of the Spam Folder is still something several correspondents need to heed, too:

Anyway: In the post-Twitter world I may resume posting Link Logs as LJ blog posts, "friends-only" until they're sponsored, at which point they'll appear here. Another blog idea I've been mulling for a while, because some correspondents like it and others will haaate it, may spin off into a separate blog and generate a separate e-mail list: that's the one where I (and you, if you feel so inclined) blog our way through the Bible in the "daily devotional" format (limited to one printed page per day, traditionally a standard book page with room for 200 to 300 words).

I'm off to work on the e-mail chore now. I promise a maximum of one pithy, linky glyphosate-related batch e-mail per week. I promise not to send out e-mails I would not want to hype, no duns, no suggested contributions through sites that demand access to your Paypal password. The best way to help expand Glyphosate Awareness to the masses, should you feel called to do so, is to send a U.S. postal money order to the Boxholder, P.O. Box 322, Gate City. All funds raised for Glyphosate Awareness will be used exclusively for printing and mailing newsletters to people who don't do e-mail. I encourage sharing everything we learn about glyphosate with your elected officials and their staff, and may print out postcards for that purpose, but Glyphosate Awareness seeks to influence elected officials by reason alone--no "schmoozing."

Sadly, because already I sorely miss Twitter...

Today's Amazon link is a Very First Book on communication, in audio format for those who don't know how to read, recommended to certain geeks with names like Dorsey who seem to need it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Knitting the Sestina Afghan

First I read a book by Kenneth Koch called Rose, Where Did You Get That Red.

Among other poetic topics, Koch explored with students the odd fact that, for him, the phrase "red rose" was so worn-out it didn't bring an image of a red rose to his mind, although "yellow rose" did. So he played with other ways of writing about roses, as in the title of his book.

He also played with poetic forms, trying to steer the kids away from familiar rhymes. (Perhaps he forgot that, for children, "The moon shone bright / on the warm June night" is still interesting.) One poetic form he invited children to play with was the sestina.

This traditional poetic form is relatively long and very hard to use well; for that reason, nobody expects it to be used very well. If you can assemble a sestina that makes sense in any way, cheers, you've made a sestina. In Renaissance Europe sestinas had rhyme--often all 39 lines had to rhyme with each other--and meter--the most "classical" meter for the language, and they were usually about Romantic Love and/or flattering the poet's sponsors or hosts. In the modern United States sestinas can include anything that has 39 lines, each of which lines ends with one of six words, in order.

Kids can do sestinas about as well as adults do. To prove this, Koch had classes of children, some still learning the primary colors, fill in the blanks and write sestinas in which the lines ended with six color names: pink, aquamarine, green, blue, purple, red; red, pink, purple, aquamarine, blue, green; and so on for the full 39 lines. He included about a dozen of these poems in Rose. Though none of them is among the Best Poems Ever Written in English, each of them does describe a child's world in vivid, colorful images.

I read these sestinas--years ago--and thought, "One of these days I will knit those colors into an afghan, and write my own sestina about it." So last Christmas I found the yarn on sale, knitted the afghan, and wrote the sestina. Here is...

THE COLOR SESTINA (for Kenneth Koch)

I picture roses red as well as pink
or yellow. I can picture aquamarine
buttercream icing roses, with mint green
leaves, buttercream, on a cake that’s blue
vanilla. And the platter, of course, purple.
I wouldn’t bake it, though. I’d prefer red

in berries, cherries, on a cake, to red
of roses. Garden roses can be pink.
Most flowers in that pink-to-blue-to-purple
range are blue where I live. Aquamarine
is rare in nature, unlike green or blue.
Nature will juxtapose bright blue with green

with plenty of brown and grey, and shades of green
to make a backdrop for anything that’s red.
The trees are mostly green, the sky some blue
or other, except sunrise or sunset pink.
Blue and green paint blend to aquamarine.
Blue and pink mix to tint the violets purple,

and likewise iris, hyacinths, snowballs, purple,
a shade that’s lovely against any green.
But nature seldom mixes aquamarine.
Many times nature mixes white with red;
hence flybush, roses, rhododendrons’ pink.
And air itself always takes on a blue

tinge, whether light or dark or faded blue,
that soft and modest blue that shades to purple
in flowers that are purple, blue, or pink.
Nature can go almost too far with green.
Nature is usually temperate with red.
A few birds’ eggs are sometimes aquamarine

and the gem itself, of course, is aquamarine.
Nature mostly favors true blue or no blue.
Nature’s never minded mixing shades of red,
but spares the overall use of red or purple.
If one, why not a hundred shades of green?
Roses, azaleas show a single pink.

Hardly anything is really aquamarine.
The sky is rarely just one shade of blue
but a rose is often just one shade of red.

Then I knitted the blanket. Though shown here on a single bed, it's big enough for two people to snuggle under, or for one to wrap up in like a sleeping bag.

Then I wrote an article about how to knit your own Sestina Afghan. I offered it to a printed magazine that had asked for crochet patterns. They made an offer on this knitting pattern, then decided they didn't have room for it after all. So I'm publishing it here for copyright purposes. The instructions below were written with new, occasional, or very young knitters in mind:

1. Choose a size and shape. I knitted 14” squares to make a full-sized bed/couch cover. You might knit 6” squares to make a crib blanket, or 8x12” rectangles to make a kid-sized bed cover.

2. Choose yarn. Here are six options:

* Red Heart Supersaver acrylic is easy to find in aquamarine, blue, green, pink, purple, and red. I used 14 ounces of each color to make 39 14” squares.

* Cotton is available in bright colors too. Knit cotton squares separately to wash out surplus dye before sewing them together. One 50-gram skein of a cotton yarn like Sugar’n’Cream is more than enough to make a 6” square. Use the extra yarn for sewing.

* If you don’t live near a wool shop, you can find wool yarn in six colors at a wool spinner’s website. Ask how much wool you’ll need for the blanket you want to knit.

* You can change the colors in your Sestina! For a luxurious, sophisticated, non-scratchy blanket, use six shades of undyed Shetland wool.

* The Philosophers’ Wool Company sells undyed yarn that picks up bright pastel colors when it’s simmered in unsweetened Kool-Aid. This process is explained in Fair Isle Sweaters Simplified.

* You could use only one color and repeat six different stitch patterns, instead of colors.

3. Choose a stitch pattern or patterns. Just knitting every stitch in every row makes an interesting, colorful blanket. If you use different patterns, knit the first and last two stitches in each row in the first strip, making a garter stitch border.

You could crochet some or all of your squares. I didn't, but you could. Crocheting generally makes a denser fabric that takes more yarn than knitting.

4. Check your gauge by knitting about 30 stitches and 30 rows. Multiply the number of stitches per inch by the number of inches you want across your squares (or rectangles). Cast on that number of stitches. I cast on 54 stitches in pink to make a 14" square.

5. Make a pink square. On the next right-side row, change to aquamarine. Make an aquamarine square above the pink square. Then add a green, blue, purple, and red square. Bind off in red.

6. Hold the strip with the pink square nearest to you (“at the bottom”), right side facing up. Attach red to the cast-on loop at the right side of the pink square. Cast on as many stitches in red as you did in pink. Work across these stitches until all the red stitches are on the right-hand needle and you come to the bottom edge of the pink square. Each two rows of the garter stitch border at the right side of the pink square form a “bump” of yarn. Beginning at the top, run the left-hand needle through each bump.

The bumps form a line that's perpendicular to the cast-on or knitted row from the next square, on which you're now working. 

7. Now turn your work so the working yarn is facing you, and slip one of those loops of pink yarn onto the left-hand needle. Use the right-hand needle to purl this loop together with the first stitch in red. Knit the next stitch in red. Finish the row. Repeat this procedure to join each wrong-side row of the red square to the edge of the pink square as you go along. When the red square is complete, change to pink and join every wrong-side row of the pink square to the aquamarine square.

8. Work the remaining squares in the same way, in order:

(1) pink, aquamarine, green, blue, purple, red

(2) red, pink, purple, aquamarine, blue, green

(3) green, red, blue, pink, aquamarine, purple

(4) purple, green, aquamarine, red, pink, blue

(5) blue, purple, pink, green, red, aquamarinne

(6) aquamarine, blue, red, purple, green, pink

9. Now make three more squares in a separate short strip of aquamarine, blue, and red. Fold two of these squares together and sew up both sides. Fold the third square over to form a pouch pillow.

10. Use remaining yarn to decorate the edges of the blanket. Knit, crochet, or embroider a border around each edge. Embroider flowers, initials, or other motifs if you like.


Here are some books that explain more about the techniques I used in the Seamless Sestina Blanket:

How to cast on and knit: (The Usborne Guide to) Knitting, by A. Wilkes and C. Garbera. (This is not the prettiest first book of knitting, but it's the most concise and likely to be the best bargain. Well, likely...I just checked...the hardcover first edition, which is what I have, is listed for $280 on Amazon. Consider this paperback reprint.)

Or: Kids Knitting, by Melanie Falick

How to use math to design anything you want to knit: Knitting Without Tears, by Elizabeth Zimmermann

How to dye wool with Kool-Aid: Fair Isle Sweaters Simplified, by Ann and Eugene Bourgeois. (Note that Kool-Aid was not used to make the cover sweater. You use quite a lot of Kool-Aid to dye wool in bright pastels.)

How to knit lots of different patterns: A Treasury of Knitting Patterns, by Barbara Walker. (This is actually the first book in a set of four.)

How to knit seamless pieces by knitting into the bumps, or, failing that, how to sew washed cotton squares together invisibly: The Knitting Experience, Book 1, The Knit Stitch, by Sally Melville

Here are some yarn spinners’ websites:

Red Heart acrylic:

Philosopher’s Wool:

Brown Sheep wool and mohair:

Jamieson & Smith Shetland wool:

Alafoss Iceland wool:

Lion Brand spins lots of different kinds of yarns. Their selections vary from year to year, sometimes including good cottons and wools as well as Vanna's Choice acrylic. Their prices depend on how much you order, so stores that sell yarns tend to be able to resell yarns at a better price than the company gives online shoppers for just a few skeins of yarn. After viewing the selections at, compare prices with

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Tortie Tuesday: Traveller Reaches End of His Road

Once again I, the human writer known as Priscilla King, am writing this Tortie Tuesday post in my own voice rather than those of Samantha the Tortie and Serena the Calico Cat. I know Serena is grieving; I don't feel confident that I know what grief feels like to a social cat.

I know what loneliness is like, for a social kitten, such as Serena was for the first three months of her life. Having no siblings, she got all the nourishment she could take and was big and healthy and full of energy, with instincts telling her to use that energy to practice fighting and hunting...and she had nobody to bounce and pounce with. This brought her very close to her human godmother, me, in ways that weren't the best or the safest for anybody. She'd snuggle against me to take a nap, then wake up and want to practice killing and tearing up my hand.

Serena is bigger now than she was last summer; her attitude's not changed. She's the Queen.
Then, miraculously, someone sent a feral cat with a tame kitten the same age and size as Serena to the Cat Sanctuary. Little black Traveller didn't have siblings to play with either, and had become obsessively cuddly with humans.

Traveller was named for a fictional family, of "outrageous whiteness," who dressed in solid black. Under his solid black fur Traveller's skin showed outrageous whiteness. 
Those kittens looked at each other and instantly wanted to adopt each other as siblings, although their mothers and I made them wait a few days while combing the fleas off Traveller's back end and making sure he didn't have anything contagious. When allowed to make contact, right away they started bouncing and pouncing and racing and chasing. "Where have you been all my life?" they silently said.

As only kittens, both Traveller and Serena had paid a lot of attention to humans and made lots of different noises they used to "talk" to humans. As they bonded as foster siblings, they stopped using most of their "spoken words." I was bemused by the way each kitten continued using one "word" to communicate with me. Traveller's was the annoying whiny "meow" that most cats use to beg for food, or sometimes for attention or other things. Serena's was a noise I hear as "urk, gurk," which she used to solicit tickling and play-fighting. She became much less interested in play-fighting with me once she had Traveller, but play-fighting is still her main way of showing affection (other than actually nursing kittens).

Like some real litter-mates during the first year of their lives, Serena and Traveller were inseparable. What one did, the other did. Even when Serena had kittens of her own...Traveller probably helped Serena set up her neat little nest among layers of fabric drawn out of storage bins, definitely helped her keep it warm for the kittens on cold March nights, and baby-sat the kittens when they crawled out of their nest and started exploring the porch.

It's an old family tradition, ever since Serena's feral ancestors were brought in from a city alley in Tennessee, that mother cats curl up on my lap while nursing their kittens. When Serena did that, Traveller did too. He didn't let the kittens try to nurse on him, but he did snuggle up with them in cold weather.

The feral cat rescuer who sent Trav to us sent a two-week supply of canned cat treats, warning that he wouldn't eat dry kibble. Serena's mother Samantha helped Traveller adapt to eating dry kibble by letting him have a little of her dwindling supply of milk in exchange for a lick at his canned goodies. He ate chicken, turkey, or fish when I cooked those, and rice. He learned to like pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds). He ate his share of the mice, crickets, and other little prey animals that are a cat's natural diet. And he learned to eat kibble and like it--but he did seem to have a weak digestive system. As the price of cat food rises, other Cat Sanctuary residents had accepted cheap store brands of kibble as long as they contained more animal protein than corn bran. Trav ate cheap kibble, but couldn't keep most store brands down.

The Dollar Store's kitten chow, a generic analog to Purina Kitten Chow, was the cheapest food Traveller seemed able to eat. As its price rose above a dollar a pound we tried "Dad's," a small name brand that seems cheap because local. "Dad's" kibble cost, last week, less than half as much as the Dollar Store's generic (I know they changed the name from "Heartland" to something even smarmier, but forget what). Trav didn't gain weight on it but he seemed to keep it down. Huzza.

After they're about six months old male cats are normally bigger than females of the same age and breed, more muscular. Females who give birth before they're a year old normally stop growing while nursing kittens. Serena's growth may have slowed down a little, but she did not stop growing. Right after giving birth she was about the same size as Traveller, bigger than Samantha. By last week she was conspicuously bigger than Traveller, such that a visitor said, "You mean the big one's not the mother of the two little ones?" By last week even Samantha was heavier than Traveller. A year-old tomcat normally weighs ten or twelve pounds. Samantha got up to nine pounds before she started nursing. Traveller was down to seven pounds or less.

But although he was skinny Trav seemed healthy--a week ago. He scarfed up chicken and rice, jumped onto my back or shoulder when I bent over to weed and pick the strawberries, minded the four little kittens. He wasn't much of a hunter, but sometimes he team-hunted with Serena.

Traveller is the black blob in the foreground, hoping to be petted. Serena is on the far side of the path, looking hardly bigger than little Black Stache, in the middle. Nobody ever had to coax Trav and Serena to act like a couple of humans minding their children. What one of them did, both of them did.
I found the remains of the rabbit on Friday evening. On Friday morning Traveller started spitting up froth, the way a long-ago cat called Bisquit had done, and then hid himself away and refused to come out, the way Bisquit did. Bisquit hid herself in a pile of rocks beside the road. Trav hid in the crawl space below the newer part of the house, which does not have a proper basement, up inside the floor. Like Bisquit he might have been helped by a home remedy for accidental poisoning, but refused to come out and take it. When I found rabbit fur I remembered that the kittens had seemed a bit off their feed on Friday morning too.

On Saturday morning I thought he might be making a breakthrough; at least he was talking to me again.

"Is that you, Traveller?"


"Well, come out, Traveller! Would you like a treat?"


Uh-oh. Traveller always said "meow," usually several times, in between hearing the word "treat" and gobbling one, but he didn't linger out of arm's length from me after hearing the word "treat."

"Treats, Traveller. I said treats!"


"Are you stuck somewhere? Don't you want treats?" No answer. "Chicken?" No answer.

I started searching, calling. He stopped meowing. As I got closer he growled and hissed, and so did Serena, nonverbally telling me, "Leave him alone!" I realized that the alternative to leaving him alone, since he didn't want to come out, would involve taking out a chunk of floor. I gave him the afternoon to think it over. I even hoped that by suppertime he'd be on the porch where he belonged.

He was not on the porch. He was not meowing back at anybody. Samantha and Serena tried to distract me from calling or searching, both at the same time: Serena by clawing at the wall, Samantha by calling me to pet her while she nursed Serena's theoretically weaned kittens.

On Sunday an odor told me more than I wanted to know. On Monday a different odor added more information I might have preferred not to have. Traveller had died in the crawl space; Butterball Possum had removed his body, and ignored what the kittens had left in the sand pit, which Butterball usually cleans overnight.

Serena didn't show stress while he was ill but has seemed sad since he died. I keep reminding myself that she clearly told me not to try to rescue him. I have no idea whether she knew he was going to die, that he could die, or just that he was sick and grumpy and likely to bite. Yesterday and today Serena's been more likely to bite, or rather nip and nibble, than she's been since she adopted a brother; she's reverted to chewing on my hand and saying "gurk." She's also reverted to slapping at passing ankles, which is of course her way of saying "Tag, you're It." She now weighs eleven pounds plus. I worry about being accused of harboring a dangerous attack animal.

It's hard to say whether Samantha and her grandkittens are spending a lot of time together to comfort each other in their mutual loss, or just making the most of the peak of the lactation cycle Samantha let them induce. That's like asking whether social cats nurse one another's weaned kittens (or whether I encourage them to do so) because cats don't conceive new kittens while nursing existing kittens, or because kittens get some extra nutrition from an additional cat's milk, or just because blended cat families are cute. The answer is probably "all of the above."

Anyway it's been hard to get in and out of the office, this weekend, because the frequency of Samantha's foster-mothering behavior has increased so much. I think she hears/feels my feet approaching the door and takes that as her cue to flop in front of the door and nurse Serena's kittens. All of whom, by the way, eat kibble. Possibly they're telling me that the glyphosate-soaked grain in "Dad's" brand is not nourishing the kittens, even though so far only Swimmer has complained of any difficulty digesting it...what the possum failed to remove from the sand pit did look yellower and more fibrous than cat excrement normally is.

I stepped over the pile of fur around the door and walked out to work this morning. On the way I saw young people mowing and trimming the gratifyingly green, litter-free verges of the highway, a splendid sight.

(Last week a local lurker had seen one of them passing by and muttered something about "the one they got for prostitution." The young people cleaning up the highways, without spraying poison on them, have been "recruited" from local criminal courts after convictions of nonviolent crimes--mostly public drunkenness, underage drinking, or failure to pay child support, but a topic of great interest to some local gossips was the claim that one of the current crew was busted for prostitution. "That wasn't you, was it?" old geezers snark, enforcing peer pressure against walking, picking up litter, recycling, and similar things these geezers feel guilty about lacking the public spirit to do. "You wish! Think I'd tell you if I knew who was doing that?" I snark back.)

Along the railroad some of the "weeds" were already rebounding, while other stretches were brown and dead.

Traveller, the cuddliest feral-born kitten ever to become a real house pet, is already being recycled back into the environment...thirty-six hours, or forty-eight, after eating a double dose of glyphosate-tainted foods.

Pet Memorial Stone Plaque - Flagstone - Pet Memorial Marker Reads My Beloved Pet Your Faithful Love Will Remain in My Heart Forever (Flagstone)