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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn


cropI evidently am focusing on health issues—improving my diet & surviving all the schemes my workout partner has been generating now that he's got a barbell in addition kettlebells, which seems to have unleashed a torrent of enthusiasm—so this week I'm featuring gift decorating from last December. As much as I think of this as a bead blog, there is a lot of gift decorating on this site, cuz it's relatively fast to do, comes with built-in deadlines, and, again by nature is ephemeral, meaning it's low-stress.

(I have photographed some new things! They will eventually show up! Really!)

But in the meantime...


cropHappy Valentine's Day to those of you who celebrate it.

I happen to quite like Valentine's Day, because the associated graphic iconography appeals: the heart shape is a pretty one, the red/pink/white colour scheme is fun and distinctive, and most especially it's one of the rare holidays for which lace & curliques is not only proper but encouraged. I keep thinking that someday I'm gonna have my act together and make elaborate sugar cookies, especially ones with lots of those cinnamon red-hot candy decorations.

I realize not everyone feels this way. (Hoping you have a nice Tuesday, then;) But a couple of items I've stumbled across on the interwebs got me thinking about courtship, or rather more specifically, masculinity, again. I have at least one friend who tried to get me to give him a specific definition thereof, and really, I couldn't do much better than, qualities or behaviors associated with men. And what's a man?

Someone who says he is, I replied.

He was not at all impressed with this answer.

But, yanno, I read a bunch of comments about being a man for this youtube video about Andrew Tate, (whom the commenters are pleased to characterize more as a cartoon villain than the ‘real man’ he purports to be) and afict, their conclusions were much the same. They were specifically interested in ‘what's a good man?’ and ultimately concluded, a good person...who happens to be a man. Trans men in particular had things to say about this, and they were very much aboard the self-confidence-and-everything-else-will-follow train.

Far more than being strong or brave or wearing beards, being a man was figuring out who you in particular wanted to be, and then pursuing that goal. Manhood, therefore, is an emergent quality, just as Higgs bosons are of the Higgs field. Heh. That ought to impress my physics-major friend:)

Who among his other accomplishments counts lifting 400 lbs, which is why I glommed onto this other article about a man pursuing this goal. I will never, ever be able to lift 400lbs, and so can only read others’ experiences of this feat, but I surely identified with another part of the writer's narrative, who felt uncomfortable in his own skin, his body's shape from 3rd grade on. I was happy enough with mine...until puberty. I didn't care for the changes, and was baffled by girls being excited for the prospects of boobs. Ugh. I didn't actively loathe my body the way he did, but the loose clothing, the disconnect between reality and my perception, while not nearly as bad, were certainly a thing.

I'm not much of a weightlifter. But for my friend and workout partner I'd never have stuck with it nor made the progress I have; but I surely like what it does to me and for me. That part, I get.

Lifting isn't gonna get you the partner of your dreams. But doing things you love, or that make you feel better, or happy, is far more likely to attract friends and lovers. (Certainly more so than worrying whether one is manly, or womanly, enough!)

And on that note, since I love drawing roses, (which certainly seem apropos), here are some reference photos.


cropBad sylvus, no posting!

I have, however, been doing a lot of baking, and here's three sites plus a bonus that I've found helpful in the quest for rustic, open crumb (“zingerman's style” artisan bread):

  • Breadstalker —I found this baker on instagram, and her many luscious photos inspired me to attempt this style of baking (again);
  • Natasha's Baking black olive & asiago sourdough has really detailed instructions, with explanations for why you do this or that step, which was really helpful in getting me to the next level of my admittedly still-far-to-go journey;
  • Pantry Mama has a lot of explanatory posts, such as this better open crumb; part of her overall secrets to better sourdough series;
  • Modernist Bread has a nice, not-too-technical article on gluten and if this sort of thing is your jam (as it is mine) they have a $600 plus(1) 5 volume set of books on everything you never knew you wanted to know about bread, favorably reviewed by the NYT, starting out with history, such as recreating ancient Roman bread, with an authentic bronze stamp from the era.

Speaking of ancient, here's a 3 year old post of 20 year old collabs between me and my incredibly gifted bestie, the inimitable Page.

(1)If $625 is a bit rich for your blood, the comments suggest plenty of alternatives: Chad Robertson, Nancy Silverton, and most interesting to me, Emily Buehler's Bread Science); The Fresh Loaf seems to be the bread equivalent of Ravelry, a clearinghouse for all things bread related:)


cropTIL (today...well, technically last Saturday I learned) about open neutrals. Specifically, partially open neutrals. (Completely open neutrals just break the circuit. Literally.) Given the results from my google searches, this problem pops up more often in the context of outlets (receptacles) but for us the difficulty was with the neutral coming into the house. US residential wiring typically has two insulated wires (carrying current) wrapped around an exposed neutral (which also serves as a support cable) going into the meter (often outside) and then the circuit breaker box (inside).

Unfortunately our neutral got a little too exposed and what with fraying and oxidizing near where it attached to the house meant the circuits became unbalanced. (240 total, split in two sets of 120 amongst the various circuits—nothing so tidy as one side or one floor getting one half, and the other, the other half—the house is nearly a hundred years old, and the wiring, though not so ancient as to be knob and tube, is rather jankety.)

But it's not this bad. My concentrator complained and shut down the last time I used it; the microwave took 2 instead of 1 88sec period to heat room temperature tea; and the various LED plant lights in the living room flickered or shut off; and my computer and other similar devices randomly shut down. I had assumed these brownout conditions resulted from the recent storm but all this was not, in fact, the power company's fault. (Well, unless they did a crappy job upgrading our wires and meter when we upgraded to a 200 amp panel which we of course did upon moving in, roughly two decades ago.)

In fact, the neutral probably has been slowly degrading the past several years, either from squirrels chewing on the cover going to the meter—it's certainly a mess—oxidation, or both, but I'm guessing the recent snow and ice storm weighted some of the strands, which appeared, like a partially frayed rope, to be separating them from the others: we had something called a partially open neutral.

I'd never heard of this problem (or long since forgotten about it) despite taking a home wiring class years years ago (like over twenty...probably closer to thirty) —though to be fair, what that class mostly taught me was that I really would prefer to leave to someone else anything more complicated than rewiring a lamp. The wizard, whose father was an electrician, is quite a bit more knowledgeable, was able to identify the problem, and then fix it: temporarily by sanding off the oxidation off (unlike copper oxidation, aluminum oxidation doesn't carry current well) & clamping the loose strands with locking pliers (the neutral is, I dunno, mebbe 8 or 10 16 gauge aluminum wires twisted together to make a cable about a quarter inch/6mm thick?) and permanently by coating wires with some very-toxic-to-aquatic-life goop and locking them in place with heavy screwed bolt-clamps made for the purpose. Yay! My tea heats properly! The furnace no longer sounded weird. The lights stopped flickering. I can make beads again!

Then he sent me a couple of links about our weird compared to the rest of world electrical standards.

So. In addition to other freebies in my perfect world, I'd like to see people able to take free community courses on wiring, roofing, plumbing, etc. Besides making maintenance easier—here I was blaming all our issues on the local power company, frex—I think such knowledge would, like that wiring class I took years ago, give students a much greater appreciation for the trades.

Which in my view is a good thing. Knowledge is power! (Literally, in our case...) Along with art, of course;)


cropWell, first I was gonna post rose pictures, because I've been practising drawing them, but then it occurred to me, what with it being Year of the Rabbit & my last page-to-finish in Fran's sketchbook from 2020 being (more) bunnies, that would be awesome, except it's not going well & thus still isn't finished, not to mention the general downer the New Year has been for the US Chinese community...

But hey, we got some proper snow! I was beginning to think we weren't really gonna get any this season, but a couple of days ago we got 4–5 (perhaps even 6?) inches (100–150mm, for those of you with sensible measurement systems) and I got a chance to try out our new ‘teeth down’ snow shovel.

I rather enjoy shoveling snow by hand & would be perfectly happy to do my next door neighbors’ walks if they didn't feel so obligated to do it themselves. I mean, you get to go outside, enjoy the beautiful snow, get a bit of exercise and do something useful & kind for the local pedestrians (most of whom are dog-walkers, so we also try to use the plant and dog friendly salt, on those rare occasions when it's absolutely necessary.)

What's not to like? I mean, besides loud, stinky diesel snowblowers, but one of our neighbors has an electric snowblower that was quiet enough it really didn't bother me. Progress!

So, I don't know that I'm expert at shoveling snow, but I've done a lot of it and find the idea of doing it efficiently an interesting goal; that is, I care about it.

As a rule, I haven't been impressed with the various improvements manufacturers keep trying out on this classic tool, so I was a bit dubious when the wizard replaced our snow shovel with this new (to me) design, but on the other hand, even steel-edge-reinforced shovels wear out after 2–3 years, so if we hated it, it wasn't a lifetime commitment, right?

This product is made by Shark Industries, which is evidently a subsidiary of HY-C, or Draft King Products, and it's the exception that proves the rule, because I really like it.

Firstly, it shovels well, because the scoop is shaped well and because it's very rigid, which is critical to scraping packed snow. The “teeth” —5 hollow tubes not only provide ribbing, but also help to cut through packed snow, such as is made by cars driving over snow—do really work. I just hate it when people walk through my fluffy sidewalk snow before I can shovel it—and we shovel often—but now it doesn't bother me nearly as much, because I can scrape their footprints off before they freeze and become hazardous.

Bonus, unlike a metal reinforcing strip along the working edge of your typical shovel (that works for a year or two before the sidewalk grinds enough of it to crack or break off), the ‘teeth edge’ will wear away for some time without compromising functionality; and the polycarbonate is much harder than typical plastic, so it doesn't wear as fast besides. It's likely this shovel will last a long time.

Secondly, the plastic is either slick or coated, so snow doesn't ‘stick’ to it so much—there's nothing more frustrating than scooping up a big lot of wet snow and then having half of it stick to the shovel as you try to fling it away.

I think the tread design embossed right on the shovel is a nice touch, subtly implying this particular brand's selling point. Ditto, their sticker peels right off—dunno about you, but I hate having to look a bunch of ugly advertising once I've made the decision to keep the product.

Our particular version comes with an option to rotate the scoop for a smooth edge “for stairs and cleanup” but since we don't have porch steps or do fine cleanup I haven't tested that feature.

Really the only downsides are very minor quibbles: the metal handle, necessary I'm guessing especially for the swivel feature, is very cold on the hands—all things being equal, I prefer wooden handles. There's a lot of plastic construction, of course. And finally, why oh why that ugly turquoise blue? It clashes terribly with the payne's grey transparent scoop, an unusually handsome colour for such a workaday item—a tanzanite blue-violet would have complemented the elegant design nicely, though I suppose that's too girly a colour for manly men; black to match the handle strikes me as the obvious choice, but if they wanted a bright colour, red would stick out in the store; even yellow and orange (despite their associations with summer) would've worked better.

Contrasted with the dust pans my spouse bought, some of which had the advertising label blasting the manufacturer's logo printed on, all of the info on the label is functional; in fact, I had kind of a hard time figuring out who made it!

So: shark industries’ teeth down shovel—definitely a two thumbs up. Also, having enough snow to shovel.


cropJust finished Kristin Du Mez's riveting book, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. None of the material is going to be a big surprise to people following progressive christian blogs such as Fred Clark's Slacktivist or the now defunct Libby Anne's LoveJoyFeminism (which the perennially flaky Patheos seems to have scrubbed, at least somewhat—her farewell post, in which she explains why's moving on to other things is gone, though some of the older posts remain) but Dr. Du Mez, a historian specializing in religion and gender at Calvin University, organizes that material into a coherent and snappy account to explain why (white) evangelicals and, eventually, other conservative branches of US Christianity found a “manly hero” in Donald Trump, despite his conduct, which at first glance should have horrified these folks.

Furthermore, Du Mez argues compellingly Trump was not, in fact, an accident or even a hold-your-nose candidate: he's exactly what they wanted. Her book documents the generations-long transformation of conservative christianity—first the Evangelicals, who eventually made common cause with formerly unthinkable allies (e.g. Catholics) but eventually most of conservative Christianity who saw in Trump's coarse, outrageous behavior a ‘real man’ who didn't take guff from all those pussified elites.

It's therefore fitting that John Wayne was never a soldier, let alone a war hero; he dodged the army but was hella successful playing the warrior on the big screen. (Ditto Reagan, who a generation later reprised the manly, embattled loner and never stood active duty). The movie heroes the actor portrayed appealed to men looking for a ‘muscular’ christianity instead of a Jesus wearing a dress and preaching peace. They didn't want the hard slog of promoting peace but the whizbang (literally) of ‘just’ wars.

Stoking anxiety over communism (for which I've read some compelling arguments served as a proxy for at-home race war) worked great until the Soviet Union collapsed; but then the preachers, making their millions on the book and radio and megachurch circuit, had to find new ways to stoke fear and resentment; along with the super wealthy who looking to dismantle the protections put in place after the Great Depression, a string of evangelical leaders preached rigid gender roles, toxic masculinity, and—of course—the necessity for good christians to pour money into their coffers to fight those evil working women, PoC, and queers who were threatening white men's position at the top of US society.

The GOP and conservative white christianity thus became felow travellers, using the culture wars—especially anything that threatened men's self-imagined power and virility—abortion, fair pay, domestic violence laws, anything outside the straight gender divide (i.e. all queer folk of any stripe) plus of course civil rights—to forment white, male, evangelical christian fear in the face of their waning numbers, and thus, influence.

And it worked like a charm. Like evil sorcery, you might say.

While Du Mez certainly touched upon this cohort's fear of PoC, Blacks in particular, my only real beef—and it's a relatively minor one—is that I believe the toxic masculinity within Evangelical christianity was fed equally by two streams: not only by sexism, but also by racism, most especially by christian slaveowners’ efforts to justify the wholely unjustifiable. (W/r/t John Wayne, there was, of course, also the effort in his movies as a cowboy to depict the original settlers of the continent as the “bad guys” —a reckoning, in my view, we've barely acknowledged in the feeble ways we're grappling with, say, BLM.)

But that's a quibble in a book that, after all, focuses on sexism, and its dreadful consequences—not only for women, but men as well.

Highly recommended.

Or you check out this winter themed gift. Hey, we got a few snowflakes, at least!

update 21jan23: cleaned up the conclusion (paras 4&5) a bit to remove repetition, missing prepositions, etc.