Monday, January 22, 2024

World Endangered Writing Day: 23 January 2024

As regular visitors to this blog may remember, I've been supporting the Endangered Alphabets Project since its inception in 2011 or so, when I read an article about its originator, Tim Brookes, in the New York Times.

The first Kickstarter project I ever supported was designed to gain the Alphabets a wider audience and to fund an exhibition of Tim's beautiful carvings of passages from languages whose writing systems are in danger of disappearing. I describe this effort in some detail, and my reasons for getting behind it in this post from November 15, 2011: Losing Languages. That campaign was highly successful, and ever since then I've been happy to back every campaign Tim has launched. My favorite has been The Atlas of Endangered Alphabets, but the range of projects has included games (like ULUS: Legends of the Nomads), teaching and learning materials, and even a Sudoku puzzle book.

World Endangered Writing Day represents an international holiday devoted to the projects and results of all these efforts (and many more). At this main link you can find the rationale behind the holiday, the events that will ensue, and ways to support the continuing work to save these remarkable expressions of human intelligence, creativity, and community. 

Except for encouraging folks to participate in various Endangered Alphabets Kickstarter campaigns, I don't usually solicit monetary contributions. But I do urge you to visit the WEWD sites linked to the main page, and consider contributing, even in a small way. The primary purpose of this whole, long, worthwhile endeavor is to preserve the art of writing (and thus help stem the tide of losing traditional languages) and in doing so to keep the histories of these people from disappearing.

In addition, if you're at all interested in the history of writing and its associated technologies, as many of my former graphic design and humanities students have been, please consider purchasing this latest book by Tim Brookes, Writing Beyond Writing: Lessons from Endangered Alphabets. It's available for sale in multiple formats at the link. World Endangered Writing Day coincides with the book's official publication date.

This whole topic becomes all the more important as literacy in general appears to be declining in this particular political and technological landscape. Try to contribute if you can, but even by looking through the linked materials you should be able to enrich your understanding of the critical nature of writing as a vehicle of cultural survival.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

A Bleak Midwinter Journal

12 January 2024

The Beloved Spouse and I are well into our hunkering down preparations, because we're about to be slammed by some real winter weather. I'm hoping it will include a dusting of snow, instead of the deadly icicles we usually end up with. Our first single-digit temperature should happen on Tuesday, with a low of 9F and a high of only 24. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram weather people are in a tizzy about "three days of record freezing temps" and wondering how this could possible happen to Texas.

Our heating bill is already higher than it's ever been (even during Snowmageddon--but that's because we didn't have the electricity needed to start our gas furnace), and will only get higher. One of the pre-winter prep jobs TBS accomplished was to set up a switch that will allow our backup Bluetti power station to turn the furnace on if ERCOT (the state-wide power distributor of ill repute) shuts the grid down. We can also keep critical appliances going via another Bluetti, and will be stoking our lovely enameled cast iron log burner with the surfeit of seasoned pecan and elm firewood we've accumulated over the last couple of years. We can spend most of our days snuggled up with Molly and Nylah in the living room and conserve quite a bit of electricity in the process--although the furnace will still be cranking away helping to keep the pipes from freezing. 

100 year-old houses can be lovely, but are difficult to insulate. Rugs on the hardwood floors help, as do the insulated curtains we installed last summer to keep the air con bill under control. And because our study and bedroom both have expanses of south-facing windows, we get lots of helpful sunlight when it's not cloudy. In fact, one of the things that may make a big difference with the Texas grid this winter is that the wind does keep blowing out west (ferociously at the moment) and there's usually plenty of sun to follow whatever precipitation descends to wreak havoc on this hapless state. To their credit, the renewable energy purveyors in Texas have been amassing battery storage facilities so the power can stay on even when the wind's calm and the sun don't shine--and the fossil fuel sources fail for lack of foresight and need of more robust infrastructure.

Plans are underway for us to spend some of next spring and summer insulating the north walls of the house that lie behind built in cabinets and drawers, and trying to figure out how to keep some of the heat and cold from our small uninsulated attic from creeping into our bedroom and living room. 

One project, a decorative insulating quilt designed to cover the massive wooden grille that masks our two immense attic fans, is in progress. Now that I seem to be recovering from last year's medical "challenges," I've got the basic planning done, and over many years I've collected a delightful assortment of fabrics. So I'll be able to spend the upcoming chilly days putting it together--perhaps finishing it soon enough that it can be put in place before the next wintry spell. I look forward to being able to show it off here on The Farm, since I haven't done any quilting since my kids were tiny folk (and easy to quilt for), and I miss the satisfaction of actually getting something done. All those years of gathering textiles and hoarding them in the Museum of Unfinished Projects* may finally be bearing fruit. 

16 January 2024

The weather is, quite literally, all over the map. We got some snow yesterday, but it lasted just long enough to dust the sidewalk and thrill our Great Pyrenees mix, Nylah, who seems to long for French mountain weather. (Those are her prints on the sidewalk photo below.) This morning's wake-up temp was 9, on its way to (maybe) 26. Tomorrow's low should be 13 with a high of 41, and Thursday the low is forecast at just freezing, with a high of 53 (before it goes back down to 22/37).

Three winter moments, light snow remaining

So far, the prep has been worthwhile, and as long as the sun shines, things don't get too depressing. We can take the animals out for wee runs and then they're happy to run back in. TBS has lit morning fires in the wood-burner for the past three days, and it's lovely to sit in the living room, wrapped in blankies to read the papers and keep warmish. The overall average for the house (with a thermostat set at 65) is 55. So, we're clad in sweats and jumpers and serape-like garments. The furnace is working, and we haven't needed to jumpstart it because the electricity has stayed on. The power brokers have asked us to conserve ("turn your thermostat down two degrees"--which makes me giggle; even if we did that, the furnace would be running constantly), so we tend to occupy one or two rooms at a time and turn off lights where we aren't.

I've kept myself amused by a thread on NextDoor where there's nattering back and forth about how horrible electric vehicles are, especially in the winter, and how stupid renewable energy is when we're just fine with natural gas and gas-powered vehicles. I've actually participated a bit, but mostly by posting links to good articles that counter the "arguments" (low on logic, high on vitriol). One or two folks give me little hearts to signify agreement, but I know where I live, and around whom, so I don't expect to develop a fan club. We do own an ICE (a Jeep Gladiator), and won't be getting an EV until Jeep makes one with enough range for us to pull Porco out to California and back. But I have been going on about how much better off we are this year with the Bluettis than we were in 2021 (although we did have our first one then, and were able to use our travel solar panels to keep the fridge and freezer running, ironic as that may sound). If the juice goes out this winter, we can fire the furnace up with the new switch. 

What work I can get done (like writing this post) is pleasant enough because there are two heating vents here in the study, and I can open a south-facing Roman shade/curtain combo to let the sun in--and it gives Molly a place to perch for spying on the neighbors and basking. I am thus reminded of T. S. Eliot's Old Gumbie Cat:
I have a Gumbie Cat in mind, her name is Jennyanydots;
Her coat is of the tabby kind, with tiger stripes and leopard spots . . . .  
Her equal would be hard to find, she likes the warm and sunny spots. 

Molly in the wan sun, yesterday

The Gumbie cat just demanded that I uncover the west window behind my Mac so that she can peer at birds and squirrels, and I've obliged her because it does let in some sun at this time of day (two-ish).

Our family is a bit preoccupied with cat-naming these days, because my son and his wife have just adopted two Gumbie cats of their own, and are thinking hard about naming them. As is always the case, his sister and I are in on the fun, but I'm wondering how one goes about naming two sibling kittens. How can they (or their cat-parents) figure out whose name belongs to whom? Ruminating on hard questions like these does help take one's mind off the weather, however. 

The quasi-absurdity of Texas's preoccupation with transient cold weather is not entirely lost on me. When I first started thinking about leaving Texas (and the too many trees around us) some ten years ago, I ached for Big Sky, and started house-hunting on Zillow for places near Anaconda, Montana. The high there today is 23, after a low overnight of -6. And a winter storm watch in effect for tomorrow with 6 to 10 inches of snow and wind gusts of 40 mph. As Margot Zemach reminds us in her lovely rendering of an old Yiddish folk tale, It Could Always Be Worse

18 January 2024

After a night that barely licked the freezing point (31 when we arose from our cocoon), it's now sunny and 55. And even though we should be getting another three days of sub-freezing temps, after that the weatherfolk are predicting a bit of rain and much balmier weather. TBS has just returned from whacking tennis balls around a local parks and rec court (one tennis court, eight for pickleball), taking advantage of the amenable conditions. 

Donc**, we've managed to make it through our Chicago-like weather, snickering at all the angst generated by the freeze. Our two years in Chicago (1991 and 1992) taught us a great deal about dealing with real cold, when we lived in a little rat-hole flat near Wrigley field (and still had to get to work and classes; no "snow days." The NextDoor app has seen a bit of chuckling from other folks who moved to Texas from the north and northeast, and who are getting a good laugh out of the pathos. Unfortunately, our own fortitude has diminished somewhat, since we've been back in Texas for the last thirty-odd years, and it took February 2021 to remind us of what a large part of the rest of the country has to put up with on a much more regular basis. With climate change making itself more and more of a tangible phenomenon, though, these early '20s winters may be but a harbinger.

At the moment, though, a pretty Skywatch Friday view is available upon looking upward, so I actually do have something to share this week. 

Wispy cirrus clouds, bald trees, and a balmy January day

Thus ends the winter-weather note-taking, at least until we get smacked with something worse. Time to get back to listening to TBS remark about how astonishingly bright the light is in Melbourne for the Australian Open. It's good to be reminded that it's summer somewhere.

Keep warm, Folks. And stay safe. 

Notes and Credits:

*The main takeaway achieved from watching interminable French murder mysteries; essentially, French for "So . . . ."
**The link is to a post on my long-neglected blog, Owl's Cabinet of Wonders--another item on my list of things to attend to during inclement weather (both the blog, and the since re-cluttered museum).

"The Old Gumbie Cat," from T. S. Eliot's Old Book of Practical Cats (with drawings by Edward Gorey). Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1967 (Eliot) 1982 (Gorey). I've just discovered (rather than remembered) that I posted an obituary for my previous Gumbie cat, Biscuit, on January 17, 2009. I hope Amy sees this; I miss her Gumbie cat, Tigger, too.

Weather map: "Tracking Freezing Temperatures in the U.S." The New York Times, Updated January 16, 2024 at 7:11 a.m. E.T.