Saturday, February 29, 2020

But Leap Year Coming One in Four

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Of all the days of the year, surely February 29th must be the most mysterious. A vanishing day, appearing once every four years, subject of myths and whimsy and odd traditions.

Leap Year as we know it was introduced in the Gregorian calendar, which replaced the old Julian calender in the 16th century (leading to many headaches for historians dealing in that period, who constantly have to cite dates in two ways.) The ancients knew a complete revolution around the sun takes slightly more that 365 days, and the early Greeks actually had a more accurate calendar than the one that replaced it, dictated by none other than Julius Caesar. That calendar added on a leap year every four years, which, over the centuries, caused the month and date to drift further and further from the ordinal equinoxes and solstices. 

The Gregorian calendar was named after Pope Gregory XIII, who, if it hadn't been for his astronomical foresight, would be about as well-known as Popes John V, John VI and John VII. Gregory's mathematicians came up with a "not every four years" refinement; years divisible by 100 - but not 400 - contain a leap year. So, for instance, 1900 had no leap day, and neither will 2100. Slightly more complicated than the rhyme we all learn about "February has twenty-eight, but leap year coming one in four."

(When the French had their 1st revolution and reformed their calendar by making it twelve months of exactly thirty days - with spiffy new names that owed nothing to Roman gods - they solved the leap year problem by adding on les jours complémentaires, a five or six day holiday. This seems extremely on point for a country that gave us both the metric system and naughty underwear.)

The most famous leap day custom is, of course, that of giving women the go-ahead to ask men for their hand in marriage. Known as Bachelor's Day in the UK and evidently spread haphazardly across Europe, it's gotten a bit confused in the US with Sadie Hawkins Day. Sadly, the transgressive thrill of dolls popping the question to guys has faded quite a bit in these modern times. Perhaps in the future, we can replace it with "Swipe Right Day," where everyone using dating apps has to okay whoever shows up in their timeline.

In a less secular vein, February 29 is also the feast day of St. Oswald of Worcester, a very nice early English bishop who keeled over on Leap Day 992, while washing the feet of the poor. For some reason, foot-washing hasn't caught on as an amusing leap year habit.

Of course, the best thing about February 29th is its use as a plot point. There are a bunch of romances - usually historicals - featuring Bachelor's Day, and several YA novels about young people with once-every-four-years birthdays.  And, my favorite, the idea that a leap year baby's chronological age doesn't line up with his birthdate is one of the key elements of the wonderful Pirates of Penzance. So let's go out to Rex Smith, Kevin Kline, and Angela Lansbury singing about a most amusing paradox... while rejoicing that this year gives us all one extra day for reading!

Friday, February 28, 2020

Room Service? Four Outfits, Please.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: If there's one topic we like to return to again and again here at JRW, it's packing for travel. Not so much fun travel - if no one except your spouse and a stream of random strangers are going to see you, the only real question is how comfortably ugly are you willing to go when it comes to footwear. But a LOT of our travel involves business. 

Sometimes, that means a research trip to London, Paris, or Venice. (Or, of you're me, to upstate New York. Sigh.) When you're taking pictures, getting tours, asking questions and interviewing people, you need to A) look respectable and B) be prepared for the weather. 

Even more often, our travel involves book tours and conferences, meetings with people from our publishing houses and awards dinners. Those are the most complicated trips to pack for. What to do when it's 40° in New England and 85° in Houston? How do you fit two cocktail dresses plus accessories into your rollerboard? When do people get sick of seeing you in the same three outfits in all your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram pictures?

Friends, I may at last have this sorted. I was thrilled to read an article in Tuesday's New York Times about a new sort of concierge service being offered at hotels and resorts around the country: pairing with clothing rental companies to deliver wowza outfits straight to your room.  

Last December, W Hotels teamed up with the subscription fashion service Rent the Runway to launch a closet concierge amenity at select hotels, including W Aspen, W South Beach, W Washington D.C. and W Hollywood. Upon booking, guests at these hotels gain access to Rent the Runway’s more than 15,000 women’s styles, as well as an edited selection of clothing and accessories based on each destination. For a one-time fee of $69, guests can rent four items for up to eight days; everything will be pressed and ready-to-wear upon arrival. When checking out, guests just return the rented items to the front desk.

I'm already a fan of Rent the Runway, having used it to deliver fancy outfits for Agatha and Anthony Award evenings. Leaving the clothing when checking out is even easier than dropping it into the nearest UPS box.

Other places are partnering with Trvl Porter and Lady Jetset to get Insta-worthy clothing into travelers' hands. In some cases, instead of renting, guests can borrow all the necessaries for outdoor trekking, or select from the hotel's collection of Rhone or Lululemon workout gear - no carrying sweaty gym clothes home!

Reds, what do you think? Would you use services like these? 

HALLIE EPHRON: “Cocktail dresses, cabana wear, ski wear”??? These people live in a different world. Though I have to say whenever I get ready to go to the airport I wish I didn’t have to schlep luggage. Are they renting underwear, too? Curious minds. I suppose it might make sense to not have to schlep a coat and boots, especially if you live year ‘round somewhere you’d never need them.

However, I could see an entire murder plot that involves rented clothing at a fancy hotel.  

LUCY BURDETTE: OMG, I was sort of in until I read the part about “the selfie effect”--that is, not wanting to repeat the same outfit on Instagram. Sigh. If I was going skiing once a year for example, it would make sense to rent outdoor clothes and skis. John rents skis when he goes on his yearly family trip because they are hard to ship and the technology keeps improving. (I’ve given up skiing BTW--too cold and too many crazy people hurtling down the mountain ready to take me out.)

And our daughter used Rent the Runway for a while--but she’s tall and thin, and can look good in most anything. I, on the other hand, have to try a lot of clothes on before I settle on something that could be flattering. So no, I won’t be renting my clothes at the next hotel!

As for the plot, Hallie, what are you thinking, blood on the delivered rental clothes??

JENN McKINLAY: Yes, please! At least for the winter clothes for this desert dweller. We never had boots or coats that fit when the boys were younger and I hated buying clothes that they’d wear for one week and then outgrow before the next trip. Argh.

JULIA: Oh, Jenn, that must have been a pain. My version of that was discovering, a week before going to Cancun or Hawaii or Key West in the winter, that the kids had outgrown their swim suits. Have you ever tried buying a child's bathing suit in Maine in December?

HANK PHILLLIPPI RYAN: Nope nope nope. I do not need workout clothes.  Because: I am not gonna workout when I am on the road. (I walk and walk on tour,  getting many steps on my fitbit in the hotel hallways, wearing flats and very packable leggings, and no one sees me.  Luckily for them!) I also don’t want clothes from someone else. I see the point, I do, and if I am in New York and suddenly get invited to the Queen’s ball, I will go to a store.  Whatever fits in my carryon bag, that’s what I can wear. 

I agree, I am tired of lugging stuff, but that’s the way it goes.

RHYS BOWEN: I do book tours, go to Europe, on cruises and manage to get by with black slacks and fancy jackets. However, if one of my projects is Oscar-worthy I shall certainly rent one of Helen Mirren’s dresses!

JULIA: What do you think, Dear Readers? A fabulous convenience, or another sign of the impending apocalypse?

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Solution to The Daily News

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I am still sick with what my doctor diagnoses as antibiotic-resistant pneumonia. There's been another mass shooting. We're all going to die from the impending coronavirus epidemic, unless asteroid 2002 PZ39 swings back around to put us all our of our misery. 


The Democratic Race is about to turn into a reenactment of the Sharks and Jets Rumble, this past month was the warmest January in 141 years, the Dow Jones is getting ready to miniaturize your 401(k) account and Clive Cussler has died. 

You know what you need? Yeah, that's right. Funny videos.

Do you like French New wave films? Do you think they could be improved with an ennui-laden cat in the lead role?  You're in luck. This is the second of seven videos about Henri.

All dogs have a purpose, but Ryker's is emphatically NOT to be a service dog. Don't worry, he became the personal pet of one of the trainers after flunking out of basic training.

This is about robots? And is maybe an ad? It's hard to describe, but I laughed hysterically when I saw it, and then made the Smithie come see it as well. 

Another cat video - I try for variety, but there are just so many funny ones on YouTube. This is short and, shall we say, striking.

I know what you're thinking, but this video from 2016 is not really a political statement. In a message to all of us who might have primaries coming up, then Vice-President Biden reminds us we should have a plan for everything - including going to the movies and mopping.

If you, like me, are a classical music fan, you will appreciate comedian/musician Rob Paravonian's take on the ubiquitous Pachelbel's Canon in D.

And finally, no funny video compilation here at JRW is complete without... the Axolotl Song! For those of you who wonder about the longstanding association of well-known mystery authors with neotenic salamanders, the whole origin story can be found here.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Giving Up to Get a Lot

Red Hot News! Rhys' Above the Bay of Angels is #1 in Historical mystery and several other categories on Amazon and has sold 25,000 copies in the first 10 days— not counting Audible!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Friends, it's happened again. My week and Ash Wednesday coincide once more, and, as your resident observant deist, I'm going to talk about it. In past years, I've pointed out the near-universal practice of fasting, shared my painful sacrifice of sweets, and we've discussed the day just past: Shrove Tuesday, a/k/a Pancake Day, a/k/a Mardi Gras (the consensus was none of us wanted to go to New Orleans for Carnival, but we all liked powdered-sugar pancakes and beignets.)

In some ways, February and March are ideal for revisiting some of the good resolutions and self-denial we were all  super charged up about on January 1st. We've all had the chance to fall off the wagon - did you really stick with the intermittent fasting? How are you doing with being nicer to your in-laws? A little wiser, a little more sober, we can take a look at the disciplines we'd like to integrate into our lives and take another crack at it.

Another reason? What else are you going to do to get through what's arguably the dreariest time of the year? Yes, okay, those of you in Arizona and Southern California are enjoying the weather God intended for the Garden of Eden. But, as Debs recently pointed out, for most of the rest of us, February, March and early April are one long, wet, chilly, slushy slog to Spring. What better time to gird your loins and Do Something Meaningful?

Do I have a suggestion for something meaningful? Readers, you know I do. The past two years, my church has asked us to consider abstaining from - or at least cutting down on - our habits that harm our local environments and our climate-challenge world. What does that look like? Let me share something written for our church newsletter by our own Celia Wakefield:

To observe "a season of penitence and fasting", takes some discipline. This discipline received new wheels last year as we were asked to cut back on single use items in our lives. Refusing straws, trying not to use one off containers for drinks etc.(Though I haven’t yet worked out how to enjoy a milk shake without that big paper beaker.) Carrying a small towel to class for hand washing, or a cloth napkin if it was lunch out on the run.

In addition, I worked on some other ways where I could do better. I carried reused plastic bags to the supermarket, or didn’t use a bag at all. Does one head of broccoli really need a bag? I bought fabric bags for veggie storage and to use when shopping. I made sure there were always shopping bags in the car. I also tried to cut down on paper products in day to day use. Instead of automatically reaching for paper towels, I stocked in more fabric dishtowels for spills. Washing my hands when out finds them drying on my butt more often than not! (So far no dread illness or reaction from that choice.) Even just shaking them after washing finds they are dry within a minute. 


What can we do to build on this this Lent? Save Water. Americans use on average 88 gallons of water daily. Colgate toothpaste prints on their wrapper that running water while brushing used 4 or more gallons. We read that dishwashers clean perfectly well when plates are not rinsed, and that saves water. This is from the EPA site - According to a 2014 Government Accountability Report, 40 out of 50 state water managers expect water shortages under average conditions in some portion of their states over the next decade. Well, not in Maine! In Maine we have the best water evah! But there are many more states facing scarcity.

Over the forty days I encourage you to think about your use of water. Please email --- with thoughts, saving ideas, your own water plan. We will share, expanding our ideas for the planet. 
So, Reds and Dear Readers, here's a challenge for you to get you through the next forty days until blissful spring - what changes can you make in your life to help the environment?