April 2020 Newsletter Available!

I hope everyone is happy & healthy right now! The April 2020 Twin Cedars Newsletter is now available here. This is our special extra-long Shakespeare’s birthday issue with lots of goodies.

  • News Roundup: Hurry Up & Wait; Smashwords Sale
  • Book Recommendation: Stuart Kells’ Shakespeare’s Library
  • Web Site Recommendation: Shakespeare Magazine
  • Word Puzzle: Shakespeare’s People Puzzle

Hurry Up and Wait – Keeping Yourself Sane While Stuck at Home

Stuck at home unexpectedly due to the COVID-19 situation? You’re not sick, but you are bored to tears? Tired of binge-watching sitcoms?

Bored, bored, bored

Here’s a list of things that might interest you and let you make good use of the time. Or at least not want to throttle your housemates.

Maybe there are some hobbies or areas of interest you’ve always wanted to pick up but never had the time to in your busy life. Well, now you have the time!

I’ll add more over time. Stay healthy, wash your hands, and keep your chin up!

Quick Note: In the Interests of Full Disclosure. I am an author an Amazon, Overdrive, and Smashwords, but that’s the only way they know me. They have not requested to be listed here. No one on this list has compensated me in any way, and most don’t even know I exist or that they are listed here. The items on this list are things I have explored myself. I am listing them here as a public service to beat back collective boredom (and to stave off my own).


Intro to Astronomy
Phil Plait’s Crash Course Astronomy – multi-episode class on Youtube for FREE, available here.

Speaking of Astronomy, NASA has a web site full of activities and discoveries to explore on its Solar System Exploration site, including Mars!

Free Online Courses
You can find a treasure-trove of free online courses and videos on a wide range of topics at Open Culture. Many are stand-alone videos, and others are MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that range from free to paid (if you want a certificate or a credential). From Archaeology to Philosophy to Physics, there’s bound to be something here to keep you occupied for a bit.

You can also visit Khan Academy for plenty of free classes for all ages. If you’re out of school and want to keep up with your math or history (or science or take your pick), with clear explanations of an incredible range of topics, this is the place for you! Use of the site requires a free membership, but you can also check out their videos on YouTube, no membership required. Plenty of good stuff for kids and adults. I just discovered an entire playlist of art history short films, each one covering a specific work of art. I’m gonna pop some popcorn and be a happy art nut for a while!

Learn how to sketch or draw – sharpen a pencil, grab a scrap of paper and draw! Cats make great models during Kitty Nap Time. Need a little help? Try All About Drawings, a free website, for some ideas and lessons.

Skimming the Classics
Want to check out some classical literature at a high level? See what interests you by reading summaries of the western canon in the series The World’s Greatest Books, edited by Mee & Hammerton. It’s available digitally on Gutenberg.org, along with an entire library of public domain works (for FREE). Want to see what Anna Karenina is all about before taking the plunge? Check out Volume 8.

Just go to Gutenberg.org and search for The World’s Greatest Books to see a list of available volumes. Or check out the rest of their public domain library. It’s HUGE. No special software needed. You can download in many formats or just read online through your browser through the HTML option.

Lithub is a great site for book lovers as well. Many articles and podcasts on the classics and contemporary works can be found here. A very nice rabbit hole to get lost in. They just posted a great article with a link to Paris Review’s Author Index, listing every “author who has appeared in the pages of our quarterly print magazine and online in The Daily—every interview, story, poem, essay, and portfolio we’ve ever published by five thousand literary luminaries and counting. It’s a lifetime of reading.”

Lithub has also introduced the Virtual Book Channel to connect writers and readers at a time when a lot of book fairs and author events are not possible. They announce new programming for the next week every Friday.

Other Free Books

  • Caroline Gockel has several free series starters on her Amazon author pages, from fantasy to sci-fi. She’s also part of several free box sets that can be found on her page.
  • Smashwords has plenty of free and low-cost books available. Now through April 20, they are holding the Authors Give Back sitewide sale, with many more books than usual either free or deeply discounted!
  • LibriVox.org offers a wide variety of public domain audiobooks!
  • NASA has SO MANY ebooks available for free! Aeronautics, History, ISS Research Guides, and more! Podcasts and apps! If you like science and space, check it out!

Use Those Blank Notebooks
Most of us have blank notebooks taking up space around the house. Lots of us tend to buy blank ones that look neat that seemed like a good idea at the time (*guilty*). Well, put them to work for you!

  • Write that masterpiece! Dreamed of writing a novel? Here’s your chance. Start jotting down notes. Get a head start on NaNoWriMo! or check out the #StayHomeWriMo hashtag on Twitter, sponsored by the @NaNoWriMo folks (nanowrimo.org), with tips, writing prompts, and more! Young writers friendly!
  • Or, get a start on Inktober! Sharpen your drawing skills. Sketch your houseplants. Capture your cat in ink for posterity.
  • Write some haiku or other poetry.
  • Capture your favorite recipes. You know, all those greasy, dusty index cards with recipes that you’d like to keep in one place. Those recipes.
  • Start a bullet journal. I started one in January, and I love it. You can go as Minimal (pen and paper) or as Maximal (stickers, washi tape, scrapbook glue, watercolor) as you want! Draw in it, pour your dreams into it, whatever you like, using what you already have on hand. Wanna know what it’s all about?
    – bulletjournal.com is a great resource to see what all the hubub is about
    – pinterest is crawling with bullet journal ideas. Or check out the Twitter #bulletjournal hashtag
  • Inventory something. Your books, your DVDs, your Def Leppard LPs (*ME*), your Loki statue collection (*ME*), or your entire household for insurance purposes. C’mon, you’ve been meaning to do that forever, now’s your chance! (Don’t forget to put it somewhere safe when we can all go outside again.)

Play a New Video Game
My husband recommends World of Tanks, which you can download and play online for free. Of course you can buy stuff in-game to make it more interesting! World of Warcraft also has a free level. Be on the lookout for business meetings and classes gathering in the taverns and town squares… I bet more than one organization will be looking for servers that can handle the sudden uptick in demand and meeting in… interesting places.

Animal Fun
The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga has some great webcams that allow you to observe some of their animal exhibits:

Other Webcams

Cherry Blossoms are at the peak in Washington, DC. Here is a live webcam that lets us enjoy them even from a distance.

Visit a Museum – Online!
If you’re on Twitter, check out the #MuseumFromHome hashtag. It’s chock-full of museums posting links to exhibitions and more! There’s some really cool stuff in this hashtag from a lot of great institutions. #MuseumMomentofZen has a collection of soothing and calming artworks from around the world.

#NGVEveryDay on Twitter is sponsored by the NGV museum in Australia, the oldest and most visited museum in that country. This hashtag features various exhibits throughout the museum.

#MoMAVirtualViews on Twitter is sponsored by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It launches on April 9. See the full lineup in this article on the MoMA web site.

#OnlineArtExchange on Twitter is a wonderful hashtag in which museums pick their favorite works of art from… other museums!

The Getty Museum has a wide variety of videos on YouTube, everything from an introduction to Michelangelo to a short film on illuminated Medieval manuscripts! There’s plenty here to keep art and history geeks busy for hours and hours!

The Victoria & Albert Museum has a similar site on YouTube!

If you’re not on Twitter, you might have some luck going directly to the web site of your favorite museum and see what they have for online fun!

Discover a New Podcast
Do you like history? Astronomy? The paranormal? Movies? Books? There are podcasts everywhere for just about any topic you can name! Now’s your chance to sample some more. Check them out on Stitcher, Apple iTunes, GooglePlay, SoundCloud, Spotify, and more! Or just Google “Podcast lists” to find additional sources. Here are some of my favorites:

  • AstronomyCast – a variety of astronomy topics with a HUGE archive of very interesting shows. “Take a facts-based journey through the cosmos.” I think this was my first podcast, ever. I still listen to it. The hosts love their topic, and they are a lot of fun. Good resource for science fiction writers or anyone with a love for space.
  • NASA Podcasts – a whole list of NASA-sponsored podcasts, including “Houston, We Have a Podcast”, “This Week @NASA”, and more! There are lots of space goodies on this site, so poke around the menus!
  • HardCore History with Dan Carlin – very long podcasts, like hours long, but very interesting commentary by a big fan of history. Many are free, some are for sale but for a very low cost.
  • Tree’s a Crowd with David Oakes – environmental topics with actor David Oakes (George, Duke of Clarence in The White Queen, Prince Ernst in Victoria).
  • Empire Film Podcast – talk about movies with actors & directors. Created by Empire magazine
  • Mysterious Universe – one of my favorite podcasts ever. Two Australians hash out paranormal topics from aliens to cryptids. They believe in the paranormal… with a grain of salt. This team produces a high-quality podcast weekly for free, with extended versions available for a subscription. I recommend especially to writers of science fiction and speculative fiction, as they have great story fodder. And they are just plain fun.
  • Medievalist Podcast – the latest addition to my podcast library. Quick takes on the Middle Ages. Great website with in-depth articles on that time period as well.
  • Irish and Celtic Music Podcast – Marc Gunn, a musician himself, curates a podcast of independent Irish and Celtic music. I first discovered him at DragonCon a few years ago, when he serenaded one of the (very long) lines for a panel. Whether you’re already a fan of the fiddles & pennywhistle or are just looking for some new tunes, check it out.
  • Shakespeare Unlimited – Folger Library’s excellent podcast on a wide variety of Shakespeareana, including “How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England” and “Orson Welles and Shakespeare”. Interviews with stars of stage and screen as well as stories of how Shakespeare has influenced historical figures like Abraham Lincoln.
  • Shakespeare & Company, the bookstore, has its own podcast! Past author events at the store can be enjoyed in podcast form. Search for “Shakespeare and Company” on your favorite podcast app. (There are many other Shakespeare podcasts out there that might pop up during the search — see what tickles your feathers!)
  • The Mirror and the Light: Listen to the great Anton Lesser read from the last book of Hilary Mantel’s wonderful Wolf Hall series. Mr. Lesser played Sir Thomas More in the television production of that same series. I love his voice!! There are 2 episodes out already on the BBC site. It looks like they will be released monthly. These should be available through the end of April, I think.
  • Hay Festival – A not-for-profit festival featuring live performances of poetry and literature. Unfortunately the upcoming one in Wales was cancelled due to COVID-19, but they do have past performances on their site in podcast form. There is usually one free item a week, with the rest available with a subscription (via UK).

Catch Up on Your Shakespeare
Need some poetry in your life? The Bard is here for you! From Hamlet to King Lear to the sonnets, you can get caught up on your Shakespearean adventures online. There are plenty of sites with The Complete Works; just search for “Shakespeare plays” to see a banquet of iambic pentameter set before you. I really like MIT’s version at http://shakespeare.mit.edu/. Wanna watch? Plenty of filmed versions of his plays can be found for free or at a low price on Amazon if you have an Amazon Prime membership. I highly recommend The Hollow Crown, which includes Richard II, Henry IV Parts I & II, and Henry V (most of which include Tom Hiddleston, yay!). The second series of THC includes the Henry VI plays along with a stunning Richard III with Benedict Cumberbatch. Most are inexpensive to rent or buy.

The UK’s Globe Theatre (@The_Globe on Twitter) has an entire library of films to watch on their web site. Some are for rent (in UK denomination), and some items are free, including snippets from Muse of Fire! Starting April 6, several productions will be free for a bit:

Hamlet, 2018
Romeo & Juliet, 2009
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2013
The Winter’s Tale, 2018
The Two Noble Kinsmen, 2018
The Merry Wives of Windsor, 2019

Also check out the Globe’s #LoveInIsolation on Twitter. In this new digital series to be released soon, they have invited artists, including Sandi Toksvig, Jenifer Toksvig and Kathryn Hunter, to share Shakespeare’s words with you.

They also have a podcast, “Such Stuff: The Shakespeare’s Globe Podcast”, available on your favorite podcast app. They are about to begin a new season!

Also from the UK, the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) will broadcast certain past productions on BBC4 and BBC iPlayer (if you can access it from your country) for free between now and September.

Check out the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast from the Folger Library, mentioned in the podcast list above. The Folger Library also offers a guide to streaming Shakespeare during our collective hibernation, as well as access to the complete works of the Bard and a collection of essays about the plays and Elizabethan times! They have also released free (thru July 1) full-cast audio streams of 7 of the greats (including Hamlet and Othello) here.

More Folger goodness! Watch Folger Theater’s Macbeth now through July 1st for free, along with some special “behind the scenes” features.

Cheek By Jowl Productions is making a recording of The Winter’s Tale free on YouTube until April 27, 2020.

For some remote learning about early modern entertainment in Shakespeare’s day, check out this blog post over at beforeshakespeare.com!

For Twitter users, you can pitch into #ShakespeareSunday every Sunday morning. Sponsored by @HollowCrownFans, anyone who wishes to quote Shakespeare (especially with a relevant photo or GIF) may participate. Often a theme is announced earlier in the week. Check out @HollowCrownFans on Twitter for more details. Just reading the hashtag is a blast for me.

Other Theater
The UK’s National Theatre is making some of their past productions available on YouTube every Thursday, one every Thursday for the time being, starting April 2. For more updates, check out the #NationalTheatreAtHome hashtag on Twitter.

Sweeten Your Day with Poetry
For tons of poetry, try the Love Book app, produced by Allie Esiri. She has made it free indefinitely here. I have this app and love it. Famous poems read by beloved celebrities, including Tom Hiddleston and Damien Lewis. Available in the Apple store for iPads and iPhones.

Visit Your Local Library, Virtually
If you are a member of a local library, give them a call and see if they offer Overdrive, a program that allows you to check out ebooks and audiobooks the same way you check out paper-based books. Many will allow you to do it from home, and you don’t have to remember to return them! See what they have available!

Dolly Parton will be reading from her Imagination Library starting April 2 at 7 pm Eastern. Take a look at imaginationlibrary.com for details!

Audible is offering free stories for kids at stories.audible.com.

The Beinecke Library at Yale has put together a virtual exhibition for “The Manuscript in Britain 1500 – 1800” for you bibliophiles out there. And there are plenty of other exhibitions at the same library on this playlist and here.

Just for Giggles
Think of some activities and games that you have around the house that don’t require an internet connection. The ‘net is pretty hardy, but with everyone slamming our favorite sites at once, it doesn’t hurt to be ready in case there is an outage while we’re also stuck at home.

  • Build a Pillow Fort.
  • Actually Color in those Grown-Up Coloring Books everyone got you for Christmas. Stay in the lines or don’t — it’s up to you! Then post them on the fridge and be proud of your masterpiece. Have some jigsaw puzzles that you’ve never opened? Go get’em!
  • Read aloud to each other. Grab a book from your personal library or from one of the resources above and have a family lit party! And do all the funny voices, too. The Harry Potter series and anything by Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, or John Scalzi are fun read-alouds. My husband and I worked our way through the Harry Potter series by reading it to each other as the books came out and had a blast.
  • Practice your public speaking. Read aloud to a crowd of LEGO mini-figs, stuffed animals, pets, or pictures of your friends/favorite celebrities. (Don’t knock it. It’s how this hermit preps for my own public appearances. Believe it or not, it works for me. If I can read to a smiling portrait of Tom Hiddleston with a confident voice, I know I’ll be fine.)
  • Shadowcast Your Favorite Movie. Some old favorites for this are The Princess Bride, Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and anything by Monty Python. Be creative with props around the house! (And be safe while you’re at it.)

Once a Quarter/Year/Decade Chores
Now is a great time to use all those extra cleaning supplies you just bought! Tackle those small chores you keep meaning to get around to but never do. You don’t have to do it all day. Get something done and treat yourself to something fun.

  • Wipe down the laundry. The washer and dryer could use a little sparkle.
  • Clean out the fridge. Test anything you can’t identify for sentience or intelligence level. You never know.
  • Give your kitchen cabinet faces a wipedown.
  • Descale the coffeemaker if you have some white vinegar on hand.
  • Sort and put away the laundry that’s been occupying your favorite chair for months (*guilty*)
  • Clean your computer screen and your cell phone (if you have the appropriate cleaner on hand – don’t ruin it with the wrong stuff)
  • Toss out old cosmetics. Go through your makeup bag/ drawer / tacklebox / Caboodle (yes I still have one of those) and toss out the old stuff. Make a list of what you need to replace when you can go out into the world again. This goes for old lotions, ancient sunscreen tubes, and shampoo bottles taking up space in the shower.

December 2019 Newsletter

The Twin Cedars December 2019 newsletter is now available!

-Guardian Unmasked is Ready for PREORDER!
-Guest Author: Nina Soden
-Sales Alert: Cass Michaels’ New Title!
-Web Site Rec: Project Gutenberg
-Christmas Word Scramble

No subscription required! Find it here on Mailchimp.