…and sometimes I just sits…

 

Garden 3/18/12

It was a long, productive weekend.  On Saturday, Meester Jim came in and we all went to the Sunrise Cafe in Ukrainian Village for breakfast.  Didn’t plan to; we were really thinking about going to Dapper’s  but when we got there the entire parking lot was filled.  I don’t know what the heck was going on; maybe someone was giving away money or something, but there was no parking at all.  So because we were heading down to Grand Street Gardens to see if they had any interesting early-season plants, we thought we’d give a shot to finding a place to eat in that area.  Not that we held out a lot of hope since the area has gotten really hip and congested, but Glinda had Yelped the neighborhood before we left, and said that the cafe had some good reviews.  Amazingly, there was a parking spot almost right in front of the place, which is unheard of in that neighborhood.  And we got seated almost immediately, so it felt a bit like an omen.  The service was excellent and the food was terrific, so it was a good choice all the way around.

 

Grand Street Gardens is a friendly place with a very helpful staff.  I talked trees with one of the women there — if the walnut on our parkway doesn’t do well this summer it’s getting replaced.  I’m thinking about a linden.  Then everyone in the store gathered to try to find some creeping thyme seeds for me (No joy.)  As for plants, they pretty much had the same sorts of things that Meinke’s had a week or so ago: Cool weather flowers like pansies and ranunculus, flowering bulbs, shrubs and a few trees.  We did find some butterfly/bee-friendly flower seeds which we’re going to sprinkle along the east side of our garage, some edamame seeds for the Hell Strip because Meester Jim says they’re dead easy and very productive.  I also got a pair of ferns for the house; a bird’s nest fern and a squirrel’s foot fern.  And they gave us two ruby red metal pails that were on the sale table.  Nice, nice people there, and though I think the prices have gone up a bit, they’re still incredibly reasonable.

 

As it was still early and the weather wasn’t really conducive to gardening, Jim suggested that we go down to the Old Time Pottery in Merrilville, Indiana, which is where we’ve found some wonderful stuff not just for the garden but for the house and for holidays as well. So of course we agreed.  We also agreed that we’d spend $50 each on stuff for the garden, and we were pretty much on the nose when we checked out.  We got a really lovely hydrangea wreath for our front door. (The one we made last year got destroyed when my old sofa got taken through the front.) And we scored an amazing pot for the garden.  It’s a low (maybe 8″ high) bowl that’s probably 25″ – 30″ in diameter.  It’s really rustic-looking and has a sun face on the side.  We’re thinking of planting it with lavender and marguerites. We bought a sun face wind chime/sun catcher in blue glass and aged brass, a foot tall faux stone stand for our gazing ball, and some smaller pots in a turquoise crackle glaze.  The only thing I wanted but didn’t manage to find were a pair of inexpensive glass canisters for flour.  Now that I’ve started baking I need canisters that will hold five lbs., one each for whole wheat, rye, and all-purpose (I have a large one for 10 lbs of bread flour.)

 

On the way home we stopped at Mariano’s and picked up stuff for supper but by the time we got home nobody wanted to cook so we ordered supper from a neighborhood place.  I still have soup and a lot of spaghetti left over so it was worth the cost.  We watched the American “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” which I really enjoyed.  I’ve seen all the films so far and read all the books and while they’re all different, I think they’re all very good and well worth watching/reading.

 

Back Garden 28 May 2011

 

On Sunday, Glinda and I spend much of the day in the garden.  We weeded, pruned, took up the cheap-ass siding with which the former owners had lined the Hell Strip (Why?  It made no sense.) and did some more painting.  We painted the stand for the gazing ball because it was a nice shape but had a butt-ugly paint job. We painted and repaired the wind chime that had fallen apart last year during a storm.  We repainted Buddha who was chipping again (I didn’t do a great job; he’s very, very dark until you get right on top of him.) and the flowers and leaves on the Lady’s Head planter.

Then on Sunday night we watched Fright Night 2011 and found it perfectly charming.  However I had a minor meltdown over the stress I was feeling because I had to take Leo to the vet on Monday (Dental work; probably extraction.)  I ended up talking to Glinda about it and once I did, it calmed down quite a lot.  She and I are both pretty neurotic, and she got what I was saying about conflating Leo’s fate with my own massive sense of guilt over utterly unrelated issues.  Basically she let me blather and then said, “I know, I get it.  I think that way, too.”  Bless her for letting me unload like that.

Baron von Floofenstein at work

So by Monday I was feeling a lot better.  Glinda took some time off of work and we rented a car, took Leo to Dr. Jewell, went out for pancakes at Walker Brothers, and then ran errands.  We hit Home Depot, and bought some potting soil and a bag of rocks for the bottom of the pots that don’t have drainage holes, a bag of dahlia tubers, a pot of hyacinths for Dr. Jewell (He’d just had a birthday, and he did something really nice for me and I wanted to thank him.) an African violet for me, some caulk because I need to recaulk my kitchen sink, a sheet of MDF to make the screen behind Buddha, and some other stuff for the house.  Again, the pickings in the garden center were slim, though a bit better than some of the other places we’d been.  If I was of a mind to start seeds, I could have done well.  But I don’t have the room or the inclination for the most part.  The few we bought Saturday will be direct-sown which is really all the work either of us want to do with seeds.  We ran a few more errands including stopping at Michael’s because I’d thought of something we should look into for the garden.  And of course by the time we got there, I’d completely forgotten what it was.  *headdesk*

We also discovered that yesterday had to have been Horrible Driver Day on Chicago streets because not only did we have some close calls ourselves but we saw a lot of egregiously bad driving going on.  We did manage to get safely to Regulus for coffee, though.  The owner is a lot of fun, and pretty much defines what it is to be caffeinated; I wish I had half his energy.  He told us he’s working on an exhibit of art from local artists, so that’s really exciting.  I can’t wait to see it.

And of course Leo was fine.  He came through surgery beautifully.  I brought him home, let him out of his carrier and he and Peeb immediately touched noses.  Then he used the litter box, asked for food and flopped down on the floor in his usual spot.  He was a little cranky last night but I don’t blame him.  I do miss that little snaggle tooth, but it was making his gums bleed and we can’t have that.  While my meltdown was silly on the face of it, it did help me sort out where the icky feelings were coming from and why they simply aren’t worth getting all torqued over.

Since we had the car until eight, we went up and got a pizza from Pequod’s for dinner, had a couple of bottles of Metropolitan Brewing Co.’s Dynamo Copper Lager, which is fantastic with pizza, and watched “Under the Tuscan Sun” which is a comfort film for both of us.  By nine we were both more than ready to sleep so we said good-night.  I was so tired I asked Glinda to take the rest of the pizza with her so I didn’t have to divvy it up!

Today has been slow.  I slept about ten hours and then Glinda came down for coffee and some chocolate-cherry bread that our neighbor brought over on Saturday (Bless her; she’s a doll.)  We actually sat there until past three looking through garden books and talking plans. I managed to remember that what I wanted to find at Michael’s was a fountain kit so we could make our own wall fountain instead of spending hundreds of bucks on one.  Good timing, huh?

We talked about the screen we wanted to make to cover the electrical boxes behind Buddha and Bob, surface treatments for pots, building planters and trellises, and what kinds of trees we’d plant if we won the lottery. (Japanese Lilac.  Behind the small waterfall we’ve planned in the garden of the building next door which we would buy. It’s indicative of how much we love living here that even if we won hundreds of millions of dollars we’d want to stay right here and expand our property, not move somewhere else.)  It was kind of nice not to have to get up and actually do anything constructive, but now I have a list of things I need to google so we can sort out a few of our ideas.  My homework.  I also have to get in touch with Consumer Cellular and switch our service from AT&T.

The cats are back to normal, I’m back to normal.  I don’t think Glinda ever stopped being normal, and the garden is demanding a lot of time.  I can live with that.  Thanks to Glinda, Jim and Dr. Jewell for helping me not implode.

Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.

 

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Terrific tale of Chicago — Review: City of Scoundrels, by Gary Krist

In mid-July of 1919, the Wingfoot, a dirigible owned by the Goodyear company was making tests flights along Chicago’s lakefront. On the third flight, the pilot decided to take the airship over the downtown area. Not too far from the lakefront, over Chicago’s financial district, flames began to shoot out of the engines. The pilot told his passengers to jump, and took his own advice, landing on the roof of a nearby building. Not all the passengers were so fortunate, nor were the people in the bank beneath the burning airship. The now-flaming dirigible fell onto the roof of a bank, shattered the skylight and fell into the bank, crushing or incinerating those inside. Over the next twelve days, as an inquiry was launched into the air disaster, a young girl went missing and was eventually discovered to have been brutally murdered, race riots claimed hundreds of victims, and all transit workers went on strike, crippling the city. And the mayor went on vacation.

City of Scoundrels is an engaging account of an almost two-week period in the city’s history when everything that could go wrong did. It’s a story of the political machine (Still very much a force in Chicago politics.) and how it dealt with cumulative disasters. It’s also intriguing because I’ve lived in this city for sixty years and had never heard of any of the events, not even the Wingfoot disaster which predated the Hindenburg by almost twenty years. Kudos to Gary Krist for chronicling it and the events which followed and helped to change the face of Chicago.

Krist’s prose is tight and smooth which makes the social and political analysis easy to read and assimilate. This is, after all, a book about how the political institutions of the city functioned (or failed to) in a perfect storm of disaster and social unrest. It could have been dry; it isn’t. It’s an immediate, involving story, and if you have any interest at all in how cities are shaped, and in Chicago in particular, I highly recommend “City of Scoundrels.”

The Wingfoot Air Exprress prior to liftof from...
The Wingfoot Air Exprress prior to liftof from Chicago's Grant Park site. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anna Magdalena’s Song just took on a solid reality for me

It’s not as if it hasn’t been real, after having worked on it all this time, but seeing this has made a huge difference in the way I think about the book.

The other day I was reading a writing blog and one of the pieces of advice being offered was that as soon as you know what you are going to write, get a cover for it and post it.  It makes it more real for everyone.  I took that to heart and today I went to Fiverr.com and found a graphic artist who was willing to make up a cover for me for five bucks.  Now any way you slice that, it’s a deal! (Unless of course the image sucked, but this gal had a ton of positive feedback, so I wasn’t too worried.  Look for jw12792 if you’re of a mind to commission something like this.)  She sent the first one and there was a problem with it, so I wrote to her, explained and asked if she could fix it.  In less than 20 minutes she had a second one done.  Same idea, different image and colors, and I like this one a whole lot better because it really speaks to the themes of the book: secrets, masks, opera, and a fantastic, magical setting.

So in celebration of this cover image, here’s an excerpt from “Anna Magdalena’s Song”:

Zoë had planned an opera-themed wedding, and in spite of Max’s misgivings, he had agreed. He would stand at the altar as Felicia and Zoë would be costumed as Felicia’s lover, Arturo. “It will be a delicious joke,” Zoë had promised, displaying the lively sense of humor that had drawn them together from the start. “They’ll say we’re mad.  Do you mind?”

It wasn’t in his heart to deny her so he told her, “Whatever makes you happy, my dear.” At the time he had found the idea amusing.

Now he was regretting it, at least in part because the enormous powdered wig and multi-layered costume both weighed a ton. “Is it too late to flee?” he asked Frederick who was fussing with several acres of lace.

“Much too late. Finish with that bodice so I can get you into this over-sized pastry of a skirt. Why couldn’t she have chosen a better opera, or at least one with less ridiculous costumes? What about “Lollia” or “Die Absolution der Weißen Mädchen” instead of this idiotic piece?”

“She’s sentimental about the role; it’s the first one she ever saw me sing, and anyway it was my greatest one, everyone says so.”

“I don’t. I think you were best as Lollia.”

“So do I,” Max admitted. “But it’s also one of the few where I don’t die or go mad by the end, so it does have a happy ending to recommend it. I expect she prefers to begin married life that way rather than with the cumulative tragedies of Lollia.”

As he fastened the dozens of hooks and buttons, Frederick said “I was joking about it being too late to flee. If you need to…” He let the thought trail away, but Max understood.  Once before, on the day he and Zoë had become engaged, Frederick had asked if Max thought it wise. It was a mark of his concern, and his love for Max that he would ask a second time.

“I have no doubt that this is my best course. Zoë and I have spoken frankly.”

Fred seemed unconvinced. “How frankly?”

Max half turned. “You forget yourself.” Then more softly he added “As frankly as necessary. We have achieved an understanding.”

What he didn’t say, couldn’t say even to Frederick, the one person on earth who knew all his secrets, was that his heart was breaking. “You told me once that I could do better than Niccolò St. Arvid. I have done. That’s an end to it.”

Chosen

Trade paperback cover of Buffy: Season Eight V...

In honor of the 15th anniversary of the premiere of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” a week or so ago, Glinda and I ordered a pizza and sat down to watch a few random episodes of the series.  Whenever I go back to it, I’m reminded of how much I love this universe and all the characters in it.  I’ve written about Buffy before, most notably in my post about how “Buffy the Vampire Slayer Saved My Life.”  Since that night, I’ve been dropping into the seasons, watching some favorite ones, or ones where Buffy doesn’t just kick demon ass, she delivers some serious smackdowns to the bullies of the series.  The other night I watched the ep where she finally and quite comprehensively put the Watchers in their place.

 

I just finished watching “Chosen” which is the last episode of the series.  I know there are people out there who hated the way it ended.  to them I say, “Did you not understand what this series was really about?  Did you not understand that it was about having the crap kicked out of you emotionally, spiritually and sometimes even physically?”  And did you not see that the inevitable ending of the series was the empowerment of every woman who has made the choice to rise above that? Think of the scene when the potentials all feel their power.  Think of the moment when that sad-looking woman stands up, grasps the arm of the man who has been beating her, looks him in the eye and without a word lets him and us know that no one will ever knock her down again.  She has found her power, her tipping point.  How can that not move you?  It always makes me cry.  Always.

 

I’ve been thinking (and saying) a lot these days about the far right‘s war on women.  You don’t have to go very far to see evidence of it.  They’ve moved from fighting the right to choose how a woman deals with personal issues like pregnancy, to fighting even her right to use contraception.  From being called sluts by national celebrities, to being told that our employers can refuse to pay for contraception if they cite religious scruples against it, we are under attack in a way that’s no less real than anything Buffy suffered.

 

Everything they do proves that it’s not just about abortion, it’s about putting us in our place, about taking us out of the work force and putting us back in the home raising children which we won’t even be able to care for because there will be no social safety net when they get through with us.  How many families can exist on only one paycheck, particularly if they keep having children?  What’s the message here?  We don’t deserve equal pay, we don’t deserve equal rights, we don’t deserve to hold a job at all, we don’t even deserve to have sex unless we’re married to a man who makes enough money to support a large family?

 

I’m not even going to comment on the idiocy of some of that because I pretty much figure you can imagine a world where only the rich get to have sex.  But I am going to point out what should already be sinking in if you have any working brain cells: They are the Big Bad.  They are the thing that is coming after us in the night, the thing that wants to beat us down, to keep us from ever even knowing what power we have.

 

We can’t let them do that.

 

Look, I don’t have a horse in this race anymore so in all honesty, there’s no real reason for me to worry about reproductive rights except for one thing: It fucking pisses me off to watch a group of rich white guys and their mindless drones doing everything they can to set the cause of women’s rights back 100 years or more. None of the legislation that’s been passed or proposed can ever affect me, but I am not about to let it affect any of you if I can help it.  I’m telling you that you have got to stand up and shout.  You have GOT to vote them down in this coming election and every election for the rest of your lives because it’s that important to you, to your daughters, your granddaughters, and on down the generations to come.

 

We cannot let them make us slaves.  We are all potentials, we all have the power.  Take it, fight with it. If we don’t, we can’t ever save the world.  We can’t even save ourselves.  Think of Buffy, and come out swinging.

 

Review: Spin, by Bob Steele

NOTE: Please be aware that some of what I say here can be considered to be spoilers. It’s pretty hard to talk about a thriller or mystery without writing something that someone will object to, so you’ve been warned.

Photographer Peter Conway has been estranged from his father for many years. When Frank dies, an apparent suicide, Peter is all too happy to put paid to their troubled relationship. But a series of events make Peter wonder if there isn’t more to his father’s death — and life — than he had imagined.

Spin is a solid, workmanlike British conspiracy thriller that makes good use of some reliable tropes of the genre. Steele gives us an Everyman in Peter Conway. He’s a photographer, not a civil servant or a spy, or even a journalist like his late father, and this actually makes the story more accessible in many ways. Hitchcock used the Everyman character to very good effect in most of his films. There’s also, obviously, conspiracy which is very popular these days, perhaps because paranoia has begun to invade even personal life. There’s computer hacking, which is almost de rigueur for thrillers these days, some surprising revelations about Peter’s father, a little romance; and, surprisingly, Nazis. Steele proves that Nazis can still be reliable hobgoblins if you’re clever about how they’re used. Finally there’s the increasingly popular style of ending which suggests that it’s not really the end at all. Perhaps Steele intends a sequel, or perhaps he simply means to suggest that this kind of thing doesn’t go away just because you’ve defeated the latest incarnation of a particular sort of evil, which is a very important lesson. It also provides a nice frisson of discomfort.

As with most specimens of the genre, where Spin is weakest is in the area of characterization. Thrillers are necessarily plot-driven, and characterization can sometimes slow plot development. I tend to like a bit more information about the characters than Steele offers, but I also recognize that being pursued, beaten and nearly killed really counts as all the motivation any character needs. The plot itself is very contemporary, and is likely to hit home with anyone who follows the news these days. It verges on science-fiction without ever actually tumbling over the line, making it just believable enough to be scary.

The bottom line here is that while nothing in Spin dazzles, it’s the sort of book that will engage people who love suspenseful, plot-heavy novels. It delivers the goods for fans of the genre, and really, what more can you ask than a good read?

Devil in the Details

English: [detail].

Well yippee and zowie, I just sold a story to Silver Publishing.  The title is “Devil in the Details” and here’s a short summary:

Rafe is a young man with a problem. His lover, a wealthy and powerful man, has become increasingly demanding and possessive, and is occasionally abusive. He is prepared to do anything to get what he wants. .

What Rafe wants is a little peace and security. And he wants it with the owner of the new cafe in the neighborhood.

Driven to despair by his lover, Rafe calls on his half brother, a demon named Grim, to help settle things.

I’ll be publishing more details soon.  Stay tuned!

The Pantry Project Continues. Yes it does.

To discourage seed predators, pulses contain t...

There’s no point to doing this project unless I start digging down and using some of the less attractive stuff that’s sitting in my pantry, by which I mean, food items that I look at and think, “What the hell was I thinking when I bought that?”  One of those things is a whole array of lentils.  I have a jar of green, half a jar of black and a metric fucktonne of red lentils.  I suppose I bought them during one of my bouts of “I’m going to get healthy/go vegan/be an earth mother” and the good thing is that they can sit there forever and not really suffer for it.  The bad thing is that they’re always sitting there staring accusingly at me.

So this morning, I cooked up some lentils because I wanted to make a lentil salad.  I’d found a couple of interesting recipes on the internet and really wanted to give it a try.  I used green, red and black because I thought it’d be nice to have a multi-colored salad.  Yeah you lentil eaters know what I’m going to say. What I got out of the pot was a big, mushy glop of black lentils. So now I know to cook them for a shorter time and to NOT cook black lentils with anything else.

They were too mushy for salad so I stirred them up with olive oil, lemon juice, a packet of dip mix from Wildwood Specialty Foods (Jalapeno-green chile) and some lemon-garlic marinade from The Spice House. Roasted, chopped walnuts and salt to taste, and I have a KILLER dip. I am not kidding when I say it was so good that I kept on eating way past where I should have stopped and now I’m regretting it. I also regret that I won’t be able to reproduce it because that dip mix was from a store in the wilds of Wisconsin  (The Elegant Farmer; they make pies that are to die for.) and the company website is pretty unhelpful.

Well really, I shouldn’t say I won’t be able to reproduce it. I’ve got a list of what’s in the mix:  onions, garlic, jalapeno pepper, green chili pepper, parsley and chives.   So I know it’s an oniony mix, and that the amount of garlic in it wasn’t enough to get the flavor I wanted so I’d need extra garlic in any event.  The peppers are easy as is the parsley, so I can probably get close with what I have in my spice cabinet.  This is a great thing because it’s a pretty healthy dish, and also versatile.  I can use it as a dip, a spread, or mix it into broth for a soup.  I’m sure I’ll think of other applications.

I also finally baked the tofu I’d been marinating for several weeks (not on purpose, I just got sidetracked) and it’s really tasty. I marinated it in Litehouse sesame ginger salad dressing and baked it @ 350 for half an hour. Then I turned off the heat and let it sit. The result is that I have cubes of tofu with the consistency of soft caramel and a fantastic flavor. I’ve been snacking on them right out of the fridge.  I haven’t been too nuts about the Litehouse line as dressings, but as marinades they’re really very good.  I see they have a new cherry vinaigrette that looks tempting.

I expect I’m babbling on here about healthy food in part because I’ve been taking a lot of flak about my review of “The Blood Sugar Solution.”  Now bear in mind that I gave the book four stars and said that I thought it was a valuable resource.  Apparently that’s not good enough for the rah-rah brigade.  They’re all over me because I suggested that 1) the process might be too expensive to jump into feet first and 2) that it might be too huge a change for many people, and perhaps a slower approach could bring people to the same point with less attrition.   Since the review went live two days ago I’ve been informed that anyone can do the program you just have to want to do it, with the unspoken implication that those who can’t do it are somehow morally deficient and didn’t want to from the get-go.  I’ve also been told that if you can afford a burger you can afford the program.  Leaving out the cost of the book for a moment, I would say that a $3 burger is vastly different from having to throw out all the food in your house and start over with only approved items.

So far I’ve been responding politely, though the last comment which accused me of pre-programming my own failure, got a snarky response.  But I have to admit I’m losing patience.  I don’t consider haranguing to be valuable motivation.  If someone asks for your cheerleading, then by all means break out the pom-poms and the brass band.  I wrote a positive review which expressed some concerns.  I didn’t say it was impossible, I didn’t say not to try, I didn’t say it could never work.  I said, take a moment to consider your needs and prioritize them.  Then approach the program with those priorities in mind, always intending to reach the point where you do spend those six weeks eating the way Dr. Hyman suggests.

On the plus side, 116 of 120 people thought my review was valuable to them.  That’s only four people who didn’t, the four presumably, who left comments.

And finally, on my way back from the garbage cans this afternoon, I noted that the garlic sprouts are starting to get quite tall.  That’s exciting.  Our garlic was excellent last year and this year we’ll be using garlic grown from garlic that we grew ourselves.  How cool is that?  I’m looking forward to the first scapes in late spring.  Glinda and I have been talking about the garden all winter, and one of the biggest thrills, for me at least, is seeing it start to come to life.  The chard is still coming up — we have a local bunny who grazes on it — and I see the first buds on the nectarine,which means it’s time to get out there and prune.  The mint is sprouting along with all the bulbs, and the ferns never died back.  They’re big and lush and green; even more so than they were in the fall.

Frankly, we didn’t have much of a winter and that worries me, but at the same time I’m really looking forward to spring this year.