Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Buy a Book for a Buck

You can buy a bunch of books for a buck a piece from Small Beer Press. (They either gotta sell 'em or pay rent on warehouse space.) One of them is my short story collection, Mothers & Other Monsters. Right in time for Mother's Day!

Although I have to admit, I'd rather get Carol Emshwiller for Mother's Day. Hell, all of 'em look good.

Alan DeNiro, Skinny Dipping ... (pb) $1

Carol Emshwiller, Carmen Dog (pb) $1

Carol Emshwiller, The Mount (pb) $1

John Crowley, Endless Things (hc) $1

Angelica Gorodsicher, Kalpa Imperial (pb) $1

Elizabeth Hand, Generation Loss (hc) $1

Kelly Link, Magic for Beginners (hc) $1

Kelly Link, Trampoline (pb) $1

Laurie J. Marks, Water Logic (pb) $1

Maureen F. McHugh, Mothers & Other...(pb) $1

Naomi Mitchison, Travel Light (pb) $1

Sean Stewart, Mockingbird (pb) $1

Kate Wilhelm, Storyteller (pb) $1

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Carts of Darkness


"This isn’t one of those homeless-guys-are-just-like-us exercises in upper-middle class guilt trips. As it turns out, these guys are nothing like us."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Why Tomato Plants?

Someone asked me in mock exasperation if I had named my tomato plants. So of course, I had to. The big Jubilee (yellow tomatoes) is Rasputin (hard to kill) and the Terrific (red beefsteak tomatoes) is Audry (from Little Shop of Horrors.) The four Roma tomato plants, bought to provide tomatoes for freezing, are the Rolling Stones (longevity) and Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood both have tiny green tomatoes. Charlie Watts is pictured above.

I thought the flat of Roma tomatoes had four tomato plants, but it actually had five, and being unable to just throw out the one I really didn't have room for, I put it in a pot and stuck it on a deck. Pictured below is Brian Jones, who is in a better place than the other Rolling Stones. (Okay, actually not. The plant is more spindly than the others, although still setting blossoms.)

I'm very invested in these damn plants--or at least what they stand for to me. I know what they represent and it is all unreasonable: control in economically uncertain times, the promise of some self reliance. They are my bomb shelter, my gun collection, my little utopia. It's absurd. Seven tomato plants aren't going to sustain much. As for control, they are subject to whims as arbitrary as the economic and social weather we're experiencing these days.

Their next threat is the replacement of our roof, sometime in the next couple of weeks. When roofers are stripping a roof, they have to toss the shingles somewhere, and it will only take one shingle to completely wipe out Keith Richards. So I had it written into the roofing contract that they won't toss shingles on my garden.

I haven't gotten a single tomato yet. It's only April and even in Texas, where the growing season starts early, it's too soon. But I'm already thinking about how I'll expand the garden next year. Garlic. Maybe some onion sets. More peppers (I only have one chili plant.) Assuming I do get tomatoes, by July I will be sick of them. Rather than expanding the garden next year, it will be interesting to see if I even have one. (Well, probably herbs, I've had herbs for years. Herbs are weeds and take very little care.)

I dream of solar panels. I think about how even if we paid off the house we'd still have to pay real estate taxes. We are becoming the problem that economists talk about--people who will not spend. If spending is down, the economy continues to stall.

Did you know that in Austin, it is legal to own chickens within the city limits? That would cover some of our protein needs. The eggs, not the chickens. Yesterday we were talking about what we would name chickens if we had them. We decided we would name them Soup, Parmesan, Cacciatore and Esmeralda. Bob always wanted a chicken named Esmeralda.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cyberspace Saturates Reality

William Gibson, when he described cyberspace in Neuromancer, envisioned it as "tactile lattices of data and logic" and Case, his data cowboy, soared through it like a superhero. Cyberspace was a consensual hallucination. A visualization of the data landscape. It sounded like a total blast. But cyberspace has not turned out to be anything like that. I'm in cyberspace typing this, you're in cyberspace reading it. William Gibson made a far scarier observation when he said that cyberspace was where you go when you are on the telephone.

It's true, when we talk on the telephone, we're together, at least in some way that my brain recognizes as together.

But more interesting to me is that Cyberspace was initially envisioned as a place you went into. It turns out it's not that at all. Cyberspace is the organization of your experience when you are using a linked interface. So when you're in your car, using your GPS, you're in cyberspace, right there on the freeway. Using you smartphone to check Twitter, you're in cyberspace. We don't go to cyberspace, it comes to us. It overlays our world and our experience. It changes our perception of space and time.

There's only going to be more of it.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Infused Vodka, Vim & Vigor

It all started from a stray comment. Can you have 'vim' without 'vigor' I asked?

Jessica said, "I think vim is the more mental/emotional form of vigor, so I say yes."

Gwenda said, "
I think it involves martinis."

Jessica replied, "Given the nature of vim, perhaps it should be some sort of aromatini. Vimaromatini."

I like martinis. I really like Vespers, which is a martini made with Lillet instead of vermouth. Now I can't actually drink a lot of martinis, because frankly I have no tolerance for alcohol. In fact, my lack of tolerance is probably why I like martinis. When I was in college, and we'd go out drinking, if I had more than two drinks I really wanted to go home and go to sleep. But it's hard to make two drinks last several hours. Especially when the bar is too loud to talk. So I got in the habit of ordering brandy, and then whiskey, because they didn't taste good. So they'd take me a long time to finish. Except, not surprisingly, I came to like the taste of alcohol. And to this day I prefer drinks that aren't sweet.

Since Bob and I are not really drinkers, we are very enamored of the accouterments of martinis. Bob, especially is a lover of ritual and exactitude, which makes him the perfect bartender. Therefore, he was more than game when I said that we had to invent a martini.

I don't dislike the long list of things that people call martinis these days. I actually like Cosmos (I think it's the cranberry which takes the edge off the sweet.) But really, they aren't a martini. A martini is liquor cut by an aperitif style wine. So for me, a Manhattan (whiskey and sweet vermouth) qualifies as a kind of martini. A Blueberry Martini (
2 oz Cranberry vodka, 2 oz triple sec, 2 oz blueberry juice, 2 oz Sprite) does not.

How then, to make an aromatic martini?

Infused vodka. Infused vodka is actually a pretty old-fashioned thing. A lot of Russian vodka is still homebrew, and there's a long tradition of putting stuff in it to make it palatable. Pepper vodka. Citron vodka. Now it's trendy, of course, and in a liquor store you can buy raspberry , peach, pepper, cranberry, green apple,
lemon, clementine, vanilla, chili pepper, cinnamon, coffee, chocolate, rose, buffalo grass, and that favorite of dieters, acai. But we wanted 'aromatic vodka.' I had heard, somewhere, about infusing vodka and I have rosemary growing in my garden, so I did a search on 'rosemary infused vodka and found a site call Infusions of Grandeur. The blog hasn't been updated since 2008, which is sad (although probably a good thing for the blog owners' livers) but it is still a font of information if you want to infuse vodka.

After much discussion, we decided on three infusions (of which two, the lemon grass--clear with chopped bits of lemongrass in it--and ginger--cloudy with grated ginger--are pictured above.) We are doing ginger, lemongrass, and pear. Why pear? Because fruit infusions are supposedly the easiest to do and if the ginger and the lemongrass suck, at least we'll have the pear. We used Smirnoff for the base vodka (Smirnoff consistently does as well as expensive vodkas in blind tastings but costs less.)

Gwenda lives too far away for an easy taste test, but Jessica will be invited for the attempt to make a Vimaromatini.

To celebrate the beginning of the experiment, Bob made martinis. His is the classic Gordon's gin and dry vermouth. Mine is vodka and Lillet. I have had a couple of sips and I am feeling it already, so if people are interested, I will post more later, when we taste. Now, I'm going to go do something brainless.

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Recession Garden

Is there anything so utterly hopeful as planting a garden? I planted mine about a month ago (spring comes early in Austin--the last average frost date is Feb. 15.) Already it's been battered by hail and tonight, temperatures are dipping into the high 30's. And I am fretting. It's a small garden: eight vegetable plants (seven of them tomatoes) and about the same number of herbs.

The tomato plants are so fragile, and yet so tenacious. Staked and tied against our spring winds. Every bit as miraculous, in their way, as the hummingbirds that my husband has coaxed to his feeder. (They are astonishing, nothing prepares me for their shocking smallness, the sheer absurdity of this thing, the length of my thumb, but muscular. Their feet are absurd semi-colons.)

Now I discover I have joined a movement. I have planted a Recession Garden. A Recession Garden is, among other things, an expression of anxiety about the current economic climate. The more I learn about the possible collapse of the banking system, the more anxious I become. And the more I learn about the economics of food production, the more difficult it becomes to know how to eat.

So I plant tomatoes. Me, and apparently 44 million households in the U.S., who are planting anywhere from a pot of basil on the windowsill to a full kitchen garden. I'm somewhere in the middle. Since I'm fretting about my garden (assuming we don't get a freeze tonight, the next big worry is opossums, which our local long term Texas gardener, my neighbor Bud, assures us will eat my tomatoes.) Seems an odd response to anxiety to do something that induces anxiety. It's not as if these seven tomato plants and lone chili plant are going to sustain us. Or even, frankly, save us much money. Still, being outside with my indomitable little plants is soothing. It's that nature thing. I always run my fingers through the thyme, maybe pinch the flowers off of the basil, and my fingers smell of herbs.

Those of you who have much later average last frost dates (in Cleveland, it was May 15, which meant that it wasn't really safe to put plants out until Memorial Day weekend) all I can say is, it's better than you remember.