2011 Harvest

Our 2011 harvest of peppers
Washing our pepper harvest

After Jackie broke her wrist, we quit going to the garden. She couldn’t do that sort of work at all, and I was so busy trying to do the bare minimum of my work plus the necessary fraction of the work she couldn’t do any more, anything extra had to be dropped. The garden was one thing we dropped.

Jackie’s nearly all better now. The splint has been off for several weeks. The hand therapist said she was doing well enough on her own and didn’t need formal physical therapy. (He gave her a bunch of exercises to do.) But we still didn’t go to the garden. It just seemed like it would be too depressing to see the remnants and imagine what our garden might have been.

And yet, we figured there’d probably be some stuff to harvest. We’d had a hot, dry summer, so we didn’t expect the tomatoes to have survived. And without us there to do the weeding, we figured the greens would have been overshadowed terribly by weeds. But the sage should have survived, and perhaps the peppers as well.

As it turns out, it wasn’t even quite that bad. Two of our cherry tomato plants did very well. And, as you see, the peppers produced in great profusion. We also got some sage, some swiss chard, and a some sunflowers.

Now I’m feeling a little silly that we didn’t get to the garden earlier. We’d certainly have gotten a lot more sunflowers—we could have had flowers steadily for all these weeks. We’d also have been able to eat the peppers steadily as they ripened, instead of getting a whole bunch at once that we’re going to have to preserve. But not very silly. We did about the best we could under the circumstances. To have gotten this much of a harvest despite doing no work since early July is kind of a bonus.

Dreams of decluttering

I sometimes have fantasies in which everything I own is lost or destroyed. I imagine the sparse, spare spaces that I’d create to live and work in. Even though it would be very bad to lose some of my things—family pictures, financial records,  art, mementos of youth and travel, books by family members (and a few with my own work)—it somehow seems liberating to imagine the workspace, sleeping space, living space that I’d create if I were starting from scratch.

For some reason, I never fantasize about the hard work of decluttering.

I’m thinking about doing it, though. We’d gotten eight bags of books set aside to take to the used bookstore just before Jackie broke her wrist. But that’s really just a small step. We’d need to take three times as many just to get all the books that aren’t on shelves.

Still, I think I’m ready to get rid of a whole bunch of stuff. The idea of a room without clutter is becoming more than just an abstract goal. It’s becoming something I yearn for.

Storytelling cycling class

Yesterday I heard something unique and fascinating: A group cycling class instructor fashioning a story around the cyclists’ workout.

The group cycling classes at the Fitness Center take place in a room that is reached by walking through the room with mats where I do my ab and back exercises and do my stretching. The arrangement is pretty unsatisfactory, because the cycling class’s music is not only far too loud, it’s also a poor match for my cool-down-and-stretch purposes. Still, it gave me the opportunity to hear this.

I only caught the end. Where I came in, the cyclists were carrying a backpack and were being pursued by someone faster but less nimble. They had to ride really hard for 20 seconds, then ease up and make a sharp turn just ahead of the pursuers, who blew on past and had to regroup. The cyclists got a short respite, then had to ride hard for another two minutes to reach the safe house.

I don’t know who the pursuers were—it sounded more like spies than like zombies (which would have been my choice, but then maybe the instructor had used zombies last week). And the cycling instructor sounded more like a coach than like a storyteller—a real writer could have included rather more telling detail and provided better characterization for the bad guys. But it was still cool.

I’ve seen a few attempts to turn exercise equipment into video games, and of course I build stories around my own workouts all the time. (I assume others who exercise do as well.) But this low-tech application of using old-fashioned storytelling to enhance a workout—using what was essentially a paid storyteller—was new to me.

If it catches on, maybe there’ll be some new job opportunities for writers, at least writers who are very fit.

Domestic violence humor?

Since Jackie broke her wrist, I’ve been surprised by the number of people—both acquaintances and complete strangers—who feel moved to chime in with some domestic violence humor.

Interestingly, they’re about equally divided between people who think it’s funny to imply that I beat up my wife and those who think it’s funny to imply that she injured herself hitting me.

I guess these jokes are really old. I recognize some from cartoons that were old when I was a kid, and they are no doubt much older than that. But they weren’t the jokes that I grew up with: my parents didn’t make these jokes; neither did grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, or family friends.

I guess that’s the interesting part to me. Is this a class difference? An education-level difference? An ethnic difference? Or is it more narrow and specific than that? Perhaps these jokes are passed down in families (rather than across whole communities), and this is just a matter of our own family history.

I’d be interested in comments on this one. Was domestic violence humor part of the milieu when you grew up? Do you still hear such jokes today?

(Jackie, by the way, is doing very well.)

Jackie broke her wrist

Jackie with book and tea, keeping her broken wrist elevated.

Dismounting her bike as we were arriving at taiji class on Thursday, Jackie got tangled up with the bike, fell, and broke her wrist. (“Are you okay?” I asked. “Evidently not,” Jackie replied, holding up her hand which was visibly displaced from where it was supposed to be.)

Our classmates sprang into action. One ran into the Savoy Rec Center and got an ice pack. Another gave us a ride the emergency room. (Several helped her into the car.)

After getting x-rays and a temporary cast, we saw the trauma surgeon. Because Jackie was not in severe distress, he suggested that we have her scheduled for surgery with the hand and wrist surgeon the following day.

Early Friday morning, the surgeon opened her wrist, attached a plate to her radius, shifted the hand back to where it was supposed to be, and attached the bottom of her hand to the plate as well. Then he put on a smaller cast to support the wrist while it begins to heal. In 10 to 14 days she’s supposed to get that cast off, the stitches removed, some wrist exercises, and a plastic wrist brace to wear for several more weeks (but that can be removed for bathing).

All things considered, Jackie has done really well. She’s not in much pain. (She’s already off the hydrocodone—modest doses of ibuprofen seem to control the pain adequately). The new shorter cast seems quite manageable. (The temporary splint came past her elbow. It was much more inconvenient.) She’s permitted to use her hand, except that she’s not supposed to “push, pull, or lift anything heavier than a coffee cup.”

She’s still coming up with an exercise plan. No bicycling for a while. She won’t be able to lift weights with that arm for a while, although she should still be able to lift with her other limbs. Taiji moves may need to be circumscribed for a while as well. We’ll swap in walking for the bicycling and carry on with the other exercises in modified form.

It’s always a little odd, dealing with health care providers. Except for having a broken wrist, Jackie is in great shape—and that’s unusual these days. They took a medical history from Jackie several times (part of making sure anything that might be an issue for surgery is known in advance). Responding to a long list of potential health problems by saying that she doesn’t have any of them let Jackie feel pretty healthy in spite of her broken wrist.

Watch Bees on bookstore shelves!

Me finding Asimov's at Borders
Me finding Asimov's at the local Borders. Photo by Steven Brewer.

The August issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction with my story “Watch Bees” was on the shelf at the local Borders this evening!

My mom bought two copies, leaving just one on the shelf. (A fact possibly of interest to local folks who’re hoping to get a copy.)

I got a call from my dad, who said that he’d found a copy as well, but he bought his at the Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo.

Watch Bees

“Watch Bees” is in Asimov’s Science Fiction, August 2011, Vol. 35, No. 8, edited by Shelia Williams.

Cover of August 2011 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction
Cover of August 2011 Asimov’s Science Fiction. Cover art by Jeroen Advocaat.

“Watch Bees” is in Asimov’s Science Fiction, August 2011, Vol. 35, No. 8, edited by Sheila Williams.

Picking his way through morning glory vines, over rolling chunks of old pavement, David made his way to the edge of the ditch. Kneeling down, he got close enough to the dandelions and clover to see that the bees visiting them were striped the distinctive orange-and-black of watch bees.

Looking up, David took in the farm as a whole. The paint on the farmhouse and barn wasn’t fresh, but it wasn’t peeling. The garden was big. The fields grew food, not just biofuel crops. He was six or seven miles from town, having rejected each of the farms he’d passed, but this one looked promising.

Update: “Watch Bees” has been reprinted in the Russian Magazine Esli!

Scones with clotted cream

Back in 1992, Jackie and I took a trip to England and Wales. We spent a week in London, a week in St. David’s (hiking on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path), and then a couple more days back in London visiting an old friend who took us out to dinner, to a play, and then to Bath to see the Roman ruins and other such stuff.

In Bath we had afternoon tea in the Pump Room with scones and clotted cream.

I was rather dubious of clotted cream (because of the name) but turned out to like it very much. (No surprise: There are an infinite number of yummy blends of fat and sugar.)

Upon returning, I kept my eye out for clotted cream, figuring that I could make my own scones, but I never saw any.

Just recently, I mentioned to Jackie that I wouldn’t mind getting some clotted cream to put on scones, and she suggested that Devonshire cream would be a lot like clotted cream. Turns out that Devonshire cream is what clotted cream is called in the US. Further, it turns out that our local grocery store has some! (We don’t yet know if it’s a standard item, or if they just got it in stock for the royal wedding or something.)

With Devonshire cream in hand, today I baked scones. I just grabbed a recipe off the internet that looked promising and followed the directions. (Almost: I replaced half the all purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour.)

They turned out great. As good as any scones I’ve ever had.

Contributor’s copies!

Contributor's copies of Asimov'sI got my contributors copies of the August Asimov’s! It’s a treat to see my story in print.

I haven’t read it yet, but of course I flipped through it. Seeing the “next issue” section of the new issue prompted me to check out that section of the previous issue, which turns out to be available on-line. It mentions my story, saying:

Another new author, Philip Brewer, gives us a stinging tale about how to recover from the end of life as we know it in “Watch Bees.”

I hadn’t noticed that before; it’s sure fun to see.

The new issue should go on sale June 21st.