Monthly Archives: May 2011

Helpful Household Hint #1

If you’re doing laundry, make sure you take all the cough drops out of pants pockets first, before they turn into lumps o’ sticky glued to random pieces of clothing.

Precision and why you can’t have it

The friendly economy; Tomato Chronicles Part 5

Six tomato seedlings ready to give to my friend Eileen

Six plants for Eileen leaves fifty-one

Fifty-seven tomato seedlings.


And a fairly shady, smallish yard to plant them in. It can’t be done. Even if I had every tree on the property cut down (not that that would help much, because we’d still have the shade from buildings, and trees that belong to neighbors, and trees between the sidewalk and the street that belong to the township) – anyway, even if I got rid of all our trees and dug up the entire back yard and front yard, it isn’t enough space to plant fifty-seven tomatoes.

Fifty-seven hopeful little tomatoes, waving their little green leaves in the breeze from the open windows.

What to do?

A box with four tomato seedlings for my friend Sue

And four for Sue leaves forty-seven

Well, that’s easy. What are friends for? To give plants to, of course. Six to Eileen, four to Sue, four to Donna. It’s a start. And in return (not even counting the advice from Sue without which I wouldn’t have this problem, because all the tomatoes would have died weeks ago), I got four lily of the valleys, six mystery flowers, and a quasi-infinite supply of grape hyacinth bulbs from Eileen.

Supply and demand. Things gain value if you don’t have your own stock of them. There’s no question that this was economic activity in the oldest form there is. Any self-respecting economist ought to hate me.

How can you accurately measure GNP if people all over the nation are adding gross product without any money changing hands? If I had let an official nursery raise those seedlings and sell some to me and some to Eileen and some to Sue and some to Donna, the value – excuse me, the price – would have been duly recorded and added to the official economic statistics.

Better yet, we could have let a commercial nursery start the seeds and sell the plants to a commercial farm that could sell the tomatoes to a commercial wholesaler which could sell them to a commercial supermarket which could sell them to us, not forgetting the commercial truckers who would get a piece of the pie here and there along the way. And each step would lead to a bigger GNP. As it is, there’s no way at all to keep track of how much productive activity really goes on in the world.

Look at that pin. How many angels are dancing?

What I want more than a Tardis


Sure, a Tardis gives you all the space you could ever need, and more. But here we all are, still stuck with the usual twenty-four hours a day, one hundred and sixty-eight hours a week, eight thousand seven hundred and thiry-six hours a year if it isn’t leap year. And, for almost all of us, not even a hundred years in which to find time to get everything done.

I can’t say that I’m wasting my time, exactly. It’s more a problem of wanting to chase so many butterflies…and some of the butterflies are so lovely that I want them really, really bad, and some – watch out, metaphor at breaking point – some have bombs strapped to their little thoraxes that need to be defused before they go off.


Anyhow, here I am trying to: Finish a fantasy about political goings on in ancient Sumeria. (Not that you can really talk about modern Sumeria, unless it might be Kuwait.) Finish a science fiction story, or maybe a graphic novel, about what to do when your faster than light transport stalls. Finish another science fiction story about a cop who’s an intelligent octopus who needs to solve a murder on an interstellar hotel and transit hub. Finish a Roman-period mystery about who really killed the lion trainer, if it wasn’t his pet lion. Get moving on a series of mysteries in an alternative 1930’s.

And also: Help get a new financial system working at church before the Windows 98 computer that’s running the current DOS-based financials dies. Revamp our church web site – and maybe enlist an interested teenager to participate. Try to talk other people into projects I think would be a good idea, like a monthly come-as-you-are, give-what-you-can, everybody-welcome dinner.

And: Get to the dojo for at least one aikido class a week. Keep in touch with Bob and Tom, and Eileen and Arlene and maybe Irene, and Donna and Heidi and Sue and Sue and Sue, and Mom (my mother) and Dad (my father in law), and Brenda and the boys, and Toni and Bill, and Ann and Joe.

Not forgetting: Get rid of at least a third of the accumulated stuff in this house. Develop a recipe database so I can locate various ways to use, let’s say, cilantro. (Which is one of the five most addictive flavors on the planet.) Knit a lot of stuff – it’s likely to get cold again in five or six months. Exercise for an hour a day. Read through Morning Prayer daily. Draw, and draw, and draw.

Oh, and take care of some tomato plants.

Something’s got to give. It’s not going to be me.


The Tomato Chronicles, part 4.

Stump of a bitten off tomato seedling

Once there were three. That green line in the center of the picture is what's left of a seedling.

Horror stories are everywhere. The world full of dangers, especially if you can’t get away. Say, for example, that you’re a very young plant, with no way to perceive danger and no way to dodge anyhow.

As April drizzled on, New Jersey had occasional sunny, warm days – good weather for seedlings. I put the baby tomatoes outside whenever there was enough light and enough warmth. They kept on growing – I only lost two or three to “damping off”, a dread disease that causes seedlings to shrivel away to limp little threads.

But one afternoon, when I brought them back indoors, something was terribly wrong with several pots. Where there were strong, leafy plants in the morning, now there were only inch-long stems. Toothmarked stems.

I don’t know what was guilty. A squirrel? We have lots of those. A rabbit? I haven’t seen many this year, but there are always some. Maybe even a duck, wandering uphill from the lake? A predator, anyhow. Everything’s hungry. And normally I would side with the being who has a nervous system. But I meant to eat these plants, or at least their fruit.

Since then, the tomatoes have stayed in. When the weather’s warmish, I open the windows instead to let them experience unblocked sunlight and breezes. Am I overprotective? Maybe, but none of them have been chewed up lately. This horror story has a happy ending, so far.

The tomatoes are way ahead of me

The Tomato Chronicles, part 3

So, I lost a few weeks of posting time…the offline world wanted me. And meanwhile those heirloom seedlings grew, and grew, and grew. (They were a part of the offline world that was demanding my attention.) Let’s try to get up to date, okay?

When last heard of, the seedlings were growing like mad, trying to get close enough to the light. Their stems were a little thicker than a hair, and they were spiraling around one another like well-tangled spaghetti. Then I learned that they needed light, light, light, LIGHT. Unfortunately, the only grow light I had available was very wobbly and kept wanting to fall on top of the seedlings.

A tangle of tomato seedlings with long fragile stems

Little tomato plants searching everywhere for light

They wound up on a windowsill. And most of them got sturdier and healthier, and before very long they started to grow fancy leaves. Real leaves. You see, when tomatoes first sprout, they have two false leaves – cotyledons – which were once two halves of the seed. As they grow, they start to form real tomato-leaf shaped leaves. And then it’s time to transplant them.

That took over a week. I started by potting – no, plastic cupping – the biggest, thickest-stemmed plants. Many of them had to be put way down in the bottom of their cups so I could pile soil  around their long, long stems and they could grow roots out of the buried stems.  Day after day I stuck more seedlings into potting soil, and spilled soil everywhere – you wouldn’t have wanted to walk into my powder room while that was going on. I finished just about the time we got one precious 80-degree day sandwiched between a lot of cold, raw, miserable February-in-April weeks, so I took the babies outside to play in the sun for an hour. Don’t they look happy?

A few of my little heirloom tomatoes enjoying life outdoors

But then they had to come back inside. All sixty-one of them. (I’m sorry, Sue. I know you told me to cull the ones that weren’t growing well, but I didn’t have the heart. So yes, there were sixty-one.) I had tomatoes on windowsills everywhere. Well, not in the attic. But that’s only because there are no windows in the attic. And they grew, and they grew, and they started to smell like tomato plants – that unforgettable sharp summer smell that you know if you’ve ever had a vegetable garden.

P.S. on bin Laden –

– the Slacktivist has an interesting post on international law, justice, love, and the Seals.

Moral men and immoral society and the death of bin Laden

Does this bell toll for me?

John Donne, some few years ago, thought that every human death was his own loss. And now Osama bin Laden is dead. And I have to admit, my immediate reaction was “Yay! At last!”

No sane person can deny that bin Laden was a murderous monster, who rejoiced in the death of random strangers – the more death the better. Worse, he thought that sacrificing thousands of human beings would please God, or his idea of God. And on a milder level, he and his followers would surely hold that I, as a woman, should be put under house arrest from late childhood till death, and forced to hide my face like a criminal if ever I contaminated the public streets by appearing in them. He was my enemy.

And I am told to love my enemy. It isn’t easy. Really, does his death diminish me?

Not the fact of it. What would diminish me is wallowing in it as if it was a tub of warm scented bubble bath, rejoicing in death. This man was a gifted leader, an intelligent, educated, capable person, who wasted all the abilities he could have used to improve his world and mine. That’s something to mourn.

Besides, there’s my preferred revenge fantasy, the one that will never come true. Oh, to see bin Laden standing trial in a western court, with a female judge, forced to treat her with respect, forced to follow the rules of a civilization he longed to destroy. It won’t happen. And maybe it doesn’t matter now. Maybe the world is moving past his bizarre dreams that tried to mingle sixth century rules of conduct with the latest of weapons. Maybe the new dreams of the Arab Spring, of an Egypt and a Tunisia (and God willing, many more countries) where people can find ways to share their world without killing everyone who disagrees with them will come true.

Osama bin Laden is dead. The world has one less talented, evil man in it, and that’s a good thing. And may God have mercy on his soul.