Marching into Spring

March is a tough time for a Chicago gardener. One minute it’s warm and sunny; the next there’s a snowstorm (we’re having one right now). There’s the desire to get out there and dig already (too soon!) set right up against the desire to hide under the covers for another two months.

But this is actually a great time to be in your garden. You might do a little raking back of protective leaf mulch (or you might wait until April, if you don’t have tiny snowdrops to uncover). You can prune some shrubs (and if you layer the pruned branches underneath, that’ll provide a little cover for beneficial insects and butterflies).

Mostly, though, it’s a time to observe and plan — the heavy labor will come later, don’t worry! There’ll be plenty of time for doing.

Note where the hellebores are unfurling their thick buds and leaves, and think about whether you might want to add another one or two for next year. Pay attention to where there are gaps in the garden, places you might add spring-planted, summer-blooming bulbs like cannas, gladioli, and lilies. Don’t forget the dahlia tubers to brighten your autumn! Enjoy the budding viburnum; you might even brush your fingers against tightly-furled buds on forsythia, cherries, peaches.

Consider the snowdrops — the ones on bare dirt are dramatic and the ones on grass are barely visible, but resist the urge to move the latter. Soon the grass will green up, and the white of the snowdrops will contrast beautifully. Instead, just make a mental note for where you might want to add more snowdrops for next March.

Also, are there some close enough to the sidewalk for the neighbors to notice as they walk to work in the morning? Maybe you will move a few of those closer to, once they’re done blooming for the season, so next spring will be just a little cheerier for the whole neighborhood.

I read somewhere once that the best thing for a garden are the steps of the gardener. I think that’s true — just remember to stay on the path in the March garden, so you don’t compact the soil too much.

Walk in potential. Dream a little.

Perennial update

Have *finally* done the Perennial layout edits and sent the note to the layout person. I knew what I wanted done four months ago — why did I wait so long to do a five minute task? It bewilders me.
Am hoping he can turn it around quickly, and we can actually be selling the book by April. Thanks to everyone who has been so patient for so long! I do think it will be a charming little romance, a pleasure for garden lovers to enjoy, and a nice gift book for people going through cancer treatment and survivors.


Assistant question: If anyone has an assistant who actually helps process e-mail, tips would be welcome. I’m honestly not sure how to organize this with my assistant in a way that would be helpful.
I’ve also been a little startled to realize just how much time keeping my (pretty big) house neat takes (even with a fortnightly housecleaner for the intensive cleaning of floors, kitchen, and bathroom).
We’ve been doing the daily chores (dishes, laundry, cooking, groceries, errands, picking up, yard work) ourselves for 8 years in this house, but when my assistant took over a lot of it, we started actually counting the hours. It’s significant.
Since outsourcing that, I’ve made a lot more progress on the writing work (including the business parts of writing), which I hope will soon be making enough to cover the cost of the assistant. Right now, it’s an investment in the future, like taking out a loan to start a business — but it’s surprisingly difficult to think of my writing as a business worthy of investing in.

Cancer log 200: Three Years

It feels like that should be significant, that big round number. 200 entries. It’s been about three years since my initial diagnosis.
I had a follow-up with oncologist today, and she confirmed that everything looks good, and had some blood drawn to be sure the exemestane (anti-cancer-coming-back-drug) isn’t raising my cholesterol, which is apparently a thing that sometimes happens.
The everything looks good is significant, of course — she did her standard breast palpation and found nothing. Yay.
Also significant is that I forgot to be worried going in today — I was just thinking of it as routine check-up, and it wasn’t until the oncologist said, “It looks good,” that I remembered that it could have easily been not good. Three years is apparently how long I need to sort of forget that I actually had cancer. Huh.
I did also ask her if she could tell whether my cancer had been slow or fast-growing. There have been some articles I’ve run across about possible over-diagnosis of breast cancer, women going through pretty rough treatment for what would have been a very-slow-growing cancer that might never have been a problem. My doc said that yes, there’s been some discussion about that, but the issue is that you often can’t tell whether the cancer is going to be a problem or not.
Regardless, she thinks mine was fast. She pulled up the early labs and pointed to three elements that indicated that pretty strongly, and I can’t remember them all now (there was a spate of science-talk from her, because sometimes she forgets that my doctorate is not in anything that would let me understand her science-talk), though I do know one element was the fact that it was HER2+ (a hormonal thing that I used to know a fair bit about three years ago since it was critical to my getting into the clinical trial, but have now mostly forgotten).
Oh, and another element was the nuclear grading (evaluation of the size and shape of the nucleus in the tumor cells, comparing how they look compared to normal cells). My cancer was graded at 3. 3 is apparently a pretty bad grade. I can’t remember the third element at all, though. Enough all together to make her think it would be fast.
I know that it would be better, if my cancer was a slow cancer — if it came back, that’d be more likely to be slow too, I imagine. But honestly, I’m a little relieved to confirm that it was fast, because the idea of going through that whole brutal year for nothing would make me tremendously frustrated. It makes me feel better, knowing all that treatment and trauma was worthwhile and necessary.
But regardless, slow or fast, there’s no sign of any cancer in me. With any luck, the chemo and surgery and radiation got it all.
Next mammogram and doctor visit in six months. See you in September…

Sourdough Soup Bowl & Watermelon Salad

One consequence of writing a cookbook is that now when I eat out, I find myself taking mental notes and/or critiquing the food. These are two dishes from the Marriott I was staying at in Walnut Creek. The clam chowder was delicious, but the best part was how they served it in a little individual bread bowl, that they had buttered and crisped up before filling it with soup. Great contrasts of crispy bread exterior with soft, soup-soaked interior. Would make a fabulous autumn / winter appetizer or light meal.

I also liked this watermelon salad appetizer — so pretty! But the raspberry dressing was too sweet; it needed to be more citrus, to contrast with the candied nuts. And while the long cucumber slices are pretty, they required pulling out a knife, which none of the rest of the salad did, which was sort of annoying. I’d do it on a bed of round cucumber slices instead.

Curried Chicken Livers with Onion

Note to self — on a day when you had a fair bit of blood drawn (routine check-up stuff, not to worry), maybe it’s not the brightest choice to a) eat lightly and then b) go workout with the trainer at the gym. I had to sit down partway through because I got light-headed! It’s all fine; a few minutes of rest put me right.
Then I came right home and made myself a quick batch of curried chicken liver — high in iron, rich and fortifying. You could eat it with rice, but I like it best on buttered toast. Small portions would make a great (intense) appetizer. I’m feeling much better now.
Curried Chicken Livers with Onion
(15 minutes, serves 2)
1/2 medium onion, sliced
1 T butter or ghee
1 t. red chili powder
1/2 t. Sri Lankan curry powder
3/4 t. salt
1/8 c. ketchup
1 T lime juice
1/2 lb. chicken livers
1/4 c. coconut milk
1. Sauté onions in butter on high, stirring, until golden.
2. Add chili powder and stir about 30 seconds, then turn heat down to medium and add curry powder, salt, ketchup, lime juice. Stir to combine, then add chicken livers and fry for a few minutes, stirring very gently.
3. Stir in coconut milk and simmer about 5 minutes more, until livers are cooked through. Serve hot with rice or bread.

FogCon Redux

Oof — that’s a tired me, taken just before my flight landed in Chicago at midnight. And now I’m home at 1 a.m., with fond memories of FogCon. My panels went reasonably well, reading ditto.

I got to have conversations with wise mentor people like Pat Murphy and Debbie Notkin, which help me sort through all this novel-writing stuff. I got to see old friends and meet interesting new folks (including enthusiastic readers of mine, which is obviously the BEST). And a couple rounds of Terraforming Mars, teaching it to new people, and trying out Pandemic: Rising Tide, which is about the Netherlands flooding, and was fun.

My only complaint is that somehow I planned both sleeping and eating every poorly and got no exercise, which was sort of disastrous in terms of how I felt for most of the con — I really need to be more rigorous about convention travel and healthy habits going forward as I am apparently just not young enough to eat and stay awake the way I used to. Well, I’m home for three days and then off to ICFA, so I suppose I’ll get a chance to hopefully do better.

Now, off to sleep. In six hours, I have to be up to get the kids off to school, and then it’s a doctor check-up followed by a teaching day…

FogCon, day one

Yesterday we came to Walnut Creek for the con. I was seriously under slept — woke up at 4 a.m. local time, and was going to be programming until 10:45 p.m. Should’ve napped, but I am very bad at napping. Powered through with caffeine instead, and survived, but it was definitely a little rough.

Still, the day went well. Saw a lot of old friends, of course, met new people, taught a few people how to play Terraforming Mars in the break, and participated in two panels that went well.

We got through a lot of really good and thorough information on the submitting short fiction panel, that should be really helpful to the host of new writers in attendance. And we had a complex and nuanced discussion on the writing sexual assault panel, although I definitely felt completely wrung out by the end of it. Tough stuff.

We (Jed, KJ, and I) also taught a few dozen people to sing Creation of Éa at opening ceremonies. I think Alex took a few photos; will post them soon. We weren’t super-professional, but it went pretty well regardless, esp. since our two Guests of Honor at this con (Ada Palmer and Andrea Hairston) are gorgeous singers and were able to carry a third part all on their own, sitting with a mic at the front of the room. Good practice for doing it with a larger group at WisCon; I think it’d help to have a few more lead singers to anchor sections in a larger room. Ideally with mics. And a piano.


Thinking about capacity. For a lot of my young adulthood, I was working at maybe 60% of capacity, and it was easy (Kev and I watched four hours of tv a night), but also soul-crushing on some level, knowing that I was squandering my gifts.

Grad school helped. In my Ph.D. program, I was working at close to 100% of capacity work-wise, which was great, but I also had almost nothing else going on — no children, low community service, low romantic relationships, etc. Relatively easy to manage (though also often feeling sad).

When I was campaigning, I felt so energized, because I was at something like 105% of capacity, which was pretty thrilling. All my social / service needs were being thoroughly met. But also exhausting, and I wasn’t getting much writing done either.

The trick now is figuring out how to keep writing at something like 90% of capacity while maintaining the rest of my life at a good level — and also getting sufficient leisure that I don’t explode or turn into a melted puddle of goo.

I woke up this morning at 4 a.m. having figured out a bunch of characterization things in my sleep, then read crit comments from a friend that should help me drastically improve an essay I’m working on. It feels great, my heart is thumping, my brain is fizzing, but my body is also still tired. (I’m going to chill out in bed with an episode of Grey’s Anatomy before I get up and dive into revisions.)

Fun times.