Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Hope Springs Eternal: part deux

The catalogs keep coming. Beautiful catalogs from Henry Field, White Flower Farm, van Bourgondien, Burpee, all trying to seduce me with their succulent vegetables, their colorful flowers, their naturalizing bulbs. How can I not be entranced by the Lily of Nepal or the hybrid lily Boogie Woogie? I don't even like eggplant, but the Purple Rain hybrid woos me with its description: "elegant, gorgeous wine-purple, streaked creamy-white."

I vowed that never again will I shop from a catalog. Sometimes the prices are tempting, sometimes the strains are unlike any found in our local nurseries. Certainly the text of these catalogs must be written by graduates of some esoteric degree program in hypnotic prose. A cleome is a favorite for its "commanding but ethereal presence in the back of a border", while the hollyhock Queeny Purple boasts "powder-puffy, bi-petalled flowers crowned with a multi-petalled center crest." I have often been tempted. Sometimes these flowers live up to their promise, but all too often I would have done better to pay more at our local nursery and get a good look at what I was buying.

Then we have tomatoes. The Ament track record with tomatoes is not too good. It may be a matter of soil or sunshine. Possibly the tendency to plant late and water sporadically has something to do with it. Should I listen to the sirens of Burpee promising "gorgeous color and meaty flesh" or wait and see what Allemons has to offer in May?

Stay tuned. You haven't heard the end of my garden saga for 2006.

Friday, January 20, 2006

My Nomination

I just nominated this photo on the Icons of England website. Fortunately I could do it by description,because I don't think this is the "official" portrait. I found several versions of the three of them sitting side by side. They were behaving just like my grandchildren: the photographer was having difficulty getting them all to look at the camera at the same time!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Hope Springs Eternal

Yesterday I asked for nominations for Icons of America. So far, no one has replied. But given the size of my readership, I am not surprised.

As I stood in line at Krogers today, I saw the cover of the latest Family Circle magazine, and realized I was looking at a sure-fire nominee and winner. It’s all here, folks. We can eat cake (the best chocolate cake you’ve ever tasted), we can walk off the calories involved (I am assuming that is our dessert after the delicious low-fat Tex-Mex dinner) and the whole business is delivered in s $1.99 package. WOW!

As they say, only in America.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Icons of England

Thanks to Ernie and an article in The Chicago Tribune I was introduced today to the icons of England, and a lot of my day has been taken up with thinking about this project. Basically the idea is to identify the concepts, ideas and cultural treasures that make England England. The first twelve have already been chosen, and the public is invited to nominate more. Another list will be compiled, together with background information, including the history and the impact of the selected icons. Here is the list so far:

  1. Stonehenge
  2. SS Empire Windrush
  3. A cup of tea
  4. The song Jerusalem
  5. Punch and Judy
  6. Alice In Wonderland
  7. Holbein's portrait of Henry VIII
  8. Angel of the North
  9. The Spitfire
  10. The King James Bible
  11. The FA Cup
  12. The Routemaster bus
I will admit that I was not familiar with a couple of items on the list, but the web site is a veritable mine of information on the nominees. There is a special section for teachers, including worksheets. You can read up on the icons that have been nominated or selected for the initial list, vote or propose your nominees. You may not nominate people, so while the plays of Shakespeare are allowed, Shakespeare is not. It looks like the site is immensely popular and they note they have “a large backlog of nominations to process.” I was all set to nominate bluebells, but I am too late.

Surely the idea will be picked up this side of the Atlantic. What role does the passage of time play? (It doesn’t seem to have phased the English who include everything from Stonehenge to a 1998 sculpture on their list.) What about regionalism? Can the South and the North and the East coast and the West Coast agree? Is surfing an icon for New Englanders? Does Hawaii care about Harvard?

If anyone wants to take part in a completely unscientific poll on American icons, send me your nominations. Limit your suggestions to ten. If you don’t want to deal with the “comments” part of this site, e-mail me. I’ll give you until the end of the month. In any event, please look at the English web site. Hadrian’s Wall, Marks and Spencer, Marmite. It’s all there.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Raspberry Syndrome

A column by Susan Ager in a recent Detroit Free Press resonated mightily with me. She described her failure to send a note to a casual friend who had suffered a stroke. For many reasons the task slipped her mind and suddenly she found herself face to face with the person she had neglected, and her guilt.

I think most of us have had the same experience. Remembering does play a large role, but in my case I more often attribute my shortcomings to the raspberry syndrome.

I love raspberries, but when everyone was living at home, I never bought them. A small and expensive punnet of the luscious ripe fruit would have had as much chance as the proverbial snowball in my kitchen where seven large people assembled in search of food. I stuck with apples and oranges. There’s a certain commitment in the peeling and coring and segmenting. But now it is just the two of us, I can buy raspberries. I tuck them in the refrigerator, waiting for the opportune time to serve them. With vanilla ice cream? On cereal? In a salad with a raspberry vinaigrette? And more often than not, when the “special” time arrives, I pull out a container of pulpy, moldy berries, way past their prime. I am so eager to keep them as a treat that I don’t get to eat them at all.

So the people to whom I want to send “special” letters and cards frequently get nothing. There are still a few Christmas cards waiting to be sent to friends who deserve more than just a card or a routine newsletter. I wanted to give them my special attention and they still haven’t heard a word from me. Each day that goes by makes the task seem more daunting. The guilt piles up.

I am fortunate that like Susan’s acquaintances, my friends don’t hold it against me. And, like Susan, I know that it is a failure of friendship that can be rectified.

Monday, January 09, 2006

A Voice from the Past

The call came at 4:00 today, just as I was about to leave to mail a box of shoes to Arizona (don’t ask.) The caller announced herself: “This is Ruth”. The miles and the years disappeared in an instant and vivid memories of high school years came flooding back.

I met Ruth in September 1951. Clad in green gym slips and white blouses, we were embarking on a course of education which would separate the lambs from the goats and send the lucky few to university to enjoy a free education, and even a little spending money, courtesy of Clement Atlee and the welfare state. Our numbers had already been culled by the 11+ exam, and although we had risen to the top of the milk bottle, we were about to run the gauntlet of a staff of Jean Brodies who would identify the crème de la crème.

It is probably fair to say that Ruth and I were rivals, though we excelled in different areas. She couldn’t outdo me at languages, though when it came time to add some subjects to prepare for O-level, she joined me in Greek class, but insisted on adding Physics. Her strengths were in English and History and she had an analytic mind second to none.

So it was ironic that the school play in which we “starred” together was Sheridan’s “The Rivals.” She made a dashing Jack Absolute, while I wrestled with the role of Mrs. Malaprop. (She also did a great job in another production as Romeo.) It was no surprise that Ruth won a coveted place at Oxford and she read History at St. Anne’s. Our paths crossed again after graduation when we both took a postgraduate certificate course in Education at London. She then became a history teacher at the elite Bedales school where the parents she faced across the table at parent teacher conferences included Sir Laurence Olivier and Princess Margaret.

Why the phone call? She is planning to go into London tomorrow to do some research on the family history of a friend. She knew that some of his family had worked in Enfield at the Royal Small Arms Factory and in doing some preliminary research she had come across my maiden name. Considering the date in question, I don’t think it was my grandfather, although he certainly worked there. Then we found out that the object of her research and my grandfather lived on the same street (see the Christmas Eve entry.) I promised Ruth I would do some checking and e-mail her. I actually have a history of the Small Arms Factory and I got so engrossed in it that I managed to burn the beef I was browning for soup. It was one of the books I had set aside for “later”, and I was thrilled at the old photos of the streets where both sets of grandparents had lived. Thanks, Ruth, for spurring me on to explore my past a little more. Maybe I could have done OK at History.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Happy Birthday, Caroline

I love this photo of Caroline, which I took when we went apple picking in Canada in October. She looked pretty much the same on Sunday when we had a combined New Year's Day/Caroline turns two birthday party. Ducks are her current passion and her birthday cake was decorated with a huge duck. There will be some photos of the party on the photo website soon.