Tuesday, May 24, 2016

is that what you're wearing?

Back in March 2010, I first wrote a blog post about family language rituals. Since then, I have often thought about writing more on that topic. Less often (like: twice or three times), I have even done so. Today, more than six years later, I want to write about something that Steve and I ask each other almost every day:
 "Is THAT what you're wearing?" 
Depending on our schedules, we sometimes ask it several times a day. Most people would be insulted by that question, but we are always amused by it. Yes, we're easily amused, and that may be one of the reasons we're still married after 53 years.

In a sense, "Is THAT what you're wearing?" can only be answered in the affirmative: "Yes, this clothing is what I HAVE ON at this moment!" By contrast, it's said that "Are you asleep?" can only be answered in the negative. Generally, though, our answers are not a simple negative or positive.

Steve will ask me, "Is THAT what you're wearing?" to call attention to the fact that I'm not ready to go somewhere. He's likely to BE ready, and I'm likely to be wearing my nightgown or gardening attire caked with mud. In this case, my answer would be "No!" or "Just hang on a few minutes."

I tend to ask Steve, "Is THAT what you're wearing?" to call attention to a color-coordination* problem or other wardrobe malfunction,** usually when he's getting ready for a rehearsal or performance. In this case, I make sure he's presentable before he leaves.

When my father, Erven, would leave to go grocery shopping, my mother, Charlotte, would often say, "Don't pinch the tomatoes!" Married couples need ways of gently checking up on each other. It helps make our worlds go 'round.
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* Color coordination seems to be more difficult for men than for women. Geneticists see this as a chromosome issue, but Steve's brother Phil attributes it to the fact that little boys are typically given the eight-color box of crayons, while little girls tend to be given a higher multiple of the basic eight. Today's mega-box holds ninety-six colors.

** This famous euphemism was coined by Justin Timberlake to describe a semi-decent exposure he inflicted on Janet Jackson during a half-time show at Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004. Steve's wardrobe malfunctions tend to involve misalignment of buttons with buttonholes or uneven tucking in of shirt tails.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

easter? cactus?



Easter Sunday this year fell on March 27, three days after Steve and I returned from our spring visit to Idaho. At that time our Easter Cactus was covered with buds, but they showed no sign of opening until Monday April 18, in time to develop full bloom by the first day of Passover on April 22. Hence the question mark after easter in the title of this post.

I must admit that I'm not especially fond of container gardening. I much prefer to grow plants in the ground, but two or three years ago we put up a broad shelf that's an obvious place to display potted plants along the front of the house. 

When we moved here in 1975, the space under what is now the potted-plant shelf was a sturdy brick planter with an old split-leaf philodendron entrenched in it. The split-leaf philodendron, in my not-so-humble opinion, is a cliché of the plant world. It was wildly popular as a gift plant during the 1950s, when this house was built. Its rather oxymoronic scientific name, Monstera deliciosa, refers to the fruit which, according to wikipedia, tastes like fruit salad. I never noticed any fruit on ours, and probably wouldn't have tasted it if I did.

It took me a long time to get rid of that monstrous old philodendron. Its thick, fleshy roots were trying to penetrate the foundation of the house and needed to be pried loose. I resolved not to plant anything in the old brick planter, and for several years tried using it for a bench. The problem there was that it was simply too uncomfortable for anything but emergency seating.

I've kept this particular Easter Cactus alive for several years. In some years it's squeezed out a few spring blossoms. What is different this year? Two years ago I replanted it in a glazed ceramic pot along with a scoop of balanced plant food, and set it in a place where it doesn't need to be moved. Upon reflection, I realize that must have been when I was populating the new shelf with (mostly) newly repotted plants. I've also been more consistent with watering. Reclaiming laundry water on a regular basis means USING the water on a regular basis, though sometimes I don't think about the potted plants until everything else has had its generous allotment,

It was because I thought I knew how to take care of cacti that I failed to give the Easter Cactus enough water. Rather than question my methods, however, I began to question whether it was really a cactus (hence the question mark after cactus in my title). A quick foray into wikipedia and some rare-plant nursery websites assured me that it is indeed a cactus, its spines having evolved into little hairy tufts appearing at regular intervals along the edges of its flat leaves. A native of the rainforests of southern Brazil, it belongs to the huge rhipsalideae tribe which also includes Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus (new to me), and the broader leaved epiphyllums which have been having a hard time under my care in recent years.

I foresee happier days ahead for my rhipsalideae.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

new kid on the block

This past Sunday I wrote about two new colors of sweet pea blooming among the volunteer plants growing in our parking strip. I thought I had covered the subject pretty well when I described a blossom that was bright pink streaked with white as well as one showing a very subtle shading of light pink and white. 

Preoccupied with other activities including a major offensive against weeds in our neglected back patio, I did not look at the parking strip for three or four days. Thus I was totally surprised yesterday afternoon to find that streaky purple and white blossoms had started to appear on two of the vines sprawling around there. I tried to take a picture then, but the sea breeze made focus too difficult. Here is this morning's effort, shown larger than life so that you can see the stripes quite clearly:


I tried a little research on sweet pea viruses before starting to write this morning's posting, but found nothing like this. Moreover, the fancy seeds being advertised as producing variegated blossoms do not show this kind of bold pattern. 

My first thought was to make this picture a post-script to the previous posting, but found it so striking that it deserves its own coverage.

What will the rest of this unusual spring bring to our increasingly wild parking strip? I'll try to watch more carefully so's not to miss anything.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

variegated volunteers

I haven't planted a sweet pea since 2011, and yet I've had some lovely specimens in the front garden and parking strip. You can see a history of my sweet-pea struggles (and triumphs!) in a post from 2013, where I focus on the genetics of pea blossoms and speculate about whether there will be changes (mutations?) in color among my volunteer sweet peas from year to year. I would especially like to see some all white blossoms;** these were fairly common when I planted from seed packets labeled as  'mixed' colors, but they have been totally absent from their naturalized progeny.

Due to stranger-than-usual weather in the fall-winter of 2015-16, volunteer sweet peas sprouted in early October but did not bloom until March. Steve and I returned from a spring visit to Idaho on March 24 to find that spring had actually come on schedule to our SoCal location. (It usually comes in October or November, when I delight in calling it 'Fring.') California poppies, freesias, hyacinths, azaleas, and nasturtiums were in vibrant bloom, and buds were fattening on the Texas sundrops. But the sweet peas were what caught my eye.

Examining the sweet peas closely, I observed two specimens that were like nothing I'd ever seen before among my volunteers:

 
       

The upper image shows STREAKING of bright pink on white (or vice versa), and the lower one shows the WHITEST petals I've seen on volunteer sweet peas. Plain bright pink blossoms have appeared every year, and there have been plenty of light pink with white, but none where the white part of the petal has predominated. If I were a more dedicated follower of Gregor Mendel, I would save seed from these two to see what they would do next year, but it's more fun to wait and be surprised.

To paraphrase the old saw about art: I don't know anything about plant genetics, but I know what I like!*
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* I do know enough about horticultural history to recall that streaking (most notably in tulips) can be the result of a virus. Going wild does have its risks.

** P.S. All-white blossoms have finally appeared on one of my volunteers. They're not in the parking strip, but in a bed devoted mostly to bulbs. This little vine is reaching out onto the sidewalk. Trying to get to the parking strip? When it dries out, I'll scatter its seed there. It could stay where it is, but I have ambitious plans to dig up and separate all my bulbs in August or September.


Friday, February 19, 2016

music hall

Here's another reminiscence of performing as a flutist accompanied on piano by my mother, Charlotte. This one happened while I was in junior high or high school.

In addition to her regular jobs as a church organist and choir director during my formative years, Charlotte was often called upon to accompany singers and instrumentalists at community meetings and special events. 'Mrs. M',* a violinist, was one of these performers. On the occasion I want to describe, it was evidently Mrs. M's turn to play a solo for her music sorority's alumnae group. She wanted Charlotte to accompany her. Various issues were at stake, and as I try to reconstruct the scene I think they stemmed mostly from the fact that Mrs. M wouldn't have wanted to pay Charlotte's fee.

There were and still are two major fraternal organizations for women studying music in U.S. colleges and universities -- Delta Omicron (DO) and Mu Phi Epsilon (Mu Phi) -- and the competition between these can become fairly intense from time to time. Charlotte had been a DO and Mrs. M had been a Mu Phi.** Mrs. M would have tried to convince Charlotte that playing gratis for Mu Phi was actually a contribution to DO. I wouldn't wonder that Mrs. M offered to play gratis for Charlotte's DO group in return. However, Charlotte -- a deeply anti-social person -- didn't have a DO group and wouldn't have wanted Mrs. M to be seen or heard there anyway.

In retrospect, I think Charlotte insisted that I must play with her and Mrs. M because I would benefit from the experience and thus bring some kind of recompense to our family. This argument, of course, was totally bogus. Charlotte and I had recently played with Mrs. M for a mother-daughter fashion show at our church. Mrs. M had complained to Charlotte that it was difficult to play with me because I kept a too-rigid beat. She felt that she was "playing in a marching band," an indignity to which she had never before been subjected. Besides her penchant for rubato, Mrs. M had the habit of sniffing noisily on the upbeat when she raised her violin to her chin. This was anathema to me. I had spent years learning to breathe deeply but silently on upbeats and, to this day, am proud of that skill.

Thus a troika of mismatched and unwilling players appeared on the appointed evening at the gracious home of a Mu Phi alumna in our upscale suburb. Upon entering the living room, we noticed right away that there was no piano, though Mrs. M had been assured that the hostess had a wonderful grand piano. Alas! The piano was in the den, separated from the living room by a hallway of about 12 to 15 feet in length.

Charlotte played piano in the den, Mrs. M played violin in the living room, and I played flute in the hallway. Mrs. M and Charlotte could both see me, but they could not see each other, and so I acted as conductor. I have no memory of what we played, though I know that I must have played the second part. Charlotte had instructed me that "No violinist wants to play 'second fiddle' to a flutist." It was probably something like Dvořák's Humoresque or a Haydn Serenade (or both). Charlotte would have written out a 'second fiddle' part for flute, and none of us would have needed to spend much time rehearsing with each other.

The Mu Phi's loved us, of course, and plied us with punch and cookies. Charlotte's compliment to me was that my tone sounded great because I was standing in front of the open bathroom door and getting resonance from all the tile work. We laughed for years about the 'music hall' performance

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* In those days (the mid- to late-1950s, adults were always called 'Mr.', 'Mrs.,' or 'Miss' even if they were close friends. I once got in a lot of trouble for calling Judy's mother 'Doris' instead of 'Mrs. C.' It seemed so natural after hearing Charlotte refer to her regularly as 'Doris' for so many years.

** Years later, I became an honorary Mu Phi alumna, but that's another story.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

a holiday visit

It was in early December of the year 2001 that my mother, Charlotte, suffered her first hip fracture and had surgery to rebuild the affected joint. She was 86 years old at the time, having been born in March of 1915. Charlotte eventually endured another hip fracture and another surgery in 2008, and would live on until October 2013, but that's another story (or two, or three).

On that early December day in 2001, I was reached at our older son and daughter-in-law's home in northern California, where I enjoyed their company while making myself available for some League of Women Voters' meetings. I was told that my parents would be needing my help. This was an understatement.

My father, Erven, had been entrusting all the cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, and other household duties to Charlotte since July of 1937, when they were married in Southern Ohio, and so he was seriously challenged by her inability to sustain him during this difficult time. Neighbors would tide him over until I got there, he said when we talked on the phone. He had arranged for Charlotte to stay in a rehab facility until he was ready to bring her home. When he did bring her home, he said, she would find a newly-installed dishwasher as a Christmas present. Meanwhile, he suggested that I should bring my flute and be ready to play some Christmas music with her.

And so I went home to Southern California and soon took off for Phoenix, where Erven picked me up at the airport and took me to Charlotte's rehab facility near Wickenberg, Arizona. Charlotte was not in good spirits. She had been asked and asked to play the piano there, but she repeatedly declined because "something had been done to it." I opened the top of the upright piano and saw that it had been stuffed with tightly folded blankets by someone who wanted to muffle the sound. When the blankets were removed, it worked like a normal piano, and so Charlotte was willing to play at last.

I pulled out my flute, and the Christmas music I had brought along. Sotto voce, I said: "Good King Wenceslas, key of G." Charlotte gave me a two-bar intro ("GATH-ring win-ter fue-OOO-el"), and we were OFF!. The other patients loved it, and so did I. We gave a full program of Christmas carols, with Charlotte playing everything by ear. This was the kind of thing I had grown up doing since the age of eight, always expecting and receiving an accurate but flexible accompaniment on piano or organ, and never knowing the meaning of stage fright until my classmates began to suffer from it.

Afterwards, Erven drove me back to their small but comfortable home. There was about half a leftover turkey in the fridge, so I showed him how to make turkey hash. He was good at chopping meat and onions and potatoes, but nevertheless waited for Charlotte to take the initiative for future meals. At least she got a head start from the quantity of turkey soup I left in their freezer. I don't think she cared much for the hash.

Next day, the dishwasher was installed, and a neighbor brought in some chunks of two-by-four to help Erven raise their bed to the level prescribed for convalescence from hip surgery.

It's always good to have some easy music on hand. In recent years I've also learned to keep some favorite recipes on line in case of emergency.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

silk purse

Facebook friend Josh has challenged us: "If you please, let's hear your personal definition of Creativity." So far, twenty people have responded with answers from one word (sanity; happiness) to a short paragraph. I would respond but cannot limit myself to a single paragraph.* Josh has over a thousand Facebook friends, so this challenge may take a long time to run its course.

Josh's friend April comes very close to my definition with: "Putting pieces together in a previously unexplored manner, whether art, literature, music, et al." Profound, but I must say more.

For me, creativity is a compulsion to raise things (words included) and/or concepts to a higher level and, in so doing, change and enhance their meaning: looking for the sow's ears that can be worked into silk purses. My late friend Kay was trained as a clinical psychologist, so she knew a compulsion when she saw it. She also had the empathy to say to me one time that she understood how creativity complicated my life. 

On the other hand, Letty once said of herself (rather proudly I think): "I'm NOT creative!" This, on the way home from a Cub Scout event where we'd been doing crafts with the boys.

A while back I found myself pondering a cliché: "with all deliberate speed." It occurred to me that this legalistic phrase, made notorious as a sow's ear in the history of school desegregation, was a sort of paradox. By and by, my silk purse emerged as a short poem:

     Physics
Speed
turns matter to energy
somewhere far away.
Deliberation
turns matter from noun to verb
producing energy I use today.
If you follow Joshua Frank Talbott's work, my speed and deliberation are sort of like his blue jay and dinosaur.

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*Facebook grabs your words away as soon as you hit enter, and this seriously cramps my style.
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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License