Thursday, September 27, 2012

a bromeliad by any other name

It struck me the other day that bromeliads don't have a common name. Steve said, "Bromeliad IS their common name," and I was somewhat convinced. Everyone calls them bromeliads. Of course the edible variety is called pineapple and the smallest is called Spanish moss. These names are as common as can be, but the rest are Bromeliaceae -- graeco-roman and prickly.

For many years, I treated bromeliads as the fussiest of potted plants. I would faithfully keep their little 'vases' of inner leaves wet while waiting years for the showy blossoms to appear. Potted bromeliads lined up indoors in a sunny window or outdoors along the edge of the porch. My friend Jerri lived up the street and had a similar, hopeful array. Periodically we would top a healthy-looking plant with a ripe apple, and cover it with a paper bag. Seriously. This was the recommended way to induce blossoming.*

One day while walking in the neighborhood, I picked a large geranium blossom from someone's garden and stuck it in the 'vase' of one of Jerri's barren bromeliads. Then I went home, called her on the phone, and said, "Hey, Jerri, I see your bromeliad is finally blooming. It looks fabulous!" She made a mad dash to her front porch, and then we dissolved in the giggles we shared almost daily.

It seems a bit silly to be preoccupied with getting bromeliads to bloom. Of course it's the kind of challenge a gardener loves, but most bromeliads have such stunning leaves that the blossoms might seem a bit excessive to those of us who share the midwestern WASP orientation. As Garrison Keillor would say: "We can get along without it."

Last winter, Steve and I visited the San Diego Botanic Gardens (formerly Quail Gardens) and were astounded by the number of bromeliads growing in the ground there. I resolved to come home and give it a try. Now eight or ten bromeliads of different colors and sizes are growing around the base of my delightfully spurious mater epiphiticorum tree, which sports a small healthy tillandsia and a fringe of Spanish moss. This part of the garden has become a square yard of tropical splendor, backed by a tall row of flowering ginger and a lush Meyer asparagus fern as well as the little collection of epiphytes. In a couple of months the calla lilies will come back to provide their stately contrast.

Meanwhile, I've finally googled common names for bromeliad. There's Earth Star, Urn Plant, and Flaming Sword listed under Common Bromeliad House Plants -- a misnomer if you ask me. I'll try calling them Earth Stars and see if they, or my garden club friends, respond.
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*An apple-and-bag regimen is still prescribed for bromeliad enthusiasts, using a plastic bag -- presumably transparent -- instead of paper these days. Flowering should begin within six to fourteen weeks [!!!] after the two-or-three-day treatment.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

any words is pale

This morning, Steve announced that he was going to our favorite office supply store, and asked whether I'd like to go along. I would've loved to go, but was bogged down in e-mail and volunteer work. He offered to bring me something, and so I asked for "one of everything!" He interpreted this appropriately, by bringing back one item for which he'd paid $3.98.

Before I describe the item, I must describe the store. It's NOT part of a chain, but it's packed to the rafters (possibly above) with all kinds of office supplies, stationery, school supplies, craft supplies, and gift items. Moreover, the staff is knowledgeable and helpful. I love to shop there, and have been known to take friends on their birthdays.

When Steve got home, I asked what he'd brought me. He replied that it was a stapler, and handed me a plain white box about the size of a video cassette. I often borrow a stapler from Steve, so I strongly suspect that this was his motivation for buying one for me. Steve may not know that I think I already HAVE a stapler, but of course I can never find it.*

"It's a stand-up stapler," he said. I opened the box and stood the stapler up (on the wrong end, I'm afraid), and while he was correcting me I read the label on the box: "LED Stapler." Indeed, the instructions started with how to activate the batteries, which he accordingly did.  Upon loading the device with staples, we discovered that it twinkles  brightly for about ten seconds AFTER it inserts a staple in a piece of paper.

This took me back to our older son's years in graduate school. Studying linguistics and computer science, he was assigned to help write the voice-recognition interface for an office robot. I thought an office robot would be a great thing; it should collect trash and help folks find the stapler. Unfortunately, all the robot did was keep track of whether the staff members were in the office or not. This was at least ten years ago, however. Perhaps now there are robots that can find staplers -- with the aid of blinking LED lights or little bells and whistles.

I had to know more, so I googled 'LED stapler,' and (among 18 pages of images) I found the exact thing, except that mine is silvertone, not blue. The device is made by a company that describes itself thus: "China Ningbo Gift Leader Manufactory Co.,Ltd. was founded in 2000 . . . At present, our products include cinema clock, tide clock, cd clock radio, gift pens, keychain, led light, mini tool set, office set, aluminium flashlight, strength ball, and so on . . . So we believe, we will be a good partner if you believe us to do a business with us after beginning. Any words is pale . . ."

How I'd love to click on the tide clock! But right now I'm too busy playing with my new stapler.
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*I can't find my timer either, but the folks at Ningbo may have the perfect solution.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

entertaining aunt hattie

Television coverage of the national political conventions, whether I watch them or not in these days of 'scripted' presentations, always brings back fond memories of my great great aunt Hattie, who spent a couple of weeks with us in the summer of 1952. She was my maternal grandmother's 'maiden' aunt, and lived right across the Ohio River from my grandparents, so I knew her well. As far as I know, however, this was the only time she ever visited California.

Aunt Hattie was renowned as a pianist, organist, and music teacher.  She had studied in New York during her formative years and then returned to the Ohio Valley where she had introduced my mother, Charlotte, to the keyboard at an early age. It was rumored that if Aunt Hattie appeared to be dead, the presence of a train ticket to New York would make her rise right up out of her coffin.

Charlotte regarded hosting Aunt Hattie as more of a duty than a pleasure, and she was obsessed with the question of what Aunt Hattie would DO during her visit. I remember that we visited the historic Farmer's Market at 3rd and Fairfax (a favorite destination of mine), and spent some time in Hollywood: Grauman's Chinese for the footprints, of course, and possibly a first-run movie or two.

In 1952 we had lived in La Canada for two years. At Christmas of 1951 we had acquired our first television set -- a naked chassis, as my parents did not believe TV deserved the status of furniture. It was relegated to the guest house (one large room with half bath) built onto the back of our garage. We ventured out there on a strictly limited schedule, to watch special events including Ohio State football and the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, series such as Crusader Rabbit, Time for Beany, and The Lone Ranger, plus variety shows like Spade Cooley and Your Hit Parade.

Naturally Aunt Hattie stayed in our guesthouse, where television was a great novelty for her, and where the Republican Convention was 'playing' for several days. Charlotte was relieved to recall (with some disdain) that "Aunt Hattie loves politics!" and I received a special dispensation to watch along with her, though Charlotte considered political discourse to be unfit for civilized company.

I was hooked on politics after the experience of watching a convention with Aunt Hattie. I don't think I got to see the Democratic Convention that year, as Aunt Hattie would have gone home, but I watched both conventions faithfully for many years though they never measured up to the excitement of 1952's television premiere. And Aunt Hattie's absence was always felt.

I last saw Aunt Hattie in the summer of 1960 at her home in Sistersville, West Virginia. People, including my grandmother, were venturing to talk about the 1960 election but it never became a focal point for our visit.

Aunt Hattie was 76 years old in the summer of 1952, but she lived on into my college years. I sent her a program from one of my choral concerts (probably from 1962) and she wrote back that "young voices can sound lovely together, if they are in tune."

I think Aunt Hattie would have approved my joining the League of Women Voters back in 1994. Charlotte, however, is still shocked by that lapse in my behavior.

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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