An Ode, of sorts, to Tulips

I bought two bunches of tulips on Wednesday.  I bought them two days too early.  Today they are perfect, but they seem destined to fall apart by Sunday when they are supposed to grace my Easter table.

I put the purple bunch in a short, wide vase.  I know little about flower arranging, so I cut them all to about the same height and carefully put them in the vase one at a time so that they reach out in all directions.  The heads that were tightly closed two days ago have opened up: still disciplined in their tightness, but much plumper now.  The stems dip and curve, each one different from the other, elegant and graceful like a swan when it stretches out its neck.  One of the stems reaches out horizontally, while the others are in various stages of sinewy uprightness.  I see one flower whose petals are starting to loosen up, soon to reveal the pollen-tinged pistil and stamen inside.  Those petals will probably be dropping by tomorrow.  A purple snowfall is forecast for Sunday.

The yellow tulips, that bright Easter yellow, the yellow of Peeps, are arranged in a tall glass vase.  I say arranged, but there wasn’t much arranging involved – the narrow glass vase dictated the composition.  The yellow makes me happy, it makes me think “Spring”.  The stems intertwine below the water line, sending the flowers out above the lip of the vase into a happy explosion.  There are no signs yet of loosening flower heads, yet.  Perhaps the raining down of yellow petals on white linen will be delayed.


Sketching with Em: the Billy Goat Trail

Em and I hiked the Billy Goat Trail, Section C.  Unlike the clambering of rocks required by Section A, Section C is quite tame.  The only strenuous challenge was traversing some rocks across a swiftly moving stream, which required me to crawl part of the way in order to keep my balance.

As we hiked we scoped out things we might like to sketch.  The sun had just come out to add a little sparkle to the still drab winter scenery of bare trees, rocks and swiftly moving water.  But what most caught our eyes were the gnarled trees in many states of being – alive, rotting, falling down, dead.

We decided to focus on a particularly decayed tree, surprisingly still upright, whose insides were an array of wooden stalactites and stalagmites.  Burled knots, like warts, protruded from its sides.  Seated on a log, Em began to sketch the tree.  But today, I had brought the watercolor set along.  A screw-top jar held the water and several brushes were tucked in with the pens and pencils. I turned to face the river, giving me a panorama to paint.

We both got going and were soon lost in our endeavors.  I wet the paints and began mixing colors.  Most of my assumptions about what color things are, seem to be wrong.  Is the river predominantly blue, or is it green, or perhaps brown?  How can I use color to capture the swiftly moving water and patterns of the white caps as the water churns in the rapids?  Are the tree trunks brown?  Are the rocks gray?  I work at mixing the colors thinking back to the “how to watercolor” books I had checked out of the library to guide me.

We sit there for a long while each absorbed by the thing we are trying to capture.  There is great comradery in our silence.  An occasional hiker passes by on the path below, geese honk overhead, a helicopter flies up and down the river, bare branches rustle in the breeze, but none of this disturbs our peace.

This is a recently discovered pleasure, sketching with my daughter to connect in a new way.



The Beach

The Beach

I just reserved a house in Duck, NC for this summer.  We’ve never found our perfect house, so every year we search anew – crazy.  This year it was kind of tough: it seems everyone is going to Duck this summer.

If you’ve ever gone to Duck in the middle of the summer, you know what a slog of a trip it’s become to get there.  We drive down from Washington, DC, and every year we leave earlier than the year before.  This summer, we’ll probably leave around 4:30 in the morning.  First you have to tackle the I95 corridor through Virginia, and then comes the congested Hampton Roads area with miles of ongoing road construction.  But the worst is when you get stuck on the four-lane highway through North Carolina that ends up taking you across the one bridge that accesses the Outer Banks on the northern end of the peninsula.  One year it took us several hours to get across the bridge and then another hour or two to drive the remaining couple of miles to Duck.  Insane.

Once we are there, we know not to go on the main road on a Saturday or Sunday, we try to do grocery shopping at odd hours, and most of all, we try to get in the car as little as possible for the entire week.  Because the next week, we get to do the entire trip in reverse.

So why do we do this to ourselves?  We love Duck.  Once we are in our house, we settle in quickly.  The neighborhood we stay in has a club house with a gym, tennis courts, ping pong and other games.  There is a walkway down to the beach and we always get a house with a pool.  The whole family comes and each person can do whatever they like: lounge by the pool, play tennis, hang out at the beach, walk into town, watch the sunrise over the ocean, play games, drink beachy drinks, sleep all day – whatever.  Every night someone is assigned to cook and at the end of the week we have a crab feast.  Luckily, at least so far, the joy of being together at the beach outweighs the getting there.  And we like to tell horror stories of our grueling trips, proudly displaying our battle scars.


Tennis anyone?

Tennis anyone?

I have a number of current obsessions: reading, cooking, my granddaughter, and tennis.

Today dawned sunny and cold – who would have thought that by March 26 morning temps would still be in the 30’s here in DC?  My tennis partner and I had chosen this date a few weeks ago for the start of our tennis season thinking it would be warmer by now.  The temperature didn’t stop us, though – wearing our down coats, we braved the cold.  The snow has melted and the courts were dry and surprisingly free of leaves and branches.

We popped open two cans of fresh, yellow tennis balls, grabbed our rackets and took our places.  We played a set and didn’t do too badly for two old ladies.  I tried out some of the moves I’ve seen the pros use. (I’ve been binge watching tennis for the last few weeks:  Indian Wells and Miami Open.) Realistically, I’m sure I couldn’t return a single shot from one of those players, but I like to pretend.  I wore my knee brace and felt free to run down net shots, even getting in an overhead lob or two.  My not so trusty serve held up well and I managed an Ace or two (or was that because my partner hadn’t limbered up enough yet to reach my serve?).

I always wonder what the dog walkers think as they pass us and listen to our hooting and hollering and grunting.  Maybe they don’t pay us any attention at all, but I like to think they are impressed by our level of play, ha, ha.

Childhood Reading

Childhood Reading

One of Sunday’s pleasures is spending a good part of the morning with the New York Times.  I always read the Book Review section last and especially enjoy the weekly “By the Book” feature.  This week Tracy K. Smith, our poet laureate, was interviewed.  I found myself nodding along to a lot of what she was saying, nodding especially hard when I got to the line: “At one time, I thought I’d raise my kids on the classic books from my childhood…”

Yes, I too thought I would share my favorite childhood classics with my kids: the Little Women books, The Little House on the Prairie series, The Little Princess, The Secret Garden, and Jane Eyre for starters.  When I thought my daughter was old enough, I began giving her these books for birthday and Christmas presents.  I would inscribe something special in the front of them, as my father had done for me.  I would ask her how the reading was going, but more often than not, she would tell me she had decided to read them at some later date.  When I talked to her more about it, she finally let me know that she just couldn’t get into these books.  They started off way to slowly, the context and language were too old-fashioned, etc.  I was so disappointed and held out hope that she would come to read these books some day and love them as much as I had.

In the meantime, she read plenty of books.  She was so lucky to have so many choices of good books with so many authors writing children’s books.  I read many of these books myself, and thoroughly enjoyed most of them.

In 2011, when she was in college, we went to see the most recent Jane Eyre movie and we were both enchanted by it.  I went back to read my well-worn copy for the umpteenth time, and she decided to read it for the first time.

A Tuna Sandwich

A Tuna Fish Sandwich

I really like tuna fish sandwiches – a tuna fish sandwich is a comfort food for me.  The problem is, I just can’t seem to make a tuna sandwich that matches the ones I get at a deli.  I’ve tried water-packed tuna, but recently prefer the oil-packed tuna.  I generally add chopped celery and onions and a large spoonful or two of mayo – Hellman’s.  (I am a mayo addict – when I was in high school I would make mayo sandwiches on white bread for school lunch – yum.)  Over the years I’ve tried adding chopped pickles, eggs, lemon juice, olives, and who knows what else.  I’ve spread the tuna on whole wheat bread, on a variety of rolls, on white bread, on “artisan” breads, etc.  But I usually end up disappointed.

Today I made a tuna sandwich.  I kept it simple with the usual celery, onion and mayo.  I took two pieces of bread from a frozen loaf of Arnold’s oatmeal bread and let them defrost at room temperature, rendering the bread fresh and soft.  I spread some mayo on one slice of bread, piled on the tuna, added a dash of salt, arranged some sliced dill pickle chunks over the entire expanse of tuna and loaded it up with chopped Romaine lettuce, before capping it with the second slice of bread.  I carefully cut the sandwich in half and put it on a plate with some Lay’s potato chips.  Much to my delight, it actually tasted pretty good.

I often think of the movie Frankie and Johnny when I make tuna sandwiches.  I love the line where Johnny (an ex-con deli cook) says: “I am defined by my tuna sandwich.  I take the tuna out of the can and I work it between my fingers until it gets real soft.”  Maybe I should try this next time…


Home, Alone

Home, alone

In the silence that isn’t quiet:

Clock ticking, heat pump rattling

Snow melt dripping incessantly off laden eaves.

Home, alone

With fears of what might be,

When unwelcome news

Seeps into my life – noiselessly.

My Closet Part 2

My Closet: Part 2

Next to the puppet theater and the pans, on the top shelf of the closet, is a box containing GI Joe action figures, outfits (mostly uniforms) and accessories.  These are my brothers’ toys, but they didn’t want them, so they ended up in my closet.  There are at least 8 complete outfits with accessories, including oxygen tanks, backpacks, weapons, a canteen, an attaché case with secret weapons inside of it, a spy radio kit, a bugle, machete, camouflaged bandana, and so on.  My brother Markus can match each accessory to its corresponding outfit and explain how the little gadgets work.  The figures themselves are quite fascinating with a series of joints that can be manipulated to mimic a human body (ankle and knee joints, wrist and elbow joints).  They are more intricate than the Barbie dolls my sister and I played with.

My sister and I decided to get rid of our Barbie dolls (I actually had a Madge doll) because they were too worn.  Their hair had been styled a few too many times and their plastic skin couldn’t be cleaned anymore, rendering them beyond ugly.  But my mom kept most of the Barbie clothes – she washed and ironed every piece and put it neatly into a large plastic wardrobe bag, complete with moth balls.  And now the bag sits on the top shelf of my closet.  I like to pull out individual outfits once in a while and marvel at their construction.  Some of the outfits are the ones that came with the dolls, or that we bought.  But the majority of the outfits were sewn or knit by my grandmother.

My Swiss grandmother came to visit us in Norfolk from November to January one year in the early 60s.  It was the year my sister and I hoped to finally get a Barbie doll.  Each day, she would disappear for a few hours to her room – to nap we supposed.  My grandmother earned her living as a seamstress.  She was also a master knitter.  When we would visit her in the summers, we got to pore over knitting magazines and choose a sweater we would like for her to make us.  We went with her to the yarn store and chose the wool that would be perfect for our sweater.  Sometimes she finished the sweater before we headed back to the States, and sometimes it would come in the mail in a brown paper package, tied up with twine.

So, it should have come as no surprise to us that when she disappeared each day, she was making doll clothes for our Barbies.  She used leftover scraps of fabric and yarn to make the clothes.  She used teensy buttons, snaps and ties for closures.  The busts had darts to fit Barbie’s ample bust and the style of the clothes was heavily influenced by the times – the time of Jackie Kennedy – complete with pill box hats, sheath dresses, shawl collars, and fur trimmed coats.  We not only received Barbie dolls that Christmas, we also got a complete wardrobe of stylish, handmade clothes – better than the store-bought stuff.

I had a Barbie case and I delighted in hanging the dresses and coats up on the clothes rod and folding the sweaters and underwear neatly in the bottom of the case.

I have become the keeper of these things nobody else wants.  I don’t have lots of space in my house, but I can’t imagine parting with them.  My kids have made it clear they are not interested in any of the stuff at this point in time, so I am holding out hope that, as my granddaughter gets older, we can pull these things out and play with them.  And, even if the things disappear at some point, I can hope that the memories and stories associated with them, will continue.

My Closet Part 1

My Closet: Part 1

My mother is coming for an Easter visit next week, so I need to get the guest room ready.  The problem is that the guest room is also the baby’s room when I watch my granddaughter and it is my study/studio.  The bed is always made with fresh sheets, ready to go.  The crib is no big deal – these days babies aren’t allowed to have blankets and toys to sleep with (at least not in the earlier months) – I will just put the diapers and related paraphanelia in the crib, mom won’t mind.   The bookshelf is neat and has my latest reads in it, along with some of my teacher’s books.  I’ll put a vase of flowers on the top shelf.  It’s my desk that causes the most work.  There are unfinished projects and art supplies all over it: the picture book I’m making for my granddaughter, experiments with linoleum printing, some Christmas stuff I never put away…

I open the big closet to see where I will put this stuff, already aware of the challenge I face.  The closet is a reflection of me – messy to be sure, but it also tells some of my story.  There is a bookshelf in the closet that holds all of my art supplies: paper cutter, variety of papers, paints, rubber stamping stuff, colored pencils, rulers, and so on.  My sewing machine sits on the floor, as do some of the remnants from my last sewing project.  There is no room for the boxes of fabric scraps I’ve collected over the years; they are upstairs in the linen closet.  I still have a few boxes of files from my teaching days.  I kept the best lessons and worksheets, not wanting to part with them.  I’ll probably be ready to part with it all by this summer – it will be two years since I retired…

There is a large paella pan on the top shelf of the closet – a gift from my sister-in-law that I couldn’t find room for in the kitchen, along with a food scale from my mother.  The rest of the top shelf is taken up with treasures from my childhood.  I have the things my siblings didn’t want, things I couldn’t part with.  There is a large wooden puppet theater, complete with tiny lights, sliding wooden curtains and two backdrops that you slide into place.  One backdrop is the interior of a castle and the other is an outdoor scene.  There are multiple puppets to go with the theater, all with hand-carved wooden faces and hands.  There are a king and a queen, a wizard, jester, wicked witch, lumber jack and peasant woman, and my favorite: a crocodile.  My mother bought the puppet theater and puppets on one of our summer trips to Switzerland and they do truly reflect German fairy tales.  My own children think the puppets are terrifying.  I love them.

I was about 10 when we started playing with the puppets and theater.  There was a narrow hallway on the second floor of our house.  We would set the theater on a small table at the end of the hallway and arrange chairs in front of the table for the audience to view the show.  We loved to plug in the little lights at the front of the proscenium, which worked to great effect in the dark hallway.

I was the director, being the oldest, and decided what play we would put on.  Sometimes we used the play scripts that my mom bought with the theater set – but this meant speaking in German, so it took extra practice.  Other times we would make up our own plays, finding a way to use our favorite puppets.  We would paint our own backdrops on paper and tape them onto the particle board backdrops that came with the theater.  Only two people could reasonably fit behind the theater, so it was usually my sister and me performing the show.  This gave us a bigger audience as well – my little brothers could generally be counted on to sit quietly with my parents to watch the show.  (It sometimes meant bribing them by letting them hand us a puppet, or letting them make crocodile or wizard noises at the appropriate time.)  My parents were always a gracious audience, oohing and aahing in fright and delight in all the right moments.

I wonder about the right home for this toy, so dear to me.

(Part 2 tomorrow)


A Day with My Granddaughter

A Day with my Granddaughter

Today I spent a good part of my day with my granddaughter.  It was so much fun.  At nine months, she is pulling herself up and walking the furniture.  We have an Eames chair that swivels: she pulls herself up on the seat, with a toy in each hand – and walks the chair around and around – for hours, it seems.  I play a CD of the Beatles, dancing and singing like a crazy person, as she moves her body to the beat, still swiveling the chair.

We went for a walk, played at the park, had snacks, and she took a nap.   I crawled on the floor to chase her, made silly noises, played peek-a-boo, climbed on the jungle gym at the playground, and read to her.  I don’t remember being quite so light-hearted with my kids when they were little.  I think about what a gift it is to get to be a grandmother, to get another chance to enjoy a baby. I don’t have the responsibility of being the parent while trying to keep the house clean, get the dinner on the table, prepare lessons for the next day, grade papers, etc.  I am so grateful to be able to live in the moment with my granddaughter.