Friday, June 20, 2008

ora pro nobis

At lunch today, while sitting with a colleague in the bright mid-June sunlight at a trendy downtown bistro listening to jazz, I was startled to hear the unmistakable first few notes of the live recording of Jascha Heifetz's performance of Schubert's Ave Maria.  In a flash I lost track of the conversation, my surroundings, everything.  

Schubert's Ave Maria is a musical powerhouse in its own right, but for me there is no more emotionally laden piece of music, and no more powerful rendition than Heifetz's.  Ave Maria was played at my wedding (which was on the Solemnity of the Assumption) and was played at my father's funeral---with only me and one of my sisters there to hear and understand.  It was frequently listened to in our house as we grew up, and is inextricably linked to my conflicted memories of my father.  (or my memories of my conflicted father---either way works.)

My father told the story, true or not--who can know?, that in his early years in radio, as a young white man doing on-air work at an all-black R&B radio station, he would always, without fail, play Ave Maria on the air at noon, for his mother.  As I am named for his mother, maybe he saved this story for me---I wonder if he told others something else?

Regardless, much of my childhood conspired to contribute to this music's power for me.  I went to Catholic School--some of the time at an all-girls school.  One of my sisters crowned Mary one year---a source of reflected glory for me that I can still recall vividly.  "Oh Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today/Queen of the Angels/ Queen of the May."  We brought white peonies to place by her statue in the convent chapel--and you won't be surprised to know that I have planted a white peony in my garden----I didn't plan it, it was a gift from someone who couldn't have known.

My father would occasionally anonymously send me a dozen roses--in grade school, in high school, even in college.  The note was always signed with a Latin phrase from the Hail Mary----there was never any doubt that they were from him.  I said the Rosary faithfully as a child, and can still invoke it in times of great need.  

It was a little much, though, to have all of this flood into my head at lunch.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

stony rubbish

...what branches grow
 Out of this stony rubbish?

TS Eliot, The Waste Land, 19-20.

This is a confessional post.  The work on my front yard has begun.  My design nightmares are before me In front of me, really.  We've done so much work on our house over the past year, and I've spent much of it almost paralyzed with fear that I would pick the wrong thing, spend way too much money on it, and then hate it and be stuck with as it mocked me day after day.

I had a close call with the new front door, but I love it now.  Sunlight streams in through leaded glass.  The kitchen is great, I'm glad I held out for just the right light fixture.  The bathrooms are all vastly improved, and the new closet in my bedroom makes me feel very indulged and organized.   None of it is really that great or unusual, but it's a big improvement, and I'm really happy with it.  I thought I was home free.

Alas, on to the outside.  The house is blue.  I've never liked it, but lived with it for 12 years.  The shutters are brown.  never liked that either, but lived with it for 12 years.  The trim is white.  OK.

In the remodeling, the front of the house changed, but we did not plan to change the siding.  It would be hard to match 12 -year old vinyl siding, so I decided to create a stone accent on the front of the house.  That might not have been so bad, but the stone I picked (by mistake) is very dark gray.  way too stark.  So, now I have a blue house, brown shutters (half of them missing from the renovation work) white trim, gray and black stone, a tan brick chimney, and a light gray stone front walk.  It's horrible.  I've gotten bids to put new siding on the house, but what color goes with grays and tans?  And I didn't plan for that expense, so my husband is NOT happy.  I'd post a picture, but it's too sad.  (picture now posted above . . .)

And I haven't even mentioned the exterior of the front door.  It's electric blue.  Electric Blue.  That, at least, is relatively easy to change, but the rest has me close to design despair.  I could be the poster child for some as-yet un-invented HGTV makeover show.  What Not To Do, perhaps it could be called.

In my heart of hearts I was counting on the landscaping part of the project to come magically to the rescue.  I know that doesn't make sense, but at least I could pretend to the neighbors that we weren't really "done" yet, and that this sad state of mis-matchedness was temporary.

Oh me.  To top it off, I hear my mother's voice in my head saying, "Nina, if that's your biggest worry, then just stop whining, fix the problem, and move on to something a little more important."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The thyme garden

One of my favorite books as a girl was The Time Garden by Edward Eager. It is the story of children who discover a magic thyme garden in a house by the sea. The garden has a sundial (note to self: get a sundial) withe the inscription "Anything can happen...when you've all the time in the world."

So naturally, when I finally had space to make a garden of my own, I filled it with thyme. I have lots of thyme. dwarf thyme for ground cover, lemon thyme for the smell and beautiful green and yellow leaves, and common thyme everywhere.

This week I have been "working from home" to be with my son for a bit before he leaves for the rest of the summer. Much of that time has been spent in my thyme garden while I call encouragement to him to keep working on his summer assignments. I cannot imagine any more pleasant garden task than cutting back thyme. Every step, every movement, every snip of the shears releases the most wonderful aromas. I take the cuttings and spread them on the uncovered ground of the beds I haven't dealt with yet, and they stay there, drying in the sun, and continuing to smell delightful.

I have too much thyme, I know. My husband, the cook in the family, rarely uses it--preferring the thyme he gets from our organic co-op. I want to tell him that mine, only steps away, is fresher and organic too, but I've stopped trying to convince him. This thyme is mine--it grows only for me and my enjoyment. I cut it, I run my hands through it, I put it in vases, and I gaze at it from the kitchen window. I may not have all the time in the world, but I have plenty of thyme, and on some summer days that feels pretty magical.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Vista Panorama Perspective

That's how describes the word "vista." No one who is reading a blog doesn't know that Vista is also Microsoft's newest PC operating system.

Well, I'm writing this on my Windows XP laptop, which Microsoft would like to de-support soon, because last night, in its infinite wisdom, at 3:11 am, Microsoft updated my Vista home PC. Now it is hosed. I've been tinkering with it all day, uninstalling the updates, trying to reset to the factory defaults, making copies of the files I can't live without, and I'm really frustrated. Did I mention that the PC is only a few months old? This really stinks.

Why would they sell such a flawed piece of software? Why are they making it so hard to keep using XP, which for all its myriad flaws is at least stable? Sure, this OS has much to like---features that have been in Mac for years, but missing in Windows. But, Steve, it needs to WORK! I know you and Bill have had some trouble with the transition, but until now you have left me out of it. Now you've taken your argument to my living room. Stop it!

I'd like to think you're going to fix this problem with another update next week, but since my PC is so confused that it no longer recognizes its own NIC, and certainly can't connect to the Internet, any such fix will bypass me. Thanks Steve. I'll keep this in mind at the meeting next week when we decide on the desktop OS strategy for the three thousand employees I work with. My company can't afford to run a help desk staff large enough to deal with this kind of thing every Wednesday morning.

Monday, June 9, 2008


In Cynthia Tucker's column on 6-4-08, she takes women to task for noting the sexism that pervaded the Democratic primary season. She argues that by doing so, we're "whining" and playing into a culture of victimhood, which diminishes Clinton and ourselves. My local paper even headlines the column with "No Reason to Be Whiny."

Am I alone in seeing the irony? By pointing out what is true, that this primary season, as previously pointed out by former press secretary Dee Dee Meyers in a Vanity Fair blog, shows that racial epithets are not condoned and that sexist ones are tolerated as a matter of course, we're whining?

Cynthia, help me understand this. When we point out blatant double-standards, are we whining? When we notice how often her appearance was noted in the press, are we whining? When we count the number of times, in the mainstream media, the word "bitch" was used, are we whining? Are we retreating to the classic female role of victim? Are we asking to be saved by a big strong man who will make the mean sexist boys and girls stop saying those mean things? I think not.

I think that by writing it off, playing it down, and letting it go AGAIN and AGAIN because that's what nice compliant girls do, we're settling for the most classic female role of all. We'll suffer in silence for something others perceive as a greater good. We'll defer our victories so a man can have a better chance. What is that but claiming the victim role and turning it into a twisted female virtue. Who's a better victim than a female martyr?

Cynthia Tucker's argument is that sexism can't be confronted, because that would be playing the victim. So, rather than do that, she would have us just go be actual victims and for goodness sakes, be quiet about it. Nobody likes a complaining woman, after all.

We can do better than that. I'm nobody's victim, and I'm nobody's guaranteed vote.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Gardens, Walls, and Weeping

I'm feeling better these days. My gardens are beginning to be restored to order, except in the front yard, which will involve heavy equipment. The small backyard beds, that are now completely my own having removed almost everything I inherited from the original owner, are lovely and fragrant.

Out with way too much forsythia; out with too much euonymus, too much privet, too many arbor vitae, too many trees, and too much holly. Out with the ubiquitous suburban blight of juniper.

In with two birdbaths, cranesbill geraniums, russian sage, lavender, culinary sage, basil, dwarf oregano as ground cover, hydrangea, and lots (maybe too many) of purple cone flowers. In with containers of geraniums of all types and shades, in with coleus varieties, and a wonderful rosemary that has now survived three pennsylvania winters. In with pineapple sage, which is my absolute favorite.

Now, onto the front yard. I've been imagining redoing it for years. I've been complaining about it for years. So, after years of listening to me (he listened to me!), last year for Mother's Day my husband hired someone to come and rip out all the landscaping in the front yard. It was a surprise. I almost drove past my own house, so altered was it by this act of love. It looked like a bomb went off.

Gone were the azaleas (They were in the wrong place, in full sun, and I didn't like the washed-out salmon color anyway.) Gone was the beautiful old rhododendron that was planted too deep and needed constant care. Gone was the "miss kim" lilac that made me sneeze, the gigantic smoke tree that smothered everything, the leather-leafed abelia that was messy and made me sneeze, tons of boxwood, burning bush, rose bushes, and poison ivy (for color!) All gone. Except the poison ivy, which withstood the onslaught.

It is still a wasteland over a year later, but I have plans-a-plenty. A circle bed surrounded by a stone wall, with a smooth capstone so I can sit on it while I weed. Inside the bed will be a japanese maple surrounded by liriope. A stone walkway to the sidewalk and mailbox. An espaliered red rose bush on an iron trellis. Confederate jasmine for fragrance, bulbs for spring color, black eyed susans, asters, and mums for summer and fall color, virginia sweetspire for color, plenty of space for annuals, and absolutely nothing for winter interest. I'm still working on that.

The stone wall has been the most interesting. I'm learning that stone walls need "weep holes" to be strong enough to hold back the tons of organic matter I'm trucking in. That feels like a metaphor to me. Maybe I'll explore it in another post. Maybe it's too obvious to belabor. Anyway, I feel better knowing my wall will be stronger if it cries occasionally.