Monday, October 28, 2013

The Piano

When I was four, a baby grand piano was delivered to our house.  The piano movers left it in the entry, and all the neighborhood kids crowded onto the bench and banged away at the keys.  My mom let us, and she will forever be my hero for letting half a dozen sticky-fingered kids wail away on her ebony and ivory (really) piano.  And for a whole host of other things.

I remember being in my undies and a tee shirt, just on my way to a nap, enchanted with the  magic thought that this was ours, that I could play the piano when ever I wanted.

When I woke up from my nap, the piano was in a corner of the living room, looking like it was born there.  It has lived in a corner of my mom's living room ever since.

I don't ever remember not being able to play.  Debbie was - and is - way better - I remember recitals at Mrs Hinman's, in a dark serious room with solemn parents on black bleacher seats.  I remember being terrified, and amazed at how accomplished and calm my sister Debbie was.

Every Christmas there would be carols around the piano, one year with the local music teacher whose wife taught with mommy, most years with my sisters playing.  I remember late summer afternoons with the windows open playing to the birds.  

For years I have played when ever I visited.  And for years my mom has been saying "Why don't you take the piano?"  We even made a paper template, so I could see where it would fit.

Finally I was ready - I was going to put it in my office and ditch my drafting desk.  My friend Cathy came to visit and said "But the piano belongs in the living room!  It will turn your office into the piano closet.  It needs to go in the living room."  

"But there's no place to put it" I said.

"Move that chest out into the entry.  Now move that chair, and put this chest where the chair was.  Those two chairs go in the dining room, and the piano goes there."  So simple, so hard to see.  Thank you Cathy.
So I called mommy and said "Okay, I'm ready for the piano" and she said "Nope.  I've changed my mind.  You can't have it."

Oops.  I looked into renting one with the option to buy if I liked it. Our piano has a very different feel, not at all like the resistance you get from a new piano.  This one is well loved, and familiar.  It's family.

The next morning mommy called and said "Please call the piano movers before I get all crazy again."  Not crazy, just a huge change.  That piano has been her companion for more than half her life.  
It has only been a few weeks, but it feels like the piano has been there forever.  And I play every chance I get, in stolen moments waiting for Wally to put his shoes on so we can walk the dog, at night before bed.  I'm getting better.  And I'm loving it. We all need a creative outlet.  I have been sketching again (more on that later), but there is nothing like playing the piano, and I can feel a shift in the ground beneath my feet.

So here is my gift to you: do something different, something artistic.  Something you're not good at.  Something embarrassing and scary.  Do it in private, do it for yourself.  Carry a sketchbook, play the saxophone late at night when no one can hear.  Squeak away.  Learn to blow glass.  Write a story.  Do something creative - it will feed your soul.  And it will change the way you feel about the world.  For the better.   That's a promise.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Vines and Wines

Two years ago we picked our grapes on November  6th- this year it was September 26th.  It's not just when the grapes are ready - unlike the old days making wine (and I'm talking thirty years ago) you don't just measure the sugar - you measure the seeds to see if they are ripe.  You measure the acid.  And lots of other stuff I won't bore you with here.  These grapes get more tests than a cardiac pre-op patient.   

When everyone agreed they were ready, we bundled up (it's cold in the morning!) to pick.
Up at dawn, finished by the time we were craving that second cup of coffee.  With all of us picking it goes fast.
It's a small vineyard, only one kind of grape, and that on a special root stock.  Finally getting good fruit set (that's winemaker talk for lots of grapes).
We were talking with our neighbor Tim about all the testing.  He has the best advice.  "Taste the grapes.  Taste the seeds.  All this measuring of sugars and acids and have the best tester right inside your mouth."

He has a lab.  He has an incredible palate, and a great sense of perspective.  His wines are wonderful - full and round and rich.   Next year I'm going with the Tim method. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Living Abroad, and Hopelessly Old Fashioned

There is a wonderful article about living in London (as opposed to just visiting - and feeling smug) by Sarah Lyall in tomorrow's New York Times.  It's witty and clever, full of thoughtful information.   Makes me want to book a flat in Firenze for a year.

My favorite quote:

"Many places (restaurants, dry cleaners) don’t deliver, and shopkeepers are either oleaginously sycophantic or icily contemptuous. I could not have been much older than 35 when I suddenly became known as “madam,” and no one says “madam” with more disdain than a 20-year-old working at Topshop, where, unfortunately, my teenage daughters loved to shop for clothes that would have looked more appropriate on prostitutes."

Oh yes.  Those clothes have crossed the pond.  Drive past any middle school  - it doesn't even need to be a warm day - and you don't have to be as old as I am to be startled.  I realize burkas are a bad idea, and wrist-to-ankle coverage went out before my grandmother was born, but I think parts that are part of an Ob/Gyn exam should not be on full display...especially in a place of learning.  Unless it's anatomy class.

Am I hopelessly old fashioned?  Is this the new norm, or just a look for the select few?  Is this what the popular kids wear, or the wanna-be-s?

Do these kids have parents?  They must...what do the parents think?  The administration?  Surely it's hard enough to get teenagers to concentrate.  How much influence does anyone really have?

What do you think?  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Garden In Winter

Sloat Nursery has tips for getting your garden ready for winter.  These are from their website - check it out.  Sign up for emails.  Then get yourself outside and start winterizing.  And weeding...

Let’s be honest.  The glory of gardening is usually found in growing and harvesting vibrant flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables.  The clean-up and winter prep aspect of gardening (while incredibly necessary), is sort of, well, “meh”.  That being said, we want to encourage you to take an afternoon or two to clean and prepare for the cold and rainy months ahead.  Follow our list of 8 simple steps, and voilĂ , you’ll be finished in no time!

1. Clean out leaves and dead plants from gutters, walkways, containers and raised beds.

2. Use Forest Mulch Plus on perennials and vegetable beds to enrich the soil for next spring.

3. Stock up on frost blankets. Protect plants from freezing temperatures with lightweight garden fabric that acts like a miniature “green-house” when frost is expected.

4. Clean garden tools to get them ready for next year. Shovels and pruners can be sprayed with Bahco Clean Spray to keep them from rusting over the winter months. Cleaning your tools now can also help keep diseases from getting into next year’s garden.

5.  Stake newly planted trees to support them through their first winter. We offer a wide variety of stake lengths and widths.

6.  Use E.B. Stone Organic Ultra Bloom. It helps build immunity to disease and supports better root and bud formation for spring bloomers like Rhododendron, Azalea, Camellia, flowering plum and Magnolia.  (plus it makes your oranges and tangerines sweeter!)

7.  Cloud Cover is multifaceted. It’s not just a go-to for protecting plants from frost damage, Cloud Cover also:
  •  Protects against moisture loss when propagating or transplanting new plants.
  • Protects plants from hot and drying Bay Area winds.
  • Does a great job keeping Christmas greens fresh.
8.  We receive multiple inquiries each fall about how to prevent disease and insects from taking over fruit trees, nut crops, citrus, vegetables and ornamentals.  We recommend two products to ensure a disease free harvest next year.

Monterey Horticultural Oil: To help prevent scale and overwintering eggs from mites, aphids and other insects, we recommend a fall application of Monterey Horticultural Oil. It’s a spray oil emulsion made with highly paraffinic-based petroleum oils. Monterey Horticultural Oil should be applied while trees are dormant.

Monterey Liqui-Cop (Liquid Copper): Helps prevent disease infestations such as peach leaf curl, brown spot and scab. Dormant sprays are traditionally applied in the fall once leaves have fallen, and again in mid-winter, then in spring as the buds begin to swell. Liqui-Cop is widely used in agriculture and is very rain resistant.
Note: Monterey Horticultural Oil and Liquid-Cop can be applied at the same time.

And when you get done with all of this, if you're still in a gardening mood, I have poa annua taking over the world and boxwood in need of a trim...

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Sure Start

How did it get to be October?  And almost Halloween?  I'm still planning to add a few tomatoes to my garden, and some pumpkins...I guess I'll have to wait until next year, and plant parsley and dill and chervil and cilantro instead.

If you live in Chicago, that must sound crazy, but they will germinate and grow here now, while the soil is still warm and the days are warm but shorter and not baking hot - that makes them bolt.  And when it gets cold they will be so established they'll take it in stride, producing crisp greens all winter.  At least that's the theory - but it only works if you plant them now.

Olivia and I planted a bunch of lettuces one year in November.  Late November.  In a big pot with fabulous soil.  They came up - barely - and sat there for the whole winter, a few spindly sad leaves.  When the weather warmed up they couldn't wait to bolt.  No lettuces for eating, and a healing serving of guilt.  

Lettuce is a winter crop here.  So are parsley, dill, chervil and cilantro.  But plant them now!   In a few weeks it will be too cold.  I'm off to dig up one of the (many) sad looking parts of my garden, scratch in a little Sure Start fertilizer, and tamp in some seeds.  And don't forget the tamping!  Remember when Annie of Annie's Annuals talked about her first seed-starting foray?  Her cat, Persephone, walked across the six packs, and the seeds only sprouted in the footprints.  A good patting down is essential to germination.  

And don't forget the sweet peas!  Soak the seeds overnight - cover with very warm water (almost hot but please! you don't want to cook them!  use some discretion.. This from the girl who blackened the bottoms of the rose stems with boiling water, the theory being "If a little is good, a lot is better.  Not in gardening.  Show some restraint.) and let the seeds soak and the water cool overnight.  In the morning plant with some Sure Start in the bottom of the hole.  Spring will be floriferous and fragrant! 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

An Evening With Gwen

I told my mom we were going to hear Gwen Ifill at the Oakland Speakers Series, and she said "Oh, I spend every evening with her!  Please give her my best."  and I thought  "Oh yeah, there are over a thousand people there - I'm sure that will happen."

Walking through the lobby, there was Jim Weil, the host of the Speakers Series.  And walking right next to him was Gwen Ifill.  Being the shy retiring violet I am, I called out "Hey!  You're supposed to be in there!" and I pointed at the auditorium.

Gwen smiled and said "I'll be right back - I just want to see some of this beautiful place."  She was so warm.  So when she stopped to say hello to someone, I went over and said "My mom said to tell you hello - she spends every evening with you."  Gwen laughed, and when I asked for a photo (so my mom would believe me) she could not have been nicer.  You'd never know there were a thousand people waiting to hear her speak.  Or a beautiful theatre waiting to be explored.
She talked about Congress behaving badly, and the deadlock (which hopefully will be over by the time you read this).   "They're acting like high-schoolers, not sitting together."  Actually I think high-schoolers are more mature.

She said "There are Federal employees who can't pay their bills, but the Congressional gym is open."  and "Did you know Congress is now less popular than head lice?"  Head lice is getting a bad rap.

"All the finger pointing is like a fun-house mirror - without the fun."  

And she talked about journalism - real journalism where you don't reach a conclusion before you have the facts, not the blow-hards who call themselves journalists while spouting opinions.  How it is the journalist's role to remain in the background - "I have an opinion,"  she said.  "But if I'm doing my job, you won't know what it is."  

She talked about being a black woman and a journalist and the Constitution:.  "I'm not the person the founding fathers had in mind  - it took about a dozen amendments to get to me."   And about how to let the audience know you know the person you're interviewing hasn't answered your question without being argumentative or petulant.  I haven't mastered that one yet.  I'll be watching her for help.

And she left us with a great parting thought.  "Asking questions doesn't make us bullies - it makes us citizens.  And patriots."

I'll be thinking about this for a long time.  We could all use more Gwen Ifill in our lives.