Sunday, May 31, 2020

May Book Report: Florida

Florida is the first Lauren Groff book I have read.  It won’t be the last.  The book is a collection of short stories linked together by, fittingly, by the idea of the state.  Florida - the weird, oddball Florida that makes the state its own Fark category - is at the center of it all.

I am no fan of Florida the state but I do love the South and I always enjoy a story with a strong sense of place.  The further north you travel in Florida the more Southern the state is and Groff clearly knows this truth.  Florida, its teaming plants, its steamy, thick air, and its oddball ways are the character that is consistent across all of the these stories in this gem of a collection.

The stories are more descriptions of events in time and space than they are traditional narratives.  The characters who exist are well-developed, not always likeable but Groff is sympathetic to them and their humanity and, consequently,  so is the reader.

I am not usually a fan of short stories, though some of my favorite authors (Pam Houston and Bailey White come to mind) are short-story writers so maybe I am just particular about short stories.  Groff’s collection will go on that list of likes.  Like Houston and White, she can turn a beautiful phrase and there are dozens in this collection:

“…I decided that if I had to live in the South, with its boiled peanuts and its Spanish moss dangling like armpit hair, at least I wouldn’t barricade myself with my whiteness in a gated community.  Isn’t  it…dicey? people our parents’ age would say, grimacing, when we told them where we lived, and it took all my willpower not to say, Do you mean black, or just poor?”

“On my nighttime walks, the neighbors’ lives reveal themselves, the lit windows domestic aquariums.”

To describe an incommunicative father and his leery son , Groff writes, “language wilted between them.”

Of a women remembering fragments of poems, she writes of “a strange, sad poem, Blake and Dickinson and Frost and Milton and Sexton, a tag-sale poem in clammy meter…”

Florida itself is in the language of this book’s dangling Spanish moss, aquariums; wilted, clammy, and thickly humid.

There are 11 stories in Florida  and I treated myself to one each morning over the last days of May, as the weather finally warmed up enough to be comfortable out on the front porch in the early morning.  I consumed them with my morning coffee and each made a companion for my busy days.  When I lay my head down at the end of each full day, the thought of a new Groff story come the morning passed through my weary mind.  It was - and is - something good to anticipate.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Class Picture

For my birthday last November, my sister gave me a houseplant subscription. Each month, for 7 months, a new houseplant arrived in the mail.  It was utterly delightful and I quickly stocked up on some new pots to place my growing collection.  Each plant was different.  Some I had grown before, others I had not tried.  All of them were healthy and lovely. and arrived with an instruction card so I knew how much water and sunlight they like.  They thrived in the sunny spot my plants live in for the Winter season, a veritable wall of green that I love to tend in the cold months.

This past week, the weather finally warmed up sufficiently for the plants to be taken outside.  Some were immediately transplanted to larger pots.  

At least one more needs a new pot and will get it this weekend. For now, they are collected together in the front porch sunlight, making me smile every time I step outside.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Little Hosta That Could

The hostas in my front yard flowerbed are an assortment I've gathered over the years.  Some are transplants from a friend’s garden, some were split and moved from my backyard, some were purchased from a gardening neighbor who splits his hostas each Spring and then sells the splits for an absurdly low price.  This patch came from the friend and have grown quite nicely.  So determined in fact, that one has even split through the steps.

Any normal person would cut this plant out so that the steps remain secure.  I am not normal and think of this little plant as the little hosta that could.  So it stays (and the steps are just fine, so there is no cause for worry).  This is yet another example of my insane affection for hosta plants.  With this much beauty to behold, who could be sorry?

Monday, May 25, 2020

2020 Garden Report: Two Week Report

Lots of rain in the past few days and more warm temperatures on the horizon makes for a happy gardener.   Up close, there are zinnia seedlings showing themselves and tomato blooms all over the place.

Bring on some more sunlight and we’ll be well underway.

I take a walk out here each day and never fail to be delighted by what I see.  Each day there is something new to admire.  Gardening is always a reminder to look close and I appreciate it all the more because of that.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Truth and 2020

I have a vivid memory of reading about each of the lives of the people killed in the Sandy Hook shooting. For some time, I had taken to doing this for every mass shooting - as if knowing more about the people killed by massive gun violence would be another thing I could do to end the needless deaths.

Sandy Hook was especially hard for me because so many children were involved.  But I did it, convinced that this time things would be different.  Surely, I told myself, this nation would not bury so many 1st graders without taking action to prevent more mass shootings.

I was wrong, of course, and to this day I remain stunned by our callous national indifference to a preventable phenomena.  After Sandy Hook, I continued to support anti-gun measures.  But I quit reading obituaries.  It was too hard on my heart.

I think of this as I mark our approach to 100,000 American dead because of COVID-19.  This morning’s New York Times sits on my desk, its tiny font showing me just of fraction of the people we have lost.  

It’s not as if I didn’t know.  New Jersey has been hit hard by the virus.  I know people who have died of COVID-19.  I know people who are grateful to have survived it.  But the depth of this loss is powerful when viewed in this fashion.

When this new year began, I wrote in my journal that I was glad of the arrival of 2020 because it would be the year that we discard Donald Trump and elect a new president.  I’m not the only person who breathed a sigh of relief that we had made it this far without an epic disaster made far worse because of Donald Trump.

And here we are.

In all fairness, a pandemic is bound to leave its mark on our nation and the world - that’s why its called a pandemic.  Trump is not directly responsible for each of the 100,000 dead in this nation.  But his failure in leadership matters to all of the dead, to the families they leave behind, to all of us.  

The United States is, at best, an imperfect nation.  But our leadership in the world has mattered; it still matters.  In this time of universal need, we could be making a difference.  There is a need to coordinate a worldwide effort to create a testing regime, to organize a national system for contact tracing that could serve as a model for other nations to follow, to organize our own national resources to look after states’ needs for medical supplies so that the supply of ventilators, medications, and PPE needn’t fall short.

The list is long; much longer than this.

Instead, our president has lied and dissembled; has dodged responsibility, and has purposely failed to lead.  He has settled for 100,000 dead as if that is not an epic failure.  Under the NYT headline read the words, “They Were Not Simply Names on a List.  They Were Us.”  We must hold this truth close as we find our way forward.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Grilling Season

T gave me a new grill for Mother’s Day.  I chose my favorite charcoal model and was excited to fire it up for the season.

Emphasis on fire.

These flames look more showy than it really was.  My charcoal was the instant light variety that bears watching.  We’ve had grilled burgers and chicken already and there will be many more in the coming summer.  Eating outside is one of my favorite warm weather activities and I am looking forward to the Summer cooking season, a fitting thing to celebrate for Memorial Day weekend.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Spring Garden Joy

All my efforts in the front yard flowerbed over the last few years are paying dividends this month, as the hostas fill the spaces in the soil, just as I intended.

The elephant ear hostas do some heavy lifting in this regard and though they grew a bit slowly, they have been worth the wait.

Alongside the azaleas, they are a daily source of garden joy for me.  

That’s happy!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Fairy Garden Move In Season

Over the past couple of weeks I have added some daily joy to my life by setting up my fairy garden.  Now the move-in is complete.

These little houses and small details bring me such satisfaction.

For Christmas, I got a new apple house occupied by rabbits.  

So far they are of the sort that don’t eat my garden.  I am charmed by the tiny details, like the teeter-totter and the apple bench.

In the evening, the solar lights on some of the houses glow in the darkness of the backyard and remind me to be grateful for the small daily blessings that make life just a little sweeter.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Some Birthday Salsa

My dad’s birthday is today and last week, I popped some salsa ingredients and plant markers in the mail for him.  

He'll have to grow the ingredients himself but gardening is his sweet spot so he won't mind that at all.  I know from our daily chit chat that his tomato plants are well on their way to a harvest so he'll be scooping salsa soon enough.  My Dad lives in California and starts the new year with seedlings he can get in the ground by early March, so his garden is miles ahead of mine.  I get my love of gardening from my Dad, who also passed my way a healthy does of liberal principles.  As inheritances go, it’s a pretty good mix.  Happy Birthday to the best gardener I know!

Monday, May 18, 2020

2020 Garden Report: One Week in the Ground

No sooner had I planted this year’s garden than 3 days of frost warnings followed.  JT and T helped me to cover my little plants and they survived the chill quite nicely.  The week ended on a warm note and it feels like some serious growth will shortly follow.

The first month of a newly planted garden is always a waiting season of watering and weeding; watching for roots to take hold and plants to grow.  Gardening is always a lesson in patience, a lesson I dearly need.

Last weekend, I pulled some weeds and checked that everything was getting enough water.  Each sunny afternoon for the next few weeks, I’ve promised myself a walk through the backyard to take a peak at this patch.  I’ll be grateful for the blessings of these little plants making their way toward blooms and produce, the taste of summer in their growth.