Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Dutch Twins live on

Earlier this month, my older sister Mary and I took a jaunt to Florida to visit some of our far-flung family members.  Our last stop was on the west coast of Florida, where our cousin Katie graciously put us up for two nights.

In one of Katie's guest rooms, I found some old friends: The Dutch Twins, along with a half dozen of their companion "Twins" books, all by Lucy Fitch Perkins. Mary and I were both thrilled to see these familiar books again. They have done some travelling, these books, back and forth between our families, as each successive batch of early readers grew into them.

My mother's maiden name is the first one in this book: Henrietta B. Holmes. I note that she wrote her name in pretty decent cursive for a second grader. I estimate she would have been in second grade around 1925-26.

My maiden name, Barbara Coombs, is stamped in the upper right. There is no date there, but I think I read this same book around 1957. And my cousin Tad Kinsley, the youngest of our generation, seems to have stamped the book in 1972.

I know that The Dutch Twins was the first of the series that I read and that I loved it dearly. I can't really tell you why. I knew even then that it was a bit dated, but it charmed me. I read all of the other Twin books that I could get my hands on, but none equaled my first love, even though many were enjoyable.

Oddly enough for a children's book series, these were not all light reading. I remember finding The Belgian Twins deeply disturbing. It quite literally gave me nightmares. Now, thanks to the internet, I know why it was so terrifying: it was based on the actual stories of real children during World War I. In this book, the Belgian twins become homeless refugees, separated from their parents, hiding and fleeing ahead of the invading German army. It had lots of convincing details, I remember, such as the children's struggle to find food. Hmmm, maybe this book should be reissued for all of us adults to read now.

One book that had originally been part of our families' "Twins"collection has, quite understandably, disappeared from the group. I think my mother must have tossed it out before she passed the books back to her sister Jane for the Kinsley cousins to read, once I had outgrown them. I hesitate to even name it, for these days, it would be seen as outrageously racist. In fact, I think I will not name it here. If you are curious, you can google Lucy Fitch Perkins. I don't think you will have a hard time figuring out which book of the series I am referring to. But I don't think Ms. Perkins was at all racist. In fact, she wanted children to know and understand different cultures. But the view of these things was different in the 1920s and 1930s.

In my family, we now have a set of real life "twins" of our own, sweet grandchildren, a boy and a girl, just as in each of these books. Our twin grandchildren are only two years old now, but when they are older, would I have them read these books? Maybe. Certainly The Dutch Twins. They had a very wise and loving grandparent:

"I think I'll be a sea captain when I'm big," said Kit.
"So will I," said Kat.
"Girls can't," said Kit.
But Grandfather shook his head and said:
"You can't tell what a girl may be by the time she's four feet and a half high and is called Katrina. There's no telling what girls will do anyway. 

                                                  ~The Dutch Twins, originally published 1911.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Eye of the Beholder

Ugh. This is not the time of year when the Northeast looks its best. It is grumpy season here, when winter has held on just a little too long, when mud is the dominant feature of our backyard.

And yet, this morning, when I looked out the back door, there it was, that yellowing up of the forsythia bark, especially noticeable against the still-gray woods. I ventured out with my camera and sure enough, there are fat green forsythia buds just waiting for a warm spell.

The small dogwood tree near the house has plumped up buds, too. Like a good gardener, I continue my inspection. While a casual observer may see only mud and mess, I know where to look for signs of promise and to me, beauty.

A hydrangea shrub still has a few flowers clinging on from last fall. Delicate chestnut-colored shad-bush buds are lengthening. The soundtrack for my walk around the yard was birdsong and babbling brook.

Under the shelter of a limbed-up spruce tree, the rhododendron is also sporting thickening flower buds.

Around in front, the bark of red-twig dogwoods is aglow. There are still some red blossoms left from the winter's bloom of the witch hazel. In a sunny spot, early daffodils are inching up.

Now is the time of year when I appreciate evergreen shrubs and hardy lavenders. I have made a mental note to plant more.  We need more plants for winter interest, I often think in March. But flibbertigibbet that I am, I lose that thought come May and June, when iris and peonies and such are filling up the spaces that look so empty now.

We recently had two ailing Norway maples cut down. I was glad to have that taken care of before birds could start building nests there. We have lived in this house for eleven years now, and for all of that time, two weathered soccer balls have been stuck in the top branches of one of those maples. They were artifacts left from the three boys who lived here before us. When the tree guys took that maple down, the balls were finally freed, and the young men in the work crew began kicking the soccer balls around to each other. It was a funny moment.

After the crew left, I found the soccer balls set neatly at the edge of the garden. I can't quite bring myself to throw them away just yet.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Glorious February Saturday morning

Today is the start of both the Presidents' Day three-day holiday weekend and of the mid-winter school break in our neck of the woods. The city of Saratoga Springs gets happily busy during holidays and today was no exception.  

I got out and about with greater alacrity than usual this morning and headed to the indoor farmers' market at the Lincoln Baths in Saratoga Spa State Park. Into my shopping bag went some honey crisp apples and the makings for an easy dinner for tonight: fresh crab cakes, local sweet potatoes, a rustic loaf of whole wheat bread, and in honor of  George Washington, a small cherry pie. 

I had planned to go for a walk while I was already in the park, so I stowed my purchases and set off on my favorite two-mile loop.

I love a winter day like this one. The sun was shining brightly on still-clean snow. The temperature was climbing above freezing and there were no frigid wind gusts. Lots of people were already out, walking dogs, jogging, pushing strollers, cross country skiing. Although I had only intended to walk, the pavement on the path was mostly clear of snow so I thought, why not jog a bit? And off I trotted. 

I wasn't really dressed right for a run, but I managed to jog nearly the whole two miles. I did slow down to pick my way across occasional icy patches, but I still made pretty good time (for an out-of-practice lady approaching 67, that is.) After a too sedentary January, to be outdoors, breathing in good clean air, rediscovering  the joy of running all over again felt wonderful. It's time to get back on a regular fitness schedule, for certain.

There are also many indoor pleasures in February. I am knitting a second pink "resist" hat at the request of a friend. Dreamily, I look at plant catalogs and think about what I'd like to change in my garden this spring. I have the pot of lilies of the valley that I bought recently from White Flower Farm to inspire me. From tiny pips, the plants have shot up and the blossoms are giving off that lovely Muguet de Bois scent. 

I've just finished reading Purity, by Jonathan Franzen, an author I usually enjoy. Didn't like this one so much. 500-plus pages of a slightly creepy dysfunctional cast of characters. Deciding I needed to cleanse my literary palate, so to speak, I've picked up a collection of Marilynne Robinson essays to read next: When I Was a Child I Read Books. And also on the night table is Convictions, by Marcus Borg. This last one I am reading along with the "theology book group" at the Presbyterian New England Congregational Church in Saratoga Springs. Ridiculously long name but an active, stimulating church that is involved in a lot of good stuff. This weekend, for example, they are hosting a public forum: Uniting Communities Against the Politics of Hate.  It will take place on Sunday, February 19, from 4pm-6pm. Check out the calender on their web page here for more information.

Enjoy this lovely winter weekend!


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Respite or interlude, call it what you will

Goodwin Creek Gray Lavender
Barbara Pierson with a rosemary plant.
Streptocarpus "Grape Ice"
Rosemary Prostratus
Convallaria (Lily-of-the-Valley) pips
Convallaria pip, close up

Convallaria pips after five days

I am a tad late in writing this post about last weekend, but there you are.

I don't know about you, but I was badly in need of a break, a respite, an interlude. From what? From the contentious internet, from the string of worrying news, from being indoors too much.  I had read about a workshop to be held last Saturday at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and thought that might be just the antidote I needed.

The two-hour program, "Growing Fragrant Plants Indoors" was offered by Barbara Pierson of White Flower Farm and it didn't disappoint. I confess, I already know a fair amount about growing plants, so I didn't have to go, but there are always things to learn anew, to be reminded about.

Barbara Pierson turned out to be a charming instructor, chatting about growing jasmine, citrus, lavender, culinary herbs, and forced bulbs indoors in winter. She shared her expertise for keeping these plants looking their best from fertilization and winter care to pest control and trade secrets for keeping plants healthy. She also brought along a selection of specimen plants and offered some for purchase from White Flower Farm.

I sat among eighteen or so folks of a very similar demographic and enjoyed the talk. At the end, I bought a reasonably priced pot of Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria) pips, nicely pre-chilled by White Flower Farm. The pot looked dry and unpromising but I knew it wouldn't disappoint. The last photo above shows the plants' progress after only five days and one watering. It won't be long before we will have blossoms and a lovely scent to enjoy before "real" spring arrives.

And, quelle surprise, this turned out to be my lucky day. Guess who won the door prize? Why, c'est moi! And a rather nice one, it was: a $50 gift certificate from White Flower Farm. What fun.

After the talk, I zipped down Interstate 90 to Schenectady for their Second Annual Soup Stroll and by pre-arrangement, met my Handsome Husband there. We enjoyed sampling some delicious soups and ended up in Schenectady's Little Italy neighborhood. Continuing my lucky streak, I was able to nab the very last loaf of bread for sale at Perreca's. Gotta love that old world bread. Just four ingredients and absolute heaven. Unfortunately, it went home in the HH's car and you can see what was left of it after his drive home. Well, I did get my share in the end.

Now, I could insert a heart-felt diatribe here about how the legacy of humble immigrants greatly enriches life here in America. I mean, that wonderful Perreca's bread! The amazing lemony lentil soup we had at the Indian place!

Oh, dear. So much for the respite from politics. It's a good thing that Saratoga's Chowderfest is coming up this weekend. I feel the need for another midwinter antidote.

Saratoga Chowderfest runs from 11 to 4, this Saturday, February 4,  throughout Saratoga Springs with a few stops on the outskirts. 


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

This is what democracy looks like

I left upstate New York on Friday morning with a group from the Presbyterian New England Congregational Church (PNECC) in Saratoga Springs. The drive down to Washington went smoothly. When we got to our first rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, I could already tell that this march was going to be big: there was a line for the ladies' rest room.
"How many of you are going to Washington?" someone asked. Nearly every woman raised her hand.

PNECC's Pastor Kate and others had done some amazing networking and planning for this trip. Kate had linked us up with a church in northern Virginia so that motel rooms and dinner and transportation to the actual march on Saturday were already set up.

The good folks at Emmaus Church in Vienna, Virginia, had laid out a spread of homemade food to feed not only us but also groups from churches as far away as Wisconsin, Indiana, and Minnesota. Dinner Friday night was followed by a moving candlelight interfaith service. So lovely.

Early on Saturday morning, we boarded buses and headed into Washington. The First Congregational United Church of Christ on G Street opened its doors early and had offered its facilities to any who needed it: for bathrooms, a place to warm up, as a back-up meeting place for groups who may have gotten separated. They, too, laid out food for visitors: bagels, fruit, bottled water, granola bars. Such kindness. Such generosity.

Our group began to make our way toward the rally site. The crowds swelled. The police and National Guard folks on duty couldn't have been sweeter. They all seemed to have a twinkle in their eyes. One D.C. policewoman was wearing a pink Statue of Liberty crown. I didn't post her picture here. I don't want her to get into trouble.

You have all read the stories or have seen the newscasts by now. Hundreds of thousands of people marched and not one was arrested. Zero. Nada.  In the crush of all of those people, tempers might easily have flared. None did. It was a long day, chilly and damp, with nowhere to sit and rest. But people looked out for each other, smiled, chatted talked about why they were there and where they had come from.

After the rally was over, it was time for the march to begin. The trouble was, there were too many people to fit into the streets that had been the designated march route. So the police directed folks to turn around and walk down the mall.

How do you turn around a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people, most of whom couldn't hear any of the directions or had any idea that there was a change in the route?  Well, there was a little confusion at first but slowly a chant of  "March down the mall!" passed through the throng and we all began to turn 180 degrees and slowly walk in the other direction. This seemed like a miracle to me. No one pushed, no one panicked. We moved as one and somehow, it all worked out.

I am holding on to the feeling of that moment, the moment when a mass of humanity, without barked orders or any real clear leader, peacefully turned itself around and moved together in another direction. Our only goal was to keep each other safe and to do what was logical and needed at the moment. I hope that will be a metaphor and a model for the next four years.

But, as everyone is asking, what's next?

Joshua Rothman wrote in The New Yorker this week,  "The march didn't, to my eyes, feature the kinds of gestures that might sway voters moved by Trump. Almost none of the signs focused on the economy, or on economic issues, such as student debt, that interest both liberals and conservatives."

I think he is absolutely right.

And while there was an awful lot of (very) clever snark in many of the signs at the march on Saturday, I don't think that will do much to win over the voters we Democrats lost during this past election.

We Democrats haven't been making a convincing case that we care enough about our neighbors and their very real worries. Now is the time for us to show that we will work for things like a financial system that will reward people who save, not scam them with balloon mortgages and student loans that they may not live long enough to pay off.

We need to become a party of authentic compassion and of solutions that our neighbors can get behind. If we don't start working on this immediately, we will be no better off four years from now. This is important, not just to "win" the next election, but because many of us feel the urgent need to become a society that is better, fairer, healthier for each person and for the planet.

Let's love our neighbors and get busy, very busy, on their behalf and for ourselves, as well. Let's get active and JOIN our town's Democratic or Republican party committee. Let us WRITE and CALL our elected officials at all levels. Let us SUBSCRIBE to a reputable newspaper. We need to be accurately informed and we need to SUPPORT the journalists who are trying to help us get there. Let us CONTRIBUTE to the causes we value. Let us talk. Listen. Do.

Thanks for reading. Peace be with you.