Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Language of Flowers ~ my review

The Language of FlowersThe Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

You cannot read Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s novel The Language of Flowers without emotionally engaging. You’ll want to hold some characters long and lovingly; others, you’ll want to punch in the stomach. You’ll cheer. You’ll boo. As young Victoria Jones struggles to overcome serial childhood rejections, you’ll find yourself wishing you could call her and urge, “No, sweetie, run toward love, not away,” but you can’t. She has to decide on her own.

Briefly, Victoria is a rebellious, angry ward of the state of California from birth through age 18, at which point she sets out on her own with nothing but a love for, and prodigious knowledge of, flowers learned from the foster mother she had when she was 10. That foster mother, Elizabeth, was Victoria’s first experience with acceptance and love. Although Elizabeth’s childhood had been quite different, she knew enough of rejection and betrayal to know and give Victoria what she needed. But Victoria’s pattern of self-sabotage prevailed, and the state removed her from Elizabeth’s care. The rest of the story concerns Victoria’s first two or three years struggling as an independent adult to live, to work, to overcome her overwhelming fear of abandonment, and to make peace with her past, including Elizabeth.

Diffenbaugh’s examples of aspects of the U.S. child welfare system are interesting, as are the intricacies of traditional meanings of flowers. Periwinkle, tender recollections ~ yellow rose, jealousy, infidelity. That this novel’s main characters communicate through flowers is enchanting. The kindness and generosity of Victoria’s first boss are quieting and inspiring. Victoria’s gift for choosing flowers based on her sense of flower shop customers’ longings ~ ranunculus, you are radiant with charms ~ is a productive use in adulthood of animal instincts she developed in childhood to protect herself. To make peace with her past, Victoria tries and fails, tries and fails. But she is honest and determined. When all is said and done, don’t we all have to overcome fears in order to feebly attempt love?

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 14, 2017


The sign of a good massage, IMHO, is that afterward, I feel no guilt about lingering and lounging, about not hustling to my car to run errands. Such was the case after a recent massage when all my task-orientation genes tried to kick me into gear, but failed. Yay! The pen checking off my to-do list stayed stuck in the Get Massage checkbox for long enough that the Day Spa staff began hovering to see if I was okay. And I think I detected little smiles on their faces.


Post-massage, loose and limber, soothed and smoothed,
I loiter in candlelit Quiet Room till lemon water drains.
Rubber spa slippers slap slowly from beige Quiet Room to beige Waiting Room
to get more lemon water and a cup of hot tea ~
Massage makes me very thirsty.

There I lounge to listen to a flute flutter, and …
… Look at a floating lemon slice that looks like (spinning) wagon wheel,
static as still-life apples.

… Drain my (steaming) hot tea,

… Imagine long brown pillows as (frisky) little dachshunds

…See gingko leaves as (flocking, flying) birds,

… drift away, lose count of lemon water glasses sipped,
no worries.

Day Spa door opens, closes, causes gauze curtains to poof out
but then settle back, still.
I could reach for a coffee table fabulous photo book,
But no.
No doing, just being,

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Do not despise these small beginnings ...

On July 17, this was my entire bean harvest.

First, I was excited. Then I admired the tender, filet shape. Then, of course, I laughed. Can one bean even be called a “harvest”? Is it worth the effort to cook just one bean? Would my husband and I split it? Haha. Then I felt a bit deflated. I could see very few baby beans hanging on the vines. So this would be it for a while.  

Just 17 days later, on August 4, this was only part of my bean harvest.

So this is my encouragement not to be discouraged by small or slow starts, in gardening and in life.

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin …” Zechariah 4:10

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Awed by Artists, Torpedo Factory and Workhouse Arts Center

When I get an idea, it is an old-fashioned white light bulb. Let’s see, I could doodle a daisy and then fill in the petals. When a visual artist gets an idea, it is a colorful, exploding, prismatic, spiraling light bulb. Let’s see, my brush strokes could give the stylized daisy petals movement and by gluing bits of colored glass to the canvas … I know anyone can create art, but my thinking, so far anyway, has not escaped the box. Every year or so, I visit The Art Institute of Chicago or wander through a special art exhibit when I travel. But I have not ever been as immersed in art as I was a few weeks ago.

Normally, in whatever free time exists between appointments on my calendar, I live by to-do lists. I highlight to-do’s I’ve done, because a yellow glow on water bean seeds seems slightly more celebratory than a crossed-off water bean seeds. This system reminds me of my promises and enables me to progress toward my highest priorities, which I feel happy about. Fulfillment aside, however, it is a linear, plodding life.

Although I do not feel bored or trapped in this existence, I benefit from a change of scenery, especially one that takes me into an enclave of people committed to creating. Such was my recent trip to Alexandria, Virginia, to visit my sister, who is a ceramist. Between her and her husband’s home and her two studios, I was exposed to lots of original art by people who, at least for a time, did not live by to-do lists. Whether their creations appealed to my tastes or not, I was awed by the creativity of the artists. How do they think up this stuff?

In their minds’ eyes, how do they see a man’s face as a mess of angles? What inspires them to paint a canvas that looks like a multicolored alpaca fiber weaving? Or overlay tiger stripes on a flower? Or découpage an ostrich eye with newspaper clippings (very cool, by the way)? Or glue bright beads on each leaf they paint? Or make a teapot in the shape of a starfish? I cannot even imagine. My level of artistry is coloring within the lines of my coloring book and if I dare, coloring something purple that in nature is green.

Professional artists are not just imaginative; they have learned and practiced technique. Many of them are scientists—they have to know the chemistry of a glaze or how a kiln forms glass or the characteristics of certain media, consistency and temperature, for example. My sister and her ceramics students spend a fair amount of time trimming and testing to be sure lids fit snugly and spouts pour without dribbling. Functional art might look casual but it must be precise.

I wonder if following rules and disciplines of your medium frees you to choose new ways of doing representational art, of abstracting a subject, or of visually conveying a message. Disciplines lead to freedom in sports, spiritual pursuits, education, and most professions, so why not arts?

My art immersion happened as I wandered through two art centers where my sister has her studios, in the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria and in the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, Virginia, just south of Alexandria. The actual U.S. Navy torpedo factory was renovated for one hundred sixty-five professional artists to exhibit their art. In the Workhouse, a former prison, sixty-five studio artists now work on site. Visitors can tour galleries in both places to watch artists at work and/or to buy unique pieces. I was filled with admiration for these painters, potters, glass workers, jewelry makers, photographers, sculptors.

I don’t have knowledge of these techniques or the commitment to pursue any at the moment, but I certainly came home thoroughly refreshed. Hey, maybe I could glue some beads on the leaves in my coloring book. 😊 And maybe my mom would even magnet it to her fridge!

As I oohed and aahed in awe in Workhouse gallery after gallery, I finally found some art that was about my speed—some students’ chalk drawings on the sidewalk.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia

Shhh. Walk slowly. Listen. Look on both sides of the trail. Look up. If you have something to say, whisper. You’re in a wildlife sanctuary.

My sister, who comes often to Huntley Meadows, showed me how to get the most fascination from our visit. First, understand this realm of nature is someone else’s home, and you’re only a guest. The parking lot was the last human domain we would see for a few hours. From there, we padded into a forest on a soft, black path of tiny stones or cinders, I’m not sure. High above us filtering sunlight were leafy green treetops; all around us were lacy, lush ferns. My sister pointed to a wavy indentation in the path’s pebbles and whispered, “Made by a snake?” Other than the rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker, all was silence.

When the cinder trail led us to a wetland boardwalk, we slowed down even more to watch the water. Bubbles were clues that we might see fish, tadpoles, or frogs. Ripples usually meant a turtle swimming. Sometimes what seemed at first glance to be a small rock protruding from the water’s surface was actually a turtle’s nose. Our ambling pace enabled us to spot a tiny neon-green frog camouflaged against a reed of the same color. Remembering to look up rewarded us with views of green herons and majestic great blue herons in flight, a cute brown muskrat nibbling a reed, and green and yellow turtles sunning on logs. The only sounds were the tweeeeee of red-winged blackbirds swaying on cattails and the occasional bhwooosssh of a goose’s splash landing.

We did not see beavers but we did see their dams and a drawing of how these dens are designed. Beavers modify their environment to protect themselves from predators and provide food—nothing short of genius. They build the structures with underwater access. One eager beaver built its den right up over the boardwalk and part of a bench! My sister also noticed the telltale work of beavers in the pointed ends of logs in the water.

As we neared a lookout tower, a sweet fragrance wafted everywhere.  Honeysuckle was in bloom.

Photographers stationed themselves here and there on the boardwalk. Most had serious telephoto lenses wrapped in mottled green camouflage cloth. We asked one photographer what he hoped to photograph. He said, “I’m waiting for a warbler.”