Friday, June 18, 2010

Plein Air in Plain View

Christine Brenner and Christopher Castelli have been with us at The School for nearly a week, and our days have been filled with good conversation and incredible food. We have cooked Aloo Gobi & Lemon Dal, Chicken with Tomatillos & Hominy,  and Polpetti & Spinach. Christopher made popovers, and Edward made butter. We have watched: Snow Cake, The Music Man, You Can Count on Me, Zoot Suit, Walk Out, and Sunday in the Park With George. We are close to swooning with the pleasures of friendship and sensory experience.

So Christine offered a display of enviable discipline, setting up her easel in the lee of the Blue Sprinter. It was not long before she had a trio of kibitzers who had a thing or two to tell her about blue. As if she didn't know.

Tonight we will take a break from high culture to watch the South Bend Silver Hawks play the Fort Wayne Tin Caps. It's a busy life, this being artists.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Olga at 95

I am lucky enough to be celebrating my mom's 95th birthday today, separated by some miles but not by feeling. On the ground in Cleveland, she will be taken out for dinner by her favorite friends   -- who are younger than I am --- to her favorite restaurant on Lake Erie with a view of the city lights and the water.

Olga is a remarkable person. She is spunky, bright, curious, stubborn, flexible, loyal, opinionated, generous, optimistic, honest, and good. She graciously accepts assistance now that she is older, and has only praise and kind words for those who help her. She is passionate about current events, books, and the Cleveland Indians. For her knowledge and judgment, she was prized as a seller of children's books and an expert on the US First Ladies. Competitive and smart, she takes no prisoners in Scrabble or at the bridge table. She has expected a lot from life and given much back.

Her company is sought by people of all ages because of the warmth of her personality, the range of her interests, and the modernity of her attitudes. I have never, in all my life, heard her say, "I'm too old for this."

There is one beautiful and pivotal thing she does customarily say, however. Looking around, taking life in as it happens, she smiles and asks with pleasure, "What could be better than this?"

Baby Olga is held by her grandfather, the orchardist Harry Frank, nestled next to Lizzie Frank. The people in the fine hats are Baby Olga's parents, Luella Frank Shortess and Jesse Cloyd Shortess. Jesse was an artist who died young, and Luella was a postmistress and peach vendor. The mournful woman seated in the front is Cousin Edna Beaver, and we do not know why the occasion made her feel so low.
Pennsylvania, 1915

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Jack and His Kubota

When Edward and I bought The School from John McQueen a decade ago, we became the custodians of a thousand trees. City kids that we were, we failed to supervise them, and, in the passing years, those trees became the masters of our long views. Thanks to our neighbor, Minister Dan, and his chain saw, we have recently gained more light and space.

Yesterday Dan's friend, Excavator Jack, made quick work of the stumps and brush, while we stood around, not getting poison ivy and sore backs. At 76, he is quite the agile and opinionated machine operator, and we were impressed by his turns-on-a-dime.

This morning we do not feel so enclosed by brush and trees, but the chipmunks are  outraged and letting us hear about it.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Red Letter Day

I love this day. The National Spelling Bee begins in Washington, and it is the only thing on television I will not miss. No way; no how. Imagine it: two days of watching youngsters who are eager, bright, determined, geeky, gawky, adorable, emotional, impudent, scared, generous, curious, wiggly, multi-colored, and --- above all --- wrapped up in words.

This event, dear ones, is not just about knowing how to spell. It is about figuring out words, learning where they come from, and how they veer away from their origins just when you think you've got them nailed. It is detective work, with the gumshoe part accomplished in repetitive discipline. It is being able to lasso the spelling, once you know if it is from the Greek or the Latin.

The great Spelling Bee competitors have patience, timing, and cool. They do not jump their guns, and they are not intimidated by the judges or the clock. If they faint, they get up and ask for the language of origin, earning a place in sports comeback history.  Think of the spectacularly serious Akshay Buddiga, dropping out of the camera's view in 2004. Few remember that year's skinny Hoosier champ, David Tidmarsh, but Akshay has a fan club. Shows to go you; spelling is sexy.

For the spectators, the bee is a rolic of satisfaction and mystification. Bless ESPN3's heart for letting us watch the spellers as they unravel words and knit them back up - writing them in the air, on their palms, on the backs of their numbers, and in our hearts.