Paperwhites – Bloom Where You’re Planted

My southern-preacher daddy often advised his congregation from the pulpit to “Bloom where you’re planted.”  He meant it in terms of doing good works, no matter where life takes you.  Another meaning of the phrase was evident in all his sermons as he exhorted the church to quit complaining and get on with what you’re put here to do.  

As a masterful gardener, daddy had an aversion to forcing blooms.  When pressured by mother, he’d cut flowers for her and bring them inside, one bloom at a time, in a small vase.  But he refused to buy hothouse flowers because of what he considered their unnatural growing conditions.  His theory about blooming where you’re planted was at odds with an industry’s need to “force” plants.

The root (sorry) of his aversion to cutting flowers may have been the fact that his family were farmers by occupation.  Some of them were sharecroppers and at other times they grew vegetable gardens and sold produce for a living.  Daddy gardened with his own daddy in order to survive. There was never time or space for recreational plants.

When we moved from the deep south to southern California, a new world grew outside.  Birds of Paradise.  Avocados.  Camellias.  For the first time, he had a pleasure garden and he delighted in tending plants that nobody had to have.  

At first he was apologetic about the rows of irises he planted around his vegetable patch, but soon delicate pansies lined the driveway out front.  He was fearless.  He’d try anything.  He coaxed to giant size some plants that shouldn’t have been able to thrive in Glendale, and later Palm Springs, California. 

To the end, he resisted indoor plants.

Daddy had been gone for years by the time I began putting narcissus bulbs in a pot on the windowsill during the winter. This year my small granddaughter helped pat the soil around the bulbs and give them a good long drink.  Every day we watch the shoots grow taller. 

I can’t wait to see her face when the first lacy white bloom pokes out.  Who am I kidding?  I plant these for me, for no purpose other than the pure enjoyment of watching them send up green shoots and then those blooms with the intense fragrance. 

If this is a kind of sinful excess, it’s one I intend to commit every year that I’m lucky enough to enjoy the winter light.  If Daddy were here, if he’d had a chance to meet his great-granddaughter, I’m guessing he’d make an exception.  He might find a way to include our windowsill garden in his definition of blooming where you’re planted.

Ó Anita Garner 2008

TV Shows That Feel Like Home

Ever take a walk at dusk and look into lighted windows?   From the outside looking in, things seem warm and cozy. That’s the feeling I look for in a favorite TV show.  Not a particular house, but that feeling.  My favorite shows all have that in common.  

Favorite shows from the past took place (present-tense on many of these because they’re available on dvd anytime we want to re-watch) within a set that became as familiar as my house. Those of us who watched The Waltons every week feel we know every nook and cranny of that two-story farmhouse  – and the outbuildings as well.

Little House had not only the iconic cabin, but an entire town built from the minutiae in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books and the imagination of Michael Landon and his co-creators.

A favorite Britcom, As Time Goes By, features a flat in London that feels like a place where I can stop by for tea and gossip. 

Food Network shows take us into some of our favorite kitchens.  True, many are sets built to simulate a home environment, but some actually take place in the homes of the cooks – Nigella Lawson in one of her London kitchens, Paula Deen in her home in Savannah, and Jamie Oliver from his country farm.

On Friends, the apartment is crucial to the show.   Ditto Sex And The City. Which fan of Frasier hasn’t memorized the placement of each and every furnishing and accessory?

But home isn’t only a place.  It’s also a feeling.  Mash  took place in wartime Korea in unfamiliar settings, yet because of the characters’ need to rely on each other, somehow it felt like an odd out-of-time-and-space home every week.

More than one show that generates warmth and a home-style feel took place in a bar.  Cheers comes to mind, but  there have been many others.

I’m looking for some new favorites, shows that feel like home because the characters seem to belong there – or belong to each other.  Any suggestions?

Ó Anita Garner 2008

Holiday Newsletters

I love the newsletters that come in the mail this time of year and I don’t understand how they ever got to be the butt of sitcom jokes. I was worried that email and websites might slow the flow of information that comes inside Christmas mailers once a year, but so far so good.  They’re arriving on schedule and to me they’re irreplaceable.

This year  I received a letter from a family I used to babysit for.  The parents of the kids I tended are now great-grandparents and they took their entire family – thirty something of them in all – on a cruise to Europe and then toured several countries.  This letter is worth keeping just for the group photos of all those relatives in one family who work together in the family business all year and still have a great time traveling together. 

I have two letters with stories of construction projects.  One is from a Dad who spent months at his daughter’s house fixing it up so she can sell it because a divorce is on the way.  One is from a couple whose home was severely damaged in a storm and they’re working to bring it back to life.

One letter this year devotes more than half of the page to a photo and stories about a beloved pet who passed away. 

There is always at least one very glamorous letter.  Sometimes it’s a grown child of old friends who undertakes an unusual line of work and brings all of us along, in the space of the one-page missive, into a world we wouldn’t have otherwise visited.

Then there’s a former boyfriend who’s kept his looks and his ambition and his intellect and his compassion intact and he’s made a glorious life, quite a photogenic life, with a beautiful wife and children and grandchildren.  Their newsletter includes a photo of him and his wife on a yacht.  Their letter also contains pictures of little ones romping around the family home in New England.  I am most impressed with how very important those little ones are in the text written by the glamorous couple.

There are letters from several people I’ve worked with in broadcasting, and the news isn’t generally good this year, since broadcasting is re-inventing itself and cutting back jobs.  Here’s a letter, though, listing all the things one friend plans to do now that he no longer needs to show up and talk into a microphone every day.

It’s still a few days before Christmas and other letters will arrive, I’m sure.  There does seem to be a certain increase in sad news this year, and it might seem odd, at first glance, to choose to tell these stories inside a holiday greeting.

I’m grateful for each and every letter and every story and every insight into how people are handling the ups and downs in their lives.  I love these once a year outpourings because I’m fond of letters in general – the kind we can hold in our hands – and getting a letter once a year is better than getting none at all.

Ó Anita Garner 2008

Christmas On The Radio

I’ve spent much of my  life on the radio, playing music.  Every year when the Christmas songs started, the radio station staff revolted.  Here’s a scene from a typical radio programming meeting, where on-air people wrestled with the Program Director (in the days before a computer picked the music – and before every city had a radio station that plays continuous holiday music starting at Thanksgiving.) 

PD:  So guys – and Anita – you’ll notice on your playlist that we’re rotating one Christmas song each hour starting…

ME: …Couldn’t we play more than one per hour?

EVERYONE ELSE:  No!

PD:  And then by week three of the season, we’ll play four an hour.

ME:  Couldn’t we play more than that?

EVERYONE ELSE:  Shut up!

ME:  Could I have more Christmas music on my show?

ON-AIR PERSON:  I’ll be calling in sick.

ANOTHER ON-AIR PERSON:  You can’t call in sick, because I’m scheduling all my dental work now.  I’ll be gone for a month.

The foregoing is only slightly exaggerated.  I haven’t met many radio people who like Christmas music as much as I do.  For me, it can’t start too soon. Give me a couple of songs and three lights that twinkle and I’m happy.

After years of being on the air,  I had the opportunity to host a nationally syndicated show.  Something Special aired on stations around the U.S.  I was also writer and producer for this weekly four-hour radio magazine and we began making our Christmas show while the weather said it was still summer. 

Show prep (a rather unimaginative term that means exactly what it sounds like) included knowing a lot about the music we’d be playing.  No problem here.  I love Christmas music and in addition to the music sent over by the record companies, I also have a big personal collection.  We knew many of the artists who performed the music and had been pre-recording their holiday greetings all year when they were in our studio.

John Schneider was the guest co-host for this Christmas extravaganza.  He’d become a friend through my daily radio show in Los Angeles. Generally the new show featured a celebrity guest for only the first hour of each week, but at Christmas John would be with us for all four hours. 

John arrived with one of his ever-present dogs – maybe it was Smudge or, God rest her soul, Gracie.  Cathleen (my daughter worked on the show) baked Christmas cookies and brought in a small Christmas tree. John contributed warm apple fritters he picked up at that place he knew in Burbank.  We took our positions at the microphones.  

We sailed right along.  I don’t remember any re-takes.  It’s one of my favorite radio shows ever.  I play it again every year by the light of my plug-in-desktop tree with the twinkle lights. Sometimes I play it in the middle of summer, or whenever in the words of a favorite song, I “need a little Christmas.”    

Anita Garner 2008

Should We Teach Kids About Failure?

We’re willing to do just about anything to prepare our children to be successful adults.  We encourage, cajole, spend, discipline and then spend some more, yet the one thing we can’t buy is a guarantee that any of it will contribute to their eventual well-being when they leave our care.

In the past few decades, there’s been a shift to a completely child-centric way of life. The self-esteem movement now pretty much dominates child raising. There’s a whole vocabulary to support it. 

When my granddaughter and I go out, she picks up something and hands it to the person who dropped it.  A young mother passing by says “Good helping.” I reach for the little one’s hand to cross a street. She wants to walk alone.  I firm up the tone in my voice and insist. She reluctantly takes my hand and a nearby adult says to her, “Good listening.” 

This language came along after my daughter was raised.  It’s specific wording that evidently everyone agrees to use with children. I like it fine.  It’s nice and friendly, but I’m thinking there’s a step that could  follow, after the praise.   We congratulate children for everything.  We give them prizes. We celebrate their progress in all areas. This works with some and backfires with others – kids who aren’t motivated without a tangible incentive, who believe they are so special that they have no grounding in the real world, where they will encounter other kids who feel even more entitled.   Does our attempt to cushion them lead some to believe the outside world will be like home?  I wonder if the constant polishing of self-esteem has gone a bit too far.  We can’t keep our kids from stumbling, from pain, from self-doubt, just as no one could have kept it from us. We want them to have everything, including the undeniable joys of self-expression.  But we may be waiting too long to tell them about the forces in the world that seem to exist just to puncture balloons. Should we talk to them about the possibility of failure?  I mean an individual failure, not an overall giving up.  Would it be wise to ladle in a bigger dose of reality earlier in their lives, even if it hurts us more than it hurts them? There must be a way to mix into our child-raising concepts the idea that a failure is not the end, that keeping on keeping on is sometimes as important as starting out in the first place.    

I have mixed feelings about telling kids they can do anything. On the one hand, we want to them be courageous and take leaps of faith.  On the other hand, it’s simply not true.  Not all of us are great at everything we’d like to do.

We don’t spend much time preparing our kids to handle disappointment.  Maybe we could think about introducing them to the notion of postponing certain dreams and pursuing a more practical course, one that will help guarantee their survival.

Where’s the balance?  I don’t know.  That’s why I’m asking.

Ó Anita Garner 2008