Monday, January 18, 2010

Flowers for the Table

One of the greatest pleasures of living here is the availability and affordability of flowers. What is a luxury for me at home that I sparingly indulge in is an almost weekly errand here. But it never becomes stale or boring, how could it.

Some of my earliest and best memories of my childhood home and my mother are centered on flowers. My mother was a gardener with two green thumbs and eight green fingers. The small yard of the small house I grew up in on Evanston Avenue was at first almost all planted in “Victory Garden” vegetables. Over time the vegetables were pushed to the back until all that remained were the annual tomato plants my father planted behind the whit picket fence in the alleyway.

The rest of the yard was bordered by artfully curving flower beds. Every mother’s day my mom was “gifted” with a large bale of peat moss to add to the flower beds.
There was a large purple lilac at side door and across the driveway right next to the property line and along that side of the house were red tulips and purple iris.

Spring cleaning started with the clearing and polishing of the dining room table. Then mom would go outside with her pruning shears and cut masses of fragrant lilacs and bright red tulips and deep purple iris. A huge vase was filled with water and the arranging began. Mom had an eye for floral arrangement partly natural and partly trained during her short time as a florist at Bertemann’s in Indianapolis. It was there that she met and worked with David Letterman’s father. Later he opened his own shop and many years later he did the flowers for my wedding.

First the lilacs were nipped to different heights and arranged then the deep purple iris, with their grapey smell, were tucked in here and there and finally the bright red tulips, just budding, were strategically placed. The house was filled with the fresh clean smell of spring. Slowly throughout the week the house was vacuumed, dusted and polished in circles rippling out from the floral focal point.
I remember the deep pleasure I felt waking to those flowers and the clean and tidy house they had inspired.

As time passed and days got full of the increasing needs of growing family, completing her bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate, teaching, attending every basketball, football and baseball game a son played in, leading PTA, Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts, participating in Red Cross and Civil Defense, March of Dimes, the Frat (Fraternal Association of the Deaf), camping trips, and prom dresses, filled her days to overflowing.

But every spring the dining room table was cleared and polished and the huge bouquet of lilacs, iris and bright red tulips appeared. The ripple effect got smaller and smaller. But then my mother always knew what was real and important.

Debbie has a heart for flowers also and most weekend shopping trips end with a search for stargazer lilies for the living room coffee table. She has her two favorite flower stalls and we drive past slowly looking to see if there is a bucket of the fragrant blooms waiting for us. If we don’t spy any at the first stall we drive on a half a block to the next one. Yesterday, we could see the deep pink peeking out from a bucket by the road. Debbie turned at the corner and made a U to get to the flower side of the road and a good place to pull over. We popped out, this time I had my camera in hand and while Debbie negotiated for two bundles

of Star Gazers I collected these images to share. The white lilies were full of busy and buzzing bee-like insects and next to them a lovely bright mass of birds of paradise (superman flowers, Johanna used to call them).

Mission accomplished we pop back into the car and travel a bit farther up the block, just in case the next stall has some as well. And yes they do and another bundle is negotiated for and gently placed with its “cousins” in the back seat. For about $15.00 we have about 18 stems, 14 blooms and too many to count buds that will bloom throughout the week. At home Debbie fills the large glass vase and nips stems and pulls away leaves, arranges and places the finished bouquet in the center of the coffee table; the room fills with their fragrance. Then she takes her dust cloth and polishes the table outward from the center. Little does she know how much she has filled my heart with that small action.

“Fresh flowers – food for the soul”, my mother would say.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Brunch at the Inter-Continental Hotel

A Feast for the Eye – A Feast for the Tummy

Sunday January 17, 2010
After a 30 minute slow walk on the treadmill and a cup of coffee, some reading and writing Debbie and I headed out mid morning for a holiday weekend treat, Brunch at the Inter-Continental Hotel.

This is the hotel Debbie stayed at when she was interviewing for her position here as Head of School. She remembered their outstanding breakfast buffet and memory had not faded. The hotel has a very contemporary d├ęcor and the dining room is simply decorated with earth tones and abstract paintings. Platters on the buffet sit atop simple glass blocks – as in glass construction type blocks. The brunch buffet includes a table of breads and cheeses, another for fresh fruit, juices and then hot foods, bacon, sausage, red beans and rice, hash browns, pancakes and made to order omelets. White table clothes and solicitous young wait staff made the morning meal very pleasant. One student, a fifth grade girl, came by our table with her mother, with poise beyond her years, she greeted Debbie and I with the traditional light hug and “air kiss” by the cheek. Only one other person stopped at our table, a mid- aged man, with a broad smile and extended hand greeted Debbie and then me with a “happy to meet you” and then passed on. We had no clue who he was. After our quiet meal we did a walk-about of the lobby and pool.

Then we walked across the street to the three story mall opposite the hotel. We found a comfy place for me to wait – a “lounge” area with two arm chairs opposite a coffee table and two-seater sofa. That was home base. Debbie went in search of warm clothes for her upcoming trip to Iowa for a hiring fair and then she searched out a bookstore and purchased a book about a local artist for me. I got to observe lots of families with young children and shared the seating area with several Hondurans who attempted to make polite mall talk with me only to be stymied by my "no espanol". On the way home we stopped at Office Depot, the grocery store for fresh veggies and of course to the flower stalls. A very nice morning and early afternoon.

Found - Red Hibiscus!

Debbie continues to work to beautify our campus with a variety of vegetation. We have a collection that includes a fragrant eucalyptus tree, papyrus, birds of paradise and a variety of cacti. A couple of weeks ago she traveled up the mountain with Alonzo, the maintenance staff person she has designated as “gardener”. They came back with a truck full of plants.
5 rose bushes
10 bougainvilleas
10 lantana
10 flocks
10 yellow hibiscuses
All for less than $80.00!!!

Alonzo wasted little time planting them about the entrance and in front of the building. Now we will wait and hope they take hold and flourish.

When Is a Shipping Container Not Just a Shipping Container?

When it is Transformed to Represent a Traditional Honduran Village Home.

Our Discovery maintenance staff are prepping and priming the two metal containers at the end of the multi-purpose area. Soon you will see our ninth grade students transform them by using faux finish techniques that resemble the natural materials used in village homes.

We will finish the project by working with a local craftsman to construct thatched roofs over the “buildings”. Our students will learn about this traditional style of architecture and methods of building and by doing so will honor these Honduran traditions.

Their work will become a permanent reminder of Honduran traditions and a center for other projects that reflect Honduran rural life.
Return to Tegucigalpa Part 1

Saturday 3:30 am
Bitter cold in Indianapolis. Johanna was up all night packing for me. Somehow she managed to get two reams of drawing paper, teaching resources, art materials and supplies, my personal items, clothing etc and a few things for Debbie all squished into three bags. We were packing optimistically hoping that I would be able to upgrade to first class on the second leg of my journey to Honduras like I had done on my initial trip down in August. Baggage allowance would then be three bags at up to 70 pounds each. I left her to the packing about 12:00am and got some sleep. The alarm was set for 3:00am. When I woke up my holiday sniffle had turned into a real head stopping cold. I thought about pinning my doctor’s health card, which certified that I had been given both the H1N1 and season flu shots, to my shirt. We left for the airport at 3:30 arriving at about 4:00 to sign-in for the international flight to Houston.

We arrived in good time but the desk was not open. Johanna stood in line with the over packed bags for almost 40 minutes while I sat on the sidelines. Of course by the time we got to the ticketing counter it was pretty clear from the line behind us that there would be no upgrade to first class. Fortunately we were served by a very helpful Continental ticket agent who went over our alternatives – none good. We explained we had hoped for an upgrade and had packed school supplies for my school in Honduras accordingly and how difficult it had been to teach with almost no supplies the first semester. I guess I sounded pitiful enough that he passed the two biggest bags on (for an extra $100.00) and suggested that the smaller bag could be taken as a carry on since I was allowed two. He did not weigh the smaller “weekender” bag so did not have a clue that it weighed almost 40 pounds. While we were walking away ticket in hand with baggage claim checks attached, Johanna quietly said, “mom be sure you get someone to help you put this bag up in the compartment”.

We enjoyed a Starbucks coffee and a blueberry scone together and chatted for the few minutes left before I started the security check-in process and was on my own. Then we said our goodbyes I turned over my warm coat to Johanna and I was off.

Security checks were going very thoroughly but smoothly. It took me several “bins” for shoes, purse, back pack, CPAP opened with motor removed, Debbie’s new computer notebook and Kindle and of course the “carry-on” suitcase. I managed to bend at the knee and lift it to the conveyer, no problem. The older gentleman in front of me was having a problem and had to go in and out of the security “arch”, emptying pockets, removing belt, wallet etc. he finally had to step to the side to be “swept” by the “wand”.

Between him and me the line was backing up. The C-PAP motor had to be electronically tested and then wiped with the white swab, put back in its case etc. Then my bag was opened and yep, they found the two pairs of new very good scissors I had just bought. They measured both pair carefully, went to consult with another person and yes, told me I would have to give up the larger pair. We had expected to check that bag. I waved goodbye to my wonderful scissors and hoped they would find a good home. I was busy putting bags back together, shoes on, purse around my shoulder and back pack on my back, my “neighbor” the older gentleman, clearly a bit rattled was patting himself down trying to locate his wallet, I had seen him put it in the first of his two bins and told him. Relieved he pulled it out and put it in his pocket. Mean time I am finally finished “saddling up” again and head for my gate.

I had turned down the offer of a “ride” to the gate and soon regretted it. My gate was at the end of the concourse and all of the moving “sidewalks” going my way were not moving. I stopped for a rest along the way and made it just fine. After a brief wait they started boarding passengers who “needed assistance”. That’s me - with my “small” bag for the over head compartment…that I can’t lift. When I handed my ticket to the nice lady, I asked if someone would be able to help me lift it up to the compartment. “Oh no, we are not allowed to do that.” I was shuttled to the side and ultimately for only $30.00 I was allowed to check the bag all the way through to Tegucigalpa – what I wanted to do anyway! I board, fasten the seat belt and settle in. We take off uneventfully on time and I take out the new book I brought along to read in route reach for my glasses and…no glasses. My heart sinks my trifocals are back at security in a gray bin…now probably keeping company with my good scissors. I probably missed them when I was “helping” my neighbor find his wallet. Lesson – mind your own business Beth!

Houston to Tegucigalpa Part 2

I was whisked quickly through the Houston airport to my gate and after a passport check at the gate sat for the short wait until boarding. There were quite a few people, this flight was full as well. So, I picked a seat next to a nice looking late thirties looking man reading a book. We sat quietly for a few minutes and then he made a small comment to which I replied with a small comment. He was curious and asked why I was headed for Tegucigalpa, etc. He shared that he was a lawyer and taught at the school of law in the university there. He teaches social security, a new program in Honduras with many challenges. He mentions that Elvin Santos and his family are on this flight as well. “Do you know who he is?” Yes, I explained I had followed the elections as best I could and had seen him on TV on Election Day. (Elvin Santos* is the presidential candidate who lost the recent election.) He talked about the election a bit and I made supportive but politically benign comments not having a clue where he stood on the issues. When people began to line up for boarding Santos sees my neighbor and comes over to greet him and they exchange a few words.

Finally it is my time to get in line for boarding and my neighbor stands and thanks me for talking with him. He appreciates conversing with me to practice his English. He doesn’t have many opportunities he says. He shakes my hand and we part. I make my way to the plane, many people are already seated and I look ahead and yes, I will have to disturb two people already seated to get to my window seat. I smile and nod toward the empty seat. As I reach for the overhead compartment, Elvin Santos smiles and stands reaching for my bag and backpack and stows them away for me. I thank him and he and his daughter stand aside so that I can get to my seat.

The three seats in front of us are occupied by his wife and younger daughter (10) and son (13). They are smiling and teasing each other, reaching between the seats to pass electronics, or popping his son on the head and reaching to hold the younger daughter’s hand. I smile. A couple of people greet him as they walk down the isle to their seats, including my “lawyer friend” who sits behind us.
We are a bit delayed as they de-ice wings. Santos leans forward and turns to me across his daughter and makes a few comments “my oldest son is in first class”. He was flying separately from the rest of the family and had to be routed through Atlanta to get to Tegucigalpa but they had oversold that flight and so they sent him to Houston to catch this flight. For his inconvenience they had put him in first class. “He has never flown in first class before, he is really having fun”. He shares that his son is in his first year at Notre Dame, and I am dutifully impressed and add that I am from Indiana and what a good school it is and what a beautiful campus. I also tell him my friend’s son had played soccer for Notre Dame a few years ago and that I had attended one of his games there. He was also dutifully impressed. He told me his daughter was heading for university next year. “Then there will be only two at home.” She is hoping to go to a university in Canada and had the SAT study book on her lap.

The plane heads down the runway and we begin take off. Santos and his family crossed themselves and bowed their heads in prayer. (This didn’t surprise me. I shared a daily ride with Julia and her family when Debbie was out of town. Everyday on the way to school Julia would turn off the radio and she and the two girls would cross themselves and pray together.) After the prayer we are all quiet for a good while. When we are served our drinks he leans over again and begins talking about Honduras, its challenges, his concerns and hopes for the country. I lean forward to listen and nod and offer a word or question here and there - very, very interesting. His daughter who has had to sit between us quietly listening to what she no doubt has listened to many, many times before smiles very genuinely.

Our drinks and conversation over, the tray tables closed I wrap myself in my shawl and try to be warm and rest my head hoping for a doze as I reflect on my neighbors. Santos reaches between the seats in front and taps his wife on the shoulder she reaches up and pinches his fingers. The he too leans back and his daughter wraps herself in her sweater and curls up with her head on daddy’s shoulder. And so goes the remainder of the flight. Upon landing, he hands down my bags and smiles and nods a good bye. His daughter shakes my hand and I wish her well on her exams and success in college. “I know you will do good things” I say and she beams back. My lawyer passes my seat, smiles his greeting and extends his hand, thanking me again for our “conversations”.

I am almost the last one through the Tegucigalpa immigration. I nod (it is amazing how a simple nod can communicate so mucn) for a baggage man and give him my claim tickets. He drags my overstuffed suitcases off the conveyer to a cart and then lifts them again onto the customs and security conveyer and back onto the cart. At last we are through the doors and there is Reynaldo waiting and waving to me. I walk to the school van and a few minutes later I am in the apartment greeting Debbie. The weather is sunny and a nice 70 degrees. It is good to be back.

*November 30, 2009 TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Ruling party candidate Elvin Santos has conceded defeat to conservative rancher Porfirio Lobo in post-coup Honduran elections. Santos says it is time for “unity, the only path to confront the future and ensure the victory of all Hondurans.”
I have tried to find a file photo of Elvin Santos and his family to insert here but have not been able to find one. Clearly he has limited their exposure to the press.The photo above is of Santos and his wife Becky.