Tag Archives: holidays

The language of flowers

I have always had a general reluctance towards flowers. Not so much an aversion as a mistrust. Very possibly it comes from the fact that they purport to send one message, but oftentimes end up sending another. I mean, there are books on flowers and their meanings. A black locust, for example, means platonic love. A buttercup; wealth, a daisy; innocence; a rose; love, desire, passion.   But do you think people nowadays have any inkling what they are sending? Highly doubtful. In all likelihood it’s not so much that I dislike flowers as that I have always poorly  understood human nature to the point of knowing that someone may say one thing but mean another. Seriously. Most women know by a certain point in their life that a flower isn’t just a flower, but rather, a symbol with some message attached. And unfortunately, that message isn’t always the cute, flowery one that FTD would have you believe. Couple that with some pretty traumatizing associations to flowers and you have a recipe for dismay.

For starters, my grandmother died when I was 14. She was obsessed with flowers and so, prior to her death, she arranged to have a gazillion flowers at her funeral. There were daisies and tiger lilies and begonias and whatever else, and the whole funeral parlor was popping with yellow. I loved my grandmother dearly, but the smell of all those flowers paired with the smell of embalming fluid? Not good. For years every time I walked into a florist’s shop I thought of death.

Then there was high school. Every February there was a carnation sale. And depending on how much money your parents gave you, whom you were dating at the time and how many friends you had, you could buy carnations till all three ran out–friends, sweethearts and parent’s money. Then, on Valentine’s day, the teachers during homeroom would call out your name and you’d go up to the front desk, where everyone would see you, and you’d collect your carnation. Most of us received one, maybe two carnations with a little note attached that generally said something like “BFF,” and that would be the end of it. But then, there were the popular kids. The cheerleaders. The football players. The jocks. The preps. They’d get some ridiculous number of carnations, somewhere upward of twenty or so. And you’d have to watch them all day, carrying those things around, struggling down the hallway, fidgeting with them in class. Of course, they never put them in their lockers. No. That would be far too humble. These people were evil. You didn’t just brush elbows with classmates in a crammed hallway on V-day. You had carnations smashed into your face. Oops. Sorry my forty-seven carnations just whacked you in the head. Too bad you don’t have your own to protect you. All this, to the point where you found yourself sneaking around the gym locker room or looking in trashcans for discarded carnations to claim as your own. Who can get over that level of trauma? I didn’t. To this day, any time I see someone giving out carnations on the side of the road or something, I want to ram my vehicle into their plastic bucket and drive off.

Thankfully, I was able to recover from my botanical complex, if only for a short while. But, it was only a matter of time before I too, hater of anything with a stem or a bud, fell victim to that ancient and perennial commercialism of love, which states that if you do not receive a flower from a man, you have no worth.  My life changed at this point. I suddenly adored flowers. Not so much for their beauty as their ability to define me. And most likely because I’d never received any. And by the time I hit my twenties I felt I was something of a freak. If society validated a woman by the flowers she received, I must have been an alien.

Until S.

I was 22 and dating this Air Force police officer named S when I lived in Greenland. We had fallen in love, and despite my leaving to return home, we remained in touch. For my birthday he sent a dozen yellow roses. They were stunning. Everything I had imaged they’d be. It was the first time I’d ever received flowers. And I probably still have every one of those petal stuffed between pages of old books, that’s how amazed I was at the idea of flowers.

He drifted into the past, of course, but his flowers were the last I’d see in a really  long time.

Throughout my first marriage I only received one bouquet of roses from my ex-husband. He never bought me flowers for anything. Not Christmas. Not Mother’s day. Not any holiday whatsoever. Not even on the days I gave birth to our sons, or the day I graduated with high honors from Rutgers University, after 16 years of trying. I don’t believe he even gave me flowers when my father died. Like I said, I only received one bouquet from him. Back in 1999, when I was about four months pregnant with my second child, I found out quite to my dismay, that he had sent some girl down in Georgia a dozen white roses. It would be the first of many more, ahem, awkward moments in our marriage. Truth be told, I was most annoyed that he sent a strange woman flowers and had never given me so much as a weed. Anyway, shortly after this, I came home one day to my own bouquet. Out of guilt or embarrassment, who knows, he had sent me the clichéd dozen red roses that I still affectionately refer to as the “I fucked up” bouquet. I can still remember throwing those things out long before they died on their own.

After the dissolution of my marriage, flowers sent to me took a continued downward spiral. In fact, they became downright insulting. There were the occasional carnations wrapped in plastic from Wawa that my dad or boyfriend G would pick up out of obligation on days like Valentine’s day or my birthday. No card attached. There was the “I’ve been neglecting you to go party with friends” flower from S. It was a lily (isn’t that the flower of DEATH?). I planted it in my front yard and the squirrels ate it. And finally, there was the “we just started fucking and I want to move out of my parents house and in with you” roses from M, which, admittedly, were quite beautiful. Yet, they came with such onus that every time I looked at them I couldn’t help but wonder if they were an omen of impending doom.

The truth is, my history with flowers (and men) had been grim. Until D.

I won’t go into detail but I fell in love with D in winter. When I was the most alone I had ever been and yet, strangely, the happiest. A time in my life when, for the first time ever,  I wasn’t looking for hidden messages in flowers nor having (unrealistic) expectations about the men giving them. In fact, I very specifically told D a month into our relationship, “Don’t bother with flowers. I don’t like them.” And so, when our first Valentine’s day rolled around, a holiday I now typically try to ignore, I played it off and made other plans.   OK, well, it was easy. It was a week day and he was working. At any rate, I went into the city by myself and walked and walked and walked down Pine and Spruce and then over to Walnut to revisit a few of my favorite antique shops. I bought a little vintage tin sign for the bathroom.  I had tabouli at Sahara’s. And I strolled around looking at windows and doors, which I love to do. I thought of virtually nothing all day except maybe the temperature and how cold it got after a few days of unseasonably warm weather. And, when I got home, sitting on my front porch step, there were flowers.

I brought them inside. There were twelve red roses cut on a sharp angle, encircling a spray of extraordinarily green tiny buds, which rested upon the lip of a cylindrical glass vase with smooth, black river stones at the bottom.  I sat them on my countertop and I stared at them for a good 10 minutes. I breathed them in.  I walked around them. I determined that I had never seen in all my life a floral display quite like it.

And then I determined that they were the most stunning flowers I’d ever seen.

I opened the notecard. Of course they were from D. And he had scribbled—in his own handwriting—this little “xo” on the card. Just that. Nothing more. No “I’m sorry,” or “Last night was great,” or “I’m giving these to you because if I don’t, you’ll think I’m lazy and cheap.”  Just “xo.” It was possibly the purest, plainest, most direct language of affection I had ever received from a flower, or a man, in my lifetime. A bouquet that actually came with the message it intended.

How rare.

I can’t say me and flowers will ever have the kind of relationship that say, Georgia O’Keeffe has with flowers, but I can say, I’m no longer opposed to them. D and I have been together 10 years this January, and while he doesn’t buy me flowers as much anymore, his steadfast love and the memories of those early bouquets mean far more than the actual flowers of which they were made. Real love, I’ve learned, isn’t complicated. It doesn’t die on the vine or send unintended messages. It just is.  Umberto Eco wrote, “the rose is a symbolic figure so rich in meanings that by now it hardly has any meaning left.” And I suppose that’s true. But like I said, it’s what’s behind the flower; both in the giver and the receiver. It is this that speaks more loudly than anything. It is the underlying current of love, or lack thereof that can wilt a daisy, or make it bloom eternally.

Christmas Eve Dinner

I don’t get to prepare Christmas eve dinner every year, despite the fact that it’s one of my favorite holidays to prepare and cook for. But this year my ex will be in Spain, so the kids are with me, as will be the rest of my family. How lucky!

One of the reasons I love to cook for Christmas eve is because there is such a freedom of variety of foods that you can prepare. I am Italian. That means I grew up with the tradition of the seven fishes on Christmas eve. My mother and father used to prepare cod, smelts, calamad (squid), clams and spaghetti, flounder or scrod, shrimp and mussels and sometimes sardines. Everything they made though, seemed to revolve around the gravy (sauce) and it all ended up tasting the same to me. So, since I’ve been doing Christmas eve dinner (the last twelve years), I’ve tried to vary each course, as well as add my own little flair here and there.

This year, because so many people are coming at different times, I thought it would be best to make most of the menu based on Hors d’oeuvres. This way, we can “pick” throughout the day, then, a little later we can have a very light, standard dinner. I’ll definitely let y’all know how it goes!

Le Menu

Christmas Eve, 2009

First Course – Hors d’oeuvres

Organic, unpasteurized Manchego el Trigal

Cured, raw Murcia cheese made from fresh goat’s milk

Aged Gruyere

Kalamata and Italian green olives and feta

Sardines, mussels and anchovies

Savory, cold shrimp cocktail a la Nuria

Creamy, fresh smoked trout pate, served with a side of challah bread

Sea scallops wrapped in bacon and drenched in butter and lemon

Crabmeat stuffed mushroom

Second Course

Roasted Butternut Squash and Lump Crab bisque

Third Course

Calamari salad with pistachios and dates

Main Course

Baked filet of flounder in lemon zest,

wild rice with apple walnut, and  fresh broccoli


Assorted cookies and cakes a la Mariel & Nuria

Pondering aloneness…

Just Add Water!

This is Gary. He’s my date tonight, and I plan to bring him to Tim and Kathy’s for Thanksgiving. He’s alright just the way he is. I don’t even think I’ll add water. Size is intimidating. 

So, as I ponder the infinite aloneness of my life over the past couple months, I have to say it hasn’t been as bad as I feared. There is literally NO ONE in my life for the first time in a very long time. And so, aloneness is a relatively new and unusual sensation. One that I am trying to get to know, so to speak.

I decided to embrace my single life and get to know it just as I would a new guy. Only this time, no need to worry about shaving my legs, waxing my eyebrows, or wearing anything remotely alluring, save my Cheetah undies which, I still find hard to believe were so under appreciated.

I have to dig deep to figure out what single women “do.” I haven’t been truly single since before my marriage (1996). And at forty, going out to Shampoo or Transit Nightclub is not really an option unless I’m looking for a twenty-year-old with a fake I.D. and a pocket full of MDMA.

Hey kids, meet Curtis. Mommy picked him up last night at the club.

Not gonna happen.

My first stop was the bookstore. Might as well get in all those books I blew off the past few years. And aside from books that personally interest me, I think, let’s buy something on being single. Bad choice.   I find, “Better Single Than Sorry” and “The Single Girl’s Manifesta,” both of which are pink. Then there’s “Flying Solo” (also pink) and “Single: The Art of Being Satisfied, Fulfilled and Independent.” Why these books all have pink covers with hot girls carrying shopping bags around is a mystery to me– As if pink and shopping were icons of singledom. What about fat, ugly girls that are single? Ones that only wear black or can’t afford to buy things other than baby clothes at the Good Will because their baby daddy is a dead-beat? Where are the books about being single for them? 

OK, so…anyway…

Then I decided to watch re-runs of Sex in the City as well as the Sex in the City movie. Corny as hell, and yet, I couldn’t help but wonder how many lives have been changed due to the fact that those girls make being single look so appealing and fashionable (Oh! Ok…now I get why single and shopping go together…I merely have to remember Carrie and her Manolo Blahniks). Thing is, those bitches don’t DO anything but BE single. They meet and talk about men that they’re not dating. They go to parties, shop and redecorate their apartments. Surely there’s more to being single than writing a column about it!

So let’s see…what’s left? Books, DVD rentals…? According to the rules of western society, right about now I should be heading to a museum. 

And that’s it. Those are my options. Books. Watching old movies. Going to a museum. 

Well, fuck that. 

How about writing. Raking leaves. Rock climbing. Running. Masturbating. Painting. Volunteer work. Charity. Meditation. Cycling. Going back to grad school. Road trips with the kids. Getting back to the Painted Bride Quarterly. Submitting my short stories to lit mags. Drinking Spanish wine. And laughing. Laughing over dumb shit like Gary. Who, by the way, “never looks at your credit card bills…”

I definitely think the image of being a single woman needs to be expanded to include more than the picture of a rundown chick, curled up on her sofa in ugly PJs watching some dumbass love story in black and white. Yet, I don’t believe it should go to the opposite extreme where single girls are all portrayed as Stepford Wives (before they married, of course). Haven’t we advanced enough to change those dull, extremist, unrealistic stereotypes? I mean, heck. Sarah Palin almost became vice-president. 

Hm. And on that scary note. Maybe it’s best we wait a little longer for true progress….

At any rate, I’m the type of person that meets people relatively easily. I’m friendly, outgoing, cute and all that other fun stuff that makes it easy to meet guys. Thing is, I might never be single again. This might be my one shot. I might never know what it’s like to really dig being totally selfish, doing my own thing or having the solitude and peace that comes with true and deep aloneness.

Relationships place demands upon people. And it’s not that I can’t make sacrifices or don’t particularly like demands. I’m ok with those things. I inherently like being part of a couple. Despite oftentimes losing myself in the act of coupling, which sometimes takes a lot out of me (As I’m sure it does everyone). Thing is,  the old, outmoded idea of clinging to a man or depending on one seems to me now (at this point in my life) horribly unappealing that I find more value in waiting than dashing into something just for the sake of not being alone. 

Anyway…all my pondering led me to realize that there’s nothing more I should be doing than what I am already doing. And that what I’m doing ain’t so bad. Even if it means not going to museums or buying up half the King of Prussia mall, or bringing Gary to dinner tonight. And speaking of Gary…despite the fact that “he’s polite” and “never chews with his mouth open” he is pink

Oh well. I may simply have to overlook certain things.