Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The pleasure of our gardens, part 6

One of the joys of having a garden filled with perennials is they provide endless photographic opportunities ~ year after year.

The moderate Bay Area climate is great not only for year-round gardening, but also for taking pictures of flowers year-round. Digital photography makes it simple and fun, and enhances their natural beauty.

While photographing our gardens over the past decade has evolved from using color film to today's instant-gratification of digital, it remains a learning process for me.

For the past two and one-half years, I have photographed our gardens using an inexpensive, lightweight Canon PowerShot A570 IS (4X Optical Zoom, 7.1 Mega Pixels) camera. Most of my flower pictures are shot using either the auto focus or landscape setting and, since I shoot mostly during daylight hours, the auto-flash remains turned off.

I try to keep a few, simple things in mind when photographing our flowers:
* Composition and light are vital to a picture's success.
* Frame the shot with the aid of the zoom lens. Some subjects lend themselves to being photographed horizontally while others are better shot vertical.
* Get in close to the subject, even if it means getting down on your hands and knees.
* Experiment with angle, shooting down on the subject or up at it.
* Don't be afraid to move the subject off-center.
* Shoot at sunrise or sunset for scenic value.

Whether it's documenting our new calla lilies blooming in late winter, the arrival of irises in early April, the purple blooms of rhododendrons in May, or the multi-colored varieties of roses throughout summer and autumn, our gardens perennially reward us with colorful scenery.

No matter the time of year, there's always a flower worthy of a good picture.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bard at work: serving up stanzas at SW19

Quiet please!

Bard at work.

Earlier this week, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club appointed a resident poet for The Championships. Matt Harvey, a regular on BCC Radio 4's Saturday Live, is the anointed bard of this summer's Wimbledon fortnight. His duty is daunting: serve and volley a poem a day that captures the flavor of London SW19 (the postcode area for Wimbledon), filling stanzas with verse full of strawberries and cream, Pimm's Cups, queue lines, ball boys, changes of dress, recollections of classic John McEnroe tantrums, and rain.

Following the previous lead of resident writers for Heathrow Airport and Marks & Spencer, Wimbledon organizers teamed up with the Poetry Trust on this writer-in-residence program. Harvey's musings will be published online via The Poetry Trust and the official Wimbledon websites, www.thepoetrytrust.org and www.wimbledon.org, and in special podcasts. He'll also recite his poems to the queue lines waiting to enter the club grounds.

"Quite simply I'm delighted, with a little bit of anxiety thrown in," said Harvey, quoted in the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper. "It's an honour, and I'm acutely conscious it's the only time I'll come first in anything at Wimbledon, unless you county the queue for strawberries."

Perhaps, Harvey can look to Rudyard Kipling's "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same" that's inscribed above the player's entrance to Centre Court for inspiration. Or, merely reflect on Roger Federer's sustained excellence on the hollowed green. Whether relying on whimsy or perspective, there's plenty of history and lore for Harvey to draw upon.

Harvey's already penned his first poem as Championships Poet 2010:

Excuse me. I'm sorry. I speak as an
For the game of lawn tennis there's no
better symbol than Wimbledon,
The place where the game's flame was
sparked and then kindled in,
Where so many spines have sat straight
and then tingled in
Where strawberries and cream have
traditionally been sampled in,
Kids' eyes have lit up and their cheeks
have been dimpled in
Where tough tennis cookies have
cracked and then crumbled in,
Top seeds have stumbled, have
tumbled, been humbled in
Where home-grown heroes' hopes have
swelled up and then dwindled in
The Grand Slams' best of breed -- it's the
whizz, it's the biz,
The temple where physics expresses
it's fizz.
There's one word for tennis and that
one word is

Now, then, can poetry slams on Centre Court be far behind?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A beautiful day at the ballpark

With the Major League baseball season in full swing ~ and one of my local teams, the San Francisco Giants, playing competitively ~ I decided it was time to check out the fun in person last weekend and go "root, root, root for the home team."

As it turned out, it was a Saturday afternoon well spent at the ballpark ~ the chaotic, 39-pitch ninth-inning performance by closer Brian Wilson, which preserved a 2-1 Giants victory, not withstanding.

Mind you, after 10 seasons of attending both day and night Giants games in China Basin and enduring the Barry Bonds years, my wife and I have become very selective about going to a game in person at AT&T Park. One, because of unpredictable Bay Area weather that can make even summer evenings seem like winter, it must be a day game. Two, Tim Lincecum, the team's two-time Cy Young Award winning hurler, must be the starting pitcher. Nothing against seeing Barry Zito or Matt Cain pitch. Lincecum started the season with a 4-0 record and left three other starts ahead before the bullpen squandered leads. With a little bit of luck, he could have been 7-0.

So, if you're going to spend good money ~ and leave the comfort of your living room to go watch in person ~ you want to see the local nines win. Right?

With those prerequisites, we found the perfect Giants game for us whilst we watched a recent Giants-Mets game on TV:

Giants vs. Astros, Saturday May 15, 1:10 p.m.

With day baseball, and knowing that Lincecum would be pitching for the Giants, we went online and ~ luckily ~ found a couple of $20 View Reserve tickets in row 4 of section 311 that fit our budget and promised a good view of the game below, a good view of the Bay beyond and a little bit of sunshine above, too.

As we have done numerous times since The Ballpark at 24 Willie Mays Plaza opened for business in 2000 ~ first as Pac Bell Park, then SBC Park and, finally, AT&T Park ~ we took a BART train from Oakland to San Francisco, exited at the Montgomery Station and walked down Second Street, about a 20-minute stroll, which nicely aligned us with the left-field corner of the ball park at Second and King streets.

We arrived at 12:30 p.m., too late to catch batting practice, but still about 40 minutes until first pitch. After we retrieved our tickets from a very efficient Will Call ticket machine (while others stood in long queue lines to buy tickets) and purchased a scorecard, we entered the ballpark and rode a pair of escalators up to the upper deck View Level. Then, after buying a couple of Johnsonville bratwursts and Diet Cokes for our ball game lunch, we located our seats, settled in and spent a few minutes just admiring the beautiful Bay vista.

Even with a day game, we've learned from experience, it helps dressing in layers. A pullover, half-zip Lands End fleece over a tee-shirt with an additional fleece vest for good measure seemed right for this spring afternoon. There was a slight Bay breeze and the sun hadn't fully broken through the clouds. We threw on some sunscreen, donned a Giants cap and sunglasses, and we were ready for the first pitch.

Then, as the game began, we tuned out the crowd of 40,060 around us and tuned in the Giants' broadcast on our Sony Walkman radios. The "three-headed booth" of Duane Kuiper, Mike Krukow and Dave Flemming kept us duly informed of the matters down on the field and, often times, entertained us with wonderful insight and baseball lore. Listening to their breezy commentary made you feel like you were sitting at a sports bar and sharing a cold one with them.

Thanks to a nifty pitcher's duel between Lincecum and the Astros' ace Roy Oswalt, the game moved along at a brisk pace, much quicker than we anticipated. Once the sun broke through the clouds, the Giants' offense warmed up to the 61-degree San Francisco afternoon very nicely.

A two-run homer by Juan Uribe gave the Giants a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning and Lincecum, nicknamed "The Freak" for his unique pitching motion, got stronger as the game reached the later innings. He left after eight innings and 120 pitches, having allowed only one earned run, four hits, and five walks while striking out five. His ERA lowered from 1.89 to 1.76.

The game's outcome in the top of the ninth remained tenuous, thanks to Wilson, who loaded the bases with two outs. Finally, a lengthy, 15-pitch final duel between Wilson and the Astros' Kaz Matsui culminated with a routine fly out to left field that ended the game.


The Giants owned a modest two-game winning streak and Lincecum finally notched his fifth victory of the 2010 season. While the game only lasted an economical two hours and 35 minutes, it all added up to a beautiful day at the ballpark.

With our record perfect at 1-0, the post-game walk from AT&T Park along the Embarcadero became more satisfying, too.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The pleasure of our gardens, part 5

May brings many beautiful colors to our gardens ~ and this year is no exception. While I have focused much attention in recent posts to the blossoming of our back yard rose bushes, including our First Prize, Mr. Lincoln and Queen Elizabeth roses, up in the front yard of our house ~ very quietly but efficiently ~ our rhododendrons have burst out with a beaucoup of bright, bell-shaped purple blooms.

According to Wikipedia, rhododendron comes from the Greek ~ rodo meaning "rose" and dendro meaning "tree" ~ and is a genus of flowering plants in the family Ericaceae. The rhododendron is the national flower of Nepal as well as the state flower of Washington and West Virginia.

One of the joys of having a perennial like a rhododendron is you can count on it blooming about the same time every year ~ come rain or shine ~ and the first week of May is when we mark in our gardening calendar for the rhododendron's yearly return. With two unusually late April rain showers, plus one earlier this week, our rhododendron bush has received plenty of moisture during the past month. Coupled with nice afternoon sunshine it receives from its northern exposure, it's become both a purple splendor in the front yard and visibly noticeable by our neighbors.

While the buds nurture for several months before opening up, and the green leaves can be appreciated throughout the year, the rhododendron blossoms for only about a month or so before wilting as Bay Area temperatures and humidity rise.

It's too bad that rhododendron blooms have such a short shelf life. Yet, it makes you appreciate the time they're smiling at us ~ and with their arms open wide.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Farewell to a treasured voice of the game

For, lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of the singing of the birds is come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
~ Ernie Harwell from Song of Solomon 2:11-12, which he recited at the start of each baseball season

I was saddened by news of the death of Ernie Harwell last Tuesday evening. With the passing of Harwell, 92, beloved, legendary broadcaster of Detroit Tigers games to generations of fans, baseball has lost one of its most treasured voices.

Harwell was a wonderfully gracious gentleman and truly a citizen of the game. I'm envious of fans throughout Michigan ~ from the Upper Peninsula to Saginaw to Kalamazoo and Detroit ~ who were able to listen to Harwell's pleasant and authoritative voice, whether as kids or as adults, or both, throughout his storied career broadcasting Tigers games. I'm simply grateful for having had a chance to listen to him a few times late in his career via the Internet with my MLB.com Game Day Audio subscription.

Harwell spent 55 years broadcasting Major League baseball games, breaking in with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948, and he was inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame in 1981. His ascent to the Major Leagues was recalled by longtime Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, another golden voice of the game, who masterfully wove a tribute to Harwell into his own broadcast, during the second inning of the Dodgers-Brewers game last Tuesday evening.

"There's a great story about Ernie, who established a record before he ever got to the big leagues. In 1948, the Dodgers were in Pittsburgh on an off-day. Red Barber was going to play golf at the Pittsburgh Field Club, and instead he hemorrhaged (a bleeding ulcer) and was rushed to an emergency hospital. The Dodgers had one announcer -- a good one, by the name of Connie Desmond -- but one announcer with a full season ahead is pretty tough.

"Now, Branch Rickey, who ran the Brooklyn Dodgers, had a friend by the name of Arthur Mann, who ran the Atlanta Crackers in the Sally League. So Branch Rickey called Arthur Mann and said, 'I need your announcer.' And Arthur Mann said, 'I need a catcher.' So a deal was set up. The Dodgers sent a catcher, Clint Dapper, to Atlanta. And the Atlanta club sent Ernie Harwell to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Ernie was the first and only baseball broadcaster to be involved in a trade."

After stints with the Dodgers, New York Giants and Baltimore Orioles, Harwell joined the Detroit Tigers for the 1960 season and went on to spend 42 seasons with them, including the World Series championship years of 1968 and 1984. He retired at the end of the 2002 season at the age of 84 after calling more than 8,000 games.

In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, Harwell said that most of his signature calls that Detroit fans came to love, such as describing a batter taking a called third-strike, happened by accident.

"The one that I used the longest was 'stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched it go by.' That was from an old poem written by Sam Walter Foss back in the 1880s, that when I was a tongue-tied kid and I tried to do recitations, my teacher made me recite that poem, 'The House by the Side of the Road.' And it was in my mind somehow, and it just came out one time when I was broadcasting in Atlanta. So that's how that one started."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I only saw the Tigers play once in old, historic Tiger Stadium, on July 19, 1998. Along with my wife and our long-time friends from Seattle, I was part of modest crowd of 21,018 who saw the Tigers beat the Boston Red Sox 2-1 on a dry, 70-degree summer Sunday afternoon. Unbeknownst to me, my visit to Tiger Stadium would turn memorable even before the first pitch was thrown.

Arriving early enough to take photographs throughout Tiger Stadium, and before settling into our upper deck seats located just to the third-base side of home plate, I spotted Ernie Harwell in the lower-deck corridor. He had just left the field and was headed upstairs to his catbird-like seat in the Tigers' broadcast booth.

Luckily, I had just purchased a program and scorecard for the game because, soon, it would come in handy for something else besides keeping score.

Along with my wife, I approached the nattily attired Harwell, said "hello," and, like a kid, asked for his autograph. Polite and gracious ~ and also wearing one of his signature caps ~ Harwell said "hello" to us and willingly autographed my program with a Sharpie pen he carried with him for such occasions. It became a very cherished souvenir.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ernie Harwell called his last Tigers game in 2002. After the game ended, he signed off, saying: "It's time to say goodbye, but I think goodbyes are sad and I'd much rather say hello. Hello to a new adventure. I'm not leaving, folks. I'll still be with you, living my life in Michigan -- my home state -- surrounded by family and friends.

"And rather than goodbye, please allow me to say thank you. Thank you for letting me be part of your family. Thank you for taking me with you to that cottage up north, to the beach, the picnic, your work place and your backyard. Thank you for sneaking your transistor under the pillow as you grew up loving the Tigers. Now, I might have been a small part of your life. But you've been a very large part of mine. And it's my privilege and honor to share with you the greatest game of all," he said.

Many in baseball have paid tribute to Harwell since his death, both in print and on air, including Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully. "Probably the best word, he was gentle." Scully said. "And it came across. He just cared for people and he loved baseball. You can understand how the people in Detroit just loved him. I followed him into Brooklyn (in 1950), and then I followed him into the Hall. He was such a lovely man. However that word is defined, that was Ernie."

The Tigers brought Harwell back to their current ballpark, Comerica Park, on September 17, 2009, after he had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, to allow him to have closure with the Detroit fans and give a farewell speech.

One of my friends, Corey Seeman, perhaps summed up Harwell's passing most eloquently by posting on his Facebook page: "You were the perfect part of every summer day. Thank you for sharing your voice with all of us."


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Jolly good show: Election Day in the U.K.

It's Election Day in the United Kingdom and as the country goes to the polls to vote in the next House of Commons, this curious observer wonders: Just who will emerge as the next Prime Minister?

The candidates, please: Will it be the dour, incumbent Gordon Brown of the Labour Party; the elitist, Oxford-educated David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party; or the handsome and potential deal-breaker Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, whose profile was nicely enhanced during two recently televised debates?

Draw your own conclusions, but remember this: You've got to be careful what you wish for in politics.

One British humourist suggests: "This year it's a three-horse race. Or, two horses and one Gruffalo." The suggestion is that Brown looks exactly like the Gruffalo as illustrated for the Julia Donaldson storybook.

It's a long day, so vote early ~ if not often, as they do in Chicago ~ then, go on a pub crawl.

Post script: When the polls closed at 10 p.m. British Time (5 p.m. EDT/2 p.m. PDT), the BBC exit poll revealed the following ~ Conservatives 305, Labour 255, Liberal Democrats 61 and Others 29. What this means, dear Americans, is a Hung Parliament is in the making ~ and time for a lot of deal making to happen to see just who gets to claim the U.K.'s prime address at 10 Downing Street.

Some in British political circles suggest the exit poll points to an "utter rejection" of the Labour Party. Draw your own conclusions, but, again, remember this: You've got to be careful what you wish for in politics.

The tallying of the votes ~ or, at least, revealing the tally has been painstakingly S-L-O-W. After three hours, only 15 of 650 seats had been declared. The magic number for any party to take control of the House of Commons is 326. It's going to take a while for things to sort themselves out.

Let's make a deal!

In the meantime, let's retire to the pub and drink a pint or two ~ or three. It's going to be a bloody, long night.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The pleasure of our gardens, part 4

If spring is nature's way of saying "Let's Party!" as comedian Robin Williams once suggested, then, indeed, let's break out the Champagne, pop the corks and celebrate.

As May unfolds, our rose bushes have adapted nicely to the ample sunshine and warmer temperatures that arrived this week after a couple of unseasonably late April showers. Collectively, they have given rise to many beautifully hued and magnificent blooms.

Within the past week, our Pristine, Queen Elizabeth, Mr. Lincoln and orange rose bushes, all which reside in our back yard and receive a southern exposure to the sun, have bloomed for the first time this season. Meanwhile, our First Prize rose bush, which debuted earliest of our 10 rose bushes and is also a southerner, continues to shows wonderful color and maturity.

However, as I write this post, it's our white rose bush, which faces west towards the Bay, that has bubbled over with delightful enthusiasm. Gazing down from our patio deck, I easily counted a dozen blooms whose petals have opened with much aplomb, and at least another dozen that will join in the celebration any day now.

Elsewhere, in our front yard, new calla lilies have opened next to our porch; the fuchsia are thriving, and the May Day weekend brought the return of our first rhododendron blooms (which I'll write more about in the near future).

Although April showers sometimes dampen our spirit, by May we can most appreciate the good things it's enabled for our future.

Let's celebrate!