I’m not sure how I got into the habit of referring to those closest to me by their initials: “L” for “Lena,” “K” for “Kinga.” Perhaps it was a sense of anonymity for those who don’t know us personally, but we don’t get many of those kind of visitors. Still, it’s a stylistic choice, one which I will continue.
Except for this post.
“Lena,” I also learned after naming our daughter, is a famous picture: “The Lenna (or Lena) picture is one of the most widely used standard test images used for compression algorithms.” (Source)
When Lena was still an unimaginably large bump in Kinga’s belly, we weren’t sure what to name her. We’d thought about naming her after her Polish grandmother, Janina. Yet, knowing the difference in pronunciation of “j” in Polish and English (It’s “y” as in “yeah” in Polish, for the uninitiated), we opted out due to the tendency everyone would have to mistakenly mispronounce her name. (The irony is, they still do it with “Lena,” for most want to pronounce it with a long “ee.”)
Our next choice was Amelia, but we were hesitated.
It was at this point, I believe, that Kinga suggested Lena, and I liked the name immediately. We settled on “Lena” fairly quickly once Kinga suggested it.
It had all the qualities we were looking for in a name:
- It was strong and feminine.
- It could be easily pronounced by Americans (a criterion which quickly would have ruled out Wladyslawa, Malgorzata, and most definitely Zdzislawa, had they been in the running).
- It was fairly uncommon but didn’t have that made-up feel. “I only know one ‘Lena,’ from college,” Kinga informed me.
The most uncommon name I’ve heard of is “La-a,” which is alternately spelled “Le’a.” It’s pronounced “Ladasha.” (The alternate spelling might also be pronounsed “Laapastrophea” or “Lainvertedcommaa.”) I’ve heard this is an urban legend, but Google “La-a” and you’ll get baby name site results for “La-a.”
Now, though, Lenas are popping up like mushrooms after a storm. Two of our friends have since named their daughters Lena; a friend who works in the hospital tells us that there are a lot of Lenas in the maternity ward.
And the same is true for Amelia. Very, very popular.
Part of me wants to say we were simply on the cutting edge of naming. By it also seems to hint at some kind of hidden current in societies that suggests things that bubble up slowly. After all, we only know two of the multitude of families who’ve opted for “Lena,” so the phenomenon can’t be attributed to our influence, as flattering as that might be.
K is frustrated. (The old habit returns…) “If we had another daughter, I’d want to name her ‘Amelia.’” And now we can’t.
Zdzislawa is looking better and better…
A parallel thought to this is how children seem to grow into their names. Lena is a Lena. There’s no other name that seems to fit her, just like Madeline is Madeline. The name “Lena” is short and energetic, strong and joyful, single-minded; the girl Lena is short and energetic, strong and joyful, single-minded. “Amelia” would never fit Lena, and “Janina” is a worse match still.
When I was in college, I tried to go by my middle name, Lawrence. At the time, it somehow sounded more intellectual, more serious, than “Gary.” The trouble was, I could never remember that I was Lawrence. I gave up after one semester and took to heart how ingrained our names become.
Which makes me wonder about Bono, Eminem, Sting, Prince, Moby, Twiggy, Dido, Goldie, Cher, Lulu, Pink, and Seal. Do they so identify with their stage names that they prefer them to their real name? Do Sting’s closest friends call him “Sting” or “Gordon?” Does Bono go by “Paul” when the band is recording? And Prince — that’s a case all by itself.
So was Shakespeare right? Yes and no. Lena is not “Amelia,” though if we’d named her Amelia, I would be have reversed those names…
Our garden is growing, which is as it should be, to quote Big Gray in one of L’s newest books.
This week, we got our first melon.
And another well on its way.
We’ve also taken in new tenants. They were building their nest one day last week, but I’m not sure if they completed it: daily flooding probably convinced them of the wisdom of looking elsewhere.
Tomatoes everywhere, but so far, not a single one red. When the first tomatoes do come in — and several are very close — perhaps they’ll be ready just as our mung beans have finished sprouting.
And then, it will be time for one of the greatest salads ever created, courtesy of an old friend: mung sprounds, tomato, red onion, cilantro, and lime.
In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines,
lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.
They left the house at half past nine [...]
The smallest one was Madeline.
Madeline is fast becoming one of L’s favorites. We only own one book (Madeline’s Christmas), but we’ve borrowed several from the library, all of them hits. And what’s not to love about them? Lovely stories and a recurring theme: don’t judge by appearances.
Lately, L’s been fascinated with the Madeline cartoon. So far as adaptations go, these cartoons are wonderful. Christopher Plummer as the narrator has a warm, grandfatherly voice.
It seems to worm its way into your heart and stay there:
This show hasn’t been popular since I was in kindergarten. I am almost thirteen now, and sometimes, when I am up late, I stumble across “Madeline” on the Disney channel. I loved this show when I was little and I wonder why they don’t show it at times when little children can see it. It’s a lot better than the junk they show on “Playhouse Disney” these days. (Koala Bros., Higglytown Heroes, etc.) If they could bring this show back, it would be just as popular, if not, more than it once was. I think that Madeline had a big influence on children between the ages of two to six. Heck, I would still watch it. I hope to see Madeline on Disney Channel really soon. (IMDb)
The best part: the theme song. We’re all going around singing it.
All this time we’ve had the chalk and yet, to my memory, we’ve never used it for what it’s intended.
Sure, one can make the argument that chalk was invented for chalk boards.
As a teacher in Poland, I made my fair use of the chalkboard, coming back to the teachers’ room with my hands covered with chalk. Chalk dust on my clothes, on my shoes, everywhere.
Yet I never understood that Edward J. Chalkster (or whoever the inventor) really intended chalk for entertainment, not pedagogy.
Had I known, I certainly would have lodged a protest: chalk abuse. Chalk misuse.
“It’s for outside use only!” I might have protested.
“It is, above all else, intended for one, single, aerobic function.”
Now we all know. I don’t think it will be the last time. This week.
Growing up in a conservative church, I wore a tie every single weekend. (Every Saturday, in fact, not Sunday, but that’s an entirely different story.) And in my teens, in the late 80′s, it was critical that they not be just any ties. They had to be fashionable, which means today, they’re dated.
When we moved to Asheville years ago, I found all my ties among the clothes I’d packed away ages before. What a flood of memories those silly ties brought back.
They were narrow, that was the most important thing. I would look through Dad’s ties, admitting that some of them had appealing designs, but they were wide enough to rival aircraft carriers.
While they had to be narrow, though, the pattern had to be fresh.
And “fresh” is almost never “timeless.”
My pièce de résistance, though, was my white leather tie. Probably not even two fingers wide, it was a classy statement all in itself.
After we found them and I took some pictures, we dumped them off at Goodwill. If there’s any justice in the fashion world (and there isn’t — only trends), they’re still sitting there.
I was reading Polandian some time ago — an excellent mostly-English language blog about Poland — when, lo and behold, I see myself.
We left the mountains of Madison County late Sunday morning and headed to Asheville, our home of two years.
Such an odd place, Asheville.
When we decided to move to Asheville, a quirky friend of the family warned us that there is a lot of Wiccan activity going on in Asheville and that we might want to rethink our decision. I’m not sure what she was expecting: fields of Wicca-ness that float about the city, turning unsuspecting passersby into pagans, but there is a different atmosphere there. In the heart of the mountains, not more than fifty miles from the rhinestone on the buckle of the Bible belt that is Bob Jones University (here in Greenville), Asheville is a hippy-filled, laid back, liberal island.
The Girl fell asleep during the drive so we drove by the apartment complex where we lived.
Changes — three new buildings, and the whole complex feels, well, cheaper. The old buildings were brick veneer and looked a little classy; new buildings show the cheap way out: one-third brick, two-thirds siding. It’s so crowded and sprawling. It was not the place we moved into almost four years ago.
We headed downtown when the Girl woke up, doing a little window shopping on the way. “I want some!” L cried when we saw slab of fudge and explained to her just what it was. For a girl who didn’t like sweets for a very long time, she has grown positively obsessive about them.
Our time in Asheville was not meant to be idle sight seeing. We had a goal: buy a apartment-warming/wedding gift for dear friends of ours in Warsaw. We went to the galleries in the Grove Arcade.
The building never ceases to fascinate: built in 1924-29 by Edwin Wiley Grove, who also built the Grove Park Inn. It was a bustling little place until the Second World War, when everyone was evicted and the building converted to wartime use. In the 1970′s it served as the National Climatic Data Center. When my family would visit Asheville in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s, the building was vacant but alluring. It reopened in 2002, filled with shops and restaurants.
Unfortunately, said shops had nothing for us, and we already had lunch plans, so the restaurants went unnoticed. (I don’t think we ever ate there in our two years in Asheville, in fact.)
We went to the Kress Emperium, where we attempted to sell our photos. We had been hoping to make enough money eventually to buy a digital SLR. Our lack of sales and the monthly rent turned opportunity into irony: we simple lost enough money to buy a digital SLR. Still, it’s better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all.
We went to Woolworth Walk, which, as it sounds, is an old Woolworth store converted into galleries. Still, nothing. In the end, K had a brilliant idea, but it required being in Greenville.
Yet all was not lost: we got an old fashioned milkshake at Woolworth Walk; we got our fill of lesbians (of which Asheville has an enormous population; maybe that’s what the Wicca force fields do!); and the Girl got to run about a bit.
A visit to the Asheville area is not complete without a visit with Mike and Pia, our friends from the farm on the hill.
Their farm has grown considerably since our last visit. Their chickens have grown, they have a goat, and they added two bunnies to the fold.
For the days preceding our visit, L continually talked about going to see Mike and Pia “and the goat, and the chickens, and the dogs, and the bunny rabbits.” When she finally met the goat (whose name is Little Bit or Leadbelly, depending on whether you’re talking to Pia or Mike, respectively), L was a little apprehensive. It’s her usual modus operendi:be terrified for a few moments, then strike that and reverse it.
The chickens, all grown, have their own house now. The Girl was not at all interested in going inside, which is to say she would have been had we given her enough time.
The sight of all those chickens, scurrying about, clucking and flapping was too unpredictable for L to handle, so she simply waited outside.
Once a chicken was isolated, though, the L was eager to pet and giggle, giggle and pet.
The sun finally set, and with L in bed, we sat around the porch, then around the kitchen, talking, laughing, imbibing this and that, until after midnight.
One of the negatives about moving out of Asheville was leaving behind friends. Yet there is a sweet note to the bitterness: the semi-yearly visits become all the more precious. We all bounce out of the house crying, “We’re going to Asheville!” It’s the classic dilemma/blessing.
Nana and Papa celebrated their forty-fifth anniversary weekend before last. We threw a little family party for them, gave them a present or two, and ponder the implications of being married that long.
Nana can finish all of Papa’s stories for him, and she can provide commentary on how they have evolved over the years. “How long exactly was it that you were unconscious after the truck hit you?” Papa knows very well how Nana worries about him and could probably even predict what Nana will say about a given, potentially dangerous situation — not that he’s ever done that. They can both anticipate each other’s thoughts and finish sentences for each other.
And they both love L hugely. She comes in with a stepping stone she made for them — with a little help from K — and presents it with commentary: “I made this for you!”
In five years, half a century. “It makes me feel old,” I can hear Nana say. “You should say, ‘It makes me feel noble,’” I’ll tell her.
Few things are a clearer herald to summer arriving in the mountains than bluegrass festivals. Sure, there’s Merlefest and other, bigger festivals, but for me, the small ones are the best.
This weekend we went to Hot Springs, North Carolina for the annual Bluff Mountain festival.
With groups playing imprompteau jam sessions behind the single stage and dancing floors made of plywood scatter around the audience area, the festival caters to those who want to listen, those who want to dance, and those who want to play. L and her friends wanted to dance.
They were probably inspired by the Cole Mountain Cloggers, a dance group of kids fourteen and under.
Boys and girls, some shyer than others, but they almost all have one thing in common: everyone in the audience can see from their faces that they enjoy what they’re doing, which is refreshing. To see kids that age embrace and love the “old” and the “traditional” gives everyone hope that this music and these dances will endure.
This year, there were a couple of new additions, including a four-year-old girl who seemed dreadfully impatient to get out and do her solo dance.
Her turn finally came, and did the audience ever love it: continual cheering and whistling.
It’s difficult not to smile in the presence of such obvious joy.