Rising to the Occasion: A Practical Companion for the Occasionally Perplexed

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9781565120297: Rising to the Occasion: A Practical Companion for the Occasionally Perplexed
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A witty cross between an etiquette book and a Boy Scout manual, RISING TO THE OCCASION covers everything from opening a bottle of champagne to unclogging a sink with step-by-step instructions and easy-to-follow diagrams. "Give this practical charmer to a young person in need of savoir faire, or keep it for yourself--all of us need a little help."--San Antonio Express-News. A LITERARY GUILD SELECTION. Now in its 7th printing.

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About the Author:

Wallace Pinfold is a French-language interpreter and translator. He has worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa, a ranger naturalist in Yosemite, and a road manager for country western and blues bands touring the Middle East. He is coauthor of Rising to the Occasion (Algonquin, 1993). He lives in Brunswick, Maine, and shaves every time the occasion warrants.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

HOW TO ARRANGE FRESH FLOWERS

In some cultures, flower arranging is considered an art. Ours is not one of them. Sticking flowers into water when they arrive and throwing them out when they begin to droop or turn black is as high as some of us set our sights. Flowers are classed with goldfish, except that they require less attention. There are even a few hard-eyed individuals ready to resist both the beauty and pleasure flowers bring with the hollow, high-minded disclaimer, "What's the point? They're only going to die." With an attitude like that no birthday cake would ever get decorated and no one would ever iron a shirt. Or make a bed for that matter. Life is not long enough for such shortsighted foolishness. Are we to dislike kittens because they only turn into cats and baby's smiles because, soon enough, they'll need braces? Of course not. We can take heart from the fact that doing something attractive with fresh flowers is a less long-term commitment than child or cat care.

Luckily, in the fresh-flower department, you don't need a green thumb, or a climate like California's, because flowers are available year round--at a stand next to the subway entrance, at the supermarket, the farmers' market, and, for a little bit more money, at your local florist. There can be tulips in January just as easily as there is holly in December.

Let's say the new couple you had to dinner last weekend has had the unforgettably good idea of sending flowers or, you, thinking there must be some cheap cure for a rainy Saturday afternoon in March, have bought yourself a dozen tulips. Now what? All you need is a little thought, a little time, and a little equipment. Actually, all you really need is a container of water and the flowers.

If you have Oasis (a block of solidified green plastic foam, available at your city's answer to the five-and-dime) or a "frog" (a heavy, metal cylinder composed of closely set, needlelike prongs on a flat base), or a nylon net bag containing clear marbles, you will have an easier time making the flowers stand or lean at the desired angle. No frogs available? Try putting the greens (fern or laurel, whatever the vendor has on hand to match the type of flower you buy) into the vase first in a crisscross pattern. Then put the flowers in, one at a time, resting them against the structure provided by the greens. If there are no greens, you may have luck with a rubber band or piece of thread wrapped around the gathered stems. do not rely on the leaves still attached to the flowers' sems for propping. Leaves below the waterline should be removed beforehand, otherwise they rapidly decay, spoiling the water in the vase and accelerating the deterioration of your arrangement.

Wash the vase thoroughly. It may have been collecting dust (or holding remnants from the last bunch of flowers) and be in need of a good scrub. Choose one that has a small neck, particularly if you do not have any Oasis. The narrow neck averts the jackstraws look. If preference or necessity is going to place your bouquet in a basket or a bowl, a small juice glass or an olive jar filled with water placed in the center of the container will hold the flower stems in some kind of order. Extra greens around the base will provide camouflage for the underpinnings.

Where are you going to put this cheery bunch of zinnias? In the center of the dining-room table? In the living room, guest room, on your desk? You need to think abut height and shape. You don't want to hold a dinner conversation through a bank of iris, nor do you want to give the blossomless backside of a daffodil spray to the other half of the office pool. If the arrangement will be seen from all angles, you should plan to follow a spherical shape. If there is to be a backside, you can form a triangle semicircle, or tiered affair. Daring sorts may experiment with the asymmetrical (and of course you can claim that was just what you were hoping to achieve should yours turn out to fit that description).

Odd numbers of flowers sharing shape and color lend some order, or balance, to the grouping. For instance, three red roses alternated with three marguerite daisies will be complemented by five stalks of deep blue lark-spur. Colors should be considered both in terms of where the flowers will be (what colors are in the guest room or the tablecloth), and the combination of secondary and primary colors. Blues, reds, and purples work well together, but don't add yellow or orange to the group unless you are going for the whole-garden look. Two primaries and any number of secondaries derived from those primaries is an easy rule of thumb. If this seems too complicated, stick with a single color and variety of flowers. Don't know what the room looks like? Can't remember which tablecloth is clean? A vase of daisies and baby's breath (basic white on white) is pretty anywhere.

Back to the arrangement. While you are deciding on the height, shape, and color, the flowers should be in a container of fresh water. If these flowers are straight from the garden, they should be given several hours (some say overnight) in the bucket to adjust. Lupine, which gracefully bows down, will curl up; daylily blossoms will close; rosebuds may open. Always check the stems to be sure they are strong and healthy. Al stems, damaged or healthy, need to be trimmed. A diagonal cut will expose more surface area and increase the flow of water to the leaves and blossoms. In fact, you can increase the lifetime of a bouquet by replacing two-day-old water with fresh water and giving the stems a second trim. Stems that have been pinched or bent will not be able to transport water to the blossom, and within six hours your carefully arranged bouquet will look as if a delivery truck backed over it. To avoid this early demise, trim any damaged stems just above the point of break or bruise. If the trimming is severe, the original plan for size and style of arrangement may have to be altered. For instance, if the break is just below the blossom, and the blossom is one of three in the shallow bowl.

Now, with vase, water, flowers of the right height and color, greens or filler (baby's breath, dusty miller, Queen Anne's lace), it's assembly time. Start with the greens, covering the rim of the vase (hiding the Oasis or frog), building toward the center to form the basic shape chosen for the arrangement. Take three blossoms of the same color and shape, they will form the first triangle to be nestled in the greens. Depending on the number of blossoms, their colors, and sizes, you can build on the first triangle by clustering each point.

For example, the three irises with twelve-inch stems form a seven-inch equilateral triangle; each iris can be accompanied by a white columbine, a lavender columbine, and two bunches of honeysuckle. As long as you match the three points with each addition, your arrangement will be artfully balanced with the single addition of a center, usually a fourth blossom of the most dominant (or interesting) group--in this case the iris. You may not like your first effort. Take everything out and try again. Many a perfect arrangement has survived four or five false beginnings.

Sounds a little too controlled? You only had enough cash for what now seems like a boring bunch of yellow mums? Follow along as far as the clean vase/clipped stems advice, and then try letting them fall as they please. You probably shouldn't plan on this technique for centerpiece quality. At the same time, you probably can count on a punctual guest to worry over them (the very same guest who attacks the crooked bow tie or the poorly laid fire--most likely to be firstborn, the victim of early potty training). Regardless of shape and color scheme, or the amount of time and talent required, an arrangement of fresh flowers can begin to turn your gloomy Saturday afternoon into a gala Saturday evening.

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9781565123298: Rising to the Occasion: A Practical Companion For the Occasionally Perplexed

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ISBN 10:  1565123298 ISBN 13:  9781565123298
Publisher: Algonquin Books, 2001
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