Summer Roses and Sticky Wickets

The flowers that bloom in the spring,

Tra la,

Breathe promise of merry sunshine--

As we merrily dance and we sing,

Tra la,

We welcome the hope that they bring,

Of a summer of roses and wine,

Of a summer of roses and wine.

--The Mikado, by W.S. Gilbert (1885)

In 2010 Don and I set out to redo our 1950's-era backyard. Don wanted lots of boxwood hedges. I didn't. "Too formal," I told him. I wanted fragrant roses spilling over a white arbor. He shook his head. "Roses are a pain. They need pruning and spraying and all sorts of stuff." He had a point. After all, he's the experienced gardener in the family. The one with a green thumb. I'm more the idea person. As in: "I have an idea. Why don't you plant me some roses?"

In the end neither of us listened to the other (the secret to a long and happy marriage). We listened to someone else instead. "You guys want an English country garden," landscape designer Peter said, sketching as he spoke. "I think a boxwood boundary here, around the patio, would be nice and climbing roses here, on an arched arbor over the back gate would do well in the west-facing part of the yard. More roses here, growing on lattices up against the house, would be nice, too." Don and I nodded. Yes, sure, nice.

That autumn, Don planted climbing roses on either side of our newly constructed arbor and gate. Two months later my Dad passed away. Following Dad's memorial in Orange County, Don and I returned to our home in San Francisco's chilly, drizzly East Bay. The rose plants--bare, seemingly lifeless--on either side of the white arbor underscored my sadness.

As a tribute to Dad, I resolved to buy only products made in the USA for the coming new year. That single 2011 resolution spawned hundreds of blog posts, dozens of interviews with manufacturers and company owners and entrepreneurs; hundreds of USA-made purchases; countless conversations with fellow-citizens who seemed to be in varying stages of grief over the loss of manufacturing in this country. As I write this, books related to the globalization topic cram the shelves in my converted garage office. Pertinent articles fill several lateral file drawers. And Dad's a vital part of the conversation, too, through his writing, inventions, lecture tapes, colleagues; through my memories and those of my siblings.

And the roses? As you can see, they survived, thrived and look more beautiful than ever. Can roses smile? These seem to. Anyway, Don's made peace with them. "Once you get in the habit of pruning and spraying," he says, "it's no big deal."

No big deal. Maybe the same could be said of trying to purchase products made or grown in this country. Red grapes from Chili or organic red grapes from California? Zucchini grown in California or yellow squash from Mexico? Why not choose Cali? Buying fresh, locally-grown produce is not that difficult, is it? (I know. First world problem, for sure.)

But...let's say you've got a hankering for grass-fed 100 percent USA beef for your Memorial Day BBQ. Ah, there's a sticky wicket, my freedom-loving fellow Americans, because just last December the World Trade Organization (WTO) authorized over $1 billion annually in trade sanctions against the USA unless we "weaken" or "eliminate" our Country of Origin Labels (COOL) on our meats.

Trade agreements have consequences. For one thing, they make me use terms like "hankering" and "sticky wicket." For another, they make American consumers confused and angry. We want to know where the meat we're buying originated--a ranch in California or somewhere in Canada? (The average Canadian is now better off than the average American, by the way; so they'll be fine.) Do we pound on the meat counter? Demand information? Yell at the butcher in the no-longer-white apron wielding a meat cleaver? Become vegan? Sticky wicket indeed.

One last thing: remember that Seinfeld episode where George Costanza quits his job then returns to it as if he'd never left, hoping no one will notice? I guess this is my Costanza moment. Quit China Ate My Jeans? Who, me? No way. Why, I've been here all here's to merry sunshine and pink roses and weekly blog posts, tra la. Oh, and wine. California grown, of course. Cheers.