Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas Vacation Lingers On

I went early this morning, as is my wont, for a hike on the snowshoe trails at Jay Peak. For the first time ever, a Jaykie (someone on the payroll) stopped me before I got started and asked me to walk on the sides of the trail. Of course, I wouldn't walk in the set x-country ski tracks... Not sure what this was about except that I felt like this kid wanted me to have a trail pass. In my feeble defense, I had asked about one a few weeks ago, before a previous hike, and the ski desk people said "nevermind". Of course, that was a few weeks ago and maybe now they want their coin. The trail, as you will see, has been groomed and I guess they are really trying to get their nordic business going. It was clear that they are getting more traffic. Not good for me but I guess that's not something that worries the management. I feel now for the first time like I stole my walk this morning.

Oh dear. And it was a Sunday.

The Woolfoot family has been home for most of the last week and it's getting a little tedious. I was going to head down to the fabulous Capital District of New York (of which I am a native) but the weather has been so crumby the last the few weeks that I haven't wanted to risk the drive. Kids and I did go to Montreal last week for an overnight. We were there on Boxing Day and joined every person in the province of Quebec on St. Catherine St. Whoo.

I have left a few loose ends on some old postings that I really must go back and write about. Before I do that, however, here's another "note to self": do an essay called, "I Really Don't Want to See You" about how we have all these old friends and family members that we talk to or touch base with periodically but how we really don't have the desire to actually see. them. I am mentally captioning the big picture above (that I took today), "Old Friends." I took off my gloves and put them on my poles to take the picture of the trees. Then, I thought, I like th gloves on the poles too. So, gentle reader, here is some of my art for you.

Happy 2008.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dictation from Kid 2

Last night after my daughter read me story that she had worked on all day, my son, who is six, wanted to write one too. I offered to transcribe. Here is his story:

The Boat of Destruction

Chapter 1

There were two parents and two kids too. One of the parents said “come on we’re going to be late for theboat ride!” “But that boat is very dangerous” “oh don’t be silly honey” “but that boat is one thousand years old.” The Dad was talking to the son and he said “Sonny, we’re going to go on the very old boat.” That boat is one thousand years old. Those boats were very very weak. On the day that they were on the boat, when the boat started to go they heard a jingling. And the whistle sounded like that. When they were on the boat started to crack. The next thing they know, both of the boats, the boy was in front and the girls were way behind, what happened was the boat started to sink. Everyone was screaming. Only four people survived. They got to Idaho and there was a very very older boat that never ran because it already sank. The boat broke in two. When the boat sank that night, next thing they know, the next ship they were on, the hoat sounded like this, the horn, that very night there was very stormy weather. There was only one way out. The life boat. There was only one and the captain was gone. And then they rowed away and saw land. And the same boat they were in was picked up and was very good. Finally everyone died even the father. The ghost returned, next thing they know, they came back to life and saw a very old boat that was so old it couldn’t float and the whistle sounded like this, as fresh as air. They had bad steering problems. Every inch they go they sink, but they got it fixed up then the whistle sounded like this.

To be continued

If anyone is interested in optioning the movie rights, let me know.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

This Morning at the Last House; The Golden Compass

Snow is in the forecast today and lots of it. At 6:22 AM, as I write, it is still dark, but peering up at the streetlight(one benefit of being the last house in the village is that we are also at the end of the last street and have a village-supplied light 50 feet from the front door); looking at the streetlight I see only a fine, confectioner's sugar snow falling lightly. The Weather Channel and the local forecasters have practically announced the Apocalypse: SNOW! WIND! and then MORE SNOW !and MORE WIND! Hmm. We'll see. I think the fizzle rate on these forecasts is about 50 percent. Nevertheless, the Doomsayers have the Kids and I more or less counting on a snow day for tomorrow. Also, I have been preparing Kid 2 for days for the fact that we may not be able to get to the party to build gingerbread houses at the home of his little best friend in Hyde Park (30 miles distant at least) that is scheduled for this PM. I am going to need blizzard conditions to persuade him that attendance is a bad idea.

Woolfoot Consumer News and Reviews Continued

I don't think I wrote here about my experience a few months back with Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials; The Golden Compass etc. After I got my new laptop this summer, from which I am now addressing you, I signed up for and started looking for good children's literature. I was directed repeatedly to Pullman's series so I took a chance and downloaded the audio version of TGC. Well, if you've been reading here, you know my enthusiasms can be a little extreme from time to time. I was ready to worship at the altar of Philip Pullman. I still am, metaphorically, anyway. The audio version of that book was absolutely the single best production of an audio book I have ever heard. The book is brilliant; Pullman reads it himself and there is a cast of wonderful actors playing the parts. I could not stop listening. I jumped on audible and wrote a review praising the book to the sky. I would do it again. Hooked as I was, I had to hear the rest of the trilogy. I liked and admired The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass but I didn't think they were really nearly as good as The Golden Compass.
Having established us in this wonderful world in his first book, the center could not hold. The world of TGC had some rules; those all seemed to disappear by the time we got to the end. Those rules are important. I am a great admirer of Hayao Miyazaki. There's a scene in Spirited Away (my favorite movie of all time) where the boy hero must smuggle his new friend, the heroine, into the magical bathhouse where he works and where she must go. He tells her that she has to hold her breath as they cross the bridge into this bathhouse. If she takes a breath, the crowd of magical creatures on the bridge will be able to see her and there will be big trouble.

Miyazai talked about that scene in an interview I heard. He said how it was important for children to have such rules in their stories. He had made this particular one up himself - it wasn't based on any folk tale or anything (although we feel that it could have been, because we all know these rules and expect them in our fairy tales). Of course, in the film, the girl is startled into a deep intake of breath (a talking frog in a little bathrobe jumps into the face of her friend to ask where he has been and she gasps). The girl is revealed and only quick thinking and action by her friend (who puts a hex on the frog) saves them.

Well, Pullman seems to give up on any parameters by the time he gets to The Amber Spyglass. Anything can happen; Angels make themselves manifest and talk with people; they have some powers and not others but we don't know where those begin and end; the subtle knife cuts doors between worlds and this can mean almost anything at any time. The big Cataclysmic Showdown at the end of the third book seems to me a chaotic muddle. As for the religious debates that are raging about all this now, Pullman is an artist and entitled to his opinions. I think the trilogy is clearly unfriendly to organized religion. I am not sympathetic to that point of view, but I Pullman is an artist and I respect his vision. Also my religious philosophy is summed up by John Milton (who is quoted by Pullman and is the author of the phrase "His Dark Materials"). "God needs not man's work or his own gifts. His state is Kingly." In short, God has nothing to fear from Philip Pullman.
. The opposite is not true - but Pullman has a gift. Using that gift, according to his lights, can't be a wrong thing - and consider the wonderful thing he has made.
In related news, I learned in my early morning web surfing, only moments ago, that Kate Bush has contributed a song to the soundtrack of the new Golden Compass Movie. (If I weren't worried about morphing into a female variant of Comic Book Guy, and about the Wiccan-lonely-hearts types who seem to comprise her organized admirers, I'd probably start a fan club for Kate Bush too). Within 10 minutes I had downloaded the whole soundtrack from iTunes. In a slimy corporate move, iTunes wouldn't let you buy the the Kate Bush single unless you buy the whole album. The whole raison d'etre of iTunes is to prevent having to buy whole albums to get one song. Still, I listened a little to the other tracks and could tell I would like it so, I shelled out the coin. I am listening even now. Next time I get back I'll let you know what I think.
Kid 1 has come down and has been waiting patiently for her Cheerios, and to use the computer. And here's kid 2 (he had a dream that he would be a really good knitter...) Bye for now.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Semi Snow Day - A Lady of Leisure?

Heavy wet snow fell last night. I declared my own two-hour school delay this morning. This meant, in addition to a somewhat safer drive to Morrisville, I had a couple of extra hours to spend doing the bare maintenance required to keep this show on the road and preparing some Christmas presents for relatives. How can packing boxes and loading up garbage for the dump take so much time?

The delay had the added advantage of allowing me a day in Stowe without having to kill too much time doing nothing in particular. I went to the gym (the Swimming Hole, it out - me and a few other oldish fat broads and "Le Tout Stowe") and then had lunch with another mom from school. We got talking when I heard her English accent and told her my plan for my Big Trip in the Spring. So, now I am a lady who goes to the gym and to lunch. (Also to the gas station, grocery store - twice - the post office, the bank and the library).Who'd have thunk it?

I was happy to come home and find that my Kate Bush "Kick Inside" CD has arrived. I haven't heard it all the way through since about 1985 and I am enjoying the title song as I blog.

A few pictures of the kids taken this snowy weekend round out this day's entry. Holiday greetings to anyone out there. pent

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Sunday Morning On the Snowy Border: Thoughts on Blossom Dearie

Big snow coming. Only December 2 and already we're under siege. This year it matters more because of all the driving we're doing. Sigh.
The kids are playing Monopoly with Woolfoot Husband and I'm transferring a few long-lost favorite CDs to iTunes. (Earlier this morning I went in search of our Charlie Brown Christmas CD - I found it and a few others as well).

As I write I am listening to my Blossom Dearie CD that I must have bought at least 10 years ago. I like, even love, many jazz singers: Sarah Vaughn, Etta James, Helen Merrill, Nina Simone (particularly her lately) and Blossom Dearie, She's hardly a household name but listening to this again reminds me how great she is: a cool, jazzy white girl who wore glasses and sang with Annie Ross in Paris nightclubs in 1952. How cool is that? What must life there have been like then? According to the liner notes, she returned to New York in 1956 and appeared at such clubs as "Chantilly" and the "Show Spot." One can just imagine what that life was like as well.

I thought I had discovered Ms. Dearie (her name is real, by the way. Her dad was Scottish and Dearie is a common Scots surname - he also picked her first name) in the early 90s. A couple of years ago I bought my kids the Schoolhouse Rock video (also fabulous) and recognized her voice stratightaway in the songs about Number 8 and adjectives - songs which I rememberd fondly from childhood and could sing by heart before I was 10.

So much for this morning's art review. In other news, recently a giant (25 at least) flock of turkeys has been clambering over the lawn and fields here at the last house. Wild turkeys appear to be taking over Vermont. They seem as common as crows lately. Here's a picture of them fleeing when I opened my front door on Thursday this week.
Maybe we'll try to get ahead of the snow and get a Christmas tree today so that if we're stuck home tomorrow we'll have something to occupy our time.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

When Was the Last Time a Helicopter Landed at Your House?

If someone happens to ask me that at work tomorrow - admitedly it would be a first - I can answer, "yesterday."

The demise of the friendly border between the US and Canada is something that has been on my mind in a small way for the last several months. The Canadian-US border runs through our property. The former owners, looking to expand the farm back in the 1940s, bought a field and some woods in Canada. No one thought twice about that kind of thing around here in the old days. There are even houses that are built with the border running through them. One of my favorite Vermont villages, Derby Line, is essentially cut in two by the border. The honor system required reporting at the crossing point and cameras viewed the side streets. When we bought the place it we thought of the cross-border field as a fun sort of curiousity. No one ever hassled us or the previous owner.

Well, now that seems to have changed. The helicopter landed on the US side of our Canadian field when it spied some hunters, locals who had been given permission by my husband to hunt on our property, and who had apparently crossed into Canada. They are the good guys around here and its a shame that a helicopter descended to hassle them. I gather that their troubles may be with Canadian Fish & Game but the Border Patrol clearly was laying down the law. What it means for continuing the 60 years tradition of farming in that field remains to be seen. I think that thanks to Osama Bin Laden and a certain hysteria in Washington, all of us who have built our social infrastructure on a friendly border are in serious trouble. Here at the Last House we have always given the border patrol carte blanche over our property. Two agents showed up at our door last weekend with a clipboard and a list of questions about our property. My husband gave them permission to come any time and to put in sensors on our land. He likes their presence as a way to keep off trespassers - but it's not trespassers that I am worried about. How could he say no, however, even if he didn't like the idea? I have worked with cops and I it doesn't do any good to fail to cooperate. Of course, we don't want drug dealers or terrorists on our land but does keeping them off mean we can't use it either? The helicopter wasn't black but it portends no good...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Romantic England

Today, instead of cleaning the bathroom and recaulking the tub, the two things I promised myself I would do on this day off prior to company arriving tomorrow for Thanksgiving, I spent a couple of hours getting our old scanner and older desktop computer back into action. The CD burner we have is a relic from the late 90s. The good news for you, gentle reader, is that all this effort paid off and I managed to scan some great postcards that I have recently collected.

As my close friends know (but not my little girl nor all the friends I intend to visit) I am planning, at last, a trip to England in the spring with my 10-year-old daughter (the official announcement comes at Christmas). As for these postcards, about two weeks ago I discovered an antique store - my new favorite- I'm keeping its location secret for now, where the proprietor had PILES of stuff I loved. Including boxes of these beautiful postcards. I never thought much about how great these things could be but now I am smitten. Here, for your viewing pleasure, are the scans of the postcards I now won't have to buy when we finally make it across the pond.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Cheapskate and her ipod, or A Response to "Consider the Lobster"

In my ongoing search for free content for my iPod, I downloaded from last week a free essay called "Consider the Lobster" by David Foster Wallace. I had never heard of David Foster Wallace but Audible assured me that he was Someone Special and, as an essayist myself, (albeit not endorsed by or any other publisher other than, which is famously not very selective), I made a grab for it. Yesterday being Tuesday, I had my hour in the morning for a walk on the Stowe Rec Path (about which see previous posts). It was a rainy, cool-verging-on-cold November morning. The last few dead leaves were being shaken from the trees by a steady breeze, not quite a wind, and David Foster Wallace (hereinafter "DFW")was on my ipod and in my walking plans.

It's not like I am exactly sorry I listened to it, because it gave me food for thought resulting in this insomniac essay. But it's not like I actually liked it either. Friends, it was grim. Worse, it was irritating. DFW revealed himself within a paragraph (he read the essay himself) to be a classic pointy-headed intellectual. I was going to call him humorless, but unfunny is more accurate. Inside of the first five minutes, I started wishing that the writers of The Simpsons would get him. I remembered a Simpsons episode where Springfield was taken over by all the smart people, Professor Frink, Dr. Hibbard, Lisa, Martin, and things went to hell in a handbasket. Snob that I am, I am also impatient with the intellectual class and glad that most people aren't paying much attention to them. Mayor Quimby is preferable as a leader. God save the polity from DFW and his ilk.

I do have to hand it to DFW, however, for actually forcing the reader to consider the lobster in "Consider the Lobster." If this was his objective, he met it. Listening to this essay was the literary equivalent having a living lobster thrust to within about three inches of your face and twisting it there for a full 50 minutes with its little claws scrabbling at your cheeks and its larger claws, cruelly (it is suggested) banded or pinned, giving you a slap or two. The essay was, apparently written for Gourmet Magazine. I wonder what the editors thought when the product they commissioned arrived in their offices? They could not have found it a joy and rapture unforeseen, indictment of lobster eating and the Maine Lobster Festival that it is, at bottom. I expect it touched off an editorial argument, with the high-brows playing the "art" card and winning the day. Maybe the editors asked for a little rewrite. At the end DFW talks about how he's not intending to "bait" anyone who reads Gourmet and eats lobsters, cows, lambs, chickens etc. He just wants to ask if they have thought about the moral position they are in by eating these things. Yikes.

As noted, DFW is reporting, sort of, on the Maine Lobster Festival. Despite the image the words "Maine Lobster Festival" may conjure for you, images, of a happy sunny day near the ocean in summer, DFW found it, are you sitting down, a tacky and dislikable jumped-up county fair sort of affair. The MLF features a dull parade with home-made floats (presumably a contrast to the factory made floats of Macy's Parades and the Rose Bowl?) and a guy in a bad pirate costume saying "argh" to bystanders; people wearing hats with lobster claws on springs. Porta potties. Lines. Tourists. He includes himself in this last, loathsome category. In one memorable phrase says that he, like other tourists, ruins nice places by going there becoming an "insect on a dead thing." Here's a newsflash: crowds of people eating lobster, or anything else, as cheaply as possible accompanied by gimcrack entertainments and accommodated by poor sanitation facilities is not going to be pretty. They will be an easy target for someone with a large vocabulary. What mass event, other than church, or maybe some concerts, ever allows a crowd to come off well? Picking on the details is a way for DFW to show himself superior to it all. Yawn.

Come back soon. I have to get to bed now or I'll never be up in three hours to get the kids to school. In the meantime, "Annie, Get Your iPod!" here's a link to the audiobook under discussion.

Monday, November 12, 2007

This Weekend at the Top of Vermont

Was a quiet one. When I got up on Saturday morning to take my usual stroll on the mountain (Jay Peak of course) I arrived to find the golf course and everything else up there covered in snow! It was cold too. Luckily, I was dressed for it and had my hiking poles (it was slippery too). I wound up walking on the roads by the condos, cutting across one ski trail to get back to the main road to the resort. I was surprised to see that a few other people had already been out that morning on a route similar to mine (footprints...)

The condos there are really nice - it must be admitted. In the snow they have a Christmas jollity, with their red doors and light green color. The one bad thing about walking near dwellings, instead of on the trails, is the problem of encountering condo owners. I feel like they regard me suspicously. Also, at least one of them has a dog, whom I have nicknamed Cujo. I didn't hear him barking the instant I got within 500 yards of his condo so I thought I was in the clear on Saturday. Then (at 8 AM) a jeep pulled onto the road where I was walking. A few moments later Cujo was barking his head off and charging toward me. I stopped moving altogether (years ago a loose dog came after me on my bike and I tried to get away and wound up in the emergency room). Luckily, his owner, despite having lost control of him the moment she opened her car door, stood calling for him and, after he skidded to a stop in front of me, he turned around and went back to her. She wished me a nice day, and sounded sincere.

I noticed a Vermont plate on that jeep. Very unusual for a Vermonter to have a second home up here. I would love to have one of those condos myself.

Woolfoot Kid 2 this weekend discovered the joys of chopping vegetables for salads. He spent a couple of hours on both days of the weekend reducing cherry tomtoes and a few bits of onion to mouse bite sizes. Then we made a salad. He wanted me to take a picture and I was happy to do it, of course.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Day At Home

Well. Mostly at home. I and the kids hit the golf course (just the golf cart path) early. It was cold and beautiful. Lots of son in the last house today. As it's hunting season (and the gas station owner and his son were hunting here all weekend) we had to be careful about when we went out on our own place (not during the early morning or evening). We did walk down to the river and I kept my camera with me.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Halloween on the Border Hops - Who Knew?

For the first time in all our years in the last house we did our trick or treating in the little village of North Troy - in which we live. If it has a claim to fame, other than sitting on the Canadian border and being a Port of Entry, it is as as rough sort of workingman's town. I suppose that's better than the neighboring town of Richford, over the mountain. A client of mine once told me that some of his Canadian friends think of Richford as the Tiajuana of Vermont. Funny, but kinda true.
Wanting to avoid gangs of vandals and cretins that I sometimes believe dominate the local population, we usually go somewhere else for trick or treat. This proved impractical this year so our kids and some of their friends in the villageall went out last night for the North Troy Halloween experience.
The local gas station/restaurant/convenience store had a way-station of coffee, donuts, cider and play doh and treats for the kids (the proprieters were dressed as Robin Hood and Maid Marion). The firemen were giving out glowing safety bracelets and candy and also manning all the streets to serve as crossing guards. The place was literally jumping. I have never seen so much activity in this little village. A couple of gay couples located here years ago (I tip my hat - I wish they'd persuade some friends to move in) their houses are the nicest in town. The garden at one of these places was like a movie set. Queer Eye for North Troy? I guess this wouldn't be universally supported but I'm all for it.
One of the parents we went with last night told me that lots of VT towns around here have banned trick or treating and ours, which is compact and has a (barely) surviving center is one of the few places to go so lots of people come from neighboring towns. People were mostly friendly and well behaved. It had a Norman Rockwell quality for the most part. A nice surprise. Happy Halloween.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Few Flakes Today

What interesting thing is this? Nothing was in there actually but I have a thing for tree roots and I asked Kid 2 to check it out. Read below for more exciting news !

It's true. Woolfoot Kid 2 and I went out for a walk at about 8 AM on the just-now-closed-for-the-season Jay Peak Golf Course. You would think with such a huge investment (they carved that course out of the woods in the last two or three years at a cost of millions) that they would be playing golf on it til the last possible second. In fact, that is probably just what was done because the top of the mountain, though shrouded by a cloud this morning, showed white with a little frost or snow. And the wind. If people around here said "boy howdy" about the weather, they would be saying that today.
Game little spirit that he is, my little boy and tromped with me down the golf cart path to the raging Jay Brook. It poured yesterday all day (the temparature plummeted overnight, yesterday was mild, thank goodness or we would have had a real snowstorm on our hands with that much rain). So, a quiet day at home with some of the kids' friends visiting and a little kite flying in the afternoon.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Woolfoot Kid 2's Vision

Here's a picture my six-year-old took tonight of his money. The composition is all his. It has a certain something...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Today's Little Events

Our California-beautiful weather continues. Two weekends in a row of spectacular Northern New England fall. The friends we visited last weekend over in Derby, VT returned our visit yesterday (admittedly, it rained yesterday but it was sort of nice and made everything very fresh for this morning).

I slept in (til 8 AM) and went for a walk on Jay Peak this morning. I couldn't find my camera first thing so I didn't get to take any pictures. I suppose Jay Peak subjects are getting a little wearisome anyway. Suffice it to say that even though I didn't even get to the half way point on the mountain (it is way steeper than it looks from the road when you are on foot on its sides) the scenery below was beyond words. After picking my way donw in the way of a middle aged fat woman, I stopped bythe Jay Peak craft fair that is going on today. I avoided eyecontact with most of the vendors (fleece hats, bad paintings, maple syrup, fudge, signs that say "Moose" and "I Love Skiing" - the best "art" was on offer from a sullen looking guy for Woolcott who had some beautifully worked stone pieces along with the kitcshy "Believe" and "My Garden" inscribed stones). I bought a jar of hot pickles from a lady from Alburgh who has a very impressive collection of canned goods for sale. I bought something from her last year as well - can't think what. Corn relish maybe?
Robertson Davies, a famous Canadian writer whose book Fifth Business we had to read for Can. Lit. long ago (a book I much admired and still think of often), wrote an essay once suggesting that diarists should record the simple facts of every day living. Davies advised that these are the things that are of the most interest to future generations. How much things cost; a regular day at home or at work, this is what the future wants to know. So, in that spirit I'll record that this jar of Vermont grown and canned pickles cost $7. Not unfair. A supermarket jar probably would cost $2 but it wouldn't have been handed over the counter to me by the lady who grew and and canned the stuff at a farm about an hour and 15 minutes from here. There's this growing movement, esp. in Vermont, for people to eat stuff that comes from close to home. When the organic farmer who rents our land first talked to me about that it seemed like the usual hippy claptrap. I find my sympathy for the idea growing. I'd like to get a few farm animals for our own little family next spring, and a bee hive. Note to self..
Here are a couple of pictures to provide evidence of the beauty that has been ours here on the Quebec/Vermont border: the first one is by my friend, Brenda, that she took last week while we were out for a walk with our kids near her place and one I took not half an hour ago in the woods here at the last house.

Friday, September 21, 2007

My Church Ladies and Me

By descent, I am a plain vanilla low-church Protestant. My mother’s parents, the Starks, were observant in the way of their generation – Methodist church every Sunday, never any gambling or drinking - I remember Grandma telling me that it was wrong to send back the Publisher's Clearinghouse come-ons because that was "a lotttery". The Stark's social life revolved mostly around the church men’s service groups and women’s service groups. My Father’s parents, the Schencks, had a similar heritage; my great-great-grandfather had even been a famous United Brethren preacher back in their home state of Indiana. My paternal grandmother told me once that she remembered one kid in town named “Schenck” Johnson, poor kid. But Dad’s parents didn’t have that religious instinct and church wasn’t part of the picture for him and his 11 brothers and sisters growing up on their upstate New York dairy farm. The keeper of the religious flame, and the one who actually passed something of it on down, yay, even unto this generation, was my Mother’s Mother, née Blanche Love in Livingston Manor, New York in 1904.

Grandma and her ilk, children of the Depression and Prohibition, were, no doubt, one reason for the unspeakably prissy Methodist practice of serving of grape juice at communion. Once, when my brother was a teenager Grandma pinned him into a discussion about alcohol. She was not a forceful person, or a very bright one, but she was genuinely worried about her grandchildren falling by the wayside and winding up in Hell. She was in her 80s by then and it was my brother’s teenaged mistake to engage her instead of just agreeing with whatever she said (she took these things hard). My brother pointed out that Jesus drank wine. Months later she had prepared her rejoinder: nowhere did it say in the Bible that the wine was fermented. Touché, Grandma.

In their younger days, she and Grandpa had been members of that uber-Protestant organization, the Free and Accepted Masons; (Grandma was in the sister organization, Order of the Eastern Star). I must have shocked her myself in my middle school years when I told her I was toying with the romantic notion of becoming a Catholic. I don’t recall that she registered any shock. I do recall at some point along the way her telling how they once had a Catholic teacher at the school she attended as a child: “On her first day there, she opened the stove and threw the Bible right in!”

This was a non-sequitur to me at the time and I can’t remember if she explained then or I learned later that Catholics were not supposed to read the Bible, being as their priests had the task of interpreting everything for them. Treaty of Westphalia or no, The Thirty Years War smoldered on in Grandma’s little world. Before she finally slipped into Alzheimer’s oblivion, however, she had learned sufficient ecumenical tolerance to boast to me once that she now had a Catholic girl cut her hair.

But this is the worst of her faith; the bath water. It is the mistake of atheists and agnostics everywhere that they focus on this bilge and miss the baby. In their old age, she and Grandpa, (who had been raised as a Presbyterian but had gone Methodist under his wife’s influence), used to pray together every day in the morning, holding hands by the dining room window. I saw them at this once or twice and thinking of it now brings tears to my eyes. They were always trying to be good. They believed. And if it is true that “by their fruits ye shall know them” (and I think it is true) they were good people who, by and large, did good things.

It was Grandma Stark then, who insured that my own mother and her sisters grew up going to the Methodist church. Mom was a product of Methodist Youth Group, Skye Farm summer camp (an Adirondack camp known to every Methodist church-goer in the state of New York) what have you. Mom’s general church heritage and religious literacy was useful to her many sisters-in-law as they came of age and needed ministers and churches for their own weddings.

Mom, then, was the driving force behind our growing up in the Methodist Church in our home town of Schenectady, New York. (q.v., It was the ‘70s and we were not so methodical as our ancestors. We made it to church about once a month. We were the family that was late every spring when they changed the clocks. It being the '70s, and my parents being college-educated middle-class types, the Updikean, Me-Generation, Ice Storm family melt down eventually overtook us all. Mom and Dad separated when I was 12 (brother 10, sister 14) and we all went down the then not-so-well-worn path of middle class family dissolution and reconstitution with step parents and siblings. Still, however, despite the jolts, or maybe because of them, we went to church whenever Mom could organize us into the car into for the 11 AM service.

Fast forward to the present: in 1994 I married a lapsed Catholic (in that same Schenectady Methodist Church) with my sister remarrying a Mormon at the same time. (It was a double wedding). Grandma and Grandpa were too addled and frail by then to go but it was because of them that we stood where we stood and took those Methodist vows. As for my own kids, it was owing to Blanche that I brought them to the little Congregational Church in North Troy as babies (not newborns, we Protestants don’t have to rush) and had them both baptized. They now go to Catholic school – not because I want them to learn to be good Catholics (a religious foundation is a good beginning, and a Catholic one is OK with me) but because I want them to learn in an orderly environment among the children of people who are taking particular care with their children’s education. I have taken them to Church a few times - not nearly so often as we went - in the faith of our Fathers. They don't understand why there is any difference between Christian churches and really, neither do I.

Grandma might have been scandalized once. I hope I am right that wherever she is now she is over that.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Stowe and Other Thoughts

In my new life as a part-time wage earner I have two weekdays out of the office. Now that the kids have started school, 4o miles from home, I have been conflicted in these first weeks of school about whether I should hang around the vicinity of the school or haul back up to the Last House.

This week, for the first time, I tried hanging around in Lamoille County. As anyone who knows anything about Vermont can tell you, there are lots of nice things to see and do in Lamoille County, which includes many nice little towns including the Vermont tourist mecca, Stowe.

I spent a couple of hours in each of the last few days walking on the Stowe Recreation Path. I first tried a little hike in Weissner woods, which is a trail network through land donated to the Stowe Land Trust by a local concerned citizen. All woods are nice, but the hike did not compare favorably with my beloved Jay woods and I was worried I might get lost (the trails went in many directions). Going to those woods, and walking on the Rec Path had me comparing the two communities (Jay and Stowe). Jay is still nowhere with a ski hill (and now a golf course). Stowe is home to Mount Mansfield, Vermont's highest peak, and it has been a tourist destination for its entire history.
One telling detail, the access to Weissner Woods is easy. Parking has been provided. Trails are marked. However, the trail head emerges between two driveways - long Stowe driveways, where no house is visible. If you could see them, I have no doubt they would have been "architect designed" and be made out of whatever were the best materials available at the time of their construction. Both driveways were marked as private property, to prevent trail seekers from stumbling up the wrong path. One said, "Private Property - Turn Back".
It has not come to this in Jay. It is still tiny and mostly wild. The few inhabitants are natives or sports extremists who want cheap outdoor thrills.

In the Rec Path, the Stowe's essence is distilled. It is beautiful. It curves through woods and cornfieds (hugging Route 108, the Mountain Road and the Stowe Brook). Sculptures (always contemporary) appear here and there. Beds of flowers, well-maintained, pop up around random corners. Iron bridges with wooden planked decks cross and recross the Brook. Access, again , is easy, with parking areas (each with a port-a-potty behind a lattice) are well-marked. Naturally, there are benches and picnic tables and recycling and trash bins. There are also rules, posted at every entrance. The rules are all perfectly reasonable, of course, but effect is rather Swiss. Stowe is a bourgeois town - the most bougy town in the State maybe. The property taxes are huge to support the big police and fire departments. The bougeoisie have their charms. I love them. I am them. But, well, I understand better why the cop I used to work with when I was a deputy State's Attorney in Lamoille County a few years back couldn't stand the place or its typical resident.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Weekend in Montreal

Woolfoot Husband took off to Milwaukee for a class reunion. Woolfoot and Kids thus spent the weekend in the Montreal accommodation. Saturday evening we went up Parc Ave to St. Viateur for dinner at Arahova - my old Montreal favorite. I thought it would be good and interesting for the kids to see the ultra Orthodox Jews that live up there. The chance to eat Greek food while observing the street life of the neighborhood is not something they get at the Last House. Then across the street to St. Viateur Bagel. We even got a great parking spot, so that little expedition was highly successful. We had fun Sunday bookshopping at Indigo. Northern Vermont does not have bookshop cafes populated by the sort of shoppers one encounters there. Sunday morning seems to bring out silver-haired women with big glasses and tight ponytails... We then saw, Mr. Bean's Holiday, at the fabulous Famous Players movie theater. It was terribly overpriced (no matinee pricing to my dismay) and the tickets set us back about 30 bucks for me and the two kids. The good news is that we all liked the movie, despite the bad reviews.
The city was looking great. We also all liked this great display of photographs of life in Montreal now up on the sidewalk on McGill College Ave. We even went to the McCord Museum (from whence the photos came) to see if they had any prints for sale. We'll go back to properly tour the Museum - a minature Canadian Smithsonian. I haven't been through it in years and the gift shop was very promising. It's free Saturday mornings so that will be the plan
We saw this white Rolls Royce about 4 times on Saturday. We also saw the wedding party with which it was associated (must've been married in Birks Chapel at McGill). The bride and groom and the wedding party and photographers etc. were getting pictures taken on campus. It felt like good luck to keep encountering them. They looked so happy.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Video Blogging

Here's a little video I created with my handy new (used) laptop a few weeks ago. No prizewinner but it was fun for me to assemble.

Friday, August 31, 2007

"Life Water"

It's lunchtime and I'm at work. I went down to the cafeteria here and bought a nice, cheap lunch. I decided the liquid for washing down my chili and chips today would be Sobe "Life Water" which projected a certain style to me through the glass doors on the cooler.

Does anybody out there remember Tang or, even more obscure, "Start." My orange/tangerine "Life Water" tastes to me like the nutrasweet version of those. (I recall from early childhood that one of those was actually eventually banned for some reason).

I'll let you know if the antioxidants and B vitamins make any difference in my afternoon.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Summer into Fall

Another beautiful day at the top of Vermont. This new school regime means I get to see a lot of it. The Kids only like me to chauffer, so though Woolfoot Husband has been home all day, mostly doing nothing, I promised to do all the ferrying. It's time to go, but here are a few pictures of the kids in their snappy uniforms and another in my unending snaps - and a new feature, some video! (admittedly on the dull side) -of the Jay woods. (I went walking there after drop-off this morning. A moose (unseen but definitely heard) snorted at me. I almost ran out of the woods... Time to go get the kids. It could be worse.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

School Again

This, obviously, is not the school where Woolfoot Kids 1&2 are now attending. It's the Stowe Rec Path, where I was walking at 8:30 this morning after I dropped off Kid 1 & 2 at their new school. What does their new school mean to me? At least one morning a week when I have an hour and a half from drop off to appearing at work for my four-hour-day. That's a good part to this new arrangement. There are other good parts, like band for Kid 1, and French and fencing. The uniforms make them look cute and special, which they are.

The bad part is that the school is 50 minutes from the last house. Getting everyone out and there on time is proving a challenge. It is a HAUL. I am not sure I'm going to be able to adjust to it. Of course, it's not exactly like having to endure the Gulag Archipelago or the Killing Fields. I guess (for once) I'll try not to complain. I hope the neighbor who also hauls her kids there will start expressing a more immediate interest in car pooling - slightly evasive on this point.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Walking with the Kids

Instead of going to court today (we settled the matter yesterday) I was able to go hiking with the kids. Here are some pictures. (I hope)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Stupidity of Giants

I was reading "Jack the Giant Killer" to my son (who is six) last night. The version comes from a book from the 1920s called Once Upon a Time (q.v.). The cover suggests the wonders inside. The tales were written, rather "rewritten" since they are all ancient classics, by Katherine Lee Bates (most famous for writing the words to "God Bless America"). The illustrations are by the great and gifted Margaret Evans Price. My mother had bought a copy at a garage sale when we were kids. As adults, my sister and I sought out copies of our own (the garage sale copy not having survived our childhood). Bates does a great job with the writing, which flows and is informed by a poet's sensibility. Some of the language is too archaic for my kids so I update it improvisationally. Not all the stories are popular with them but all of us like "Jack the Giant Killer." It includes several beheadings, a hanging, one inadvertent suicide and death by pick axe (all for giants, of course).

Reading it again yesterday, I was struck by how dense these giants are. Giant number one, Cormoran, is killed when he is lured into a pit by Jack. After he tumbles into the pit, Jack strikes him "a terrible blow on that empty skull" with a pick axe. Stupid. The next Giant, Thunderdale, catches Jack asleep in the woods. (I guess Jack, despite his reputation for cleverness, can also be charged with some stupidity. When he is found asleep in the woods by Thundredale, Jack is wearing the belt given to him by the grateful Cornish people that identifies him as, "the valiant Cornishman who slew the giant Cormoran." Not a good idea to where such a label when you're snoozing in giant country). Anyway, Giant number two picks Jack up and puts him in his pocket. When he gets back to his castle (despite being complete clamwits the Giants are always very rich) he sticks Jack in a high-up room. Thunderdale then goes off to get a Giant friend to come for dinner (Jack is on the menu). Jack can't find a way out of this room, but he does find a coil of rope. Thunderdale has obligingly announced his plans, allowing Jack to work up a plan. Jack ties two slip knot nooses into the rope, which he drops over the heads of the two giants when they walk under the window where he has been imprisoned. Both are strangled in two minutes. Stupid times two.

The next giant is stupidest of them all. This is the two-headed Welsh giant. Bates's illustration depicts this one as a greasy open-mouth breather. Jack, a tired traveler, knocks on his castle door, not knowing a giant lives there. The Giant invites Jack in for dinner. His motives, as one may guess, are not pure. Jack, however, having no other choice and coveting some marvelous possessions of this Giant, stays the night. While he's trying to get to sleep, however, Jack hears the Giant muttering his plans to prevent Jack from seeing "the morning light because he will "dash his brains out quite."

These Giants need a seminar or a handbook or something. Rule number one: Don't mutter your plans to kill a victim while he sleeps where he can hear you. This, of course, is in the vein of the "Fee Fi Fo Fum" mistake of the stupid giant in "Jack and the Beanstalk". This is the same mistake made by every villain in James Bond stories. There was a fabulous Saturday Night Live skit once which brought all the Bond villains together to discuss their problems. They worked out that the thing they should do when they next capture Bond is to kill him. Don't tell him your plan then set him up in some torture chamber set on auto-kill. Just shoot him. Maybe Ian Fleming had these fairy tale giants in mind while he was writing Goldfinger etc.

Coming back to Jack, having been supplied this bit of intelligence regarding the two-headed giant's pans, Jack the Giant Killer slips out of bed and puts a Jack-sized log in his place. The Giant comes in with his club and smashes the log.

Query: Why did the Giant not notice that he was beating on a log? Wouldn't a log struck with a club sound different than a boy? (Sorry for that image but one can't help wondering).

Query: Why did the Giant go whistling out of the room that night after his terrible deed instead of looking to see what he had done to Jack?

These were stupid, fatal mistakes. Jack wakes up the next morning and heads down to breakfast, which is a washtub-size helping of hasty pudding. The Giant plays it cool. Jack does too. He claims to have slept well except for when a rat scurried over him and slapped him with his tail a few times. The Giant is flummoxed but they eat together. Jack, however, only scoops the pudding into a leather bag under his jacket. And then, he famously challenges the Giant to a challenge. Jack can cut himself open and let out his breakfast without doing himself any harm. Can the Giant do the same? You guessed the ending. The most colossal act of stupidity in English literature - an act befitting a stupid Giant.

This Giant was known to possess four wonderful things, which Jack had determined to get for himself the moment he agreed to stay the night. These are a cloak of invisibility, shoes of swiftness, a cap of knowledge (which gives all the right answers to any questions) and a sword that can cut through anything. With these tools at his disposal, the last few Giant killings are pretty much a cake-walk. The Giants are still dim, but they never would have a chance even if they were Einsteins.

Of course, I never noticed any of this when my Grandma read this to me or when I read it myself as a child. Kids are credulous or willing to suspend disbelief. I couldn't help raising a few of these points to my own kids. I don't want to ruin the magic of fairy tales for them, but I also don't want them to be simps, like these Giants.

Friday, August 10, 2007

August at the Last House

Another day in the sunshine here on the Canadian Border. The Woolfoot kids spent the day with the neighborhood children who attend Bishop Marshall School in distant Morrisville, Vermont. It looks like we're headed there in the fall. Yours truly is hoping that the parents of these two nice children stand ready to take on a big chunk of the transport duties but, though friendly, the Mom has been evasive on this point. Well, what can we do but cope, and dig deep for the $10k we'll need for tuition.
Here's a fairly horrifying story that ran in the Caledonian Record yesterday about the demise of Newport's Sacred Heart School, where my children will not be attending school in the fall.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Sacred Heart Bites the Dust

Sacred Heart School in Newport, Vermont is closing. Unless you live around here (on the Vermont/Quebec Border) you probably don't care too much. Since my kids were supposed to start school there in three weeks, and since we relocated from Burlington on the strength of our belief that the school was on a good footing. When I wrote an email to a member of the board that I know six months ago and asked how things were going he told me Up Up Up. I don't blame him. I think at that moment things did look good. Plans were in the works to buy a new building. Funds were being raised. We had A Plan.

Last Sunday all us parents were called to the gym of the old school building and told enrollment had not been sufficient to hold school in the building and the lease offered by the nuns who own the building was not acceptable. A last-minute switcheroo to a local parish sunday school was proposed. We checked it out the next day. New and clean, though small. Not great, but the public school in our village is famously lousy (open mouth breathing/foot dragging all that goes with poverty in rural America). We figured it was our best bet. Then, tonight, the call. The Trustees met tonight and, I guess, they did not get enough commitment to open the school at all. So fifty families and a bunch of teachers have to figure out what to do.

The school has been around here for 100 years and the roots go deep. There are not many institutions of any size up here - no big hospital or college. I think there is going to be a lot of genuine heartbreak when the news gets out.

And yet, this disaster probably opens the door for a new private school here. I have been thinking for a long time that a country day school, with an emphasis on academics and outdoor activities, might have room to grow here. I don't think we can assemble anything in the next three weeks, but you read it here first...

If anyone has good ideas on what to do for our 4th and 1st graders, let me know!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Last House Today

A couple of weekends every year, we get perfect weather. This was one of them. A stay-at-home North Troy weekend. Twice up to the Mountain: once for a picnic with a ski group and this morning for a walk in my beloved Jay Woods. The wild flowers are unspeakably beautiful. Here are a couple of pictures from around the last house.
By the by, kids and I saw the Simpsons Movie at the Newport Waterfront Cinemas last weekend. I liked it, but it wasn't as good as the best episodes of the show. Odd thing was that the power in the theatre went off just at the moment when Mr. Burns was facing the delegation that was asking him to provide power to the town. His bony finger was poised over the two buttons - one that was labeled "Release the Hounds" and one labled "Power" (or something like that). Then, the movie went off and we all sat there wondering if it was part of the movie. It would have been sort of brilliant if it had been. Then the manager came in and told us there had been a power failure.
Kids gave it two thumbs up.