Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Bright Saturday - Close to Home

The sun came out mid-morning and it was a welcome sight after a stormy Friday (yesterday). Woolfoot Kid 1 and I had a white-knuckle bad drive home from school. (She had a BAD day because of something mean the gym teacher said and spent the whole trip crying with her face to the window. I could have throttled that gym teacher). Kid 2 had stayed home with Daddy since he spent the small hours throwing up. So, Friday was not good, but today was better. We went to Newport for Kid 1's piano lesson this noon time. From there to the Newport Library, the Goodrich Memorial Library, which may be the most beautiful public library of my acquaintance. See the pictures of the kids reading and browsing in its restored Victorian splendor. There was a young teenage girl who was so helpful - glasses and obviously just at the end of a growth spurt - it gave me faith in the cultural future of the Back-of-Beyond. Then we crossed the street to Gardner Park and the kids did some ice skating on the great rink there (free, too, and well managed by the local parks and rec dep't). Kid 1 was happier at the end of the day than she had been at the beginning.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Gladys Peto Follow Up

I recently connected with a fellow blogger who has posted a bunch of great pictures by Gladys Peto (about whom you may also read here in my archives). Juliet has a beautiful blog with wonderful pictures of Mersea Island, England and lots of interesting reading, q.v..

I just left her a comment telling her that since my long ago last Peto posting, I have gotten a little new information. I also had a couple of Gladys Peto images that I hadn't previously posted. These are above. The bottom, (bad) picture is the one that started me learning about and collecting Gladys Peto. I think it captures something magic about childhood: a fleeting feeling we would get from time to time that really anything was possible - no laws of physics. I bought it at a Quebec antique store about 10 years ago. I was certain that its creator must have been "someone" given the charm of the picture. Of course, I was right! The little drawing is a book plate I bought some years ago on Ebay. I love it and it's framed on the wall in my house now. The color picture is an illustration from one of her children's stories - something almost a little spooky there...

I also wanted to make available to anyone who is interested the text of a letter GEP wrote to Sir Cecil Beaton back in 1974. How did I get this? I am glad you asked. A few months ago I wrote to the library at St. John's College, Cambridge where they have the archive of Beaton's papers. This letter was in the catalog. A College Librarian was kind enough to send me a copy. It's dated April 10, 1974 at Lake Limawady (sp?) County Derry, Northern Ireland.

To Sir Cecil Beaton

I have just read with great pleasure the article 'Fifty Years of Focus by a Master' in the Daily Mail (Apr. 9)

So I took from the shelves your book The Glass of Fashion (which we much cherish) and read it again. On page 31 there is a bit about me and my balloons [there is a shaky drawing of the trademark Peto "bubbles" in the text here] and I wondered if anyone ever says "What ever happened to Gladys Peto?" Well, I went on drawing balloons till 1946 when my husband retired from the army and I retired from commercial art in favor of gardening and landscape painting in water colour.

In 1970 I had a stroke. My right hand is still paralysed. I draw (and write) with my left hand and send you a little drawing. [There is a drawing of a bunch of flowers on one page on the letter]. I need hardly say how much we admire your photographs and the charming illustrations to the Glass of Fashion.

Yrs sincerely,
G.E. Emmerson
Gladys Peto

She would have been 84 years old when she wrote this. Three years later she was gone for good. Isn't this a poignant, almost heartbreaking letter? The early 70s were not the era for her kind of art, and her posture here (forgotten old woman seeking some attention from the great man who once mentioned here in a book) is almost pitiable. That isn't to say that it is undignified - I think it has great dignity; also intelligence and good manners - just sad that she had to wonder near the end if anyone in the beau monde remembered her. I also find it noteworthy that Cecil Beaton kept it - and miraculous that more than 30 years later we all have access to it. I have thought more than once that if there is a heaven, like the one in the common imagination, perhaps GEP is up there and having some subtle influence on this rediscovery made possible mostly by the internet.

Around the time I got this letter I got a copy of a biography of Cecil Beaton. It was quite interesting, although I didn't finish it, I'll admit. One thing that stuck with me, given my plans to visit England, were the many descriptions of his home, Ashcombe. He inhabited it as a renter for years and made it very beautiful. I thought I might be able to visit it. It took me about 10 seconds on Google to find out that I wouldn't be able to do any such thing since it is now owned by Madonna (the singer, not the Mother of God). She and her husband are, apparently, not welcoming.

I also managed to track down a copy of The Glass of Fashion at the library at the University of Vermont. I was tempted to buy a copy for myself but they are collectors items now and the first edition (1954) and a 1989 reprint are quite expensive. It was a great little book and I was surprised to find that Beaton was really a very good writer. Here are some links of interest:

Jay Woods at Sunrise Yesterday

Well, it's Monday morning and raining - I think it's raining. Might be sleeting. O Joy. I am allowing the kids to sleep in before we haul down to school. Their school hasn't closed for the day but I see that all the schools around here have declared a two hour delay, so I am declaring a two-hour delay for the family. It's also President's Day which means I have a day off of work so no particular need to rush.

Yesterday morning we had an altogther different world outside. Saturday had been cold and blue. Sunday (yesterday) promised, at least in the morning, to be blue and not so cold. I was up very early and in the woods at Jay on the snow shoe trails by 6:30 AM. It was a perfect winter morning and here are some pictures by way of proof.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Light in February

Kids and I just arrived back at the Last House after a day, or at least a long afternoon, in the Newport Metropolitan area. (That's a joke. Newport is the local shire town but it's a wee little place). The weather is clear and cold - it must be lurking at about zero. But, this time of year, we always get beautiful sunsets. Here are some pictures I ran out and took a few minutes ago so you can see what I mean.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Domestic Pleasures

I know I owe you faithful readers a completion of my last post before moving onto another one, but I wanted to quickly record a few thoughts before this moment passes.

Another snow day has been called and, luckily, this one falls on a day off for me. So, no pressure to arrange alternative child care or to go any place: just Kid 1 and Kid 2 and I home alone under lowering skies, the day before Valentine's Day.

I was up too early (4:30 AM!) and started thinking about maybe taking the kids to NYC over the upcoming February break. I happily surfed for hotel deals for a long time before kids emerged from bed - they slept in, but my daughter woke up when I took off my headphones. (I am half deaf and she could hear the tinny music from her room upstairs). Now, well, until two minutes ago when the 6-year-old's attention span was depleted, they were working on their Valentine's day cards for their classmates, still in their pajamas while I cleared up a little of the perpetual clutter that dominates the Last House. Today's clutter includes a recent Ebay purchase of a collection of (tacky) Royal Memoribilia that arrived in a big box yesterday: little plates from the 1950s to the 1970s with pictures of ER and (one plate with a royal family portrait, circa 1965); tea cups, silver jubilee goblets. I have the taste of a 75 year old colonial sometimes. Well, does life get better than this? Maybe, when we make sugar cookies later today. ER herself could not be more privileged.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

More Trenchant Observations About Vermont - Stowe

Stowe, As Revealed In The Library - Esp. the Volunteers

I paid ten dollars this fall as an out-of-towner to get privileges to borrow books from the Stowe Library. The building began life as the district school in 1863 and was used as the high school until 1973. Now it houses the library on the ground floor and the Helen Day Art Center upstairs. I love libraries. I have library cards in Newport, North Troy, Burlington and the University of Vermont (that one cost me $40 for the year). The one I use most now is Stowe. Partly this is because I have time on my hands when I am in Stowe. (I'm waiting for the kids' school day to finish before driving nearly the hour it takes to get back to the Last House). I also especially like this library because the librarians have a very pleasant way about them. Isn't it the case that the librarians set the tone for a library? They are almost always a pleasure to deal with although you run across the occasional lazy one or stickler for the rules - no overdue fine forgiven types.

I have been careful to return things to Stowe on time, but the once or twice when a DVD was a day overdue, no one asked me to pony up the dollar. In Stowe, they also have a lot of materials that I really want to access - books on CD, DVDs and all the best kids books. Everything about it is nice. I also find it interesting, sociologically speaking. Stowe, as anyone who lives in any part of the real (i.e, "poor") parts of Vermont, is a place apart, and this is revealed in its library - especially the volunteers.

There are, apparently, a contingent of older ladies (one or two men, perhaps) in Stowe who are seeking out opportunities to get out of the house in a purposeful manner. There is a dire need for volunteer labor in a lot of unpleasant places, guardians ad litem in child custody and abuse cases, for instance, jails, hospitals; but one needs a kind of vocation for that stuff (I don't know if I would have the stomach for it myself). Who can blame these ladies for choosing the library as the beneficiaries of their extra time? I get the sense, having observed one or two occasions of chit-chat across the circulation desk between a volunteer and a friend, that there is a network of these ladies who have made themselves available to the library. I am sure there are times when they are very useful - perhaps during the annual summer book sale when they can man the cash box on the front porch where all the books are.

What does it all mean? Stowe has a contingent of retirees who once lived somewhere else - "people from away" as the natives say. These are retirees of means. They read. Of course, there are nice older ladies all over Vermont, but the native (working) classes are not so likely to give their golden years to the library. They are mitten-tree knitters, fire house a auxiliary; they staff bingo at the VFW; they cook church suppers. Those with a literary bent might submit rhyming poetry to the local paper. The Stowe volunteers are a different breed.

I get the sense that there is a surplus of library volunteers in Stowe. My theory is that this is due, at least in part, as a fundraising strategy of the Board of Directors at the Stowe Library. In a former life, I worked in fundraising for a university and rounding up voulnteers for alumni events was step one on getting them to write a check. Good manners no doubt also plays a part. When someone offers to come in and help out, it would be rude (and bad for your annual appeal to the taxpayers at budget time) if you say "no". I heard one lady asking for an application for voulunteering. So that's how they handle the crush, I thought. Make them apply and commit to something.

When I go in the library it seems always to have at least two paid staffers and one volunteer at work. The need for all this fire power is not apparent. The library is generally not very busy at mid day during the week. I always hope that when it comes time to check out, I can deal with the paid person. There is usually a volunteer at the circ desk sitting next to the pro. I go for the pro, but the volunteer jumps in: "I can help you." They are regularly flummoxed by my out-of-town card and by requests to renew materials that I already have out. They often have to ask the librarian how to handle these matters. I returned a DVD once, on time, and was told when I next visited the library that it was overdue. I went and found it on the shelf. I smell a volunteer.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Snow, ice, runny eyes

February came in like a lion today in Northern Vermont - snow, hail, freezing rain, you name it we had it today. The forecast was so dire last night that I made the mistake of telling the kids there might not be school today. Kid 2 claimed a stuffy nose when I told him it hadn't been cancelled (I've been battling something nasty for 10 days). I gave him a reprieve. He seems fine tonight.

The February blahs are hard to beat here on the US/Canadian border when we have this kind of whether. When the sun comes out it is so beautiful, and we get great sunsets - but when you're sick and trapped inside and the house is a mess and the kids have been penned up all day, well, you get the picture.

Here's a picture I took on a brighter day last weekend.