Wednesday, December 31, 2008

His Mom Thought This Was Funny

The thing about Christmas vacation is that the whole family is jammed into the house in a cold, dark season. This gives us expanded opportunities to hear from the children. The Understudy, at nearly 11, is a poised and reasoning girl. Shackleton, at 7, is a gentle and surprising creature. He says things that we feel we should write down, but, as with so many things, we generally fail to follow through. Since we have a bit of a break now, I managed to get a few onto the hard drive. Here ya go. Forgive me if it turns out these are things that only near relations would find amusing.

Things Shackleton has said that amuse us.

1.) Yesterday, while building with Legos on the stairs:

“I made up a song about Iraq Obama [he’s confused by the new President’s name. No matter how many times we explain]:

“Mr. O- ba- ma!”

(to the tune of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”).

That’s as far as I got.”

2.) While riding in the car one day, a propos of nothing:

“Actually, some people do mess with Texas.”

3.) Shackleton does not like to go upstairs alone . When his sister asked him why, he said:

"Because if you come with me and we see a ghost we can fight him -

3.) After changing into his swim trunks at the community pool this week (in the manner of the announcer on those endlessly repeating “Bowflex” commercials).

“If you want to get ribs like these, call 802 977-9999”

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tell Me Something Good

There are a few members of my acquaintance who will say - I won't say "admit" because they don't seem embarrassed about it - that they don't like to read. One of these is a near relation and non-stupid. Two others are, well, questionable.

When a grown person, who has clearly learned how to read, says that he or she doesn't like to read, a moment of polite silence prevails while the hearers work out whether sympathy or astonishment is the appropriate response. Is the person handicapped in some way? As in, "I can't see the color red," or, "I can't hear from my right ear"? Or is he or she a Philistine who deserves an argument? As in, "I don't like Audrey Hepburn" or "I don't like ice cream"?

Today, at further risk of exposing an ugly side of my character (my inner, and sometimes outer, Supercilious Pratt), we turn to books that even non-readers can love. The contents of these books don't much matter. What matters is how they look.

If you have been following along, you know that I have felt pangs of guilt in the past about admiring books for their covers or their illustrations. It's like going to church only for the music or the stained glass. The Internet, however, with its great therapeutic powers, is helping me over this. I have learned that there are whole societies of people devoted to promoting the book as art. One of my favorite places to window shop on the web is a Berkeley, California book store called Handsome Books, which, "specializes in books with decorative publishers’ bindings, designed and illustrated by some of the leading artists of the 19th and early 20th centuries." Their website, as I have mentioned here before, is my idea of a good time. I also recently stumbled in my wanderings over a book artist, apparently famous in the circle of book artists, who has assembled a couple exhibitions of such books. So, it's OK to love a book for its cover.

I have always been a sucker for good-looking old things - the Dickens set in the first picture was a find at auction this summer. Each volume weighs about 2.5 pounds and it was lovely to behold, though largely dilapidated. I didn't think I would ever read it. I thought I might sell it (no takers on Ebay) and if I didn't it would do well on the bookshelf. The better volumes went off to my brother for his birthday and I kept the others. Even with missing spines, they are nice. It was Handsome Books, however, that helped me narrow my main interest to the early 20th century.

I bought this book after seeing first on their website. I have this sort of unaccountable interest and love for England and English things so when I saw this I had to get my own copy. This, as I learned at their wonderful site, was part of a series of travel books published in Boston in the early 1900s. I haven't read much of it, but I do admire it. It has this fabulous fold-out map in the back.

I was back on Handsome Books recently and found this:

They attributed this cover as (possibly) by Blanche McManus. She, as it turns out, was one of the bright lights of early 20th century book cover art. As a bargain scrounger, I found a cheaper copy elsewhere, but H.B. has my gratitude. I have read almost all of this book. It is very much of its time. It's author, one "Thos. D. Murphy" no hotel prices or opening hours are included in the information for the traveler. The quality of the roads is often, but not always, noted (motor travel being a novelty when this was first published in 1910). Otherwise we have impressions of churches, ruins, crypts, castles etc. It was apparently a big hit with its intended (gilded-age leisure-class) American audience. It was revised and republished in 1924 (after the war, of course) as, In Unfamiliar England with a Motor Car. I like this cover even better (no attribution, unfortunately).

Even the title page promises romance:

There are lots of photographs, mostly of churches and other buildings. A slight organizing principle is to show and describe places in England, which is referred to periodically as "The Mother Country," of special interest to Americans: e.g., the Washington family seat and William Penn's meeting house. My favorites, though, are the dewey paintings commissioned for the book.

Here's "Old Whitby":

and Warwick Castle:

And, gentle readers, guess what turned up in the mail today?

Isn't it lovely? It was my Christmas present to myself. It appears that Thos. D. Murphy got back from England and got back in his car to start touring New England (this book was published in 1924, the same year his revised version of Unfamiliar England appeared. This volume is sooo wonderful, like an embossed, illustrated, cloth-bound brick - and I mean that in the nicest possible way. Really, I may have to lie down. As an aside, isn't it interesting that the American touring car (seen at the bottom of the cover) is so much more elaborate than the car on the English cover? Can anyone possibly identify the models for me? And look, bonus! Another fold out map:

Sorry for the lousy picture but it shows that our Thos. journeyed from nearby Plattsburgh, NY through Vermont on old Route 2. I really can't wait to read this. But just looking at it is pretty great too.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sundown on Christmas 2008

I am always happy when Christmas rolls around...

and also when it is finally over!

The standing rib roast is roasting, the sweet potatoes are carmelizing, the table is set. Looking forward to dinner, I felt I had better get out and get a little air. I strapped on my snowshoes and knocked around the farm for a few minutes, just before sundown. This is what it looked like.

I hope you got what you wanted. I think I did. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Between the Storms

I left work an hour and a half early yesterday, not quite slinking off. I made sure the Powers That Be knew I was reachable by cell phone, etc. but the snow was falling fast, and in that sifting way that means it is going to snow for a long time and that it is cold. (If you live where it snows, you know what I mean). The ride home took two hours (usually an hour and twenty minutes) and every car that went by in the opposite lane boiled up a blinding cloud of snow (I guess I was doing the same to them). I was coiled like a spring when I finally made it to the driveway.

Mom (in Florida) fowarded me an email today titled, "Why I live in Florida." It included this amusing bit of video (Youtube embedding won't work so you have to click, sorry.)

Yes, we of the north have hard life. (And a sense of humor, Thank You Know Who). But we have our rewards too. Another storm is closing in as I blog, but we got a little sun this afternoon. I ran outside with the little happy snappy to show you all (and Mom) "Why I Live in Vermont."

Happy Solstice!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas from the Inside

Sights of the Season

It is 10 AM, and a weekday, so even though it is just one week from Christmas, the parking lot still has some blank territory. A Honda minivan, with a, rusting scrape on the passenger side door, pulls into a space near the edge of the lot. An overgrown middle-aged woman emerges from the driver’s seat. She has parked at this little extra distance because at this end of the lot she could pull through with the van facing forward. The back window of the van is so dirty it might be hard to reverse in what will certainly be a more crowded parking lot an hour or two later, when it will be time to retreat. There will be toddlers and shopping carts and other people reversing in this parking lot. She looks at the welcome mats and sidewalk salt stacked outside the doors and is clearly tempted, but resists. She goes through the sliding doors and gets a cart.

If she weren’t so tall, and her coat so black she would not be very noticeable in the crowd of other middle-aged becoated women who are also at this store. The coat, however, a bargain buy at Target three years ago, still attracts a little attention. It is nice looking, with a faux fur collar. A closer look reveals that it only has two of its three buttons, and they are hanging precariously from threads. The middle button has gone.

Its wearer, alone, also knows that the right-hand pocket has lost its bottom. It is not much use for keeping her right hand warm, nor is it safe for keys or gloves, several of which have disappeared into it: a Bermuda pocket.

No one is paying that much attention, however. The bad haircut, puffy face, slightly crooked glasses and Timberland boots dispel any positive impression the coat might have made; more slattern than soignée. But ... It’s Vermont. “Soignée” hardly ever applies, and certainly not at this store. Gloves are cheap, she notices. There is a swimming-pool-sized bin of them near the entrance. They are $3.99 a pair, with Thinsulate, no less. But not today. A complete pair, bought last year right here, is in the van, having survived a full year in her possession. Today’s trip is about getting kids stockings stuffed. No gloves, no clothing of any kind, would be welcomed there.

She patrols the store in a haphazard manner. Curtains? No. But she looks at them. A giant wall clock from the “Edinburgh Clock Company, of London” (Made in China). Not today. Lamps? Hmm. She cleaned the boy’s room yesterday and the lighting there is terrible. She personally threw the old desk lamp that had been next to his bed into the skip at the dump earlier that morning. Here’s a nice lamp, suitable for a bedside. The box is good. These lamps have been liquidated from Target and the design is good. They are $4.99. They go on when you touch the base. He will like that. Even though it is a lamp, he will like it. It won’t fit in the stocking but it will count in his mind as a proper gift. When he tells his friends at school after New Year’s what he got for Christmas, he might even put this lamp near the top of the list, near the bicycle that is waiting in the back of the van, having been secured from WalMart just half an hour ago. Into the cart it goes.

[Oh, I could go on and on, but I won’t. At least not now. I can’t swear I won’t do at least one more shopping post. Oh, I promised the Hot Dog vendor outside the Christmas Tree Shoppe in Williston, Vermont (see above) that I would Blog about him. Hello if you stopped by, hot dog man. Note well, he’s only going to be at his stand there til New Years (back in the spring he said) and if you are looking for the best $3.75 lunch in Northern Vermont, see him soon or wait til spring. He has the gift of gab, I should have asked if he was from California or something, he’s that outgoing. He makes great hot dogs and he was right about the sport peppers and Diet Pepsi Max with ginseng he recommended to me].

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Indolence in the Face of Christmas

I have no business expecting to get any sleep tonight as I have just spent the laziest Sunday in human history. The sun did not appear at all. We might just as well have been in the arctic circle for all the sunlight we got today. I left the house once, in search of silver polish (to shine up a silver-plated pitcher that I am soon to bestow on Shackleton's volunteer reading tutor as a "thank you" and Christmas acknowledgment). I came home with milk, fruit roll ups and English muffins. No polish. The general stores in the vicinity don't stock it and I wasn't driving twelve miles to the county seat to the nearest open hardware store. I improvised with some ancient pewter polish. The pitcher was not fully restored to its turn-of-the-century grandeur but it achieved a certain gaudy charm.

The one other thing I managed to do was scan the illustration that serves as today's banner. This comes from an old story book called Tales Told In Holland. I wrote about it here last summer, noting that its strength is found in the fabulous illustrations by Maud and Mishka Petersham. The stories and poems have pretty well lost their appeal (if they ever had any). I was reminded of this illustration while reading Jaywalker's discussion of the Dutch/Flemish (horribly politically incorrect) Christmas tradition of zwart Piet - the Moor who accompanies St. Nick on his horse and who doles out punishment to bad children. I hadn't bothered to read the story accompanying this illustration, although it had caught my eye last summer (I had wondered who the black kid in the ruff was and why Santa had a horse). Today I got only part way through. The "tale" started with something about how a poor Dutch fellow was once on the verge of "selling his three daughters" when someone dropped money down his chimney. His benefactor was the Bishop who became St. Nick. I couldn't focus long enough to find out how he acquired Piet. Oh, the charms of Old Europe. Lovely illustration, though, isn't it?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Snow Day

Did you hear about all the bad weather that hit the east coast last night? Result: Much shoveling and many children home from school, and enjoying the violence that snow always seems to engender in them. There is no sound to this video, but sound is hardly necessary.

Disclaimer: People should not allow their overheated children to play in winter storms without proper attire. Even if the child is only a few feet from his front porch, on which he just jettisoned his coat after a vigorous snowfight, even if he looks tough, like a small lumberjack, even if he is generally impervious to cold and wants to be photographed without his winter coat, proper attire should be required.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Inside

The first few big heating bills have arrived and WHusband has spent the weekend ranting against comfortable indoor temperatures. The thermostat has been set to Stun for a a full 24 hours. Even for us crusty old northerners, 60 degrees (F) is barely sufficient to sustain life. It reminds me of when I was a kid and Jimmy Carter was president and we were all instructed to freeze in the dark.

For a few years I had a sister-in-law who had been been born in Pakistan and raised in Houston. She was cold even when she visited Vermont in July. She came here for at least one Christmas. We bought her long underwear (Merry Christmas from your poor relations!) and turned up the heat a notch. She was lovely, but her blood was like water. Hmmm. Note to self. Don't freeze the company.

The weekend has been quiet and nearly devoid of Christmas preparations. Hmm. Note to self. Get ready for Christmas!

Shackleton and the Understudy were just complaining that we didn't do anything today. This is not true, strictly speaking. I went to the grocery store. I vacuumed. We all watched TV. The kids played I Spy Spooky Mansion. So, OK, we didn't get a Christmas tree. Maisy and I did a brief walkabout on our land here at the Last House at 4 PM, which is nearly night just at the moment. I did a post in April called "Everything's Gone Green." Well, this one could be "Everything's Gone Brown."

Here's some of what we saw.

The last bit of green I could find in the woods...

Some little creature braved the ice, which is new today.

I think a witch lives near here, hey, I don't mean me!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Can I Get a Witness?

Despite my best intentions, I have been overwhelmed by the demands of the season. Not one card sent. No gifts wrapped - hardly any even acquired. Our Christmas tree is still standing in a field somewhere (we always cut one) - and the old blog has been languishing. It occurred to me, during this insomniac "morning" that I could at least offer this.

I just read on Wikipedia that Charles Schulz and Bill Melendez, (writer, of course, and director Charlie Brown's Christmas back in 1965), had to fight CBS to allow Linus to recite from the King James version (Boring! said the excutives). Also, when the execs first screened the show, they were horrified - jazz soundtrack? child actors (whose lines often had to be spliced together during editing because some of them couldn't read,which gave the dialogue an unusual cadence)? No laughtrack? They thought it would be a disastrous flop.