Sunday, December 27, 2009

Going, Going...

The last two hours of 2009 are twirling away and I thought I would spend them as I spent so much of the year: here, in the old wing chair with my warm laptop in place, taking me where I want to go around the Internet and compensating somewhat for the draft that creeps in from the ugly 1970s bay window on my right.

Lately,I know, I been one poor correspondent and I been too, too hard to find but that doesn't mean you ain't been on my mind.

(These things get into your head and then you are helpless. I sometimes wonder if the last thought that flits through my dying brain will be the jingle for the Frito Bandito).

But I am back and in a discursive mood, though, as ever, stone cold sober. (More on that in a minute). To catch you up on recent events in our small round, Christmas was nice. Above: the Understudy opening her iPod Touch on Christmas morning. Above that (in today's banner), a picture of silver fox I borrowed to decorate a T-shirt for Shackleton who has an Internet avatar called "Shiftyfox", a name that I kind of love. Plenty of snow and cold here on the Vermont/Quebec border. Two days of skiing, about as many of working.

The nuclear Woolfoot family and I are spending a very quiet New Year's Eve, as per our usual. Whusband is on hour fourteen of his phone call with Bangalore trying to remove a 2004 version of an antivirus program from his computer, which has some kind of virus that can't be cured til the 2004 antivirus program goes. O Paradox! Shackleton is turning circles around the living room, flying his Matchbox blimp and Matchbox Delta wing fighter, along with a model John Deere tractor and telling himself a story about them. I can't quite hear it. A train whistle is blowing. The usual Woolfoot glitz and glamor.

Whusband bought a bottle of plonk for Christmas - "Ellenbogen" something or other. It came in a big bottle and had a small price. (A friend pointed out that this should have been a tip to him that as to its quality). Most of it is still available, waiting on the table. And as it's the only semi-potable alcohol in the house and I am planning to tip a glass a little later, a toast to the family and to you all, my bloggy friends. Here's to you! Farewell 2009 and best wishes for 2010. I wish I had something more sparkly.

This puts me in mind of R. Burns and Auld Lang Syne and so provides a segue to this little review of a holiday performance the kids and I attended just before Christmas.

Hap Hap Happy New Year to you.

Till a' the seats gang dry...

Two weeks ago, I won seats for four at the pending "Christmas Revel/Solstice festival" being staged at Dartmouth College the following weekend. The announcer said something about "a mixture of professional and community performers" and "a Scottish Celebration of the winter solstice."

I realized after the fact that there was some code in this that I failed to decipher.

One missed clue: the Scots stopped celebrating the Solstice around the time they stopped painting their rear-ends blue and harassing the Roman legionnaires who had the bad luck to be posted along the Humber to keep them out of England. Modern day "Solstice" celebrations are the province of unhappy goth teenagers and doughy superannuated hippies. I normally avoid that province. And, duh, this was billed as a "revel," which meant, from my point of view, that something of the opposite would likely occur.

The Scots bit got me though. Many of us north Americans have a kind of Scottish sweet tooth - albeit one that relies on a kind of theme-park image Scots during the age of Robert Burns. I for one, am willing to allow the Scots to advance at least to the era of the Bay City Rollers, but, and here's a tip for anyone arranging an entertainment for American families with "Scotland" on the bill, there must be lots of drums and pipes- and they need to be loud! ("Stirring" being the minimum requirement for Scots-themed entertainment).

I checked the Revels website before we left the Last House for the hour and half journey south to Hanover and saw that two of the four shows had sold out. That was reassuring. Of course, I failed to take into account that we were headed to a university town on the northern end of the Connecticut River. (I.e., with a built-in audience of people who can be counted on to send checks to PBS, buy recordings of Garrison Keillor and generally support any highish [white] brow culture).

A stout gray-haired lady with a bit of tartan thrown over her shoulder kindly showed us, after a bit of confusion, to our free seats said, with obvious loyalty to the organization, "it's a good show." Volunteerism is lovely of course, but it signals that one is the realm of "Community Theater". We make allowances for Community Theater because our friends and neighbors are performing, but I was an hour and half away from home and expecting something that (other) people paid for because it was, well, professional.

I won't go on too much more. There were knee socks a plenty, two teenagers who somehow were persuaded to do Morris Dancing (cavort, cavort, PRESENT, cavort, cavort, PRESENT). A man came out and read Burns' poems in Scots dialect (the kid in front of us kept asking, "what did he say?" I am sure no one in the audience could have answered him). The professional performers, I am guessing, were a pair of women fiddlers and a drummer who rendered a few of those tuneless Gaelic fiddling screes. It was very skillfully done, but a little of this goes a long way. I am guessing that the Scots in the era of Burns found it entertaining because they were drunk or about to be.

We must have been about an hour into all of this when we got to a number called "The Lord of the Dance" (thank you Michael Flatley - never mind about the distinction between Ireland and Scotland - it is not much recognized in North America). This involved the performers coming off the stage and dancing through the aisles, inviting all the non-drunk white people (the entire audience) to join them. I stole a glance at the program and saw we had an hour and some left to go, so the kids and I danced (well, not actually, we walked) up and out of the theater and ran (literally, it was cold) to the parking lot.

The Understudy summed it up well when she called Whusband from the minivan to tell him we were on our way home. (Whusband had a ticket but begged off). "Well, we left early," she said, "'cause it was kind of dorky."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Julian Fellowes, Zadie Smith; Clever Kiwis

No time for a proper post this weekend, what with Christmas looming and all. I have not even had a chance to photograph that fascinating vinyl toilet seat I so cleverly wrote about last week, much less to unravel the cultural signifiers of the rest of the bathroom. Sorry for any disappointment. I'll have to get back around to that one of these days.

Before I Forget: Recent Reading

Right now, I have Zadie Smith's book of essays Changing My Mind rattling around in my mind next to Julian Fellowes' novel Past Imperfect. I read Smith's book during a couple of insomniac nights last week. I was intrigued with her life story as I was by her talent and (for the literary world) rocket ride to fame. (For some reason I couldn't get a link to the Wikipedia article about her to work, but you can read about her there and in a hundred other places). Fellowes is a wonderful writer, chronicler really, of the current dilemmas of what remains of the former ruling class of Britain. (Did you read Snobs? Or see Gosford Park? If so, you know him already, if not, run and acquire them). Past Imperfect came in the mail yesterday and I was fighting sleep last night so I could keep reading. It's one of those books you are grateful to have on your nightstand. Better than having a cake in a box on the table.

Smith's credentials, as a very young writer and the daughter of a Jamaican woman and working-class English father are, from a prestige standpoint every bit as good as Fellowes', whose origins and social milieu are at the polar opposite of English society. In fact, Smith's cultural credentials are almost certainly better than Fellowes' in this Obama-age. Both are brilliant, of course, and I think they have Cambridge in common. I am guessing they would like each other - probably they have met as the world of genius writers, especially in England, is not so terribly large. I would also venture to guess that they are both too polite to acknowledge that the aristocracy in the mode of Fellowes has given way to the aristocracy in the mode of Smith. They are English after all...

Proof that Human Beings Are Worth the Trouble

I saw this video over at The Shopping Sherpa (see the link on my blog roll). The Sherpa is down under, in Australia, and she finds and shares Internet gems from time to time, like this unbelievable little video from the New Zealand Book Council. Watch to the end (just a bit over 2 minutes) to get the full benefit. It staggers me that someone could think of this and execute it. Bye for now.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Back when Architectural Digest was in in its 1980s glory, I read that its managing editor frequently deployed the acronym, "N.F.A.D" - "not for Architectural Digest." (Like maybe, when she was faced with photos of a home owned by a celebrity lower down the food chain than Demi Moore and Bruce Willis).

"N.F.A.D. occurs to me frequently when I am confronted by what some might call bad taste. It occurred to me when I got back to the Last House a week ago and discovered that, in my absence, Whusband had replaced the oak toilet seat (itself a replacement) on our 1950s salmon-colored toilet with a cushiony, white vinyl number - the lid of which is decorated with fish.

We have always been N.F.A.D. around here but in this particular we have shown that we are oh so N.F.A.D.

We burned the oak seat in our outdoor fireplace last weekend. I felt a druidic instinct to say a little thanks to it as it fell into coals. Farewell old friend.

Wouldn't you say it's true: "By their bathrooms ye shall know them?" I'll bet the editor of Architectural Digest would agree.

Believe it or not, I have a lot more I could say about all this (our one bathroom and its rich history), but I have to go make a salad for dinner.

I hate to leave you hanging, but at least now you have a reason to go on living. Come back soon.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tra La La - Snap Snap Snap

One for the Christmas Card?

Frosty morning in Stowe

Did I mention about my new laptop? I was momentarily neglectful of the last one at Dulles Airport a few weeks ago and it was fatal. Well, the home owner's insurance came through and I have a new one, less good, but new.

One nice feature of the new computer is that I can pop my photo card into a little slot in the side and have all the pictures/videos sucked right in here. This is good because I seem also to have lost the specialized USB cord that I previously used for this task. (People at work say I remind them of Lucille Ball - of the Desi era - because of these kinds of mishaps).

November is famously a zero in this part of the world. Too late for foliage, too soon for snow: the innkeeper's call it, glumly, "stick season."

It has its consolations, though, and here are a few pictures I have taken over the last couple of days and weeks.

Sunrise from next to the milk house

Afternoon on the Jay Peak Golf Course

Does this say "asylum" to you? Cause that's what it was (and still is in one little corner). These days it is officially the Vermont State Office Complex in Waterbury, where I work. It wasn't created to house bureaucrats, but the mad, the poor, the halt and the lame. The bureaucrats have it now and a few of us are fascinated by the history of the place, though people seem not to talk too much about it.

And Something about this little stretch of building just says, "19th Century Mad House" to me.

A view into Quebec - the higher elevations have winter now and we're next.

OK - time to pack up and get ready for the week ahead. Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Shopping Update

OK. We did go out on Black Friday but we steered well clear of any store that could double as an airplane hangar. No trampling involved. Not even any grabbing. We saw the brilliant The Fantastic Mr. Fox and kids and I are quoting bits of it to one another. I am also thinking that Meryl Streep (the Fantastic Mrs. Fox) has built a place in all of our lives. How did she manage that?

This evening found me shopping online. I was strolling through the halls of Etsy, glad I didn't have to smell Cinnabons or carry any bags when I found this:

I am sorry if you think it's as cool as I did because I bought the last one. I also bought this:

Again, sorry. Last one.

Apparently, despite my bourgeois bona fides I have a streak of steam punk lurking within. Who knew? The artist doesn't identify herself by name at her Etsy shop but she also makes and sells clothing and says she recently finished a degree in Graphic Design Technology. She is somewhere in the UK. So, that's fun. I told her I would add a link, so if you're interested q.v.

Isn't this soooo much better than Walmart?

Author's note: Just FYI - I got my prints from the mysterious Etsy seller. They arrived, nicely wrapped, in an envelope from Poland. The mystery deepens. Also, I didn't get the last prints. She is limiting the edition to 25 and listing them one at a time. So, if you like them too you are still in with a chance. (12/12/09)

Bon weekend tout le monde.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Death by Shopping and Other Holiday Thoughts

Have you seen the Wal Mart commercial they started playing over these last few days? The one where troops of smiling Wal Mart employees swarm to their registers and blink their "register open" lights timed with the "Carol of the Bells"?

(I pause to send my regards to all you dear, church-choir people, with your sweet, nerdy white-gloved hand bell teams. Maybe you are too good to do much deploring? I will do it for you. Wal Mart is clearly appropriating some bit of your earnest devotion to their wretched purposes).

Anyway, Wal Mart's promise of "every cash register will be open" is yet another - no doubt unnecessary- lure to bring shoppers into their stores on the day after Thanksgiving.

"Black Friday" got that charming sobriquet from the poor people who have to sell things that day. Now retailers use it to suggest all the fun we can have shopping in a mob! I hope Wal Mart will be a little better prepared this year to avoid deaths by crushing that dampened the experience for at least one of their employees last year.

Watching this commercial last night, I couldn't help noticing that the expanse of ceiling visible in the shot of the register lights was devoid of security cameras: those purple-bottomed globes hanging from white stalks, like upside down lollipops. These are as ubiquitous as the fluorescent ceiling fixtures in every Wal-Mart I have ever seen.

Years ago I had a client who had worked at Wal-Mart. One night, she was called into the windowless back room of the store and confronted about having stolen thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. She denied it categorically. However, the insufferable petty tyrant security man who accosted her told her that he was going to go to her house and wake up her young children, that he had friends on the police force who would get a warrant that night and she couldn't leave until she signed a (completely untrue) confession. She was instructed to keep confessing to stolen merchandise til it added up to about $10,000. I remember how she told me she was making stuff up at the end just to get to the dollar figure he wanted. She signed it at about 2 AM. Then she went to see a lawyer. Some years later (it is famously difficult to sue Wal Mart), after a jury trial, Wal-Mart paid her a substantial sum, I can't remember how much just now as I had left the firm by then. It was paid partly for falsely imprisoning her and partly for wage and hour violations.

I never see a Wal-Mart commercial without thinking of all this. When I saw that ad last night I thought, wouldn't it be a revealing twist if, instead of the cash register signs blinking in time to the "Carol of the Bells", they showed Wal Mart security switching on all their monitors in time with the song?

And Now for Something Completely Different...

This dispatch comes to you from the brink of age 45. It's bearing down on me in January. Next stop, 50. Fifty rhymes with … ? Yes. "Sixty". Brrr.

I remember seeing as kid some TV show that included a Chinese man who said something about how, in China, people regarded reaching 60 as a fine achievement after which one could comfortably die. I know that's not the way we think of 60 these days but my view of it was formed when I was about 10 and such views can be hard to dislodge. When I started working part time more than two years ago my intentions were to halt what I already perceived to be a general decline. I was going to get in shape and to write a book. The opposite has happened, if there can be an opposite to "write a book". Certainly, physically, my downhill slide has continued.

There is a franchise of exercise establishments called "Curves" that have sprung up everywhere these last 10 years or so. They seem especially prominent in the little cities where there are plenty of working class middle aged women. Curves is not a fancy place inhabited by the spandex-clad iron-haunched set - I looked in one once and saw a collection of exercise equipment arranged in a largish room. No brushed aluminum. No spa. The one I drive by on the way to work has a sign out front on the sidewalk now that says "walking is not enough." Well, I guess I am proof of that.

I was thinking of "Curves" the other day when I managed, at last, to catch an episode of "Mary Queen of Shops" on BBC America.

Mary is a fixer for wayward shop owners the way Gordon Ramsay is (supposedly) the fixer for restaurants on the brink.


The shop owner in question in this episode was a wisp of a thing who had, for some reason, opened a shop for plus sizes. The shop was, of course, on the verge of bankruptcy. In one part of the show, Mary took the shop owner to Harrods with the pictures of three women whom she was instructed to dress from the Harrods's inventory. Studying the pictures, the shop owner referred to at least one of the women, of rather ordinary chubby appearance, as "misshapen, poor thing". Similar comments and a wave of pity attended the shop owner's efforts to pick out clothes under which the women might decently be hidden. Mary pointed out, relentlessly, that this was not the way to market clothes to "curvy" women.

Well, it's commendable to be kind, and euphemisms have their place, but fat is fat and all us fatties know it. I felt a bit sorry for the shop owner who was being required to ignore the evidence of her own eyes as surely as the audience for the Emperor's New Clothes. We fatties know we would feel better and look better if we were thinner. We are not fooled even by friendly shop keepers or clever designers. Most of us used not to be fat so we know there is alternative reality. (Actually, we thought we were fat most of the time but now we look back and marvel at how thin we used to be). Yes, some of us have generations of Nordic milkmaids in our genetic backgrounds and slowing metabolisms to contend with but the cold fact is that we bear the chain laziness and overindulgence we forged in life. We feel bad about that, so I suppose reminding of us of our failures as we shop is not a good idea, but we are not deceived.

In the spirit of honesty and reality that is, apparently, overtaking me at the moment I thought it might be apposite to suggest a chain of gyms called "Flaps," or maybe "Folds"?


Well, euphemisms, as noted, have their place. Enjoy your mashed potatoes and apple pie. I'd like to enjoy mine but I'll be remembering this post. I probably will at least get a walk in on Thanksgiving Day.

When I shop on Friday it will not be in any plus size boutique or any store where there is a possibility of stampede or wrongful arrest. Despite the tone of this I am hoping for a bit of fun over the long weekend.

Here's a nice piano version of the aforementioned Carol of the Bells for your listening pleasure. Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Woolfoot's Celebrity Swirl: Ken Somebody, Jay Leno, Adam Gopnik, and More!

We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming, already in progress...

I have given up pondering the imponderables for the moment. I don't seem much good at it in any case. So let's get back to something more, hmmm, frothy - I mean "palatable". To wit, as promised, my brushes with greatness.

This will be a short post.

I can only think of one that involved anything like actual "brushing." More on that in a moment.

Disclosure note: this post is a pale sort of copycat, inspired by a much funnier and more impressive one, in terms of the celebrity involved and the parameters of the encounter over at the famous Fussy blog, written by blogging royalty, Mme. Eden M. Kennedy.

Eden (I will claim a first-name familiarity because I wrote her an email once and she responded - at least I think it was her - maybe she has assistants) was on a flight from L.A. to N.Y. recently. She learned, probably part way over Nevada, that the stylishly dressed yet nervous 50-something woman in her row was the mother of a pair of Very Famous A-list celebrities (q.v.) Another memorable celebrity post was written by my actual blogging friend and another member of the royal class of bloggers, Lulu Labonne. (And I mean "Royalty" not just nobility). If you are easily shocked, be careful before you click to Lulu's blog. This particular post involves, peripherally, some discussion of the use of *marijuana* by an iconic 1960s singer-songwriter whose name rhymes with "Stony Twitchell." (q.v. again). My personal opinion is that Lulu has lots more she could tell about many celebrities - but is holding back. Lulu?

OK. Here's my number one celebrity encounter:

When I was in about 9th grade I went to the Albany County Airport one evening to pick up somebody or something. It was back in the days when people without tickets could go to the gate areas. It was in the days before jetways. It was during the days when a TV show about a white basketball coach in a tough, inner-city school was a fairly popular program. The show was called, cleverly, The White Shadow. I remember that I liked it a lot. I can't remember, however, the name of the guy who played, nay, "starred" as "the White Shadow" - Ken Something or Keith Something. (I knew it back then). Anyway - you guessed it: Ken Something was in the airport that night. Waiting at Gate 7 or where ever to fly to N.Y. or L.A. Why was he in Albany? A mistake, perhaps? A family connection? Lucky for me.

I screwed up my courage and said "Excuse me" as I walked past him to the bathroom. He had less hair in person than he did on the show. He said:
"S'alright." He smelled like he had been drinking.

Well? Well? How's about that!?

I have had a couple of other encounters with famous people but this one actually kind of thrilled me. Maybe because it was just pure chance and because I was so young. The few others I have had were planned and somewhat canned but still kind of fun. So for the record, and since we're on the topic, here are the details on those.

I wrote for a local weekly entertainment magazine for a while after college and got, or could get, free tickets to just about everything that passed through our unfashionable part of upstate New York. Really, I suppose it says something about how hard it is to make a living as a performer that lots of really famous people had to play Albany. Anyway, me and my friend Tracey (also from the paper) got to meet Jay Leno backstage at Proctor's Theatre in Schenectady (which is near Albany) after his show once.

He was shorter than I thought he would be and wore a surprising amount of make up. He flirted openly with Tracey who had freckles and red hair and a lot of verve. She told him she was a "Harley Girl" and he smiled like the Cheshire Cat at her. Some Proctor's staff lady had baked him a cake or cookies or something and he pushed them to Tracey and asked her to take them away. He signed copies of our freebie newspaper for us. I have mine somewhere.

Also, during that interval I once interviewed Steven Wright, the comedian, (remember him?). It was a phone interview, but he was nice. He told me some jokes and I laughed at them like the star-struck 20-something that I was. My favorite, or at least the one I remember, was:

"I went into a diner that served 'breakfast anytime'. So I ordered French toast during the Renaissance."

Oh, and one time I wrote a profile of Adam Gopnik for the McGill Alumni magazine. I was actually admitted into the old New Yorker offices to interview him. Adam was as nice as pie. He told me he liked my article about him. He was,is, a well-brought-up sort of writer. (His parents stayed with us one night at the Last House long ago, so I am in a position to know). The New Yorker offices had the charm of Motor Vehicles, albeit without the lines.

OK. I think that's all of them. I am hoping to spur a few of you regular readers to share your own tales of fabulous encounters. Tell me if you do.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Leaning Out for Love

I was laying in bed this morning thinking about the evoloutionary origins of human beings and how these account, still, for such a lot of bad behavior (including some of mine). I lay there resolving to be a better person, and to share this, my Special Insight, with the world, or at least the eight or ten people who stumble in here periodically. (Sorry, but I can't help this kind of thing. In addition to the cavemen of Europe I am descended from a long line of white Protestants who were nothing if not terribly earnest. I see you, you God-fearing bourgeois people with your spooky inner lives! I am shaking my fist at you here for some of the baggage you passed down this far. [Thanks for the immunity to various diseases and length of bone, though]). So, here goes.

Back when there was a serious people shortage on planet earth, a state of affairs which I believe persisted for hundreds of thousands of years, and survival of the human race was a very close call, we had written into our DNA a preference for people who looked the best and held out promise for mating and hunting and such like.

I found myself imagining a scene that I'd bet was repeated in the cold forests of prehistoric Gaul and MittelEuropa for a thousand generations or more. To wit: a small group of fur-clad youngish people and children walking away from a seasonal dwelling place. Behind them, at a dwindling fire, would crouch an old lady, or old man (of 45 or 50) or some of each, perhaps, left to die. Would the able-bodied have left the old people with food and furs, I wondered? Did the old people cry pitifully so that the departing had to plug their ears? Would the leader of the band mercifully brain the old people with his club before the he and the rest all took off for the coast? And what would have become of the damaged or defective in those days? I expect worse horrors awaited them. I have no problem believing our ancestors lived by a simple equation: damage = death. Infanticide, chucking into the sea, abandoning in the forest. If you couldn't dig for tubers, or carry a baby, or throw a spear, or at least run, you were out. Way out. Doomed.

And still the world and we our selves are often governed (or overmastered) by those same forces that dictate the seating arrangements at middle school cafeterias.

I remembered hearing Pope John Paul II say something once about how we, the well, should not avoid the sick and the dying, but seek them out. Thinking of the cruel anvil of evolution, this message seems especially tender and comforting.

And so Saint Sebastian makes his first ever appearance on my blog. I'm not actually a Catholic, but once you have seen a painting or two of St. Sebastian, he is hard to forget. When I think of elaborate possibilities of cruelty and suffering, and endurance, I think of him. And here's a fun fact, he's the patron saint of at least four towns in Italy, one in Spain, as well as raquet makers, diseased cattle, gunsmiths, bookbinders and plague victims. He's also credited with a bunch of miracles which seem the kind of God's magic tricks that make Catholicism an easy target for some. Not me though. Not, tonight, at least, when I am trying to let the better angels of my nature guide my thoughts. Love one another. Sigh.

More may be coming in some other post about the origins of this particular train of thought, or maybe not.

Lost Computer Update

See the last post. Whusband is off in Washington, D.C. this weekend and I persuaded him to trust me with the laptop he bought a month or two ago for "the family." (After it arrived, he decided it was too nice to actually be used at will by the family, but to his credit he is shifting his position). The lost laptop is still lost and I despair of ever seeing it again. I have concluded, in fact, that it was probably actually stolen, since my contact information was in a manilla envelope in the front pocket, and it should have surfaced by now. The good news, the homeowner's insurance people may come through with coin for a replacement.

Coming Soon

I was thinking about writing a post about my brushes with celebrity, having read a few fun and interesting ones elsewhere recently. So, if you've been frightened or appalled by this, check back soon.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


We got back from Dallas in one piece. That was a near thing - well, our physical safety wasn't actually much threatened but the careful arrangements, the well documented itinerary and tidy little stack of pre-printed boarding passes, etc. were hurled to the wind on the arrival at DFW. The rest of Tuesday evening was a nail-biter, involving rushing between terminals in distant mega-ports. Picture an 11-year-old nearly in tears trying to unlace her Converse high tops at security and get them into the x-ray tub while her sweating mother drops her government issued ID and a bit of necklace 10 minutes before scheduled departure. Hear the dread clack clack of the wheels of carry on bags being hauled over floor tiles at full speed by Shackleton. Believe me when I tell you it was worse than anything Halloween had on offer.

Many people were kind along the way. One traveler moved from his window seat to a middle seat to allow our group to sit together. (May he and his descendants be forever blessed.) But all this kindness was overshadowed by the disaster that presented itself as we walked onto the last wee plane (no carry ons in the cabin, it was that small) and I realized that somewhere in all that rushing, my dear laptop, my electronic heart, was lost or stolen along the way. It was like the iron had entered my soul. So, today, with the family circling and Whusband asking when I am going to turn over the surviving computer to the Understudy for a school report, I have stolen a few moments to share my pain and explain what may be a period of silence. (You think I am exaggerating but I have been dreaming every night about my laptop like a lost child. Oh dear).

Until some new arrangement can be made it will by catch as catch can. I will try to keep reading, but writing is going to be hard.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Notes from Another America

How long, would you say, can the corpse of a mosquito adhere to the inside of the windshield of a mini van?

At least a month or two? I won't keep you in suspense. (You know I am horrible at that). I'll tell you that the remains of two mosquitoes have been clinging to the inside of my windshield since at least July.

They are just below eye level, and I don't always notice them. The light has to be just so. On Tuesday this week, in the late afternoon, as I and the kids were driving down the heartbreakingly beautiful Route 22 A along the western edge of Vermont, I noticed them dangling there still. I resented that they were intruding on the view of farm fields and distant Adirondacks, but I didn't brush them away. I was sort of fascinated that, what with the defroster and all, that has been pressed back into service a lot lately, what with the FROST and all, that they hadn't fallen to bits. Maybe this would make a nice little contest, like our annual "ice out" raffles in Vermont, where people bet on the day when an object placed in the middle of a frozen pond or lake will drop through into the water?

Or maybe not.

All that by way of telling that I have been traveling this week, and further afield than usual. My brother and his fiancee decided about three weeks ago to move their wedding date from the end of the year to late October. (Speculation running wild, if quietly, among us all for possible reasons for the date change. ahem.) Plane tickets were purchased, but there seems no good (cheap) way to fly to Dallas from the northeast. The trip thus began with a drive from Vermont to Albany, NY as a base camp near the Albany airport. The journey was completed the following day when our wee, crammed jet touched down at DFW.

About my brother: he is my only brother and two and a half years younger than me. He left our native northeast when he was 21 to go to law school in deepest, darkest most Baptist Texas, at Baylor University. After he finished (uh, at number one in his class, btw, which is why I can come to you now from a large house in a swish Dallas neighborhood - the house pictured here is not his, but it is in his neighborhood).

His house, I am pleased to say, was built in the 1950s and is positively historic down here. Lots of these post-war houses, despite being perfectly congenial and serviceable and attractive, had been viewed during the boom years as impediments to be scraped away so that better, bigger, [specious, horrifying] mansions could stand in their place. His house is quite charming, although one room [billiards] is decorated [by a former bachelor] with the heads of Cape Buffalo, various long horned grass-eating creatures from afar, and a garage with a Ferrari for every decade of his life).

I guess that makes him sound like a complete jerk, which he is not. He actually doesn't like spending money (He told me this himself, once, which made me wonder if we are really siblings). He has restrained himself to these few indulgences (cars, guns, hunting). He, has, however, adopted the mores of Texas to a considerable extent and he moves among the Texans of Dallas as one of them. Compare and ontrast: my indulgences (the part-time government lawyer in Vermont) are blogging and an occasional filet o'fish.

I have been down here half a dozen times now and I am always sort of fascinated at how different these seem to be from the ones I am used to in the upper right hand corner of the country.

I had a secretary once who was born and raised in Austin, Texas and she assured me that Dallas is not really Texas. Who am I to argue? I can believe that it Dallas is an enclave of outworlders, like my brother and my new Russian-born-and-raised sister-in-law. I can also say without exaggerating that it is true, nevertheless, that the Texas cliche of bigness appears to be observed in Dallas.

Thankfully, owing to a certain natural personal restraint of both the bride and groom, the wedding was very low-key and the reception a cheerful sort of gathering for 45 or so people at a local hotel - the kind of thing that could be put together with two weeks notice. I attended the reception with my camera (picture-taking being my contribution to this hastily organized event). I was a bit like a Wild Kingdom photographer as alien, in my shapeless outfit and Dansko clogs, in Dallas as Jim and Marlin Perkins were at any African waterhole.

My sister-in-law's friends arrived in gowns that reached the floor and heels that would make it possible for them to change the light bulbs at Madison Square Garden. Dresses clung and, other than me, there were no fatties in evidence. Hair colors were becoming, if not altogether, uh, "convincing." The kids and I looked around and even the Understudy (who is only 11) was very clear that we were not in Vermont anymore.

Travel is broadening. I am glad we got to come here and see how the other half, or three quarters or whatever the US population balance is these days, lives. My brother took Shackleton to his office and showed him the Texas School Book Depository on the way home (assasination tourism - we don't have that in Vermont).

Odd thing is that Shack has declared his intention to move to Texas when he grows up. He didn't mention whether the warm temperatures or the women who fawned over him on this trip have had any part in that decision...

We are back to Vermont, Lord willing and the creek don't rise, tomorrow.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Nature's Last Green is Gold...

Today's goal: one last time around the lawn on the mower for 2009. I had to stop work, though, when the sun started slanting low and lit up the winter wheat (the green field in the picture in today's banner) to such a stunning green. Then the kids came out when they saw I had the camera, and the dog started running around, so we had one of our periodic farm photo shoots.

Also, I made black bean soup, which tastes pretty good. So, that's a wrap on Saturday.

This is a classy blog, with classy post titles alluding to classy poems. So, here's my inspiration for today, by that great Vermonter, Robert Frost:

Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

No, it doesn't last so be sure to get the camera out. I hope your weekend is golden.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Art Appreciation Moment

It's 7 AM on Friday before Columbus Day/Canadian Thanksgiving and no time to be blogging (School! Work!) but I sat down to check email and update my iPod and couldn't resist putting this banner on my blog. You may be surprised to learn that it isn't actually the view from our house. It comes from Laurence Olivier's famous 1948 film version of Hamlet. I just learned over at Wikipedia that it won the 1948 Academy Award for best film. Sixty years on it is still fabulous.

We watched this film in 8th Grade after the "Hamlet unit" and I never forgot it, though I hadn't seen it again until the other day when I popped it into the DVD (from Criterion Collection) into the player to see on the new LCD TV.

Needless to say, I loved the way the film looks - the atmosphere in every scene is haunting. I had to get a couple of screen shots for posterity. Today's banner comes from the opening scene, when the Castle guards at Elsinore first see the (creepy) ghost of Hamlet's father.

Maybe I should have saved this for Halloween?

I think I am now, at last, old enough to really appreciate poor Hamlet's problem. "Oh yeah," I found myself thinking. "He has been put into an impossible position by circumstances, and his family, and maybe God himself, and finds that he is required to be steely and brave, when he is not so sure he can be either." I feel for Hamlet now. Isn't childbirth a bit like this? At least that first one? (Ladies?) Or maybe battlefield experiences, or maybe courtroom experiences? Poor guy. Poor us.

Bon weekend.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Vermont Life

Every weekend I make a vow to myself to get up early and go for a walk with the dog on the (now) quiet slopes of Jay Peak, our local mountain. I try to manage things so that I am out of the house before any one else is awake or else I get drafted into feeding people or helping on the computer or refereeing computer time blan blah blah. Today, I made such a racket in my preparations (looking for my glasses, my coat etc) that everyone was up before I could make my escape, and it was raining. I went anyway.

I told myself that I would at least show up at the mountain, go uphill a couple of hundred yards to get my heart rate up, then, having made an effort, I could go home with a clear conscience. So, with low expectations, Maisy and I hit the slopes and started hiking. I was listening to This American Life on my iPod, a fascinating piece on "Frenemies" (q.v.). Well, and here's the point, we had a great time. The "Frenemies" show was fascinating and was strangely in keeping with the atmosphere on the mountain. The scenery was, of course, beautiful. The sun was in and out of the clouds and the trees, ahhh, the trees, and the rocks and the ferns. I think that mountain is my favorite place on earth. I have never had a bad day there, not even a bad experience. Note to self. Hike more. What would my new cosmopolitain alter ego make of this? (see the last post.) She would not touch a hiking boot with a gondola pole - in fact, she wouldn' touch a gondola pole. One or two people who drop around here from time to time would no doubt feel the same. I am reconciled to my little internal contradictions, though. I love the city and the country. Let a thousand flowers bloom, I say. Here are some pictures I took along the way, and if will load, a little piece of video saw you can see what I saw. Bon weekend.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I Have Lived for Art...

I haven't really, but I like the idea.

I like the idea that instead of spending my days in an unkempt living room in an old house in the middle of nowhere, trying to keep my feet warm in grey wool socks, I might still have a chance to spend them at a small cafe table in Italy, existing on very small cups of very strong coffee.

Instead of a faded T-shirt and pants with an elastic waistband, I will wear a small black dress. I will replace my skewed four-year-old thick glasses, (apparently inspired by the safety glasses of 1960s NASA engineers), with enormous round sunglasses. I will cover my carefully arranged hair with a silk scarf, loosely tied, to keep the wind from tousling my curls too much (and also because I know the scarf looks fetching as it flutters, and because it sets off my diamond earrings so nicely).

In this other life, I will be able to navigate cobblestones and dodge paparazzi in three-inch red high heels. My lightweight trench coat will be tightly cinched around my sylph's waist. I will drive a tiny 1963 Fiat two-seater to meet my agent, Giancarlo, at my publisher's office in the old city. I will sometimes feel bad about keeping Giancarlo waiting, as I always do, and in such a state of constant anxiety. I will tell him he must stop smoking, and he will blame me every time for his failure to quit. Oh Giancarlo! In one breath you threaten to leave me forever, I am such a torment, but in the next breath you say you couldn't possibly and beg forgiveness. I might forgive you. I might.

Oh. That was a fun and a bit therapeutic. Maybe I won't stop for a Filet o'Fish on the way to pick up the kids afterall.

As you can see I am having a useless sort of a day. Periodically, the desire to create a T-Shirt overwhelms me and I spend a happy hour or so putting one together. Today, my inspiration was this slight mistranslation of a famous line from Tosca which often repeats in my head. Here's my version on a T-shirt.

In the original Italian, the line is: Vissi d'Arte, Vissi D'amore.

It is much better that way, isn't it? But no one in Vermont would know what I was trying to tell them. Maybe it would be better that way...

Well, next time I have an idle hour I am doing another one the way Puccini wrote it. I suppose it's really more headstone material than T-Shirt material but my deeply trapped inner Maria Callas needs to advertise - as you already know.

I am mentally blowing you all kisses, with very grand gestures, from the balcony of my imagination. Ciao, my darlings! Ciao!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

You Are Repressed, But You're Remarkably Dressed

I didn't get any takers on the little challenge I set out at the end of the last post (from whence did I steal the title of that last post?) So, rather than keep you all in suspense for another minute, I am just going to tell you. It was from the Morrissey song on the Bona Drag album, "Hairdresser on Fire." This post title is another bit of lyric that sticks...

"Hairdresser on Fire" comes from the mid-career, post-Smiths, Morrissey ouevre, when he was still young and tormented. (I understand that lately he has settled a bit and might even have taken a stab at some form of romance).

There are a couple of live versions on Youtube, but I prefer to listen again to the one that plays in my head, from the days when Bona Drag was a regular in my car's CD rotation. Some fan painstakingly collected all these views of M and overlayed them on that familiar track, if you want to hear it for yourself.

Remember me to Sloane Square.

A little more follow up on the last post, keeping with our U.K. theme, I did make it to the British Invasion Car Show in Stowe last weekend. The best part of it was listening to the Beatles tribute band, "Britishmania" (not to be confused with Beatlesmania (TM)). They played at a block party on Stowe's lovely Main Street on Friday night. The kids danced. I bobbed my head and sang along and watched the other people in the audience - New England types who did not want to get too close to the stage and who also limited their display of interest to headbobbing and singing along. Late in the evening (like, 8:30) a few people migrated out of the beer cage (it was a very well-regulated event and beer was sold only in a small area enclosed by snow fencing) and some of those people moved their legs and arms a bit and shouted requests. We all sang "Yellow Submarine" together and bonded.

Adding to the festive atmosphere were all these fabulous old Jaguars and MGs and Minis and Sprites and even a Rolls or two that were parked up and down the street which was otherwise closed to traffic.

On Sunday, the Understudy and I went up to the show field and caught the tail end of the main show. Well, mostly we shopped feverishly in the goods tent as the vendors were packing up all around us. You'll be relieved to hear, I am sure, that we we were able to buy a bunch of things emblazoned with Union Jacks, albeit under pressure. We also got to see at least a few cars and I managed a few photos (above and below). These pictures don't do the cars justice because we had to hurry and also because it was too sunny and bright to get the romance of the things. Still, here ya go.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Summer was cold and soggy here on the US/Canadian border, but September has been beautiful. I managed to take the camera out a few times lately to record the fabulousness of it all.

Today, behind the Last House. Fun on the tire swing.

The flying pig was an auction find. I added him to the broken down manure spreader behind the barn, ooops, I mean, "in the sculpture garden." Move over Marcel Duchamp.

Barn roof with bird.

What could Monet have accomplished if he'd had a digital camera?

Jay Peak, waiting for snow.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Giddy London

An English Car show held in Stowe, Vermont called the British Invasion is on this weekend. Lots of wee MGs were tooling down Main Street this evening and Union Jacks are fluttering from the light poles and at every retail establishment.

I have also been struggling with my Great Fiction Project (henceforth "GFP") some of which takes place in England of yesteryear. I have been researching various elements of daily life in the provinces and in the capital. I like that part. I have always loved reading about any kind of English history. I never have known why. It makes me wonder about reincarnation.

As a result, old England is on my mind and on my computer. I found a great website I wanted to share. "Twentieth Century London" is an Internet archive of objects and information from a dozen London-based museums all regarding life in London during, you guessed it, the 20th Century. (Some of us remember large swaths of that century and it was not without interest). The site has lots of great images (see above and below) and historical odds and ends. There's a cool feature for kids, a kind of animated London story book, and a London quiz (I got 8 out of 10 - and would have had 9 out of 10 if I had been paying closer attention, it was that easy).

I'll let you know how it goes (the British Invasion - maybe more later on the GFP).

Points for anyone who can tell me the name of the song, and the artist, from whom I filched the title of this post. I might even send you a bit of tat if you guess it right.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Fun With Free Association

The kids are, of course, back in school. The Understudy is in sixth grade now and her "language arts" (formerly known as "English") teacher recommended a Scrabble-type game called "Bananagrams." The Understudy told me about it yesterday and, since it was pay day and sunny and I was in an oddly generous mood, I went to the sweet little toy shop in Stowe and, (you may want to buckle on a helmet here if you're prone to fainting), I paid retail for it ($17 and change).

Well, I guess now that we have played it a few times it may be worth it. It has the beauty of simplicity. Essentially, the game is just a little banana-shaped bag of tiles with letters on them. The goal is to make words out of them. There is no board and no scoring, you just have to use up the tiles in your hand to win. Oh, the pleasures of middle age. (This is what we're doing for fun on a Friday night).

As if this wasn't thrilling and reward enough on its own, the name of the game (for those with short attention spans, it's "Bananagrams") put me in mind of that great old Saturday Night Live skit, the Land Shark.

Comedy doesn't generally age very well, and something this stupid really shouldn't be funny, and yet... So, for those of you of a certain age, here they are again for your viewing pleasure: Gilda Radner and Lorraine Newman as the victims of the Land Shark - the cleverest species of them all (as per a Richard Dreyfusesque John Belushi).

Sorry about the commercial they shoved into this video. It's worth sitting through it if only to see our dearly beloved Gilda again.

Have a nice weekend. I am off to challenge Whusband for Bgrams supremacy.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Toff or Tart?

“I saw you talking to the captain just now”
“An unapproachable old bastard. He’ll talk only to the toffs.” The word had an antique flavour: this time his dictionary had certainly failed him.
“I wouldn’t call myself a toff.”
“You mustn’t mind me saying that. Toff has a special sense for me. I divide the world into two parts – the toffs and the tarts. The toffs can do without the tarts, but the tarts can’t do without the toffs. I’m a tart.”
“What exactly is your idea of a tart? It seems to be a bit special too.”
“The toffs have a settled job or a good income. They have a stake somehwhere like you have in your hotel. The tarts – well, we pick a living here and there – in saloon bars. We keep ours ears open and our eyes skinned.”
“You live on your wits, is that it?”
“Or we die on them often enough.”
“And the toffs – haven’t they any wits?”
“They don’t need wits. They have reason, intelligence, character. We tarts – we sometimes go too fast for our own good.”
“And the other passengers – are the tarts or toffs?”
“I can’t make out Mr Fenandez. He might be either. And the chemist chap, he’s given us no opportunity to judge. But Mr. Smith – he’s a real toff if ever there was one.
“You sound as though you admire the toffs.”
“We’d all like to be toffs, and aren’t there moments –admit it old man – when you envy the tarts? Sometimes when you don’t want to sit down with your accountant and see too far ahead?”
“Yes, I suppose there are moments like that.”
“You think to yourself ‘We have the responsibility, but they have all the fun.’”
“I hope you’ll find some fun where you are going. It’s a country of tarts all right – from the President downwards.
“That’s one danger more for me. A tart can spot a tart. Perhaps I’ll have to play a toff and put them off their guard.”

Graham Greene, The Comedians (1966)

I bought The Comedians at a library book sale this summer. Here's a neat summary of the story from Wikipedia:

The Comedians is a novel by Graham Greene, first published in 1966. Set in Haiti under the rule of Fran├žois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his secret police, the Tonton Macoute, The Comedians tells the story of a tired hotel owner, Brown, and his increasing fatalism as he watches Haiti descend into barbarism. The story begins as three men: Brown, Smith the innocent American, and Major H. O. Jones the confidence man meet on a ship bound for Haiti. Brown, Smith, and Jones, their names suggesting a curious facelessness, are the “comedians” of Greene’s title. Complications include Brown’s friendship with a rebel leader, politically charged hotel guests, the manipulations of a British arms dealer, and an affair with Martha Pineda, the wife of a South American ambassador. The setting for much of the novel, the Hotel Trianon, was inspired by the Hotel Oloffson in central Port-au-Prince.

The novel was made into a motion picture in 1967 with Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Alec Guinness, Peter Ustinov, James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, David Niven and Lillian Gish.

I have been reading it in fits and starts (I have a bunch of books going these last few weeks) and now I seem to have mislaid it. This passage, however, a critical bit of dialog between the aforementioned "tired hotel owner, Brown, and the confidence man Jones, has been stuck in my head since I read it last month.

Could you read it without wondering which you were: toff or tart? I think I am, in essence, a tart, but doing a reasonable imitation most of the time of a toff. (Under Jones' definition, of course).

How about you?

(Thanks for the cover and the chance to look inside this book. The toff pictured above came from and that tart from

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Rough, The Smooth, This Weekend

We are back from the Woolfoot tour of the family haunts in old New York state. It was a looong drive back to the Last House. We made the drive on Thursday evening because I had to work Friday. We live almost an hour and a half from my office, and it wasn't easy after all that driving to get home to climb back in the car first thing Friday morning and head out again.

I was feeling a little sorry for myself because I practically live in my car when, at a stop sign in Stowe, Vermont, a small car passed me going the other direction with an enormous St. Bernard hanging its head out of the passenger window. If dogs could smile, that dog was smiling. This cheered me up and got me thinking about how we've got to take the rough with the smooth. Driving all the time stinks, but once in a while you get a St. Bernard hanging out of a Corolla, and that helps.

Other rough/smooth aspects of this weekend.

Thinking about the fact that my brother in Dallas is getting married at the end of the year. Smooth.

Checking Hotwire and everyplace else to find out how much it will cost to buy plane tickets from Burlington to Dallas. Rough.

Playing with the Wii game system we got just before our trip. Smooth.

Facing body mass index measurement that Wii Phit gave me yesterday. Rough. Very rough. The Wii more or less called me names.

Looking forward to having the air conditioner I got from my ex-stepfather while I was on my trip. Smooth.

Installing said air conditioner in the bedroom window during this torrid weekend. Rough, and sweaty.

The fact that that the air conditioner doesn't really work. Rougher.

Friend and her daughter visiting for lunch today. Smooth.

Whusband's menu choice of slow-cook stew and having to wash a million dishes in torrid weather. Rough.

All four of us hanging around the house all day on a Sunday. Rough and smooth in nearly equal measures.

OK - Must go and practice some reading with Shackleton. Best wishes for a smooth Monday.