Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sing, Adele

So last night I did a couple duets with Adele at her show in Montreal. She didn't actually know that we were singing a duet. I hope the people near me didn't realize it either - I pretty much made sure that they wouldn't. I didn't want to upstage her, or bother anyone or anything so I sang pretty quietly. Still, it gave me a little thrill to hear (in my one good ear) my voice and Adele's live and in-person at the same time. I've decided though that she's going to have to make it as soloist though. I can't have her being the Garfunkel to my Simon.

(Photo: Montreal Gazette)

The reviewer from the Montreal Gazette did a good job. If you care to, you can read his review here.

I am happy to report that my friend Splenda came along and was lovely as she could be. She took me to dinner at a great little French place on St. Denis before the show and chaufered me to and from the Woolfoot family Montreal Apartment. (That skyline view is the view from the MTL Abode).

Both Splenda and I were charmed by Adele who, it seems, can make her voice do anything and who was so down-to-earth and winning when she wasn't singing. I confess to being a bit worried about her (Adele, not Splenda). I mean, she's only 20! What did you know about money when you were 20? Probably you didn't have any, so no big, but our Adele. If you read this, my dear, find out who handles David Bowie's money and go see him/her/them. I think he has managed to hang onto quite a pile and despite the ups and downs has never flamed (no pun intended) out.

Needless to say, it was great to be back in Montreal all on my own to meet up with Splenda and go out to a concert. Ooooh. Now I remember why having kids was such an adjustment!

Listening to Adele last night I recalled my own 20th birthday, which occurred in Montreal. I remember thinking, and saying, that I had to be serious because I was 20. What a maroon! I also was thinking last night about how if at 20, I wrote a song (something of which I would be incapable of doing since I know nothing about music) or even a poem about breaking up with my boyfriend it would have been (and still would be) absolute shite. Adele's biggest song, "Chasing Pavements" and all her best songs are love songs - and they are great. Hmm. Talent.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Happy Friday; Doing a Friend a Favor, Or Not

I reread my last post the other day, where I called my little boy "some kind of genius" (despite the fact that he is eight and still learning to read). Hmmph. I thought. If I were reading that I would think, "Sure. The kid's the kind of genius who flunks second grade." Well. I know you are a charitable lot and most with kids of your own and I will assume you took my meaning. Plus, he is some kind of genius. I am not sure what kind yet, I hope the kind who can support an old mother one day, but time will tell.

In other news, in a little Internet goofing around the other day I learned that the smashing young Adele is playing a show in Montreal next Tuesday. Montreal is a stone's throw (well, if Superman were doing the throwing) from the Last House.

I bought two tickets and immediately emailed my friend, uhhh, "Splenda" who lives in Montreal. I wrote that I had bought her a ticket and generally extorted a promise from her that she would go along.

The backstory on this is that "Splenda" is an attractive and charismatic person, with an attractive and charismatic husband (think movie star) and two attractive and charismatic children. She is also nice to people and generally sort of sparkles. The problem this creates for her is that people want to hang around her house, they want to visit her place in the country, they want her on their committees. She sends her husband to do pick up and drop off at school so she won't have to deal with the other moms and their suggestions for get-togethers. I got her a t-shirt for her birthday that said "I have enough friends, but thank you for your interest." I also gave her matching business cards, which failed to give any contact information, and included the phrase "how's never for you?" Oh, and a matching pen.

She HOWLED. She showed this stuff to all her friends. Apparently we all believe it's her other friends who are crowding her. OK, Splenda. You know who you are. I'll forgive you if you don't really want to go but I've got your number.

I can't wait to see Adele. I know Splenda will have fun too, if she comes along.

I will write a review.

Bon weekend.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Writing For Children (Who Have Trouble With Short Vowels - And Obnoxious Mothers)

As you know, if you have been following along, the adorable Shackleton, who just turned 8, is having trouble learning to read, despite the fact that he is a kind of genius. (Well, I am his mother). He is now getting special instruction six hours a week from a group of expert tutors near Burlington. It seems to be working...

They send him home after every session with little books that he is supposed to read and return. Because he seems to be having a particularly bad time keeping his short vowel sounds straight, the books he's assigned tend to be dramatically limited. This week, he came home with "Ben the Bug." He did a good job reading it to us, but after sitting through it once I thought I would try a little rewrite, to introduce a little more vocabulary and a few other concepts.

If you have a short-vowel challenged reader in your life, feel free to use this. Publishers interested in acquiring the rights can email me. I'll make you a deal. The Understudy is at work now on illustrations. If those come out good, maybe I'll post scans...

Ben the Bug: Part 2

Ben saw a hat. It belonged to a man.

Ben cut a hole in the hat with a pin. He made the hat a hut!

Ben liked his hat hut. It was big.

When the man got back, he was not mad, but he wanted his hat back.

He gave a tin can to Ben for a hut.

But Ben said, “No thanks! That can is hot and it smells bad. I want the hat!”

The man said “No! That is my hat. Sod off, Ben!” Then the mad man tried to hit Ben with a pot.



Ben left fast. He went to the beach.

Ben sat on the sand. The beach was hot and dull!

A thin man said to Ben, “The sun is bad for you.”

Ben asked the thin man for a cigarette.

“No!” said the thin man. “That is bad! Very, very bad!

“Just one?” asked Ben.

“NO!” Said the man.

“Ben said, “you are a drag, you thin man.”

Then Ben said, “can I have a hot dog?”
“Hmmm...” Said the man. “That is bad too, but not as bad. Yes, you can have a hot dog.”

“Thanks man,” said Ben. “You are OK afterall.”

Ben had the hot dog. But he still wanted a cigarette.

Ben was a bad bug.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Northern Border and Some New Stuff

My friend Nan over at "Letters from a Hill Farm" (see the sidebar) tipped me off to a story in the March issue Yankee Magazine about the Quebec/New England Border. I finally nipped over to the Yankee website and read it. Now I am commending it to you all.

It's basically about how things have changed along that once-upon-a-time friendly border since that Very Bad Day, Sept. 11, 2001.

The border crossing in our little town, which is mentioned and described in some detail in the article, morphed from a little brick house with a portico to a massive, Stalinist excrescence. (Your tax dollars at work). The change has not been for the good, as the writer makes clear in a quiet way.

The Way We Were...

The border guards back in the day were usually men and women who had lived around the area for years. They knew who was who. When you pulled up at the station, they came out under the portico to eyeball you and ask a few questions and maybe even shoot the breeze a little. Now a guy from who-knows-where sits up behind bullet proof glass. He requires your passport, swipes it, types something into a computer (the lawyer in me really wants to know what but like everyone else I shut up and just answer the questions). As the Yankee writer notes, often these questions, at least for us standard, born-and-live-in-the-U.S. Americans, have to do with vegetables or meat you might have acquired in Canada. (Of course, America needs to be protected from Canadian meat and vegetables. It's horrifying the way the Canadians are dropping like flies from eating the food in their country). If you were born someplace other than the U.S. or Canada or Christendom generally (well, not counting Mexico or central or South America as Christendom) I can imagine things are much more difficult. My daughter's class trip to Montreal was delayed three hours at the U.S. border because there was a seventh grader from Mexico on the bus. The French teacher who arranged the trip told me that she had decided to stop taking kids into Canada.

Those of you from far, far away probably don't think much about the US/Canadian border, but when things at this border turn suspicious, wary, and nasty, you can believe that the tone in international airports and every other place where foreigners enter the country has probably suffered more. (Our English friends who own property here all have a horror story or two, about the Boston and New York airports as well as about crossing from Canada to the US).

I was hoping that with a new administration in Washington our leaders would shift their strategy from the "higher fences" approach and to old fashioned police work and intelligence-gathering to get the bad guys. No sign of this yet. I heard recently that the local border patrol was getting a bunch of new personnel.

Treating each visitor (and returning American) who presents himself at the border as a potential criminal should not be the default approach... It's pretty clear to me that we are despoiling what ought to be regarded as a national treasure (a friendly front door) and for no good reason.

Material Culture

Phew. I am glad I got that off my chest. Now let's get back to something of genuine public interest: my recent acquisitions. Here are a few items from my favorite antique store, M. Lewis in Waterbury, Vermont, to which I succumbed to this week.

I have been eyeing this one for awhile. I actually wrote an email to a nice woman who is an expert in "English Pink" transferware for some advice on whether I should buy this. It has a crack... She gave me the advice I wanted and I followed it.

I had a good experience asking experts from the Transferware Collectors Club to swing by once before and identify patterns on old plates so I might do the same again. Any information would, of course, be gratefully received.

I am positive this is Staffordshire and I am just about certain it dates from the 1830s or '40s but I have no idea which potter made it or what the pattern is.

I bought this little, what? dish/bowl "dishbowl" and underplate because it was so unusual and the colors were so 1920s (I think). What is happening in this little scene? Bo peep meets two potential boyfriends? And what is it? The guy at M. Lewis who generally minds the store (he returned a glove to me that I left there a month or two ago... I am a known quantity) thought it was for butter. My office mate suggested it was for desserts. Any guesses? It's marked "Made in England" with a crown. No maker's name, unfortunately

And last but not least, one more hat box. This one is truly fabulous. It is decorated with Paris monuments and the names of Paris hat designers, "milliners" I should say, from the 1950s: "Svend" "Achille" "Madame Paulette" etc. It is so echt 50s and French, how could I leave it in the shop?

I did a little poking around the Internet and someone is selling something similar in an on-line antique shop as a relic of a long-ago Paris Fashion Week. C'est vraiment chic, n'est ce pas? I am glad whomever brought it back from France in the 1950s didn't have it grabbed by customs...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

Just a post at twilight, just before I go, (to watch The Simpsons, and then to bed). Best Easter wishes to those few who may stumble in here this evening. Not that you asked, but here's what we did today.
Our Easter Sunday began with an 8AM Mass here at the Catholic Church in our tiny northern border town. The kids attend Catholic school and so pretty much know the drill. My Methodist upbringing left me a little at sea (kneel, genuflect, kneel etc) but I liked it. We weren't much for statues and incense back at Eastern Parkway United Methodist, but the little church in our village here has quite a beautiful statue of the Virgin and Child and I liked the incense burning bit. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the priest here at the moment is Nigerian. I had read about him a few years ago in a local paper, when he was new in Vermont and assigned to a parish in a neighboring county. He's a long way from home, and believe me when I tell you our village is a little thin on Nigerians. He had a lovely voice and lots of charisma. Watching him minister to all the stolid farm-town lilly-white Yankees, in his demonstrative way, was touching to me, and heartening about the whole Big Picture.

Then it was home to put out an Easter Dinner spread for ourselves and some Montreal friends. WHusband had brought all kinds of great stuff from the Slovenian butcher and Italian grocer in Montreal and I dragged out the fancy vintage china and flatware (auction bargains all), really cleaned the dining room (which serves as an office and rec center most of the time) and a good time was had by all. I played vinyl record albums of movie musicals all afternoon: Gigi and My Fair Lady and Oliver, and music hall favorites from the 19th Century (hence the reference, which you may have missed, to "Just a Song at Twilight"). The music helped to put us all in a good mood and to keep us there - even me with what seemed like a thousand dishes to wash before all was said and done.

It's Clean! Quick take a picture!...

In all the driving around I have been doing (see the last post) I have had the chance to listen to a lot of music. One of my favorite CDs is Johnny Cash Greatest Hits. (Aren't I full of surprises?) Johnny Cash makes me proud to be an American. His version of "Were You There", with his wife, June Carter Cash and her Carter family sisters singing along, is my favorite song on the record. It's a great song for Easter and here's a version for your consideration. It's fun (and funny) - but I don't think it is mocking (or I wouldn't have posted it). If you are put off by Lego people singing gospel, just listen. (You have to admit, these filmmakers made a great job of animating this). June Carter reaching for (and finding) those high notes goes right to my heart. Enoy, put away intellectual doubt, and have a happy Easter.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Some Local Scenery

I meant to sneak out of the house this morning BEFORE the kids were awake so I could take a quiet walk with Maisy up on Jay Peak. The sun is coming in earlier and earlier and the floor boards get creakier and creakier with the predictable result that kids woke up and said they wanted to come too. Not that I don't like to have them along, of course, but when I am planning a real walk they tend to cramp my style. After about 20 minutes this morning on the lovely Jay golf course (they are still skiing at Jay but golf will be coming soon) the Understudy slipped into Goth-Tween mode and complained loudly that she was starving.

Amazing what the dark looks of an 11-year-old can do to bright mountain scenery...

So, the walk was short, but it had its rewards.

Hot chocolate in the cafeteria was restorative...

A Little More Snow...

And on Thursday, we had one of the Vermont versions of "April Showers". That would be snow showers. The snow was gone by 11 AM, but it looked nice for my return to the Recreation Path in Stowe. This is Mount Mansfield, the highest mountain in Vermont, where they are also still skiing, at least for a bit longer.

It still looked a lot like Christmas, briefly.

I should really take a picture of the dusty dashboard of my car as that is the local scenery I see most often lately. Somehow, our lives have been contorted into a shape that has lately required me to drive at least 3 hours a day. (There are two, count 'em two, nag lights lit up now on the old dashboard - "Check Engine" and "Maintenance Required" - I was going to get some black tape and cover them up but I am getting really good at ignoring them. My carbon footprint must be like Godzilla's. Sorry about that. We're trying to make a new arrangement.)

I manage only because I can get out of the car and walk around periodically.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Those Are Pearls ...

(John W. Waterhouse, Miranda - The Tempest (1916)

We had theater tickets both nights this weekend!
Weellll, before you suffer a pang of jealousy or wonder at the social and cultural swirl that effervesces around us here on the Vermont side of the Canadian Border, the tickets weren't exactly for Broadway. We were headed more off Broadway, like off in a school cafeteria. Our tickets got us seats at the lunch tables (thankfully, these can be converted into benches) to see two performances of Shakespeare's The Tempest, as enacted by the middle school students at the small Catholic school attended by the children of the Last House.

Our own little girl, (known on these pages as the Understudy) made her theater debut as a Sprite.

The Understudy On Stage as an Otherworldly Creature

The director of this production, an extremely dedicated woman with a history in professional theater, reinterpreted it some, but all the poetry was there. The kids all hit their marks, every speech was delivered, the story was told again and credibly. Oh, the effort involved!

I haven't gone back to the actual text to see if Sprites were an, hmm, "innovation" for a middle school production (where the casting director needed to find a few parts for fifth grade girls), or if they are creatures of Shakespeare's own invention. Somehow, either way, I like to think he would have approved of having 11-year-olds appear in silvery togas to do a dance, and to move the plot along by doing the bidding of Prospero and the island gods.

Both Whusband and I were surprised to find that sitting through this version of The Tempest was not at all a chore. Maybe now that I am well into my 40s, I am finally ready for Shakespeare. Maybe I would have liked it better and understood it more all along if I had watched it acted live by school children.

Great Juno & Company

In any case, I can honestly report that this was my best experience of Shakespeare to date, and not just cause my kid appeared in brief flashes. It was a pleasure to see it played and to hear it spoken by these earnest young people. As I shifted on that hard bench (in a darkness achieved by taping cardboard over the windows) I was reminded of Frank McCourt's reminiscence of Shakespeare in Angela's Ashes . He wrote about how, when he had been hospitalized with a near-fatal illness as a kid, he heard, or read, some lines from Shakespeare while he was convalescing. He said them aloud, over and over, not really knowing what they meant, but because he found them, "like jewels" in his mouth.

The Director of the school version rejiggered the famous speech delivered at the end of the play by Prospero, a character originally played by Shakespeare himself, in his final performance in his final play. She moved this bit, which appears in Act IV Scene 1 (as I just learned) to the end of the play and integrated it with the rest of the speech made there. Prospero, after the action is done, addresses the audience not as Prospero, but as Shakespeare (or so we were informed). Whether this is exactly correct, I don't know. I think the lines fit very nicely at the end of the play and I have been pondering them since I heard the 14-year-old Prospero speak them twice over this weekend. Here they are for your consideration.

These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Typing the Letters Off My Keyboard

Our foremothers read the covers off their Bibles. I have typed the "p" and the "h" off my keyboard. Hmmm. "HelP!?"

It is a cheapo Ebay bargain laptop. I bought a warranty that is probably still good but I would be both worried and embarrassed to send this off to be repaired: worried that I would lose all the files, especially the pictures that are stored here, and embarrassed about the manky swill that lurks beneath (as I can now see). Has the science fiction story "It Came from the Keyboard" been written yet?