Thursday, December 30, 2010

Poetry Assignment

Vacation is dribbling away. Shackleton is doing a poetry unit and is supposed to read 125 poems before returning to school in just a few more days . You've met Shack, right? It's not true that he can't read, but I think he would rather get a cavity filled than read more than three words at a clip. So far, with only a few days left, we have read four poems. Well, five, if you count the one I just wrote (and illustrated!) for him.

A Poem for Shackleton

I think that I shall never see
A Poem as lovely
As TV.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

And God Bless Us, Everyone, Especially Adam Gopnik

The dining room at the Last House 12.25.10- Christmas Dinner, Done and Dusted. Half an apple pie remained...

Another Sunday night draws to a close and we have survived Christmas. Ours was nice at the Last House, thanks, snowy and cold as befits our latitude (see previous posts and comments if you have a moment). Kids = happy. Food = good. Company = fine. I hope yours was also lovely.

So, part of my long Christmas weekend involved catching up on The New Yorker. Issues of the New Yorker come at me the way those assembly-line chocolates once came at Lucille Ball... I love it, but there always seem to be a backlog - a few lurking under newspapers on the footstool, or in with the bills on the dining room table. And since I mostly read it in bed, it takes me a long time to work through each issue. (I am forever finding crumpled issues on the wall side of the bed, where they have slipped after I have lost consciousness. They rest there in the dust [slut's wool, they used to call it] until I get around to changing sheets, which can sometimes be a fair stretch).

I found one of these neglected issues the other day and read a lot of it in snatches between cooking, cleaning and wrapping. I believe the issue of August 30. It included a critic at large piece by Adam Gopnik about Winston Churchill and books about Winston Churchill. Q.v.

This was doubly enticing for me because I have always felt a certain something for Winston Churchill and, if you have been following along, you know I have included Adam Gopnik in my personal (short) list of brushes with greatness.

On the Churchill connection, Winston died the day before I was born - or basically the day I was born because of the time difference between the U.K. and the U.S. east coast. I have known this all my life because my mother dutifully filled in the blank in my baby book (which I started poring over as soon as I could read) that asked for the day's headlines on the date of my birth (January 25, 1965). "Churchill Dead!" Perhaps not the most auspicious day in the world's calendar. When I learned as a kid about the Buddhist theory of reincarnation and rebirth of the Dalai Lama I have to admit it crossed my mind. But, nah...

As I got older my admiration for Churchill grew with every quotation I read. In my 20s I actually posted on my desk the bit about:

"We shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

My job at the time (writing for an alumni magazine in placid upstate New York) wasn't much like defending civilization from Nazi hordes, but, young as I was, I saw corollaries - and it was just so stirring! When I finally got to England a couple of years ago, I made it a point to get to Blenheim Palace, ancestral home of the Dukes of Marlborough (Churchill's ancestors) and Sir Winston's birthplace.

The friend who brought me to Blenheim also bought us Roy Jenkins' book about Churchill. I read a lot of it (OK - I didn't finish it, yet, but I have explained about that). There was a bit that I read there that I have thought about many times since: something Winston said early in his political career. Gopnik must have been struck by the same bit because he recorded it in his article:

Churchill, on a visit to a poor neighborhood in Manchester, [said], with his odd and signature mixture of real empathy and inherited condescension, “Fancy living in one of these streets—never seeing anything beautiful—never eating anything savoury—never saying anything clever! ”

I suppose that reveals a lot about Churchill's character as a young man and doesn't reflect so well on him today, but I know exactly what he meant and I agreed absolutely. How awful to be trapped someplace (geographically and socially) where the blindly uninquisitive reign. (Aside: That's why liberal arts education - education not in furtherance of anything, necessarily, beyond personal acquisition of knowledge - needs to be defended like England was defended against the Nazis.)

As I read on in Gopnik's article I was repeatedly gobsmacked by Gopnik's own brilliant writing. I mean, The New Yorker sent the right Critic-at-Large to review the reviwers of Churchill E.g.:

Revisionism, the itch of historians to say something new about something already known, has nicked Churchill without really drawing blood.

To be born both at the top of the tree and out on a limb is an odd combination, and that double heritage accounts for a lot of what happened to him later.

It may seem mysterious that jingoism should appeal so overwhelmingly to the working classes, easily trumping apparently obvious differences in interests between them and the economic imperialists. Why should conquering Burma be of significance to a Cockney? But imperialism is the cosmopolitanism of the people, the lever by which the unempowered come to believe that their acts have world-historical meaning.

Well. All I can say is, wow.

When I interviewed A.G. back in a former life, I remember him telling me that he had learned from another New Yorker writer, the late Whitney Balliet, to give the reader something extra at the end of an article, something more. (I am paraphrasing and may not have that exactly right) but I thought I got a lot of something more here. See what you think.

OK. Back to work tomorrow so I must get to bed! Here's my poor version of a little something extra for any stoppers-by here: a few shots of our Christmas weekend (sledding today).

Whusband drags an old deck chair to the sledding hill behind the Last House. The bluish speck is Shackleton...

Ta for now!

Oh - and one last thing. I just got an email this weekend from the BBC saying I had been granted a ticket to see David Sedaris read at Broadcasting House on January 16. I am taking a poll. Should I pull the kids out of school and take time off from work to go to London for a trip that would include January 16? I mean, there's other stuff we could do too...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Snow Divide

The U.S., at least these days, people can choose their climate. Has there ever been a time or place where it was so easy for so many to suit themselves? We've got every climate available anywhere on the planet here in the U.S. and no government authority can step between an American and his or her choice of weather.

What this choice boils down to is, in one way or another, snow. Where do you stand on the snow question? Do you want lots? Some? None at all? Are you a case of "It's nice to visit but I wouldn't want to live there?"

It came to me recently, lying in bed in my Vermont home in the small hours of the morning, wondering for the umpteenth time what the snow situation would be when it was time for work and school in the morning, that my own family has basically been riven by the snow question. Snow is a wedge issue for us and it has driven us, in a literal sense and figuratively as well, far, far apart.

I live in the same climate, basically, in which I arrived back in the 1960s. I was born in Albany, New York, grew up entirely in upstate New York (suburbs of Syracuse followed by suburbs of Schenectady) like many a General Electric Brat before and since. When I got old enough to choose a place to go to college, I picked upstate New York (Binghamton). Then I chose again and picked Montreal. I caroomed for a few years like a pinball through the Champlain valley between the Albany area and Montreal and then settled, after finishing my education, over the line in Vermont. And here I have stayed. My own children were born here. Our flag is planted in snowy Vermont.

I, however, am only one of three children. My older sister, I'll call her Bea, lives now in Florida. She has been living in the south, (Texas before Florida), for about the same amount of time that I have been in Vermont - 15 years or so. My younger brother, "Duke," went off to Texas for law school when he was 21. He pulled a stint in Louisiana, working for a judge, and a couple of years in Virginia but has been back in Texas for more than ten years and is there to stay. My mother, who was herself born and raised in upstate New York - a place she hopscotched across in the cities along the Erie canal for her whole adult life - decamped from Schenectady more than 10 years ago. First stop, Atlanta. Next stop and apparent final destination, the west Coast of Florida.

Only my father and I of the original set of five remain in the northeast. He still works for GE and he and his wife and their two dogs are installed where they have been for more than 10 years in a little village in Albany county. They live now not 15 miles from the college he arrived at as an 18-year-old, fresh off his family's central New York dairy farm. If he has his way, they aren't going anywhere. At least not any time soon.

As you can imagine, we rarely all get together in one place. When a few of us are gathered, however, the talk inevitably turns to climate. My father and I (he less obnoxiously so than I) regard the north as the birthplace of valor, the country of worth. We aren't leaving except feet first in a box. How do they live without four seasons? We ask one another, collusively. My Dad told me once that when he was growing up in Oswego County, New York, (a place infamous for gigantic lake-effect snows -- the kind the bring TV crews from New York City every couple of years to stand with their microphones and parkas before mountains of snow) that he was taught in high school to pity American southerners. It was an official part of the civics curriculum. The south, he learned, was enervated by that heat. Their climate was to blame for their backward nature. He would never say so now, but I think he took that to heart.

My Texan brother is as down on the rust-belt state economic gestalt as he is on the weather up here. When he reappears in New York sometimes he'll own that it is "pretty" but he goes no further. During his visits north, every time he thumps over a pot hole or sees re-bar poking through a bridge abutment, or the talk turns to income taxes, he feels his discernment has been rewarded. Northerners are the left behind. He is no longer one of them.

My Florida relatives are a bit more nuanced. My mother would like to get out of Florida for the summers, but she informs me, after every phone conversation winter weather report, that she doesn't miss the snow. "I don't miss it." Hmmm. I wonder to myself. I have my suspicions. No one wants to drive through the dark in a sideways snow storm - me most of all - but if you were raised ice skating in a city park every day as a kid, can it be true that you don't miss winter? What about the sunny days after it snows? I don't ask her about that. It might sound like I didn't believe her.

As for my sister, cracks in her Florida devotion are showing. After years of singing the praises of Florida weather, beaches, entertainments etc. she lets slip from time to time that she is pining for a little cold air and a little northeastern blue state tolerance and east coast pointy headedness into the mix. (She's a teacher and all that tax cutting is getting to her). She is in her late 40s and now looking down the road to retirement - a road that might lead north.

I don't know, however, if she could take it now. Your blood gets thin down there. I will confess that as my 40s move on, I have wondered whether she and I might not wind up one day as seasonal housemates. I mean, a little sun in January wouldn't kill me.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Little More Adele News...

No time for a proper post, but I am thinking of you.

Just stopping in at the end of an Xmasy weekend to post the new Adele video. You'll be hearing this song on your radios long about February and you'll be able to sing along already since you HEARD IT HERE FIRST. Oh, I just checked and actually this is not the (rather overblown and overproduced) video that they notified me about three days ago - I guess they're still sitting on that - but the song is right so give a listen). If you want to see the real thing,here's a link. But really, who cares what the video looks like?

I realize it may be wearying to a couple stoppers-in who don't share my enthusiam for Adele for me to keep blatting on about her. So, here's my little apologia.

***Caution*** Elevated Pretentiousness Levels Detected... (But If that last word didn't stop you it is probably safe to proceed).

First, Adele's songs and her voice a product of a genuine human being (as opposed to synthesizers, computers and a gang of producers). I have a 12-year-old daughter who keeps me right up to speed with the iTunes top 10 - e.g., David Guetta ("tryin to find a way to describe this girl without bein' disprectful. Damn girl, you's a sexy chick." (David, it's poetry but I am not sure you achieved your goal); Far East Movement,("Feelin' so fly like Cheese Stick," I mean "G 6"). So, I listen to lots of what is new and like some of it, dislike lots of it, and love almost none of it. Adele sings for some of the same audience but without a hint of the flash that is the first requirement and last refuge of so many of the modestly talented.

More important for me personally, is that at this stage in her career she sings from a spot right in the beating heart of that country I (and a lot of us) used to occupy. You know, that country that's not for Old Men? (or middle-aged women).

I don't want to go back to being 19 or 21, but once in awhile it's nice to revisit the young, in one another's arms, birds in the trees - Those dying generations - at their song and be pierced by it all - at least for the length of a song (or maybe an album). Of course I have "21" on preorder and I'll tell you what I think of it all once I get it. (Promise, until then I'll shut up).

Meanwhile, the first song is a winner - although the Understudy just informed me she doesn't like it - except for the beat.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

An Insomniac and her Dog

Maisy occupies the geographic center of my bed, forcing me to sleep with my head at one corner and my feet at the opposite corner - like a bar sinister on a family crest. Tonight, I mean, this morning, I gave up trying to sleep and switched on the light. My plan: read a couple of stories from my new library book, return to sleep.

After a story and a half, I put the book down and, as I considered whether I was really sufficiently sleepy to quit reading, I looked at Maisy.

She had rolled onto her back, achieving a gentle c-curve, like an eyebrow. Though I couldn't see her face, which was obscured by my leg under two comforters, I knew from the bit I could see, (pink stomach and forepaws), that her head was lolling, ears flipped to the smooth side, nose pointing nearly at the foot board. I couldn't see her rear legs either but knew that in this posture, they must be splayed in the relaxed and undignified way of the sleeping terrier. Her right fore paw flopped down at the joint. Her left fore paw, however, was sticking straight in the air - a raised hand.

"Yes Maisy?" I asked inwardly. "Do you have a question?"

"Not a question so much as a comment."

"All right. And what is that?"

"I know you already know this, but, I just have to say, you are for me the Sun the Moon and the Stars. I worship you. There's pretty much nothing I wouldn't do to be with you."

"I know, my dear. And believe me, it touches me."

"Like, you know that famous dog, the one that built a monument to in Edinburgh?"

"I think his name was 'Greyfriars Bobby'."

"That's it. He's the one that sat on his dead master's grave for six years, til he died there himself?"

"That's the story."

"I'd do that for you - just so you know."

"I know you would." (I don't let on that as the actuaries have it, she is not likely to outlive me - her sentiment is so fine). "Now how about letting me get back to sleep."

"Anything for you. Good night again."

"Goodnight. Do you think you could move to the edge of the bed."

"Anything for you... but that."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Just Hello

So, here's a picture of Shackleton and the Understudy fetchingly disporting themselves in the fields behind the Last House this PM. Sledding was Shack's idea and I jumped on it. (I wanted a Christmas card picture, so never mind that it's hunting season). A more honest portrait would have included Shack playing "Halo" on Xbox and the Understudy checking Facebook - but they look like crap in the light of liquid crystal displays... There may be a sledding video attached below here. (Blogger seems to be having trouble processing it). Don't worry about it if it's not there. You would not want to watch it unless you are a near blood relative, and even then you'll probably want to bail after the first ten seconds.

We had my Dad and Stepmother here for Thanksgiving. All very nice. We ate the usual stuff and watched endless news reports about people from the ROA (rest of America) storming the battlements of Target and WalMart etc. We shook our heads at them and congratulated ourselves for sitting in the sticks, pointedly not shopping. Well, to be honest, at about 4 PM yesterday a few of us ventured to downtown Newport, VT to the hardware store and bookshop. There were about half a dozen people shopping at the same time, so we coped OK. I thought about giving a couple of them a shove, just for good measure, but no one got close enough.

Even though I was deprived of the opportunity to circle for a parking spot or to compete for bargains, this little foray actually worked out great for us. My step mother presented us with an early Christmas present: a coffee maker/espresso machine to replace the one we got before the Flood and which recently seized fatally. (She had seen me pouring boiling water through a flopping Melitta filter into a small funnel, like the Tin Man's hat, for her breakfast coffee). She also treated us to a new shower hose and shower head. We don't have a proper shower here - just a tub with a handheld shower device affixed to the spout. I always forget to warn overnight visitors that there's a pin prick in the handle that sprays a piercing little stream of scalding water into the palm (and slightly to the west) of the bather... Whusband was polite, but I know he really doesn't want to replace the leaking shower head. (Don't ask).

I hope your holiday was happy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Best Brush With Greatness _Ever_

So, you know that altar I have built to David Sedaris in my living room? (At least the living room in my head). I just added on a new transept and apse and lady chapel because I got to meet and greet him last night with 350 of his other new best friends in Montreal. He was there to sign books - any book at all it seemed, though most people apparently stuck with Sedaris's own books. He started at 6 PM, read for 40 minutes and then signed for more than four hours! I know cause we had to leave after the reading to make a scheduled dinner with friends. We had dinner and then I asked Whusband to drop the Understudy and I back at the bookstore. Sure enough, two hours later the line was still moving along at about a person every five minutes. A lovely bookstore manager took pity on me and the Understudy (the only kid there - no school this week because of Thanksgiving) and told us to find a comfy place to sit and he would summon us when the last person had gotten their book signed. This finally happened at about 11:15...

D.S. was particularly sweet to the Understudy, which made me like him even more. She has a blog of her own these days and wrote up the whole encounter very nicely. Here's the link. Just to tempt you to make the jump, three words: "gifts were exchanged."

Watching this marathon signing session put me in mind of that Sedaris classic, "The Stadium Pal," q.v.

OK - Someone remind me to talk about the John Lennon hagiography they played on American Masters on PBS this week. I mean, we all love John Lennon, but come on! One point: the music he and Yoko played together in the early 70s was unlistenable then and 40 years and a martyred superstar later, it is no better.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Steward, Where's My Pillow Menu?

This year Shack is 10 and he gets to go on a "big trip" of his choosing. His sister went to England when she was ten - not having any choice in the matter since I sprang it on her on Christmas day that year. The deal was that since he had to wait three years for his trip, he got a choice - or at least a whiff of choice. He said for a while that he wanted to go to Russia and I said, "No. No place where I can't read the signs." He said "cruise" and I said. Ycch. I didn't say, (but I thought), cruises are floating hotels for the superannuated and the vulgar (if you are a friend or family member who enjoys cruising I don't mean you, I mean the other people, the tacky, boring ones who went along with you on the cruise you enjoyed so much.).

Well... then I got thinking. What about actually going somewhere on a ship(other than the casino or the buffet or some VD-ridden trinkets outpost)? What about making that "somewhere" England? This would not be "cruising" but "crossing": this would be making the storied journey across the most no-fun highest-class Ocean of them all: the Atlantic! - and to a place where I want to go (never mind about Shackleton).

I was smitten with the idea immediately and Shack thought it sounded good too. Where's my steamer trunk! My fur coat? My cloche hat?

Oh yeah...

Not 1922 anymore.

Which means, of course,that crossing the Atlantic on a boat isn't forced on everyone, which kind of wrecked it.

Now it has to be chosen. And, I have learned, those making that choice have two options.

The only one that doesn't involve sharing deck space with shipping containers and dodgy third-world merchant seaman is the Queen Mary 2. We don't need the Queen Mary or anything, but it turns out that after one eliminates the freighters, she's all that's left.

Oh darn. I thought. Well, we'll just have to sign up for a little over-indulgence at sea. It can't be helped. In other circumstances the freighter would be the better option, but not for Shack's big trip. Once in a lifetime and all of that.

So I sent for the brochure.

If you haven't investigated the Cunard line lately you might be interested to know that they have apparently hired Hyacinth Bucket to write their copy and design their entertainments. Another change is that they have done away with steerage (drat), second class and first class - well, at least they have re branded them. Now on offer are "Britannia Club." (Read - low-rent district, at least as low rent as you can get at $250 a night) the "Princess Grill" (f/k/a second class) and "Queens Grill."

"Amenities" for the Britannia Class passengers are set out in a short list in the brochure and include (I am not making this up)"bottle of mineral water". Amenities for Princess Grill Passengers are in a much longer list and include "Fruit basket with Orchid." ("Excuse me, steward, someone has neglected to place the orchid in my fruit basket. What am I paying for in this Grill?") The Queens Grill passengers get "Butler service", "flower arrangement, fruit basket and bottled water replenished daily," "complimentary in-room bar" and on and on.

Shack and I watched the DVD that came with the brochure and did not see a single child anywhere - not in one picture, not in one frame. Lots of silver-haired attractive people in evening gowns and tuxedos having a laugh with glasses in their hands etc., but no kids, (also no oldies and no fatties which made it pretty obvious that the pictures in the brochure are all of models).

Soooo. We are getting the message that our kind aren't really wanted on the QM 2. Which, I have decided after just this little bit of reflection, is pretty much OK by me. Even if we had the cash handy for the fruit-basket-with-orchid splendors of the Princess Grill, I have a sinking feeling we wouldn't much enjoy it all. After we had a nice long gawp at the boat, I would be making fun of the minor Saudi princes, D-listers, guys who made a killing with Toyota franchises, and anybody else who could be enticed by the thought of the "Captain's Black and White Ball" or a sing-along in the Grand Lobby, "complete with lyrics."

One detail. I haven't really talked with Shack about this, after I got him all whipped up everything. I'll let you know what he says.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Vermont's Golden Nights?

I need your help with a little market research for a new product I am thinking of developing. Well, OK, it's not so much a new product as one that has yet to be branded and exploited. Let me know what you think. It would be helpful if you happened to be in, say, Australia at the moment, or anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere. That is, I would particularly value opinions from those quarters.

I have noticed lately, especially since we changed the clocks last weekend, that we have a lot of darkness here in Vermont. It's fair to say, in fact, that we have been plunged into darkness. The sun comes up around 11 AM and sets at about 1:30 PM, or thereabouts.

I was driving through a dark misty afternoon this week, shortly after lunch, trying to make out the nearly invisible fog line at the road's edge, and thinking, "Gar, it sure is dark here." Then I thought, "I wonder how people in sunny places are coping with all that light they're getting now. I wonder if all that sunshine gets on their nerves."

I think you probably see where this is heading.

There must be lots of people who would love to have just a bit of a cold and pitch-black-5-PM in their unrelievedly sunny homes. I mean, how do all those transplanted northerners stand it this time of year in Arizona, or Los Angeles? And wouldn't northern daytime darkness have a certain mystery and cachet in the tropics - or the antipodes?

So, why not box it up and sell it?

The Pros: Postage would be minimal, even for a very large box of Vermont darkness. Oppressive as the dark can be around here, it actually weighs - are you holding onto something sturdy? - nothing at all!

Ease of manufacturing? Duh. Labor costs? I think I could handle taping the boxes closed and getting them to the post office. (And cashing the checks and processing the credit cards!)

I think the fact that I am in Vermont, which is, as our State marketing people will tell you, a valuable brand in itself offers me a tremendous business adavantage. Put the Vermont seal of quality, or even just the word "Vermont" on your product and you have announced to the world: "this is the best you can get". Ice cream, wool clothes, flower seeds, honey - precede the product name with "Vermont" and people in Japan will reach for their credit cards so fast that those near them risk injury. (Remember the high-end dog that Bart ordered in that Simpson's episode when he got his own credit card? The crate was marked, "The Vermont Collie.")

Soooo. Big, big upside.

The Cons

I know what you're saying now. "Sure, it's brilliant but you will need a really cool box.

The box is, I grant you, a hurdle.

Also, as an attorney, I am aware that there might be some risk of consumer disappointment if the Vermont darkness were in any way, uhm, mishandled.

I think I could deal with this, however, with a discrete, yet bulletproof disclaimer - one that provides the corporation with legal protection without spoiling the cool box. (If the tobacco people can do it, so can I.) By way of a rough draft:

Caution! Do not open your box of Genuine Vermont Brand Darkness (TM)under conditions involving ANY ambient light. The box should be unsealed only in areas of complete darkness. If you also ordered Genuine Vermont Brand Cold Air (TM), be certain to open your box in a cold room, such as a walk-in freezer. Caution! Before creating conditions of darkness and cold, remove hazards that might make it risky to move around in the dark. Also be certain that you have a way to get back out again. Vermont Environments Envoy, LLC, [just a provisional name - I'll need to convene a few focus groups] will not be held responsible for injuries caused by stumbling in the darkness or getting locked in a freezer.


Contents are guaranteed to have been boxed in Vermont and to have contained, at time of shipping, genuine Vermont Dark and Cold. Opening the box in conditions involving light, or heat, (if you have ordered Vermont Brand Cold Air (TM)), voids the warranty. Settling may have occurred during shipping.

Just a draft, of course.


What do you think for a price point?

Should various sizes be made available?

Hey - and what about expanding the product line in December with Vermont Brand Ice and Snow? Hmmm.

Shipping would be more difficult... But Rome wasn't built in a day.

Have I mentioned that I will be in Florida for two weeks in February? I'll pack some northern dark and cold for my mother and sister, who both live down there now. I am sure they're missing it already. They'll be dying for it by February.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

In Case You Couldn't See the Video...

Here's a transcript from the Saturday Night Live archives
Old Glory Insurance

.....Sam Waterson

Old Lady #1: When my ex-husband passed away, the insurance company said his policy didn't cover him.

Old Lady #2: They didn't have enough money for the funeral.

Old Lady #3: It's so hard nowadays, with all the gangs and rap music..

Old Lady #1: What about the robots?

Old Lady #4: Oh, they're everywhere!

Old Lady #1: I don't even know why the scientists make them.

Old Lady #2: Darren and I have a policy with Old Glory Insurance, in case we're attacked by robots.

Old Lady #1: An insurance policy with a robot plan? Certainly, I'm too old.

Old Lady #2: Old Glory covers anyone over the age of 50 against robot attack, regardless of current health.

[ cut to Sam Waterston, Compensated Endorser ]

Sam Waterson: I'm Sam Waterston, of the popular TV series "Law & Order". As a senior citizen, you're probably aware of the threat robots pose. Robots are everywhere, and they eat old people's medicine for fuel. Well, now there's a company that offers coverage against the unfortunate event of robot attack, with Old Glory Insurance. Old Glory will cover you with no health check-up or age consideration. [ SUPER: Limitied Benefits First Two Years ] You need to feel safe. And that's harder and harder to do nowadays, because robots may strike at any time.

[ show pie chart reading "Cause of Death in Persons Over 50 Years of Age": Heart Disease, 42% - Robots, 58% ]

And when they grab you with those metal claws, you can't break free.. because they're made of metal, and robots are strong. Now, for only $4 a month, you can achieve peace of mind in a world full of grime and robots, with Old Glory Insurance. So, don't cower under your afghan any longer. Make a choice. [ SUPER: "WARNING: Persons denying the existence of Robots may be Robots themselves. ] Old Glory Insurance. For when the metal ones decide to come for you - and they will.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Monday, November 01, 2010

Happy Day After Halloween & Adele News

Note that the stone-cold killer has a toile bag for trick or treat.

Does't it seem like it should have a name? As Boxing Day is to Christmas? Tooth Enamel Memorial Day? Too long. Not catchy. Never mind.

Halloween morning dawned snowy and cold on the Vermont-Quebec border. (I took today's banner shot at the Last House mid-morning yesterday). This snow had some legs, too. It was still there when we headed off for Stowe after lunch and is probably still up there because it was cold here today. Like, ice-box cold.

Shackleton (army man) complained all the way through trick or treat that he couldn't feel his hands. For the first time in all my Halloween history we had a sit down part way through so he could have a hot chocolate at Stowe's uber atmospheric Black Cap coffee shop (couches, paintings, enormous milk steaming apparatus etc.)

I hope that your Halloween was fun. Kids agreed that upscale Stowe was less fun and had worse candy than the impoverished border town where the Last House sits and waits.

In Other News

I have to admit my main impetus for dropping by the old blog tonight was to share the good news that Adele, of "19" the Grammy Winner and one of my great favorites, has FINALLY announced that her new album will be available in February. It will be called, you guessed it, "21". It's been, what, 2 years since 19? Oh dear. But she worked on this one with Rik Rubin (a hip hop producer supposedly of genius who also did great things for Johnny Cash very late in the Cash career so there you go). Also, there is a lovely new picture of Adele on her fetching newly designed website, in case you're also interested. I guess that means I will have to leave the house for a concert next year sometime.

Off to see if San Fran has taken down the Rangers. You know I have issues with Texas...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Shackleton Speaks VII

Shack's strong suits do not include reading and writing. Given an assignment to choose five of his ten weekly spelling words and write sentences, he goes for brevity. Also, he doesn't worry too much about the spelling aspect of spelling practice. This week's list included "flake" and "public". So, he told the teacher: "I like con flakes." The other sentences were similarly structured and short. My favorite, however, was "Not in public!"

We learned this week that our wireless internet connection is sufficiently robust to support downloading Netflix movies through the Wii. Amazing. It works great. We now have a 30 day free trial so, naturally, we spent a half a day last week watching movies. We saw the gorgeous movie Babies. You've heard about that. It's that fly-on-the wall (well, fly with a super hi-def movie camera) documentary that follows four babies from four different parts of the world through their first year. Lots of amazing photography and lots to think about. One of the babies lives in tribal Africa. He's a lovely little guy who gets through his first year with no baby equipment, toys or diapers. In one scene, he leaves a deposit of baby poo on his mother's knee. She grabs a corn cob and cleans herself off.

Shackleton turned to his sister and I and asked, "Anyone want some corn"? We shouldn't encourage him, but we can't help ourselves.

Maybe some con flakes?

Hope all is well with you usual stoppers-in. Thanks for continuing to come around. I haven't been out there much lately but I hope to catch up soon. Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

File This Under "The Flight Goes On"

I signed in to read my email tonight and was distracted, as I so often am, by the AOL news headlines. This one was: "What Happens When a Flier Gets Sick Midair?

I have wondered about that, so naturally I read the article. I was relieved to know there's a protocol - even for that worst case scenario:

And when a passenger dies, [the airline representative] says, there are clear procedures to follow. "If they don't respond, we move them to the floor for possible CPR," he says. "If after 30 minutes, there's still no sign of improvement and they're dead, then we have to go ahead and put them into a seat." Standard airline procedures dictate the person is to be secured in the seat, says Gailen, "so we move the person to a seat -- preferably where few customers are nearby -- and ask for volunteers to assist in moving the person, if necessary."

Directives also require that the deceased not block an exit row, that the eyes are closed, that a blanket is placed under the body, and that the body is also covered with a blanket.

I don't know which would be worse. Being the dead guy or the passenger who has to finish a full flight next to the corpse?

What's the etiquette around being seated next to a corpse anyway? What if it lists? Can you give it a little shove? What if the face blanket slips down?

What if it slips down and you see the eyelids are open? Do you ask the flight attendant to get those lids back down? I doubt, somehow, that she would welcome a reminder about the eyes-shut protocol that you read about on America On Line.

Would it be permissible to use the tray table in front of the dead body for that last little plastic cup, snack bag, and crumpled napkin that seems to take forever to get collected? Hmmm. And what of, the, er, loss of bladder and bowel control that generally accompanies death?

I am betting that if you are the passenger tagged for seat mate with a corpse, especially a leaking one, the flight crew would promise you the sun and the moon and the stars, or at least one free round trip, to be a good sport about it.

And what, I wonder, if I were the unlucky one who transitioned mid-flight from valued (or at least potentially repeat) airline passenger to most unwelcome cabin cargo?

I heard once that Oscar Wilde's last words were, "Either this wallpaper goes or I do." I am no Oscar Wilde, but I would like to think I might manage, what? "If I don't get a lie-flat seat right now, I am out of here!" or maybe, "No, I won't wait for the plane to come to a complete stop at the gate or for the damned seat belt light to be turned off"?

Oh, I know this isn't funny. But, well, you know.

May all your travels be happy and healthy.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Shackleton Speaks VI

Shack and I went up to the middle school just after dark today to wait for the Understudy to return from her field hockey game in the wilds of Montpelier. It is cold here in northern Vermont tonight and very clear. The taxpayers of the school district object to seeing lights on in or about the school at night with the result that it was very dark as we waited for the team bus. The stars were twinkling over the parking lot.

"Make a wish," I said to Shackleton. (He's nine now).

He did, and I did. Then he asked me what I had wished for. I said I couldn't tell him or it wouldn't come true.

"Did any of your wishes ever come true?" he asked.

I told him I couldn't exactly remember, but I thought so.

"Cool." He said. "It's like a lottery ticket, but it's free and it's in the sky."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Not Realistic - Real

I was watching TV this weekend and tumbled into a building show on PBS featuring a young couple (maybe linked just for TV purposes - it wasn't exactly clear) who were building one of those multi-dormered suburban mansions. You know the types - the ones that were so popular before the real-estate bust: acres of drywall, cultured stone this, electronically controlled that, blah, blah.

As it happens one of my (many) unrealized life goals, is to someday build the house of my imagination. If I ever get that far - you heard it here first - I will not allow the builders to put anything in it that provides a realistic facsimile of a real thing. I want plaster walls. Doors that are solid wood. I want a fireplace - actually, several fireplaces. These fireplaces are to be built of stone, or brick, or some other form of honest masonry. More importantly, on one will be able to turn them on and off with a remote. Logs, smoke, ashes. That's for me.

Not that you asked, but I have been building this house in my mind for years and it just kind of spilled out.

In other news... Still unpacking the old van with the unsold goods of last weekend. I went to an auction preview on Thursday and didn't go the auction on Sunday. This is a first. I think it's progress.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


So here's my little mock-Roma family with our tent and our wares at the British Invasion car show last weekend. We spent two days trying to tempt the white people (they were mostly white, but you know what I mean, metaphorically, when I say that) to buy the goods we have spread out upon our blankets. Lots of browsers strolled through our tent but very, very few of them reached into their wallets and bought anything. And darn it, I forgot to teach the kids about how to pick pockets before we got there! As a result, I undertook an effort roughly akin to moving house, twice in a weekend, and made no money.

Still, it was not altogether a bad experience, really. It may have put me off antiques for good, which may be a good thing. Also, Whusband really chipped in, helping to pack and cart and dealing with the kids and this was quite nice. He has tended in the past to be, uhm, "critical" of my collecting and has expressed doubts about my claims that all this stuff was valuable. He had a prime chance to say "I told you so" here, but he didn't. He even agreed that the stuff was nice and encouraged me not to sell it cheap. His chit chat with one of the (rare) paying customers may even lead to the sale of an old Porsche we keep in the barn and drive three times a year. So, not a total loss. Oh - and I sold one of those three saddles, in case you were wondering. The guy who bought it really put the screws to me, trying to get an even deeper discount from the fire sale price posted. (Whusband said I should send him packing but I sold it in the end for $15 more than I paid).

Maybe next year I'll try fortune telling. What do you have to pack for that? A crystal ball? A deck of cards? That I can handle.

It's going to take some time for me to recover from all this. A perfect time to sit with the computer and read other people's blogs.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Iron Age Was Rough, But the Stone Age. Don't Get Me Started. ...

Someone, some woman, I work with subscribes to a popular archaeology magazine. I worked this out from a clue she left in the ladies. The clue was a back issue of the magazine.

Thanks to this unidentified but interesting co-worker I spent a few minutes of my day today reading about bog people. You know them. Those human baseball gloves (see below) that turn up periodically in Denmark or Ireland or other northern peat bogs looking disconcertingly like they must have looked when they got pitched in a couple of thousand years ago. The pictures in this article made me think (among other things) about how throwing stuff out, even burying it, doesn't make it go away. Mummys are like an argument for composting.

Here's a tidbit on the bog people from Wikipedia:

Many bog bodies show signs of being stabbed, bludgeoned, hanged or strangled, or a combination of these methods. In some cases the individual had been beheaded, and in the case of the Osterby Head found at Kohlmoor, near to Osterby, Germany in 1948, the head had been deposited in the bog without its body.

Usually the corpses were naked, sometimes with some items of clothing with them, particularly headgear.In a number of cases, twigs, sticks or stones were placed on top of the body, sometimes in a cross formation, and at other times forked sticks had been driven into the peat to hold the corpse down. According to the archaeologist P.V. Glob, "this probably indicates the wish to pin the dead man firmly into the bog. Some bodies show signs of torture, such as Old Croghan Man, who had deep cuts beneath his nipples.

Wow. And I thought a day at Six Flags was torture!

The bog body article tied in with a thought that I have been turning over for the last few weeks (you'll probably want to stop reading now)about these unimaginably long periods of time in human history before anyone started writing things down.

One of my library-sale books (English history, naturally) says that homo erectus, or at least his immediate ancestor, made his first appearance in what would become Britain during a break in the second ice age, known, apparently, as the Hoxonian period. That would be something like 125,000 years ago. One hundred and twenty five thousand years!

How could they stand it? What, exactly, were our ancestors, who were biologically identical to you and me, I am told, doing for tens of thousands of years at a time? OK. Hunting and gathering -- but for a hundred thousand years? I guess it's hard to be bored if you might be killed by a saber-toothed tiger or a neighboring tribe at any moment, but, come on! Would a little innovation have killed them? Nobody got around to bronze until 2,000 BC and iron took another 1,000 years.

If these stone-age types had been a little more inventive I'd have my jet pack by now. I know it.

The Iron Age, just for a reminder, was that bit of time from about 700 BC til (in Britain) the Romans showed up in 43 AD. When you consider all that nearly blank vast stretch of prehistory, the Romans feel like some relatives with whom we fairly recently stopped exchanging Christmas cards. The Iron Age people, the one that tossed their neighbors into the bogs, or sacrificed them there, or whatever, are like great great grandpa. OK, so great great grandpa couldn't write, but that's how people were in the old country. And, yes, he worshipped bull scrota and took part in human sacrifice, but don't let's get all bourgeois and judgmental. He was us. At least he wore clothes and had village somewhere. (They can tell this by looking at the contents of the bog people).

I saw Quest for Fire when I was in high school, slightly after the Iron Age. I think I'll rent it again. I want and explanation for those 100,000 lost years.

About the Blog

Thanks to any stalwarts still stopping by. I have been preoccupied with Splendid, the booth we'll be setting up at the car show next weekend. (Getting and spending...) I suppose I have also been taking a kind of Quaker meeting approach to the blog lately - sitting here with my mouth shut - waiting for the spirit, or at least for the right combination of bathroom reading and spare time. I am off now to watch American Pickers. See you at the British Invasion in Stowe next weekend.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Three Saddles; Three Little Words

Above are three English saddles I bought at an antique store in Morrisville this week,being investigated a little by Maisy. I paid $60 for the lot, which felt like a bargain to me because, my gosh, they're leather and someone in Argentina must have had a job of work to make them. Of course, I am leaving aside the fact that I don't ride horses, nor does anyone in my family. Allow me to digress on this point for a moment...

I have actually resolved not to ride horses, nor to allow anyone in my family to develop an interest therein. Of course horses are gorgeous and I am connected with some lovely horse-riding people. I have noticed,however, that horses are sort of like the Sun (or at least Jupiter) in the lives of these people. They are massive, gravity-creating entities around which their owners seem forced to orbit. Everyone I know who has horses spends more money on them than they do on their mortgages. They all seem happy enough to revolve around their horses and to pay for the privilege but I am not going there - despite the fact that we own lots of land and I have a 12-year-old daughter... She can put one of these saddles on a saw horse and pretend, for free. Until I sell the saddles of course.

I bought these, as you have probably figured out by now, with the purpose of reselling them at what I hope might be a small profit. I have decided (and you knew this was coming if you've been following along), to make a foray into the world of commerce. This will, I hope, take the shape of a booth at the upcoming "British Invasion" car show in Stowe this September.

Maybe I'll take a cue from the London street hawkers of yore and develop a cry for my wares (you know, along the "cockles! mussels! hot chestnuts! scissors sharpened!" variety). Since I plan to sell all manner of items, mostly the English dishes and books and pictures - and saddles - that I can't seem to resist, this call will take some time to work out. I am open to suggestions. If you get to Stowe Sept. 17-19 this year, look for me and the kids under the blue and white striped pop-up shelter called (I have ordered a banner) "It's Splendid. I'll Take It!"

I am still awaiting approval for my booth from the event organizers but I have sent them my check and I think they'll let me in, even though I am not selling car-themed stuff. I am afraid this may mean that the kids and I will be lonely at our booth but we're all kind of excited about venturing forth. I may require Shackleton to dress like the Artful Dodger and drag the car people over to buy a teacup. I don't know...

Three Little Words

I have been thinking lately of the power of three-word descriptions to sum people up.
I was reading a little booklet on English Architectural Drawings of the 1930s, something produced in conjunction with a show on the subject in London during the 1980s, and the author of the beautifully written forward referred to someone as an "antic Cambridge don."

Hmm, I thought. This is sort of like Haiku. Let's think, what three words would nail me? I can't hope for "antic Cambridge don." Maybe, "sour-mouth bi__ch"? Sometimes that would be fair. "Past-it writer manque?" (I count that as three words because hyphenated words count as one - sorry about the missing accent). Perhaps this seems too harsh. I'll keep thinking. Why not try this out on yourself. It's not a bad exercise for a Sunday when we should all do a little reflecting.

I have been occupied these last few weekends with planning work on "It's Splendid" and will be continue to be so for the next few weekends to come. This is one reason the old Blog has languished. Thanks to those of you who have continued to drop by. I send best wishes to you to enjoy what's left of summer.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Sunday on the Mountain

I may have been the last person in the US to hear about "geocaching" (or second to last if one of you just read the word for the first time). Anyway, in case that second to last person tunes in here, Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, with a strong sense of community and support for the environment. As per the official website. Hmmm. I am not sure I am properly supporting the environment by leaving a coffee can in a moldering log in wild Vermont... Oh well. I go there a lot so I'll make sure it doesn't become a nuisance.

Me and the kids hid our first cache ever today, up on Jay Peak. If you get up this way and fancy a short hike, you The coordinates should beon the Geocache website. A clue is hidden in the picture above (well, it's a picture of the coffee can that now holds our cache in situ, so it's a pretty good clue).

That's kind of it for the weekend. Work has hotted up in an unwelcome fashion and we are short-handed. The weekend was a kind of respite from a bad Friday to be followed by a Bad Monday. Ycch. I have decided that if I were to design a personal Coat of Arms my motto would be "I Don't Want Any Trouble." I wonder how you say that in Latin? I'll bet it sounds classy,

Report Writing for Accountants (BTW - as per a couple of posts back) has not been requested by anyone, mirabile dictu. I'll hang onto it for now - maybe til the next time I have to move. The offer to ship it away to anyone who wants it stands for now.

Best wishes for a happy Mondays to any stoppers-in.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

So, Galadriel Dropped by the Other Day...

And while she was catching some rays out on the lawn, the Understudy snapped the above shot of her. (Doesn't it look like she's on something?)

(This won't make any sense when I change the banner picture, which I often do because I get bored quickly). My brother gave this Tolkien-inspired Barbie to the Understudy for Christmas a few years ago, not having got the memo, apparently, that we don't really do Barbie. The Understudy grabbed her off the shelf in my office the other day, where she had been keeping company with a barefoot GI Joe from the same source, and decided to do a photo shoot. So, that's all there is to say about that.

Report Writing for Accountants Can Be Yours!

In other news, I wanted to let you know that I went back to the book sale (see the last post) and snagged Report Writing for Accountants.

Can you believe that even though the price had been dropped to zero there were no takers (other than me)? I had a quick look inside and can report that there are no chapters on "creative accounting" or anything that threatens to be interesting. Also, I see on the fly leaf that it once lived in the inventory of used book seller where the proprietor was trying to get $7.50 for it. That's seven dollars and fifty cents! You don't have to be an accountant...

All the unwanted book-sale books were headed for the pulp mill the day after I plucked Report Writing from among the doomed. So I feel very slightly virtuous for having saved this one, at least this one, from the macerator. But like so many rescue stories, this one may end badly unless I can find someone who wants it now. If anybody knows an accountant, or someone, anyone, who wants it (a $7.50 value, after all), email me your contact info, and I will send it to you for free! Media mail is on me, so long as you're in the U.S.

It's clearly time for me to go read some other blogs. Bye for now.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mystery of the Library Book Sale

Now why hasn't this one flown out of the Stowe Free Library Book Sale?

Probably people are waiting for the movie. I know I am.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Some Friendly Advice

I've been away for a bit - not really away, away, just not writing here. A few ideas have dropped onto the stony ground of my imagination over the last week or so, but none seems to have taken hold. I thought the I had a BIG IDEA for a post about the metamorphosis that earnestness has taken over the last 150 years or so while I was reading Lytton Strachey's biography of Queen Victoria last night.

Turns out that when Prince Albert, future consort of Queen Victoria, and his brother Ernest were examined for their confirmation by the German Bishops of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, crowds gathered to watch. Strachey reports that every one was riveted. The princes did well and this was considered a good show. Hmm. I thought. Times have changed, haven't they? Earnestness remains, but no one seems to be looking for it in the correct religious sensibilities of future princes. What's the equivalent these days? Maybe some students presenting an alternative energy project at contest sponsored by Bill and Melinda Gates?

That's kind of as far as I got. I kept reading. It's really a great book.

So, just so you few who continue to stumble in here don't go away empty handed, I thought I'd dispense some advice. I know how we all enjoy getting advice. I especially enjoy the nuggets dispensed for me by Whusband. I enjoy it so much that I have decided to fine him for any sentence that begins with, "What you should do is..."

But that's us. I am sure you'd be happy to take advice from me! And who knows, someday when I am gone my kids might read this blog looking for maternal wisdom. (The picture above of the Understudy was snapped this week by one of her friends. "How soon hath time...")

So for you and them, my best piece of advice is "Drive slow in parking lots."

I know I have already shared this but I am offering it again because it is really excellent advice. If that's not enough, or you find it a bit shop-worn, I'll also add, "Don't smoke."

And, if you must smoke, don't smoke on the street or at least never walk with a lit cigarette. It looks really cheap.

I hope inspiration is being kinder to you all. Bon weekend.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Patient to Doctor (incredulous, amazed): You Use Restasis?

I always have been and ever shall be a TV person. Deplorable in many quarters, I know, but there it is. And, I'll say it, there's actually a lot of good stuff on TV. Lately I like American Pickers. Of course there's also a lot to be depressed about. The saddest, next to infomercials, is the network news- no, strike that, the commercials during the evening news.

"I got my Hover-Round delivered straight to my home and it didn't cost me a dime."

People born before 1940 are apparently prone to a certain kind of credulousness. Put someone in a lab coat and give her a stethoscope and they're sold. I also love how the perscription drug ads attempt to paper over the ominous side effects the government has forced them to reveal: "May cause internal bleeding, dry throat, blindness and death. Tell your doctor if you're taking any medications, including antacids, as this may cause a certain form of paralysis." These warnings are always accompanied by images of barefoot middle-aged people flying kites on a beach at sunset. I amuse myself by thinking of the gap between the reality of the people who are meant to go to their doctors and request whatever drug and the actors who fly the kites on the beaches.

Best of all (for purposes of the credibility gap) are the ads for exterminators and home alarm systems. In case you missed it, the super competent young-ish people of America have decided to forego careers at NASA or in Special Forces so that they can monitor alarm systems and keep bugs out of people's homes. E.g.:

Dear Dr. Granger,

After long, hard consideration, I am afraid that I am going to have to decline JPL's offer of a post-doctoral fellowship in Remote Sensing of Atmospheric Composition Ground-Based Spectroscopy. I know it represents a very fine opportunity, but I have been offered a position as a security alarm monitor by a national home security provider. So, despite my abiding interest in the measurement of atmospheric species and aerosols that affect air quality and ozone chemistry in Earth's atmosphere, I feel that I can better use my talents keeping my fellow Americans safe from intruders who are even more directly menacing than greenhouse gases. Thanks so much for your interest and best of luck in filling the position.


Dear Colonel Granger,

As you know, I have been mulling over whether I should re-enlist next month. I have been very tempted by the opportunity to fly a FA/18 Super Hornet Jet, and by the prospect of getting into anti-submarine warfare and mine countermeasures. However, after much deep thought, and prolonged counsultation with my family, I have decided to take up a new mission as a civilian. As you are no doubt aware, insects and pests of all kinds are, at every moment, attempting to penetrate food storage areas and otherwise hygenic areas of the homes of our countrymen and women. Terminix (TM) has offered me an opportunity to combat these waves of vermin and I feel I must not let it slip by. Plus, I prefer the Terminix (TM) uniform. Thank you for the confidence you have shown in me.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Let's Hear it for New York!

How are you spending your heat wave?

My grand plan for this week - one that I hatched in my bed in the early morning hours of winter days months ago - was to use this week for a multi-day bike tour of the Erie Canal bike path: my own personal shake-down cruise.

Welllll. As things transpired...

The Understudy had been willing to wager that I would not make my bike trip, which obnoxious of her (whereever does she get it?).

Suffice it to say that Shackleton and I are here, not far from the Erie Canal Bikeway, at my Dad and Stepmother's house near Albany (where else do we ever go?)

O.K. So the Understudy was mostly right with her forecast, but partly wrong since I brought my bike along (not my vintage English roadsters but something more modern that resembles a shark, in its way). And for each of the last three mornings I have taken my shark with its 21 gears and its bum-saving seat out for a spin. An hour the first two mornings, on roads around Dad's house, and two hours yesterday - actually along a section of the Canal Bike Path. Given the heat (96 degrees yesterday) I was more or less compelled by health and safety considerations to finish up these rides by 9 AM. (That, and the fact that I had reached the limits of my endurance - no way could I have ridden that bike for a whole day).

The section I rode yesterday could have been marked Memory Lane, well known to me as it was from my ever receding childhood, adolescence and early 20s.

In some shoe box somewhere there is a picture of me on this stretch of path astride my new red Ross 10-speed in a "Virginia is for Lovers" poly blend T-Shirt, flare jeans and Tom McCann sneakers. I am sporting a hair cut that could have been achieved by cutting around the bottom of a mixing bowl Oh, 2003 where have you gone? (kidding! this was darkest 1977). I went by the little league field where my brother once got his jaw broken by a bad hop, and the GE lab where my father has toiled for decades, making possible the house where I have been luxuriating in AC, bathing in a big whirlpool tub and watching the Netherlands push past Uruguay in giant HD splendor. (No wonder we never go anyplace else).

Here's some of what I saw on these trips: (Taking picture with my camera phone provided cover for my need to hop off the shark and pant).

An old school building...

Where once we came for field trips...

Lock 7 on the Mohawk River

Pathetically short as my little bike tours have been I have been inspired to ride a lot more this summer. It was really great to feel a little sore and get the old metabolism moving. Oh, and have I mentioned how I had no misgivings at all about loafing at the parental palace all day after an hour's work in the mornings? It's so freeing to have accomplished a bit of exercise first thing - like buying an indulgence.

Shackleton, however, has spent his days here a little lonely, without the Understudy (though he refuses to admit it). He mostly spent yesterday in the kid zone (read, "basement") making videos of the local toys (camera was taped to "truck man") and watching TV. I took pity on him and joined him for a little TV around dinnertime. We watchd a PBS show which included a section about kids bowling.

"Let's go bowling!"

Great. Wii bowling has a lot to recommend it - like no bowling ball and high likelihood of high scores, but real bowling meant leaving the house and it was time for that. Also, downtown Albany has a throw-back alley that I went to once for a charity bowling event 20 years ago. Here was a chance not only for bowling, but for a cultural experience for a Vermont boy.

Suffice it to say we had a great time at the Playdium. (See today's banner). It is in a racially mixed neighborhood - something we don't have much of in northern New England. It was mobbed with people of all ages and colors and there was a snack bar and a regular bar and insufficient air conditioning. We worked up a sweat. The scoring equipment featured little videos that mocked us for throwing gutter balls. A good time was had by all. Well, maybe not so much by the two young guys who got the alley next to me and Shack. They listed their bowling names as Ice-T and T-Rex and I think my presence dampened their good time. (Middle-aged broad who looks like she might be a teacher or some otherwise unwelcome entity). I noticed that despite their quasi gangster appearance and youth, they bowled really bad, like, worse than me and looked kind of gay doing it. More than a little gay. It's good to get out and see the world!

Back to VT at noon today. No AC awaits once we get back there. Oh dear.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Bad Wife, But a Good Collector

I have been distracted, which is one of the reasons the old blog has languished lately.

The distractions have been the usual ones: getting and spending, mostly.

Recent purchases included a vintage tupperware pitcher and two vinyl albums of the Lichfield Cathedral Choir from the mid 1980s. I spent one dollar and twenty nine cents procuring these items at "ReSource" (f/k/a Recylce North). I bought them on Whusband's birthday and presented him the records as a birthday present. I think he would be impervious to the vintage grooviness of the Tupperware. At his age it would just look like something he put in the back of a cabinet and forgot about. The presentation of the records was partly to make up for the fact that I kind of forgot his birthday that morning. The penny dropped at around noon. Ooops.

This isn't quite as bad as it sounds. Whusband actually prefers gifts from me that cost very little. Other people are welcome to spend wildly on him, if they choose to do so. (Surprisingly, not many have made this choice). But when it is me doing the buying, since it all comes out of the common pot, he wants only the tiniest spoonfuls dipped out. Which brings us to a related topic.

Every time a box comes in the mail with my name on it, or I turn up with a bargain from an auction or an antique store, he carries on like I am Leona Helmsley or Zsa Zsa Gabor. You can tell how far off he is by one look at my closet, and my person, which has been allowed to slide into ruin in a way no big spending woman would ever allow. I make these points when we are enjoying one of these periodic discussions. He has to agree there is no arguing about my clothes or my state of semi-collapse.

On Whusband's birthday, I also bought him some of his favorite bagels, although I forgot to mention the gift aspect of their presence in the house. I told him this morning, when he got his first bite of the last one. "Happy Birthday!"

I bought those bagels in Burlington. I made a special trip because it was his birthday. The bagel shop happens to be across the street from the erstwhile Recycle North (see above), so I couldn't avoid a little junk shopping en route. The owner of the bagel place makes Montreal bagels that are even better than the Montreal bagels from Montreal. It is not easy for me to get these bagels because the shop closes its doors at 1 PM (its Montreal mother-ship is nearly 24 hours, but I digress). When we lived in Burlington, Whusband would always chat up the Bagel maker/shop owner. They talked about Montreal, which is really home for both of them. Whusband shared with me that the baker had a rough trade, so to speak. The hours of a bagel entrepreneur are killing - the store closes at 1 PM because the baker is working by around 4 AM. Also, people hired to work in bagel shops often prove, are you sitting down? unreliable.

Visiting the bagel shop on Friday to get the (alleged) birthday bagels, I saw the poor baker. I haven't seen him in a couple years and the strain is showing. I have been thinking all weekend that a bagel makes a good servant, but a bad master.

This brings us, in a fashion, to yesterday. Sunday and an auction Sunday to boot.

Reader, they were selling three vintage English roadsters, fresh from a barn in Stowe. I ask you, what was I supposed to do? I let the 1960 three speed get away. It was up over $150 when I backed off. But the other two? I wasn't leaving without them. (See above and all over for the pictures).

The total auction damages, with a partial set of Enoch Wood "Castles" dinnerware, was $200 and change (well, a lot of change, but under $300 - under I say...)

Let me add (before you sign up for Whusband's side of the spending discussion) that the GFP (great fiction project) where I spend a lot of mental time and energy involves 1912 English road bike, very like the ones I bought yesterday. VERY LIKE!

Plus, although while it's true that we have two classic English 3-speeds already, (1969 Raleigh Sport that is the Understudy's main ride, and a 1973 BSA, which is her back up) these new additions are single speed: plain, pure. And one is from the 1920s and the other is a men's bike. Men's bikes are more expensive and hard to find and Shackleton is going to get it when he's big enough to ride it. So, oh, and they are ART. Industrial Art. See the pictures.

Let me add here that those Lichfield Cathedral Choir albums are in very good shape - one would think they had hardly been played. And only a few of the tracks are the dissonant modern works that choir directors feel obliged to administer to their captive congregation. I am sure Whusband will have years of enjoyment from them. They were worth every penny of the 70 cents that I spent on them and an excellent value like everything else I buy.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Better Late for Memorial Day than Never...

I have just finished reading Siegfried Sassoon's book, Memoirs of a Foxhunting Man. Sassoon is famous mostly as a poet, maybe THE poet, of WWI. The Wikipedia article (you may follow the link above) tells me that this is a book that British kids get assigned to read in school. Well, we never had it assigned over on this side of pond and I never even heard of it til I started researching Fox Hunting (don't ask, but rest assured my research is not for protest purposes or because I am going to hunt anything). Anyway, I am happy that I discovered it as a 40-something. It would have been wasted on me at 16.

Mostly MoaFHM is about the life of a fictionalized Sassoon prior to WWI - and a way of life that was swept away irretrievably by the War. It is written so beautifully, at least in sections, I just have to gape. Here's a section I read the other night. It comes, just near the end of the book as Sherston, the narrator, is thinking back to the period of time on the Western front, shortly after the death of his best friend.

I can see myself sitting in the sun in a nook among the sandbags and chalky debris behind the support line. There is a strong smell of chloride of lime. I am scraping the caked mud off my wire-torn puttees with a rusty entrenching tool. Last night I was out patrolling with Private O'Brien, who used to be a dock labourer at Cardiff. We threw a few Mills' bombs at a German working-party who were putting up some wire and had no wish to do us any harm. Probably I am feeling pleased with myself about this. Now and and again a leisurely five-nine shell passes overhead in the blue air where the larks are singing. The sound of the shell is like water trickling into a can. The curve of its trajectory sounds peaceful until the culminating crash. A little weasel runs past my outstretched feet, looking at me with tiny bright eyes, apparently unafraid. One of our shrapnel shells, whizzing over to the enemy lines, bursts with a hollow crash. Against the clear morning sky a cloud of dark smoke expands and drifts away. Slowly its dingy wrestling vapours take the form of a hooded giant with clumsy expostulating arms. Then, with a gradual gesture of acquiescence, it lolls sideways, falling over into the attitude of a swimmer on his side. And so it dissolved into nothingness. Perhaps the shell has killed someone. Whether it has or whether it hasn't, I continue to scrape my puttees, and the weasel goes about his business.


Saturday, June 05, 2010

Hello, A Ghost Story, and Another Top Tip

It's a quiet Saturday night here in the Last House and everyone else is in bed. Whusband built a fire in the remains of the pressed aluminum "fire pit" which has now lost all three of its shaky legs and its lid. The children spent a gratifyingly low-tech evening watching the sparks fly upward, telling ghost stories, making s'mores, and running after fire flies.

The Understudy told a chilling tale about a the daughter of a wealthy family who went with her mother to an expensive antique shop where the mother "paid retail" for a beautiful doll. The doll's hand was posed with two fingers raised. The daughter of the house decided right away that she did not like the doll and put it in the basement. That very night, however, the girl heard someone moving slowly around downstairs, then coming up the stairs, and then in her own room. It was the doll! And it was mad! It jumped on the girl and killed her! The next day, the doll was holding up three fingers. The mother immediately took the doll back to the antique store and asked for a refund.

I confess that my campfire experience was shortened by my desire to get back to the movie about Temple Grandin that I had recorded on the DVR. Temple G. the autistic cattle expert who has become so famous. I heard her interviewed on Fresh Air when this movie came out (on HBO) and was really fascinated to hear her talk about her life and her work. If you can find that interview as a Podcast it would be worth your while to listen.

The movie was genuinely compelling and a very nice piece of work. (What drove me to the computer just now was my feeling of gratitude and admiration for the creative people who brought it off and got it into my living room.) Claire Danes, as Temple Grandin, was brilliant. So, that's my top tip. I see from the movie's web site that it's out on DVD now. Have I ever steered you wrong?

Bon weekend tout le monde.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Jiggety Jog.

Home again. My own little Vermont family seems to have managed to avoid a complete collapse in my absence, which is a good thing of course. I missed them, but I'll admit I was very preoccupied down in Texas with the nephew/Niblet. I had a real pang when I had to walk away from him, sleeping peacefully in his bassinet. His anxious mother has told me she doesn't think they will be traveling with him for a long time (read "years") to come - germs on airplanes etc.

Sigh. I have been thinking of the new little family hourly since my return. The hackneyed phrase "24/7" gets thrown around a lot and usually is an exaggeration of the demands it is meant to describe. Not so with newborns.

Shackleton Speaks VIII

On my return I found a school paper, a spelling test, recently completed by Shackleton. It had a smiley face on it in red, rather incongruous considering it was marked with a grade of 4 percent. That's right. F O U R percent. Whusband largely blamed the messy handwriting which made it impossible for the teacher to really see which letters had been included.

Me: "Shack, neatness counts. You have really got to try harder or we're taking away privileges."

Shack: "Like what?"

Me: "Like something you really enjoy - like X-Box."

Shack (instantly): "I don't really enjoy X-Box. I really enjoy studying hard."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Other People's Books, Other People's Babies

My brother doesn't like to read for fun. (I know! But he's not embarrased by this). His "library" is thus a bit, shallow, and reflects his interests: cars and rifles and such. He has other books that serve as a kind of wallpaper. Since I am at his house now, and needed a book to read, I went with the wallpaper: volume 40 from the Britannica Great Books of the Western World series, volume 1 of Edward Gibbon's, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

All my reading life I have been seeing these nods and genuflections and references to Gibbon so, I thought, here's my chance. Three nights of reading have gotten me to page 7 (see above). You can probably guess why.

Well, if you are guessing it's because Gibbon is boring that's not right. But he demands concentration - that kind of concentration that you have to give to foreign language tapes if you're actually going to learn how to ask for a kilo of grapes and where is the emergency room - the kind that puts you to sleep. Focus! Focus! zzzzz.

I am actually in awe of the writing, though. No one writes like this anymore and while that may be a good thing for keeping the pages turning and film adaptations that can get Russell Crowe into a short tunic, I admire it. A lot.

I read this little sentence yesterday, about the political sequence in Rome at the time of the conquest of Britain:

After a war of about forty years, undertaken by the most stupid, maintained by the most dissolute, and terminated by the most timid of all the emperors, the far greater part of the island submitted to the Roman yoke.

Not for everybody, I suppose, but I think it's great. I also like the way he encapsulates the reasons for the defeat of the native Britons:

The various tribes of Britons possessed valour without conduct, and the love of freedom without the spirit of union. They took up arms with savage fierceness; they laid them down, or turned them agains each other with wild inconstancy; and while they fought singly, they were successively subdued.

I'll stop now.

Baby News

Talk about burying your lead! The Niblet is home. He's lovely. My brother asked me to handle a 6 AM feeding (based on a schedule they worked out at the hospital). I agreed, of course but added that the Niblet was unlikely to stick to a schedule. "When he wakes up and cries, feed him." My brother said, "he's used to getting fed at 6 AM." He set an alarm for me and I got up at 6. It has been all silence in the room of the little family since then and I have been reading blogs. Oh wait! I hear crying. Bye!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Subversive Texas Nanny Speaks

If you've been following along you'll know that my brother and his wife found themselves parents - very suddenly - (think OMG! C-section, stat!) for the first time, about 11 days ago. The Wee Nutkin is, as I type, about to be sprung from the hospital where he has been so that he could bulk up to five pounds. He was a month or more ahead of schedule and all the female realtions, excepting your corresponent, were otherwise engaged and not able to assist with bringing home baby. I was summoned from our mountain home to these Dallas low flat lands to help.

Of course I am happy to try to make myself useful and the baby is a lovely little perfect nugget of a person. But I just had to stop in here, to share a bit of, what? levity? and to assume the know-it-all posture I have been dying to take since I got here two days ago. I can't do it while my brother and sister in law are around. Levity and parenting superiority would be as welcome here at the moment as a septic system back up. My sister-in-law, a career woman in her late 30s, is. naturally, especially fraught. The other day at the hospital she didn't want to let my brother fill an empty bottle that had fallen on the hospital floor. I made a quip about how "sterlizing" is what you do to your baby's first bottle by boiling it and to his last bottle by blowing on it. She managed a polite smile but was clearly not amused. I have been biting my tongue so hard it has teeth marks, but I am safe with you, aren't I? (My kids are the only one in the family that ever stop in here and if by chance some other relation came by they would probably forgive me).

Exhibit 1: See the photo above of baby goods that have fallen in an avalanche on the household. This is only a partial display of the baby merchandise. It's enough to send the CEOs of Evenflo and Toy-R-US and Costco into a swoon. I am trying to do something with the bags and boxes and to put the three things this little family will actually need in the days and weeks ahead in a place where they will be handy - but I am overwhelmed. A lot of this stuff is six months or a year away of being any use but, as I say, I am not saying.

Feeding new babies can be a nightmare of anxiety and we are in that just now. I have been saying (and really meaning) how well sis in law is doing with the breast feeding but I can tell she is not persuaded. (Nephew seems a bit loathe to do the work and he is very little and needs to put on some weight). Yesterday at the hospital the baby started yowling at the breast and, silent type that she is, she almost yelled "Get the Formula!" (Believe me, all you nbreast feeding advocates I am with you and I am pushing as hard as I dare). I am dismayed that these new parents haven't checked in with the doctor who's going to be the regular pediatrician to say "baby's coming home, doctor. Perhaps you'd like to meet him now" They're not so sure they still want that pediatrician.


I haven't yet given then my "nights of barf" speech, the one that I am fond of sharing with other parents. (Those of us with children will never forget those nights, and the calls to the pediatrician). Fortunately, I am sure the first long night of barf is at least a month or three away. I am going to give that speech before I get back on the plane for Vermont at the end of the week.

Really, I am so thrilled for my brother. And I am sure that they will both figure out in the weeks and months ahead that this little boy is the best thing that ever happened to either of them. I hope they will also discover that he isn't made of glass. Just at the moment I can tell, even if they would never say it out loud, that they are both thinking, as new parents (almost always) do, that maybe this whole baby thing wasn't such a great idea?

OK - gotta go fold laundry and vacuum and build up a little stamina for what's next.