Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sin, Death and Transferware

A beautiful platter...

In ghastly condition, but apparently regarded for ages past as too good to be thrown away. Life support was called in, who knows when, maybe a hundred years ago. Perfection, as I have said before, is overrated. The cracks,and the repairs, make this art as far as I am concerned.

The Sabbath was observed in the Last House today by a morning screening of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. "Don't go in the attic Tippi!"

The kids sat on the stairs and watched it in their pajamas. The morning's other accomplishment, if watching a movie on TV counts as an accomplishment, was setting up a Facebook account for the Understudy. Why did I agree to such a thing?

What we have here is a milkmaid scolding a cow for kicking over the milk. Sigh. I love it. No marks at all on the bottom, but I am guessing 1830s...

I have my great grandmother's goin-to-church Bible, a little pocket number with a flap that folds over the front to keep it dry. Her name is written with a fountain pen on the fly leaf. The type is tiny. It saw a lot of use. That flap is just barely hanging on. Sorry Grandma. I am hoping I have not sent you spinning. Protestant guilt survives, if the habit of church attendance has not.

Making things worse, no doubt, was that 10 AM saw me perched on a not very comfortable, very ugly Victorian chair at my favorite auction house, which may be sort of the opposite of church. I left the auction with two box lots of 1840s to 1850s transferware. (The ugly chair and its mate went for $40 shortly before I left to go have lunch with a friend). I had seen these boxes of dishes at the preview yesterday, and coveted their contents.

I was laying in my room just now, looking at all the books and pictures and plates I have acquired over the last few years. Someday, I was thinking, when I have gone the way of great grandma, all these worldly goods will go the way of worldly goods. Given my spiritual circumstances, I think I better leave them to charity...

These little bowls are in a pattern called "Farm" that I have seen repeated on many other wares, usually not nearly so old as these. I gave my sister a biggish "Farm" platter for Christmas. The transfer printing on these is fabulous and crisp. Ooo!

In the meantime, they are lovely... And I do contemplate the lives of those who made these, and owned them before me, and repaired them (every piece has a crack)and preserved them. Does that help? And how about confessing. Any points for that? Or is the road to hell paved with transferware, and books and pictures?

Don't answer that.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I Heart the Laundromat

I am entering, or well within, my Chatelaine years - the time of life wherein I am Mistress of the Household, keeper of keys and budgets, director of furnace fixers and cable installers, as well as the children. Despite my advancing age, however, (the odometer just tipped over to 45), and status as a landowner - albeit in a poor corner of a poor state - I spend the bulk of my time at the moment in rented premises: two bedrooms over a garage. Our apartment is pleasant and clean and new, but we are required to make do there without a bathtub, or dishwasher, or a washer and dryer.

Work and school considerations prompted our move to Stowe this year. We still have the Last House, and hope to hang onto it, though the long-term plan is to buy a place in Stowe. Stowe, home of the famous ski resort and one of a handful of Vermont towns which is famous for its wealth, is about an hour south of the Last House. As such, it is much nearer to work for me and the kids can go to the good Stowe schools. This year, however, and for the foreseeable future, I am a renter again.

One result of our move is that I have found myself doing laundry communally again,as I did in college. My laundromat is on the ground floor of some newish senior housing in the village. It is called, rather coyly, "The Stowe Laundry Company."

It is not a cheap place to do the wash (it is Stowe, after all). The other washer-folk appear often to be second home owner types with king size down comforters in need of a triple loader. The matron/on-site trouble shooter, is busy all day long washing the clothes of people who have obviously paid to have their laundry dealt with by someone else. Still, many of the people who wander into the laundromat intrigue me. Lots of them are middle aged. Why, I wonder, don't you have a washing machine at home? What's your excuse? Maybe they are wondering the same thing about me.

We are generally sort of a nice class of people, although apparently mostly down on our laundry luck. Manners are reasonably good, at least when I go during the day. Maybe the crowd after dinner is a little rougher. The matron, who comes from Houston, Texas (we had a chat one snowy day) says she finds people often unfriendly. "You say hello to someone and they just glare at you," she said. I chalked this up to New England reticence, at least partly. And then, not everyone who winds up in a laundromat is a sympathetic character, even in a middle class laundromat.

It's bourgeois character, however, can not be doubted. There are no ashtrays anywhere and the bathroom is scrupulously clean. The reading material, however, is strictly laundromat fare: Soap Opera Digest, wrinkled Ladies Home Journals; back issues of Field and Stream. These are arrayed in a neat fan atop a bank of Out-of-Order washers. (BTW, I suspect that these washers aren't all out of order at all, but that they have been disabled as the laundromat seems to have excess capacity. No sense keeping all the machines running if they are never all pressed into service at the same time. Maybe I'll ask the matron about this next time I go. I'll report back.)

The other patrons generally mind their own business, though some will nod and smile. The kids and I were waiting for a load to dry one day a week or two ago when the young woman at the next dryer, after a long period of futilely stabbing the laundry debit card into the payment slot, asked if we might know what was wrong. Shackleton had various suggestions and tried his own technique. She was happy for his help, maybe thinking that a person so like a leprechaun might be lucky. He wasn't, but she she smiled, and got the matron. The debit card insert required a subtle motion of the wrist that none of us had, but the woman in charge managed to add 20 minutes to the dryer time.

I was glad to think that my kids will have a laundromat memory or two. I'm sort of proud (I know it's shabby and only making a virtue of necessity) that I am laundromat patron, the way that I am sort of proud of having an address in a poor town and driving ancient cars. We are sooooo not keeping up with the Joneses.

I have also been pleasantly surprised to find that I sort of enjoy going out to wash my dirty laundry in public. There's something about going down to the laundromat that satisfies an atavistic tendency to community: like going to the river to beat your clothes on the rocks with the other ladies of the town, only without the rocks or any requirement for crouching.

And then, there are the machines. I love the machines; their massed quantity and their quality. You can do many loads at once! And the washers and dryers are so Mighty! When the spin cycles start, it sounds like a jet taking off. Best of all may be the little carts that take heaps of clothes between washer and dryer and then to that wonder of wonders, the purpose-built laundry-folding tables. No surface in our house is sufficiently clear of clutter to allow for laundry folding. Spreading your warm-from-the-dryer clothes out on one of these tables is a pure laundromat luxury.

It's not forever, I guess. But for now it's fine, and even a little better than fine.

(Photo - Wikimedia Commons - not my actual laundromat)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Quick, Get the Camera!

In this part of the world, we count on January for at least a few bright blue and white days. These have not, so far, been delivered to my satisfaction. It has been one grey gloomy day after the next, almost all month. We did get a stunner yesterday, while I was at work, of course, but another one rolled in today and it persisted all day.

This afternoon, as the sun was going down, I averted my eyes from the piles of laundry, layers of dust, and muddy footprints I had pledged to subdue, strapped on my snow shoes and walked out the front door for a knock around the old farm. It was so fabulous that I had to go back into the house and get the camera (not the iPhone, more on that in a minute). So. This is sort of what it looked like.

I'm cheating a litle here. I took this picture of Maisy (in her stylish little coat) on the other bright day we've had this year.


in case you were wondering, it looks like the iPhone and I have no future together. Whusband spent an hour on the phone with Verizon last night and new non-iPhones are en route to the Last House even as I type. I have one more day to get the beautiful little lozenge of a phone/camera/computer back to Ma Bell before she demands a pound of flesh to tear up the contract. Sigh. It was fun while it lasted. At least I still have my iPod and old-fashioned digital camera.

Bon weekend tout le monde. Did I mention that clouds are supposed to roll in here tonight and tomorrow we're in for that old favorite, "the wintry mix"?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

iPhone Mirabile Dictu

Today, I learned that my old cell phone had
not survived it's night in the driveway (oops). I ran to Burlington and after an hour
in the AT&T store with handsome young Kendal
I had this miracle of modern technology in my bag,
a bit more debt, and a commitment to AT&T that is
likely to last longer than a Hollywood marriage.

WHusband was not happy... He called on a surviving cell phone while I was
talking to Kendal and made me feel like Lucy to his Desi.
The agreement is to test drive it this weekend and research other
deals. Annulment is a possibility. (Between me and At&t - Whusband and I are in it for the duration).

What do you think?

Kids are rooting for the iPhone. The Understudy took this snap of Maisy and
Shackleton to demonstrate it's powers.

Monday, January 18, 2010

It's A Wonderful World, Part 1

I was flipping through the Peterson Field Guide for Mushrooms today. I wound up, naturally, at the colored plates in the middle. There I learned that these are actual names of mushrooms:

Soldier Grainy Club

Black Earthtongue

Scarlet Elf Cup

Dead Man's Fingers

Pink Hairy Goblet

Devil's Urn

Winter Slippery Cap

That was on one page.

Shall we pause for a moment to consider who came up with these names? What English peasant in the 12th century nibbled one for his aunt, the town midwife/witch? How these names were recorded and spread? A marvel of nature and the accretion of human knowledge, right here.

Let Me Do You a Favor

It's give, give, give here at the Last House.

I have been meaning to recommend the documentary, Young@Heart, which aired on PBS last week. A documentary? On PBS? She calls that a favor? Maybe for insomniacs.

No, really, it was so much fun - my kids asked to be allowed to stay up and watch it. All of us were glued to it from beginning to end. Here's a snippet from a review on the website:

Time revises every taste and closes every gap. To observe the Young@Heart Chorus, a fluctuating group of about two dozen singers whose average age is 80, perform "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees in Stephen Walker's documentary "Young@Heart" is to be uplifted, if slightly unsettled.

Sung by people approaching the end of their lives, the song is no longer about strutting through the urban jungle with your elbows out; it is a blunt survival anthem. These singers, most of them well- rehearsed amateurs, refuse to go gently into that good night. For them music is oxygen.

When they perform punk classics like "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by the Clash or "I Wanna Be Sedated" by the Ramones, the notion of a generation gap begins to crumble. Apart from the rebellious attitude behind the songs' creation, these are elementary meat-and-potatoes tunes: "Sing Along With Mitch" material but with a hip credential.

The movie concentrates on the rigorous two-month preparations for a 2006 concert at the Academy Theater in Northampton. Guided by the chorus's demanding longtime director, Bob Cilman, the members are learning new material, including "Yes We Can Can," the Allen Toussaint hit for the Pointer Sisters, whose lyrics repeat "can" 71 times in intricate, staccato patterns; Sonic Youth's enigmatic, equally demanding "Schizophrenia"; and the Coldplay ballad "Fix You." [...]

— By STEPHEN HOLDEN, New York Times

I cried for about half of the film and laughed during the other half. Today, driving to the grocery store and alone in the car, "Fix You" came on the radio. It is sung during the Young@Heart Performance in the film by a charismatic man with an oxygen tank and a death sentence. I started crying again. I am crying now remembering it. There is a scene in the film where the chorus is singing for prisoners at a Massachusetts correctional facility. The cuts between the convicts, many of whom are clearly deeply moved by what they are seeing, and good, old singers (emphasis on "good") was unexpected and brilliant. Maybe it is not the beginning, or even the middle of life where we really get right down to the heart of things...

(Alice Image courtesy:

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Twelve --- And Thinking About Twenty

The Understudy turned twelve this week. She has already turned out way better than we could have hoped or expected, given her parentage. Good hearted, sensible, bright and good looking to boot. But she is sailing out of the harbor of childhood headed for the waters around that Tierra del Fuego that lie ahead. This weekend included, along with a 12th birthday party, her first school dance. Oh, the Friday and Saturday nights to come!

This dance, of course, had its charms for all of us parents. The Understudy had invited a friend from her former school (a girl, of course) and the two of them spent a happy half hour combing their hair and putting on nail polish and dressing up. I dropped them off just before the party got going. The lights in the cafeteria had been dimmed, but the music hadn't started and the school lobby and hallways were in their full fluorescent glory. The few early arrivals still looked, charmingly, very much like elementary school students. Donations of canned goods brought a dollar off the price of admission. The friend was introduced,as required, to the teacher in charge of the dance and the school principal. A boy with a buzz cut and a baleful expression studied us without speaking.

I returned an hour and half later to pick them up. The Understudy and her friend were in the middle of mass of middle school students, all of them hopping like pistons to a deafening beat. The hopping, and the drama, various dramas that I heard a little about as we made our way back home, had been a good experience. The Understudy's cheeks were flushed. She had danced like a maniac she said. It was great! Well. A good first night out. May it ever be thus.

On the day before the dance I was at the gym getting some of that promised 2010 exercise. I stayed longer than I intended (OK, just walking on the treadmill) because I couldn't cut off my iPod before I got to the end of a fascinating report on This American Life called "Party School" Ira Glass and his people went to Penn State, 2009's number one party school according to The Princeton Review, and talked to representatives from every group of people who either make Penn State number one or who suffer from the fact that it is number one.

Listen for yourself if you have the time. It had me thinking about drinking as a way of undergraduate life. I never actually found it very fun, looking back, although I seem to recall feeling like it was supposed to be fun and wondering when it would deliver said fun. That would be, basically, never in my experience. Not surprisingly, I found it hard to believe that all the whooping drunk kids they interviewed for "Party School" actually liked drinking as much as they said they did. Isn't it really kind of sad by the end of the evening, or the next day, even at 21? I'd love to hear what you think.

Understudy, are you listening?

While we're talking about This American Life, I'll throw in that I think Ira Glass should get one of those Macarthur genius awards. That show has been slowly growing on my for years and now I am ready to worship at its altar.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Plenty Snow, Plenty Cold and Bad Manners

Well, the Christmas break is nearly over and not nearly so many things accomplished as planned. The tree is staying until MLK Day at least. We have been invited to dinner this evening with some of our favorite human beings, visiting English people with a cabin high up on a dirt road in a neighboring town. I said yes immediately when they called yesterday morning, and then got thinking about the forecast. (See above).

Oh dear.

And they don't have a phone. We've tried emailing but to no avail. I even tried emailing one of their relatives in England. The problem is that I accepted without fully registering that today was the last day of the Christmas break and kids and I have to go back to school and work tomorrow! We would normally depart the Last House (now a weekend only abode) for our new weekday residence in Stowe, an hour away, while there was still plenty of light. Dinner, however, is set for six - when the frozen roads will be dark as midnight in a coal mine, with swirling snow lit only by the high-beams from oncoming, speeding pickup trucks.

Query - to be a horrible boor and just send Whusband to dinner or to brave the backroads with two kids and a dog and then to drive another hour through the dark to get home?

I should mention I have something like PTSD as a result of all the winter driving I have had to do over the last couple years...

Tell me what you think and I'll come back later and tell you what we did.

In other news, today's banner actually is, for once, a view from the house, as advertised. I stood at the the front door and took it on the one day last week when we saw the sun here.

The forecast right now is for five solid days of snow and snow showers. I have been known in the past to be trifle, hmmm, "superior" to southerners who are undone by a couple of inches of snow or temperatures that make barbecuing uncomfortable. Seeing a solid week of those little cloud icons on the Weather Channel just now, many with snowflake icons as well, makes me humble.

Maybe those southerners are onto something... Of course, it's freezing in Florida now too, and that is some comfort in a schadenfreude sort of way.