Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Shackleton Speaks Again

Watching TV en famille. The same ad seems to appear at each break: "America runs on Dunkin'!"

Shack: "Poor Duncan."

Bwah ha ha.


A few of you regular stoppers-in (OK, there are only a few people who fit that category so if you're reading this you're probably in my crosshairs.) I have been scribbling away for a few years (yes, years) on a book - a story book. I have thought from the beginning that my book was what they call "YA" in the book trade (young adult) but I think as I polish it up that it's more like, LHB (literate human beings - probably older than six). Probably this means it is also MP (marketplace poison) but I am trying to make it good in hopes that I won't be the only person ever to read it. I know that could still happen,and, statistically, at least, is likely to happen. But I am pressing forward and that means I may be looking to you brilliant, faithful few in the weeks ahead - after the holidays I promise - to advise me about it. That is, not to beat around the bush, to read some or all of it and tell me what you think. I know this is a delicate thing I won't twist any arms, but I am telling you now so you can think about it. You don't have to say anything now. But consider yourselves warned. In the meantime, a blessing on all your heads.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Jay Peak To Expand With “Vermont Volcano Experience”

Jay, Vt. – The nation’s northernmost ski area announced today that it will add a unique-in-the-world man-made volcano as part of the next phase of the resort’s development.

“The indoor water park is done, the skating rink is done, one new hotel is done and the conference center and other new hotel are almost done,” said Jay Peak spokesman Ozzy Mandius. “The golf course has been expanded to its full 18 holes and the new clubhouse and parking garage have been operational for well over a year. We’ve got condos, condos and more condos and a bridal chapel. We looked around and thought – what next?”

Mandius noted that volcano tourism has been up-trending world-wide. “Our market studies show there is an excellent opportunity for Jay Peak to expand its four-season business by drilling through the peak on the State Side of the mountain. To be clear,” he added, “we aren’t talking about going right through the main peak, where the tram is located. We recognize that is an iconic spot and it will remain undisturbed in keeping with our commitment to keep Jay true to its roots.”

The resort, which is located in Jay, Vermont (population 326) has been the beneficiary of the EB5 visa program which allows foreign investors, in exchange for a minimum investment of $500,000 in a “rural or high unemployment area,” permanent resident status for themselves, their spouses and their children under 21. The popular cash-for-green-cards program has made the recent rapid expansion at Jay possible, and with investor interest remaining strong Mandis says the resort should have no problem capitalizing “The VVE”.

“Most people don’t realize that it’s actually only 19 miles down to the asthenosphere: that’s the tough liquid part of the outer mantle of the earth’s core, we don’t have to get all the way to the core, thank goodness, to give our guests the only the volcano experience available in the eastern seaboard!” Mandius said.

One purpose of the EB 5 program is to provide employment in depressed areas. And while Mandius acknowledged that there are few Vermonters have the skills that will be necessary to complete the technical aspects of the volcano project, there will be many opportunities for "hewers of wood and drawers of water," as it were.  Mandius said he expects the spillover effects to be transformative of the backward corner of the state where the resort has been located for more than fifty years.

“Another huge benefit of this particular project,” he added, “is the thermal energy we are going to realize from the volcano once it is operational. In the second phase, we will be using this clean, green energy to add radiant heat to 142 acres of parking lot.”

Permits for the project are already in place, Kane said, and drilling is set to begin in April.

“After we get the volcano on-line we can start talking again about the monorails,” he added, referring to the recently-shelved plans to link Jay directly with Boston, Montreal and Burlington. “We ran into more resistance on the rights-of-way issues than we expected.”

Acknowledging that there have been some “haters” suggesting that all this construction may not be sustainable long term, Kane said, “We have carefully structured our business model to assure that these facilities will not eventually fall to wrack and ruin. What’s more, we believe firmly in the principle of, ‘if you build it, they will come’ – especially if you provide a free monorail to bring them to the thing you have built.”

Here's a straight story.
Mammoth Expansion Under Way At Jay Peak Resort - Project Economy News Story - WPTZ Plattsburgh

Monday, November 21, 2011

Another Top Tip

I have been away in my own private Idaho. Plus working. Yawn.


As partial recompense for for ignoring you and then boring you here's some music by a great group with a great name: Alabama Shakes. They have a genuinely brilliant genuinely American girl singer who looks like someone who sat next to you in history class (named, alas, Brittany). Still, you'll love it - oh the guitars. Try "Hold On" for starters. More great stuff follows.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

A Little Romance...

Stick season is upon us here on the Canadian Border. I was looking back at some of the pictures I took this summer (sigh) and found this one of a road on Shelburne Farms, once the home place of the Vanderbilts. If you haven't been, you should come up here and have your heart broken by the place.

You might want to wait til next summer at this point, though.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Today at the Old Farm and a Couple Shackletonisms

A day off today found me at the Last House. I emerged around 9 AM to buy eggs and bread and found a lovely October light hitting the barn. So.

Re: Shackleton

Just now, I was cleaning the kitchen when Shack got in my path. I squeezed his head like I do sometimes and said something like "Knowledge - get in there and stay!" He didn't have time to blink before he scurried away and said "Foreign objects - eject from ears! Eject!"

Sometime a few months ago when Maisy was barking or whimpering or something I barked back at her a little. Shack came running down the stairs - looking genuinely worried. "Don't do that! You don't know what you might be saying in dog language!"

That's my boy.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Stopping By Woods

This is the Understudy walking around the woods at Jay Peak after she survived being ordered out of the car to take the picture in the banner today and the one below.

I made the Understudy hop out of the ancient Camry today to take some pictures of the leaves on North Hill in Westfield, Vermont. These particular leaves leaves adorn a lines of ancient maples that someone planted on both sides of the road at least a hundred years ago. Every spring someone hangs sap buckets from them.

The weather here in Vermont this weekend was like something ordered from the Southern California weather catalog. Also it is Columbus Day weekend and Canadian Thanksgiving which produced of perfect storm of Vermont tourism. I do believe that every human being with a motorcycle or a classic car for three states and two provinces around was driving in Vermont. So,adding to the fun for our little photo shoot was the frisson of cheating death by tourist. Well, at least the Understudy could claim that thrill. My fun was only in ordering my little teenager out of the car to take pictures while I stopped in the middle of the road with the flashers on. The back story here is that she got a smart phone this weekend (two and a half hours of the the four of us consulting with "Parker" at the Verizon store) which is at the pinnacle of smart phone-ness. So ... she had the good camera. (The rest of us got new phones too but ours are carved out of stone because we could only afford one really good one and guess which 13-year-old girl in the family had to have that.)

I hope you have the day off tomorrow. I wish I did.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Just a Little Note for Kate Bush Fans

You know how I worship at the altar of Kate Bush? (Still, after all these years).

She pretty much hides from the light - I don't think I have ever heard her speaking. I got an email from her new label "Fish People" the other day letting me know she has a new album coming out in November. There I learned she gave an interview in August on NPR. If you're interested - here's a link. She sounds positively accessible...

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Feel Better...

I usually don't open emails that have been forwarded all over the place but this one came from the Panamanian girl who lived with us for a year when I was in high school and she has no track record of forwarding any kind of email junk to me. I opened it and loved it so I am sharing. It came to me labeled "My New Primary Care Physician" and featured a photo of a middle-aged Asian doctor (which you will just have to imagine for reading purposes now).

Q: Doctor, I've heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life. Is this true?

A: Heart only good for so many beats, and that it... Don't waste on exercise. Everything wear out eventually. Speeding up heart not make you live longer; it like saying you extend life of car by driving faster. Want to live longer? Take nap.

Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?

A: Oh no. Wine made from fruit. Brandy distilled wine, that mean they take water out of fruity bit so you get even more of goodness that way. Beer also made of grain. Bottom up!

Q: How can I calculate my body/fat ratio?

A: Well, if you have body and you have fat, your ratio one to one. If you have two body, your ratio two to one.

Q: What are some of the advantages of participating in a regular exercise program?

A: Can't think of single one, sorry. My philosophy: No pain...good!

Q: Aren't fried foods bad for you?

A: YOU NOT LISTENING! Food fried in vegetable oil. How getting more vegetable be bad?

Q : Will sit-ups help prevent me from getting a little soft around the middle?

A: Oh no! When you exercise muscle, it get bigger. You should only be doing sit-up if you want bigger stomach.

Q: Is chocolate bad for me?

A: You crazy?!? HEL-LO-O!! Cocoa bean! Another vegetable! It best feel-good food around!

Q: Is swimming good for your figure?

A: If swimming good for figure, explain whale to me.

Q: Is getting in shape important for my lifestyle?
A: Hey! 'Round' is shape!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Everything's Fine

I was watching BBC World News the other day and saw pictures of poor, inundated Vermont being beamed around the world. I am happy to be able to report that the Last House and our Stowe Weekday Abode escaped unscathed. Really, it's like nothing ever happened - except (and I am not making this up) the State office complex where I work was badly flooded and I and about 1700 other people have been forbidden to go to work. Maybe for months. (You know, I had been working extra hard this summer til Irene soooooo...)

As usual, I have been reading, that is, re-reading Middlemarch. I finished it (again) today. I got to the last lines, which always overpower me. I am sharing them here, though they are out of context and so I am not really being fair to you all or George Eliot but I feel compelled to type them out.

[T]he growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

These lines refer to Dorothea Brooke Ladislaw - the Alpha and Omega character in a book that some wise critic referred to as "spacious." Here too is a link to the valentine that Rebecaa Mead wrote to Middlemarch in the February 14, 2011 issue of the New Yorker. (q.v.)

Also, the picture above is one I took during a walk in the woods on the sunny day after Irene... As I say, all is well in my grassy corner. Thanks to those who have inquired.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fabulous or Frightening?

I bought this on ebay.

I can explain.

I met a guy recently who impressed me tremendously. He's a naturalist from the state of Delaware who retired in Vermont some 20 years ago. He's 86 years old and he looks like 30 years younger. I mean, strong legs, straight back, clear eyes - hearing that is way better than mine. When we met he told me he and his wife had been out every night for the last six nights, mostly listening to classical music or going to wine tastings and the like.

It came up in our conversation that he had written and illustrated a few books of natural history while he was still working. He explained that he used something called "scratchboard" to illustrate these books. I didn't know anything about scratchboard and he explained. It's pretty much like it sounds - you scratch away the image from a board and the board can than be used to make prints.

So..... Fast forward a few weeks and somehow, while searching for paintings of Terriers I saw this kitten. I am not sure how that happened, but you know how the Internet is.

I don't know if what I have here the actual scratchboard or a print. I don't want to break it out of the frame and it hardly matters to me. I was just lured in by the "scratchboard" part of the description - and the eyes. This item was created by an artist called Helen Anderson and the ebay seller was trying to gin up interest by noting that Ms. Anderson had an auction record of $750. (My price, $9.99 and I was the only bidder.) Can you believe it?

So, here is an addition to the collection who now gazes up at my cracked ceiling with his little open mouth and wee paw fetchingly placed on, what is that? A ball? Whatever.

Frankly, I can't decide whether I like it or should be embarrassed. OK, I like it, but I think that means I should be embarrassed. What do you think?

Shackleton speaks:

At dinner tonight, while he was refusing to eat the broken hamburger that his father was trying to sell as "sloppy Joes" Shack said, "If I were a monster, I would eat all of the human being except the head. Who wants hair with their human?"

Another excellent question.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bad Blogger

Just stopping in on a Sunday PM to say I know I have been lame, remiss, what have you, about getting fresh stuff in here. Work has heated up unpleasantly - in August! And there's the usual family stuff to attend to. I have managed a couple of bike rides and the Ustudy and I took the picture above on one of our periodic photo shoots. I took the picture and she ran it through instagram - destined to be a visual cliche of 2011 but isn't it cool? Hope the summers of any stoppers-in are going well.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

All on a Summer's Day

A very lazy Sunday draws to a close here... Nothing but cupcakes to show for it, and those now mostly gone. Here's a shot at redemption, a few summer photos from around the Last House taken by the Understudy mostly. Summer is in absolute full swing here at the moment... We are going to rouse ourselves briefly in about half an hour, the Ustudy and I, to take the bikes out for a ride and a photo shoot. The place we rode through yesterday, a little dirt road through some woods and fields nearby, was so beautiful we decided we had better go back with a camera. Hope your Sunday was peaceful too.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

This Actually Happened...

The other night I opened the medicine cabinet to get my toothbrush off the built-in little holder behind the mirror. The medicine cabinet probably dates to about 1960 (based on the approximate date of the salmon-colored bath fixtures) - soooo, the toothbrush holder has a bit of a rust issue ...

Anyway, I hang my toothbrush there because Whusband is unlikely to open the medicine cabinet when he is looking for a toothbrush. He is a notorious non-respecter of toothbrush property rights. That is, if he sees a toothbrush, he will use it.
I know. You don't have to say it.

Anyway, I opened to the medicine cabinet to get my toothbrush late that night and found an earwig curled around the back of it, resting in the rust. Boy, an earwig can skedaddle when you take away his toothbrush!

What do you think I did next? Wrong if you guessed, "ran and got a picture for the blog!" (Sorry).

What would you have done?

I'll tell you next time.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Alaska - Done and Dusted

Breakfast on the boat

Seen in Skagway

Well, just for us, and just that southwest bit of it to which we were transported in the most cosseted possible fashion. Here's one last blog post re: the trip, written on board for later blogging purposes. Back to work tomorrow...

Cabin 5562 Log – Thursday July 14, 2011

The very clever people who know how to move a luxury hotel full of people into the Arctic Circle and then take it out again are at their posts. We are steaming dieseling (?) into Glacier Bay National Park. I have already been up for breakfast (7 AM local time). Scrambled eggs with peppers and onions, fried potatoes, coffee, cranberry juice. Then, cause I saw it for the first time, some smoked salmon with fresh onions, accompanied by French bread and finished off with a few slices of fresh pineapple. The pioneering spirit, as you can tell, is not dead…

This is as far north on the planet as I am ever likely to get at 59 degrees north latitude. For the first time on this trip, everything is shrouded in mist and the sun is nowhere to be seen. I took a turn around the upper decks and thought of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner (although no one here is dying of thirst). It is 7:50 AM local time and Shack is still snoozing off the effects of yesterday’s tourism. We were in Skagway, Alaska – a gold-rush born town of 800 people with 10,000 tourists there yesterday. The effects were predictable. All during this trip I have been thinking back to an essay by the late David Foster Wallace called “Consider the Lobster” It’s all about lobsters and their place at the center of a Lobster Fest in Maine.

At the time I read it (heard it on audiobook, actually) I was irritated by his attitude toward the masses in search of a good time. What an easy target - a straw man. Wallace did, however, talk about himself as part of the problem, as ruining the thing he came to see - a “parasite on a dead thing” . Skagway still has the bones of a frontier town but the face of a rapacious tart. Diamonds for sale at eight different places within 200 yards of the ships. (What’s with all these diamonds and “tanzanite?” Can people not buy this at home? Do they only want it when they’ve left home on a boat?) But yesterday, after Shack and I bought our T-shirts and postcards in Skagway (playing our parasitic part), we went up a scenic railway, naturally with a thousand other people, and saw scenery that was so beautiful it almost didn’t seem possible that it was real. It was, the conductor said, the nicest day of 2011 in the area so far. The views of mountains, crags, cataracts, forests primeval etc. stretched for miles in all directions. We were, all of us parasites, coming to see and, in a way, to pay our respects to these sights of this world. And, let it be said, we are a natural part of it too and if there were no on lookers to see it, would the world still be so beautiful? We tourists may not be attractive, but there was nothing but goodwill in our hearts for all those crags and cataracts and, I think, a sense that we were very small in the face of this splendor.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Post for a Hot Night

Uggh. One day back from Seattle and Iiiiimmm Meltinggggg! The only place in the country with decent weather at the moment was Seattle. Hmm. Still, it's nice to be home. Flying into Burlington yesterday, I saw little Vermont with new and grateful eyes.

Anywho - since it is hot and I am feeling all-in here's a little video I took as we were dieseling away from Skagway, Alaska last week. Also featured is Shack, who is acting like a nut and modeling his Russian army hat, which we had procured at the Russian American store in Skagway. The hat was the hit of the trip. I am hoping that somewhere under that hat he will keep the images of the scenery he saw in Alaska...


Monday, July 18, 2011

The View from Cabin 5562

Hey - anybody out there? Breaking news: We're back in Seattle at an airport hotel that FINALLY offers up some free internet. Bless them. We are having a proper internet wallow tonight after a week of deprivation at sea. I couldn't connect the night I wrote this (more on that below) but now I will be catching things up a bit. One more day in the northwest, on land, then back to Vermont. Today's banner is a shot I took (then messed with) in the White Pass on the way to Yukon Territory.

(Norwegian Pearl – Monday, July 11, 2011 – 10:15 PM)

First, let me say that it is after 10 PM and it is still light, as I can see through the porthole in this cabin.

I was too poor for a proper window and too claustrophobic for an inside cabin, so Shack and I are down here on what amounts (almost) to the bottom floor – just above sea level.

This cruise to Alaska aboard the Norwegian Pearl was one of several ideas we considered for a big trip, in recognition of Shack’s having achieved 10 years. France and England were other contenders. He is happy with his choice (did I mention about the bottomless self-serve soft-serve?) but I am pining for some old city – Paris or London would have done nicely. I am not cut out for this kind of thing.

My heart sank when I got on board and was greeted by a pretty blond girl in a strapless knee-length red dress. Are we going for 1890s saloon here, I wondered, or is this just what the average cruiser expects by way of elegance? I mean, I am as fat and badly dressed as the rest of the crowd on board – well, not quite as badly dressed since I had sleeves - but I mean, really.

The décor in the reception area was apparently the result of a collaboration between Donald Trump and My Little Pony. I can hear it now:

Svend: "Pony, Donald, what we need in the reception area is something that will really blow their clogs off. Something elegant, like Vegas, and refined - like a high-end Bangkok brothel - but also something that will delight the eight-year-old girls and NASCAR fans we're expecting."

Well, really, you say, what were you expecting? It’s a cruise. Duh.

True -- but, in my defense, since the cruise line is Scandinavian, I suppose I was expecting some teak or something Danish-y. A little restraint. And since it was destination Alaska I thought there’d be a lot of outdoorsy types. Wrong and wrong.

OK – Maybe I am being an bit harsh. Here’s what I like so far. I like our cabin. It has that cunning way of a ship in using the limited space to maximum advantage. I like the fittings of the ship itself – our porthole is like a manhole cover – solid and no corners cut. The decks are scrupulously cleaned and all the railings and every lick of paint is perfect. (I suppose, before they got around to upholstering banquettes and the bottom of the silver columns in the reception area with pink and turquoise, they had to build something that would not try to cheat the ocean). Today, also, I liked the view. We got to see the coast of British Columbia and it was gorgeous. We both like the shuffleboard – that oldest, lowest tech cruise pass time.

I will post this once I get some free wireless Internet somewhere. I did go online for 12 minutes today. I know because when I signed off I got a message about the $12.95 that I had spent for checking my email and saying hello to the Understudy. But that (the ceaseless merchandising and chiseling on board) is another story…. More later.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Hello Seattle!

Whew. It was a long night flight from NYC yesterday, but here we are, at last, on the western edge of the country. It is lovely here - I had forgotten what that Pacific light does to everything. Seattle, you'll recall, is the jumping-off point for the Alaska cruise I threatened to tell you about a few weeks ago. The boat leaves tomorrow.

We had a Seattle day today and ran around town checking off the sights. The closer we got to the waterfront, the less Shack liked it. Pike Place Market was mobbed but I wanted badly to see it. Shack claimed it made him sick (there were some beggars and - quel horreur - people smoking cigarettes. He is not used to such sights - he'll kill a thousand aliens before breakfast on "Halo" but a guy sitting by a sign asking for spare change reduces him to a jelly). We had to leave eeeemediately.

And, dear internet, though I could not possibly overestimate your interest in my vacation I will be back with more later.

(This is the Seattle Public Library. I read an article about it in the New Yorker some years ago when it was first opened (it was designed by uber cool architect Rem Koolhaas) so I was sort of excited to find that our Priceline hotel room has this great view of it). Bye for now.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Video of My Dog Trying to Get a Cookie Out of a Wastebasket

I was going to write a paean to America the beautiful - but I'll spare us all that. (And that is the last time the word "paean" will ever appear here. Promise). See, I sense that the internet is impatient with my boring, self-regarding content. I hear that. So here's a little clip of my dog trying to get the remainder of a "Chips Ahoy" cookie out of a wastebasket.

A little set up: The fun began with Maisy approaching the wastebasket like a commando, inching forward on her elbows and stomach. Then she started to growl and bark, staring intently at the can. I thought there must be a mouse or something behind it. Nope. Chips Ahoy - partial.

I helped a sister out by putting the can on its side. Still, it was a puzzle for her.

Enjoy. (PS She got the cookie in the end). Happy 4th.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer Time

Believe it or not, I am full of ambition to write and photograph and blather on. Just no time. I have been taking pictures again. Here are a couple for summer.

Oh, here's a little odd bit of writing for you too, in case you don't have enough to read on your computer:

Welcome to my Déjà vu.

(I just had to write this down the other day. I have thought about it, once in a while, for years. Don’t ask me why because I really have no idea).

I see in my mind’s eye a small house, badly built, higgledy piggeldy, alone on the top of a hill. The walls are made from various materials - salvaged bits, odds and ends. Where it is wood, it is brown but sun-bleached. Where it is stucco, dirt has collected in the swirls meant to be decorative. The roof is flat, though it slopes to the back.

A too-big window a picture window fills nearly one entire wall. There is a bulkhead at the back of the house, like a little shed with steps to the cellar. Though the foundation of the house is hidden by the grass and bushes, the lines of the house are straight and true, suggesting the foundation is sound. There is an old iron water pump nearly lost in the grass not far from the front door.

It is a fall day, but with humid summer air and a cloudy gray and white sky.
The front of the house, where there is a door at the top of three concrete steps, looks down the hill at nothing but hill and grass. The grass is uniformly long and gone brown, like straw. The wheaty tops of the grass bob in the wind, up and down, as the breeze, which is sometimes builds to a wind, rises and falls.

The front door is wood and was meant for an interior door. It has been damaged by the weather. Veneer is popping off all four of the panels. The steps are chipped and in places the aggregate shows through. There is a bald spot in the brown grass at the bottom of the last step.

There is only the house at the top of the hill, with the grass, and a few overgrown bushes around it. A few blowsy pink blooms still cling to the bushes.


As far as I know I have never seen this place, but I get a feeling about it sometimes, like a place I knew in some other time... Do we all have these places?

One more summery (weird) picture in keeping with the above and out:

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hon, Where's My Terry Cloth Romper?

"Oh God! I meant to throw that out before you could wear it again."

It serves James Bond right that he has been immortalized wearing this garment. Not that I don't love Bond, and all, but I mean - really. Shack and I settled down in front of Goldfinger this morning (Saturday, and all). The scene where Bond zippers himself into this attractive robins-egg blue one-piecer, with full wedgie functionality, opens with Bond having sun tan lotion applied to his back by one "Dink" (a girl, despite the name). In case you've forgotten, Dink is run off when Bond's CIA contact, Felix, appears poolside. Run off with a slap on her bottom before her blond head gets all confused by the "man talk" that Bond tells her is imminent.

I actually stopped at this point to explain to Shack, who was watching with great interest, that this kind of thing is not done anymore. "Why?" He looked very confused. I think my explanation about the 60s being a long time ago, the evils of sexism etc. didn't clear things up for him. But then there's Bond's "towelling playsuit" and that's some consolation.

Some dedicated fashion blogger has a long explanation about this here, and a few more pictures of Sean Connery having been steered very wrong, sartorially speaking. FYI.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

North To Alaska

For those who have been following along, you'll no doubt be relieved to know that we have finally made a decision about where to go for Shackleton's big trip. (When the Understudy was 10, I took her to London and a little bit around the Island. The deal was that when Shack got to be 10 he would get to choose where he went.) I guess the title of the post pretty much says it all.

I am sort of embarrassed about going on a cruise. Not exactly a wilderness adventure - though the boat stops in five different places where we can all race off and stimulate the local economy. Still, we will get to see Alaska, if it isn't raining too much. I even bought new hiking poles for Mendenhall Glacier and Mount Ranier (where we will visit on a day trip from Seattle after the cruise wraps up.)
I also have to admit that the idea of being on a floating hotel, where I don't have to figure out any foreign currency or train tables etc. has a certain attraction. OK. I'm weak. I said it.

Shackleton is sort of excited but with the vast stretch of time before we actually leave (mid July) it doesn't seem to be much occupying his thoughts. I am sure the Internet will be thrilled to see our pictures. Have no fear, they will be shared.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Government Work

I went to the cafeteria this morning in the government complex where I work (the former state mental hospital and poor farm - poorly repurposed as office space for its current population of bureaucrats (i.e., yours truly). This is the hallway at the top of the stairwell that leads to the cafeteria:

If scenes like this didn't make the former occupants of the state hospital want to kill themselves, I don't know what would. It briefly made me feel suicidal.

Well. Now I need a lift. Probably you do too.

Here's a link to a very funny bit of business that the Understudy passed onto me from her cheerful tumblr blog. It will make your day if you click through or your money back. FYI: music will start to play when you click through so if you are looking around the internet at work, you might want to turn your volume down. Also, the Understudy is 13 so when people go to her blog she forces them to work with a cursor that is shaped like bow and trails glitter along the screen. Have fun!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

"Confirmed in Antwerp..."

I just read that phrase out on the internet, at the beginning of some longer comment to a blog post. The comment had nothing to do, as near as I could tell, with the content of the post. Maybe it was a kind of artistic statement? Maybe misfiled? Whatever. I just loved it, though - hinting as it does at some important, busy life - some artist. some contemporary eminence. A long way from where I sit, alas, and probably not a phrase likely ever to be said following my name - but there it is. Isn't it poetry?


In other non news, I have been thinking for a while about those great pop-culture metaphorical places: "Chinatown" (I mean in the sense it was used in the movie of the same name - I know that there are many literal Chinatowns), Margaritaville, Hotel California. What would I call the metaphorical place I currently inhabit? How about you? Looking forward to getting a couple of answers here.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Mirror, Mirror... and a Junk-Free Memorial Day Weekend

Is anyone else out there bothered by the high reflectivity of his or her computer screen? I mean, until the LCDS light up on my laptop it's as bad as having a great horking mirror 18 inches from my face? (Mirror avoidance = peace).

Also I just "invested" in a iPod touch and was dismayed to see it produces the same effect. I was waiting for Shackleton to return from a field trip yesterday and decided to use my new iPod to watch an episode of The Office on Netflix. If I refocused my eyeballs at any given moment, there was my own face, hovering ghostly and malevolently over a tiny Steve Carrell.

I sense a marketing opportunity here... Is there some film that we could put on these screens so they wouldn't force us to look at ourselves looking at our screens?


In other news, my name is Woolfoot and I am junkaholic. It's been two months since my last auction or visit to an antique store.

As you know, it's Memorial Day weekend and I live in Vermont, where almost everyone is white. In case you haven't heard, White People in general, especially rural white people like most of us here in Vermont, like to pull their stuff out of their houses and onto their lawns and try to sell it during the summer. They like to get off to a big start on Memorial Day weekend.

I drove 60 miles today around our little state and, hand to heart, I saw a yard sale at least every two miles on average. I did not stop at one.

OK, OK, I'll admit I walked into the auction house where I have spent so much time and money in my past life. (They had a sign by the road that said "flea market.") I came late - people were packing - and I left immediately. Really, my stopping in was just a little auld lang syne (I own a blue-and-white jumbo coffee mug from about 1890 with the words to auld lang syne transferprinted on the saucer - FYI). Temptation had vanished. The fever has passed. Why?

I have been wondering about that myself and I have a few ideas.

First, my daydream of opening an antique store ran aground when I set up an antiques booth early last fall at a big event. That booth was work! Miserable, hard work. Not fun, as I had vaguely hoped, nor profitable, as I had argued with Whusband. Also, I just looked around my house one day, and my studio, and the outbuildings on our farm and saw that every available nook, cranny and bit of wall space was occupied - not to mention the drawers and cupboards and I thought: enough! Finally, if you have been following along, you know I pulled together a "Blook" this spring, that is a book made up of old blog posts -- and there I saw how much time and energy I have spent in the last few years accumulating things I don't need and really can't afford and then writing about it. Again, why?

OK, collecting was fun. While it lasted. But I think I am over it. I have a pin, one shaped like and anchor and covered with rhinestones, (from a box lot last year at auction last year). I think I will put it on in recognition of my new-found sobriety.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Adele in Montreal (and a Little Life Lesson for Your Hostess)

I had bought tickets to the Montreal Adele show in February at the pre-sale as soon as they were made available to the Adele nerds. However, when the day for the show arrived last week -- a Monday which was really inconvenient for a middle aged woman with two half grown kids and a job to be at on Monday and again on Tuesday morning -- I almost balked. I had also bought a ticket for my friend "Splenda" whom I successfully coerced her into going to the last Adele show in Montreal a couple of years ago and a good time was had by all.

Well, now both of us are just that much older and it was raining and the kids had evening activities and blah blah. I sat in my office that Monday at lunchtime, as the time for my departure approached thinking, Where the hell am I going to park? (Montreal has the most confusing parking signs in the world and I had never been to the venue) and it's such a hassle going over the border these days - the friendly, easy days of back and forth to Canada a distant memory (at least some of the time) maybe I should just bail.

Then I picked myself up and said "that is ass." (As is, stupid, ridiculous old codger thinking). I got my umbrella (the good kind of old codger thinking) and left the building.

The drive up was in its rainy spring way, lovely. The border, a breeze (I think Adele's tour had come through the same point earlier in the day - no questions about my plans to attend her concert). I had memorized a Google map of the location of the theater and I pulled my minivan into the space in front of Adele's tour bus at around 4:30 PM. No problem. I figured out the parking meter - which can be paid with a credit card. (Montreal is forward thinking kind of city. I love that).

I walked around the corner and picked up tickets at will-call. It was three hours 'til the doors would open, but already a small crowd was huddling at the door. The venue was a standing-room-only deal - an old movie theatre where all the floor seats had been removed. This meant that the first ones in would get to stand right up by the stage. Fan that I am, three hours in the rain and wind (it was about 55 degrees) was too much for me.

Splenda called my cell to relate her plans for getting her kids to the places that they had to go and for working her way downtown. Clearly, she was pressed. I told her not to worry about me. I have always wanted to try the uniquely Quebec fast food place, La Belle Province, and there was one next to the theater. I ate a gyro (they love Greek food in Montreal) and a pile of delicious French fries (greasy with the sweetish ketchup favored by French Canadians) and read the weekly arts paper. By the time I had worked my way to the not-so-veiled ads for prostitutes at the back of the paper, I had managed to occupy myself that way til about 6. I thought I would walk around the city a little but as I passed the theater, the line had gotten much longer, snaking around the corner. I had thought that, rain and wind or no, I had better get in it.

Two guys were walking up and down the line trying to buy tickets. They had been going for about $300 a piece on Ebay the week before. No one was selling. Least of all, me. Splenda called and said she was taking her son to his diving class and then her daughter was going to her mother's house. It was rush hour. She would be a while. I asked her to top off my meter when she got downtown. I was in line and not moving. She couldn't believe it. "It's still nearly two hours til they open the doors!" She felt bad. Twenty minutes later she called again and gave me carte blanche to sell her ticket. I told her I really didn't want to do that - I wanted her to come, but I also didn't want to twist her arm. We went back and forth on this for a few minutes - she said she wanted to come but she didn't want to cost me a payday. I stood my ground. She was coming.

Splenda arrived, with parking meter money in hand, about 7 PM. (She told me that if you have the number of your parking space you can top up you meter at any of the pay stations around town). She also said that her next door neighbors who are also two of her favorite people, Marc and Marco, had tickets for the show. She called them and moments later they appeared and joined us in line (which had by then stretched to the southern horizon). M & M were fetching and friendly, so waiting that last half hour or so turned into a bit of a party.

When the doors opened, we were sufficiently near the front of the line (owing to my stakeout) to have our choice of positions in the theater. Marc and Marco I went right to the front of the stage while Splenda bought us a drink at the bar. When I turned to examine the room, however, I saw there was a balcony - with seats! I told Marc I was going to see if I could get a few. (I had already been standing for two hours and it was at least an hour before the show would start). I ran up the stairs and, yes, got seats just behind the rail. Splenda came moments later with a vodka tonic. (Can you see where this is going?) Marc and Marco (who are very fit) decided to stay in the mosh pit.

OK. If there is anything better than sitting with a great friend in a comfortable theater seat and sipping a vodka tonic while you wait for your favorite singer to do a show, let me know.

The opening act came on at 8:30: a boy/girl duo from Alabama called "the Civil Wars." They sang brilliant harmonies and the girl was very Montrealaise in a short black dress and heels. They were playful. The crowd was in a great, appreciative mood and ate them up. It was love.

Then, at last, came Adele. Now that I have pounded you with a blow by blow of the preconcert details, I'll just leave you by way of a review with the comment I left on the Adele website the day after her show and an email exchange between Splenda and I.

The comment:

Dearest Darling Adele - It was my privilege to be part of the crowd last night in Montreal. That word "magic" gets thrown around a lot, but last night was the real thing - a regular alchemical romance, We all loved the Civil Wars (could you tell?). Your band was brilliant and, of course, you looked beautiful and you sang us all up, up, and away! After the show, my friends and I stood out on the sidewalk and tried to process our excitement like the grown ups we are - but more or less failed. We just stood there trying to recover our wits and pinching ourselves. Bless you. Take care of yourself. Thank you (and your mom!).

(NB. Despite my leaving ingratiating suck-up comments like this for A on a couple occasions she has yet to reply. Oh well.)

The email exchange between Splenda and I a Few Days Later:

(From me)

Hi Dear -

I am just back from the Spring Concert at [the Understudy's school] - which I have mentally renamed "Lilly White Middle and High School." I actually like these school concerts because the kids are so putting themselves out there and are generally adorable. I remembered something I read by Margaret Atwood years ago - she had given some kind of graduation speech at a HS in Ontario and she wrote about how all the graduates were beautiful, even the ones who didn't think they were good looking (just by virtue of their youth). Anyway, I am putting this concert down in my book of recent live performances. I have been processing the Adele show since we left. Marc "friended" me the next day and sent me some pictures of A just as I was posting a fawning fan comment on her website (telepathy?) I saw a review from the Toronto show that she did the next night. They had bumped up the venue to some 6,000 seat arena and the reviewer thought (and Adele said) she was nervous. I think we may have gotten her best night....

(From S)

I have been meaning to sit down and compose my ENORMOUS thank you for what may be the best concert of my not so young life! :) and apparently she upgraded to the ACC the next day which has a capacity of 18K ... so depending on the configuration, we had BY FAR the better show! by FAR!

When I got back to the minivan after the show, I saw that Adele had been issued a whopping big ticket. I mean the piece of paper was 8 1/2 by 11! I assume the fine matched (thanks to Splenda I was still in good parking graces). However many hundreds of dollars that ticket must have been, I am sure she would be happy to pay it. She said (and seemed to mean) that we were the best crowd of the tour so far.

So, there you have it. You would think I would have learned by now that any effort that takes me out of my Hobbit-like ways is always repaid. Apparently, I need frequent reminders.

Monday, May 09, 2011

So, I Just Came In from Walking the Dog...

and there was my 13-year-old daughter, coming out of the bathroom, with a spray bottle of window cleaner and a rag.

Me: "Were you cleaning?"

(I had left no instructions to this effect and it has never happened spontaneously before).

Her: "Yes."

Me: "Why?"

Her: "I went and got my make up [I had spotted the case open on the living room floor] and when I picked up my nail polish it smelled like anus. So I cleaned the nail polish bottle. Then, I picked up the case, and it smelled like anus, along with everything around it. So I cleaned it...

And then I died a little inside."

I loved that.


While we're on the topic, sort of...

A few months ago, Shackleton was ravening to become a Cub Scout. A notice had come home from school about an organizational meeting. Of course. Cub Scouts. You're 9. Why not?

It was fall and dark came early. A group of us potential cub scout parents, none of whom knew one another, filled out a form and then sat in a strangely unconvivial silence around the school cafeteria tables listening to the man who was spearheading the Cub Scout effort. There was no pack at our school, he explained, though Cub Scouts were big in both the neighboring towns. He was willing to change that for boys in his son's grade. (Someone else would have to handle kids in the other grades.) He had been more or less forced into this, he said, by his young son and his wife, on account of the fact that his older son had achieved Eagle Scout. The Eagle Scout had come up through the ranks from Cub Scout to Eagle Scout. He told us about Eagle Scouts and the high proportion, for instance, of U.S. Presidents and FBI agents who had once been Eagle Scouts - of course all of them had once been Cub Scouts. He had a fact sheet on this to hand out.

Now,I have known one or two Eagle Scouts and they were perfectly lovely and Scouting has worked great good for many people, I know, but FBI agent is really not what we're going for here. The thing that I am most proud about for my own kids is that they are not mean to other children or animals and that they say funny things. (See above).

We went with Karate lessons and guitar for Shack.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Royal Wedding

We stumbled into the Royal Wedding yesterday morning. I mean the TV broadcast, of course - not the real thing. (My sister told me today that she has determined via that we are 40th generation descendants from Henry III - but thank God we didn't get invited as really I had nothing to wear).

The kids and I had somehow failed to register that the wedding was scheduled for yesterday, but we were all excited to find that the usual local morning news team from Plattsburgh had been displaced by K & W. I got ready for work and school to the sound of prayers and hymns and vows, stealing looks at K & W, and Elton John, and the Queen and the top, bottom, sides of Westminster Abbey while I brushed my hair and teeth and packed Shack's backpack.

And wasn't it all lovely? When we talked about it at work, everyone was smiling. The newscasters were smiling when they reported it all. I stopped for coffee at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and the staff had a handwritten sign on the counter extending best wishes to "our friends Will and Kate."

I am sure that the usual too-smart, too-cool, too-egalitarian bores are taking all this adulation as evidence that the rest of us are even stupider, more gullible and more venal than they had previously believed. But screw them. Some of them are boors, all of them are tedious, and that is worse than almost anything they can say about us.

Anyway, it got me thinking again about the Queen. (Sorry, I'll try to be brief!) With my Canadian legal education, I was more or less forced to learn about the centrality to the common law of the English monarch. She is - among other things, of course - a stand-in for the whole country. She is them. They are her. (Sort of like, you know, the Jesus model). I don't think this is a notion that gets a lot of official reinforcement these days, but it is bred in the bone over there and it will out. Like when the Heir Apparent gets married to a beautiful young woman. Hurray for all of us! Even all of us who just wish them well from afar.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Now We Are 46...

There's an A.A. Milne joke in there somewhere. I am feeling sort of decrepit.

In the background today I have been playing (though not really watching) a Gregory Peck retrospective on Turner Classic Movies. Great Cold War stuff. I remember the Cold War - or at least a big chunk of it toward the end. Sigh. Well, my recollections do not go so far back as the last horrible movie (Gregory miscast as a hard-boiled smart-aleck army officer who keeps referring to "dames" and calling a nurse "nursey"). It was somewhat redeemed by the hats and the haircuts. And GP's perfect posture.

I have stolen an hour to post a new picture or two and just to say hello. The banner is fresh from today - taken when Maisy and I stole a walk to the river to look at how it has changed in the last few days into a sinister brown lake. The first warm days of spring have just arrived here in the far north, along with floods. Nothing like the weather disasters in the deep south, though. (The older I get the more I feel the horror of natural disasters. Maybe that's progress?)

It's strange here after this punishing winter to feel a wind blowing soft instead of with a knife edge. Here's another picture from the back field that I took today. I fiddled with the greenness a bit but it is morally correct if not completely photographically correct. See you soon. Thanks for looking in.

Friday, April 22, 2011

What Have You Been Doing?

I made a resolution this year to see more live entertainment. So far, I have seen Cloris Leachman do her one-woman show at the new Performing Arts Center in Stowe. (In a word, Fabulous). I have seen David Sedaris do a reading in the a restored Vaudeville palace in my hometown of Schenectady (also Fabulous). I won tickets to see Janis Ian (remember that song "17"?) with Tom Paxton (I knew the name but wasn't sure why), also in Stowe. I won two tickets so I invited (well, "dragged") the Understudy (now 13) along. I told her to imagine she was going to see Lady Gaga but Tom Paxton and Janis were both closing on 70 and Tom, in particular, had arrived apparently arrived in Stowe via teleporter from 1969 (complete with Greek Fisherman's Cap) singing songs (for example) about the depridations of mountain top mining. "Oh they took off the top of the mountain and it will never be the same, oh for shame, do si do" variety. I was slightly charmed by the throwback nature of this and his apparent sincerity. Also, Janis was a surprisingly impressive blues guitarist. She also sang a funny song for openers about her Canadian wedding with her long-time partner and got heckled by a drunk (Not done in Vermont!). So, that gave the concert a bit of a fear factor/civil rights uplift as the audience clapped down the drunk.
So, I was enjoying the show, but at intermission, the Understudy made it clear she would never forgive me if I made her miss Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock to see the end of the concert, so we had to go. (OK, I also wanted to see those TV shows but I would have stayed if she hadn't moved me on).

Next month it's Adele in Montreal. I am the biggest Adele nerd in the state of Vermont and I bought these tickets at the pre-sale event for Adele nerds. I see they are now up to $200 apiece on Ebay but of course nobody is getting mine. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, April 11, 2011

It's Here...

I haven't been writing much because I have been working on my "blook."

It's as done as it is going to get. I think the widget above makes it possible to order a copy. You may need to cash in a mutual fund or something but they are nicely printed. Or come visit and I'll show you the ones I bought.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Have You Heard the One About A Horse Who Goes Into A Bar?

I have a new teenager in my house. The developments have been predictable. (Me: "You're not wearing that to school!") Luckily, so far at least our senses of humor have not diverged. Also a plus is that the Understudy has become the family IT department (Me: "Can you set this up to print wirelessly?") and also an internet gold miner. Here's a link to her Tumblr blog, which is a lot of fun. She found this joke out there and I asked her to send it on to me for re-blogging purposes. We both laughed at this one:

A horse walks into a bar. The bartender asks “Why the long face?”.

The horse does not respond because it is a horse. It can neither speak nor understand
English. It is confused by its surroundings and gallops out of the bar, knocking
over a few tables.

heh heh heh.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Today's Top Tip

The Spoken Word: British Writers, 3-CD Set, The British Library

I know to a lot of people, including some of my near relations, including my offspring, listening to old recordings of famous writers is an activity with all the appeal of, say, sitting bare-bottomed or a block of ice, or having a series of inoculations. Of course, those people are just flat wrong, but what are you going to do? Just play the CDs loud and never mind about the people screeching from the back seat as though they were being stabbed.

I took this British Writers set out of the library last week and have not quite worked my way through the first of the three CDs. I had a chance to listen in peace this afternoon to Somerset Maugham, in his old age, summing up his career, his plans for the future, some general thoughts about his times and times to come and it was so beautifully wrought - and spoken with equal grace -that I wanted to weep. (You know me). I came to the internet tonight to see if the speech had been transcribed, but I couldn't find it for you so all I can do is steer you to the CD. You know you can trust me.

This set includes the only known recording of Virginia Woolf, and I am looking forward to that. Rudyard Kipling, poor, despised and left behind Rudyard Kipling, gives speech of perfect eloquence to the Canadian Royal Society for literature, albeit with references to the great racial history of Canada, "the English and the French who refuse to be de-civilized no matter the cost." (I heard a dramatic reading "The Ballad of East and West" on my satellite radio recently and I thought it was great).

I am so glad I have two CDs left to hear. It's like having money in the bank. If only I had a little more alone-time in the van... I thought you all might like it too.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Depressing Signs of Spring

The first body turned up on Thursday morning. The victim was an Australorp, a breed known for ease around humans and striking black feathers. Judging from the loss of those feathers this winter, as observed when the little flock was recently released from the coop for some time in the yard, she was also low chicken on the pecking order.

Dead, just before spring. “Like a soldier dying the day before the war was declared at an end” said Whusband, who found the body.

The horrible surmise was that the other four hens, perhaps stimulated by their first break from the coop in months, had pecked her to death. It was a horrible surmise but also a reasonable one. The Australorps had been added to the two surviving members of the flock we bought last summer and so had always been junior members - and she was the most junior among them.

The senior hen, Mable, was a survivor extraordinaire. She had lived through at least four predator holocausts. Each time something got at our birds, we tried new security measures. Their A-Frame coop, covered with tarps and foam insulation for the winter, is surrounded on all sides by chicken wire – including the floor. We replaced boards around the bottom this fall. The winter has been a bear, and the chickens showed the signs of their hard winter when I sprang them for the first time a couple weeks ago.

Imagine my horror when I came out yesterday to release them and found Mable in a nest bucket, feet up, a literal stiff.

Funny, given all the chicken I’ve eaten, how horrible it was to find trusty, clever Mable down. Two summers she has wandered around the yard with her Sancho Panza, the other clever hen called Buffy. The two of them would appear whenever we came out, following us here and there. Once I removed the body I saw that she was in the midst of egg laying, and I figured she had become egg bound. Poor thing, what a way to go.

It was a nice day yesterday so I let the three survivors wander around for the afternoon. Buffy and the two Australorps sunned themselves on the front porch of our little cabin. I shooed them back in the coop for the night and sealed it up. I went to give them some bread this morning. No one came to the door of the coop. Black feathers were everywhere. Really. I wanted to cry. The first day of spring. I am rethinking the cause of death of the first two birds...

If we get anymore chickens we’re getting a proper building with a hard floor and some perches up high in case some horrible weasel breaks in there.

Also, it's mud season. See below.

Monday, March 07, 2011

A Tale of Two Amusement Parks

April in Paris? Mais, non. Fevrier au France en Floride!

Back home from Florida since Wednesday and looking, as ever after a trip away, at home through new eyes. What, with the death of mom’s husband (second time she has been widowed after two earlier divorces) things down there were (and remain) Fraught (with a capital “F”). Can't really go on about that since it's all other people's lives and all. But I do have a few bits to talk about. When I wasn't on daughter duty (my good sister has done way more than her share there) kids and I made a trip to the sights of, yes, Orlando.

Since we have spent the last five months in the dark and cold of the Canadian border, laying next to a cabana listening to nameless but cheerful Latin music (that the Understudy called “Dora the Explorer” music) was a powerful tonic. In fact, we availed ourselves of no fewer than four different swimming pools while we were down there. My sister has one that she heats to about 90 degrees and which has underwater lights that cycle through the colors of all the most famous gems. Shackleton scoured the soles of his feet so much from running in and around the pool that his big toes started bleeding. We soaked in some great hot tubs, and walked beneath waving palm fronds. The best day was the one we spent at Epcot.

I am too old to loathe Walt Disney anymore. I just gave in to his vision of perfectable humanity and his apparent faith in Uplift.

In fact, Disney seemed next door to a religious experience for us coming as it did on the heels of our visit to neighboring Universal "Islands of Adventure."

The Entrance to Harry Potter World at Universal Islands of Adventure: Abandon Hope (and cash) All Ye Who Enter Here.

Universal was our first tourist stop as it is the home of the "Wizarding World of Harry Potter", about which you have likely heard.

The Wizarding World, apparently, has a fabulous roller coaster deep inside the replica Hogwarts Castle that dominates the rather small section of the park that has been handed over to Harry Potter. We wouldn't really know, though, since once we got there (ten minutes after the park opened) there was a two-hour line to ride it. We weren't having any of that.

If we had wanted to dish out some extra coin on top of the $250 it cost to enter the park, we could have upgraded to a faster line but no one was lobbying for it, and I was feeling exploited by the powers that be at Universal by then. It was impossible even to walk through the Wizarding World during our brief visit. We tried to find something to do there but all we managed was to buy a few things. I waited in line to spend close to $20 on a pair of churros and an odious drink of Pumpkin Juice at a theme-vendor cart; we spent $10 for jellybeans from the theme-candy store, then we beat it. We thought we might go back later, but eventually they barred people from even walking the streets without an appointment for later in the day. We weren't going to hang around for a few extra hours for the privilege of getting back in the lines.

Did I mention about the $250 admission tickets? I think I left out that we paid $35 for valet parking that day too since we somehow couldn't find the entrance to the world's largest parking garage. That was probably my fault, but it may have been contrived by the Universal people. I wouldn't put it past them.

After the Harry Potter debacle, We wandered to the less populated sections of the park and rode the one ride which had no line. It was one of those river raft numbers. I asked the kid at the door if we would get wet. "Soaked" he said. Surely he meant "splashed a little"? (You can probably see where this is going). I was wearing khaki (!) capris. The Understudy had denim shorts. When we emerged wringing wet from our raft. Dripping. Soaked. And (I am not making this up) there was a vendor selling $20 towels and $10 socks - or you could pay $5 to stand in a form of dryer. We paid for the dryer and the socks. I held off the Understudy's request for a new beach dress (also available at the exit). The chafing was total - physical, mental, emotional, etc.

Some have said that I am cynical, but nothing in my experience matches the dark genius of the cash extraction strategies I saw at Universal. They actually have carnival games around the park. In the ladder of vice, carnival games occupy the rung just above drug trafficking and below prostitution. And yet, I am writing this not ten feet from the cheapest stuffed dog ever rammed into a west-bound shipping container. We were on vacation, you see, and Shackleton saw some little girl trying to ring the strong man bell and a carny with a microphone saying everybody wins... Like all vice, carnival games taint everyone who touches them.

The next day, the Epcot day, as another $250 was forked over to the amusement purveyors my hopes were not high. But the spirit of old Walt really does preside over this creation. We made a bee-line to get a "fast track" ticket for the can't-miss ride of the day, a kind of hang gliding experience called "Soarin'". We had to come back five hours later for the short line, but at least they didn't charge extra. And who else but Walt Disney could have been responsible for the bronze plaques set into the pavement outside the Soarin' building with the names and dates of the achievements of great scientists? (Credit for "Fire" was given to "Anonymous"). There was a "ride" that explained energy, amusingly, and with dinosaurs, but it was still about energy. And of course, Epcot is the one where they have the Disney versions of a few of the most attractive world cultures: to wit, Canada, England, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, China, Norway (?), and Mexico. This bit is so fetching, we all fell for it completely. I willingly opened my wallet for souvenirs in England, lunch in France, (food was good, decor was better) more souvenirs in Japan, dinner in China. All fabulous. There is a movie in “France” made by the French tourist board and shown in a 180 degree screen that was so beautiful it was almost heartbreaking.

Well, it was back to reality shortly after that - first with mom, then back to the freezing north. It was 84 degrees at the Florida airport from which we decamped and 10 degrees in Plattsburgh where our plane landed. We had to find the car in an unlit, unmarked parking lot. Welcome home. Today we are having a blizzard. It is supposed to be five below zero tonight.

We think we'll try to go back to Florida next February... But never again to The Place Whose Name Must Not Be Spoken.

This is what Florida looks like - a nice part of it.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

So Here's the Situation

ORLANDO - I come to you today from a dated (au courant around the same time as Miami Vice) but pleasant "villa" in darkest Florida. Well, actually it has been very sunny here, which is sort of the point. Kids and I had long planned a vacation and family visit (my Mom and sister live here) and we have had that - despite the (long expected but still horrible) death of Mom's husband the day before we arrived. So, an odd sort of crisis/vacation. We are back to Vermont on Weds and I, for one, will be ready to go.

As usual, traveling far from home and visiting with family, especially under these conditions, has me thinking many deep thoughts. Luckily for you, however, I only have about twenty minutes left on the Internet before I have to pay another $9.95 for another day of access. Since we are leaving here early tomorrow -- to retrieve my mother from my sister's house and return her to her own -- and though I have spent a month's pay down here in the last three days you might think it strange that I am balking at another $9.95, but reality is beginning to reassert itself.

So, I'll limit myself to illuminating today's picture for you. It is Shackleton, naturally, a couple of days ago at the end of a long line to ride the world's dullest roller coaster at Universal Studios theme park (never again!) His reading skills are clearly coming along because he's the one who noticed during the hour that we stood in line for the roller coaster that this sign leads weary Seussical travelers to "Gas Food." We've had a fair bit of that on our travels this last week and a half. More later. Thanks for your continued interest.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Two of My Favorite Things

No time for a proper post, but while I was working away on the aforementioned Blook, the Understudy played this little YouTube video for me. Choral music meets The Simpsons. What could be better? Well, maybe if there were some pictures instead of just the misspelled lyrics, but the music is grand. The blook's almost ready. I'll order one and see how it came out, then I'll post a link. Have fun. See ya.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Not Gone...

Not yet anyway. I have been occupied in my off hours with converting some of what's here into a "blook" - a "best-of" real life book that will exist out in the real world. Just wanted to stop in to say "hi" in case you few regulars were beginning to wonder. "Hi."

The banner today is a photo I took this AM from a Jay Peak snowshoe trail. With all the development up there I have been reluctant to make my usual winter visits. I went this morning for the first time this season, very late for me, and was glad that I did. Actually, glad doesn't quite cover it. I was, in my solitary, quiet way, overjoyed to see that the new golf course meant new vistas had been opened up on a new trail. As much time as I have spent up there today I got to see something I have never seen. Believe me, the pictures don't do it justice. What a nice surprise.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Don't Say "Rip Off," Say "Homage"

Sorry Mr. Gorey but I couldn't help myself. I know it's really nothing without brilliant illustrations but I can't draw. I hope you'll be flattered and not annoyed.


A Lesser Tragi-Comic Alphabet

“A” is Adelaide who fell off the wall.

“B” is for Basil who was a little too small.
[N.B. Potential collaborating illustrators: I picture a kid falling out of an amusement park ride here]

“C” is for Chester, who ate something he found.

“D” is for Daphne, whose boat ran aground.

“E” is for Everard whose name led to teasing.

“F” is for Felix, who ended up freezing.

“G” is Gordon, cursed by a wizard.

“H” is for Humboldt, who caught a bolt in his gizzard.
["bolt" as in arrow from a crossbow].

“”I is for Isolde, who put her fork in a socket.

“J” is Jonathan, caught in a sprocket.

“K” is for Kaleb, whose balance was bad.

“L” is for Lottie, incurably mad.

“M” is for Michael, who skipped a key class.

“N” is for Nils, bloated by gas.

“O” is for Otto, who thought he could fly.

“P” is for Paul, who told him to try.

“Q” is for Quincy who didn’t stop to explain.

“R” is for Redmond, too slow for the train.

“S” is for Sarah, who escaped with a scratch.

“T” is for Titus, who picked the wrong batch.

“U” is for Uncas who crashed in a glider.

“V” is for Viv, who sat down on a spider.

“W” is for Winston, who walked out at night.

“X” is for Xavier, whose friends weren’t too bright.

“Y” is for Yolande who snuck under the rope.

“Z” is for Zenia, undone by the slope.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Sweetheart, Put Down Your Flamethrower"

The Poetry Unit continues. Thanks to all who have made suggestions for poems for Shackleton. I have incorporated a bunch of limericks (all G-rated)and lots of other good stuff that has been recommended by commenters. I have been compiling all my favorite finds for Shackleton, becoming something of an editor of poems for kids, or at least readable by them. After this post, I'll shut up about it, I promise, but one last bit of sharing before we leave the topic.

Here's a poem by Lawrence Raab that I read long, long ago in undergraduate days. It appealed to me then because its funny and creepy and profound all at the same time. I reread it tonight, aloud to the kids and I think I like more now than I did 25 years ago. It sounds great read aloud - you might want to try it a few times yourselves and then ponder that last question.

Attack of the Crab Monsters

Even from the beach I could sense it--
lack of welcome, lack of abiding life,
like something in the air, a certain
lack of sound. Yesterday
there was a mountain out there.
Now it's gone. And look
at this radio, each tube neatly
sliced in half. Blow the place up!
That was my advice.
But after the storm and the earthquake,
after the tactic of the exploding plane
and the strategy of the sinking boat, it looked

like fate and I wanted to say, "Don't you see?
So what if you are a famous biochemist!
Lost with all hands is an old story."
Sure, we're on the edge
of an important breakthrough, everyone
hearing voices, everyone falling

into caves, and you're out
wandering through the jungle
in the middle of the night in your negligèe.
Yes, we're way out there
on the edge of science, while the rest
of the island continues to disappear until

nothing's left except this
cliff in the middle of the ocean,
and you, in your bathing suit,
crouched behind the scuba tanks.
I'd like to tell you
not to be afraid, but I've lost

my voice. I'm not used to all these
legs, these claws, these feelers.
It's the old story, predictable
as fallout--the rearrangement of molecules.
And everyone is surprised
and no one understands

why each man tries to kill
the thing he loves, when the change
comes over him. So now you know
what I never found the time to say.
Sweetheart, put down your flamethrower.
You know I always loved you.

--by Lawrence Raab

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Shackleton Speaks Volume IX

Preparation for Martin Luther King Day started a little early in Shackleton's fourth grade class. One of the homework assignments this week to read a page about the "I Have a Dream Speech" and then to answer a few questions. All reading assignments for Shackleton are like pulling teeth, so I had to read (i.e., "drag") him through it. The whole thing was only about four paragraphs and the questions weren't hard: E.g., "What was Martin Luther King's dream for America?" "Why did it make sense for him to give his speech at the Lincoln Memorial?" The last question was, "Do you have a dream about what would make your world a better place?"

"Well?" I asked, ready to suggest the usual - world peace, curing cancer, what have you. Shackleton didn't hesitate.

"Slaves." He said.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Rest of That Poem

Just following up on that last post. I couldn't resist working a little more on the verse I started last weekend. I am putting it here so I won't lose it (since I seem to burn through a laptop every year or so)... I may even come back and revise.

Shack and I are engaged in a daily struggle to get him to read poems, write a poem, memorize a poem and make a poem poster. We have til Jan 17 to get this done. Maybe I'll send him into school with this one when it's all over.

I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as TV.

A poem just sits – it has no go
And doesn’t come with audio.

What’s worse - poems must be read
To get the pictures in your head.

There’s no flash, no flicker, no bluish light
Just tracks of black in lots of white.

Give certain types a pen and page
And they’ll torment kids from age to age.