Friday, November 30, 2007

NaBloPoMo: The Wrap-Up

Well, it's November 30, and time to look back on the month. Yes, it appears that I have successfully posted every day, and not only once. This is, in fact, the 47th post of the month, so I've done about three posts every two days, so that's actually quite an achievement as far as I'm concerned.

Was it worth it? For me, yes. For you? Well, maybe. After all, when you check in, there is always something new to read. Usually. Maybe, depending on when I post and when you read. For me? I get the benefit of pushing myself to notice my own life, to see it as it happens in terms of storytelling, and then to create it and shape it into the form of a post. It's a daily discipline, and those of you who have read either Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down The Bones or done Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way know how important daily writing is.

It's also much more manageable than NaNoWriMo in it's size and level of commitment. I tried, this year, to do NaNoWriMo as a stealth deal. I didn't announce it anywhere, and I didn't sign up or join any websites, figuring that it was hard enough to just do the writing, without adding any obligation to report or support other writers into the bargain. And I did pretty well for the first half of the month, until I missed a couple of days and the wheels just came off that train. Still, I found that the more I wrote, the easier it became to write.

The advantage of such a project is also that if I set a goal of 1700 words a day, I didn't have to change it. I mean, if you are lifting weights, or running, or some other dreary physical exercise, once you reach your goal and it becomes easy, you have to increase your reps, or your distance, or speed, or something. But with writing 1700 words, you can stay at 1700 even after it gets really easy. I think I'll have to pick up that goal again.

In my own defense, while I didn't manage to keep up the novel writing, I am doing some interesting handmade craft/art work, so I'm still trying to be creative on a daily basis.

At the very least, I'd like to keep trying to post daily here on the blog, if only because it makes me feel better when I do.

So, there we go--November is over, or will be in a couple of hours. Creativity is the goal for December, and I fully believe that Christmas decorating and present wrapping fall into the category of "creative!"

Word Snob--Rebuffed!

I consider myself a well educated girl, with a large working vocabulary. I do words. It's what I do. Back in my previous life I was a lawyer, and had plenty of latinate words and actual Latin phrases at my command. I have studied French for five years, and have generally been considered able to string together compelling and readable paragraphs.

I don't remember my English SAT scores--that was far too long ago--but suffice it to say that I never worried about that particular test. I regularly finish New York Times crossword puzzles and have an excellent record with cryptograms. I have a strong fundamental understanding of the architecture of words--how they are constructed from their component letters.

And then I tried to play Jumble Vault.

This is a fairly clever variant on Jumble puzzles. Here, you are confronted with a series of dial, each of which has either two or three letters on it. Your job is to open the vault using the letters on the dials to construct three, four, and five letter words. You must make a set number of five letter words to get the vault open. There is no room for cheating with the easier three letter ones.

In the second round, I breezed through the three and four letter words, but was stumped by the necessary five letter words. How well can you do?

The dials have the following letters available. The dials can only be turned, they cannot be switched around in any manner. The last two dials have less than three letters on them, making the task trickier.

Dial 1: S H L
Dial 2: T A O
Dial 3: W A S
Dial 4: E T
Dial 5: S L

What five letter words can you make? I'll wait.

Still waiting.

Oh, and you only have 120 seconds to make all the words. You need four five letter words.

Still having trouble?

Okay, time's up.

I bet, like me, you got three pretty quickly. Hosts, lasts, losts. "Losts" there is pretty dodgy, grammatically, but the game accepts it. What is that last word?


I know! I've never heard of a "hosel" either. Spell-check doesn't think it's a word. I had to go look it up. It's a golf term:

Hosel is the the socket (or neck) in the head of a golf club into which the shaft is inserted. Hosel is the cylindrical portion of a club head into which the shaft is not only inserted, but cemented. The etymology of "hosel" is a diminutive of the word "hose" (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000).

(I got this definition from this site, which then goes on to use the term to explicate the fundamental gender specific use of the term in labor protests. It's worth checking out. Really. It's clever.)

Clearly, word snob that I am, I am not up to the esoteric refinement of the recondite Jumble crafters. Perhaps I should steer clear of Scrabble as well.

On Edit: This is a "Daily Game," meaning a new set of dials and words are available each day. You can find this "hosel" game in the archives for November 30, if you read this post after that date.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

'Tis The Season And All That Jazz

Well tonight was scheduled to be a festive kick-off to the holiday season. Mr. Sweetie's company was holding an office party at the local British Pub, with employees only from 4-6 for nosh and ale, with families welcome after 6. The pub has floor to ceiling windows, and fronts onto the traffic restricted (buses only) Nicollet Mall, creating a perfect viewing position for the Holidazzle Parade.

This illuminated holiday parade is now in its 16th year, and was originally conceived as a way to lure holiday shoppers away from the mammoth Mall of America and back to downtown retailers. There is some anecdotal evidence that it doesn't work, because families come downtown to see the parade, visit the animated show at Macy's (previously Marshall Field's, previously Dayton's), sit on Santa's lap and then go home.

Be that as it may, the plan was to join Mr. Sweetie with the kidlets and watch the parade from the warmth and comfort of a place that serves alcoholic beverages. But it was not to be.

First off, after school tonight was already scheduled for math tutoring. That is its own entry, but suffice it to say that we were already going to be running and gunning to get back from tutoring (usually at about 5 p.m.) get selves and dog fed, get all sufficiently well groomed for a company event, get across the river and parked and into the pub before the parade starts at 6:30.

Then it turned out that the Bunny was doing a lot of math successfully and wasn't quite ready to quit at 4:30. Or 4:45. And really, part of the reason for the tutoring was to turn around the growing insistence that "my brain just doesn't do math." So, she wanted to keep doing math? I was going to let her keep doing math.

Math kept going until roughly 5:45--by which time I had already sent Mr. Sweetie the message that we weren't going to make it. We came home, had dinner, and the girls started on their homework.

And Pony had a meltdown. It's hard being 14, as I think I have mentioned before. We had a number of good days, but tonight it was all just too much. Too much homework, things are too hard, there are teacher requirements that can't be fulfilled in the time they have to do it (just when are you supposed to find time to practice storytelling with 3 different friends, if each telling takes 15 minutes?) Plus, even the classes that used to be fun aren't fun any more because they are doing hard/dumb/complicated/unnecessary things.

This would maybe be funny if it weren't so obviously painful. Pony is a good student, a responsible girl, and is frustrated because she is getting dinged for not turning in assignments that the teachers have misassigned, or that have changed while she was not in the room and so didn't get the change in the assignment.

And what can I do, but listen and murmur sympathetically? And keep her at home on a cold November night so she has at least that time to face the overwhelming task of managing life?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

More Better Words of Wisdom

You know one of the signs that it's Christmastime? The innumerable catalogs that arrive, purporting to answer all your shopping needs and providing the "perfect present." Many many of them come in one door and go right out again in the recycling bin. I sort of feel guilty about this--I mean, so many people have worked hard to assemble these glossy bits of temptation: photographers, buyers, layout artists, writers trying to find the ten millionth different way to say "BUY ME!" All that effort, and I don't even crack the covers.

But really, I do it in self defense. It's like sympathetic pregnancy--once I start shopping for other people, I find all sorts of things I suddenly discover I can't do without. Even though I didn't even know they existed until I opened the catalog. But now! I need it! And as long as I'm spending money anyway. . .

Do you think they put some sort of hallucinogen into the paper, which works to give us the illusion that we need this stuff? That we can actually use it, or even have a place for it in our houses once it arrives? You know, that same stuff that they make M&Ms out of, that make it so you can't stop eating them. Only the shopping version.

Well, a catalog came in today, and Mr. Sweetie actually delivered it to me, saying "This is for you, I ain't even touching it!" He knows his grammatical rules cold, so he breaks them sometimes for effect.

I looked at the magazine, which looked harmless in itself. The cover cockily asserted "Something for Everyone On Your List!" A glass snowman wearing a glass jester's hat tilted jauntily across the page, and a couple of red and white peppermints added to the festive scene. What made Mr. Sweetie react so strongly to this particular mailing.

So, I just looked at him quizzically. "It's got stuff in there like 'If it's got tires or testicles, it's going to give you trouble'" he blurted. Ahhh, I understand. A purveyor of those Female Empowerment Through Bashing Males kind of tchotkes. But, since he'd delivered it, I took a cautious glance through.

So far, I haven't found anything particularly insulting, but I did find this, which may have to be my new Words To Live By:

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOO HOO, what a ride!

Should you wish to own this particular motto on an attractive knotty pine decor sign with rustic finish, it is available here.

Words Of Wisdom

So, last night as I was brushing out the Pony's long long wet snarly hair (we had a lot of time while doing that) we were discussing this 'n' that, and she delivered some words of advice that I am passing on to you, for free, because they are words of wisdom gratis for nothing.

"If it doesn't work on a sandwich, it won't work on a computer screen. Trust me on this."

I think we were discussing mustard at the time.

No, I don't know what it means either, but what a great fortune cookie it would make.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Queer Eye for the Soldier Guy?

I was doing some internet Christmas shopping, when I stumbled across these quilts and blankets.

And I said to myself, "What the hell?"

Really, now. Who has ever heard of "vintage camo?" Vintage camo? Vintage camo? Vintage camo? Not only does it make no sense on it's own terms, but try typing those to words together four times and they don't make any sense separately, either.

I'm trying to imagine what about this product makes it "vintage" camo. Are the colors the reason? I mean, pink and blue by themselves are not particularly vintage, unless they are made with plant materials using only technology that existed prior to 1820 or something. No aniline dyes for me! I'm sticking with the vegetable based pigments available before the Industrial Revolution!

I certainly don't think that these Pottery Barn Teen pillows and throws are actually made of actual camo fabric that is actually from the 1940s. I mean, seriously?

Or maybe there has been a meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to select new! and modern! camouflage patterns, leaving these particular patterns behind, thus making them vintage?

Imagine Carson Kressley providing consulting advice. "I just don't know, General, these amorphous blobs just don't speak to me. They are so, well, early Manet. Let's bring these textiles into the 21st century, shall we? We need something more urban, more edgy. More Derelicte."

"Oh, hemmm hemmm harrumph. I don't know. Those camouflages were good enough for my grandfather and they are good enough for me."

"Come now, General. Embrace your fabulosity! There are more colors than just olive drab and desert tan, you know. Let's reach out across the color wheel, shall we? Just say no to those boring old colors and patterns!"

"Vintage" is less old than "antique" but slightly older than "retro," at least in my own personal lexicon, so maybe we're looking at camouflage that makes it hard to see you among other vintage textiles? Like from about 1940? "These fabrics will not protect you in military situations, but when you need to obscure your position in the midst of mid-century tea towel, this is the stuff!"

Is it old-fashioned to try to camouflage one's self in the jungle and desert, thus rendering these patterns "vintage" when modern soldiers have to be camouflaged in Fallujah or Kabul?

On Edit: I had the wrong link to Pottery Barn, which should now be fixed. Plus, Mr. Sweetie (who really does know everything that I don't) says that "vintage camo" really is the pattern--what I consider to be "classic" or "no adjective" camo. It is what camouflage is, isn't it? Apparently, it's the camouflage from WWII and maybe Vietnam, but now there really is a different kind of camo, and it is being used in the non-specific, unending, lack of any concrete goals or measure of success wars that we have been involved in under the current Administration.

Not that I have any opinions about that.

The questions! The lack of answers! How ever will I sleep tonight, knowing that there is the unanswerable questions--why are we here? what is the meaning of it all? why are pink and blue ersatz camouflage called "vintage?"

Calling Terry Pratchett Fans

For those of you who have read and loved the Discworld series of books, this post is for you. For those of you who haven't yet read these funny and satirical British books, this might be a path to a great new author.

Is there anybody who has read these books and doesn't love them? Statistically there must be, but I find it hard to believe.

ANYWAY (yes, I was an English Major--can't you tell by my smooth and literary transistions?)

In 2006, the BBC made a 4 hour version of Hogfather, the Discworld's version of A Christmas Carol. In this book, the Hogfather (fat jolly man, red suit, flying sleigh pulled by four wild boars, delivers presents to kiddies, keeps a list of Naughty and Nice) is missing on Hogswatch Eve. This could cause great problems, so Death (tall skinny guy, black robes, scythe) steps in. It won a bunch of British awards last year, and now it is finally available in the US.

It was aired on ION television last Sunday, which we knew about, but since we were traveling, we tried to videotape it. It was not successful. The good news is that you can buy the DVD from Borders! It is exclusively at Borders, although it will be generally available in March, or some stupid time like that.

But don't wait until March! Get it now, while it is still in season! We got ours yesterday, and are well into the third hour. Some of the characters are just spot on, especially Death and his granddaughter Susan. Personally, I find the idea of a 7 foot tall skeleton wearing a red suit with a pillow stuck in front to be sufficiently funny to carry the whole film. Fortunately, it's better than that.

There is a tiny bit of Doctor Who type shortcuts in the technical effects, but the visualizations are so good that a little bit of bouncing Styrofoam is forgivable.

So, check it out--it's a modern alternative for anyone who has outgrown Charlie Brown.

Dontcha Wish. . .

That's me, leading the glamorous life. On the list of things to do today? Oh, you will be so jealous when you see the way I spend my days:

Put out mouse poison (damn buggers)
Pick up entire house for cleaning ladies
Unpack from Thanksgiving travel
Did I mention laundry already?
Make beds
Clean out the guinea pig cage
Grocery shop
More laundry

I know! It's A Wonderful Life!

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Other Boleyn Girl Trailer--Putting the Fun Back In Dysfunctional

Okay, I know it's hardly more than a jumped up bodice ripper, but I have a special affection for Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl. She has single-handedly rescued Mary Boleyn from obscurity and made 16th century England accessible.

For those few who haven't already read it, The Other Boleyn Girl takes the (amazingly overlooked) fact that Mary Boleyn, sister of the infamous Anne Boleyn, was Henry VIII's mistress, and possibly had two children with him before her sister became his favorite. Its an obscure and nifty parallel to his own situation--Henry divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, claiming that their marriage was illegitimate from the start, because she had been married to his brother. (Which is true--at about age 15, she was married to Arthur Tudor for about 15 months.) Because he was able to scare up a Biblical injunction against marrying his brother's wife, he used it as an explanation for why he had no son as heir and as the basis for marrying Anne Boleyn. He did have to conveniently "forget" his previous relationship with Mary Boleyn--there is also a similar injunction against marrying sisters, or something.

Anyway, I have become semi-obsessed with Tudor history and the family lines particularly as a result of this book (and the sequel--The Boleyn Inheritance). It turns out that two of Queen Elizabeth's greatest favorites--Robert Dudley and Robert Devereaux--were more or less family members. Elizabeth and Dudley met in the Tower during Mary's reign, and many speculate were lovers up until the death of his first wife, Amy Robsart. When Elizabeth refused to marry him (truth? speculation? who knows?), he married Mary Boleyn's granddaughter--Lettice Knollys. Lettice's son--Dudley's stepson--was Robert Devereaux, the Earl of Essex, who is also suspected of being Elizabeth's lover. He was certainly her cousin, a generation or two removed!

I won't even begin to go into the way all this history played out at Hampton Court Palace, which was one of my very very favorite sites we visited when we went to England. Suffice it to say that Philippa Gregory and her sexy view of history has ignited a real interest in the times.

That interest is bound to get greater with the release of The Other Boleyn Girl movie in February. Starring Scarlett Johannson as Mary Boleyn, and Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, it will cause history buffs the world over to re-examine Tudor history in light of the important issue raised: how could Henry leave Scarlett Johannson for Natalie Portman? It brings the eternal "Ginger or Mary Ann?" question to a new generation.

And with no further ado, I bring you the trailer for The Other Boleyn Girl. It looks gorgeous. You know I'm totally going to see it the very first weekend it is out.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Are You Scared Of The Dark?

We made the long trek home from KC this afternoon. You know, when you leave at 3 for a 7 hour drive in November--most of the trip is in the dark?

So, Pony and Bunny were amusing themselves, telling each other scary stories.

Bunny: I have one! Once upon a time, there were three boys who made a band. . .called the Jonas Brothers!

Pony: <gasp, shriek> Okay, it's my turn. Once there was a band called the Jonas Brothers. . .and they were joined by a hideous monster called. . .Hannah Montana!

Bunny: <muffled moans and hyperventilating>

Pony: I have another one. Are you sure this won't give you nightmares?

Bunny: I don't know!

Pony: Once there was this group of kids, and they became. . .High School Musical! And worse, there was the horrible. . .Zac Ephron!

Bunny: I think we'd better turn on the light. Heh. Heh. So, um, other people don't get lost. Yeah. That's it.

Do you think they go off and script all this stuff first?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Enchanted, the Movie

We just came back from an afternoon with the grandparents Sweetie: we sorted toys and books for Gramma Sweetie's mission project (providing toys, food & clothing for underprivileged people in Kansas), lunch at a classic KC barbecue restaurant, and then a movie.

We've been looking forward to Enchanted for a while, and knew that it would be fun to take Gramma Sweetie with the girlies as well. We went to a theater at the Legends shopping center, a themed open air mall that you could drop right into Frontierland at Disney World with hardly any trouble. The theater is humungous, with 14 theaters, a balcony bar, and "VIP" seating where you can get food and drink--including alcoholic beverages, I think. The theater we were in was enormous--totally reversing the trend where theaters subdivide so small that you end up watching a wide screen TV with 50 friends. This screen was easily three times the size of most screens I am used to, and the seats! Leather seats! I bet the one theater would seat about 400 people, not counting the VIP balcony. Even cynical, jaded old me was impressed.

The movie was charming as well. It was a gentle ribbing of the conventions of fairy tales, without actually mocking them. Idina Menzel--perhaps most famous for portraying Elphaba in Wicked--articulates the movie's tone in a line where she says "Wow. The way you said that. So straightforward and not ironic. It was. . .romantic." And it is. There are some delightful Disney references--when the evil queen enters the real (non-animated) world, she disguises herself as an old hag and she looks EXACTLY like the hag from Snow White. The Queen's henchman looks almost exactly like Cogswell or Lumiere in human form from Beauty and the Beast.

There is a delightful homage to Snow White when Amy Adams' Giselle wakes up in Patrick Dempsey's apartment and is dismayed at the mess. She opens the window and sings out to call the animals in to help, just as Snow White did. However, since she is in New York City, the animals that respond are not the charming woodland animals we are used to seeing. When the cockroaches swarm up from the drain. . .well, even Giselle seems a bit put off, although she steels herself and points out that it is "always nice to make new friends."

I came out of the theater with my face sore from all the smiling. Even my almost jaded 14 year old really enjoyed it. Mr. Sweetie did opine that it is "definitely a chick flick" and I would have to agree. It is a chick flick, but a charming one and a delightful way to spend a couple of hours.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday. Revisited.

Do you know why they call it "Black Friday?" It has nothing to do with "Black Tuesday." No, it is called "Black Friday" because it is the "official" start of the Christmas shopping season, which is the time which allows retailers to end their fiscal year in the black.

I heard it on Fox News, so it must be true. Fox News isn't allowed to say anything that isn't true, right? Unless it is "fair and balanced," I guess, in which it can be any old crap they feel like saying.

Where was I? Oh, right. Black Friday. Perhaps I have been a bit harsh about after Thanksgiving shopping in the past. Perhaps? Slightly harsh? Who, me?

Well, it turns out that 4 a.m. was not the most heinous opening time for retailing this morning. No, some stores opened at 12:01 a.m. Because it's hard to be thankful for a full 24 hours unless you have immediate shopping prospects, I guess.

Could that be it? It's merely pent up shopping demand? You know, like anytime you are trying to be perfectly still, and suddenly your nose itches, or your back, or you need to sneeze or something. It happens all the time in detective novels and prison break stories. You are facing immediate discovery, and you have to stay perfectly still so the Bad Guy/Prison Guard don't find you, and suddenly, you have an uncontrollable need to twitch. You never need to scratch unless you can't. And you never need to shop the way you need to on a day when all the stores are closed.

Why do they do that, anyway? Close the stores, I mean. Wouldn't you think that grocery stores might do well to stay open until about, oh maybe 2 p.m., so when you find out the turkey is still frozen, or you burned the potatoes, or your main fuse blew and now the oven won't turn on, you can still recover? Shouldn't liquor stores stay open so when Uncle Morty knocks the shiraz bottle off the counter and it shatters on the floor, you can get another one?

Shouldn't fast food places on major highways stay open so that people who are travelling on Thanksgiving can get something to eat during their seven hour car ride? Actually, I was surprised to find that even McDonald's was closed on Thanksgiving. Even some of the truck stops were closed on Thanksgiving, which is really unbelievable. Truckers don't stop for any sissy holiday like Thanksgiving--they just switch from trucking turkeys to trucking cattle and pigs. Trust me, I know--we shared the highway with many venerable livestock drivers, and none of us were able to stop to eat at McDonald's anywhere from Twin Cities to Kansas City. And we checked!

But, back to Black Friday. Maybe it's just a reaction--people who are denied their Constitutional right to shop because the stores are closed, just need to get out and start buying things. Credit cards need their exercise too, you know.

Me? As predicted, I slept in. A lot. L-tryptophan was my friend.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Future Of Thanksgiving

The Famille Evil travelled south to Kansas City to spend Turkey Day with the Grandparents Sweetie. The feast was quite exquisite, with enough food to feed three or four times the number of people actually present.

There were, however, another three people virtually present--Uncle Sweetie, with his lovely wife and child, who live in Japan. Yes, through the wonder of Modern Technology (say that with an awesome FM radio announcer voice, with just a touch of echo for the full effect), we had additional guests at dinner.

All it takes is an inexpensive web camera and a Skype account. We had a VOIP/video conference, which ended with setting up a laptop on the buffet overlooking the dinner table. As the food came in from the kitchen, Mr. Sweetie made a point of presenting each dish to his virtually present brother. He stayed on-screen throughout the meal, and claimed that if he thought really hard, he could actually smell the turkey.

This is, in fact, the future of Thanksgiving. Just think--no more long drives in dodgy weather. No more expensive tickets and overcrowded airports. Just staying cozy in your own home, having virtual family reunions.

The best part? As soon as Drunk Uncle Morty starts dribbling wine, or Auntie Beatrice starts pinching cheeks, and your sister-in-law starts a terrible argument with your sister--you can just punch "mute" or disconnect entirely!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Madness Of The Season

So, the ads for the post Thanksgiving sales/kick-off for Christmas shopping are running about every 2.5 seconds on the radio. Some of them are clever--Target, as one might expect, has ones that are not obnoxious, which is a rare achievement.

I have never understood the "doors open at 6 a.m." deal. Of course, I rarely see 6 a.m. unless given no choice--or I'm coming at it from the other side, staying up all night. So, I'm not the demographic they are aiming for, apparently. And really, is it more pleasant to go Christmas shopping at that hour of the morning than in the middle of the day? Is a checkout line any quicker at 6 or 7 a.m. than later in the day?

It must be, or they wouldn't keep doing it.

But, I heard the kicker this afternoon. It was for Kohl's, which I think of as a step up from say, Sears or J.C. Penneys, but nowhere near a Macy's. I've had some luck buying shoes at Kohl's, and they are trying to upgrade with some ready to wear Vera Wang, so I don't entirely dismiss it. But what the hell do they think they are doing with their "After Thanksgiving Sale?" It starts at 4 a.m.! Four bloody a.m.--in the morning!

I guess it's for those insomniacs, or people who are still nursing hangovers or grudges or both, and need to get away from those relatives! Why wait until 6 a.m. when you can actually begin shopping at 4?

It's not like Amazon isn't open at 4, or anything. If you just can't wait to spend money, there are plenty of internet options that are open 24/7. But, you know, you might still be trapped in the same house with your great aunt Myrtle, or something, so better get your butt to Kohl's! You might miss something--there are only 32 shopping days until Christmas, and getting that 6 hour head start is going to make all the difference!

Me? Oh, I'm going to sleep in. It's what I do best.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Separated At Birth--Siblings Division

These two beautiful women are 7 years apart in age--so not twins, but they surely look related; Amy Adams and Kate Walsh.

Cross Marketing.

New post up at the Book Blog of Evil--Endymion Spring, by Matthew Skelton.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Christmas Is Coming

The Salvation Army bell ringers were out already last weekend. Retail stores moved aside their Halloween remnants and replaced them with Christmas, which I have come to expect.

But the bell ringers now too?

Maybe we should just make it Christmas all the year around. Just like hockey season.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sexiest Man Alive? Really?

People Magazine does this every year--annoints a new movie star as "sexiest man alive." Well, excuse me, but did George Clooney die already? Brad Pitt? Any of the other dozen or so "former" sexiest men alive?

Have they even seen Mr. Sweetie in a tux?

I didn't think so.

Say what you will about Matt Damon, but this picture? Sexiest man alive? Sexiest Ford dealership employee, maybe, or sexiest CPA as they appear at 12:01 a.m on April 16th. This is not the picture of a man who makes women sigh and fan themselves by his mere appearance. This is the face of the guy who wrote $150 million dollars of new flood insurance policies the day before Hurricane Katrina hit, and hadn't even gotten the first premium payment.

This is a man looking some sort of ruin in the face, and deciding whether to jump out the window, lock himself in the garage with the car running, or using a handgun. This is the kind of guy Fountains of Wayne wrote about on Welcome Interstate Managers.

Thanks, but I'll take Clooney. Or Mr. Sweetie in a tux. Or both.

But, have you ever thought what would happen if Charlotte Bronte's beloved fictional character married Matt Damon's amnesiac covert operative?

She'd be Jane Eyre-Bourne!

Thank you, thank you. Tip your waiters, and tell all your friends I"ll be here until Thursday!

Black and White and Saturday Night

Mr. Sweetie and I are just home from the Black & White charity ball, and Saturday Night lasts as long as you are still in party clothes, or you go to bed. Right? So this is not a late posting as far as I am concerned.

I found a lovely floor length dress with quite the d├ęcolletage, so the girls and I were out tonight, and there were celebrities! And Soul Asylum played! And I got to talk with a whole bunch of our friends that I never get to see.

Mr. Sweetie donated a river cruise on Lady Cliff, but we don't know who won it. Mr. Sweetie did bid on a day at a local winery and won, so he/we get to drive the tractor! Pick some grapes! Make some wine and take a case of it home!

I promise to post some pictures tomorrow.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Luck For Chuckleheads

Some days, I swear I shouldn't be allowed out without supervision. Yesterday, I was feeling very put together. It was my turn to take the girls to school, so I got up, got showered (!) and dressed and packed and got everybody out the door and to school by 8 a.m.

This is not a small deal, for me. Left to my own body clock, I rarely see 8 a.m. If I do, and have to be somewhere, I am usually no more than beta dressed. Like a beta test version of software, I am demo only. Usually at least half of what I am wearing is thrown on over my pyjamas, my hair is only passably organized, and my plan is to finish whatever I'm forced to do, and go home and back to bed. So, to be showered before 7 o'clock? BFD!

Kids safely delivered to school, my next task is to convert my single $10 into four $1, so I can pay the fee to park in the lot by my studio. Among other mini-errands, I stop at the SA and buy a drink. Four singles safely in hand, I go out to my car to find. . .

. . .my keys safely locked inside, lying on the passenger seat. No windows are open. No door has a sticky lock that fortuitously stayed open for me. Nope. All locked up tight.

This is where my day would have spiraled completely out of my grasp, not so long ago. Depression would have convinced me that I had no business impersonating a functioning human being, and I might as well just end everybody's misery, including my own. BUT NOT TODAY, DEMON DEPRESSION! FOR I HAVE VANQUISHED YOU!

Sure--a boneheaded move first thing in the morning can really mess one up. BUT! just look at how everything else worked right!

  • I was NOT parked at a pump for gas! Thus, while inconvenient for me, I was not causing snarl ups of other cars trying to nose their ways to the trough!
  • Why look, over there! Within sight, and only half a block away--there is a locksmith!
  • Even better--a locksmith that opened the store at 8 a.m.! Not 9, not 10--I was not forced to seek nearby shelter for a couple of hours, but could walk right in and ask for help!
  • And the locksmith himself was in! He was not out on a call, or on vacation leaving the shop full of truly impressive looking safes in charge of the desk clerk!
  • He said he'd meet me at my car, so when I walked back to the SA, there was the locksmith's company van!
  • But it wasn't MY locksmith--it was another employee who had stopped at the SA to get himself a drink or something!
  • I cleverly asked, as he passed by "Are you here to let me in?" And he said, "Um, no, but I can help you." And he did!
So, right there, can you see how suddenly my luck turned? It was a day where my knuckleheaded move was not an omen of worse to come. Instead it was away to get the worst of the day over first. The rest of the day was bound to be uphill from there.

And it was.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Studio 781

Last week sometime, Dooce was asked by Apartment Therapy to post pictures of her workspace, to let the world see where the deliciousness that is Dooce is created. When I looked at the photos, I immediately squealed "I have those exact same file drawers!"

Yes. I do occasionally squeal like a 4 year old given a pink ballerina costume and a glittery tiara. You are surprised?

Anyway, that was when I realized the I have not taken any photos of my studio since before I had finished the painting of same. So, here it is, just to prove that I do too have some of the same things the cool kids have, and I even got them before I knew the cool kids had them!

These are the file drawers Dooce has as well. I got them at Ikea, which we pronounce EEE-KEEE-uh, because Gramma Sweetie was in Sweden last year and that's how it is pronounced there. Because we are pretentious like that.

I don't know what Dooce uses hers for, but mine are just about ideal for storing beading supplies. I went out and bought a bunch of inexpensive plastic divided boxes--available at all Michaels and JoAnn stores--to hold my beads. When I finally got these drawers, I just used a utility knife to slice off the lids, and they fit perfectly into these wide, flat drawers.

Pretty, aren't they?

I also took an idea I found in a magazine called something hopeful, like Clear Clutter Forever! or maybe it was Organize Your Life This Weekend! The idea was to get alphabet stickers from the scrapbook aisles, and use them to label your storage boxes. I used those here on the drawers.

Over here is the "Storage Nook." Most of this furniture is stuff I took out of the Bunny's room when we redecorated it. I have big canvas storage boxes that also have scrapbook alphabets on them for labels.

This is the view from the doorway, more or less. The storage nook is to the left. The color is a bit off on the right because I didn't use the flash.

Above the file cabinets are the print outs of my novel-in-progress. I am making a lot of progress on it, and it is about time I did. It has been in progress for so long that I have to go back and change all the technology, because it is so dated. Nobody even has a cell phone!

I have a couple of extra storage drawers that don't show in these pictures, but it is already clear to me that I need to do some serious re-arranging. It turns out that it is pretty cold right next to the windows, and the printer is in an awkward place relative to where my computer goes, so I have wires running all over where I don't want them. But that is for another time. Right now I am having some real luck with my creative endeavors, so major redecoration will have to wait.

I will probably move the desk, though. I am not kidding--those windows get cold!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Four More Years!

Just because it was to hand, and not at all because it was darling and cute and adorable and. . .

Okay. I'm partisan. Here is the follow-up to the last post. Bunny at age 4.

I remember this picture.

She had just started at a Montessori daycare, and was going afternoons only. We knew it was picture day, but managed to get dressed first and have lunch second. Which was a mistake, because no four year old in the world can eat Spaghetti-O's without leaving a mess.

Fortunately, the turtleneck could be turned around. You can hardly even tell, can you?

A Blast From The Past

Last year, Bunny's 5th grade class did a unit on "Puberty." Everybody hated it, and nobody was willing to come home and talk about it, except when they had to. One of the times they had to was when they were forced--forced! I tell you--to come up with photos of themselves as babies, as 4 year olds, and then currently. This exercise served the important pedagogical purpose of showing that even before puberty, life was about growth and change, and so puberty shouldn't be too scary.

This is the picture we found of the Bunny at her second Christmas. At this point, she must have been almost 16 months old. We are decorating for Christmas, and she has decided to grab the trimming and decorate herself.

I love this picture. I flat out adore this picture. This is my sweet little sugar bowl of a baby. How can you not want to just scoop her up and smooch those sweet baby cheeks? How can you not want to just push your nose into her neck and drink in the smell of that sweet baby flesh?

Look closer. What big blue eyes you have, my dear! All the better to get my way with, Mama.

What long eyelashes you have my dear! All the better to break boys' hearts when I get older, Mama.

What smoochable cheeks you have, my dear!

When we found this photo, I could hardly stand it. The years when she was this little were such hard ones for me. I was hurting all the damn time, and I really had almost no ability to see past the pain. This sweet little toddler lived in my house, let me snuggle her to sleep, was bright and happy and good, and I couldn't appreciate how wonderful she was at the time.

I could appreciate that she wasn't more than I could handle, but that completely failed to do her justice. Now I look at this picture, and I see what I missed, and that it is gone.

Except, the other night, Bunny happened to be standing in front of me, and I saw her in a sort of rear three-quarters view. From right behind her left ear, I could see down the line of her cheek, along the corner of her eye, and there it was! That smoochable cheek of her babyhood!

Of course, it is much harder to catch a 6th grader in a snuggly and smoochable mood. But it can be done! Especially early in the morning, when the alarm is not enough to wake her up. Then I can snuggle and smooch her as much as I want. Until she wakes up.

Still. It's nice to be able to appreciate it now, even if I couldn't then. Life is getting better.

Just A Thought

This has been a very hard week for the Pony. She has my sympathy. Being 14 is like living with PMS. All the time.

Poor thing.

Mid November Rhapsody

It's mid November now, and today the sky is gray and distant. The giant maples in out back yard tower black and naked against the sky. All the leaves are down now, and tiny snow pellets drop from the sky. They don't flat, these pellets, because they are too compact, too dense. The wind catches them, knocking them off their vertical path.

Oddly, the ground is still warm. It must be, because the grass hasn't gone dormant, and the low lying plants of the garden are still green. The yellow color of the fallen maple leaves is creeping into the hosta, which droops on its stems as if exhausted. The Canadian roses, winter hardy and requiring almost no special handling, still glow pinkish red at the end of the long canes. The foliage is beginning to turn brown, from the tips down, a bright colors on a gray day.

It is a day where the fireplace glows temptingly. It is easy to curl up under a blanket, the yellow light of an incandescent reading lamp softening the harsh light from the window. This is a day for bulky sweaters, for shearling slippers, for hot sweet tea and a book.

Winter is dipping its tendrils down from the sky, like drops of ink in water the color of the days change. The people begin to fade into the landscape as well, no longer wearing the dashing, bold colors of summer and fall, pulling out the dark coats, the drab boots, tucking bright hair under warm hoods, hiding light skin inside black gloves.

The children remain bright, as if they are invigorated by the temperature drop, they appear in bright snow suits, with vivid mittens that will stand out when dropped in the snow. They troop in their multicolored variety from the vivid yellow school buses that parade through the streets twice a day.

This is November, revealing her true temperament. She often goes in disguise, casually acting as if a 50 degree day is quite a usual occurrence with her. Or, she tarts herself up in the glitter of the holidays, winking and gleaming from store windows with strings of lights and metallic ornaments. Perhaps November is a chameleon, but even a chameleon has its true color, and today is November showing hers.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Jane Eyre Is No Nancy Drew

So, I've still been mulling over Jane Eyre. There was something that bothered me about the Guthrie production that I couldn't quite place. Given that Jane herself is rather plain and quiet and unobtrusive at Thornfield, and Rochester is given to periodically roaring about the place (as much as can be done on a set that so totally overwhelms the actors and swallows them up), there was bound to be a lack of symmetry between the two. Small quiet Jane, big loud Rochester.

Of course, in the novel, Jane's very vivid and perceptive interior life balances out against Rochester's greater physicality. And since Jane is the protagonist, I was watching the story as filtered through her sensibility.

But, what if I stopped doing that?

Oh my god, does that completely change the whole thing. Almost beyond recognition. I mean, if you don't adopt Jane's viewpoint, what do you have? You have Edward Rochester, starring in his own version of I've Got A Secret, with Jane in the supporting role of World's Worst Amateur Detective Ever. I mean, really--it doesn't take a Nancy Drew to figure out something weird is going on in that house. Doctor Watson would sniff out a mystery here. For heaven's sake, even Scooby Doo would have more awareness of what was going on than Jane does.

Consider her first night at Thornfield--as represented on stage, Mrs. Fairfax leads Jane to her room.

Mrs. Fairfax: I've put you near the main landing. Right here, next to this door--the only functioning piece of architecture on the entire stage.

Jane: What is that noise?

Mrs. Fairfax: Oh, um, well. . . um. . .oh, look! Over there! Is that the Winged Nike of Samothrace?

Jane: Where?!?!

Mrs. Fairfax: Oh, sorry. I guess it wasn't. My mistake. Well, changing the subject, here is your room. There is no door, or wall, or anything here to demarcate it, of course. There is just that door. Over there. The one that we aren't talking about.

Jane: Thank you. I'm sure this imaginary room will be quite comfortable. It has a lovely view of that door over there.

Mrs. Fairfax: What door? Oh, ha ha ha, that door? That door? Oh, yes, a, um lovely view. It's really a very nice looking door, isn't it.

Mrs. Fairfax: Well, good night Jane. Have lovely doors. . .I mean dreams.

Jane: Oh, Mrs. Fairfax? One more thing?

Mrs. Fairfax: Are you going to ask me about the door?

Jane: The door?

Mrs. Fairfax: Yes. Are you going to ask me about that door over there, the one that we keep shut and locked and no body goes there except Grace Poole, whom I am not going to talk about either except to say that perhaps she needs to be reminded about the noise? That noise that I am not hearing coming from behind that door that I don't notice or think about at all? Is that what you are going to ask me?

Jane: No, I was going to ask you something completely unrelated, because I have come to this place thinking you were the owner, which you are not, thinking I was going to be a governess for a girl whom I have not met nor seen any hint of. I have since learned that the house actually is owned by somebody else. What is his name?

Mrs. Fairfax: Oh. That would be Mr. Rochester. He never comes here either, so you probably won't ever see him. I'm off to bed, Jane, in a different part of the house where all the other people who presumably work here are also hiding. Somewhere far away from this door, that is just like all the other doors we would have in this house, if we had any doors or walls or anything, except that this door we keep locked. All the time. Except when we don't. Which is never. Mostly.

Later, after Jane has saved Mr. Rochester, by dousing the fire set on his bed, he questions her.

Mr. Rochester: So, Jane. Now that I'm not burned alive in my bed, what made you come and save me?

Jane: I heard a noise, sir.

Mr. Rochester: A noise? What kind of noise? A noise that sounded like a crazy person escaping from behind a locked door? One that sounded like the mad cackling of a deranged mind, bent on homicide? Did you hear a cracked and rarely used voice shrieking "I will get you, Edward Rochester, and your little dog too?"

Jane: I cannot describe the noise, sir.

Mr. Rochester: Did you happen to look out your door and see anything? Anything that might look like someone with wildly tangled hair that has not been brushed for a decade or more, wearing nothing but the least confining of nightgown, because she is so insane that nothing more can be done for her? Did you see the person who haunts my life by her mere existence--and existence that means nothing to her, since she is so mad that she does not know if she is alive or dead? That person who has ruined my life, who keeps me from any happiness, who has made this house a prison to me so that I never come here?

Jane: No, sir. I saw nothing.

Mr. Rochester: Oh, what a relief! Because other than myself, Mrs. Fairfax, the man who shows up later to have his ear nearly bitten off, and the entire staff of Thornfield, nobody knows about "Grace Poole." So. Don't tell anybody what happened tonight. Nothing to see here. Nothing happened here. Everything is just fine!

It defies all logic. When Mason shows up from Jamaica, he and Rochester come tumbling out of that Door That Is Exactly Normal Like Any Other Door, Mason hysterical and bleeding. Rochester hushes him up, leaves Jane to watch over him until the doctor comes, and says, very slyly and subtly, so no one suspects anything:

"Do not say a word to Jane, Mason. Not a word. I know she bit you, but we aren't going to talk about it. Jane--do not ask Mr. Mason what happened here, or how he got bitten. Or who bit him. Don't ask him anything at all. I'm going to leave you two alone here, in the dark, right beside this Door That Is Not Unusual In Any Way and go get the doctor. I will be back in about three hours. Stay here in the dark, with no way to tend to these wounds, and do not talk to each other until I get back and can hear anything you say. I won't even get any servants to bring you any tea, or more light or anything. Just lie there and bleed quietly, Mason. And did I mention? Don't talk."

Ah well. The Guthrie run is over, and the world is safe from. . .

Oh no! They didn't!

They did!

Jane Eyre is coming back for a short run next spring. Quickly! Run out and don't buy your tickets! You don't want to miss the chance to miss this production!

Playing Nancy Drew

JoMama has passed on the latest of the Her Interactive Nancy Drew computer mysteries: The Legend of the Crystal Skull. We now have a new tradition. We have loaded the game onto my laptop, and I play the game, while the kidlets sit on either side of me and direct my movements.

This bare description does not even begin to do justice to the reality of what is happening. We started on Sunday, I think, a rainy dark November afternoon. I sat on the sofa in the parlor, by feet propped up on the leather footstool/coffee table, the fire glowing warmly in the grate. Adding both the Bunny and Pony to the sofa meant we were completely squished together (it is a very small sofa--really more of a loveseat), shoulder to shoulder, as close as we could comfortably be.

More as a matter of ambiance than actual temperature, we had the faux fur lap rug spread over us, and the heat generated by the laptop made us all slightly sleepy. The game itself takes place in an old house in New Orleans, next door to a cemetary, on a rainy night. The tree of us nestled in our oasis of warmth and light.

Maybe this is happening to you, but as my kidlets get older, they are less physically demonstrative. They are not standoffish or anything, but they would rather not behugged, for example. They are separating to become the adults they will be, and while they are kind, and funny, and affectionate, they are also a bit aloof. But while playing a lightly sppoky game, snuggled up against one another, they are relaxed and happy.

Ti's the same warm and sleepy feeling that I remember having when I held my babies, letting them fall asleep on my lap, or snuggling in bed. That wonderful sense of release, and their little bodies relaxed, and they melted into. It has been years since my girls have fallen asleep nestled up to me, and it's a feeling I had not realized I missed. It's one of the ineffable joys of being a parent, feeling that tiny, sturdy toddler body soften and settle in your arms, while the energy and drive that a toddler needs to do all the learning she has to do just shuts down, and you can see your child's face go back to it's baby shape a bit.

I didn't realize how profound an experience that has been for me00how much of touchstone of my visceral sense of what it means to be a mother, untl Plny fell asleep while leaning against me on Sunday. There is a scent that a sleeping child releases: warm and sweet. Even when said child is a teenager, and taller than I am.

So thank you, JoMama. Playing this game has been more delightful than you could have imagined.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Blackety blackety black black. And white.

Oh no. When I first posted my last entry, there was, in fact, an actual picture at the end, illustrating the image I had hoped to project. Said picture has disappeared. I swear, I didn't do it! It was still alive when I left!

(Note to self: Wouldn't a chalk outline be a useful addition to Blogger? To show where those disappearing pictures would have been?)

Shall we try again?

Voice Over: Previously, on Mistress of All Evil.

Black tie event, natural predators in my closet, pressure to be "creative" with dressing, generally ill-tempered grousing about predominance of black at all formal events anyway, making "Black and White Ball" superfluous.

Picture of dress I am looking for:

I know! Amazing how much this picture looks like me, too, isn't it?!? Now, don't you think I could just scurry on down to Nordstrom's and pick up this ensemble?

When I am in charge of the world, that is how it will be. AND I will look just like Audrey Hepburn. Only still alive.

Survival of the Fittest

As the sun rises over the Serengeti, we see the eternal struggle for survival. Nature, red in tooth and claw, demands that its creatures confront their natural enemies each and every day.

The gazelle knows that it must run, or be eaten by the lion. The lion knows that it must run, or the gazelle escapes and the lion does not eat. Whether predator or prey, each morning dawns with the imperative to run in order to reach another day.

Here at Chez Evil, the Mistress rises to confront her natural enemy: the closet.

What the hell am I going to wear today?

Occasionally, Nature throws new and greater challenges in the path of survival. Drought, perhaps, and both hunter and hunted must suffer without water. Stampede, perhaps; dangerous to be in the path of the stampede, with risk of famine after it passes, having trampled the vegetation to the ground. Even, occasionally, Nature presents the challenge of a "black tie event." At these times, the herds must move far from their usual haunts to meet the demands of survival.

This is Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. New and Improved! With real stories of real battles for survival!

So, when confronted with a "Black & White Ball, creative black tie" event, even I, the Mistress of All Evil, can be flummoxed. After all, doesn't everyone wear black to everything anyway? Certainly the last several events--over the last several years--I have worn black. Mr. Sweetie's tux is black. What is the point of a "Black and White Ball" when everyone does that anyway?

Okay, based on the windows at the mall, girls wear colored dresses to prom. But other than that?

So, the emphasis is on creative? How creative can one be when shopping in Minnesota? Sure, I could wear this, but it's really not my culture, and I don't have the abs for it.

[Imagine photo of slim Indian woman in a smoking cool black sari, edged with fabulous silver threads and shot through with silvery stars.]

I have seen the sort of thing I am looking for, but you can't get it in stores. Unless you live in Hollywood.

So, while my assistant is subduing and radio tagging the rhinoceros, I am taking the helicopter and going shopping today.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Jane Eh--Jane Eyre @ Guthrie

Mr. Sweetie and I went to the Guthrie Theater this weekend to see Jane Eyre. Yes! A date! An actual date! (Made possible by the fact that the kidlets are old enough to stay home alone now!)

I am a middleweight Bronte fan, so I was looking forward to this. What is a middleweight Bronte fan, you ask? Well, I have read most of the oeuvre, excepting Charlotte's The Professor, and Anne's Agnes Grey. I have dipped into the juvenalia, and even own Elizabeth Gaskill's biography of Charlotte. I took a seminar in college, and wrote one of my best ever papers on Jane Eyre.

I am not a heavyweight fan, as I have no trinkets, memorabilia, reproduction of Branwell's art, nor have I been to Haworth--yet--and I have never had the privilege of eating "Bronte buns."

Of course, I adored Jasper Fforde's delightfully literary The Eyre Affair, and have browbeaten everyone I know (and who is capable of being beaten about the brows) into reading it. I am not kidding about this one either. So, I was fully primed and loaded for this Guthrie production.

I did something I never do. I left during intermission. It was just that wrong.

Shall we start from the beginning? The stage--the signature Guthrie thrust stage--had huge stylized windows and walls, sketching the dimensions of a room, all painted in greys and gloom. Extending from the backdrop were various levels of steps and platforms, all themselves rounded and painted in the same gray and gloom. Which was fine for Gateshead, where Jane is 12 and very very alone. Sadly, the same set served for Lowood--again, not a terrible choice, but it didn't change for Thornfield either.

Which I think is a mistake. In order to represent the different rooms, individual pieces of furniture made their appearance on the stage--but the scale was all wrong. The stage was so overwhelming that nothing overcame its ominous omnipresence.

Mistake #2--A matronly Jane as narrator. Much of what happens in the book is, of course, internal monologue, which can be tricky to represent on stage. The answer, in my opionn, is NOT a 50-ish Jane, looking as plump and kindly as Mrs. Claus, wandering the set, reassuring by her very presence that everything will end happily. Because it doesn't end in a traditional "happy" ending. I'm not sure it is fair to say that Jane is a "happy" creature. She is capable of many many complex emotions, but she is too complicated a character to be just "happy." But a apple dumpling of a Jane is just not the right tone. Maybe an older Jane could serve as the voice that guides Jane (in the book) during her moments of crisis--the decisive moment when she flees Thornfield, or when she rejects St. John Rivers and hears Rochester calling her--to capture that otherworldly wisdom Jane accesses. Maybe that happened in this version--I didn't stay to see it.

Mistake #3--Bringing the funny. Really, there were bits that had the audience laughing out loud, which threw the tone off entirely. Jane and Rochester do not crack each other up. Mrs. Fairfax is not a comedienne. If you make their exchanges humorous, then you introduce the risk of camp to the entire proceeding. I mean, face it--it takes a certain emotional immersion to accept the madwoman in the attic, the threat of bigamy, the illegitimacy of Adele as serious matters in the 21st century. You need to see them as the serious issues they are to Jane. If you see Mrs. Fairfax's reticence on the subject of "what is in the attic" as funny, you've lost the threat. Jane then becomes a fool to be frightened of it all, and there goes the play.

Mistake #4--Too much plot. Sadly, by cramming the entire story--starting at Gateshead, this play is looooooooooong. At the same time, while the first half (!) lasted an hour and a half, the story just rushes past everything, diminishing the emotional impact. Jane's stay at Lowood lasts about 20 minutes, which means the scenes there go like this:

What is this place?
It is a school for orphans.
I'm Jane Eyre.
Hi. I'm Helen, and I have a cough.
I'm your teacher, Miss Temple. Have some seed cake.
Oh, Jane, I am so cold! *cough cough* Stay with me.
Helen is dead!
Now that I am 18, I would like to work somewhere other than Lowood.
Here is a position for you at a place called Thornfield.

And off Jane goes. Can you tell that she had any particular grief over Helen's death? Not so much. It's more that Lowood needed the Health Department to investigate, and Helen's death got the matter cleared up. Well done.

Gateshead is much the same. If you didn't already know that Jane's uncle was the one who brought her into the family, but then died, you wouldn't have learned it from the play. Nor would you have any idea why "the Red Room" was such a threat. These two scenes took about 40 minutes--far too long for any impact they had on our understanding of Jane, far too short to get anything out of them.

Mistake #5--40 minutes of child actors. I mean, really. There is no way anyone could have made much out of the speed record set by these scenes. Populating them with so many children means that it was 40 minutes of waiting for time to pass. There were so many other, shorter, more effective ways to represent Jane's formative years. I can think of at least three:

  • Jane describes them while at Thornfield. Perhaps when she first meets Mrs. Fairfax. Or Adele. Or Rochester. Or all three. E.g. "You are very fortunate, Adele. Let me tell you about my family. . ." Or, "I learned to paint, sir, under conditions of emotional turmoil. My only friend in the world, Helen Burns. . ."
  • Matron Jane describes them. E.g. "Thornfield was my first true home. My aunt's house, Gateshead was dominated by my tyrannical cousin. . ."
  • Pantomime/dance/tableau/visual images. The costumes set these early years at about the same time as Nutcracker is set. So do a ballet or something to just set the images in our minds.
I could go on, but I won't. I will say that there were three moments where something wonderful happened on stage. First, when Bertha first appears, and she sets fire to Rochester's bed. Bertha was played by Charity Jones, who has been a longtime performer with the Children's Theater company, and is very physical in her training. Her Bertha enters Rochester's bedroom, sees him, and climbs up onto the foot of his four poster bed. She stands on the footboard, her legs apart, her skirt pulled up--a perfect picture of mad carnality. This is a sexual woman who is also out of her mind, and would believably tear her lover to pieces in his sleep.

Second, after Jane douses the fire Bertha has set, we see Rochester in his nightshirt. Maybe it's just me, but there is something very vulnerable about a man in bare feet like that, and a bit sexy too. Here, Rochester is defenseless, and Jane is his savior and secret keeper. It makes his attachment to her very believable--she has seen him at his weakest, and he is not embarrassed by it. (Of course, the scene would have been better if she had not been completely buttoned up and corseted and dressed in her dayclothes. She was quite invulnerable, and there is no reason to believe that Rochester would have seen her as capable of love in this scene.)

Finally, the scene where Rochester proposes. He has lead Jane to believe that he is going to marry Blanche Ingram. She asks to be allowed to leave, as she does not want to stay and watch him be married to another woman. He refuses to let her go, but he refuses to tell her plainly. She ends up struggling against him, defiantly protesting that she has a soul that is as important as his, and he has no right to imprison her. Her brave and heartbroken belief in her own worth was compelling, and--truth be told, touched me deeply.

Which is why I am so very disappointed. Jane made me cry at that point, and there I could see what could have been achieved with this play. I cared deeply about her, about her struggle to find a place in the world where there was no place ready-made for her. That last scene made me care about what happened to her, grabbed my heart and squeezed it in a way nothing else in the play had done. And that was the tragedy.

See. My heart is not completely cold and dead. I didn't like this play, because it betrayed the heart of the story when it didn't have to. I didn't want to spend another hour and a half of my life checking my watch for the end of this play--a play that had willfully thrown away its many chances to create powerful emotional connections to this story. Staging a play can take the abstraction of language and make it visceral. This one could have done it, and didn't. Life is too short to stay for the second half of that.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Comedy Starts At Home

Pony and Bunny just got cast into the school's winter musical--Bye Bye Birdie. Rehearsals don't start until after winter break, but that just means we all have to learn the music from other sources, like You Tube.

The obvious favorite at the moment is "Telephone Hour" which is the one song that I knew about before, since I have never seen this play. I overheard the following dialogue at dinner:

Pony: So, you're in the chorus. You'll probably get called for "Telephone Hour." Are you okay with that?

Bunny: Oh, sure. Unless it costs me minutes.

Friday, November 09, 2007

When Common Sense Isn't

It has turned cold here in the Great White North. The leaves are still falling off the trees, but the water in the water dishes at the dog park has chunks of ice.

We have pulled out the winter coats, to see what still fits, and what much be replaced. Winter coats are officially too small here at Chez Evil (even if they fit around the middle and are easy to zip up) when I can see the wrist bones sticking out.

Even Bermondsey has been wearing a jacket when he's outside, because it's just that cold.

So why, in the name of all that is cold and frosty, was the woman in the checkout lane wearing flip-flops?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Animals. They Frighten Me.

I am a virtual prisoner in my own home. I am reduced to being the helpless slave of the household pets. It is a horror show.

Scene: computer desk in kitchen. MAE (Mistress of All Evil) is attempting to do something on the computer. Probably something not entirely frivolous.

SFX: slow increase in ambient noise volume, moving from mere murmurs, to animal sounds, resolving finally into actual dialogue.

DOG: You will pet me. You will pet me. I exist, therefore, I must be petted. I am a pet. Therefore I must be petted.

GUINEA PIG: Squee squee squee squee squee [SFX: violins from Psycho to accompany actual GP sounds]

DOG: Dog cosmology requires that dogs are supreme. Dog/God. Truth lies in the palindrome.

GUINEA PIG: I used to be a hay addict. Now I am a broccoli addict. Squee squee squee squee squee!

DOG: You exist. Therefore you pet me.

GUINEA PIG: I sense movement. You, my personal broccoli dealer, must supply me with more of that sweet sweet cavy cocaine.

DOG: If you do not pet me, do I not exist? Existential crisis!

GUINEA PIG: Ahhh, brassica, you do call to me. How I long for your Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E , Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Folate and Manganese. You run through my veins with the intoxication of your Thiamin and Riboflavin. Squee squee!

DOG: Dog existential crises are much worse when measured in dog years. I refuse to question my own dogly existence. LET THERE BE PETTING.

GUINEA PIG: I cannot help it! I have had no broccoli for five minutes. I sense your presence, and yet you do not provide a constant stream of green florets for my consumption. I curse you and the addiction you have brought upon me by providing fresh vegetables in my diet! SQUEE SQUEE SQUEE SQUEE SQUEE!

DOG: You cannot resist my gaze. You experience an irresistible urge to pet me. You are now in my power. I insert my muzzle into your hand. You will cease that senseless typing as I force your hand up to the top of my head and I walk on your keryboardsdr45w7 d jtlit hhhhhhiu7i7


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Grammar Etiquette

I saw a group of four people having lunch together this afternoon. They were distinctive because they were signing--a storm of conversation in silence. It led me to wonder if there are sign language grammar and etiquette rules for sign language like there is for email.

  • Don't talk with your hands full
  • Don't wear red nail polish--that's like yelling, or typing in all caps
  • Speak slowly for people with bad vision
  • Be patient with people who speak slowly due to arthritis
  • Only use internet abbreviations when the audience is appropriate. LMAO is not appropriate for talking to your grandmother.
  • Proper spelling counts!

Mr. Sweetie Reports

Scotch also goes well with chocolate chip cookies.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Check Out My Closet!

So, back in the day, Mr. Sweetie and I added a closet to the back end of the house. The logical thinking at the time was that the back door would be the most used entrance to the house, since the (detached) garage is in the back.

(Doesn't "detached garage" sound like maybe the garage isn't emotionally invested? Like it's trying to stay impartial?)

ANYWAY--we then promptly filled the old garage with the salvageable remains of our reconstruction projects, and proceeded to park our cars in front of the house, and use the front closet. Thus, the back closet turned into a place to store a bunch of stuff that we didn't use everyday, but used frequently enough to need at hand. It's most recent incarnation involved stashing all the Target storage cubes and drawers from the Bunny's room, and using it to hold the many, copious, voluminous, varied, and messy art supplies.

With the building of the new garage, however, plus the advent of MY STUDIO!!! (I love getting to say that!), and the entry of the kidlets into the homework laden adventures of middle school, it was time to redesign the closet.


Here you see what God and California Closets hath wrought. The closet is roughly divided in half so each kidlet gets a locker-type area with hooks, for jackets and backpacks. Pony, on the left, has a large vertical storage area (partially obscured by the folding door) for storing her violin, plus a number of vertical spaces for holding class materials. Bunny, on the right side, also has vertical dividers, plus some horizontal spaces above, for her flute and music.

Down the center, between the hooks are shelves and two pull out drawers for hats, gloves, and miscellaneous materials The large center area above, plus the space at the very top (which you can't see, due to the closet itself) are for off-season storage.

We didn't build a particular storage spot for shoes or boots--I still have to pick up some trays for that. Plus, we planned to add some small boxes/baskets/storage units for on the shelves, once we realize what exactly needs to be stored back there.

The hope is that we can end a couple of bad habits--walking in the door and dropping piles of crud all over the floor and furniture, and the roaming homework problem, where a kidlet will do German in the kitchen, math in the dining room, English in the playroom, and independent reading in the parlor, and then be unable to find any it before leaving for school in the morning.

Will this work? Well. . . . .the closet has been installed for 3 1/2 weeks now, and it is only as full as you see it. Hard to teach middle schoolers new tricks I guess.

Monday, November 05, 2007

What I Saw, What I Draw

These are some bottles of wine and wineglasses from my kitchen counter.

This is my five minute pastel sketch of it.

This is Mr. Sweetie, sitting in our parlor, working on his laptop.

This is my five minute pastel sketch.

This last one is my very bad sketch of Mr. Sweetie. It fails to capture the fatal good looks, intelligence, and kindness of the original. In fact, it kind of looks like a jaundiced Jude Law. Well, at least you can tell it's human.

Can't you?

Frida Kahlo, Part Deux

Anyone seen the Selma Hayek movie "Frida?" I actually saw it when it was first released, in a funky little theater with Mr. Sweetie. A beautiful bio-pic, and probably worth seeing again in connection with the Kahlo exhibit currently in town.

Best story I heard connected to the movie? Alfred Molina, who plays Diego Rivera, was interviewed and said he'd had the most surreal experience while in hair and make-up. He was lying back in the make-up chair, having his eyebrows plucked, while next to him, Salma Hayek was lying in her make-up chair, having eyebrow hairs added.

You know, that Ms. Hayek is so damn beautiful, that even with a unibrow and mustache, she still is better looking than 99% of the rest of the world.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

More Dinner Music

We had one of Bunny's friends over for dinner yesterday, and all three of the kidlets (Bunny, Pony, and friend) proceeded to serenade us with various songs in their repertoire. All three of them have auditions for the Big Winter Musical on Tuesday, and they were trying out various possibilities for audition songs.

One of the performances was a re-write of "Hakuna Matata," as written by Bunny and one of her other friends:

Avada Kedavra
What a wonderful phrase.
Avada Kedavra
Ain't no passing craze.
It means I'll kill ya.
It's the end of your days.
It's our killing spree
Avada Kedavra!

Bunny's friend has an older sister who is in Pony's class, and has been in a number of plays as well. So, I asked "Do you sing at the dinner table at home too?"

Imagine my sorrow at hearing the answer was "no." But then, I guess not everybody also holds hands for grace and then does the Wave before eating too. How sad for them!

But Is It Art?

Yesterday, the Famille Evil took in some culture. Here in Minnesota, the two major art museums are holding major exhibitions of major women artists. The Minneapolis Institute of Art (the classic art museum) has a retrospective of Georgia O'Keefe, focusing on her use of the circle as the foundation for many of her works.

The Walker Art Center (the modern art museum) has put together an exhibit of works by Frida Kahlo, in honor of the 100th anniversary of her birth.

I need to see both of these shows.

So yesterday, being Saturday, it was First Free Saturday at the Walker: free admission, art activities related to the Kahlo exhibit. It was a winner. Mr. Sweetie was up for it, and the kidlets were willing to give it a try. So off we went with the plan to have lunch at the museum, see the Kahlo works, and do some art.

I was quite naive.

The line to see the Kahlo exhibit was not to be believed. So, we went up to the cafe to grab some lunch, only to see another line that was remarkable for it's slowness. Usually, a cafe can process customers only slightly slower than a McDonald's, but this one was not the usual model of efficiency. In fact, it took a full half hour to get our food, and so it was close to 2 PM by the time we left the cafe.

The line was no shorter, and none of us had any interest in standing in line for a couple of hours, when we knew we could come back some day that was less busy.

I was really surprised by the number of families that were there--and by the very young ages of the kids. There were quite a few strollers there, which I think is really daring for a museum where the works of art are not always obvious. One installation included a low hanging clothes line with shirts hanging on hangers--it was not easy to walk under it without hitting the clothes, and there was no other way out of the area. I can't imagine bringing a toddler into such a hazardous area--but then I guess that's why I live in St. Paul. I'm just not hip enough to live in Minneapolis.

I was taken with some of the art on display, and I am totally going to have to go back when it is quieter to look again. Some of it totally begs the question--but, what makes it art? And the response "It's in an art museum" does not even begin to be a satisfactory answer.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A Moment Of Bragging On My Kids

One of the great joys of my life right now is watching my little girls turn into such interesting people.

Pony is now in the eighth grade, and is taller than I am. Her mind is such a fascinating one to me--she has such depth and kindness, which I hope has something to do with me. Her wit, however, is purely her own.

She reported this exchange the other day with a friend of hers, a beautiful African-American girl. Leslie is tall, and lanky, with gorgeous dark skin and a fabulous collection of tiny braids. She is vivid, funny, a complete daredevil, and a delightful friend. They were discussing a plan, long abandoned, where Pony and seven of her friends were going to be "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" for Halloween.

L: So, who was going to be Snow White?
P: [Names a mutual friend]
L: WHAT?!? Why her? She isn't the "fairest of them all!"
P: So, who should be then?
L: ME!
P: Um. . .do you think you really are "white as snow?"
L: What are you saying?
P: Girlfriend's been in the sun too long!

Now maybe, when written out, this seems a little harsh. Maybe. But that is something that has been so amazing about Pony's school and her classmates--they have a deep and abiding affection for each other that blunts any blows. Leslie's comment that their friend wasn't the fairest of them all was truly just a set up to make the following assertions that SHE was. There is a wonderful mix of kids, who are so supportive of each other, so accepting of each other, that even when they are riding each other, they are doing it with affection that shows through.

Sure, there are knuckleheads, and mean kids, but they seem to be the exception. Even kids who were mean in sixth grade are now cool as eighth graders. I can totally see how Leslie would have laughed her ass off after that little exchange, and I admire Pony for her ability to deliver what could have been a nasty comment in exactly the right tone, with exactly the right amount of trust, that the entire thing was not only funny, but a bonding moment.

Yes, yesterday I said raising kids is hard work, and it is. But the joy you get back? Priceless.

Edited to add: I should also take a moment to mention our "Snow White." In a very real and literal way, she is the fairest of them all. Besides being lovely herself, and with a terrifically engaging charisma, she has a complexion that Scarlett O'Hara would sell Tara for. Her skin is so fine and delicate that it is rather a lot of hassle for her, poor thing, trying to keep sufficiently protected against the not-so-fierce Minnesota sun. It may be a pain for her now, but what a beauty feature it will be once she is in a position to appreciate it!

Friday, November 02, 2007

My Addiction

Is this the place? Linoleum floors, white walls and folding chairs? Check. Coffee urn the size of the robot from Lost in Space? Check. Twelve Steps posted on the wall? Check. Miscellaneous humanity scattered about the room? Check. Microphone? Check.

I am the Mistress of All Evil and I have a confession. I am a Britney Spears Gossip Addict.

It first started back around 2000, when I saw the "Ooops. . .I Did It Again" video on TV. The costumes! The dancing! The way the damn ear worm of a song got into my brain and I couldn't get rid of it! I found myself running the lyrics in my head, listening for it to play on the radio. . .

I knew that as a singer, Britney Spears was a good dancer--I wasn't fooled. I thought I could handle it. I could quit anytime I wanted to.

And I managed it. Somehow, I got over the ear worm, and then, in 2003, when she "performed" Satisfaction on the Grammys, I knew I was safe. Never had so much sweat, hair posing and near nudity been deployed with so much effort for so little effect. Sure, the tear away pants were more than a little cheesy, and no one could do such an aerobics routine while actually singing--but even on it's own terms, it was remarkably anti-sexy. A lot of moaning and pouting, but no actual attractiveness. I was over Britney. I was my own woman again.

But then--she divorced K-Fed. And she showed up on Letterman looking cute, and pulled together, and altogether better than she had looked in years, and I kind of got a girl crush on her. Here was a woman with two little kids, and a serious Cheetoes habit, and she managed to get it together and it was possible! To be a mom with small kids and be happy! To handle it and look good while doing it! Which was something I hadn't been doing so well, but wanted to believe was possible.

Now, however, we see that was just a brittle facade, a easily shattered mask of competence, and now I can't help but read snotty celebrity web sites to see to what depths she has fallen. She's out at all hours, wearing terrible clothes! They are so horrible, that she even pays other people to switch clothes with her! She has lost joint custody of her kids, has to meet with a parenting coach, and now her management has given up on her. She was supposed to show up to promote her new album, but couldn't find a parking place and just blew it off! They can't get her to show up for photo shoots, in-store promotions, or anything. The album has been reviewed as "promotes the Britney brand, even in the absence of Britney herself." She is subject to twice weekly drug tests. She spends her hours house hunting, shopping, and driving aimlessly in her car. She has fallen so far that her skeevy ex-back-up dancer ex-husband looks like the responsible one.

I had a really hard time after my kidlets were born. Don't mistake me, I love them to pieces and consider myself totally lucky that I get to have them in my family. But the process of becoming a parent, of raising small beings who cannot care for themselves--it's hard. It's damned hard, and I had an incredibly difficult time doing it. I developed a serious, debilitating depression, I got panicky over how I was going to care for my kids for an entire day before Mr. Sweetie came home. I lost most of my ability to function logically, and I felt this horrible feeling of dying inside--I couldn't trust myself, almost nothing I did had any psychic payoff for me. . .

So, I feel like I kind of understand where Ms. Spears might be stuck. On the other hand, I had Mr. Sweetie, and my parents, people I could trust. I didn't have over $700K a month in income. But I can kind of understand the need to drive around--just to be alone. Just to silence all the neediness around one.

It's a complicated thing, my addiction to Britney. I kind of understand, and at the same time I can watch her and feel superior. Sure, I'm not an internationally famous, multimillionaire pop-star, but I never shaved my head. At least, there are some depths to which I did not sink. And besides, how can you not stare in horror at the car wreck that is this?