‎"...a little 'trouty', but quite good" ~ Eve Kendall, North By Northwest

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

forging ahead, as it were

You know how your hair looks its best on the day it's scheduled to be cut? The same goes for Christmas trees that are scheduled for the mulcher.

In front of the tree, Lucy and Studley are playing with the plastic animals that were poking out of their stockings - a giraffe and a lion. It's a photo-op if ever I've seen one. Except Studley is wearing a pink tutu with his Nantucket red sweatshirt and they kind of clash.

It's New Years Eve, and time to start packing up the ornaments. But honestly? The tree has never looked lovelier. Maybe it's because a snowstorm is whipping around outside the windows, making the lights inside look even twinklier. Maybe it took this long for the branches to lower and look comfortable holding my favorite glass ornaments. Or maybe I just don't want to get the storage boxes out of the basement.

Whatever the reason, the tree is making me feel all twinkly and content.

Speaking of all twinkly and content, I went to a blacksmith shop today. It was snowing when I got there, and piled up while I stayed. Inside it's lit pretty much by window light and the charcoal fire. It's quiet except for the sound of the bellows and the clanging of the anvil. If I didn't have to get children safely home through the snow, I would have insisted on importing some hot cider and spending the day. As it was, I had things to do.

This is the night I usually like to stay home and assess the past year, so I can then chart my course for the new year. I don't do resolutions because I don't need more things to fail at, thank you. This year, instead of charting my course I'm getting right down to business.

In 2008 we found ourselves saying "good gravy, I can't believe how easy that was" a lot. We'd say that after completing a small task we'd been putting off for years. Possibly decades. This year, my mantra is "don't procrastinate." I get so worried about an imagined obstacle somewhere in the future, I don't even start the job at hand. And then the work-related things turn into the sword of Damocles and the non-work related things turn into general malaise.

There will be none of that in 2009. Or at least less. So if you'll excuse me, I have to go fill out some paper work I've been avoiding.

Happy, happy 2009. May it be all you desire.

Oh wait, one more thing. The best resolution I ever made, and kept, was to stop using my credit card. Is there a resolution that worked for you?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

meta greetings

This is a detail of the picture I attached to our Christmas newsletter. If anyone would like a referral to Studley's hairdresser, please let me know. I'd like to go on record as not having cut his hair this time.

In other Studley news, I was just shoveling food into him the same way I used to do when he was a baby. He can and does feed himself, I just was tired of sitting at the table and wanted to move things along. This hanging out with the family over dinner nonsense is fine in small doses. So. It went like this:

me: open the barn door, here come the cows!
Studley (mouth closed)
me: open the hanger doors, here comes the plane!
Studley (mouth firmly closed)
me: open the bulkhead... the band needs to practice?
Studley (mouth flies open)

Back to the newsletter. I sent out an email version this year. If I know you IRL and you didn't get one, please let me know and make sure I have your email address. If I don't know you IRL and you still want one, please fill out the application (which you will need to first create) and email it to me.

I am a big fan of the emailed newsletter. First, I saved piles of cash on stamps and ink. Second, people actually RESPOND to emails. It was like Christmas all over again, hearing from all those people. Including at least one "I'm sorry, who are you again?" And that was without emailing David Lowery, whose address I came across while compiling my list. It was seriously tempting.

And third, I could dream it up two days before Christmas and still be on time.

Yes, I send out those annoying newsletters everyone hates. I cannot resist yet another forum for discussing myself and my family. Because I don't get to do that very much, you know?

So my question to you is, what do you do with the cards you receive, after they've run their course of decorative usefulness? Keep them? Make piñatas? Burn them in a New Years Eve ritual pyre?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

the hard nut

A couple years ago I went to a local production of the Nutcracker and noticed the same dancer was performing the roles of the Nutcracker and the Cavalier. I figured it must be because there are just not that many male dancers available and so they were doubling up on roles. Or it was a budget cut. Or something. But surely they are not the same person because that would mean that the Nutcracker, who was just rescued by the lovely Clara, already has a thing going with the Sugar Plum Fairy. And that would not be okay.

When I first watched the Nutcracker, as a child, I was totally sucked into the story. I was sure that Clara had found her one true love in the Nutcracker Prince and they would live happily ever after in the land of the sweets. Even if it was just a dream, it was clearly one of those life-changing dreams.

This year I took the kids to see Boston Ballet perform the Nutcracker. While I was there, I happened to notice that they, too, had the same dancer for both roles. And that's just wrong. Poor Clara, thinking she's on a date with her prince and then realizing that not only is she in her nightgown, but her prince has taken her to the home of the Sugar Plum Fairy who is wearing a killer tutu and clearly has the hots for him.

Have I been confused all these years? Is it really about a little girl who, although she has just saved the prince, is still just a little girl and is treated as such in the company of the adult Sugar Plum Fairy and her prince?

I am sure that's not the case, so I finally dug out a copy of E.T.A. Hoffman's story and read it to the kids. I took out some of the parts, where mice were threatening to bite babies in half and soldiers were losing their heads. It took us a couple weeks, reading a chapter every night.

And it turns out, I was right. At the very end, after the dream that is not a dream, the prince comes and asks her to marry him. She does. The end.

And I think this is why I have such a hard time with Christmas. It seems to me that Christmas should at least be a life-changing dream, and not just something in which we are treated like children. It's been passed off as something else for so long, we've lost sight of the real story.

There is so much that goes into it. So much promise and hope. And then? It's over. I want it to be more like the Hoffman story, with something indisputable at the end. That life will somehow be more magical than it was yesterday. That we will all, at the end of the day, live in a place where houses are made of marzipan and no one says things just to be mean.

I keep thinking that within the Nutcracker is the answer to everything. That there's some metaphysical hard nut that holds the secret of the season. I dated the mouse king briefly many years ago. He had no answers.

But I know they're there.


The story of The Hard Nut, which explains why the nutcracker has to kill the mouse king is here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Heifer International

We love Heifer International. We love honey. We think bees are groovy. And so you can imagine our delight at discovering a flock of bees has been sponsored in our name. The best part? According to their website,"every family that receives a Heifer animal promises to 'pass on the gift' by giving one or more of their animal's offspring and knowledge to another family in need."

Can you even stand how cute that would be? A teeny, tiny, bumble bee, wrapped in a receiving blanket, given to another family in need?

It makes my heart sing. Thank you, bee friends! We love you, too.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Alexandra Walker

If anyone's still wondering what to get me for Christmas, these paintings just arrived at Left Bank.

I think my cat, Chou Chou, channeled these as commissions from beyond the kitty grave. That would totally be something she'd do. It looks just like her (in her younger, more alive, years).

I think I deserve it, as I've been very good this year. Or rather, I could have been much worse.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

in which I stay home sulking, again

Curses! I just got an invitation to a New Year's Eve party, that's hosted by a for real novelist. Which is awesome, except I can't go.

Now, don't take this the wrong way, all you people in the bands I'll be seeing New Year's Eve because Chris is doing sound for you, but... a novelist! And the guest list is an absurd wealth of talent. There's a playwright, a rock star (just like you! but a different one), a couple artists (one of whom I read about in the New York Times, for crying out loud) and some people I actually know and like.

Mostly, I really like the woman throwing the party and I never get to see her. I probably wouldn't end up talking to all those other people anyway. Unless they happened to find me behind the chair I generally hide behind at parties. And then I would talk to them by way of explaining that although I do not wear contact lenses, I have lost one and am spending the evening looking for it behind this chair.

Maybe instead of trying to go, I'll just print out the list of invitees for my own archives. A list on which my name appears with those other names.

Now that I think about it, those other people are probably penning blog entries and facebook updates right this second, exclaiming that Susan of Trout Towers may be spending New Year's Eve with them. Their posts say things like What luck! and, Imagine! They are probably nervous at the prospect of meeting me. "So illuminatingly charming, that Susan of Trout Towers. I hope she likes me."

I guess they will have to keep wondering.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

How to talk about opera without appearing intelligent

Today my family dropped me off to see the broadcast of Thais on their way to do whatever it is they do when I'm not micromanaging them. On the way there, Lucy pitched a small fit. "How come you're the only one that gets to go to the opera?" she asked. Because there's a God, Chris probably thought to himself. "You always go and we never go. It isn't fair."

I explained that I was going for work. Daddy sometimes goes to rock shows without us for work, and this was kind of like that. Sometimes we get to go with him, but if he's working, daddy has to go even when we can't. Mommy has to go to the opera. You can't. Ha!

When the Met Opera does their live broadcasts, I get to go. Sometimes I am a little excited and talk about it all week. This is apparently not setting well with Lucy. Which is awesome. By not inviting her to something I enjoy, I've given it an aura of the forbidden. And now she wants to go.

When I checked in at the box office, I asked if my 6 year old could come with me. The Met kindly gives two seats to press people, so the extra ticket was not a problem. My question really was, "do you think people will consider me a bad parent for bringing my daughter to an opera about an Egyptian courtesan?" They did not have an answer for this.

I took the tickets to the car and let Lucy know that she could come IF she was completely silent and IF she didn't move a muscle and IF she didn't think she'd be scared because I Swear To You, Child, I Am Not Leaving. "If you're scared," I told her, "you can put your head in my lap and just listen to the beautiful music."

She was not scared. She did not squirm. She did not squeak. She did not, in fact, sit all the way back in her chair even once.

I have heard people talk about the first time they saw an opera, and how it struck something deep within them. I think this is what happened with Lucy - although it may have been more the costumes by Christian LaCroix than the score by Massenet. Renee Fleming was so outrageously beautiful it would be hard for any self respecting six year old to resist her. Jewelry! Sparkles! Twirly hair! Lucy will either want to be a courtesan when she grows up or an opera diva. Either way, she gets awesome dresses.

Hopefully there will not be a subsequent post, years from now, titled "How Opera Ruined My Daughter's Life." I'm not sure how I would feel having an opera diva in the family.

If you have not seen any of these broadcasts, I cannot urge you strongly enough to go. I DON'T CARE if you don't like opera. These productions are spectacular. They give you little backstage tours, show you the set changes between acts, talk to the leads (who are often funny and surprisingly human) and basically make it possible for anyone with a short attention span to watch a full length opera.

The sets are out of this world and the costumes are, well, by people like Christian LaCroix. They don't mess around. Robert Lepage, the stage director for the last opera (Faust), has done Cirque du Soleil shows and Peter Gabriel concerts. This is not the production your aunt made you go see at the Elks Club.

There are two broadcasts coming up in January, on the 17th and the 24th. La Rondine I'm not so excited about because Angela Gheorghiu is wearing a ridiculous hat in the promo pictures. But Orfeo ed Euridice, besides being very fun to say, promises to rock. Costumes by Isaac Mizrahi instead of ridiculous hats. Go here to see where it's screening. Or if you live near me, get tickets at WHAT in Wellfleet or Cape Cinema in Dennis.

Oh just go do it already.


One of my truly brainiac opera revues is archived here on page 11.

Ha! Two people found this post by Googling "Renee Fleming." What did they do, scroll through the other 700,000 results looking for the most inane? I mean honestly.

I can't seem to shut up today. Sorry.

Friday, December 19, 2008

winter storm warning

I just went to the store to get emergency supplies, such as cream cheese to go with the cranberry pepper jelly. It would be a huge bummer to be snowed in, with no power, and have no cream cheese to go with our pepper jelly.

I guess my point is that we are scheduled for a huge snow storm and if you don't hear from me it's because I am in my basement eating the pickles I jarred last summer. While I'm not very good at panic buying, I'm quite adept at panic eating.

It finally started snowing about 20 minutes ago, and although I hate to admit it, the forecast may have been right this time. Good thing we have all these Christmas candles. And snacks. And a Christmas tree to stuff in the woodstove when things go completely, irretrievably, desperately wrong.

The real question is, how long before we eat the chickens? And how do we go about it, once the power is out and we can't google "how to butcher pet chicken during epic snow storm"?

Good gravy, it's really snowing hard. I have to go panic now. Please send Italian Calvisius Transmontanus Caviar, and some toast points. Thank you.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


My gift to Chris this year is to not spend the whole evening blogging, despite the fact that I am fiercely overdue a post and simply brimming with things to tell you.

Happy birthday to the man I love even more than my blog.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

William Jackson

I would like to point out that this is my 50th music post. It seems I have written about music more than anything else, which I did not anticipate when I started this blog. And yet? I am considered a Mommy Blogger.

Which is totally cool. I don't make my kids call me Aunt Susan when we're out in public. I wear my noodle necklaces with pride. I just think it's funny. I'm not a copy writer, I'm a working mom. I'm not a semi-kept woman, I am a semi-employed stay at home mom. I could be so much more glamorous if I were allowed to make up my own titles.

Anyway. I wanted to tell you about a Scottish musician I heard last week, William Jackson. On his website there's a quote from Alastair Clark, " ... the great thing about Jackson - the skill and artistry of the man - lies in his lightness of touch. William Jackson will leave you asking for more."

I'm sorry, but the seventh grader in me is having a heyday with that statement. I can't help but wonder if William Jackson was thinking the same thing when he included it in his bio. I mean really. Jackson is talented and all, but I wouldn't be wasting valuable pixels if he weren't so darn funny. Oh those dry, clever Scots. At one point he said something that made the conductor have to stop and collect himself. Something about the TSA people asking him if he was the harpoonist, I think.

He is not a harpoonist, he is a harper. I believe harper is the right word, and not harpist. Whatever it's called, I imagine it's much easier to get a Celtic harp on an airplane than a harpoon. Just a guess.

I have to admit, I am not so into Celtic music. It all sounds a little New Agey to me and makes me feel like I should hang crystals in my windows and wear more purple. But Jackson's music failed to annoy me. Maybe it's because he's actually Scottish and not Scottish through a past life regression. Or maybe because he played his own compositions and they were simply better than what I had heard in the past. Or maybe it was the spiked eggnog.

It's really anyone's guess.

Jackson played several instruments in his compositions - not all at the same time. What do you take him for, an organ grinder's monkey? He played harp, a flute thing, and something that looked most like a mandolin but wasn't. Obviously, I am not particularly well versed in these things.

I am sure I knew a lot more about traditional Scottish instruments at one time. After all, I'm part Scottish (I think?) and surely a past life regression would uncover a wealth of knowledge. Perhaps I will next report a talent for uillean pipes.

You lucky buggers.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas music, sort of

We go to a lot of Christmas Spectacular type things. Or Fourth of July Spectacular kinds of things. You get the idea. Sometimes we like the music, often we like the people and nearly always we like the spirit in which they are presented. We grade on a curve in most instances.

At these things there are nearly always performances by children, which are cute. And then there are solos by not-children. These soloists are generally the shining star from some school or choir or someone's neighbor who took a voice lesson. They are lovely and their hearts are in the right place. But, sometimes...how can I say this kindly? Sometimes they suck. And after seeing myriad underwhelming yet heartfelt performances, I've come to lower my expectations when a twenty-something in a shiny dress takes the stage. I don't dive for my earplugs, but only because I forgot to bring them.

And this is where I need to apologize to Rachel Price for underestimating her. Rachel, if you're out there somewhere, I'd like to invite you to our annual Trout Towers Christmas Sing. Because I don't sing very well and we need some ringers.

People, just go listen to her now.

I really need to have more faith when people line up guest artists. Rachel was fantastic. She closed with a gospel Joy to the World that made me want to... made me want to... I don't know. Buy everyone a cookie? Something like that.

I looked for her on iTunes but came up empty. However, I did find my new favorite band Fleet Foxes. I was going to link a youtube video but looking at them kind of ruins the music for me. Not in a bad way, just in a "wait, is this a religious order?" kind of way. It reminds me of an album my aunt and uncle gave me when I visited them in Brattleboro, VT. The album was made by some monks, I think. Fleet Foxes actually sound nothing like that album, but they do kind of look like the cover art. And I'd be okay with all that, except that I first heard it on WFNX, where I expect something a little edgier than, say, Chant.

Which is all just my way of saying that it's been a very Christacular December so far. And it has only just begun.

If you are in Boston next week, be sure to catch the Christmas Cavalcade:

Thursday, December 18th- the Annual Boston Christmas Cavalcade for the Homeless at Johnny D's (17 Holland St. Davis Sq., Somerville; 617 776 2004), featuring the Chandler Travis Philharmonic, Livingston Taylor, Jennifer Kimball & Ry Cavanaugh, the Greenheads, Ryan Landry, Merrie Amsterberg, Jenny Dee and the Deelinquents, Shaun Wortis, Rose Polenzani, Greg Greenway, Sal Baglio, the Jessica Schroeder Dancer, the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, the Philharmonic Trombone Shout Band, & the Athol Thingerth, plus more!
Show at 8:30; tickets: $15.00 (or whatever you can bear -all donations cheerfully accepted.) Proceeds go to the Somerville Homeless Coalition.

I can't make it, but will someone please go and tell me what the Boston Typewriter Orchestra is all about?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Brighter Planet

The lovely Jonniker was offering carbon neutrality for a day on her blog and I took her up on it. Turns out, you get to share the love and pass it along to 5 lucky buggers when you accept your own carbon neutral day. So, the first five people to visit Brighter Planet get a day of their own!
The Brighter Planet site looks pretty groovy. I know nothing about them except they are offering to make me feel less guilty. Which is a pretty great gift, I'd say.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Scargo Pottery

If you don't shop at the mall and aren't concerned with cleaning your house for holiday company, December kind of rocks. Everywhere you look, there's stuff to do. And people are happy. And the kids? You can pull that "Santa's watching" line on them over and over again.

I love Christmas. I am officially in the Christmas spirit.

Yes, Christmas. Because I don't know much about the other holidays and I'm too invested in the holiday of my youth to change now anyway. Invested in a "how did two boxes of Christmas whatnot turn into four boxes" kind of way. Can you imagine what would happen if I went multi-cultural? We'd have to move out.

Today's escapade involved a pottery studio and some eggnog. My friend invited us to meet her at Scargo Pottery for their annual open house. I have never been to Scargo Pottery, so I was in.
At the Scargo Pottery open house, you look at cool pots and sculptures and art, and then you elbow your way into the studio part of the gallery to a table that's covered with little cups. Hundreds of little cups. You get to pick out one and then wait patiently for someone to fill it with eggnog. Eggnog which, I might add, is mostly made with whipped cream.

But enough about the eggnog. The cups! Oh, the cups are brilliant. They are all different colors, and mostly the same shape (although Lucy picked one that was squished into kind of a spiral). It is So Hard To Choose. Mine is burgundy at the top and a natural speckled brown at the bottom. Lucy's is beige with brown speckles all over. It looks like an egg.

Part of me was all "where do you buy these things? I want eight!" and the other part was glad they don't sell them. I love the idea of going with Lucy every year and adding to our collection.
Today is the only day they give out the little cups, but a trip to Scargo Pottery is a gift in itself. It is a whole different world, tucked into the trees overlooking Scargo Lake.

So. Today Lucy and I received gifts from strangers and started a new holiday tradition. We are full of holiday cheer and ready for all that's ahead. After all, we don't really need anything at the mall, and although we are expecting company, why start cleaning now? It would be a total waste of a strategically low-set bar.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Newbury Street

As the story goes, our friends' daughter saw a field of flowers and asked if she could run through it. Given permission, she frolicked in the flowers and then returned, hot, damp and covered in burrs. "It's not as much fun as it looks," she declared.

I feel that way about a lot of things, specifically, at the moment, Newbury Street.

Don't get me wrong, I love Newbury Street. But somehow it always leaves me feeling vaguely unfulfilled. It would be so much easier if I could just smash it all down flat and roll in it. There's so much to wallow in, and no real way of wallowing if you don't slap down some coin and get yourself a pied-à-terre. It is not possible to soak it all up in one afternoon.

People watching alone is a full time job. Newbury Street is full of young hip things in very short skirts. Some skirts, in fact, were so short as to be inconsequential. Oh I do miss the short skirts. I forgo wearing them now as a public service - as did the Newbury Street women who were formerly young hip things, all looking very smart and toting shopping bags. These are the women I would emulate now, if I were a Newbury Street Regular. I reinvent myself with every passing block. I decide which salon I would go to if I lived there, what I would wear, where I would shop.

But at the end of the day, I am still me. Just a little stickier from all that jam and whipped cream.

I think when you run through a field of flowers your wish is, for just a moment, to BE a flower. And when you are not somehow magically transformed into an explosion of pink petals, there is a touch of something bittersweet. A little "why is it I'm doing this again?"

And then you see a man holding a paper cup out to passersby. You brace yourself for your turn, but instead of asking, he offers. "Your hair is so pretty," he says. "and will you look at those children! Beautiful. God bless you all." And suddenly, you are an explosion of pink petals, and it doesn't matter even a little bit that you do not have your hair cut on Newbury Street.

Monday, December 1, 2008

tell me baby, why you been gone so long*

Once a year, my sister and I would spend a day with my Aunt Betty, who lived in Boston. It was Our Day, and we got to do whatever we wanted. With her we went to the Museum of Science, walked the Freedom Trail, shopped at Faneuil Hall and blew kisses to a sea turtle at the New England Aquarium.

I loved visiting her in her Back Bay apartment. I can still see every detail in my mind's eye, even though she's been gone for... dang, it's been 20 years. I can hear her voice, I can smell the stairwell that led to her fourth floor apartment, I can see the tulips I bought her in Boston Common on a precociously warm spring day. I guess in a way she's not gone at all.

Today I took the kids to New England Aquarium. I've been there several times since my trip with Aunt Betty. I love going every chance I get. One of my favorite things, still, is the gigantic sea turtle in the center tank. I mentioned this to the kids' uncle, who works for the aquarium. He told us her name is Myrtle and she's been at the aquarium since it opened, nearly 40 years ago.

I remember standing at the top of the tank, looking down at that turtle with my aunt, and today, I watched the same turtle poke her nose to the surface of the water as if she were blowing kisses. Everything is different, and yet nothing's changed.

We went to the aquarium on our way to the airport, where we were meeting a friend. The friend missed her flight and we were left with the whole day spread out before us. Ever practical, I thought we should head south before rush hour started, just to be on the safe side.

Then I saw signs for Mass Ave and before I knew it, I was heading toward Back Bay. I parked in my super secret spot and led the kids past Aunt Betty's old apartment. Promising them treats, I took them for a walk down Newbury Street.

None of the cafes I remembered were there, so we walked and walked and finally came to Tealux. We had raspberry apricot scones the size of a sea turtle's head, heaped with Devon cream and strawberry jam, with a dollop of whipped cream for luck. When the hot cocoa arrived, the kids were given two glass mugs, half filled with whipped cream and topped with chocolate syrup and dark chocolate shavings. There was barely room for the cocoa. I had tea-buyers remorse.

Lucy and Studley looked at the cocoa and then looked at me in giddy disbelief. We don't do this kind of thing very often. But heck, it was their day. They could do whatever they wanted.

*ironically, this is the song someone is singing in the studio as I type