Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Long and Winding DYI

Are we out of our minds? Why would a full-time, overworked attorney for DCS and his non-green-thumbed, non-handyman, several-chronic-illnessed wife take on the landscaping of their entire homesite?

A home currently encircled by deep clay ditches (“just call me moat”) dug by guess-who, awaiting the purchase and carting in (us again) of large shrubs and groundcovers.

With winter finally deciding to show up so everything we dig is wet and heavy and…oh, this is going to last from here to eternity, and there are times I lean on my shovel ready to rest for at least long.

Today’s project was moving gravel from its massive pile down to the in-process walkway. Shovel from pile to truck. Shovel from truck to cart. Shovel from cart to walk, which had first to be laboriously hacked out of hard clay, then tamped down and covered with landscape cloth.

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This is not fun.

Why are we doing it?

Well, no one else has volunteered.

But really, it’s no more insane than anything else we’ve done with our lives. Homeschooling in an era when no one did, for instance, in a town where no one did, and continuing on with it despite financial bare-survival and some in-house obstacles that would have felled Paul Bunyan.

Moving to undeveloped mountain cove land to raise said children, garden, goats and chickens, decades before online farmers’ markets and locavores were even dreamed of.

The children? They turned out great. So what back then sometimes felt like an insane commitment to homeschooling was maybe not such a bad idea after all.

Maybe in a year? two? I’ll be saying the same of the landscaping project.







The Nature of the Penny

Penny Book

I’m in the last third of Canadian author Louise Penny‘s 11th Armand Gamache mystery set in the idyllic hidden village of Three Pines. “The Nature of the Beast” again lets us spend time with that gentle, wise Chief Inspector, his younger colleague Jean Guy, and the various friends and personalities who make up the tiny village which, like Brigadoon, can’t be found on any map.

Like all of Penny’s fans, I couldn’t wait for this one’s publication. I’ve read and re-read the ten earlier books, and was eager to immerse myself in her world again, and if you haven’t discovered her, I highly recommend you do. Start at the beginning, and know that in each subsequent book, the character development grows more intense, the plots more rich and satisfying.

If you have read her, I wonder if, like me, you’ll be a bit puzzled by this new book. Penny has never been afraid to expose the evil that exists in the individual heart, to have the incorruptible Chief Inspector fearlessly tackle corruption at the highest level of his department or government.

In this book, though, she flings us into a kind of James Bond-ian situation which sits a bit uneasily with this reader, at least. It seems so unlikely that it’s almost comic-bookish. Or maybe I’m just really out of touch with the modern world.   bond

Meanwhile, all the familiar faces are here: the gay odd-couple, flamboyant Gabri and trim Olivier, who together run the Bistro, where villagers gather daily for cafe au lait, croissants, and meals so appetizing they could come straight out of the pages of “Gourmet.” The retired-but-still-analyzing Myrna, whose bookstore seems more like cozy library than sales place. Clara, the brilliant artist, cookie crumbs or croissant flakes ever in her hair. And of course the aged, crazy (or maybe not) poet Ruth and her  pet duck, walking into anyone’s home and business any time day or night and making herself at home. Especially with their liquor.

But even these haven’t, so far for me, come as alive as in previous books. They almost seem more types than creatures, even if the ‘types’ are categories unique to Three Pines.  I’m reminded of Agatha Christie’s emphasis on plot at the expense of character development.

Finally, Penny’s long-entrenched habit of concluding a conversation or character’s train of thought with witty, often poetic, comment has become almost annoying, a bit like the “ta-dum!”, “so there!” drum crash at the end of all too many Broadway (and other) songs. I find myself wishing her editor had suggested she limit these omniscient insights to a single character, most likely the wonderful Gamache, instead of having them stray so randomly onto almost every page.

Anyone else notice this? or am I just being picky? Because it’s so much easier to comment on and criticize than to create. And I, for one, hope that Louise Penny will long continue creating.

And now, enough commenting on someone else’s work and back to my own…

woman writing

Just Say Yes

Mary 3So, today’s the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. If you’re not Catholic, and I’m betting most of you aren’t, I’m not going to burden you with the theology of that. Just know that it’s a day where I’m thinking a lot about Mary, and even if you’re not Catholic or specifically Christian, you must know the one I mean. (She’s generally the lady in blue in a nativity scene, if there are any left these days.)

Last Sunday, our ever-thought-provoking Deacon said that the one thing that makes Mary Mary is that she said yes. (To God).

Mary 3This struck me for a number of reasons, not the least that I’m in the editing stage of a novel I began a few years ago titled “The Girl Who Said No To God.”

Saying ‘yes’ for Mary meant that she became instrumental in God’s plan of salvation. Saying ‘yes’ for us means–what? What is it that each one of us is called to do in that grand scheme of bringing about God’s kingdom? Or–if such talk makes you squirm, what is it that you’re called to do that’s going to help heal our broken world?

Because Catholic or not, “saying yes”to that seems to me to be an essential, maybe THE essential? element in becoming who it is we are called, or are meant, to be.

Because, Catholic or not, I’m pretty sure we’re not here on earth just to eat, shop, and pay taxes.

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“The World Turned Upside Down”

“On the face of it, few historical incidents seem more unlikely to spawn a Broadway musical than that solemn moment in the history of mankind….” (Clive Barnes, New York Times)

The smash hit,”Hamilton,”right? this year’s brilliant hip-hop presentation of the life of that ‘fatherless’ immigrant Founding Father?

Actually, Barnes was talking of “1776,” Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone’s multi-award-winning 1969 musical about John Adams’ battle to get the Declaration of Independence passed by Congress. You may have seen the film with “The Graduate’s” William Daniels as “obnoxious and disliked” little John Adams. The script borrows liberally from writings of the period, including Adam’s opening words to the roomful of delegates: “I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is a disgrace, two is a law firm, and three or more make up a Congress.”

(No comment).

That musical transformed the mythic figures of our nation’s past into passionate, witty, amusing companions I wanted to know more about, sparking an ongoing fascination with the history of the period, a senior thesis on Jefferson’s philosophy of education, and a brief sojourn in a Senator’s office.

This generation gets “Hamilton,” and though words, at least on paper, rarely fail me, they are at the moment. How can I begin to describe this musical? The CDs my daughter left me her Itunes managed to scramble, so I’m listening to the music in complete chaotic non-order, piecing out the plot. Older generation that I am, the song that first yanked me in is the one written in an “old-fashioned” British pop: poor King George laments the loss of the colonies’ love the way any jilted heart might do–except that, “when push comes to shove/I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.”

But the more I listen to the rest, the more obvious it is that King George’s lovely, funny songs are as dated, as conservative, as the notion of sticking with Great Britain began to seem to the young revolutionaries. They are all, like Hamilton,  “as young, scrappy, and hungry” as their not-quite country, and their music embodies this. Caution given here  if you object to language, but picture Hamilton played by first-generation Puerto Rican Lin-Manuel Miranda (who wrote the show) rap-sparring with a black Jefferson. Picture a young cast in period costumes peopled by the same mix of nationalities as our contemporary America, including women soldiers. The show almost forces us to recognize how very radical our revolutionaries were, pushes us to experience the passion with which they pursued independence.

Perhaps also inspires a whole new generation to contemplate that “public service” isn’t mere dead rhetoric?