This is a sneak peek from a photo essay to be posted later this month. These ladies just couldn’t wait any longer.
We are down to one daily paper and two Sunday papers from a high in 2005 of two dailies, two weeklies and two Sundays. I bore my children every week by announcing a sampling of the papers that flowed through our house when I was growing up: The Daily Record, the Waterloo Courier, the Des Moines Register, the Chicago Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, L’Osservatore Romano. That expanding concentric circle of news and the priority placed on reading it (no phone nor idle conversations before 9am, ever) was as formative an experience as morning Mass and Sunday dinner. Recalling how frustrating this could be from a kid’s point of view, I have to try very hard not to hide behind the paper each Sunday. I don’t always succeed.
Even though I have read all the major stories online by the time Sunday morning rolls around, I still look forward to sitting down and seeing what I’ve already read in print and the delight of going through each section to read things I know I would missed on any device. Color funnies and Personality Parade (even though it is terrible now)? On paper, only, thanks. Regional news? Still on paper, all week long (I don’t want my kids to ever ask me “What’s a newspaper like?” That would kill me). I set magazines and book reviews aside carefully so that if I don’t get to them they don’t get recycled prematurely. I still keep the front pages from momentous days, good and bad, on my desk upstairs, where they will eventually make their way to a file box in the attic. You can’t pull out a bookmark of a webpage to show children and grandchildren. I still subscribe to the print version of The New Yorker, and in a nod to marital harmony and environmental consciousness, I save only the covers (an interesting family exercise: pull out a random New Yorker Cover and see if we can figure out what happened that week just from that piece of art – the stories we make up are just as interesting as the real explanations).
I could go on and on…but I need to go finish reading the paper.
There is something to be said for a cold, snowy January. We are so accustomed to unusual weather that typical weather has become its own event. Holiday winter storms and iced-over ponds restore winter to what we expect it to be, and in these times a plummeting thermometer is truly a breath of fresh air. The garden lies protected under a blanket of snow, paw and hoof prints dot trails across the dormant lawn, and fires burn in the wood stove because they are pleasant, not because the power is out. I always look forward to a January hibernation so that I can regroup from the old year and get ready for the new one. This year, the weather is perfect for that.
The world is rightly preoccupied with the details, perspectives, and aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, and I have said my piece here. One day just before Christmas, as I blogged and read the news and generally wallowed in the injustices of the world late into the evening, my cell phone rang. It was a 20-year old young man I have known since he was a tot, and he was calling to say he was on our front porch because he did not want to startle us by ringing the doorbell. He and his friend came by to deliver…pecan pie. Pecan pie that they made from scratch (crust and all) that they wanted me to taste and critique so they could make a second pie even later that night. Home from college, they were following up on a pie tutorial they had from our neighbor over Thanksgiving break. The pie they brought me was nearly perfect – better than I’ve ever made, for sure – and they asked me to pull out all of my many pie plates and tins to see if they should try a different sized dish for the next version. I’m not sure if you can justifiably say that deconstructing a pecan pie recipe is a life affirming experience, but I will happily go out on that limb. Watching the meticulous, bright-eyed enthusiasm these guys showed as we discussed how to improve their recipe (it came out eventually that the perfected pie would be proffered to a girl the next day) was the closest I came to pure joy in those days following the tragedy.
As the holidays have progressed, it is this newest emerging generation that gives me the most smiles, the most hope, and the most confidence that we will emerge from this era of dysfunction and despair with our souls intact. I love you guys.
On a clear day you can see Mount Wachusett. The Sterling Fair is just the right mix of rides (including our favorite, a real helicopter), animals, tractor pulls, arts and crafts, produce, art and baked goods.
Oh, and junk food, I forgot that one. I think I take this same photo every year. I love that cone.
Can I have this banner, please? I want to send it to my daughter at college.
No giant pumpkin this year (did I miss it?) but this is almost as good.
I was going through some 2011 photos and found this. The Casey Junior Train is the best thing in Disneyland (there isn’t one at Disney World). It epitomizes everything I wanted to visit at Disney theme parks when I was young, and it is pretty much all that is left of the Disney magic that I can embrace. I didn’t really want to go to Disneyland (crowds, lines, heat) but my son was hell bent on seeing this train, and he was right – it’s the coolest thing there. I’m amazed that the Disney merchandising juggernaut has not capitalized on the train mania – aside from a pin, you cannot find any models or memorabilia related to this train anywhere in Disneyland. I’m not complaining (okay maybe I am) but it’s so discouraging when you can buy princess everything and Goofy sweatshirts in size XXXL but not a toy train.
The Casey Junior song from Dumbo is my all time favorite sequence in Disney film – every hue and detail perfect. (The colors in the VHS format are actually richer than the DVD, I think.)
And you know what else I love about it? See the patchwork quilt that makes up the landscape? Those are all succulents, planted by Walt Disney himself, in every hue imaginable. Oh, and my boys rode around in the monkey cage. I loved that, too.
Regardless of what anyone thinks about this election cycle, there is no arguing that Bill Clinton gave a master class in politics at the Democratic National Convention last night. He has never given a better speech at a more important moment. It should be required viewing (along with the written version so his brilliant improvisation comes through) for anyone interested in any kind of political career. The Republican strategists on MSNBC openly envied him, saying that their party did not offer anyone close to Clinton’s performance in terms of political mastery. I haven’t had that much fun watching a speech since Reagan.
I used to cringe when I heard Clinton speak as President, and when I stood at a rope line near him in January 2008 in Nashua, New Hampshire, he was charismatic but in a creepy and pandering kind of way. He was clearly worried, angry and exhausted after witnessing Hillary’s defeat to Barack Obama in the Iowa Caucuses the night before. His angsty presence was so distracting while Hillary spoke that he and Chelsea eventually moved behind the campaign bus halfway through her rally. Later, when he emerged to work the crowd, along that rope line he scanned the crowd for the (few) people of color and, reaching beyond me more than once, pulled them toward him to take pictures, as if he needed to prove he hadn’t lost his influence with them.
After being such a skunk during the 2008 primaries, he owed this performance to Obama, and delivered spectacularly. The President has a tough act to follow.
I want to live in this picture for a while
Sit in that chair
Watch the shadows grow long through the archways and windows
Eat salty sweet food
Drink sparkling water
Wear practically nothing
Let the sun and sea air dry out my skin
Listen to Italian music but only after dark
Join in with the tree frogs
Watch my memories wind themselves around the vines
Lanterns are lit and people walk by
They cannot see me
I am a ghost
Right on cue, the weather turned cool, the summer haze lifted, and the sweatshirts came out. People and nature fall into step for the first day of school. Squinting in the sunshine, I see the first leaves drift down, only the edges yellow and red, and I swear can smell the apples ripening even though the orchards are miles away. Labor Day is coming up and the blooms on the snowball bushes are trading in their white for pink. The boys put on their new sneakers, and I get out my hipster glasses so that I can read the tiny type on all of those forms I have to fill out with my brand new sharpies.
I have not even reached for the towel yet after my shower when a voice pipes up around the corner “Ready to go yet, Mom?” School isn’t scheduled to start for an hour, it takes fifteen minutes to get there, and I know he heard me turn off the water four seconds earlier. No, I am not ready to go. But I am glad that it is still possible for a teenager to be excited for the first day of school, so I snap it up and get him there twenty minutes early, knowing that for the first time in 10 weeks I will be returning to an empty house.
The Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, New York, is a rare find, a time capsule preserved and put on display for we, the generations that followed. What’s more, it is just down the road from Springwood, the Roosevelt home that is birthplace and burial site of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt himself was instrumental in keeping both homes intact and open to the public, donating his own home to the National Park Service upon his death and persuading the Vanderbilt heirs to do the same when it was clear that no one would buy the estate and its Italian Gardens even at a tiny fraction of its value. It was the foreclosed McMansion of its day, even though it was by far the smallest of the Gilded Age mansions built by the many grandchildren of shipping and railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, it didn’t even last through its own generation before it became impractical to live in or care for in the economic devastation of the Great Depression.
Two seasons of the above and below stairs drama of Downton Abbey (and a knowledgeable young guide) helped to bring this gently faded and stuffy house to life for us as we walked through. The windows are closed and shaded to preserve the furnishings and keep it cool, but he reminded us that the home was intended as a summer cottage and in its day the windows would have been thrown open to the sumer breeze off the river and every room filled with flowers from the row of greenhouses just across the lawn.
And while its contents are largely intact, the gardens are only now being revived. Having only come recently to gardening I understand now that it is always the garden that is the first to go when a property loses a caring, resident owner. Architecture may take time to show wear, but it only takes a single season to destroy a garden – and in a year like 2012, punctuated by drought and torrential rain, even tended gardens can be decimated. The Park Service had an interest in preserving Sara Delano’s rose garden – FDR’s and Eleanor’s burial sites are situated next to it – but the Vanderbilt’s more elaborate tiered Italian garden with it vast greenhouses did not merit thefunds for preesrvation – the current restoration is funded by private donations, and the volunteers were hard at work when we visited. I didn’t expect it to be so romantic, with heart-shaped beds of pink petunias and so many of the trees flowers I recognize from my own garden, but then I remembered that even then they had to cultivate plants that could survive in New York rather than the warmer climes of southern Italy.
I don’t know if it is a sign of the times or my own skewed sense of history that fuels my current fascination with the early Twentieth Century. Sometimes there are too many parallels, sometimes too few. From my admittedly untrained perspective, Hyde Park reflects the convergence of the styles that dominated the previous and coming centuries. The old money, sober Dutch influenced but early American style of the Roosevelts at Springwood (their walls adorned with family portraits painted by Gilbert Stuart) looked down its nose at the Gilded Age, with the decadent, new-money European obsessed opulence of the Vanderbilts (their walls covered with tapestries of the Medici family crest) and finally followed by the more eclectic, earthy arts and crafts style adopted by Eleanor Roosevelt at Val-Kill (very little fine art on the walls, decorated almost exclusively with photographs of people and events of their own time).
The house at Val-Kill itself is a harbinger of trends to come, a factory building converted into a home, and it’s dropped ceilings, galley kitchen and folding chairs are testament to the fact that not all progress is forward. Part of all of these styles endure, their longevity or re-emergence dictated by the changes in the American way of life. Just like the start of the last century, war and excess are steering us back to the small-is-beautiful after many years of bigger-is-better. Contraction and preservation in the face of uncertainty is not such a bad thing, if such appreciation brings wisdom and, with it, hope.