Monday, April 28, 2014

Competitive Weekending

I have been neglecting my blog lately, or else writing hurried posts and I feel bad about that because I truly enjoy writing and reading all your comments.  Work has been kicking my ass lately.  Lots of huge projects  and looming deadlines.

Reaching a deadline

Outside of work, I've been busier than usual, so the blog gets pushed to the back burner.  This weekend was the first in a while in which we weren't traveling or caught up with other events and we did all kinds of exemplary weekend-y things. (Have you noticed how weekends have become a competitive sport?) Friday night, Jon and I went to Bang, the restaurant of forty martinis.  We haven't been there in ages and it was nice to revisit some of my favorite tapas and savor a Pink Flamingo martini.

Saturday morning, in the manner of a healthy living blogger, I ran to the farmer's market.  I didn't buy anything, but stopped by my Mad Hatter friends' booth.  I'm a bit soured on the Charlottesville farmer's market and I'm thinking of switching to Waynesboro's. Later, I painted the walls in the front hall.  After all my griping about how gray was too cold and "interrogation room" I ended up choosing gray paint anyway.  (Sherwin Williams "pediment.")  Forgive me for being fickle!

It's not done.  Oh, no, not even close.

I painted as high as I could reach with this ladder set up, which wasn't quite high enough.  Jon was very cross about this, as I snuck the ladder into the house through the back door when he wasn't looking.  As far as he is concerned, we could have left the hall alone, saved ourselves a lot of trouble, and everything would be fine.  As far as I'm concerned, everything would NOT be fine because everything would still be ORANGE.

This is why we paint the hall only once every 15 years

Saturday night we went to the new Crozet Pizza Pourhouse with ER friends.  We were in a celebratory mood because earlier that day Jon gave the keynote address at Aircare's annual Education Day.  He had been preparing for months, so it was a relief to have delivered a successful speech.  Aircare provides helicopter transport and emergency medical services for critically ill and injured in the Shenandoah Valley and West Virginia.

The big news is that I'm leaving for Cape Town on Friday.  I can't wait to see Brigid!  I'm going alone because Jon didn't feel he could get away from work, and the kids have exams and such.  I admit, it's scary to travel so far on my own.  I'm a little embarrassed because it's such a self-indulgent trip; conspicuous consumption and all that, plus abandoning my work colleagues when there is so much to be done.  On the other hand, in ten year's time, would I regret taking the opportunity to visit my daughter or would I regret sticking around in my cube to work?

Brigid took this photo in Cape Town.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Friday Reading Assignment: Nicholas Nickleby

More fun with Dickens!  You may recall that The Pickwick Papers was a great success, and Nicholas Nickleby, which I read for the fifty classics project, is also a great book.  Why was I convinced that I didn't like Dickens?  I must have been too immature to appreciate him.

I took a Dickens class in college, and we read Nicholas Nickleby in that class and I disliked it.  I skimmed large chunks and relied on the televised play our professor forced us to watch to fill me in.  Since that time, I've seen two excellent film versions of the book, which may have helped me to appreciate the book more this time.

Speaking of the films, if you haven't seen the 2002 version of Nicholas Nickleby, you should.  The cast includes Anne Hathaway, Romola Garai, Jamie Bell and Christopher Plummer, as the evil Ralph Nickleby.  Especially excellent performance by Jim Broadbent as Mr. Squeers and Juliet Stevenson is superb as Mrs. Squeers.  The 2001 version, with James D'Arcy as Nicholas is also good, and perhaps a bit quieter and more literary.

The book is Dickens' typical picaresque novel, following the adventures of young Nicholas, whose family is thrown into poverty after his father's death.  They are dependent on their cruel Uncle Ralph, who sends Nicholas off to teach at Dotheboys Hall, a dumping ground for unwanted boys masquerading as a "school" and finds employment for Nicholas' sister Kate at a milliners.

Nicholas, considering he's a gentleman, gets into a lot of fights and generally punches his way through his troubles.  Dickens is a very funny writer, something I apparently didn't notice when I was in my teens.  He uses Victorian terms of praise; "worthy," "honest," "symmetrical form" to describe his unpleasant characters, to great comic effect.  He touches on, but does not delve too deeply into, the very darkest characteristics of human nature: sadism, greed, sexual preying.

Nicholas Nickleby is a long, delicious story; something to savor and take your time with.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Reading Assignment: Books to Re-read

I have been working my way through a massive book list for years.  It is now sixteen pages, and I am continuously adding new books to it.  As I read, I rate the books by highlighting the text with different colors.  Purple means "loved it; definitely reread."  I'm thinking of taking a break from reading anything new and spending some time re-reading all the books designated as such.

Here's a selection of books I considered to be re-readable (linked with Amazon affiliate links).  Let me know if you've read any of them!

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor  Another novel about aging.  Elizabeth Taylor is one of my favorite writers.

The Cardboard Crown; A Difficult Young Man; Outbreak of Love by Martin Boyd.  An excellent series about an Australian family.

Tirra Lirra by the River by Jessica Anderson. Another great novel from Australia.

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman.  Funny and thoughtful essays about books and reading.

About a Boy by Nick Hornby.  I can't help it.  I loved the movie too.

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay.  Eccentric Brits travel in Turkey.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson.  Story of a British family in the WWII era.

The Falling Boy by David Long.  Beautiful, spare prose about a small town on the high plains.

The Singapore Grip, The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Farrell--one of the best writers of the 20th century.

The Girls from the Five Great Valleys by Elizabeth Savage.  Honestly, I can't remember what I loved about this one.  Has anyone read it?

The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott.  Fantastic series about the break up of the British control of India.

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann.  This book was such a surprise!  A lovely German novel.

Captain Horatio Hornblower by C. S. Forester.  The first three (in order of publication) and best of the Horatio Hornblower books in one volume.

The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood.  Life in Berlin in the 1930s.

The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning.  These books are the BEST!  A young married couple lives in Bucharest at the start of WWII.  Through the trilogy, they flee various countries, one step ahead of the Nazis.  Also a movie, starring Emma Thompson.

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton.  More strong literature out of Australia.

Cordelia Underwood: Or, The Marvelous Beginnings of the Moosepath League by Van Reid.  Very silly, but there's something about it.

Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake.  Something special for fantasy fans.

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford.

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset  Chronicles the life of a Norwegian woman of the middle ages.

Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell.  A condemnation of the middle class.

Adam Bede by George Eliot.  A shocking scandal in a small country town.

All is Vanity by Christina Schwarz.  Sorry, I can't remember much about this one either.

Do the Windows Open? by Julie Hecht.  I loved these short stories because the characters share my neuroses.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The miracle of flight

Air travel is similar to childbirth, in that everybody loves to share their war stories: delays, shitty customer service, draconian policies, rude seat mates--all of these things will have your audience nodding in sympathy while bursting to tell their own stories.

Myself, I've never had a truly terrible airline experience (except for the TSA agent in Philly who screamed at one of my daughters and called her a "retard") but overall, I would rate my time in airports somewhere on the mildly inconvenient-to-mostly satisfactory continuum.

One irritating thing about airlines is their imposed petty social pecking order, unknown anywhere else in the commercial world.  This is partly evidenced by the special boarding lanes.  Not only are first class passengers allowed to board first, they get to use a SPECIAL BOARDING LANE.  Most airlines have the priority lane and the regular lane, but United Airlines actually has four distinct lanes.  Then, also on United, once you've achieved altitude, they make a point of welcoming aboard all their first class-star alliance-muckety muck passengers, while ignoring the rest of us.  Then there's the obnoxious curtain that separates first class from coach.  It's not enough to get more comfortable seating and better food, you also get a polyester shield from coach cooties. Airlines: you're running a business, not a caste system.

Once, waiting for a flight from Madison to Atlanta, a couple was standing at the opening to the priority lane because apparently it was very important that they publicly assert their first class status.  It wasn't even close to boarding time, but they spent the whole time standing there, with facial expressions that showed their outrage at being exposed to the gaze of the loathsome creatures who fly economy.  But guess what happened?  The gate agent announced that the first class bathrooms on the plane were out of order and first class passengers would have to use the coach bathrooms.

Biggest eye roll on an airplane?  A Delta airlines flight in which we were told we would be getting a "complimentary" safety demonstration.

Philadelphia, Chicago, and Newark seem to be the top contenders for the worst airport in the US, at least among my narrow east coast acquaintance.  To me, Chicago seems the most chaotic, Newark the dirtiest, and Philly has the most incompetent staff.  A couple of weekends ago, we had a layover in Philly on our way to Buffalo.  After landing, when we arrived at our gate, I noticed a lonely black duffle bag, sitting on the tarmac, presumably from whatever flight had occupied the gate before us.  The baggage handler unceremoniously tossed it onto the cart intended for our flight's luggage.  Poor, sad duffle bag!  It probably got a free flight to Buffalo.

Turbulence.  I know it's a normal part of flight, but I hate it.  On that same recent trip to Buffalo, when we were en route from Richmond to Philly, it was a bit bumpy and we were flying through clouds (another thing I hate) and a woman across the aisle from us said, "I see flames!"  Of course she was mistaking the flashing red lights on the wings, reflecting off the clouds for flames, but even so, what an idiotic thing to say on a plane.

On that same trip, as we left Philly, heading for Buffalo, the flight attendant announced there would be no drink service because of turbulence.  It was actually a very smooth flight until we began our descent into Buffalo, where the winds were gusting to 50 mph.  Suddenly, it was as if the plane were attached by a string to a stick being batted about by a demented three year old.  I dug my nails into my palm and cranked out Hail Mary's.  The turbulence didn't stop until we were on the ground.  Stepping out of the plane (it was after midnight and there was no jet bridge) the wind wrapped my hair around my face and I had to blindly grope my way down the stairs.  Once safely on the ground, I couldn't stop laughing--partly from hysteria, partly from gratitude at being alive, and partly because it was so hilarious to have left Richmond at a balmy 68 degrees and arrive a few hours later in a howling blizzard.

Sometimes, though, the view from the sky is lovely.  On that same trip to Buffalo (which spawned this post--we spent an entire weekend doing little but sitting around in airports) as we took off for home, I was keen to see Lake Erie from the air, because this winter it had the thickest ice since 1977.  As always, when taking off from Buffalo, you fly west across the city and turn once you get to the lake, and there it was.  The picture below was taken in January, 2014, but when we saw it in early April, it was still frozen, as were most of the finger lakes, which we saw as we flew toward Newark.

Lake Erie

Image: NASA

Your air travel horror stories?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday Reading Assignment: The Sea Change

Elizabeth Jane Howard again!  The Sea Change is her third novel, and it's very different from the cozy, gossipy Cazalet Chronicles. (By the way, Amazon US customer reviewers, whose only previous exposure to EJH was the Cazalet Chronicles, HATED this book.  Amazon UK readers, on the other hand, give it good reviews.)

Emmanuel Joyce is a successful playwright, married to Lillian who is frail of health, manipulative, and tortured by the memory of the death of their baby daughter, sixteen years before.  They live with Jimmy, their general assistant.  The story opens as Gloria, Emmanuel's secretary, has attempted suicide.  It probably goes without saying that Gloria and Emmanuel had been having an affair, and that after this performance, she can't be Emmanuel's secretary anymore, although that's moot because he had just fired her.

ANYWAY, in addition to now needing a new secretary, Emmanuel is also searching for someone to play Clemency in the New York run of one of his plays.  He hires Sarah, a clergyman's daughter, and they all go to New York to search for Clemency.  Incidentally, since "Sarah" was also the name of the baby who died, they change the new secretary's name to the wildly inappropriate "Alberta" so as not to upset Lillian.  After New York, they all go to Greece, so that Emmanuel and Jimmy can train "Clemency" away from the eye of the media.

Each chapter is divided into four sections, narrated by each of the four main characters.  Elizabeth Jane Howard wrote in her autobiography how difficult she found writing to be, and I can understand that after reading The Sea Change. It must have been a lot of work to get the thoughts of these complicated characters onto paper.You should read The Sea Change if you are a devoted fan of EJH.  I loved The Cazalet Chronicles, but The Sea Change shows more of EJH's depth as a writer.  You would also like The Sea Change if you're in the mood for a highly introspective novel about glamorous people in the 1950s. 

Edited because apparently, if I publish from the blogger app on my tablet, my posts don't appear in feedly.  I have been challenged in sharing my posts lately because for some reason, this site has been flagged for sexual content by my employer's censors.  I was in the habit of publishing my posts after I got to work (I write them at home, just take a few seconds to publish at work) but now I can't even access the link to paste into facebook.  I thought I could get around it by publishing from my tablet, but apparently not. Sorry about the off-topic rant, but when do I ever write about sex?  I seriously would feel comfortable reading any of my posts out loud to my grandmother.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

In which Phoebe goes to school

Phoebe is six months old now and has become very unruly, so we enrolled her in a basic obedience class.  She is pretty challenged when it comes to obedience.  She's very bright, but like most hounds, she's more interested in going her own way than pleasing people.

What do you MEAN by these so-called "commands"?

When we switch to a new skill in class, the trainer will use one of the dogs in a demonstration. Phoebe LOVES to be the demonstration dog and every time the trainer approaches the center of the room and raises her hand for attention, Phoebe will stare at her intently, her whole body quivering as if to say, "Pick me! Pick me!"  (Demonstration dogs get extra treats.) And she often is the chosen one, whether because the trainer likes her or because she is seen as needing extra help, I can't say.

Treat please

Meanwhile, Jon broke his arm so badly that he can't drive, which sucks all around, but also sucks in the dog training department because when working with a dog, it's kind of handy to have the use of both your arms.

We have a long way to go.  She has a deep, baying, "the bloodhounds are coming" bark, which she directs at every runner, bicyclist, or car that happens to cross our path when we're out on our walks, while she lunges at them like a tiger after a steak. It's not aggression, she just has a strong genetic predisposition to chase everything that moves.

Speaking of runners, we take her on runs as an outlet for her energy. I truly can't tell if she loves running or if it is too stressful for her.  She gets very excited if she sees me in my running clothes--evidenced by jumping higher than the ceiling and attacking the drawstring on my running jacket-- but once we get going, it's like she's running for her life, except every once in a while, she'll jump in front of you and stop, so you're constantly at risk of face plant on the concrete.  We do demented sprints through the neighborhood as if we're being pursued by something.

Still likes to sit on Jon's lap
Despite these difficulties, Phoebe is a delightful dog.  One evening we found her intently listening, and actually dancing to the them song to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  Her wrinkled houndy face is irresistible.

Here she is the day we brought her home.

With her best buddy, Sancho:

Phoebe at the window, watching Grace and Seamus drive away.  She hates to be left behind.