Thursday, December 31, 2009

At the Doorway!

The Romans may have had their flaws (and if you consider some of the nutjobs who were Emperor, their flaws were mighty indeed!), but they understood the value of contemplation. That is a useful characteristic to employ on this, the final day of 2009. Janus, the two-headed Roman god of doorways, has the ability (two heads, don't you know) to look forward and backward simultaneously. It's a good quality as one makes plans - or resolutions.

As for resolutions, I'm afraid I'm a bit predictable this year - my clothes are a bit snug and my gym membership is covered in dust. (I suspect these two events are related, but I'm not entirely sure.) But it's been a good year.

Looking at my left ring finger, let me amend that. A very good year. And I'm looking forward to an excellent and exciting new year in 2010.

Best wishes for you and yours, as well!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Is a State of Mind

Like many working Americans, FryDaddy and I have a myriad of celebrations and responsibilities keeping us on the road over the next ten days or so. When we sat down with our respective calendars and realized that (the simple fact that we both had respective calendars to coordinate should've told us everything we needed to know), we decided that we needed to be bold and resolute regarding the holidays.

Now, let me make this clear. I love the holidays. I really do. But I also totally understand why so many people cite the holidays as the most stressful (rather than "most wonderful") time of the year. Personally, I blame us as a society. Generally speaking, most of us don't have a problem throughout most of the year admitting that we're barely holding it together. But sometime around Thanksgiving, we begin to feel inadequate and guilty if we don't have a gorgeously-appointed house that is sparkling clean, tastefully decorated, and scented with the smells of Colorado pine, gingerbread and simmering wassail. It's as if we're collectively possessed by the the love child of Norman Rockwell and Martha Stewart - a bad combination at any time, I think you'll agree.

FryDaddy and I didn't want to opt out of the holidays, but we wanted to be sure that we had time to enjoy them at our own pace. So we came up with a solution that may be unconventional, but I think borders on sheer genius.

We moved them.

Why not? If the Queen of England can decide her birthday would be better in June rather than April when she was actually born, I think anything can be a moveable feast. So we ran around like mad hatters through yesterday tending to the bits and pieces of the season (Cards! Parties! Wrapping! To the post office! To the mall! To the grocery store!), then quietly began our Christmas celebration today. We slept late, delightedly ransacked stockings, and littered the dining room with the remains of wrapping paper. Later, I acted as sous chef to FryDaddy's chef de cuisine and the result is a stuffed duck roasting in the oven even as I type. I think it'll be delicious and hey! if all else fails, I have the number for the local pizza delivery guys.

I have to say, I recommend having Christmas when it suits you and yours. We'll still be here on the big day - and probably more rested and relaxed than we would be otherwise.

In my part of the world, Christmas is the mack daddy of holidays and it's easy to get caught up in the hype. It's not about the hype, you understand, but sometimes it seems that way. Why not take a lesson from some of the antecedents of this holiday (Hanukkah, Saturnalia, Solstice, etc.) and just stop for a moment to look around. After all, while it is true that the dark is coming, it is also true that the light always returns.

So don't be afraid to take time from the flurry and bustle of the holiday madness to look for the miracles. They really are there, but often worthwhile things must be sought in order to be found.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Literary Whiplash!

Now, I'm a Mockingbird who likes to read. I usually have two books going at once, with no real rhyme or reason to the choices. For example, one book might be nonfiction (maybe a collection of travel writing) while the other might be fiction (maybe the latest installment of the Sookie Stackhouse series). Often, this makes for an interesting mix, not to mention some rather fascinating dreams as the various books collide in my subconscious.

I also suffer from a near-total inability to put down a book unread, even if I don't really care for the book. Add to that my quest to read more of those Books That Are Good for Me and you can understand that it's been an intriguing time in the Nest.

It really wasn't my fault. Honestly, I was minding my own business, trying to improve my mind by reading Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. A mistake. I was sucked in by the blurb on the back of the book, which (it must be admitted) had the double whammy of being both handsome and on sale. Now, even devoted Austen fans often find this novel a bit hard to swallow. Really - just click here! But even though I thought Fanny Price was far too much of a meek mouse for me to bear, I just couldn't put the book aside unread.

In and of itself, that would have been fine. The problem occurred when I picked up my next book on the pile and read the first paragraph, just to reassure me that there was prose beyond twaddle of this sort:

"Fanny found herself obliged to yield that she might not be accused of pride or indifference, or some other littleness; and having with modest reluctance given her consent, made her selection. She looked and looked, longing to know which might be least valuable; and was determined in her choice at last, by fancying there was one necklace more frequently placed before her eyes than the rest. It was of gold prettily worked; and though Fanny would have preferred a longer and plainer chain as more adapted for her purpose, she hoped in fixing on this, to be chusing what Miss Crawford least wished to keep."

Contrast with the opening lines of The Road:

"When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world."

Switching from Jane Austen to Cormac McCarthy really should come with a warning as to the difficulty level. Sort of the literary equivalent to a reverse 3 1/2 somersault in pike position - which ain't easy, my friends. Not at all.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Come, Ye Thankful People, Come . . .

I always liked that song.

I really like the holiday of Thanksgiving. I know that there are some who dislike the holiday for the very legitimate reason of "well, it didn't turn out so well for the Indians, now, did it?" But I like Thanksgiving. So - a list of Things Mockingbird Is Thankful For.

1. Green bean casserole. Just about the only way I like cream of mushroom soup.
2. Hand turkeys. Sure, you may know how to make one, but try switching hands.
3. Pie. Pecan, pumpkin, Kentucky Derby, apple - you name it. Pie is good.
4. Canned cranberry sauce. While I don't eat it, any food that is considered complete when it has the exact shape of the can it comes in - well, that's a marvel.
5. Family. Be it blood or chosen, whether you get along like the John Walton family or the Homer Simpson family, it's a good thing to have.

There's plenty more, but it'll save. What about you? What's Turkey Day like in your household? Is it all about the Black Friday sales or is it about the homemade dressing? Or the football? Or the board games?

Friday, November 13, 2009

The House Is Closed

It was a good run and a valiant effort. I "hmmed" a good bit when the news came out no episodes of Dollhouse would air in November - it's sweeps time, after all and that's when all-important advertising rates are set. But now it's official - Dollhouse will finish its run (the finale will most likely air in late January) but it's gone to the scrap heap of canceled shows.

Whedon has assured fans that we'll know about his next project by the time the final episode airs and we'll see what direction he'll be going in.Many fans are understandably upset about this, but no one is particularly surprised. Friday night is the "death slot" for network television and Dollhouse never attained stellar ratings. As I've posted here, I found the show to have flashes of nigh-brilliance, but also some anvil-heavy storylines, characterizations, and direction.

Back in 2003, Whedon said in the New York Times interview that his "favorite fictions . . . are about the getting of strength and that's probably the most important theme in any of my work" and Dollhouse wanted very much to be going in that direction. Alas, the path through the woods has been barred by a Fox, but I can't much blame the Fox for acting according to his nature.Maybe this frees Whedon up a little - they're in the process of filming Episode 11, meaning there are still two to film - plenty of time to jazz things up, especially now that there's no worry about Pleasing the Network Masters. Amazing how freeing that can be. Let's go out with a bang - or at least a loudly slamming door.Then again, I've always been a sucker for the idea of toys (Dolls, if you will) becoming real - a concept Whedon must have a liking for as well, considering his writing credit for Toy Story and certainly one he's been working with here. So let's end with this from the classic for children of all ages, Margery Williams' The Velveteen Rabbit:

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.

But the Skin Horse only smiled.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

No, that's not a misprint. According to the Celts, today is New Year's. Well, sort of. To the Celts, the year was divided into two sections - the "light half" ran from May 1 until Halloween, then the "dark half" held sway from November 1 back to the start of May. Therefore, yesterday was New Year's Eve.

Key to understanding this idea of two half-years is a basic concept of Celtic theology. Where we moderns (or post-moderns, I always confuse the two) tend to look at things from a dualistic point of view, those wacky Celts were more inclusive.

OK, that's not too clear to me, and I'm the one writing it. Let me back up and try again.

These days, we tend to see things as "either/or." Something is either good or it's bad. Theology-wise, we tend to view light as "good" and dark as "bad." The Celts were more rounded, viewing events as more like points along a spectrum (or circle, being rounded and all). Things just are - they aren't one or the other; it's bigger than that. Put in modern Halloween terms, the modern Western view is Swedish fish (all chewy, all red, nothing chocolate-coated and mutilayered) while the Celts are more like Reese's Cups (chocolate and peanut butter).

What all this means is that to the Celts, the "dark half" isn't a bad, icky, scary time. Growth takes energy and that's what the "light half" of the year is for. But you can't sustain that always and forever - you need the "dark half" of longer nights and quieter time to contemplate what's coming next, to recharge and refresh so you can be ready to spring forth when the light time comes.

Not a bad idea, when you think about it. In the meantime, we poor mods (post-mods; whatever) are just about to enter what is (for many of us) the wackiest of times - holidays. Multiple guests, special food, redecorate the house, send cards and letters (most of us don't do much of that during the year, then feel we suddenly need to turn into Victorians - we even go caroling!), and feel inferior if we don't have a handmade centerpiece that would take a staff of six a solid week to create in the first place.

I think my Celtic ancestors may have had the right idea all along.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Concerts & Growing Older

Something like six months ago, I purchased tickets to go see Metallica as a gift to FryDaddy, who has a metal streak. I've gone to a number of concerts in my day, although metal has never been my style. What the heck, right? I mean, Metallica has been around since the early 80s and - let's face it - to be around in any kind of live performance music scene for the better part of 25 years means that you've grown up and figured a few things out.

Very true for the band. Less so for some of the fans.

Sigh. I grow old.

The show was a lot of fun, after I re-set my brain. It's been a l-o-n-g time since I'd "done" an arena show and I'd forgotten about opening acts (a French metal band? Really? And another whose specialty really seemed to be throat-clearing. I guess I'm just a sucker for lyrics) and the dangerous mixture of overpriced beer, cigarettes, and rednecks with a babysitter watching the kids at home. Before I become too much of a curmudgeon, I must say that the folks in our row were actually fantastic - and even the half-baked fanboys behind us were polite in their own way. Nevertheless, my clothes were in the washer before I dropped off to an exhausted sleep.

But you go to a show for the main act, not the cannon fodder openers. (OK, one day, they might be huge. Don't care. ) Metallica did a great show - high energy, amazing effects that weren't overdone and a highly enthusiastic crowd. And I have to respect not only the band's longevity and three-generation fanbase, but nigh-unbelievable speed and substantial lyrical range.

But I'm older now and the workweek starts early.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Things I've Learned

Okay, I still have a few days of vacation, but I've learned enough to warrant a post today instead of waiting.

First and foremost - do not take work on vacation! I know, I know, most of you are far smarter than Mockingbird and already knew this nugget of information. I thought I'd done pretty well by only working for an hour or two each day, but that time adds up and I woke up this morning with my mind whirling.

Sigh. Completely unable to appreciate the sand and the warm October ocean. I should be ashamed.

Second, but closely related - vacation means "vacating." As in vacating from everyday cares and woes. Have the cream sauce. Go see a matinee of a first-run movie and make buttered popcorn your lunch. Browse the used bookstore (by the way, I tore through some brain candy while I was away. It's useful to clear your head of theory and Grown-Up Things from time to time). Remember that the scorching smell just might be your psychic brake pads warning of imminent disaster and that play serves a serious purpose.

So before FryDaddy and I leave here, I'm going for a last walk on the beach. The work will still be here when I get back and, while I may not know much, I know better than to grade angry. (Okay, so I'm not actually "angry," but you get the idea. Right? Right.)

Italic

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Off Season!

Hard work comes with rewards. Sure, some of those are rather ephemeral - you know, that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with knowing you've done hard work well. That sort of thing. But there are tangible, quantifiable rewards, too.

For me, that means getting out of town for a little while. This semester has been extra-crispy and I need to regroup a bit. It's serendipity how everything all came together. I leave for the Southern regional popular culture conference tomorrow - FryDaddy's coming with me. I'll have two days to renew some friendships and take in what other people have been working on, and then I present on Saturday. (Joss Whedon's Dollhouse and its links to Ovid's Metamorphoses. I know it sounds odd, but trust me - it works.) Then we leave for the beach for several days of off-season sand and sun. (And hopefully starfish.) I'm hoping for some serious downtime.

It's safe to say that my version of downtime bears little to no resemblance to the hedonistic parades celebrated on MTV (which, by the way, never seems to actually play videos anymore, which makes me feel both sad and old). I'm hoping for sleeping past seven, an extra cup of coffee enjoyed on the porch swing with a hot Original Glazed from Krispy Kreme, and a movie in the middle of the day.

It might not sound like much, but to me it sounds like next door to heaven. And it's my vacation, so that's what really counts, I suppose!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Moving Toward Fall

It's fall today. Apple cider and pumpkin pie. Football games (although, as a Panthers fan, this could be a long, sorrowful season). A Crock-Pot with a pot roast. The promise of Halloween.

Sure, it was warm and sunny today - certainly still felt like summer. But the change of seasons is marked by either an equinox or a solstice. The equinoxes mean that the day and night are of equal length; that marks the start of spring and autumn. The solstices are the longest day (that starts summer) or the longest night (that starts winter). Today was the autumnal equinox, so summer is officially over. I think that's a good thing - summer's been swelteringly hot, my tomatoes never really took off the way I hoped, and Spooky has dug a series of holes deep enough to serve as a receptacle for punji sticks that I need to fill before I get careless and sprain an ankle.

Seems like my day should be a little more centered if the whole cosmos is in balance, but not so much. Things aren't totally out of whack - it's no Hopi Koyaanisqatsi - but things are not exactly balanced on Mockingbird's see-saw just at the moment.

Yet summer also had its moments of surprise and joy - and I daresay fall will, too.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Brave New Technical World!

I've been dealing with a number of technical issues - in fact, I'm not proud to report that I hung up on tech support in frustration. To be fair, that was after repeated spellings of my name in the International Radio Alphabet (you know, "Mike, Oscar, Charlie, Kilo . . .") and still not being understood! Sigh. And yes, my tech help was located somewhere in Delhi. I hate being a cliche.

But now, thanks to FryDaddy, I now have a printer/scanner/fruit juicer as well as a bona-fide wireless router. No longer is Mockingbird chained to her desk! It's a grand day in which I was able to retire the old system, which was about as technically advanced as two tin cans and a length of twine. The only downside I've seen so far is that Spooky is a bit confused - shouldn't I be sitting at the desk looking at that screen? Not carrying it to the sofa. Or the study. Or the dining room table.

Yay! Technology and a confused dog! It's been a good day.

Monday, August 31, 2009

No - Try It Over Here!

Every now and again, a Mockingbird needs to nest. In my case, I have a nest (a rather cozy one, in my opinion), but it needed some sprucing up. This may be due to the Great Office Move of '09 - I'm box-free but the floor is somewhere under various piles of pictures and things that I'm sure I'll need someday. Anyone else ever been there? Anyway, I'm trying to move some things around at home, make a little room, clear out some clutter . . . it's amazing how much stuff you discover you have when you begin doing this sort of thing. And not even useful stuff - I must have put fifty pens aside to donate to some charity or another. Now who needs fifty pens? Fifty EXTRA pens, I should say - I still have plenty of writing utensils, have no fear!

But I think every stick of furniture either has been moved or has been seriously considered for moving. (OK, there's an exception there for the piano. It's not moving. Ever.) I can also report that FryDaddy and Victorian Marxist are virtual oxen when it comes to moving heavy things down narrow hallways. And isn't a sleeper sofa a grand thing when you're not having to tip it vertically and twirl it to get it to fit through a doorway?

The lovely and talented Spooky has been a bit distressed by all the hoopla, but she forgives me easily enough with a pig ear or two, so that's all right. And I now have a study. Or maybe a den; I haven't quite decided.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Julia & Prawns

I recently saw two movies that got me to thinkin'. There are a couple of things that are unusual about this - first, that I've actually seen two new release movies in the theatre (I always have the best of intentions, but usually wind up missing them) and two, that I found such a strong link between two seemingly-different films.

The first was Julie & Julia, (careful - the the link has audio) which I will confess I liked quite a lot. The Julia Child segments were stronger for me that the contemporary story (and as I've learned more about "Julie" I can see why), but the entire movie has a joie de vivre about it and serves as a powerful reminder that life is meant to be celebrated and that joy takes cojones. (Yes, I'm mangling several European languages here; what of it?) Streep is an actress that I often find cold and mechanical, but here she's glorious. Stanley Tucci is fantastic as Paul Child and the relationship between the Childs is the cornerstone of the film. Amy Adams is goshed-darned cute and has some very nice bits and seriously - go see this film. It's a feel good flick and we can all use that these days. And don't be surprised if you find yourself wanting to try something more ambitious in the kitchen than what you usually cook.

In Julie & Julia, Julie has a hard time boiling a lobster for dinner. Julia Child has recommended that the squeamish first insert a sharp knife between the eyes of the lobster, then dump it in the pot. Now I happen to believe that lobsters are lower on the food chain that we are and that's it fine to eat them (I personally don't care for them, but I'm not a vegetarian, so I don't have higher ground to claim here). District 9 has a more troubling view of "prawns" as the seven-foot aliens have been nicknamed. (See, a dehumanizing nickname makes it easier to think of your opponent as non-human. Just flick through history and you'll see my point.)

I'll confess that I liked District 9 (again, careful of the audio) tremendously, but for very different reasons that J&J. I've heard it said before that good stories ask the big questions, and District 9 asks the doozies, like "What does it mean to be human?" Humanity, which is so joyously portrayed in Julia & Julia does not come across too well in District 9. It's a complex film, dealing with prejudice, class warfare, poverty, capitalism, media control, the ickiest sides of human nature, and the slippery question of how far is it ethical to go to be top dog? Keep in mind that this is not a movie for the kiddies. The aliens aren't all bad and, as sure as daylight, the humans are far from all good.

So what links the two? Both films celebrate humanity - one as a force for good, as humans defy convention and embrace creativity to more fully express their own humanity, even through something as seemingly unimportant as a pear tart. The other celebrates humanity's darker sides as humans wrap themselves in bureaucratic details to avoid dealing with the actual beings the rules are impacting. We are both and it is folly to ignore that ugly truth. If we do, we run the risk of turning into the people in District 9 and - trust me - you don't want that.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Back to School!

Normally, I'm quite excited during this time of year. Even though I don't teach in a one-room schoolhouse, I still teach and we tend to get wired in mid-August. Usually by now, I've had a little while to re-charge my batteries, I've got my new highlighters and Post-It notes, freshly-copied syllabi are stacked in my office - I just feel organized. Ready to go, if you like.

This year is different.

I'm sure it's due primarily to the budget woes which have beset my state - the legislature finally agreed on a budget just last week and it seems to contain a fair number of items that fall into the "well, it's the best we could do" category. It's as if education was one of those drawings of a cow you see in the back of butcher shops and the legislators had a shiny cleaver. It's hard to be the rump roast of the state. Sorry to snipe, but what else is a blog for some days?

On top of that, enrollment is booming (we actually have "big" registration day in a few days, so the boom is likely to become a deluge) and, since we had the money at the time, offices are being rebuilt, which means many of us are in temporary digs, making it harder for students to locate us. And no, we don't deliberately hide from students (much), who are often very confused and bewildered at this time of year.

All of which makes hobbies so much more important that usual, at least for me. I have a tendency to pile quite a bit on my plate and it's good for me to have one thing to do that I don't have to be an expert at, but is done for sheer enjoyment. Lately, I have to tell you, my hobby has taken on job-like proportions, which means I need to re-evaluate a few things and hopefully soon.

Sigh. Out of balance before the school year even begins. Need to re-adjust and start over. I daresay a walk in the sunshine with the Spooky-dog (the spookiest Spook to ever spook a spook!) will give me a good start.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Thoughts from the Dark

It's that time, screen fans! The 10th Annual Real to Reel International Film Festival is in full swing in the neighboring town (they have the big screen space; the multiplex in town doesn't want to give up a screen for four days of indy film) and it's been a hoot!

For me, the festival is a way of gauging my time in The City of Pleasant Living, as it began the same year I moved here. I must say, the quality has greatly improved over the years - we started with VHS tapes and moved to digital and now hi-def. For me, last night's winner was Our Neck of the Woods, a short featuring spontaneously combusting lawn deer. Certainly not something you're going to see in the local multiplex!

Speaking of all things filmed, I ran across this (it's embedded below) the other day and it made me smile. In the midst of early wedding prep, I think it's good to keep in mind (1) different can be nice and (2) it's good to remember that the ceremony is intended to be joyous. I don't think I'll be doing this, but . . .

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Now 100% Fairy Free!

I am pleased to report that, after about a week and a half of otherworldly-based drama, my trusty car seems to be completely free of fairy infestation! (If this seems like a confusing statement, please read the previous entry on this blog. Recapping would be tedious.)

Fairies or no, loyal Hunter now sports a new thermostat, fuel pump, timing belt and a host of other, more minor, repairs. My checking account is considerably lighter but, in my experience, if one owns a car, one must make repairs at some point.

Sigh. If only the state would pass a budget. With a big, honkin' raise for me in it.

But it makes for a good story and that's very nearly worth it.

So life in a small Southern town continues. It's high summer now, which means dripping humidity and breathtaking heat. This is offset by the fact that the farmers' market is in full swing, so heirloom tomatoes and Silver Queen corn are there for the picking. (Only not literally, as the picking is done for you!) Berries (both black and blue) are widely available and yummy-delicious homemade fried pies beckon. That doesn't help my campaign to work off my version of the "English pounds" I gained during vacation (no regrets there - fresh scones with clotted cream are worth a few extra laps once you get home!), but what's a Mockingbird to do? Summer passes so quickly.

And let's not discuss the proliferation of "back to school" sales in July. It's just not American. I say enjoy the final few weeks of summer. Because, be it work or vacation, it's still summer. And summer, like fresh corn, is a fleeting thing.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bad Fairies!

I don't much like fairies these days.

That's probably surprising to you. After all, aren't I the sort of Mockingbird who believes in all manner of gentle, kind, otherworldly things that watch over humans, chuckle at our foibles and occasionally help us out?

Well, maybe. But I'm talking about fairies here!

Oh, sure. They've got good PR, I'll grant you that. Everyone thinks that they're all sweet and cute, sort of like this. Or this. Or maybe even this.

Uh-uh. Not true and don't fall for the hype.

It's actually funny. I had spent six hours teaching my summer classes about life in Elizabethan times as part of the introduction to their work with Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, which prominently features fairies messing about with human lives. Elizabethans believed in all sorts of supernatural thingies that went bump in the night, including ghosts and fairies. But their sorts of fairies weren't the nice kind. Instead, they were the things you blamed when things went wrong, such as the milk going sour, or you not being able to find a shoe. Or worse!

But I'm a modern Mockingbird. When the air conditioning in my house stopped working consistently (it still cooled, just not very well), I knew to call the home warranty folks. I was a bit more flummoxed when I came out of my night class and the car mysteriously died - totally stopped - still in the parking lot.

I blame the fairies.

I may not be right, but the tow truck driver was amused.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Full Circle!

We left the nigh-magical town of Nether Stowey to travel to our final stop – Oxford. Rather than take a direct as-the-crow-flies sort of route, we went scenic and traveled through some of the Disney-pretty villages of the Cotswolds. Really, this is where you get the burbling roadside brooks, thatched whitewashed cottages, and a profusion of vibrant blooms everywhere you turn. Almost suspiciously pretty, but maybe that’s me. A lot of browsing took place here and a particularly delicious pastry stop.

However, the final few miles into Oxford pretty much “damaged my calm,” as Jayne Cobb might put it. Oxford is a much larger town than the corresponding Cambridge and it’s much harder to maneuver in and about. We finally arrived at our dwelling and trundled the luggage up the requisite steep and narrow staircases and took a deep breath of relief.

Now, Oxford is a pretty town, full of the “dreaming spires” of Matthew Arnold. We were too late to visit many things – most shops were closed and the colleges are just finishing/finished their terms – but we managed to enjoy the Eagle & Child where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien (probably along with some other initialed folks) hung out, discussed ideas, ate, drank, and occasionally wrote. We also visited the slightly hard-to-find Turf Tavern which has been around for centuries, even hosting the occasional cock fight way back when.

Yesterday we managed, with the help of two maps and the GPS, to get our of Oxford to drive back to Cambridge to return the car and catch the train back to London. Today is our last "full day," and we plan to explore a few places we couldn't get to earlier. Then, early tomorrow, it's to the airport with us to return home from our wanders.

Wonder if I'll remember which side of the road to drive on when I get there!

(Sorry for the bizarre appearance of this post. I can't explain it.)


Friday, June 26, 2009

Laudanum, Wrong Turns and Dreaming Spires

Our intrepid flock spent the last two days in the charming village of Nether Stowey, which is famous for being the spot where the poet Coleridge lived and wrote many of his most famous poems, including the laudanum-induced "Kubla Khan." We actually stayed in that house and walked in the garden. Coleridge never properly finished the poem, since his reverie was interrupted by "a man from Porlock," which is a (relatively) nearby town.

The hosts were wonderful and I can't say enough good things about the town. We frequented a pub that was playing on the Coleridge connection by naming itself "The Ancient Mariner" - no, they did not serve albatross. There was also a lovely bistro called "The Hairy Bear" after the owners' Welsh Terrier. We went there last night as a thunderstorm was brewing and had a wonderful time!

During this time, we also visited both Stonehenge and the marvelous city of Bath. Go see them both - I'll leave it at that.

Today we left Nether Stowey behind and traveled at a leisurely pace through the picturesque Cotswold hills (villages by Disney) to our final stop - Oxford, home of the dreaming spires. Due to heavy weekend traffic and more than a few wrong turns, we got here too late to do much more than walk around. It's been a lifetime since I've been here, but the Eagle and Child is still here, as is the moving Martyrs' Memorial. Three Protestant prelates were burned at the stake in the street; two of them together. According to legend, Latimer said to his friend Ridley as the flames began to burn: "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."

Courage like that deserves a monument.

We head back to London tomorrow, most likely arriving in the afternoon. We then have Sunday to play and then head back to the States Monday morning, arrived (due to time zone magic) early afternoon on Monday.

What a trip!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Well Dressed Wells & Beatlemania!

Sorry - I've been Internet-less for a few days, but that hasn't kept things from happening at a rapid pace. A few days ago, we entered the village of Youlgreave (or Yulgrave, or a few other variations thereof) in the Peak District just in time for the annual well-dressing, which is an ancient (read: pre-Christian) festival to celebrate and give thanks for water. It's now considered a feast of St. John the Baptist, but we know better, don't we?

Today, we spent more than five hours on a Beatles tour in Liverpool. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I didn't think I'd think much of this; I'm just not much of a Beatles fan. But we got lucky. Instead of the sixty-person bus tour ("yes, this is where John went to school. Okay - back on the coach"), we asked at the hotel (which is FABULOUS!! It's Parr Studios, which is part recording studio and part funky hotel) and got hooked up with a personalized taxi tour that resulted in dozens of photo stops and personal anecdotes. And I now know the reason behind most of the lyrics of "Penny Lane" and they're cool! Seriously - if you go to Liverpool (and you should), take a tour with these guys.

There's much more, but it's late and tomorrow's busy. So let me sign off for now.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cam Bridge

We left London this morning and took the train to Cambridge. (By the way, it turns out the university town of Cambridge came by its name honestly. The River Cam flows through the town and is spanned by any number of bridges. Mystery solved!) The train was clean, on time and the trip was uneventful, apart from me discovering that I'd let the iPod run down to its dregs.

Now Cambridge is a much smaller town than its flashier college cousin, Oxford. (We'll be there later in the trip.) In fact, pretty much anyone you meet here is here due to the university - one way or another. (And it's been that way for a long while - the university is celebrating its eighth hundredth year in 2009!) The English college term is just finishing up, so students were going up to stout oak doors that had their grades posted and either celebrating or despairing over the results. We joined in two traditional Cambridge events - punting and the May Balls.

Punting on the Cam is a delightful experience. The River Cam is a shallow, gentle river and a "punt" is simply a flat-bottomed boat, as pictured above. Punters use pole to steer the punts and inexperienced (or slightly inebriated) punters lose their poles in the mud. We hired Alex the Punter and got quite a nice tour of the "backs," which are the backs of (some of) the various colleges that make up Cambridge. After all, the place is a "who's who." Trinity College can boast Newton, Byron, Tennyson, Nabokov, and Milne. Christ had Darwin; Jesus College had Coleridge; King's had Rupert Brooke. Clare had Gen. Cornwallis, but they might not talk much about him to American visitors.

We also wandered around land a good bit and stumbled on the May Ball for Corpus Christi College (the other "CCC"). Corpus Christi, by the way, lists among its graduates Sir Francis Drake and Christopher Marlowe. May Balls used to be held in May (imagine that!) and it's all fancy dress, so lots of black tie, prom dresses, ball gowns and even the occasional kilt. Oh, and one mohawk in black tie, which was a first for me!

This has been a lovely day and we used it to recharge our batteries a bit. We needed that - after all, we leave tomorrow via our own car. Let's hope we remember that wacky "drive on the left" rule!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

London, Day Two!

Today was pure sightseeing. We took a riverboat (no paddlewheels or flashy gamblers, just a horde of French teenagers) down the Thames from Parliament to the Tower of London. There, we "did" the Tower - history, flashy crown jewels, outrageous costumes, an unkindness of ravens and - oh, yes - torture! Really, the Tower is not to be missed on your tour of London.

I sought out the SPRC (Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, although I've called it worse), which turned out to be in Senate House, the library for the University of London where I studied lo these many years before! FryDaddy is a devotee of Roman history, so that was a "must" stop for me. Besides, it was on the way to the British Museum.

Now, one of the benefits to having an empire is that you can assemble a most impressive collection of stuff. The British Museum contains (among innumerable other treasures), the Rosetta Stone, most of the sculpture from the Partheon in Athens, mummies (not just human ones, either), Assyrian bas reliefs depicting a rousing lion hunt, and ancient Greek vases illustrating (shall we say) the earthier side of life.

Truly, something for everyone!

We leave tomorrow for Cambridge. We're driving ourselves rather than using the train or a bus. Remember, they drive on the wrong side of the road in the UK. Pray for us!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Magic Bus!

As I said before, I doubt I'll be able to post every day, but I want to provide updates as I can. We arrived in the UK early this morning (still the middle of the night back home) after a bumpy flight and little sleep. No one really cared all that much - we were here! In England! Yay!

The highlights of today included taking the "Big Red Bus" tour - very touristy, but also a pretty darned good way to get a feel for the city and figure out what's where and how to get there. I think I got a few good photos from the trip - we braved the wind and sat in the open top level (where I got smacked in the head by a low-hanging branch. Not hard, but my dignity was bruised) - and I'll hopefully have a chance to sort through the photos and post soon.

We took an audio tour of Westminster Abbey and saw more history than you could shake a stick at, including (but not limited to), the tombs of Elizabeth I, her half-sister Mary (note the Scottish thistles ornamenting the roof of her tomb), the shrine of Edward the Confessor, and Poet's Corner, which includes tablets to writers and artists ranging from Noel Coward to Handel to Olivier to Kipling. Statesmen such as Disraeli and Churchill, scientists such as Newton and Darwin, and the touchingly somber monument to the Unknown Warrior are all here.

Thanks to the efforts of WoolfWoman, we also had tickets to a special event. Although it has taken place every night for more than 700 years (including the time of the Great Fire and the Blitz), not many people know about the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. Let me just say that it's full of what the English do well - pomp and circumstance - as the Tower is put to bed for the night.

Speaking of which, I should do the same. I'm not really adjusted to the time difference yet and tomorrow's a big sightseeing day and no matter how many cups of (milky) tea I have, I just can't go without sleep.

Cheerio!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pond Crossing!

In about a week, I'll be winging my way across the pond for a two-week vacation on the Scepter'd Isle. Yep, Mockingbird's flying to England! No work, no conference, just pure sightseeing and a discreet amount of stuffing myself with clotted cream and dishes with such charming names as "toad in the hole." (No blood pudding, though. I'm very firm on that point.)

The trip has been in the pipeline for over a year and, despite an only-okay exchange rate and the very real possibility of belt-tightening to the point of being wasp-waisted this coming academic year, there was no thought of putting off the trip. There are four of us going, all theatre or English majors (well, back when we were majors in anything) and we crafted the itinerary to cover all of our likes. So it's eclectic - a little Liverpool for the Beatles fan, a little Lake District for the Wordsworthian, Somerset for the Coleridge devotee, and a little Stratford for the Bard-struck among us. Plus prehistoric rocks and posh shopping.

Truly, something for everyone.

If only I had a TARDIS for the packing . . .

I'll try to post while I'm there, but forgive me if I don't see you again for a bit!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Stompin' Grounds Re-Visited!

I spent this weekend at my college reunion. Since a lady never discusses her age, I'll be coy about just how many years have passed since I wore a flimsy creased polyester robe with matching mortarboard, but suffice it to say that it had been more than a few.

What did I learn from this experience?

Well . . .

First off, when you get the chance to go to one of these things, go. Keep your expectations low, but go. I found that time had continued its march and that was both a good and a bad thing. There were new buildings and buildings that were no longer there. For example, the theatre in which I did a fair amount of growing up was still there and still felt like home (down to the musty scent in the air - a peculiar mix of dust, paint, and magic), but I had to acknowledge that I had done some growing since then. So had the theatre - the school now has an amazing visual arts center so the theatre took over the old arts annex, turning it into a black-box studio and scene shop.

Second, people are weird. While the sharp edges of a few things had worn to a more comfortable rounded shape, well - as the Doors once wisely observed, people are strange. Whether it was just reverting to old form or a lack of forward movement, a few cliques seemed to immediately re-form. Oh, well. Hope the years have been kind to them; I haven't time to try to break in there now to find out.

Third, growing up isn't all bad. My school worked hard to prepare me for a world that was going to toss me about and not care at all how I felt about that. The road has not always been smooth and I haven't always stayed upright, but I always managed to get vertical again one way or another and these are some of the women who helped me get that way.

Fourth, I'm very, very lucky. For all the jokes about my going to a "finishing school" where pearls were issued along with freshman textbooks (they weren't; it's a joke people!), the motto is true. Women who are going places really do start at Hollins!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Seeing Your Own Town

Full spring has arrived! Around here, that means a weather report that stays pretty much the same from now until late September - "Sunny and hot with a chance of a late-afternoon thunderstorm." It's actually a great time of year to enjoy living in a small Southern town. The farmer's market is in full swing, it's warm enough to open the windows, and (with a little effort) I seem to find pockets of time to enjoy things more than in the midst of the whirl that is all too often the semester.

So - a list of things to make sure to experience and savor during this time of the year:

1. Find a baseball game. It can be pro, but I prefer the "lower leagues." Find an American Legion league game - top notch talent and I can guarantee an enthusiastic crowd. If the economic news has been getting to you, bring out the big guns and go find a team of under-sixes playing. I promise you'll feel better after seeing some kid forget where second base is, but still be happy just to be playing. Would that we were all so smart.
2. An old-fashioned merry-go-round, complete with calliope. I'm lucky in that my town has one of these that's been lovingly restored, but you can find them more easily than you could thirty years ago. In a pinch, one of the fiberglass imitations will do, but there's something about those wooden horses carved with their manes and tails so dramatically flared . . . And the nice people who run said carousel won't even look at you funny when you pick out a horse to ride yourself.
3. Shut down a coffeehouse. Round up a couple of good friends, get some strong joe and sit outside laughing and cutting up until the barrista politely tells you to scram so she can stack the tables.
4. Stroll through a farmer's market. I still don't have my tomatoes in, but I got a window box of lettuces for a "living salad" that makes me feel downright optimistic. Also, talk with the people - don't just point at the produce and grunt. I've met some very interesting people at the local market and we all know that everyone has a story to tell. What made the egg lady want to raise chickens that lay blue-green eggs? Why did the marine biologist decide to make small-batch vinegars? Hmmm.
5. Catch up on some visual entertainment when it's too wet to go outside. I still have a few Dollhouse episodes to finish (and there's always this!) plus there's an ever-growing stack of books I plan to read. Just don't spend too much time indoors - outside is lovely!

And she's waiting.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Endings & Beginnings

I'm back from my (much-needed) dandelion break - thanks for waiting for me.

I'm on the other side of the "crazy time" now. Classes have met for the final time, examinations have been given and scored, grades have been averaged and the results have been recorded. It's time to put a period at the end of this semester. Tonight is graduation at my college and my fancy-monkey regalia (complete with puffy hat) is quietly hanging in the closet, ready to make me dignified and 'spectable. (Well, as much as a hefty robe decorated with purple velvet panels edged in gold can accomplish that goal.)

In any event - whew!

In addition, the suite that houses my cubbyhole of an office is scheduled for demolition (crowbars, not explosives) on Thursday to make room for a long overdue remodel. (We get doors!) That means that everything has to be boxed and moved, but organized enough so I can still find everything necessary to teach my summer classes and continue to teach my high school class. (Side note: every tried to spark the interest of high school seniors in May? It taxes the imagination. I'm seriously considering puppets - it would at least keep me entertained!)

So there's been very little down time. I'm behind on everything - house cleaning, Dollhouse watching, garden-planting, etc., etc.

Why, I haven't even had time to tell you about my sparkly ring and the honorable FryDaddy's proposal. 'Strue. Mockingbird is otherwise engaged!

That'll make you willing to put up with quite a bit of end-of-semester nonsense, let me tell you!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dandelion Break!


My friend Opus the Penguin (from the late, lamented comic strip Bloom County) is a wise bird. He is smart enough to know that sometimes, you just need to take a break.

We're at the point now, I believe.

Every time I turn on the news (TV, radio, online, tea leaves, whatever), the news is bad.

  • Swine flu of possibly pandemic porportions
  • Skyrocketing unemployment
  • Pay cut with furlough
  • Unstable towers of ungraded papers
  • High pollen count
  • Foreclosures
  • Grade deadlines
  • Desperate nuts with guns
  • Et freakin' cetera

I'm in danger of taking things too seriously. So I'm declaring a dandelion break. I'm searching for a patch of sunshine and some bright yellow flowers that don't know they're supposed to be weeds.

Care to join me? I'll move over a little.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rampscallion Alert!

It may be Earth Day, but I've decided to publicize another, less noticed holiday. That's right, sports fans - it's time to prepare for the natal day of the Bard! Verily, ol' Billy's got a birthday coming up and you need to be ready! So permit me to present some assistance to get you ship-shape for "Talk Like Shakespeare" Day! As you can see from the link, this got its start in - Chicago?? Well, why not? Shakespeare belongs to the world, right?

What? You say you're intimidated? You claim you know nothing of iambic pentameter? Fear not - the basic rules are quite simple. Click here and become fluent in minutes! (You can also be entertained by a variety of Bard-inspired clips, including the Beatles doing a not-to-be-missed version of the "Pyramus & Thisbe" bit from Midsummer Night's Dream. There's also something about a musical version of Hamlet featuring Gilligan, but my courage wasn't screwed quite tightly enough to the sticking place to check that one out!)

And don't forget the practical applications here! Cut off in traffic and want to vent? Why settle for the mundane title of "jerk" when you can go with "yeasty deformity"? But don't trust me - try the "Shakespearean Insult Generator." Hours of fun for the entire family!

Enjoy, knaves!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Anniversaries

Overall, I love anniversaries. I think the contemporary American (of which I am one) far too easily gets all wound up in the "here & now" that we forget the stepping stones that got us here in the first place. (Then again, I'm a geek who reads the Declaration of Independence every July 4, so consider the source.)

Seriously - commemorating important events is a lovely thing. And by "important events," I don't just mean the huge things Hallmark makes cards for - birthdays, wedding anniversaries (and those guys are serious about this sort of thing!), and so forth. So many seemingly tiny things go into making you who you are and we often don't slow down enough to notice the change in scenery, so we might not have the exact date circled on the calendar of our hearts. That doesn't mean it isn't important.

But some dates are emblazoned on our hearts, etched in acid. Yesterday was an anniversary of that sort. Two years ago, a young woman named Du'a Khalil Aswad was viciously murdered by a crowd intent on slaying her to avenge her family's warped sense of honor. Look here and here, but I refuse to post a link to the actual killing, which was unbelievably captured by cell phone cameras held by members of the slavering mob.

It took the crowd a half hour to kill her. No one even tried to intervene.

She was 17. And she'll always be 17.

Please honor Du'a. Make today a new anniversary - make a difference. Sure, there are sites you can go to and add your name to a tribute to Du'a (like this one) but that may not be your cause, which is fine by me. Just make a difference. Take the extra two seconds to actually say "hi" to the teenager bagging your groceries. Smile at someone in the hallway at work. Take ten minutes to walk the long way, get outside to see the dogwoods in bloom, and know that there is beauty in the world.

Humans do some reprehensible things to each other and right now, it seems like it's happening more and more. But remember - it's only news because it's unusual. Most of us aren't like that. And we have a responsibility to remind those around us (and us, as far as that goes) of that fact.