Thursday, July 29, 2010

Urban Garden

So this year, I expanded my little "urban herbs" window ledge garden. I currently have: basil, sage, chives, rosemary, some very young dill (very hot days killed both the first and second batches), green beans!, cornflowers, nasturtiums (which have come back after nearly dying out), and a lone coreopsis. Keeping these guys alive has been an uphill battle this summer, but I am inspired by the lone sage that had been planted as a seed last year and grew back this year as a full size plant! (I SOOO didn't expect the sage to make it through the winter.) If the sage has the will power to stick with it, so do I. (And it has paid off; I just noticed my first beans!)

Urban Garden: basil

Urban Garden:basil, rosemary, sage, beans

Urban Garden: sage

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Over this past weekend, I headed out to Nantucket to visit my college friend, former roommate, and one time ice cream liberator, JeGlide. We took a ride out to 'Sconset, picked up some lunch at Bartlett's Farm, and then hit the beach. That night, we caught up with old and new (to me) friends for dinner at Town for a delicious meal and a lot of laughs, went dancing for a little while at the Rose & Crown, and then grabbed some ice cream before heading home. The next day, we got brunch, bopped around town, had more ice cream, I bought new flip flops, and then made a fast dash to the beach before I had to grab my ferry back to real life, I mean, the mainland. It is always so wonderful to see JeGlide and equally difficult to say goodbye. (Sometimes I wish she was still living in Boston, but as she enjoys living on Nantucket and it means that we can go visit her there, I try not to complain.) :)

Nantucket is really a picturesque place, and, if you haven't been there, I highly recommend going, even on just a day trip with your bike. (JeGilde pointed out the newly repaved road and bike trail.) The downtown is quaint, the wharfs have some of the most amazing boats from all over the world, the beaches are both fun and peaceful, and there is nothing like taking a shower in an (enclosed) outdoor shower at the beach. Plus, I am lucky to have a very nice friend who was nice enough to drive me around while I took a hundred photos of a lighthouse. (The best of which I added to my New England lighthouses photoset on Flickr.)

But you don't have to take my word that Nantucket is beautiful; these photos can tell you better than I.
Sankaty Head Light The Jared Coffin House

Town, Nantucket Straight Wharf, Nantucket

Hydrangeas Sankaty Head Light

Straight Wharf, Nantucket Straight Wharf, Nantucket

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"Isn't it lovely how artists can capture us?"*

Again, thanks to my daily emails from The Writer's Almanac, I learned that today is the birthday my FAVORITE PAINTER: Edward Hopper.

To me, Edward Hopper put on canvas what George Gershwin put to music in "Rhapsody in Blue". I can't articulate what that means. (I think that if I could, I would have a book deal, har har); all I can do is feel it. Both prompt such strong and opposing emotions in me: of connectedness, loneliness, complexity, simplicity, energy, and peace. The two artists are at the same time so definitive and so reflective of early 20th century America, and their works really characterize the modern era.

I had admired Hopper's work for many years, both in art books and seeing a few of his paintings at the Met and the MFA. However, after I went to see the Hopper retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts three years ago, I gained a much fuller appreciation of his work and what he was trying to do, especially when comparing his paintings of the city with more rural landscapes or the seasides. I went through the whole exhibit at a normal pace, trying not to get too caught up in the people being directed en masse by the audio tour. Then I went back to the very first room and slowly poked my way through my favorites again, lingering by new discoveries and old loves. An aside about me: I never get the audio tour at art exhibits. While I like the idea of learning about the artist and the works, I don't like the idea of being directed to specific art. Also, I find that it leads to crowding and dawdling, neither of which I appreciate. (Lingering=good; dawdling=bad - New Englander, right here.)

I don't think it would surprise anyone that I love Hopper's lighthouse paintings. I have a poster of one from the Met framed and hung in my living room. However, at this exhibit I found a new love (pictured above): Rooms for Tourists. This painting was all by itself on a little wall in the middle of a room near the end of the exhibition and is framed in a dark little frame, which, at first, makes it seem a little spooky. Closer inspection, however, reveals a warm little boarding house, snug against the shadows on a summer evening. (It is actually The Sunset Inn in Provincetown.) It normally lives at Yale, and I would love to see it again at some point.

There is a great little quote from Hopper at the end of the Writer's Almanac piece: "Maybe I am slightly inhuman. ... All I ever wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house." That is quite all right by me.

*The title of today's comes from a lyric in Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George, a wonderful musical about art and artists.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Little Light Reading

There are several sites on the internet that my friends have told me about recently that I really like. When I come across a really great website, I, of course, want to share them (as opposed to hording their URLs in my dark, damp cave like Gollum *mypreciousIlovesitmyprecious*), so without further ado, here are three websites that you may want to add to your daily rotation. (Well, I've added them to mine.)

1. Hark! a vagrant: So I actually began reading this one back at the start of the year. HILARIOUS historical/literary comics (with a bit of Anglophile slant) by Kate Beaton. It totally appeals to my sense of humor: clever, satirical, and a little bit adult. Some of my favorite ones include: the Brontes, Nicola Tesla, Holmes and Watson, and Victoria and Albert, but I honestly can't think of one that I didn't like. I was given a copy of Ms. Beaton's book Never Learn Anything From History for my birthday, and I lovelovelove it. I put it on my coffee table so that people could see it. (Now I just need to have people over so they can see it.)

2. The next website worth checking out is a JR discovery: THXTHXTHX. Basically, blogger Leah posts a "thank you" note a day (or nearly every day). But they are not to any specific person, just to the cosmos at large. My favorites of late include thank yous to: Piles of Books I Haven’t Read and Restaurant Tap Water that’s Served in a Glass Bottle. It is nice to read that someone else appreciates some of the things that I do, and it can also be a good reminder of how many great things there are in the world.

3. This last site is one that seems to be getting a bit of buzz of late: Hyperbole and a Half. I have seen links to it cropping up on Twitter and on other blogs. I was totally hooked by the entry about growing up and dealing with responsibility. It resonated with me A LOT. ("CLEAN ALL THE THINGS!" "clean all the things??" had me laughing out loud. Not that that has ever happened to me. Okay, maybe once. Or twice.) I can't wait for the next update.

So these are some reading recs for out there in the wonderful world of the interwebs. Enjoy! (And if you have a website that you think would appeal to me, feel free to recommend it in the comments. Always looking for something new to read at one in the morning when I should be in bed asleep.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"God save Tudor houses, antique tables, and billiards"*

So back at the end of January, I was invited to write a guest post on the blog Brit Fancy. I ended up writing a explanation of sorts about my love of all things British. At the time, I only posted a link to the entry in this blog, but now I think that it might be nice to have a copy up here too.
(NB.: Brit Fancy is currently on hiatus for the summer, but her readers anticipate that she will be back posting again in the fall.)

Origins of an Anglophile

When Brit Fancy invited me to make this guest post, I immediately knew what my topic was going to be: “origins of an Anglophile”, basically a bit of self analysis about what made me the kind of person who fancies all things British. I am American, and our family doesn’t have any English heritage (in fact, we are Irish) so there isn’t a readily apparent reason that I should be as enamored of England as I am. My dad refers to it as being “Britified”, and, trust me, I am completely Britified. Case in point: instead of going to a Super Bowl party one year, I went to an “Ab Fab” marathon party, where I drank close to an entire bottle of champagne, consumed a significant portion of a Terry’s chocolate orange, and laughed myself silly. (I still have no idea who won that Super Bowl, but I think that our local team, the Patriots, may have been playing. Whoops!)

I was wondering if there was one definitive thing that started me down the path to Anglophilia, and the more I thought about it, I realized that really it all started with Walt Disney. That a uniquely American institution such as Disney turned me into an Anglophile seems preposterous, but listen to my argument. I grew up listening to Disney records: the long playing storybook version of their films, the kind where you could look at drawings from the film and read along with the record. I played those records over and over again; they never lost their charm. My favorites included: Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Robin Hood, The Jungle Book, and Mary Poppins. As I grew older, this love transitioned to the actual movies. Thanks to the Wonderful World of Disney and then later the Disney Channel, I fell in love with Winnie the Pooh, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Three Lives of Thomasina, and Treasure Island. And there we have a foundation laid for some major “Britification”. (Thanks, Walt!)

As I grew older and began to inhale books, I was drawn to stories in English books for children. I was right behind Mary Lennox when she opened the door to the secret garden, enjoyed Turkish Delight from the White Witch with Edmund Pevensie, and accompanied the Fossil sisters to their ballet classes. Later on, there were Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie mysteries, “All Things” James Herriott, Jane Eyre and Jane Austen, and, by the end of high school, Dickens and Shakespeare.

I was always passionate about history, and, in college, I was able to fuse my love of literature with my love for the past. Novels became contextualized within time periods, and the worlds in the books became more concrete and understandable. Books were reflective of their particular times, but also influenced their times. Times changed, but the English character (and characters) stayed the same. I spent a lot of time sophomore year with my friend JeGlide watching and rewatching A Room with a View and eating Nice biscuits and Lemon Coolers (which, sadly, no longer exist!), wondering what my chances were of running into a George Emerson at a weekend keg party. (Non-existent.)

Through the books, plays, and films (too numerous to list here), I felt that I was given an inside look into English life, and I found it wonderfully warm, homey, and cosy. A garden party on a Sunday afternoon at the vicarage. A stiff upper lip when faced with disappointment. The pomp and circumstance of the monarchy. A brolly and Wellies to wear in the rain. (The different names for things were exotic and enchanting to me, making things like the “lorry” and the “lift” much more exciting than the plain old “truck” and “elevator” said by Americans.) Driving Mini Coopers on the left hand side of the road. Teas with scones and clotted cream. Trains that ran on time and the Underground to take you around London. This was not my life, but it was what I thought I wanted my life to be. (I grew up having to wear a school uniform so that whole public school thing wasn’t as appealing as the rest.)

I knew that it was only a matter of time before I got to England. The bigger question was posed to me by my favorite professor: would they be able to get me back to America afterwards?

In her book, 84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff writes that someone once told her that people going to England find exactly what they go looking for, and she says that she would go looking for the England of English literature. In one way or another I have encountered this on each of my trips to England, whether it be strolling down Baker Street past the Sherlock Holmes museum, looking for Platform 9 ¾ (or at least platforms 9 & 10) at King’s Cross Station during rush hour, hunting down Lincoln’s Inn Fields and the old Court of Chancery on a Sunday morning, trapsing through Bloomsbury on a crisp November evening, happening upon an actual Eleanor cross at Charing Cross, or taking the train to Stratford to visit Shakespeare’s birth place and Anne Hathaway’s cottage. These things are real, they have endured, and they have managed to retain their distinctly English character.

I work at a university that is ramping up for its sesquicentennial in 2011. One hundred fifty years seems like a long time in America. (Well, unless you are Harvard, but not everyone can be Harvard, and, honestly, would you really want to be?) That number was put into perspective the other day when we received a piece of mail from Cambridge University. The return address was embossed to commemorate that university’s anniversary this year: the big 800. I looked at the envelope, showed it to my coworker and said, “Kind of puts things in a different perspective, doesn’t it?”

What started out for me as a child’s interest in some stories grew into a love for a country and a way of life on a little island in Europe (smaller than the state of New York). It might be a little island, but it has an accumulated wealth of culture, tradition, history, and character that can be traced back to ancient times. It continues to fascinate and appeal to me, and I expect it will do so for the rest of my life.

Sorry for the repetition, readers. It was nice for me to read this again, especially as I start mentally planning my next trip to the UK. As you can see, in the original post I didn't go into any detail about my love for British music/musicians or for British television. This was mainly because I didn't want to go on for another four paragraphs about all things Britpop (especially Blur vs. Oasis) and BritComs, mysteries and "Doctor Who". I may just save that material for another post in the near future.

* Today's post title comes to us from lyrics by The Kinks.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In the Garden of Good and Evil (?)

Over the Fourth of July weekend, I was in NB, CT visiting with my family, and late in the day on Saturday afternoon, I saw my first hummingbird!!! It seemed to me that as soon as my brain comprehended what it was seeing, the hummingbird zipped away. I didn't get an opportunity to take a photo of it. (Like I would have even known how to begin to do that.) My parents were amused by my reaction because they had seen hummingbirds in this particular section of their garden for a number of years now, but I honestly do not ever remember seeing one before.

Despite my intense/irrational fear of birds (pecking my eyes out), I was actually hoping that I would get a chance to see it again the following evening. (Me actually wanting to see a bird is soooo rare, as folks can attest. Heck, I back away slowly from chickadees.) Sadly for me, it didn't make an encore appearance. (That might have been a good thing in the long run, because a bird flying that fast, with a beak that sharp and pointy, could DEFINITELY peck my eyes out.)

From this photo, you can see why it likes this area; it has "Hummingbird Docking Station" written all over it.

Flox, "Lucifer" Crocosmia

Monday, July 12, 2010

"I will have poetry in my life. And adventure. And love. Love above all." *

Thanks to The Writer's Almanac, I learned that today is the birthday of one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda.

I first heard of Sr. Neruda when I saw the film Il Postino (The Postman) the summer before my senior year of college. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy the film, but I loved the music. I purchased the soundtrack on CD before I went back to school. The soundtrack included not only the Oscar-winning score of the film, but readings of Neruda's poetry by actors. Now it is one thing to read poetry, and quite another to hear it read out loud. In a short time, I became hooked on Neruda.

Turns out Neruda also wrote a poem that is featured in one of the more moving films that I saw in college, Truly, Madly, Deeply (and if you haven't seen this yet, dear reader, I highly recommend watching, with a box of Kleenex.) There is a clip from the movie on You Tube of Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson reciting one of Neruda's poems. It is one of the most beautiful and emotional parts of the film, and Alan Rickman speaking Spanish poetry just leaves me on the floor in a big puddle of goo.

Here is one of Neruda's poems that is featured on the Il Postino soundtrack:

Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks

All these fellows were there inside when she entered utterly naked.
They΄d been drinking and began to spit at her.
Recently come from the river, she understood nothing.
She was a mermaid who had lost her way,
the taunts flowed over her glistening flesh
Obscenities drenched her golden breasts.

A stranger to tears, she did not weep,
A stranger to clothes, she did not dress.
They pocked her with cigarette ends and with burnt corks
And rolled on the tavern floor in raucous laughter
She did not speak, since speech was unknown to her
Her eyes were the color of far away love
Her arms were matching topazes
Her lips moved soundlessly in coral light
And ultimately she left by that door
Hardly had she entered the river than she was cleansed
Gleaming once more like a white stone in the rain
And without a backward look, she swam once more
Swam towards nothingness, swam to her dawn.

* In case it is driving you nuts (as it would me), the title of this post is a line from Shakespeare in Love.

Monday, July 5, 2010

"As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset, I am in paradise"

Ten years ago this month, I went on my very first trip to England. Despite some initial culture shock - such as traffic on the wrong side of the road and an initial difficulty in finding food we liked (the food thing has not been a problem on subsequent visits; I don't know what we were doing wrong) - it was a wonderful time, and, in so many ways, it almost felt like I was coming home to a home I didn't know, except in my head and in my heart.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not so much so because I was completely in love with my subject, the first time I took photographs that I really loved was on this trip. I recently took the film to get redeveloped as digital prints on a cd. The film held up surprisingly well, but I did have to do a little bit of digital editing to them to crop out a weird line that appeared at the top of some of the shots. On the whole though, I really am as pleased with how they turned out now as I was when I first saw them ten years ago.

Court of St. James Westminster Abbey
St. Paul's Cathedral Palace of Westminster
Hampton Court Palace Hampton Court
King's Cross Railroad Station The Thames & Tower Bridge, from London Bridge

post title lyrics compliments of The Kinks

Friday, July 2, 2010

Mmm, delicious, thank you! *

I really enjoy entertaining, but I don't really enjoy cooking. So I am really big on simple and delicious appetizers. This past weekend, I had some friends over to watch movies, and I served to them one of my new fun summer snacks: "salmon delights" (a name I just made up on the spot and may come to regret. My mom made these over Father's Day weekend, and I found them simply delightful!)

Salmon delights are fast, easy, and don't require an oven, which was key during all the heat and humidity that has been in the Boston area of late. They require the following ingredients:

1. Crackers (I prefer generic "entertainment" crackers that you can get at the grocery store or Trader Joe's. They are a good size for holding and are soft enough so that they don't crumble after taking your first bite. They come in butter or multigrain, so you can vary it up a bit.)
2. Philadelphia Garden Vegetable spreadable cream cheese (when it comes to cream cheese, I really think that Philly is superior to the store brands.)
3. Smoked salmon (lox) (I bought a mid-priced package of Atlantic salmon, but you can get the kind you like. Some people like the sockeye from the West Coast better.)
4. Dill (fresh or dried)

These are super easy to put together. Slice up the salmon into 1 inch wide strips. Spread cream cheese on the crackers, leaving room along the edges so that your guest's fingers stay clean. (I didn't do this very well in the ones I photographed.) Top the crackers with the salmon, tucking one of the ends under to give it an artistic look. Garnish with the dill: fresh looks prettier, but dried will do in a pinch. (I also like to add some fresh ground pepper, because I love pepper.)

My guests gobbled these up on Saturday, and I ended up making some for supper last night as I wasn't hungry enough for a full meal. Totally hit the spot!!

* "Mmmdeliciousthankyou" is a trademark saying of one of Sister K's friends. Our family has adopted it for our own purposes.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Top Ten Costume Dramas

I have just finished watching the fantastic mini-series "Edward the King (Edward the Seventh)", which covers the reign of both the king and his mother, Queen Victoria. It is a really interesting perspective on the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th from the point of view of the English monarchy. (Although it just reinforces my opinion that Kaiser Wilhelm I was KRAZY! and Victoria had a bit of KRAZY herself.) It has been especially fun to watch after seeing The Young Victoria, "Victoria & Albert", and Tom Baker chewing the scenery in Nicholas & Alexandra. I am definitely going to add it to my Netflix list of favorite British costume dramas, which is now up to 35 films.

Looking the list over, I have been trying to determine what my top ten British costume dramas would be, and I think that I have narrowed it down. So here, without further ado is my list of my favorite costume dramas (subject to change as new films/miniseries are produced.) I am not going to recap or analyze the productions, just give you a few notes about what I love about them.

10. "Horatio Hornblower": an exciting story set during the Napoleonic wars, this series follows the adventures of heroic young Lt. Hornblower, from his first days in the Royal Navy, battling seasickness AND the French, through his promotion to his own command. Extremely well played by Ioan Gruffudd and a terrific supporting cast including the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and Robert Lindsay as Captain Sir Edward Pellew. "BEAT TO QUARTERS!!" was the start up message on my cell phone for years.

9. Anne of the Thousand Days: my absolute favorite version of the Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn story. (It also happens to be one that is more historically accurate.) Richard Burton and Geneviève Bujold play their parts with such intensity and passion; it's hard not to imagine that energy didn't get taken off the set. ;) (Elizabeth Taylor stuck around to make sure it didn't.) Bujold's costumes are out of this world; it isn't surprising that it took home the Oscar for best costume design.

8. "North & South": What is it about handsome, brooding Englishmen that makes all the girls go weak in the knees? and brings out the worst in proud, headstrong young women? This mini-series set in the Victorian industrial north of England has some serious moments as it takes on the struggle of the laboring classes, but really the struggling love story between John Thornton and Margaret Hale is what is I love the best. (The scene on the train platform... SIGH.) Beautiful musical themes by Martin Phipps and gorgeous dresses on the ladies.

7. "Cranford": I love that overall this mini-series is about a nice little town with people who are a bit quirky, but are overall nice to each other as they all try to adapt and move with the times. The ladies of Cranford are just delightful. I want to drink lots of tea during calling hours and give them all big hugs. I also want to give hugs to Mr. Carter and little Harry in their little subplot. Oh, I wish there were more shows on television about nice little 19th century towns. Oh wait, there are!

6. "Bleak House": I didn't like this show when I first watched it on PBS, but rewatching on dvd gave me a MUCH greater appreciation for it. Dickens writes characters so well, and this production includes people who can really play "characters". Burn Gorman is so wonderfully horrible as "Mr. Guppy" that I can't take my eyes off of him, and Charles Dance's "Mr. Tulkinghorn" has made me complete forget that I loved him in "The Jewel in the Crown". Over the course of the series, I laugh, cry, despair, and hope. Sometimes I wish Mr. Jarndyce would adopt me. My cell phone now says "Shake me up, Judy" when it starts.

5. Gosford Park: a hilarious murder mystery/social commentary, set in a country manor house in the 1920s, complete with an all star cast of the best of Britain, and directed by Robert Altman? What's not to love!?! The fact that it has to end!! An added bonus is Jeremy Northam's gorgeous singing as he portrays actor/songwriter Ivor Novello. (I had no idea that Mr. Knightley had such a lovely tenor.) I love to watch this movie when I am feeling sick or blue.

4. Sense and Sensibility: I love this story of the Dashwood sisters; I can completely relate to their closeness. The film is incredibly romantic (hello, Col. Brandon!), and I end up crying at some point every time I watch it. It is very cathartic! (Although, Hugh Grant is sort of ridiculous.) Kate Winslet should have won the Oscar for this one; her on-screen sister, Emma Thompson, took one home for adapting the novel for the screen. (She also took home Willoughby; she and co-star Greg Wise married in 2003.) Patrick Doyle's score is one of his best.

3. Brideshead Revisited: a beautiful adaptation of Waugh's novel. You'll fall in love and break your heart with the Flyte family. Anthony Andrews is wonderful as Sebastian; he makes him lovable, sympathetic and complicated. You can't help, much like Charles, but be drawn to him. John Gielgud steals all of his scenes as Mr. Ryder, the man you love to hate! So great acting, plus amazing locations, including the Queen Mary. I desperately want to visit Castle Howard, which doubled for Brideshead in this series and in the (seriously inferior) film that came out in 2008.

2. A Room with a View: I watched this film once a week for an entire year when I was in college. It would just sweep me out of the dorm and into Edwardian Europe. The film is beautiful and romantic and shows off the heavenly Italian and English countrysides. (I couldn't decide for the longest time which was more wonderful.) The music just enhances the dreaminess of this story. (Not to mention the dreaminess of young Julian Sands and Rupert Graves.) I am resolved to make it to Florence and will have a room with a view of my very own, and hopefully it will have a Mr. Emerson to go along with it.

1. "Pride and Prejudice" (1995): I really can't say anything new about this one. It is the definitive interpretation of the Jane Austen novel, and I have owned it in all its forms: VHS, DVD, and now BluRay. Perfectly cast and extremely faithful to the book. The first time I watched it, I felt as if the book had suddenly come to life. The costumes and the locations make me wish that I was living in Regency England. (Well, until I think seriously about things like money...and plumbing. Thanks "Regency House Party" for pointing that out.) Mr. Darcy, sigh. Mr. Collins, snort. Miss Eliza Bennet, twinkle.

So here is my list. I'd love to hear if you agree or any suggestions you might have for costume dramas that would be on your list.


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