Sunday, July 24, 2011

Maine By the Numbers: July 4 - July 19, 2011

Oh, how hard it is every time we go up to Maine to come back, but it is especially hard when I come back to a miserable heat wave in Pennsylvania. And, yes, the heat wave has hit Maine, too, but it's a little different there. For instance, at 7:00 p.m. last night, it was 93 degrees here. In Maine, it was 75 degrees. One good thing about the heat wave, though, is that it's given me an excuse to sit inside (can't risk sun burn and heat stroke, you know) and read such taxing fare as Lisa Jewell.

Despite the heat, I'm settling back in here, now that it will soon be a week since we left, and I'm happy to be back in the Land of the Best Corn Ever, as well as to be able to do things like buy my milk and eggs right off neighboring farms. I'm also looking forward to dinner with friends this evening and (I'm hoping), a "girls' night out" soon. Having just spent two weeks with nothing but the boy, a dachshund, and a cat (BTW, the latter two love Maine as much as we do, it seems), I need a little feminine companionship. I do wish, though, that the girls and I could go to Joe's Smoke Shop in Bar Harbor together (maybe, one day...).

Still, I'm reminiscing about the lovely time we had and thought I'd share some numbers with you:

# of blog posts that successfully posted themselves while I was away: 4. We don't have Internet access in Maine, and I'm no good at using the Blogger app for posting blog posts. I didn't, however, want to leave you, my faithful readers, with nothing to read for 2 weeks, so I scheduled things to post while I was away. Happy to say that it worked.

# of magnificent 4th of July fireworks displays I saw: 1. Bar Harbor shoots them off right over Frenchman Bay, and it was stunning (even when mist began to roll in towards the end. It gave the lights a certain sort of mysterious glow).

# of miles hiked: 33.88. This would have been closer to 50 if I hadn't been quite lazy a good deal of the time.

# of Scorned Woman martinis drunk at Joe's Smoke Shop in Bar Harbor: 3 (not all in one night).

# of blueberry martinis drunk at Joe's Smoke Shop: 1. Then I discovered the Scorned Woman martinis (not for those who can't handle spicy, spicy hot, but Bob and I loved them).

# of books finished: 1. "Only 1?" you very well may be asking. Yes, only one (A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler, for those who are curious). You see, just before we left, Bob convinced me to bring George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, which is well over 700 pages long, and I'm a slow reader. It's a book I'd highly recommend reading a. right after reading Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time and b. in between long hikes over mountains and through forests.

# of times I went to Beech Hill Organic Farm to buy delicious produce and yogurt: 3

# of fabulous blueberry and chocolate chip pancakes I made by stepping out the door and picking wild blueberries: 12

# of times I planned to go swimming in Long Pond: about 12?

# of times I actually swam in Long Pond: 1. I don't know why I didn't swim more, maybe because I was too busy reading A Game of Thrones.

# of chapters revised and edited in my novel: 3. We're getting there. I hope to have a readable draft by early fall for anyone who's interested in reading it.

# of new novels begun: 1. This was a complete surprise to me. I planned to work on the second draft of the already-written novel and some ghost stories, but one day, I was hiking a trail, and this whole new novel (not related to anything I've written or thought about until then) started demanding my attention, so I sketched it out a bit and even began writing the first chapter.

# of cigars smoked: 2. This is something I only do when on vacation, and I typically smoke the little, thinner, more "feminine" types of cigars like Acids.

# of pink flamingos spotted: countless. It was "flamingo days" in Southwest Harbor (apparently, the guy who invented the plastic pink flamingo is from Southwest Harbor), and we went to the parade.

# of loons spotted: 5.

# of snakes spotted: 2.

# of beaver dams spotted: 1.

# of porcupines spotted: 0. I'm convinced I'll never see a porcupine.

# of moose spotted: 0. I'm convinced moose are just legendary figures, like Big Foot.

# of months till we go back: 3. I think I can survive 3 months without a fix. We'll see...

Saturday, July 16, 2011

IABD: The Rules of Engagement

Brookner, Anita. The Rules of Engagement. New York: Vintage, 2003.

Thanks to Thomas over at My Porch, I am now a huge Anita Brookner fan. Today is Anita Brookner's 83rd birthday, and in honor of her, he has declared it to be International Anita Brookner Day (IABD). He challenged all of us to read one book by Brookner and to post on it today. He also offered some of her books up in a drawing, and I was a lucky winner of The Rules of Engagement. Easy decision, then, as to what I'd read for the challenge.

I had no idea what to expect, but Thomas and I seem to have quite similar tastes in books a good deal of the time (he's a huge Persephone and Virago fan, like I am), so I came to this book thinking I'd probably like it. What I didn't expect was that I'd sit down one afternoon just to read the first 20 or so pages to see what it was like and still be sitting there 130 pages later, all other plans for the afternoon forgotten. In fact, the only reason I put it down at that point was that I was starving and thought it might be a good idea to get a little food in my stomach.

Brookner is the sort of mesmerizing writer I love, one who pulls you into a story gently, so you don't realize what a firm grip she has on you until you are suddenly aware that there's no getting away. This book was a real page-turner, although not in the sense that expression is typically used. It wasn't action-packed or nail-bitingly suspenseful. It just was so incredibly real, and she made you care so much about her characters that you really wanted to know what was going to happen.

Back when I was in my mid-twenties, I remember sadly coming to the conclusion that making friends as an adult was so difficult, that it was very hard to make the sort of friends I'd had in school and college. When you're an adult, you just don't have hours and hours to talk on the phone and to stay up all night solving all the world's problems together. People are more guarded as adults, more afraid of betrayal. It's probably because we've learned from past mistakes and know that not everyone we consider a friend really is one. I remember thinking how rare it was to find someone with whom I clicked the way I seemed to do with people in college.

When Facebook first became all the rage, I was fascinated by the idea of re-connecting with some of the people I'd known in grade school and high school. I wondered if we could pick up where we'd left off after so many years. What I discovered, is that I couldn't. We've all led completely different lives, and it was soon clear to me that we just didn't have that much in common after so many years apart. The fact that we'd gone to school together, had slumber parties with each other, and enjoyed roller skating at the rink on Saturday nights meant nothing at this point in our lives. Maybe, it would, if I didn't live too far away from any of them to get together on any sort of regular basis, to see if we had more in common, but I didn't. Sad to say, I don't pay that much attention to their FB pages anymore.

I'm reminded of that line from The Big Chill, that William Hurt says (to Kevin Klein, I think. It's been quite a while since I've seen that movie), something to the effect of, "We knew each other for a short period a long time ago. You don't know anything about me now." It was a line that appalled me when I saw the movie for the first time, in the midst of my college career, convinced my friends and I would be as close as we all were forever. I now understand it much better than I did back then.

Brookner's book is all about such friendships. Elizabeth and Betsy (interesting that they both have the same name. Elizabeth is definitely the sort who would never have shortened it to the more playful "Betsy," and Betsy is the sort who would) are school friends, the kind who seem to have been drawn to each other, basically, because they didn't really have any other friends. They meet and become friends in the 1950s and both come of age in the sixties, a little shocked and taken by surprise by such things as the feminist movement. Elizabeth retreats in "good girl" fashion, marrying as her parents expect her to do. The man she marries is much older, and she quickly finds herself in the role of bored housewife. Betsy traipses off to Europe and falls in love with a Communist.

Later, they find each other again, two completely different women who've chosen very different paths in life, struggling to remain friends because, well, they've been friends for so long. They do have something in common, though, which is a desire to escape the lives they find themselves living. Although Elizabeth seems like she would be the more naïve of the two, she (who narrates the story) actually seems to be far more perceptive than Betsy, far more aware of the fact that they're trying to escape their lives. Betsy still seems to have the heart of a school girl: eager to be loved, eager to love, wanting others to like her. Nonetheless, Elizabeth isn't as immune to her emotions as she would like us to believe, and, just as it seemed in their schoolgirls days, these two don't really seem to have any other friends but each other.

I won't say anymore about the plot, because, really, half the fun of the book is not knowing what's going to happen. I will say, though, that one of the aspects of this book I really enjoyed was how it made me think about the women's movement when it was young and the effects it had on women who were not quite sure what to do with it. Elizabeth mentions "feminists" time and again, and she seems not quite sure what to make of the new roles being defined for women, while also seeming to feel she's missed out on something by taking a more traditional path. I've never thought that much about how hard it must have been for women who were raised with certain expectations and in certain social classes to be given the freedom they so deserved. Elizabeth's reaction, I'm quite convinced, although secretive and not admirable, was probably quite common. Broken hearts were also, I'm sure, quite common.

I'm certainly eager to read more Brookner now. I'm in luck: she's written so much. Meanwhile, I'd love to introduce her to someone else, so I'm going to pass on this book that was given to me. If you've never read her and would like to give her a try, please leave a comment. I will draw a name on July 21st and send it on to the lucky winner.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Music Monday/Lyric Lundi

I was fourteen the summer Grease came out. I can't think of a better age to be for the release of that movie. I saw it something like six times in the theater, and my friends and I danced to the album at every party we had. Even when I moved to England later in the year, my friends over there and I danced to it at every party. I was admired then for being able to sing it all with a real American accent. It's summer, what better time to watch it again and to reminisce about those teenage summer nights? Here you go.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Yeas and Nays January through June 2011

Every six months, I try to give you my six favorite reads and my six least favorite reads, for a total of twelve books you may want to read (or avoid) yourself. Inevitably, I have many more favorites than I do least favorites, and so I steal slots from least favorites and add them to most favorites, to keep the total at twelve. This time is no exception. I have nine favorites and only three least favorites. Here you go:

Couching at the Door by D.K. Broster. One of the best little collections of ghost/horror stories I've read in ages.

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Probably the most original mystery I've ever read.

The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit. A go-to comfort read, as enchanting as an adult (maybe even more so, since I marvel at Nesbit's talent) as it was as a child.

Faithful Place by Tana French. French can do no wrong in my book. This one was more Irish family saga than mystery, but still a masterful page-turner. Can't wait for her next.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Oh. My. God. My hope is that one day I will write a blog post on this one, but I want to wait until it will be more than just gushing "great book, great book" over and over.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson. This book proves that there are contemporary novelists who can put a fresh spin on English village life and succeed beyond my hopes.

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare. A perfect fairy tale.

My Reading Life by Pat Conroy. I've loved Conroy for over 25 years now. This book was like getting to sit on his front porch with him and listen to him tell stories. Great fun.

Transformations by Anne Sexton. Fairy tales made more perfect.

Jane Austen's Guide to Dating by Lauren Henderson. Not that I needed a guide to dating, but I like Jane Austen. I like Henderson's "tart noir" mysteries featuring Sam Jones, so I thought this might be a fun read. Wrong. Do not combine Henderson and Austen. I couldn't get through it.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. Just read Hamlet and be done with it.

University Ghost Story by Nick Dimartino. Chock full of all the clichés I'm terrified haunt my own efforts at writing ghost stories.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Making Way

I was suffering that Sunday afternoon in the second of the heat waves that have marked late spring and early summer this year in Lancaster County. I'd just settled down to try to move as little as possible when Bob came home from church and announced that we had a problem. Great. Just what I needed: a problem. I was sure it would probably be one that would require my going outside into the midday heat, and I was right. He told me to follow him and led me out the door, across the parking lot, and around to the back of the church where it borders on the cemetery behind it. There, he showed me a box that had eleven little Mallard ducklings in it. They were sharing the box with a shallow tray of water, but they were going nowhere near it, all huddled in the opposite corner.
"The mother laid them in one of the window wells in the memorial garden, and Carol S. found them there," he told me.

Carol is a member of the congregation who was busy cleaning up stuff from our weekly after church reception when she heard peeping in one of the windows down there. Our kitchen is located in the basement of the church, and some of the basement windows are immersed in window wells in the memorial garden upstairs. The memorial garden is in the center of the church and is completely walled in. It can only be entered by two doors, one off the church's narthex and the other off the opposite end of the sanctuary. Carol went up to the memorial garden and found ten ducklings in one window well and one lonely duckling in another.

This was a brilliant place for Mrs. Mallard to lay her eggs, as far as protecting eggs go, since very few predators (barring one little dachshund who's been in there a number of times) could get in. Once the eggs were hatched, though, it proved to be a very bad place, which frantic Mrs. Mallard eventually discovered, because she couldn't lead them out to water. All she could do was fly in and out of the garden, quacking loudly.

Carol's husband (who doesn't attend church, and so, wasn't there) happens to be a birder, so she called him to ask him what to do. He was the one who suggested the box with the tray of water and to bring them to the back of the church where the mother could get them. He said someone probably ought to sit with them and tip them over and out of the box when the mother came along. Carol had to leave, so she showed Bob, which is when he came running to get me. Okay, so desperate ducklings are a priority over Emily's beating the heat. I was instantly ready to do whatever we needed to do to reunite them with their mother. I now completely understood why, as we were walking across the parking lot, Bob had asked me if I saw or heard anything in the sky (not "ducks" but "anything." Well, yes, of course. There are always things in the sky around here).

"What should we do?" Bob asked, while I realized that my answer to his previous question should have been "no." I'd seen and heard no ducks in the sky.

I didn't know how to answer him. I did know, however, that I was beginning to understand the words "sitting duck" in a way I never before had. We had a whole box of "sitting ducks" just waiting to be snatched up by a feral cat or an eagle or a hawk (or some other "anything in the sky"). Finally, my brain quit idling and kicked into action,

"Call the humane society," I said.

We went back inside to do so. I didn't have much hope of Bob actually reaching anyone on a Sunday, but, much to our astonishment, he did. I think Bob's first words were, "Oh, thank God you're there."

The humane society couldn't help, though (they only deal with domesticated animals). They told him to call ORCA (I don't happen to know what that stands for) where he got a woman who was very helpful. She explained that, yes, we did need to go sit with them for protection and wait for Mrs. Mallard to find them, so while Bob changed from his Sunday suit into something more appropriate, I took one of our folding chairs back out into the sweltering heat to "duck sit" the "sitting ducks." By now, they'd discovered the tray of water and had all happily climbed into it (who could blame them in that heat?). I was happy, too, because on the trip across the parking lot, I had definitely heard a quacking duck flying by.

Shortly thereafter, Bob came out to join me. He took one look in the box, and his reaction could've rivaled frantic Mrs. Mallard's in the memorial garden.

"No, no! They're not supposed to be in water. The woman said not to give them any water. They can't shed it and can hyperventilate if their mother isn't here to supervise." (Hyperventilate when it was 90+ degrees? Whatever.) He immediately began picking up ducklings to get them out of the water and got rid of the tray of water altogether.

"Now, what we're supposed to do is pick one up and hold it to make it peep. After a few minutes, we should put it down and pick up another one to make it peep. The mother will hear them peeping and come, so she can lead them to the creek. When she comes, we need to let one follow her and then carry the box of the others down to the creek with them.

He sat down and held a duckling who peeped beautifully. He put it back and picked up another one who also obliged with plenty of peeps. Meanwhile, all the siblings in the box, hearing the distress of those being held, struck up an arousing chorus of peeps themselves. Lots and lots of peeping. It was the sort of noise that should have sent a mother flying. But no. No Mrs. Mallard. I started picking up ducklings myself, so we'd have two peeping soloists backed up by the chorus. Still no Mrs. Mallard.

Finally, I said to Bob,

"I think I'll go look in the memorial garden."

Sure enough. I went into the church and out to the memorial garden where I terrified Mrs. Mallard, whom I surmised had been wandering around, quacking away, dismayed that her brood had seemingly disappeared into thin air. Good thing I frightened her. She flew up and out of the garden, and I went back to Bob and the ducklings.

Mrs. Mallard now came flying around behind the church and in the cemetery. She was quacking away, which was apparently the cue for all the ducklings (obviously safe and sound now that mama was around) to shut up -- not a peep from that box that had supplied the rousing chorus a few moments before. Meanwhile, Mrs. Mallard went wandering off down to one end of the cemetery, still quacking, and completely ignoring us.

We tried following Mrs. Mallard with the box of ducklings after releasing one to her, but she was terrified of us. She half-flew/half-ran off, going back to the wrong end of the cemetery. Again, all the ducklings shut up, and she went quacking around in all the wrong directions, while we stood amongst all the tombstones holding the box with her babies.

Finally, I said to Bob, "Let's go back to where we were sitting and hold up the ducklings one-by-one again, " because I noticed that she kept heading back to that spot. This we did, and she eventually waddled up close to where we were. By now, I'd decided that following her with the whole box again might not work. We began taking one duckling at time out of the box to follow her. We took out three, at which point she decided this was her full brood and proudly began marching them off in the direction of the Pequea Creek. The three others we'd got out of the box scattered, and we began trying to catch them (no easy task. Ducklings run fast!). Bob then said to me,

"I'll catch them. You try taking the box and going after the mother before she gets too far."

so I picked up the box with the remaining ducklings and went racing after the mother. I'm afraid that as soon as I got near her, I just dumped them rather unceremoniously on the grass. They followed the quacks of their mother, though, and were soon off to make a train behind her. By now, Bob had rounded up the other three, who were already beginning to imprint themselves on him, but then they heard mother and took off with the others.

The little family marched through the cemetery and disappeared into the trees at its border. We assume they all made it safely down to the creek. The woman at ORCA had told us to check the next day at the railroad tracks, because if the mother had tried to take them over the tracks behind the cemetery instead of down the road (her two possible routes), the ducklings would probably have gotten stuck, and she'd, once again, be flying around frantically. We checked: no ducklings stuck on the railroad tracks and no frantic mom. Last week, on one of my walks, I came across a mother duck with a family of adolescent ducklings floating around in the creek. I'm pretending that's the family we saved (and, no, I didn't count to see if all eleven of them were still there).