12/30/2008

Guilty Pleasures

Ah, the holidays.....Time for travel? Check. Time for shopping, errands, holiday preparations and celebrations? Check. Extra time to read books, visit with family and friends, catch up on dr appointments - check. Time to watch tv ......what ? One of the great pleasures of having extended time off from work for the holiday break is a little extra time to catch up on some of my tv viewing. Normal workweeks are often just too hectic , and I frequently get to spend my evenings grading papers and writing tests. So it is with great enjoyment and no guilt whatsoever that the hubster and I have been deeply ensconced in "Psych", "Monk, and "Burn Notice " marathons . In addition to catching up on all our favorite tv series, we have watched some golden oldies as well. We both stayed up one night till 4 am, singing along with Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins as we watched "My Fair Lady". I really counted my blessings that hubster and I both grew up watching great American musicals, and this activity was carried out with no ridicule or embarrassment on either of our parts. Christmas Eve we took a break from kid mania to catch "Casablanca" for the 1000th time. "Here's looking at you, kid." Last night it was "The Sound of Music" which kept us going, and I started thinking about a trip I took once , to the beautiful city of Salzburg, Austria.

Guilty pleasures - I pose in front of the estate where the Von Trapps lived. Salzburg, Aus, 1985
Back in my college days, I spent a summer bumming around Bavaria and Austria, and enjoyed the beautiful scenery and charming locales greatly. One of the hi-lights of this trip was touring Salzburg and taking "The Sound of Music" tour. This was nothing "official", mind you - just some entrepreneur with a bus and a sign, parked out in front of the Mozart museum. Pay yer fee and off ya go! I boarded a bus full of Americans tourists just like me, and the bus drove us around to all the exterior shots used in the movie, in and around the town of Salzburg. While we rode around, the bus driver put a little tape of "The Sound of Music" into the audio system, and all of us on the bus sang along. It was kinda fun - but also about as embarrassing as you can get. I hid under a large floppy hat - from what, I don't know. Why is this movie so beloved by folk ? Is it the good vs evil theme ? Years later, when reading The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (winner of the Man Booker Prize for literature), one of the characters says - keep in mind this novel is set in India -that the Sound of Music is her favorite movie of all time. Interesting trivia fact here : this film is immensely popular in India, as well as America. Why is that, I wonder ?



The Reader, Valkyrie, and other films

The long holiday break means I have a little extra time on my hands, and so I have been catching up on my movie watching, book reading, blogging, and other hobbies (also sorting and folding laundry, cleaning out closets, etc - I just spare you reports on those fascinating activities.) I've seen a raft of movies lately , and here I share some thoughts on some of them.
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The Reader is a film based on a novel my book club read a few years back; the author is Bernhard Schlink. It is a beautiful book, well written even in translation, and I have heard that it is widely read not only in America, but in its native Germany, as well. The Reader is the story of a young boy in post WWII Germany who befriends an older woman and has an affair with her . Through the course of this relationship the boy not only has wild passionate sex with the woman, played in the film version by Kate Winslet (is there anything she can't do well?) but as their relationship evolves, she eventually asks him to read to her, each time he visits her for a tryst. The list of books they read together runs the gamut from the classic to the mundane. Cut to years later. The boy is now older, in law school, and his law school class attends and observes some of the trials of war criminals currently taking place in Germany. Much to his surprise, the woman that the boy had been having the affair with, years before, is now on trial for her role as a guard at one of the concentration camps during the Third Reich. During the course of the trial, it becomes obvious to the boy (but not others) that the woman is illiterate, perhaps a bit low-functioning as well, and too proud to let anyone know about it. She eventually becomes a scapegoat for several of the other camp guards (it is clear she is guilty, but perhaps not as guilty as others, of heinous acts committed by them all). Eventually the woman goes to prison. The boy - now a man, re-friends her while she is there, and at this point the entire novel becomes an allegory for the relationship between the young post WWII generation and that of the older generation which was responsible for what happened in Germany in the 1930's and 1940's. Clearly the author is stating that everything the post-war generation achieved was in some part influenced, or as a result of, its relationship with the older pre-war generation. Subtle and nuanced, both the novel and film explore many shades of gray in this important historical equation. The story manages to make the reader feel empathy for all characters involved, without pandering to questions of exculpation or blame.
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I saw this movie with several members of my neighborhood book club. We agreed that the film, while slightly different from the novel, did a pretty good job of adapting this complex story from book to movie. The steamy sex scenes between the two leads make you quite forget that this is a story with a moral purpose. The young actor who played the central male character from ages 15 - 25 did an outstanding job -David Kross. I'll be looking for him in future cinematic roles with heft - he carried his part well in this one. Ralph Fiennes also had a nice star turn as the older version of the boy.
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I couldn't help but notice that, even as I am closing in on the mid-century mark in age, my companions (gen x-ers both of them, but still not spring chicks) and I were the youngest folk in the movie theater by a factor of about 20. Afterwards, I started thinking,"Why so many old folk there ? Why no one of the younger generations ?" More on those thoughts, below.......


Valkyrie - I confess to having mixed feelings on films about Nazi's. On the one hand, my first ex-husband had a lurid and unyielding fascination with them; he wrote his senior thesis in college on the economics of the Third Reich, and I once spent a summer with my ex , somewhat reluctantly, touring every single place of any import in the life of Adolph Hitler. (East Germany, West Germany, Bavaria, Austria- I've been there.) On the other hand, WWII was the last war that I can think of where "good" vs "evil" ( at least from our Allied point of view ) was clearly delineated. And let's face it, Nazi's just make great bad guys - think of Indiana Jones, The Odessa File, Marathon Man, Boys From Brazil, or The Sound of Music. I've been watching movies abut daring exploits from WWII ever since my parent took me to see Where Eagles Dare when I was around 6 years old. What a great film that is ! One of the best ever ! Richard Burton was such a hottie. I even went , voluntarily, to see WWII movies such as A Bridge Too Far as a teenager, b/c the topic was interesting to me.
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And yet.....I could convince no one to go see the movie Valkyrie with me. The topic -members of the German high command who try to overthrow Hitler - is different, mildly interesting, and one I have a little familiarity with - wrote a research paper on this subject at some point in h.s., probably for an A.P. history class. In the end, I had to bribe the hubster to go with me. In spite of the fact that Valkyrie garnered fairly decent reviews, I think most folks are simply tired of Tom Cruise at this point. I, too am tired of his personal life antics, but no matter how bizarre the man is in his private life, most of his movies are ok. Not brilliant, but not hideous either. An Officer and Gentleman isn't the great thrill for me that it is for some women, but I've always enjoyed Risky Business, Rain Man, and the Mission Impossible franchise. I confess I prefer his earlier stuff, but as far as Tom Cruise movies go, Valkyrie was ok. Suspenseful, interesting. T.C. didn't annoy me in his role here as Colonel Stauffenberg, a member of the German armed forces who tried to overthrow Hitler. His portrayal of the guy who wants to kill Hitler was not particularly revealing, or thoughtful, but what Tom Cruise film ever is ? All personal idiosyncrasies aside, T.C. does manage to look good in an eye patch - lord knows not everyone can pull that off. Hubster enjoyed the nice cinematography of various locales in Germany. Some nice supporting roles by various actors here, including one of my faves, Bill Nighy. Kenneth Branaugh also had a small role in this film which was largely forgettable.
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Once again, however, I enjoyed "people watching" the audience for Valkyrie almost as much as the film itself. I noticed hubby and I were among the younger ones in the theater. I have a theory about this, as with the audience for The Reader. I am not sure if I am correct in this, and welcome discussion on this topic: Is it that the older audiences are interested in WWII movies b/c they lived through it, or had parents who did ? (My former f-i-l was 17 years old right after Pearl Harbor, large for his age, ran off and lied when he enlisted; served several years in the South Pacific. ) Or is it that the younger folk are all home playing with their Wii Fit or Worlds of Warcraft on PlayStation, instead of watching movies about it ? I wonder what will happen when the generation that had some personal connection to WWII ( lived through it, had parent who did ) die out. Are there any other wars to take its place in our collective unconsciousness ?
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I also saw Four Christmases with Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn. If you go to this movie expecting it to be funny - skip it. All the jokes are in the commercials/trailers. It is actually a deeply sad, serious movie about relationships which reminded me waaaaay too much of my marriage to husband No. #1. I almost couldn't sit there and watch it, the scenarios were so familiar to me. Except that my relationship had no happy ending.

12/26/2008

My Family Is Just Like Yours.....Well, Maybe Not


Many folk who are meeting GFT for the first time ask me questions designed to illicit info about my family, hobbies, activities, daily lifestyle patterns. Rest assured, I am boringly middle class in most respects : I live in a "Leave It to Beaver" style suburban, two story home, on a quiet shady suburban street . I have one husband ( and one ex) , plus two sons, who are more than a little similar to Wally and the Beav. Numerous dogs, cats, and other critters. Most of my days are filled with a routine similar to your own : rouse the kids, nag them till they get dressed and off to school, work all day, come home, drive them around to their various lessons, return home, cook dinner, watch tv, go to bed, get up and do it all over again. My hobbies are of the mom sort and include friends, book clubs, reading, visiting family. Nothing really exciting , no deep dark secrets : not running a meth lab, not secretly a hooker, not running a ponzi scheme, not a member of a swinging couples swap club. I drink very little, and my wild and crazy days happened decades ago. Just like that family in the holiday movie "A Christmas Story", my husband does swear like a sailor, occasionally brings home some ugly object he thinks will complement our home decor, and we do have random domestic disasters - such as a pack of wandering dogs eating the holiday turkey - unfortunately for us, they belong to us, not any hillbilly neighbors.
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There is one aspect in which my family is probably different from yours, however. Because the hubster is a scientist, a professor at a local university, he can't help but talk about work at home. Not only that, but due to his ever-inquiring mind, he finds strange and wonderful topics of conversation in nearly everything he encounters . What causes the mold in cheese to make it so tasty ? Who invented the periodic table, and why ? What is a buckeyball ? How is a football play like a physics problem ? What is the atomic number for Darmstadium ? What causes the tides at the beach ? How does electric current make the light bulbs work ? Why does the full moon seem large some times, and smaller, at other times ? You see what I mean - the discussion never ends. As a result of all this, like the preacher's son, both our children are so blase about science, neither plans at this moment to make a career in it. Yet both of them can tell you all about nanotechnology - probably more than you want to know. We discuss all these topics and more, every night at the dinner table. Bon appetit !

Ethnic Grocery Stores in Dallas

In Texas, everything at first glance seems sort of blandly uniform and WASP-y, especially in the complex and exciting world of grocery stores. (Remember, GFT is a grocery store aficionado since her P & G days .....often it's the first and last place she hits on an international trip. ) Sure, we have a lot of great Mexican grocery stores, and even in the past 20 years, Asian grocery stores of one kind or another. There are neighborhoods in Houston, for ex, that cater exclusively to Japanese or Vietnamese clientele, and near where my mom lives in Plano there is a new pan-Asian grocery store as big as a walmart with live fish swimming in wall-sized tanks like an aquarium. I imagine the little kids with their families shopping there : "Oh, mom, look at the pretty fish !" " Beautiful- that's what's for dinner ! " But in Texas we don't have many of the same ethnic neighborhoods that are found back east, and I miss that. I know there are Greek and Jewish neighborhoods in my childhood stomping grounds of far north Dallas, but I have yet to find the secret jewel of an ethnic grocery store that I just know is tucked away somewhere in a bland anonymous strip mall nearby. Only recently overheard some Cajun folk at work talking about buying their Turduckins for the upcoming holidays, asked them where they would go to do this, and discovered a great little outpost of Louisiana only a few min from my home, in Lewisville on the way to the airport.
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So it is with great joy that I swing by Jimmy's Italian Food Store in old east Dallas whenever I am in town, and stock up on anything I just might want/need : vast complex wine selection, terrific deli with "to go" sandwiches, fresh specialty produce, that one-of-a-kind item I can't find anywhere else. My cooking often skews towards Mediterranean , it is the "go to" arsenal of recipes in my head and skills that were learned when I spent a summer as crew cook for an archaeological dig in southern Italy, way back in college. Jimmy's, much like it's German equivalent in town, Kuby's, overpowers all 5 senses the minute one steps in to the store. It is full of wonderful smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and textures that allure one down the aisles further and further into the forest till you are overcome. Half the fun is going there, the other half is planning what you will cook tonight !

Family Portrait

GFT and her little brood recently had a series of family portraits made in the Outer Banks of NC, where we "summer". (Sounds so Kennedy-esque, doesn't it ?) We've had group photos before - at weddings, baptisms, graduations, funerals, and for the ubiquitous local church yearbook. Those pictures all turned out....okay. This time we chose to have a series of "informal" pictures taken, by a truly wonderful group of Photographers known as Shooters at the Beach. I think they did an excellent job.

We shot late in the day, around 6 pm, when the colors of the sun, sand, sky and surf start to blend a bit. The photographer took a variety of shots...some were completely silly, and had us jumping up and down in the surf. I think, overall, they turned out rather well. It was a notable feat that my husband's parents came together for this event (they have been divorced for years), putting aside animosity for the Greater Good. I was glad they did; you never know what twists and turns lie down the road of life.


Here we have three generations : hubster's parents, his brother and sister and their spouses, all the grand kids that are not four-legged.

12/25/2008

Anglophilia

Many who know GFT would suspect her of a secret dose of Anglophilia. It is a common affliction among English teachers - they tend to fall into one of several camps. There are the poets, the sensitive types, long -haired, free-spirited Birkenstock wearing creative writers. There are the American Lit folk - often with a New York Times or Atlantic Monthly folded under their arms, coffee drinking, crossword puzzle fans, busy planning to attend a retrospective on Saul Bellow or Ntosake Shange . Then there is every one's quintessential H.S. English teacher - forever wearing her hair in a bun, peering inquisitively at you over bi-focals with those intense gray eyes while reciting from memory large selections of the romantic poets. GFT is in actuality none-or a little bit of all - of these types (clearly stereotypes - tsk, tsk ! The very thing she would recommend you avoid in your own writing ). GFT has taught, over the years, nearly every grade of English throughout the middle and high school spectrum and as a consequence loves something about each of them : American literature, British lit, world lit, literature of women, Jewish American lit, African American lit, Chinese American lit, Southern lit, South American lit, the classics, modern novels, creative writing, journalism, remedial English, advanced English, and everything in between. I especially enjoy Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Arthurian legends. My reading list of choice these days is more often than not from the Man Booker Prize ( Britain's equivalent of our Pulitzer.)
The Anglophilia that GFT professes does not stem simply from a job description, however. It all goes back much further, to GFT's childhood. A nerdy, lonely child, GFT spent way too much time reading novels - children's classics, of course, but I soon ran through all the available children's books at the time. (Remember, this was back in the day when there were only 3 tv channels, total, and cartoons for only 30 min, once a day) By 5th grade I had plowed through all the great reads such as the Little House series, the Narnia series, A Wrinkle in Time, Earthfasts, A Secret Garden, Charlotte's Web, and pretty much everything Zilpha Keatly Snyder ever wrote. I then moved on to adult books. I started with Uncle Tom's Cabin and Gone With the Wind for school assignments, but quickly learned not to be daunted by the mere length of a book and even read War and Peace, Huck Finn, all the mystery novels my mom had laying about the place, and tried to teach myself Latin and Greek. (Many of these passions were shared by several of my wonderfully nerdy - ahem, gifted- childhood friends. ) One of my earliest favorites was Jane Eyre, which I read for the first time in 6th grade. (Yes, I not only read books - I re-read them.) I soon moved on to Jane Austen and Dickens and .......by 7th grade, decided that the best way for my friends and I to survive the travails of junior high was for us all to run away to England (together, naturally). I plotted it all out, how it could work .......and still hope , someday, to take that trip with those friends. My BFF and I just knew that we were the modern day reincarnations of Lord Peter Whimsey and Harriet Vane, perhaps the most wonderful fictional characters ever, immortalized by Dorothy Sayers . The tender romance of it all was just too enchanting.

I confess that as a young adult, my British passions took on a more commercial , superficial aspect. Perhaps as a result of years of reading about characters from Britain, it wasn't enough to want to go there - which I did , several times in college - but I had to dress like them, too. I was fortunate to receive the magnificent gift of a "grand tour" as a high school graduation present (that in itself a veddy British notion) , which included a stop in England as part of its overall program . Later, I spent a significant portion of a summer motoring about Stonehenge, York (checking out Hadrian's Wall), and Scotland (shopping in Edinburgh and trying to get to Findhorn).The dollar was strong, the pound was weak, and it was a glorious time to be an American shopper equipped with credit cards. This began my life-long love of British consumer goods, especially clothing, crystal, china, decor as a general concept, and bric-a-brac.

Many years later, when I was dating the hubster and trying to decide if he was "sponge-worthy", we happened to have one of those many "test" conversations that women often have with men, sending out little relationship flares, to see if the man is the right sort or not. Men often have only a vague notion of what is going on - often it comes with a sense of foreboding, the man knows he's being tested, he's just not certain what the exact criteria of the test is. These minefields are many and often involve the "does this dress make my butt look fat?" type conversations for which there is no good answer. Somewhere in all this, the hubster and I got to talking about crystal and china - we hadn't even decided to get married yet, this was all hypothetical, you understand - and it turned out we each, at the age of 34, owned a set of Wedgwood china. (Mine from my former marriage, his b/c his mother bought him a basic white set for future use. What's not to like about that ? ) CHECK !!!! Hubster scored correctly on that test. Then he added, quite unknowingly, the coup d' etat : His favorite character from his favorite novel series (by Andrew Greeley) was an Irish Catholic priest named Blackie Ryan who loved to drink Bushmills whiskey from his Powerscourt crystal glasses. From that moment on, GFT knew this was the man for me ! When we married, we started collecting Waterford Powerscourt crystal as "our" pattern. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, purists will say, "it's Irish, not English" - ok, we know that ! So do the British, who are not afraid to take the best from their empire , whether it's curry and silk or the Elgian marbles or Scottish woolens or Irish crystal.) The crowning touch was achieved many years later, when my mother and I found a complete set of Wedgwood china (this being my third set) at a discount shop, and it was the very pattern that matched our Powerscourt crystal (Waterford and Wedgwood having joined forces, several years previously, and now are some sort of jointly owned company.)

So it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I would end up Anglican- er, Episcopalian. I started this quest as a teenager (my childhood minister , a boldly confident kindly Presbyterian, took us on a tour of other faiths as a part of confirmation class; we visited everything from a mosque to a temple to the local Catholic church, Baptist church, Unitarian, Episcopal, etc), continued the journey through a series of Episcopalian boyfriends, and was confirmed in my mid-20's. I have raised my sons in this faith - they were each baptised and confirmed in the strangely archaic and beautiful traditions of the American Episcopal Church. Both have served many years as altar boys at our little local church. It is with agonising sadness that I observe the slow-motion train wreck that is happening in the American branch of the world-wide Anglican Church at the moment. To the uninitiated, the church is in the midst of a painful split over the issue of gay and women bishops ....churches are pulling away from the mainstream, little neighborhood chapels with their attendant youth groups and VBS about to be left behind, as the non-resolution of these controversial issues completely rends the fabric of this beautiful, comforting, tradition-bound religion. I am not sure how it all will end up - but it may be the end of my Anglophilia.

The Dream

"Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place. . . . With us it ain't like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don't have to sit in no bar room blowin' in our jack jus' because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us."

I just finished teaching Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men to my tenth grade English II students. It is a standard book to be taught at this grade level; in fact my prescripted teaching plan informs me that I must teach it in the fall of each year. Teachers are routinely affected not only by their own reaction to novels, stories, and poems they must cover in their classes , but by the reaction their students have to what is taught, as well. I confess I started out this unit thinking this novel was trite and "overdone", a candidate for the "academy of the over-rated" (as a pair of Woody Allen characters once so glibly announced - a grouping which includes many of my admittedly tres passe favorites such as Isak Dineson and Van Gogh). But as I moved through the unit , in the process of exploring the novel with my students, I came to admire the simple themes of friendship and caring this novel presents. (Many would argue this novel is a bleak condemnation of society and man's inhumanity to man - I chose to focus on the positive aspects.) My students and I related the rough word of Depression - era farm workers to the rough world of high school social cliques, and this comparison surprisingly worked. Our class discussion and writing activities made the novel very real and relevant to a gaggle of 16 year olds living in small town America. I enjoyed teaching it and the kids talked about it so much, I think they enjoyed reading it.
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As I taught this novel, and in particular worked through the recurring symbolism of "the dream", (the fantasy George repeatedly spins for Lennie about buying their own land, raising their own food, nobody to tell them what to do or when, a cozy warm cabin with a fire to grow old by, Lennie being allowed to tend the rabbits) which represents various things to the central characters, such as : 1)freedom from want, 2) a life of self-determination, bound together by individuals without extended social networks who form impromptu "families" made of up friends who care for one another, and, some argue, 3) the only version of "heaven" the hobos in the novel can imagine, I came to realize that my teacher friends and I also have a "dream". It is every bit as potent to us as the one shared by George and Lennie. It goes something like this :

1)In my early working years , my colleagues and I would sit around at lunch in the teacher's lounge and fantasize about joining together to create a school. Our own school. Our ideal school. A school founded and funded (no matter how, we would figure this part out, somehow) by teachers, run by teachers. A school where, in this ideal fantasy, things would be done "the right way" - not subject to the push-me, pull-you situations created by the oft -competing desires and goals of state boards of education run by legislators with individual agendas to push, PTA moms, powerful coaches, helicopter parents, good administrators, bad administrators, or NCLB regulations and the constant testing-driven world that education is these days. A school that would be rigorous and creative, nurturing yet strong - balanced. In the early years of one's career, while the fire is still burning brightly, these fantasies are rampant. Some people act on them - if they are young enough, not pinned down with a mortgage or kids. One reads about all those idealistic young teachers graduating from Ivy league schools creating foundations and raising millions to teach inner city kids. I say, "power to them ! " Someday when I retire, I may join the Peace Corps and teach in Africa or Asia.

2)As I have gotten older, however, the version of "the dream" that my teacher friends and I talk about at lunch each day has changed. Many of us are baby boomers, former hippies types who are getting closer to retirement now. Our new version of the dream focuses more on what we would like to do after we retire. It goes something like this : Several of my friends and I would get together, pool our money and buy a big piece of land outside of town. (We live in the ex-urbs anyways, so this is relatively easy and realistic for us to do.) Hopefully this would be a lovely, habitable, useful piece of arable land, with a creek, trees, and rolling meadows - common to north Texas. Each member of the "commune" would get their own individually deeded portion of land, perhaps in a pie-shaped wedge, so all the sections would touch each other in the middle. Individuals would be free to build their own home, however she or he saw fit. Develop one's property , or not - the dream involves land portions large enough that one need not fear, in the words of Laura Ingalls' Wilder's father, of "seeing the smoke from another man's chimney" ( a clear sign that the neighborhood was getting too crowded, and it was time to move further west). We would each specialize in our individual talents - one friend an avid hunter, one an organic gardener, one an artist, one a gourmet chef. We would grow and create and share and each contribute what we individually enjoy doing most - in a system of barter that would mutually benefit all. One would grow the vegetables and other would cook the meal. A group dining hall and rec facilities would sit at the center of the pie-shaped wedge, available for those who wished to socialize, but not required for those who did not. We'd have freedom from want, could control how our days went and what we spent them doing.

Now I know that Utopian societies had their heyday in America over 150 years ago, and were fairly common, especially in the northeast. Many of the ideas of this dream are not new - they were expressed perhaps most famously by Emerson and Thoreau and lived out by artists and craftsmen, preachers and kooks, in little villages from Massachusetts to central Texas, from Oneida to Reunion. Sadly, none of these societal experiments lasted long - and the solution to that question, I think, can be found in another novel I will be teaching this spring : Animal Farm.

12/03/2008

Sounds of the Season

I was standing in the elevator at the doctor's office just the other day , and some of that nauseating holiday muzak was playing. The cheap cheezy kind, you know what I mean, no discern able artist, the kind where you can't get that annoying refrain out of your head, no matter how hard you try. Thinking I was alone, I muttered to myself ,"F-L-O-G, I absolutely HATE this time of year ! " - just as the door to the elevator opened and a large officious looking woman walked in. When the elevator door closed, I had a very uncomfortable 20 second ride with this woman, who glared at me the entire time while looking me up and down as though I were some sort of space alien, because she thought she heard me say I hated Christmas. Now granted, in theory we have freedom of religion, assembly, and speech in this country, so I am free to like or dislike whatever I want, but living here in the buckle of the Bible belt, any person who hates Christmas is just, well, un-American.
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I spent many years of my young life working in a variety of finer and lesser retail establishments, and listened for countless hours to those Christmas jingle tapes which stores play in endless loops ( it used to be they started after Thanksgiving, but lately they seem to start after Halloween), all of which are somehow supposed to encourage shoppers to "buy, buy, buy". When I was a kid , people used to say there were subliminal messages in those tapes.....after years of listening to them, I am not so sure. All I feel like doing, after hours/days/weeks of listening to them, is drive aggressively, and vent a little pent up energy by way of road rage, not shopping frenzy.
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True, there are many other things that drive me crazy abut the holiday season, as well, esp as relates to the way we live in in this consumer-oriented overly media-ized wonderful nation of ours. (Read "12 days of Christmas", for more info on that topic.) I hate the endless tv commercials that try to convince my kids to nag me to buy things they really don't want or need, having too many school/kid activities all spaced into the 2 weeks prior to school letting out (all in the name of "family togetherness" - how about letting me decide how to spend time with my own family?), feel guilty about more hands out, asking for donations than I can comfortably contribute to, and worry about students of mine who might go hungry or have nothing at all in the way of Christmas gifts.
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In spite of my seeming "Grinchy-ness", however, there are many things I love about Christmas. I loved it when I lived back east to go outside, esp at night, for the first really serious snowfall of the season, and look up into the sky, and watch the spiraling effect of the snow as it comes down onto your face. I love to curl up in front of roaring fire with cookies and hot cocoa and good book to read. I don't mind listening to carolers who come to the door - so few do , any more. I loved watching my children's faces light up, when they were little, and they opened their gifts. I loved watching our old boxer, Leto, pull my son around the yard in a little sled we tied to his collar. I have always enjoyed decorating, putting up the tree ( had a live one, till my son came along who was allergic to them), looking at the holiday lights in the dark. Used to go ice skating - when living in Houston, at the Galleria. When living in Westchester Co, NY, on the pond at the bottom of the hill from my home. Skated there with my dog, Addie, while the neighborhood kids played hockey all around us. When I taught at EHS, I used to really love their Christmas "Lessons and Carols" service most of all. The choir master there was trained in the British tradition , and the music program at that school was just breath-taking. The student choir was really beautiful , with those high, arching voices, echoing down the long narrow nave, just like angels.
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I still do enjoy, and listen quite a bit, to special holiday themed music. It's just that my idea of glorious Christmas music is often quite different from that of the store manager at my local discount center or the dj at the local "top 40" radio station. Muzak, in fact any sort of whiney pop fakely peppy pseudo - rock holiday tunes are absolutely unbearable to me .They make me nauseous and wish fervently to run as fast as I can away. I love jazzy holiday standards from the 40's and 50's : Bing and Benny and Ella; all the Vince Gauraldi music form the "Charlie Brown " Christmas special, and modern crooners such as Norah Jones and Josh Groban and Micheal Buble. But most of all, I love old English church music.....from medieval monks chanting to Victorian hymns. "In the Bleak Midwinter","O Holy Night", "What Child Is This ? ". Some of the songs I love are old carols from France or Germany : "Bring a Torch, Jeannette Isabella. " "Still, Still, Still". My favorite Christmas song of all is titled "Once in Royal David's City". It is the traditional first song of my own church's Christmas Eve Mass. It starts small, with one little choir boy's voice, perhaps recalling the Christ child or a little shepherd boy who has come to see Him. The next verse builds to several singers ( I always imagine, more shepherds, or the Wise Men). Each stanza grows and grows, more majestic, with more singers, until the organ chimes in and the whole church joins , too. It is like all of heaven has opened up to sing along. Makes me a little verklempt, just thinking about it.

Here, you can listen for yourself :
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pc_Mo2KrIzw&feature=related

11/26/2008

Make Me Immortal in Your Art !

Several years ago, for my second 39th birthday, a friend of mine who wishes to be known only as the mysterious "Trebuchet" commissioned the comic strip artist Dan Piraro (famous and beloved for his syndicated comic strip "Bizarro") to draw a cartoon portrait of me for a birthday gift. My friend used as a model for this picture a famous, or infamous ( depending on how one thinks about it) picture of me that was taken back in the day when GFT was young, slim, nubile and unwrinkled. The gesture was a kind one - Trebuchet knew I was angsting over this particular birthday, difficult as those bdays ending in "0" often are. And so it is that I own this lovely tribute - to my youth, to our friendship - and I am forever immortalized in a work of art. Any woman should be so lucky.
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To see the original photo that inspired the cartoon, see "The Story of a Photo" in this blog, March 2008.

11/18/2008

The Jolly Lama

A few years back, I was fortunate to be introduced by my gf "C" to a rather eclectic local group , which has no formal gathering time/place or name, but whom I refer to as the Denton Buddhists. Such a group contains the usual assortment of ex-hippies, free-thinkers, wannabees (I include myself in that label) and this being a 2 college town with a fair number of international students and professors, folks from all over the world for whom Buddhism is their native cultural practice.

These folks , as far as I can tell, assemble in a variety of ways, and mostly seem to know one another - how, I am not exactly sure (being a "new-comer", having lived in town only 11 years, and barely on the fringe of acceptance, myself) ......I know there is a funny sort of Japanese temple-looking building here in town, known to natives as " the ashram" ( recalling those long ago days of the Beatles White Album and Haight Ashbury and all that implies) and which, as far as I can tell, is known chiefly nowadays for offering an oxygen bar and yoga classes in the late afternoons. The local Unitarian church offers yoga too, as well as holds a meditation session on Monday nights ( which I have not yet attended, b/c it conflicts with too many kid activities for which I am still designated chauffeur.....but someday, when Son # 1 can drive.......) We have a small but charming locally owned organic grocery food store here in town, kind of like Whole Foods but not as yuppified, that has a wonderful cafe inside - I have seen some of the same faces there. And to the uninitiated - i.e., me - that seems to be all I can find out about this group, where they hang out, what they do.

I keep asking all whom I meet : Where can I go to learn more about the practices of Buddhism ? Where can I study / learn to meditate / buy books / talk to others ? The answers to my queries are vague.......perhaps this group, Buddhists trying to co-exist in this land of the Bible belt, is deeply underground. Perhaps it does not exist in any formal sense. That would be typical of the beliefs of many Buddhists I know.

So it is with a brief sense of joy, however tenuous - similar in nature to that one day a year when all the monarch butterflies pass through Texas on their way to their winter's sojourn in Mexico -that I join other folks in town interested in learning more about Buddhism for a lunch with the Jolly Lama. Who is the Jolly Lama , you ask ? He is Lama Rinpoche Dorjee, (Dagpo Rinpoche, born in 1932 in Tibet, was recognised by the 13th Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the great master Dagpo Lama Rinpoche Jampel Lhundrup. His previous reincarnations include the Indonesian master Lama Serlingpa, who was the main teacher to Lord Atisha, as well as the translator Marpa, master to the famous Milarepa, sayeth his own web page), and he makes the trek to Denton once a year to help local business woman Angela Sangmu , (owner of a wonderful little shop, Juliet's Jewels, which sells clothing, handcrafts and jewelry from Tibet, India, and other Asian countries) celebrate her birthday. She graciously shares these visits with all in town who are interested in listening to a few words of wisdom from Lama Rinpoche, who is known as "the jolly lama" due to the natural and joyful use of humor in his teachings. The J.L.'s visits start with sharing a truly gourmet pot-luck lunch ( mostly, but not entirely vegetarian). Folks loosely associated with the Denton Buddhists gather together, eat, then listen to the Jolly Lama give a little talk on whatever he feels is the Topic du Jour. This year, it was how to focus and survive, by altering one's thinking, in a time of economic crisis and upheaval. Could not have been more timely .....and the things he says, simple core Buddhist ideas, hit right home to me. I enjoy this day very much, and look forward to it each year.















25th College Reunion

I went to my 25th college reunion recently, and it was not only a trip down memory lane, it was (as we used to say in the 1960's) "a trip, man" - in all the meanings of the word.
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For this gala event, hubster and I (we both attended Rice U, and both graduated 1983 - so this reunion event was one we shared) decided to take a Friday off work - something we have never, ever until now, done- to drive from the DFW area to Houston. We decided not the leave the kiddies home with granny, (they are getting too wild and woolly for her to manage these days), but opted instead to park the junior rugrats with my ex for the weekend - that , in itself, was a Christmas miracle......still not sure how I convinced him to take the little devils ! My ex just happens, conveniently, to live in the same town our reunion was being held in, so we had to take the kids out of school for a day, too - to make all this work out. We've never really been the kind of parents who pulled kids out of school to go on a family vacation; have always preached that school is important and comes first, but it was the only way we could make this weekend, which kicked off with a Friday afternoon cocktail party, work.
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So off we all drove on a sunny autumn day, heading to hubby and my 25th college reunion .....hubby looking forward to a weekend of drinking too much and convincing himself he is the same person he was . I was filled with a bit of trepidation, not really wanting to relive being the person I once was, or the person I was supposed to be now.
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Hubster attends these college reunion events every 5 years, and knows what to expect. He has also kept up with all his old college buddies much better than I have . Neither one of us is the kid we were 25 years ago ......at the cusp of middle age, who really is ? Hubster was not too cool in high school, but "blossomed" into a widely known and popular campus character known far and wide as "Bluto" during our college days. I think I reached the apex of my social life in high school, and was sort of an odd duck in college. Not sure where I fit in - had some popular friends, but alternated between them and some rather quirkier sorts, as well . Worked long hours, lived off campus some, avoided mainstream spots like the dorm dining hall. Didn't take the expected path after graduation, either....For the most part, the choices I have made in my life in terms of career, husbands, how I live, what I spend my money on, are all deliberate ones. In the words of Robert Frost :

"Two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. "

Corny though it may sound, this quote holds great meaning for me. I started my college career thinking I'd be a lawyer. I finished my undergraduate days planning to get a PHD in history or anthropology and be a college professor. Life sort of got in my way - I needed to work right off the bat to support myself, couldn't afford years of grad school, and wasted almost a decade of my life supporting husband number # 1, thus putting my own dreams and career goals on hold. After awhile, I made the conscious decision that a career in teaching met my core values ( service to others, working with young people, not too terribly materialistic, prefer to spend my time thoughts and energy on academic interests, and a strong desire for periodic time off .) I've been a teacher for 20 years now and never regretted it. It was an unfashionable decision during the 1980's . Most of my peers were engineers, pre-med students, or went on to get law degrees or MBA degrees. Twenty years later, they are all comfortably wealthy. Many of these women married well and have not worked for awhile. I'm not really complaining about my life ; I am comfortable with the choices I have made, and enjoy my life. It is exactly as I wish it to be, and I wouldn't change a thing. But I have very little in common with most of my old college buddies these days. Our paths are so divergent that it leaves very little available in terms of meaningful conversation at this point......maybe if we kept up more, maybe this is why we don't. So spending a weekend with my old gfs, engaged in small talk about the kids, who vacationed where, what our husbands were doing - all the while secretly assessing each other carefully, to determine who's had a little "work " done on themselves, and who has yet to do so - was a sort of slow torture for me, comparable to the medieval practice of being placed on the rack for 48 hours. One emerges taller, certainly, but with a lot of emotional wear and tear.

Don't get me wrong - I love my old friends. They are part of who I am - or was. But as with most things women create, our relationships are so ........complex. We were a generation of smart, competitive women who graduated from a challenging , tough university. Many of us are at the top of our careers , having surmounted a variety of mountains to get there. I am proud of us all, proud to know my old friends, proud to be among them. Sometimes, I wonder : do we compete now over non-important things, because, like Alexander the Great, we have no worlds left to conquer ?



Hubster, with his guy friends, never has these issues. In the words of Henry Higgins from "My Fair Lady" : "Why can't a woman be more like man ? " All hubster's buddies want from their reunion experience is to drink some beer and act ridiculously childish for a few days, like they did all those years ago. Retell all their old war stories, laugh at all the silly things from days gone by. Because they perpetuate the old collegiate habit of dressing schleppy, there is no subtle competition over who has the most expensive purse/shoes/jewelry. Economic barriers fall by the wayside if everyone is wearing khaki shorts and a collegiate t-shirt. The ubiquitous base-ball cap covers varying degrees of baldness. Their simple revelry , releasing the inner Id, so long ago clamped down by the Superego they exercise most days, was refreshing. I can understand why one of them said to me, as we parted ways when the weekend was over , "Uh, ok guys, see you again in another 5 years ?"

"You bet ! " I replied. "We'll keep doing this, even if we have to gimp along, in our walkers ! We just need to invent a walker with a beverage holder attachment."

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From the musical "My Fair Lady", words and music by Lerner and Lowe. This song is titled "Hymn to Him", and is actually rather ironic : It comes at the moment in the story where Eliza has been received at the ball as a princess, and Henry Higgins has won his bet with his friend, Col.Pickering (that Higgins could pass Eliza, the Cockney flower girl, off as a "lady" by changing her diction and speech). Eliza is heart-broken that Higgins congratulates himself, but not her, for this achievement, and Higgins, perplexed and angry that Eliza has left him, makes the following argument, in a song, with Pickering. Of course, both men have missed the point : They are so self-congratulatory that they don't even realize how they have hurt Eliza's feelings.

HIGGINS Pickering, why can't a woman be more like a man?

PICKERING Hmm?

HIGGINS Yes... Why can't a woman be more like a man?

Men are so honest, so thoroughly square;

Eternally noble, historic'ly fair;

Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat.

Well, why can't a woman be like that?

Why does ev'ryone do what the others do?

Can't a woman learn to use her head?

Why do they do ev'rything their mothers do?

Why don't they grow up- well, like their father instead?

Why can't a woman take after a man?

Men are so pleasant, so easy to please;

Whenever you are with them, you're always at ease.

Would you be slighted if I didn't speak for hours?

PICKERING Of course not!

HIGGINS Would you be livid if I had a drink or two?

PICKERING Nonsense.

HIGGINS Would you be wounded if I never sent you flowers?

PICKERING Never.

HIGGINS Well, why can't a woman be like you?

One man in a million may shout a bit.

Now and then there's one with slight defects;

One, perhaps, whose truthfulness you doubt a bit.

But by and large we are a marvelous sex!

Why can't a woman take after like a man?

Cause men are so friendly, good natured and kind.

A better companion you never will find.

If I were hours late for dinner, would you bellow?

PICKERING Of course not!

HIGGINS If I forgot your silly birthday, would you fuss?

PICKERING Nonsense.

HIGGINS Would you complain if I took out another fellow?

PICKERING Never.

HIGGINS Well, why can't a woman be like us?

Why can't a woman be more like a man?

Men are so decent, such regular chaps.

Ready to help you through any mishaps.

Ready to buck you up whenever you are glum.

Why can't a woman be a chum?

Things I Am Thankful For

"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one...just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Ch. 1
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Nick, the narrator of Fitzgerald's novel, The Great Gatsby, is given this advice by his father, and I think it is good advice for many of us to follow. You may recall that Nick is the sort of moral compass in that story, it is against his solid mid-western values that the various characters play out their little dramas; he is the judge of their performances, actions and motivations,and finds many of his friends and family lacking in their ethics.
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GFT is acutely aware that, in spite of some periods of stress and upheaval, she has had an overall marvelously charmed life. Every day I see students and children who wonder if there will be dinner on the table that night, who have no parents, or parents who mistreat them, or are unable to care for them as much as they would like, or are homeless, or suffer from unimaginable problems that make anything I have ever had to live through seem absolutely mild in comparison. I am reminded on an almost daily basis that "the problems of two little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy mixed up world of ours", (Rick to Ilsa in "Casablanca"), and so on Thanksgiving, and most other days as well, I am extremely thankful for many things.
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(In no particular order)
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I am thankful that I have two beautiful, healthy, bright, handsome children. I spent years trying to get pregnant - had 5 surgeries to correct endometriosis and other gynecological issues, and went through 2 nightmarish pregnancies ( the 1st due to an abusive first husband, the 2nd due to health problems related to the pregnancy itself ; 2nd husband was very nurturing and helpful in that pregnancy). I had my kids relatively late in life, and for the longest time I never thought , as the years waned on, that I'd ever get pregnant or have a child of my own , at all. So I am always counting my blessings , every time I think of my kids - even when I am yelling at them for the awful things they did that moment . And I am grateful they are healthy, and hearty, and full of spunk and mischief. I have taught disabled students for over a decade, and while I care about them, I see how their parents have struggled to raise them as best they could, and what a long hard road their lives have taken.
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I am thankful for husband # 2, the hubster, for while he annoys me greatly a huge percentage of the time, he also makes me laugh, and for that reason alone I think I'll keep him. He is smart enough to never bore me - that is a difficult feat. He has given me a good life, overall; rich in family where I had little, full of holidays at the beach and interesting adventures both home and abroad, as we traverse our lives' journey together. I just wish he could remember to put the toilet seat down and finish the various home repair projects he has started.
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I am thankful that both hubster and I have good jobs, and to have a job that I don't hate.
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I am thankful that I live in a charming, pleasant, relatively stress-free, low-cost area of the country.
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I am thankful for books and newspapers,especially, that feed my mind and inform me of so many countless things.
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I am thankful for good weather -when I experience it.
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I am thankful for the many advantages I had as a child : middle to upper middle class upbringing; parents, who although flawed loved me as best they could, gave me all they could, including a first class education and many cultural opportunities, enough family money to ease some of life's troubles yet not so much as to make me jaded or careless with it.
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I am thankful for the Impressionsist and Renaissance artists, scultors, and painters.
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I am thankful for all my friends and family, without whom life would not be worth living.
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I am thankful my children do not have ADHD.
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I am thankful, every day, but am reminded of it more strongly when I travel abroad, that I live in a country where I can : vote freely ; voice my opinion without fear of reprisal, live /travel/go where I want; wear, shop, eat, hang out with whoever or whatever I want - what Norman Rockwell illustrated in his series of paintings, " the 4 freedoms",one of which is pictured above.

11/05/2008

Things I Love about Denton

GFT has lived in many places : born and raised in Dallas, Tx. Moved to downtown Houston, lived there for over 13 years. During that time, interspersed here and there, I spent a summer in Los Angeles/Orange County , 6 months in downtown San Francisco ( Stockton St near Chinatown) , little over half a year living in semi-rural northern suburbs of New York City. I also called the Washington, DC area home for 3 years - lived in Alexandria, Va; worked in Silver Spring , Md (near Kensington). I love big cities, but I also enjoy small town life. It was after the frenzy of trying to live, work, commute, and raise our two young children in the DC area that the hubster and I decided we needed to leave the insanity of Big Cities and find a more family-friendly place to raise our little brood. Hubster commenced a job search and had several interviews/offers . After much analysis, discussion and thought, GFT and hubster loaded up all their belongings and moved to Denton, Tx.
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We decided we were looking for several key things which we found all in this one location : affordable housing, proximity to a major air hub , also to a major city, yet wanted to avoid the "bedroom community " syndrome, where everyone is the same ethnicity, religion, income level, and boringly snooty of those not like themselves. I threw in the requirement that Mexican food be readily available, (really suffered withdrawal when away from it ) and hubster requested not having to shovel snow. Given that hubster is a college prof, we knew we'd be living in a college town, large or small - another important plus . Our latest hometown, even after a decade, still charms us on a near daily basis with the small town feel and cute touches (old fashioned ice cream parlor, roller skating rink, longhorn cows dotting pastures on the edge of town ) and the fact that , after living in the northeast, people are so amazingly polite. They actually wave to each other at four-way intersections, "no, you go first". Lots of "yes , ma'am" and "no, sir". People honk "howdy" if they pass you on the street. Lines in grocery stores are civilized; if several lines need to merge, people take turns. Boys hold open doors , old men tip their cowboy hats. (I spent pregnancy #2 in the DC area, and routinely , while hugely pregnant, had people slam mall shopping doors in my face, not offer me seats on the metro, and one guy in a movie ticket line pushed me roughly b/c he thought I was trying to line jump- I wasn't.)
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There are many wonderful things about my new home town, not just the manners of its denizens. That is difficult to capture in a photo, so here I've chosen to focus on a few of the places in this town that fill me with joy. Top of this posting : the downtown square, in twilight. I drive past this site several times a week, and it is especially breath-taking in the winter, when the leaves have fallen off the trees and you can really see the old courthouse silhouetted against the sky. I don't know why the turrets on the building have onion domes, making it look almost Russian in appearance. I'm just glad they do - so many Texas courthouses have a boxy imperial pseudo art deco 1920's look about them.....we actually call that style "early courthouse". Somehow in Denton, we got this whimsical structure , which nowadays is a museum. The actual functioning gov't buildings are all modern, and are down the road a piece.

Living in a college town has it's advantages, and in Denton we are doubly blessed - we have two universities ( UNT and TWU.) This means lots and lots of college professors live here, and when old college professors die.....their families hold incredible estate sales. Often their relatives are young and clueless or unappreciative of grandpa's collection of musical instruments from around the world or grandma's nick-nacks and hand-made linens. Because members of this town often have travelled quite a bit, you can find Belleek china and drums from Africa and Thai silk curtains and all sorts of wonderful things at local yard and tag sales. But most importantly - books! GFT is an avid book collector, has books in every room of her house, even the bathrooms. I have more books than my local school library, and add new ones every day ! Not only are there all the college professors' books floating around at estate sales and used book stores, but all those college kids , whenever they need beer money , what do they do ? You guessed it ! They sell their books ! We have many wonderful book stores in this town, but none more so than Recycled Books on the Square. Highly selective in what they will buy, this place is a former opera house filled with gems - rare finds, first editions, popular reads, all kinds of wonderful things. No trashy grocery store novels.

Recycling - Denton was big into it, before "green " became the "new black". This town does all the usual stuff - but also recycles buildings. When a national grocery store chain left town a few years back, the city bought up the boarded up stores and remodeled them into a variety of civic buildings. This one is now a library near my home. Can you ever imagine this was once a grocery store ? It even has a Starbucks inside.


Music scene - Denton is famous for the school of music at UNT, and also for it's lively bar/club scene. You can see anything from c & w to rock n' roll to hip-hop. We also have many recording studios in town, and a local band, Brave Combo, that has won numerous grammy's for their polka CD's- they show up at many local events , like the big Fourth of July bash at Fouts Field. Have you ever seen 3,000 people performing " the chicken dance", all together ? I have. The Fry Street area near UNT is a walkable student shopping/restaurant/club district that recalls Austin back when Austin really was weird. All this music activity also means that there are wonderful music programs in our local schools with many great teachers.



Beth Marie's old fashioned ice cream parlor. Don't think this town is all cute and charming - we have our ugly strip malls, our upscale designer boutiques, our boring track homes. They just don't inspire GFT to write about them. Our city's unique little spots, do , however - and this is one of them. Everyone wishes they had a place like this nearby- and everything in Denton is 10 min from everything else. In addition to dozens of home-made premium ice cream flavors, Beth Marie's serves lunch, too, soda fountain favorites like BLT's and root beer floats. To me, the cutest thing about his place is that if you go there, late on Friday night, you will find a truly eclectic clientele : punked out college kids on group dates, moms and daughters, soccer teams, old couples sharing a float or sundae, escapees from the bar scene having a quiet moment. Too cute for words.




10/26/2008

Late Night Song Dedications

Pretend for a moment that this is not a blog posting, but a late night radio show. The kind you used to listen to as a kid, where the dj spoke in a sultry smokey voice and played the long version of songs like "Freebird" by Lyndyrd Skynyrd, or "Blackwater" by the Dooby Brothers. When I was 13 or 14 years old, too young to go out but too old to be content with merely going to sleep, I used to talk for hours on the phone to my best gf Calan or this boy I had a crush on, known in this blog as Vincent the Spellchecker. (Kind of like Luke Skywalker.....in many ways.) Back in the olden days, as I often tell my children, we didn't have cell phones or cordless phones that let us talk to our friends wherever we were . No indeedy, we had the rectangular wall phone, most frequently mounted in the kitchen, and if we were lucky, our parents had already grown annoyed with the fact that we were always on it, and purchased an extra long handset cord, so we could get out of the kitchen , go around the corner into the laundry room or the guest bathroom, tethered to this earth by a 20 ft length of spiral-twisted plastic coated wiring,often in Harvest Gold or Avocado Green. There, perched on the washing machine or sitting on the floor of the bathroom, we would talk all night long, often while listening to the local "Top 40" radio stations. Conversations often went something like this :
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(Both friends listening to the same radio station in their separate homes)
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"I like this song...mmmm-hmmm-dadaaaaadadaaaa. So what did he say ?"
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"Nothing, he just looked at me. I was asking YOU if you thought it was a significant look, or just a random look.You know, like you've been doing your homework and to take a mental break, you just look up, and I happened to be in your line of sight , kind of look."
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"But I thought you said you sat BEHIND him in English class."
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In the background : "Nights in white satin, Never reaching the end, Letters I've written, Never meaning to send. Beauty I'd always missed, With these eyes before, Just what the truth is, I can't say anymore. 'Cause I love you,Yes, I love you,Oh, how, I love you. "
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In those misty hours between midnight and dawn, many important topics were discussed while the music rolled on. Interrupting the late night dj's patter were occasional phone calls from listeners with song requests and dedications. This premise , used to terrorize a character in the film "Play Misty for Me", is not really seen anymore - it seems that it is cheaper to have pre-recorded play lists set up and ready to roll, all promoting the album or song the music company wants to sell, not what members of the audience actually want to hear.
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In the interest of remembering and preserving that moment, I offer up : Song Dedications. I have long thought of various people from my life in terms of which song I would dedicate to him/her on just such a late night radio show, and I include them here, just to amuse myself . Sending it out into the blog-o-sphere, just like those radio waves they say from the earliest days of broadcasting which are somewhere near Jupiter about now.
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To Steve I dedicate : "Spiders and Snakes" by Jim Stafford.
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To Michael I dedicate : "Whiskey River", because he used to take me to a bar by the same name. I like the Willie Nelson version best.
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My parents always make me think of John Denver songs and all those happy childhood summers spent in Colorado. "Rocky Mountain High", "Country Roads" and "Mother Nature's Son" .
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Calan gets anything by Elton John, b/c she used to love him so
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Spuddie and her brothers get "Never Marry a Girl From Monrobia" and all that other strange wonderful crazy African pop music they brought to the USA with them from Liberia in 1972
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Bill gets several songs, many of them from opera, such as the main theme from "Tristan and Isolde" . I also associate him with movie themes, such as the music to "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and most songs from "Mary Poppins" or "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang". He has long maintained that his song for me is "Tainted Love". As far as pop music goes, I often think of "House of the Rising Sun" for him, mostly b/c I associate him strongly with New Orleans
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To Judy I dedicate : "Time Warp" from Rocky Horror Picture Show b/c we used to dance it together , in hallways, late at night.
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Bart gets pretty much anything by Led Zepplin.
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Nathan gets "Heart of Glass" by Blondie
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To Tom I dedicate "Science Fiction, Double Feature" from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, b/c he took me to see that movie dozens of times.
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To Robert I dedicate "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" by Crystal Gale, also anything by The Judys
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Hal gets all that weird new wave stuff, like Gary Numan and Iggy Pop
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Pretty much anything by the Rolling Stones makes me think of Ronald, esp the "Some Girls" album.
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To Susan B I dedicate : "Swingin'" by John Anderson, mostly b/c she loved that song and sang it constantly. (Personally, it drove me nuts.)
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CaCo gets "Material Girl" by Madonna
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To Chip I dedicate : "Afternoon Delight" by the Starland Vocal Band.
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Rodney gets anything by the Thompson Twins, b/c he used to be their Number One Fan
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To Greg I dedicate : "Good-bye Earl" by the Dixie Chicks. I actually plan to drive 'round and 'round his funeral ceremony, if I outlive him, blasting this one from my car stereo as loud as I can.
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To Rick I dedicate :"I Can Help" written by Billy Swann and sung by Clyde McPhatter; also anything written by Springsteen, b/c he is the one who introduced me to The Boss. He likes "Tramps Like Us" for our theme song.

Do you have special songs that you would like to dedicate ? Email me on facebook, and I will add them to this site !

Make A Joyful Noise......


"Rockband" the video game may be all the rage with the kids these days, but a certain element of young man ( and girl !) still dreams of becoming an actual player in a rock 'n roll band. It is not enough to own simulated instruments in a video game, no, real ( and expensive) instruments must be purchased, too. Countless hours are spent in the family garage practicing songs , writing new ones, hanging with friends, getting the act down just right. It is one of the joys of parenthood that weekends at my house are often spent listening to the deafening screech of feedback when the electric guitars get plugged in and ramped up. The constant drumming I am used to. Fortunately, this is a home that was built for having teenagers, and I can almost get far enough away in the master suite from the kids' rooms that I can barely hear the "music" as I sleep.

9/24/2008

More Reasons Why I Love Autumn

Autumn is my absolute favorite time of year. Interestingly, I asked my students the other day which was their favorite season, and most of them said either winter or fall. I think I know why : Growing up in Texas, autumn is when we finally get a break from the misery that is summer. The weather starts to cool down, become less humid, and pass for what most folks in Vermont would call "summer". (Hubster, a die hard Yankee who just happens to live in Texas, prefers summer, no matter how hot and sticky. Too many memories of having to dig his car out of 4 feet of snow, I suppose.) I love fall not just for the blue skies , crisp air, golden leaves, "Friday Night Lights" football mania and kitschy pumpkin themed decor. I actually enjoy celebrating, shopping for, decorating, cooking, planning and thinking about Halloween and Thanksgiving. I love all the seasonal events that happen around Texas in the fall. And, of course, it's the season of my birthday.
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Why do people care about their birthdays, long after they have passed the age to have parties or receive gifts ? It seems childish, yet even if the day passes uneventfully, it 's a happy milestone. (Consider the alternative ! ) It's a little known fact that John Lennon and I share the same birthday, which happens to be October 9, and I have had the good fortune to be in New York City, some years, on that very weekend. There is always a mournful little group in Central Park paying homage to his memory - kids too young to have ever heard the announcement that came on the radio the day the Beatles broke up, late in the afternoon when I was jumping on my friend Margie's trampoline and her mother came running out of the house, crying hysterically, "The Beatles just broke up ! " - just across from the Dakota in a garden area of the park that is consecrated as "Strawberry Fields". It is sad to be there on that day, but also touching. I have shared the moment but not the sadness. Some of my happiest birthday memories are of walking through Central or Riverside Park with one of my oldest and dearest friends, just kicking the leaves and thinking wondrous thoughts.
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The weeks before and after this date are so full of my favorite seasonal things to do, the actual date never seems melancholy to me . Rather, it makes me feel as if I have a month long celebration, one full of all my favorite things to do, set out just for me.

The month long celebration of my birthday season kicks off with the State Fair of Texas. It is such a corny old fashioned thing to do, yet I have been attending since I was a babe in arms. All my life I have been riding the midway rides, patting llamas , sheep and cows at the petting zoo, looking at new cars, and most of all , eating corny dogs. Even when I went away for college, I came home each year for a weekend and dragged whichever boy I was dating at the moment along with me.
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One year, while still in high school, I was actively involved in a club called Junior Achievement, or JA. (I joined, mostly, to flirt with boys - it must be confessed.) For some reason, as a fund raiser or a community service project - I forget why, exactly- our local chapter of JA signed up to help work the Heinz pickle booth in the Foods building at the fair. This meant we had to work in shifts, after school and on weekends, and stand around greeting people while convincing them to take a small green plastic Heinz pickle pin - a little pickle, about 1/2 an inch long that you could pin on your lapel, like politicians do nowadays with the American flag . This job sounds like fun but after you'd handed about about 10,000 pickles with a cheery "Hello, welcome to the Heinz pickle booth. Please take a pickle ! " most of us wanted to scream. This job gave us free passes into the fair, however, so that year I went nearly every single day. I actually worked the day of my birthday, which was a school day, and the boy I had an insane crush on at the time bought me a Belgian waffle ( crispy waffle with real strawberries, whipped cream, and powdered sugar - yum ! ) which we shared as the fireworks were going off across the lake......it was just too romantic. I remember him wiping the extra powdered sugar off my nose......

.......But by far, the best thing to eat at the State Fair of Texas (and every year, they have something new and weird to eat, like fried Twinkies) are, hands down, the corny dogs. Properly known as Fletcher's corny dogs, although all the kiosks at the fair which sell them , and there are hundreds, claim to be Fletcher's, the original corny dog. (Kind of like Ray's Pizza, and the Original Ray's Pizza, etc, in Manhattan.) People come from far and wide just to eat these corny dogs, and I have to say, no grade school cafeteria corny dog can compare. It's hard to explain why they are so tasty, but they are made from scratch ( not pre-battered) and deep fried ( not baked ). Sinfully delicious. GFT believes in the magical power of Fletcher's Corny Dogs so much, she fed them to each of her sons at a tender age, trying to imprint the power of Texas upon them, all the livelong day. It is now a family tradition to run as fast as possible upon arriving at the fair, to eat a corny dog before doing anything else. Like all die-hard fair goers, I confess I have my favorite spot to purchase them ( near the front gates to the Cotton Bowl). Often hubby's fave band, the Killdaires, are playing at an open air stage in this same area, and the juxtaposition of these events, coupled with a beer, just send him into waves of ecstasy.

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Last year, I knew we were passing a milestone when I took my sons to the fair, along with Son No. One's girlfriend at the time, the Beauty Pageant Queen. They spent a lot of time riding various rides and making out, while younger son and I kept trying for a prize at the shooting gallery. After a long , fun day, we wound up eating dinner at our favorite Mexican food dive in old east Dallas. It was just about a perfect day.