Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Bee in My Bonnet

Yesterday was the 5th-grade spelling bee at the kiddos' school.  And they were two of the 12 or so kids to compete, having scored highest in the grade on the qualifying test.  They weren't terribly enthusiastic about it, didn't obsessively study or anything.

And I was a nervous wreck.

But there we all were yesterday--the contestants, the whole 5th grade, the parents, and several teachers and staff.  I realized quite quickly--actually, I knew it from my own elementary school class spelling bees--that these contests were as much about mastering your nerves as the English language. And so it proved.  The majority of the children (most of whom I know, being in the accelerated class with the kiddos) could spell the words they went out on.  They rushed or got lost in the middle or misspoke without realizing it.  Ugh.  Agonizing to watch, even after our two were eliminated.  Perhaps especially as it got closer to the end with four really confident and competent spellers.

And then, one by one, they went down and there was a winner.  And I think the majority of us were glad it was over.

I mean, really, when do you ever need to spell a word aloud?  Seriously, we're hardly responsible for our own spelling at any point because of autocorrect.  It's an old-timey skill that we still encourage in kids, despite the lack of necessity.  Interestingly, Mama's European coworkers say there aren't, for instance, German spelling bees (is that because their spelling makes sense??).   That said, the real skills--mastering a body of knowledge, keeping your cool under pressure, being a good sport even after you've lost--are very important.  And ones that I definitely believe should be encouraged.

I just don't need to watch it in real time.  I've already suggested they throw next year's qualifying test. But both said it was fun and that they'd be glad to do it again!

Monday, April 25, 2016


Lots of little things:

  • Sis got braces.  She didn't want me to talk about it until she'd told her friends.  It's been a rough transition, but she's settling in.  She's going to miss caramel most.
  • Our piano recital is this weekend.  Yes, "our"--I'm playing "Greensleeves."
  • I'm doing a Zentangle tile a day and am enjoying both the process and the product.  Can't wait to go to Kripalu with Gommie and take another class.
  • I had been working on a baby blanket for a friend but made a yarn miscalculation and will have to "frog it" (rip it out--"rip it, rip it!") and change the design.  Still, there's lots of time.
  • Practices have increased for the play the kids are doing at school.  And parents are starting to gather costumes and create the program.  It seemed so far off and now it's just not.
  • I'm loving the new seasons of "Outlander" and "Grantchester" on tv.  I quit "Mr. Selfridge," just not interested.  And "Vikings" is okay enough.
  • Mama made pulled pork in her new pressure cooker yesterday.  Pretty tasty.  But the hissing and spitting are a little much for me; I'll stick with my slow cooker.  Still, it was great to have her cook.
  • We went to a hockey game last night--our local team is in the playoffs--terrible game and not just because they lost.  But I do like watching all that amazing skating.  And everybody likes game food!
  • The kids are producing a stuffed animal version of Hamilton.  I love those!  I love that, at almost 11 years old, they still play with their critters.
  • They've also made a version of the Hamilton set on Minecraft.  
  • And they sing it all the time.
  • I can't believe we're actually already planning their 11th birthday parties (or not, Bud might opt for a fancy sushi dinner in town instead.  Sis wants a sleepover.)
  • I'm heading to my new hospice patient in a bit.  First one in awhile.  Glad to be back at it.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Let the Tours Begin!

It's tour season at the historic house!  I gave my first 5th-grade tour yesterday.  After two years--I missed last spring season because of surgery--I was a little rusty on the pacing of the tour, even though I know all the material.  I almost completely forgot to do the seed packet activity and I spent extra long talking about showering or not!  But it doesn't matter in the end; the kids had a great time, particularly because it was a beautiful day and there was plenty of time for outside games of snap-the-whip, graces, and hoops.  We even saw a Northern Harrier Hawk fly over.

As much as I often get anxious about tour season and about the individual tours themselves, I really do like teaching the kids and discussing history; it's what I miss most about my museum jobs  (I also liked writing materials and handouts--I hated the meetings and reports and cold calls and scheduling and constant worrying about budgets and administrative tasks, all of which was the majority of the day.  But I do miss the teaching, which is why I like tour season.)

And there's always the dressing up!  I have a new top this year, called a shortgown, with tied enclosures.  It's a lovely green and pink floral pattern.  I also have another English bodice, in navy, with a reversible green and navy floral print.  I think I now officially have more nice 18th-century clothes than decent 21st-century ones!


It's no secret that I have wanted to go see the hot Broadway ticket, Hamilton, along with half of the nation, I imagine.  But the tickets have been prohibitively expensive.   I just can't pay $600+ each for the pleasure . . . so we listen to the soundtrack and read articles about the show in the paper instead.

Until Wednesday.  Mama has a friend at the office who realized early on that Hamilton was impressive and important and so he bought sets of tickets to sell for a profit.  And on Wednesday he told Mama that he'd noticed that the prices were the lowest they'd been in awhile, maybe the lull between spring break and summer tourists.  We'd stopped looking.  But Mama called me midday and said there were four tickets on Stub Hub inside the range we were willing to pay.  For that night.

And so she bought them.  We were a bit worried that they might be counterfeit, some of the resale tickets are, since there's such profit to be made.  But we were going to take the chance (Stub Hub reimburses your loss, if so.)  We picked up the kids after play practice at school and headed down . . . .

Right into the worst traffic we've ever seen heading into the city on a weekday.  More than two hours instead of closer to half that.  Ugh.  We tried not to stress.  But our Waze GPS said we wouldn't get to midtown until 7:20, with showtime at 8--and we still had to park and then pick up the tickets at another location.  And we hadn't eaten!  We had thought to stop on the way down, but the traffic took all of our time.

We got to the parking garage at 7:23 and the race began.  Mama ran to get the tickets and the kids and I headed to the theater, picking up chips and cookies at a nearby deli.  But we did all meet at the theater by 7:40.  Now just to see if the tickets were real.  We got up to the door--and the first three tickets scanned easily, but the usher got stuck on the last one; I think he scanned it 6 times before it went through.  Whew.  They were real tickets!  Mama said that when the ticket wasn't scanning all she could think of was how she wasn't going to get to see the show!

But all was well--actor/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda was even scheduled to perform (we had wondered if the tix were cheaper because he was out of town)--and we headed to our seats--but someone was in them!!! Oh, ugh, were they really good counterfeits???  No, the people were in the wrong seats.  I tell you, I sat down and didn't want to get up again.  These were our seats for Hamilton!  And really good, all things considered.  Fourth row front mezzanine, with an aisle!!!  We had a great view.

And the show was amazing!!!  I'm not even sure I can put it into words.  So, the things that stand out:

  • the bare bones wooden-framed but adaptable set with the two levels was well-utilized;
  • the lighting, especially in the George III parts, accentuated the drama and mood;
  • oh, the actors and dancers!  Lin-Manuel Miranda has amazing presence despite being diminutive and not a strong Broadway-belting singer (he can rap, though! And move.)  All the main characters were powerful, one just as good as the next with no weak ones.  I think applause stopped the show after every solo.  I liked Phillippa Soo as Eliza, especially.  And the chorus/dancers were extremely talented.
  • costumes--I loved, loved, loved the costumes, especially the women's.  And it made my little historian self so happy when they switched from early to late 18th-century gowns--from wide panniers to empire waists.  The white corsets and vests on the male and female dancers, both with thick tights, were versatile--becoming Redcoats, citizens, bartender, ballgowns, whatever was needed.  Also, it allowed us to see just how amazing muscular those dancers were (and were probably easier to dance in.)  And all the white then guaranteed that the main characters wearing colors were easier to follow.  Did I saw that I loved the Schuyler sisters' gowns?!
  • the staging of the numbers was effective and inventive--the way they "rewound" time during the wedding toast, how they slowed down a bullet during the dual, how the wood became a podium or a ship's plank or the windows of an NYC house . . . .
  • the music!!  I'm neither knowledgeable or really a fan of hip hop or rap, but the score captured the energy of what must have been a chaotic time.  There were also quiet songs too, which created a beautiful rhythm with the more energetic songs.  And the lyrics!  So clever--Hamilton was "the ten dollar Founding Father without a father" and such.  Plus references to other musicals--1776, South Pacific, Pirates of Penzance.  
  • the non-traditional casting--a Latino Hamilton, African-American Washington and Jefferson, a Chinese-American Eliza?  Loved it.  Added the dimension of the powerless "Young, Scrappy, and Hungry" vs the powerful, which reflects current political issues of social justice, African Americans and the police, Mexican immigrants, etc.  
  • indeed, the whole story, about the one Founding Father whom we don't often discuss, was enlightening.  It's been a long time since I've reflected on the early days of the nation--and I'm not sure I ever studied the Federalist Papers or could confidently discuss the different factions of the early days.  But the show didn't make it too dense.  I'd say it was the best way to re-examine the period (barring in mind that this was theater first and some differ with the heroic depiction of Hamilton.)
We LOVED it!  We laughed and cheered and clapped and cried (oh, I had to hold back sobs when Hamilton's son is injured in a duel and his parents are by his side as he dies and as they continue to mourning, living through the unimaginable, as the line goes.)

We all stood clapping before the lights even dimmed and rose again.  And then, Miranda spoke--it's Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS week when casts gather money for organizations (I've seen, if I recall correctly, Rent cast members and Glenn Close make appeals.)  And so Miranda did (while acknowledging how much we'd already spent on tickets!) and then someone else mentioned his Pulitzer this week and we all cheered some more.  LOVED it!

We didn't bother stage-dooring.  I can only guess at the crowds.  So we grabbed some Junior's take out for dinner on the late, long ride home.  And we listened to the soundtrack all the way . . . and haven't stopped since.

I even offered to rap some of it at my historic house tour (my own Hamilton-era performance) yesterday!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

36 Hours in WMass

Spring Break 2016 is nearly over for us.  Today is the last day before school and we're home, playing videogames, lazing around, and enjoying a beautiful spring day.  From the couch.  Because the last day and a half were pretty packed with activities.

On Friday morning, we slept in, packed, and left for Northampton in the western corner of Massachusetts. It's a pretty and pretty easy drive north and would have been even prettier in almost any other season--spring isn't really here yet, so there's barely grass and the trees are still mainly skeletal brown.  At least there's no dirty snow anywhere.  And it's warm enough to go without a jacket in the sun.

Because of the timing, the first thing we did in this college town (home to Smith) was eat.  In fact, we ate somewhere the kids and I had eaten before--at Sylvester's, a breakfast and lunch place in an older building on one of the main drags.  It's where Gommie and I had gone with the kids and our minister many, many years ago, in 2009, when Mama was in Thailand.  Of course, the kids didn't remember it.  But it was as good as last time--clam chowder, chicken caesar salad, Irish eggs benedict (with corned beef hash), Cubano sandwich, and a bacon cheeseburger on a brioche.  And a delicious hot chocolate that Sis really enjoyed.  I hadn't realized last time that the building housed the original manufacturer of graham crackers, Dr. Sylvester Graham.  But I didn't notice any extra graham-y-ness on the menu.

The kids and I strolled the street as Mama drove a few blocks to the Hotel Northampton, a 1920s mainstay that is now an Historic Hotel of America.  We stopped at a yarn store and picked up a few skeins for a scarf.  And a felted wool sheep for Mama.  There was also a Newbury Comics store, but we didn't have time to stop because we had a few things to do before our big evening activity.

Rice Paper
Blue Morpho
Glass Wing
We went first to Magic Wings, which is a butterfly-arium--thousands of butterflies in a rainforest-like garden inside.  It was lovely, the largest one we've ever seen (including AMNH, Bronx Zoo, Norwalk Aquarium, Boston science museum.)  I do like being surrounded by butterflies.  And I "met" a few new ones--the lovely white wings with black detailing of the Rice Paper and the completely transparent and surprising wings of the Glass Wing.  There were also gorgeous Blue Morphos that flit around in indigo and violet luminescence.  But they rarely land and keep their wings open but for a split second.  So they are really hard to photograph.  And I tried.  Sis and Mama had more luck, even found a few sunning their wings open.  So, in the end, I did manage a few glorious photos.  None really landed on us this time, though, which disappoints Bud, but since they didn't land on any of us, it was ok.

Then we kicked off the warm-weather family putt-putt golf season!  And we started it with some actual time on the driving range.  Who knew hitting a ball with a driver could be so hard?  I don't think we were making contact more than 50% of the time!  But it was fun.  Putt putt was better, though, more our speed (and by "our," I mean "their"--I just watch.)  We had the course almost completely to ourselves and had fun comparing strokes to par.  I'd say they were mostly at par.  Sis even got two holes-in-one!

And then it was time to go to our Owl Prowl at a nature center in Canton, CT.  We got there early, but Mama had to rush out for flashlights (the lady on the phone had said not to bring anything; the leader of the group said we needed them.)  She missed our first foray outside, when we visited the habitats of the rescued owls and then actually saw at a distance of about 20 yards the silhouette of a Barred Owl in a tree.  We watched for a few minutes before it flew off.  Mama got back in time to hear the presentation on North American owls and we definitely needed the flashlights in the dark woods behind the center.  Our leader has perfected the Barred Owl call, something akin to "who cooks for you?" he said.  And one of the center's rescued Barred Owls responded (the leader could recognize the owl Harry's slightly warped call.)  But then a symphony arose as at least one wild owl if not more joined Harry in song.  Gorgeous.  And you could still hear it deep into the woods as we saw where some owls used to nest in an old sycamore and then went into the meadow and looked at the stars, still hearing some of the symphony back and forth.  Really quite magical.

It was late by the time we left and so we grabbed fast food and headed back to our hotel, having a good night's sleep before the east-facing windows brightened the room (worst room-darkening curtains ever.)  We had a leisurely continental breakfast downstairs--some pretty good glazed cinnamon bear claws--and eventually left the hotel for our Saturday's big activity:  Patriot's Day celebration and programming at Historic Deerfield.  We had never been to the house museums that make up Historic Deerfield, thinking they were rather dry house museum tours focusing on obscure genealogies and decorative arts, but there were many other things going on to mark the anniversary of the "shot heard round the world" at Lexington and Concord. We made "liberty" tea bags with mint and lemon balm, talked to a docent about powder horn carving (which I compared to scrimshaw and was vehemently corrected.  I still say the crafts are similar--they're both carving on bone), and had a very lively interaction with the docents doing the cooking demo, who both discussed making drinking chocolate and then actually demonstrated how they made a coal bed for a baking kettle and put hot coals on the lid!  Really very interesting, even though I'd heard it described a dozen times.  Then we visited just one house because, indeed, we were right--a dry-as-dirt PAID docent droning on about clocks and wallpaper and portraits to ten-year-olds. Mercy, if I were the education director . . . .  We rushed off to the encampment where Sis enjoyed seeing a weapons demo on horseback--Mama and I learned about the efficacy of a sharp steel blade back by an 800 lb horse and a 200 lb man with gear--as the re-enactor said, he doesn't even have to exert much effort to be deadly (we laughed about how he decapitated that bad ol' Tory Watermelon in his demo!  I think you had to be there.)  I liked seeing the women cooking cornbread and beef stew outside.  And I LOVE the fife and drum music played by the Nathan Hale Ancient Fife and Drum Corps.  We also enjoyed our wagon ride up and down the preserved street, enjoying all the 18th-century houses.

And lunch was good, too!  We had a very tasty repast at Champney's in the Deerfield Inn, with French onion soup, chowder, a charcuterie, fish and chips, fried calamari, and poutine with maple pulled pork.  Mmm, mmm good.  While we were eating, the re-enactor rider from Lexington arrived announcing the beginning of hostilities at Lexington and Concord and General Gage's maneuvers.  The kids and I watched from the porch of the inn as the rider encouraged the captain to call up the local militia and then everyone marched off.  But instead of going to war, we went back to lunch.

Winding up our trip, we stopped at Richardson's for some ice cream (mmmm, purple cow and burnt-sugar and butter, which tastes like maple) and chocolates.  And we went to Webs, the largest yarn store in the country, which I had shopped online (at but didn't know was in Northampton!  Ooooh, what a place!  So many wonderful colors and textures.  So much temptation.  I chose a few skeins to make mandalas but didn't have an exact project in mind to go buying a dozen skeins.  I did learn about their line of Valley yarns, in all the different weights and lovely colors.  I'll be dreaming of things to make with those (I even took some photos so I could remember which weights I liked.)

Lastly, we stopped for Tibetan food at our favorite restaurant halfway home.  We got there just at 5 and so didn't have to wait as we usually do.  Another great meal:  mango dhara drinks, iced chai, avocado potato salad, spicy noodles (Thukpa Dhrangmo), chicken with noodles and veg (Gyathuk Ngopa), dumpling soup (Mokthuk), fried dumplings (Sha Momo), fried bread (Bhaklep), steamed bread (Tingmo), and vinegary slaw (Dhang-tsel.)  So, so good.  And the perfect end to another great 36 hour vacation!

At least we have today to ease into the work week tomorrow . . . .