Friday, July 29, 2011

Canine glamour girl

The elegant glamour dog Nina has been staying with us during this beach vacation. I interrupted her nap to ask her if I could take her picture, but she graciously sat up and posed for the camera.

Of course, she's blind, so she wasn't clear at first about where the camera actually was . . .

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Get the adoption papers ready . . . .

So here we are in beautiful Sandbridge, Virginia, spending another week with our beloved un-family. The tall boy is feeling pretty lucky because the Department of Justice released him from his cubicle for a little while. We're feeling pretty lucky to have him with us too -- we missed him while we were in Nag's Head in June!

I know it's Thursday already, and I kept meaning to tell you something pithy and meaningful every day about how much fun we're having, and how delicious the food has been, and how much I love spending time with these people. But seriously -- every time I considered whether to sit down and write, or lie back down on the sofa or beach chair or recliner or bed and read another hundred pages, guess which one I did? I could lie to you and say I was out there boogie-boarding or kayaking or going for an early morning bike ride -- but no.

And I'm telling you -- pretty soon I will have to stop calling them my un-family; I am considering all kinds of nefarious plots to get myself officially related to them. Most of these involve legal adoption or arranged marriage (sorry, tall boy -- you just thought you were in charge of your own destiny), so give me some time.

Check out our week:

The girl in charge and I picked the sunny girl up at camp on our way to the beach. While we were traveling it became necessary to try on Princess Kate hats.

Angel girl . . . .

Taboo seems to be the chosen game of the week . . . .

Not me on the sea kayak -- I took the picture from my beach chair before I sank back into my book.

Not me on the boogie-board either -- but look at this dude go!

My birthday dinner!

Dear ones . . . .

The husband and an un-brother -- getting that birthday cake ready!

This one is helping me get the adoption papers ready . . . .

And she is working with me on the arranged marriage angle. I'm telling you -- the two of us really, really want to be related to each other. It will happen.

And just a reminder -- I know I keep saying it, but it really is true: I am the luckiest mom.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Snapshot: Life in a cubicle

The tall boy looks good in a tie, doesn't he?

Photo courtesy of some nice lawyer
at the U.S. Department of Justice

Monday, July 18, 2011

Stroke me, stroke me!

So I am not one of those people who can name her All-Time Top Five Favorite Books, or who keeps a list like, "Books I Would Never Be Without On A Desert Island," or some such exercise in futility. I say this is futile because, while I love to read such compilations made by other people (and mock their choices), the very idea of such a list for myself paralyzes me with indecision.

How could I ever decide, for example, between that funny, tragic, romantically beautiful re-telling of the King Arthur story, The Once and Future King, and my favorite Jane Austen novel, the melancholy love story, Persuasion?

And what about series fiction? Do all of the Little House books count as one big delicious book? I say yes, but then do I bring my beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder books to the island at the expense of the six volumes of the Lymond Chronicles -- filled with Scottish history and gasp-causing intrigue and yearning romance, and written in the most gorgeous prose? NO! -- I couldn't bear it!

Even within one author's works, I could never choose: The Solace of Leaving Early stays on the list because I love the two little girls at the heart of the story so much (Eloise and Madeline, who must change their names to Immaculata and Epiphany), but -- leave the stoic and heroic Cassie Claiborne of Something Rising (Light and Swift) behind? I don't think so!

You see my dilemma.

My book group companions -- and well, really just about every one of my friends -- have seen me get worked up while describing any particularly fabulous book. But I will say that there is one book that has literally caused a "When Harry Met Sally" moment for the people who watched me recommend it.

This one -- let's call her Mary -- was there to witness it. She and I had traveled for the day to the Green Valley Book Fair, which is just as wonderful as it sounds. It has gotten a lot fancier, by which I mean air-conditioned, since she and I went, but the main concept is the same: four times a year, this book fair (really a series of inter-connected barns) opens its doors and lucky book-lovers can wander among thousands and thousands of book titles, and buy books at a bargain, bargain, bargain cost. It's heaven, I'm telling you.

The books are sometimes shelved like at a regular bookstore, but they are also sometimes displayed in piles on tables. Mary and I were standing at opposite sides of a table, on which were stacked about ten copies of Possession, the Booker Prize-winning novel by A.S. Byatt. She casually asked if I had read it.

Had I read it? Oh, my dears.

I immediately and rapturously began to tell her all the ways it is wonderful: it reveals the intertwined stories of two fictional Victorian poets and the modern day researchers who discover a startling relationship between the nineteenth century writers. It's a multi-layered love story, and a witty commentary on the wily ways of modern academic researchers, and it's filled with lush poetry and diary entries that shock the reader and passionate love letters -- all created by Byatt herself . . . . As I rhapsodized about the book, I picked up a copy from the pile on the table. Look how stunning the cover is! I love all the Pre-Raphaelite painters, so the cover makes me cherish the book even more. I gazed at the illustration adoringly as I continued on. Gosh -- it was so pretty! I began to stroke the book lovingly as I talked, and Mary began to smirk as, one by one, the other shoppers in the room (all women) began to take copies of the book for themselves. When I came up for air, I was holding the only remaining copy of the book.

Mary just looked at me, and then held out her hand and said, "I guess I'll buy it then."

Image credit:
"Book List" (2010) by Patricia Mumau

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Snapshot: I'm allowed to call them nerds, right?

OK, so the tall boy and his buddies spread themselves out this past school year, and ended up at colleges all over the country. So to stay connected they did the same stuff all the hipster college kids do: Facebook and texting. But these guys also gathered every so often for a little cyber-fun, playing online games from their respective dorm rooms all over the country. I would offer World of Warcraft as an example but I know that they are so over World of Warcraft, which is lame, and they have moved on to something way more excellent -- something so excellent that there's no way I would know what it is. Whatever.

Well now it's summer, and they live in the same town again, so they can actually spend "real" time together. So you can see what they're doing with this "real" time, right?

Oh, yes. I'm definitely allowed to call them nerds.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In the blink of an eye

So when all the urchins were younger we used to bring our friend Katey along for our family beach week. Just twelve years old when she started coming to the beach with us, Katey was a gift from God because she (and later her sister Betsey, too) was just so great with our kids. She played with them non-stop, and didn't care what the game was: chasing each other on the beach games, or princess-y "let's paint our toenails" games, or rollicking games that involved swords or bows and arrows -- she was up for anything. Sometimes they combined the princesses and the swords to play a kind of "knights storm the castle to rescue the princesses who are painting their toenails while in captivity" game. That was a good one. Here's Katey with the girl in charge -- who adored Katey, and was quite willing to let Katey be in charge of everything.

See, Katey was young enough that she still had fun playing with seven (at the time) kids, but the real beauty was that she was also old enough (and even more important, mature enough) to keep them safe, and to distract them with another fun game when tempers flared, or read a pile of stories to them when nap time loomed. And she never, ever implied that she knew we were using her as slave labor while we lounged in our chairs and read books all day. A gift, I'm telling you, from God. Here the girl in charge and Katey join the (future) soldier at Funland -- the swingin' amusement park at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. All our best beach memories have Katey and Betsey in them.

So you can imagine, I am sure, how fabulous but mind-blowing it was that Katey and her husband and daughters were able to spend some time with us at the beach this year. This picture of my sister with Katey and her baby was a joy to take, but I swear as I looked at the image on the screen of my camera I felt dizzy at the speed of the earth turning so many times on its axis -- in the blink of an eye.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A new tradition?

So our extended family adds up to seventeen members, and we wanted to do something that all of us could plunge in to together. Movies are fabulous, but really, a movie means that we all sit and watch passively (which believe me I'm all for, especially if popcorn is involved). A game night was another excellent option, but it's tricky to find a game that we can all play together. The age range of this family starts at kindergarten and continues on for several decades. Luckily all of us are readers, so we decided that it would be fun to choose a hilarious play, and read it together.

My step-sister and I chose Dinner at Eight, and she arranged for all the families to have access to the script. One night of our family beach extravaganza, we dealt out the roles and gathered together to read the play out loud.

The sunny girl (who has the best fake British accent in the family) had no problem at all taking on the role of Carlotta (Marie Dressler in the movie), the fading stage beauty -- down on her luck but still imperious and hilariously cynical:
And then I had a restful, nice luncheon... with four lawyers. On the 88th floor of the Chrysler building. You know, the Sky Club. A cloud floated right into my soup plate.
Her cousin the soldier was Oliver Jordan, the goodhearted (but weakhearted) business man (Lionel Barrymore in the movie), who tries to shore up his failing business, knowing all the while that he is dying. And in this picture it just looks like my husband is avoiding the shenanigans; in reality he was whipping up milkshakes, and returned in time to play both a sinister chauffeur and the manager of a washed-up actor.

My sister and I read the parts of the two sisters in the play. I probably had more fun than she did, because I got to play the hilariously self-absorbed Millicent (that's Billie Burke -- "Glinda the Good" in The Wizard of Oz!), while my sister was the level-headed and ironic Hattie.

This one got some of the best lines in the play, since she played Kitty, the former hat-check girl who tries to push herself into high society (the movie stars sexy, sexy Jean Harlow in her best role). One of my favorite Kitty lines: "Politics! You couldn't get into politics -- you couldn't even get into the men's room at the Astor!"

Uncle Doctor was hilarious as the rich and greedy former miner who is full of shady business schemes, while his youngest urchin (who just finished kindergarten) did a fantastic job as the room service waiter. He got the biggest applause of the night, for lines like, "Your coffee, sir -- and this time I made sure it was good and hot."

Some of us were talented enough to double up on the roles: my dad took on both the hotel manager and the assistant manager. Since most of their conversations are with each other, this was a pretty impressive trick. Grandma Carol, who refuses to be photographed, played the part of the cook, who worries all day about her lobster aspic. And can I just say, you should have heard the squeals of fear and disgust when the urchins were told what lobster aspic is. No class, any of them. Check out Grandma Carol's manicure!

My fairy god-sister (my step-sister, who waved her magic wand, and bibbity-bobbity-boo! -- my job teaching college English appeared!) took on several roles as well. And check out Grandma Carol's manicure -- and the fairy god-sister's, too!

This middle school cousin in the foreground was the snarky bellhop, while the recent high school grad was suave and sophisticated as a philandering doctor . . .

. . . . and the grad's own sister played his nurse (his other sister was his mistress, which was, as they both declared, "awkward").

The not-so-tall boy and honorary cousin may have just finished his first year at West Point, but he obviously has a little thespian in him in addition to his airborne and soldiering skills. He was a most excellent snooty butler.

The girl in charge played young Paula Jordan, engaged to be married, but secretly having an affair. [Texting fingers alert -- looks like she takes after the tall boy.]

And the person who took the Scenery Chewing award for the night was my sister's husband. He's always been one of the funniest people I know, so while in real life he is the pastor of a lovely Bible-believing church, he plunged in hilariously to the role of Larry Renault, the alcoholic has-been movie star (John Barrymore in the movie, if you're keeping track). People, this is a man who never takes the Lord's name in vain, and rarely drinks anything stronger than a beer. So you can imagine that when we heard him declaim with gusto, "My God, Paula! Can't you see that I need a drink? I've got to have one, I tell you!" it brought down the house.

I will say that we were reading the script from the Broadway play, not from the 1933 film. So we did miss one of the funniest exchanges of dialogue ever, which was added to the movie:
KITTY: I was reading a book the other day.
CARLOTTA: Reading a book??!
KITTY: Yes. It's all about civilization or something. A nutty kind of a book. Do you know that the guy says that machinery is going to take the place of every profession?
CARLOTTA: Oh, my dear, that's something you need never worry about.

All movie stills are from Dinner at Eight (MGM, 1933, dir. George Cukor)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Snapshot: Broadway under the stars!

Guess what else we got to see this summer?!

The sunny girl and I picnicked with pals, and then danced the night away; something about the lawn seats at Wolf Trap Farm Park encourages the shimmy and shake response to the Mamma Mia! tunes. Fabulous!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Snapshot: Big night out!

Guess what we saw at the
Kennedy Center last Tuesday?!

While the husband and the tall boy were lurking around somewhere, these pretty girls were just too cute for my camera to pass them by!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Snapshot: What do they have in common?

I can tell you what these three soldiers
have in common in just one word:


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Beach memories . . . .

So while we were at the beach we absolutely did all our favorite things -- things we do every year. For my sister and me, this involved books. And maybe a magazine or two but mostly books. And we weren't the only ones -- we are clearly raising our urchins right, because this is a picture that could have been captured most beach days. Every urchin there was deep into something -- from Stardust, to Pillars of the Earth, to Game of Thrones, to a re-reading of the Harry Potter books in preparation for the big movie release, the books were piled up all over our beach house. I personally read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and loved it!

For the sunny girl and her cousins the beach tradition also involved boogie boards, except for the days when they reported that the water was . . . let's see, what was the phrase they used? "W-a-a-y too freakin' cold."

My tall boy wasn't able to make it to the beach this year (he was stuck in a cubicle), so the soldier brought along one of his soldier pals to fill the void. While he's no tall boy, he is cuter than [think of something really cute and he's cuter than that], and funny, and willing to roll with the punches -- even when one of the girl cousins (who might be the sunny girl, not that I'm blaming or anything) spilled lemonade all over him. And dig this: dude wore a different bow tie to dinner every night. Swear to God.

And we had lots to celebrate! A room full of fathers received their Father's Day loot . . .

-- don't judge me because I
used duct tape to wrap my gifts --

. . . and this up-and-coming Wahoo was the man of the hour, since he just graduated from high school.

A new thing we did this year was that we all sat down together one night and read the script of the play, "Dinner at Eight." More about that is coming because it was awesome!

Mostly we stuck to our main family tradition, which is to spend as much time together as possible with the people we love most in the world.