Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Stupidity: The Documentary

There are only two things which are infinite: the Universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former. - Albert Einstein

I stumbled upon this documentary recently and,despite all the negative reviews, I watched it anyway. I'm glad that I did. The movie has a lot of flaws, it spends too much time being what it is railing against. But the interviews with people like Bill Maher and Noam Chomsky make it a worthwhile use of time.

For a long time I've suspected that I do not have a sense of humor. I just don't find dumb to be funny. There are so many movies around that are just utterly ridiculous that I started suspecting there was something wrong with me --- that my sense of humor is seriously flawed. But I realized that I do laugh at a lot of things, just not stupid stuff. Now I know why.

Stupidity, according to the documentary, is “in”. People give a lot of justifications for that and those alone are fascinating. People say they act stupid because they don't want other people to think they are “too smart” or “too arrogant”. Leaving aside the codependence evidenced by these comments it is difficult to imagine that taking pride in being intelligent or educated would be perceived as a negative. Another oft-repeated comment was that they just don't want to have to think, they want to be entertained and have fun and that anything that challenges the mind is too much work.

There is a fair amount of time spent in the film exploring the origins of words like “idiot”, “moron”, “imbecile”, etc. Because I studied psychology back in the days when those were not obsolete terms I was aware of their origins in the classification of mental retardation --- a long, long time ago. But the filmmakers were quick to point out that when we talk about stupidity today, we re not talking about those people who are genuinely intellectually challenged. It would be cruel and unfair to call a person with limited intellectual capacities stupid.

Rather, the new definition of stupid applies to people who act stupid. People who are not intellectually limited, who may be educated, who certainly have the ability to function intelligently but make the choice to act stupid. In other words, if you act stupid, you are stupid. You are also probably popular --- at least with other stupid people.

The question is, why? One of the most interesting observations comes from environmentalist David Suzuki. He says that we need look no further than the way many people talk about calls to protect the environment and about global warming. Acting conservatively and environmentally should be a natural, responsible choice. Whether global warming is a real threat or not, nothing is to be lost by living an environmentally-conscious life and much is to be gained. Yet many people flaunt their disregard for those ideas in both their talk and practices. Why?

Suzuki says that it is a strange quirk of human psychology that we tend to rebel hardest against what we fear most. The more threatened we feel by something, the more we can tend to behave in rebellion to it. It is denial, plain and simple. Makes sense to me.

I have been reading Bruce Fein's Constitutional Peril in which he builds a frightening case for how, through foolishness and neglect, Americans are allowing the government (this was written during the previous administration) to erode the very principles on which our country is founded. In it he makes the observation that many people will believe and defend a lie rather than consider the fact that those in charge may be liars. The idea that a leader is a bad guy is something so scary to many people that they can't even let themselves consider its possibility.

We are so mired in sensationalism. Over the last couple of days I have been flabbergasted by the news coverage of Michael Jackson's death. All I have to say bout that is, gee, too bad. But, people, listen: WE ARE GETTING OUT OF IRAQ!!!! After six deplorable years, we are getting out --- who cares about a dead pop star?

Well, obviously, I'm stupid for asking that question.

I read the other day that our country spent $100 million dollars to investigate President Clinton's blow job, and only $14 million to investigate how a small group of uneducated terrorists managed to hijack 4 airplanes, destroy billions of dollars worth of property and kill 3000 people. That's how our priorities work. Stupidity has become our national mindset. How's that for stupid?

Thanks for reading.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Cape Ann Museum exhibits photographs of St. Peter’s Fiesta

A small selection of photographs by Philip Reisman (1904-1993) is currently on view at the Cape Ann Museum. The photographs of St. Peter’s Fiesta are part of the Museum’s collection of approximately 450 color slides by Reisman from the 1950s. The photographs are on view through the end of August.

St. Peter’s Fiesta -- or, more properly, Fiesta di San Pietro -- honors the patron saint of fishermen and it is the largest, most colorful of the new celebrations which Sicilian immigrants brought to Gloucester. It began in the late 1920s as a neighborhood novena and expanded to a city-wide event in the 1930s.

Philip Reisman (1904-1993) was known as a Social Realist painter. He was also a printmaker, illustrator and amateur photographer. Born in Warsaw, Poland, his family fled to the United States to escape the pogroms when he was four years old. He lived in New York where he studied at the Art Students League and privately under Harry Wickey.

His early works were depictions of the ordinary working people of New York’s Lower East Side. During the depression he worked on WPA murals for Bellevue Hospital.

In the spring of 1944 he was persuaded by his friend Sol Wilson to escape the city and spend the summer in Rockport. Reisman, however, found the gritty working waterfront of Gloucester more to his artistic taste. He became fascinated with the fishing industry spending hours sketching, painting and later photographing the waterfront and the people who lived and worked there.

His artwork is in the permanent collections of many galleries and museums and has also been exhibited at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, Museum of Modern Art, National Print Exhibition and the National Academy of Design.

The Museum has a collection of 28 of his drawings, oil paintings and watercolors in addition to approximately 450 of his color slides from the early 1950s. The Museum presented an exhibition of his art work titled Men and Machine in the summer of 1985.

Funding for this program was made possible through a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which promotes excellence, access, education and diversity in the arts, humanities and interpretive sciences, in order to improve the quality of life for all Massachusetts residents and to contribute to the economic vitality of our communities.

The Cape Ann Museum is located at 27 Pleasant Street in Gloucester. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Sundays from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. The Museum is closed during the month of February, on Mondays, and on major holidays. Admission is $8.00 adults, $6.00 Cape Ann residents, seniors and students. Children under 12 and Museum members are free. The Museum is wheelchair accessible. For more information please call: (978) 283-0455. Additional information can be found online at www.capeannmuseum.org

Sunday, June 28, 2009

How's The Re-Write Going?

Aurgh! I was talking to a friend last night and she asked how the rewrite of the book is coming. Actually, because I have been sort of semi-trapped at home this week, I've gotten a lot done. I printed out the manuscript so far and did some re-reading and still find problems.

It is actually kind of fascinating to see how manuscripts evolve over time. Every now and then I'll come across something and think “what the hell was I thinking when I wrote that?” But, when I think more about it, I realize there was once a scene there that has changed drastically. I was at a little cocktail party last week and ran into a man whom I had spoken with on the phone before but never met. He, after a long career in business, has started work on a novel and he sent me a copy of the manuscript to review. I was impressed. I think he's got something good there. While we were talking he asked me how long it takes me to write novel. Well, so far I've only written two of them and I worked on both of them for several years. I think he was comforted by that.

He told me that he read that prolific and popular novelist Nora Roberts writes a book every 45 days --- 45 days!!! Holy cow! Actually, I just recently started one of her books because someone else was talking bout her. I'm only a couple chapters into it and it's very light and very easy to read and enjoyable if you don't mind improbable silliness. A woman running away from an abusive husband comes to island with very little money and no plans. She just happens to wander into book cafe in time to overhear an argument between the owner and an employee who is quitting. It just so happens that the woman is a fabulous cook and she can step right into the job this minute and her muffins drive the islanders mad including the very dishy local sheriff who just happens to wander in and order a muffin and also just happens to be single. Oh, did I mention the woman happens to be gorgeous and young? And that her employer just happens to own a cute little house out back that is not being used so she can live there? Well, that's as far as I've read so far....

My friend Clare is reading my manuscript and I'm enjoying listening to her observations as she proceeds with it. She already hates the bad guy. Good.

The truth is there is a lot of improbability in every story --- at least the ones that tantalize us. Someone once said that the best stories are the ones in which one of the characters has a secret. I love that because, of course, secrets are at the heart of most of my stories. Secrets fascinate.

When Mark and I were working on his book he was very secretive about certain parts of it and he wouldn't let my have each chapter until he felt certain that we had completed work on the last one. Even then he would rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. I started saving the many rewrites so we could go back and see how the changes aligned with other parts of the book. We had many a fight over these changes --- something that always drove him a little crazy. He'd storm off in his truck and not talk to me for several days. I'd keep busy with other things. Then, eventually, there's be a knock on the door and he'd be standing there, manuscript in hand, and say, “Okay, let's try it your way.” Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. I cherish those memories now.

It is Sunday morning of Fiesta. Somewhere nearby someone is playing a very plaintive tune on an accordion. It is cold and gray this morning and I'm a little tired from last night's festivities. There is another party in the neighborhood today --- if it doesn't get rained out. Maybe I'll just stay home and work on this book.

The truth is there is a new set of characters bubbling up in my subconscious. I have been thinking about them for awhile and they are becoming insistent. Time to get to work.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Woke last night to the sound of thunder....

...how far off I sat and wondered.

I guess waking in the night to the sounds of thunder is one of the most ancient of human experiences. There's that little stab of fear until you remember what it is that is causing this. And then the first slash of lightning comes. I still do the same thing I did as a child, lay there and count the seconds from the flash to the rumble. My Dad said that was how you could tell how far away the storm was..... count to 5 and it was five miles away, 4, 3, 2, 1 --- time to light candles and get out the rosaries. My Mom used to burn palms during bad thunderstorms. I don't know how that tradition originated but she would take a piece of the palms we brought home from church on Palm Sunday, crumble it up in a dish, and set it on fire.

Actually, those burning palms were the source of a few fires that fortunately got caught in time. It's safe to say our house was more endangered by unattended burning palms than by lightning but never mind that.

The windows were open when I woke up and I was going to get up and close them. I fell asleep last night to the sounds of partying in the street, “VIVA SAN PIETRO!” Over and over and over. But the rain never made it into the windows so I left them open. The air smells so wonderful during thunderstorms. And now, as I sit by the window writing this, it still smells wonderful with that fresh, clean, moist delicious sea-scent. That scent in the morning always reminds me of waking up at Aunt Rosie's house when I was little. Where I grew up in Pennsylvania there was no sea scent so when I stayed with my godparents, who lived near Lake Erie, that smell was such a treat.

Now I honestly think I can't live without it. I forget about it on a day to day basis until I have to go a few miles inland and notice that the air smells funny, dry and dirty. When I'm gone from Gloucester for a week or so I can hardly wait to get back here and drink it in. On morning's like this it is especially rich and welcome.

Today is the first day of the Greasy Pole walks. Nobody is a champion today, it's just trials. They start at 4:45 along with the seine boat races. At 7:30 there is a candlelight procession when St. Peter will be carried through the streets and placed on the altar. The fishing families will pray and cheer and feast and the rest of us will pretend we are among them.

The sea is everywhere today, in the air, in the festivities and activities and, of course, all the way around us on our little island. I count myself lucky to be here. Viva San Pietro!

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fiesta Begins!

It was wild in the street last night in my neighborhood. People were singing and laughing until midnight! The rain didn't dampen enthusiasm in the least. Our friend Jay Albert at Cape Ann Images tells the story: Fiesta! A Soggy Beginning

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

And then there is St. Peter....

I wrote yesterday about St. Thomas More and St. John the Baptist but I did not mention the other significant saint's day this week, St. Peter, the First Pope whose feast is celebrated on June 29th. Here in Gloucester that is particularly noteworthy because it is the time of Gloucester's annual St. Peter's Fiesta. Much has been made in recent years about the “fiesta” part of Fiesta with not as much consideration for the St. Peter's part. Among the faithful here, of course, the devotion began already last week with the first day of the Novena.

For non-Catholics, a novena is a cycle of prayer that lasts nine days and is focused on a particular intention. In the case of this novena it is an invocation to St. Peter, the Patron Saint of Fishermen, to watch over men at sea and intercede for them in times of need. It is a beautiful devotion. Altars are constructed in the homes of fishing families, people gather, prayers are said and rosaries prayed. The altars are works of art.

Early in my life here in Gloucester I was invited to the SanFillipo's one evening during the novena. I had only attended one other such prayer evening many years ago in Erie, Pennsylvania when one of my friends, whose father and brothers were fishermen, invited me to their home for prayers and then feasting. It was wonderful and served as the scene in The Old Mermaid's Tale for when Tony and Pio buy their first boat and their family celebrates.

The interesting thing about Fiesta, of course, is the seeming dichotomy of religious devotion and wild, bacchanalian celebrating but, in reality, this has a long tradition in Catholic European countries. It actually harkens back to pagan times when there were certain days every year that were designated “days out of time” or days that were, metaphorically, not on the calendar. Ancient people recognized that we all have our wild sides and they acknowledged this by allowing for periods every year where people could just go wild --- drink and dance and party in the street, share with one another and not judge. Children conceived during this time were regarded as being gifts from the gods (rather than the responsibility of whoever had been consorting with whom) and raised by the community with love and gratitude for the gift of them.

Later, as Christianity spread throughout Europe, pagan holy sites and sacred wells became the sites of cathedrals, pagan holidays (like the Winter Solstice) were transformed into Holy Days, and the “days out of time” became feasts with time to pray, give thanks, and then party up a storm. No wonder Christianity caught on so easily. Any marketing professional will tell you this was smart marketing!

But regardless of your beliefs, there has always been a tradition within the Catholic Church of devotion being coupled with celebration. I have been in Mexico on November 2nd when they celebrate All Soul's Day/Día de los Muertos and in New Orleans when the night before Ash Wednesday is celebrated as Mardi Gras. St. Peter's Fiesta is no different. There is the religious devotion observed by the faithful and the wild partying enjoyed by faithful and non-faithful alike.

So tomorrow St. Peter's Fiesta begins officially. There are prayers and Masses and processions. The altar in St. Peter's Square is in place and awaiting the statue of St. Peter which will be carried on the shoulders of fishermen to its place. The carnival was being erected last night when I was down there and people's homes are a-buzz with preparation. This year has been hard on the fishing families. There have been losses and the fishing regulations have been terrible. St. Peter is much needed. The prayers will be in earnest. So, as Fiesta approaches, the cries go up again, “VIVA SAN PIETRO! Please help us.”

Viva San Pietro! DON't miss this great interview with 15 time Greasy Pole Champion Salvy Benson on GoodMorningGloucester!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hope, Faith, Saints, Prayers....

I spent most of the weekend working on the endless rewriting of Each Angel Burns. I am struggling with the very last page. I know what I want to say but finding the right words is a challenge. It is a difficult story because there is an element of mystery and mystique in it that I'm convinced a lot of people will have trouble with but which I think is important. Well, important to the story anyway. The core storyline is about faith, or at least one man's faith, and how that effects the lives of the people he loves.

This morning when I checked my email I received my daily email from Catholics Online with a little story about the Saint-of-the-Day. Today's saint is St. Thomas More but it reminded me that in two days, June 24th, it will be the feast day of St. John the Baptist. In The Old Mermaid's Tale there is a very tender and heart-breaking scene in which Clair remembers Baptiste's story about being born on the feast of St. John the Baptist and the festivals held on that day in his hometown in Brittany. It is one of my favorite parts of the book. As I was thinking about it it occurred to me that both of these novels, despite being both sexually-charged and filled with questionable behavior on the parts of many of the characters, are also suffused with the presence of Catholic saints. St. John the Baptist for The Old Mermaid's Tale and St. Gabriel the Archangel for Each Angel Burns. I actually never intended that to happen, it just did. Saints can be like that, I hear. They just work their way into things uninvited and all.

The truth is we are living in tough times. The last few decades have been particularly decadent and now the bill has come due. The economy is suffering terribly and many of us are suffering along with it. It is a part of human nature, I suppose, that when times become tough we are more inclined to turn our thoughts and hopes and supplications to God, to suddenly find ourselves in need of faith and hope. I'm no different than anyone else. I find myself praying a lot more lately, too. “Please, God, please help your people. We need you...” But, of course, not everyone shares that sentiment or that way of thinking.

So, I find myself thinking about saints. I think there is something very lovely about the whole notion of saints. A lot of non-Catholics don't understand what saints are. We don't worship them, we don't confuse them with God. But for many of us a saint is like a lens that helps us focus our thoughts and clarify our desires so we can pray and hope in a way that helps us understand where we are, how we got here, and where we need to change and grow and improve. A saint is an example of what is possible when faith is a daily ever-present part of life. Even when we doubt, and we all doubt.

It is a cold and rainy day here in Gloucester. June has been an unusually cold and rainy month this year. There is much sadness in the world right now --- wars, fear, want, need. Many of us have lost loved ones in ways that seem impossible to imagine. The leaves are blowing in the trees outside. I can hear the fog horn out on the breakwater and birds chirping and a train clattering across the tracks with its horn blowing. Sweet, lovely poignant sounds. Today is the feast day of St. Thomas More who was twice married and the father of a good many children but who was beheaded by Henry VIII for refusing to support him in his choice to leave the Church so he could marry Anne Boleyn. More is also an author. His book Utopia is still read by scholars today. And in two days it will be the feast of St. John the Baptist who was also beheaded by a king who wasn't getting his own way. These saints can remind us that those in power can be awfully vicious and irresponsible and we may suffer for that irresponsibility. Sometimes it makes no sense but we still carry on.

Maybe tomorrow the sun will shine. Maybe business will improve, maybe we'll learn to accept our losses and go on with our lives finding joy when and where we can. If we are lucky we have faith and hope that things will be better. And always there are saints who were no different than we in their humanness.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A “Ravenous” Review

Ravenous Romance, an online eStore for romance fiction, has a number of Gloucester connections. The photography for their sexually-charged book covers is done by Allen Penn whose studio is on the third floor of the Chamber of Commerce Building overlooking Pavillion Beach. Next weekend he'll have the best view in town --- the best!

And one of Ravenous Romance's editors is Skye Alexander formerly of Gloucester and now living in Texas. Some months back she emailed me and asked if I was interested in writing a story for a green anthology she and Ravenous Romance. What is a green anthology? you might ask. A green anthology is a collection of short stories all of which have a “green”, i.e. environmentally-conscious theme. Oh, and, lest we forget, each story has to be erotic using specifically erotic language and .... well, you get my drift.

My first book, My Last Romance & other passions, is a collection of romantic stories but none of them are explicit --- well, not very. I'm not in the habit of writing explicitly erotic material for the simple reason that it is really difficult to write anything creative or original in doing that. We all know the dynamics --- I hope. What is interesting about sex is what comes before AND what comes after. But the act itself... well, how many interesting and creative ways can you describe Tab A being inserted into Slot B? So it was quite a challenge for me to write a story that I loved and felt good about and then add in the specific details. A male reader once told me that he wondered why I always stopped short of completing sex scenes he asked if I was embarrassed. Well, yes, I am but not embarrassed by sex. I'm embarrassed by the thought of writing something trite that leaves no room for creative writing. Most fiction writers shudder in horror at having their creativity constrained. Where is it more constrained than in writing the same words for the same acts that has been done a gazillion times before?

But I did it. It hurt a little but I did it. I wrote an erotic story about a reporter for a green newspaper being sent to interview a Gloucester fisherman about the environmental impact of fishing practices and what happens to her. I used the descriptive words required and don't think the story is any more interesting for it but.... hey, I gave it a shot.

Yesterday I received word that the book "Green Love" was reviewed in Coffee Time Romance. This is what they had to say about my story, "Gone Fishing":

Lobster fisherman, Greg Conrad, is used to getting beaten down from reporters and people who do not understand how he works. When one of the female reporters watches him with hungry eyes, Greg decides that maybe leading by example is the best way for her to see his side of the story. When the reporter goes fishing for lobsters with Greg, she is surprised with how great a feeling she gets from being on the boat and close to nature. Even better is when the swaying boat has her body rocking against Greg’s.

One of the best parts of this story was how Greg got the reporter to see his side of things. However, the fact that the female did not have a name put me off a little bit. Ms. Valentine did a good job of keeping me aware of the conflict between the reporter and the fisherman. A good read with a funny ending that kept me happy and entertained.

I was a little surprised by her comments about my heroine being nameless. That is something I have often done for one simple reason, to allow the reader to more easily put herself in the heroine's place but, clearly, it didn't work for the reviewer.

Otherwise, I have no complaints. It's a good review. I have been wondering about the advisability of issuing the stories currently available at Heart Throb Books in paperback. One of the stories, Sailor's Valentine, is similar in theme to Gone Fishing. I'm told by readers it is steamy, even though I leave the inserting tabs into slots to the readers imagination.

Well, I think I may have had enough of explicit erotica. I'm getting older, it is true, but I still remember how it all works. nd my imagination still works just fine, thank you very much.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Help for the Bird Lady

Jodi Swensen has gained something of reputation in Gloucester as the local Bird Lady. When there is an injured bird Jodi is the person to call. But lately there have been more birds than she can handle and it has put a considerable strain on her budget. What Jodi does, she does out of love for her little (and not so little) feathered friends --- largely at her own expense.

Recently she had to move and we all know how expensive that is. Not to mention moving her large outdoor aviary. She placed a request for help on an area message board and a crew showed up to move the aviary for her. Now, as she settles in to her new digs, she is having a tough time keeping up with the birds who need her help.

A hummingbird with a broken wing in Jodi's care

Since I am, first and foremost, a web designer, I offered to set up a small web site for her so she could show some of her work and also let people know what she needs --- from insulin needles to frozen mice and from suet to --- well --- cash. The site went live yesterday. You can find it at www.CAWildBirdRescue.org. If you can help it would be most appreciated. You can make a financial donation using a credit card, bank card, or PayPal. There is also a list of “needs” on the page. If you find yourself with an excess of bird seed or detergent that would be helpful, too. Jodi's contact information is on the page.

Jodi rescuing an injured baby gannet on Good Harbor Beach

Jodi is especially concerned with the ever disappearing songbirds which so many of us love. Each songbird saved is a little bit of natural music that stays a little longer in the world. Please help if you can.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Gram Werner's Mincemeat Tarts

A funny thing happened the other day. I was wandering round in the grocery store and noticed a huge table of marked down items so, naturally, I stopped to have a look and there was a treasure! Several jars of Grandma's Mincemeat marked down from $8.99 to $1 per jar! Now, let me tell you, even if I wasn't a mincemeat fanatic that would be tempting but --- wow! --- how can I pass that up.

I fell in love with mincemeat before I can remember. Gram Werner, my mother's mother, made mincemeat tarts that were so delicious the thought of them can still make me drool. I remember standing beside her at her kitchen table when I was barely tall enough to see over the table, helping her to make mincemeat tarts. For one thing, she had the prettiest tart tins. They were much like a muffin tin except the bottoms were fluted so that when you pressed the dough down into them they came out with this lovely rippled shape. I still have 2 of them and, though I haven't made tarts in years, well, you never know when you might have to.

Anyway it was my job to put the “lids” on the tarts. Gram would cut out the dough for the tart and press it into the tin, spoon in the delicious, cinnamony filling, and then cut out little round dots to place on top. That's what I was there for. The next hour was agony as the whole house filled up with the fragrance of cinnamon and cloves and apples and raisins. And when the tarts came out of the oven they were just so cute. My brother Wayne and I fought over them all the time.

Gram always started her tart filling with a jar of Grandma's Mincemeat but it never stopped there. She'd chop up apples, and stir in raisins, and add more cinnamon --- sometimes some extra grated orange rind. Her tarts were juicy and fresher tasting than the kind made straight out of the jar. Hot, in a bowl with milk --- there was never anything better.

Years later when I lived in Erie I lived on Plum Street and my neighbor's name, I'm not making this up, was Mrs. Lemmon. Mrs. Lemmon on Plum Street. Mrs. Lemmon made mincemeat from scratch with apples and raisins and suet --- lots of booze and plenty of spice. But her mincemeat turned out very dry. It was delicious but didn't have the juiciness of Gram's. Some years later I tried it myself and I realized that what you had to do was make the mincemeat and age it in the traditional way but then add fresh apples when you made the tarts. That was Gram's secret.

My Grandmother Valentine had recipe in her cookbook for green tomato mincemeat. My mother made it one time when we had a surplus of green tomatoes and it was delicious though very different from what one might expect. Well, the truth is if you pour enough cinnamon into most anything it will be delicious. As an adult, I've given up most pies and tarts but I found that I could still get a mincemeat fix by shelling out the $8.99 for a jar and then parsimoniously using a couple of tablespoons of mincemeat in the center of an apple as it baked. That is still one of my favorite treats, mincemeat-filled baked apples.

Now I sometimes buy a jar, especially round the holidays, and keep it in the fridge. I use a small spoonful of the succulent, spicy stuff on a piece of buttered toast --- it is far superior to any jam or preserve in my opinion. And I always think of Gram when I eat it.

So, well, I went nuts in the grocery store. I cleaned them out. For $5 I have $45 worth of rich, gooey, spicy, tangy mincemeat. I feel like I won the lottery. I'll spoon it on toast or into apples as they roast. I might even get out Gram's pretty fluted tins. And I'll think of her while I make tarts. I still remember how to put the lids on.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Meeting Brunonia Barry

Yesterday I spent the day at the first ever Fiber Arts Celebration in Andover. I had been invited by Kate Broughton and Rose Ann Hunter to bring my book, “The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties: Shawls, Cocoons & Wraps” to sell and sign copies. The featured speaker for the day was Brunonia Barry, author of The Lace Reader, a book that I loved reading.

After reading her book a few months ago I got very interested in Ipswich Lace and also purchased Marta Cotterell Raffel's The Laces of Ipswich: The Art and Economics of an Early American Industry, 1750-1840, the book that inspired Ms. Barry's book. Since Ipswich is just a few miles down the road from here and I drove through it twice a day on my way to and from work, it is quite fascinating to realize that at one time it was famous for the lace made there and that Ipswich Lace was the first American industry owned and operated by women!

At the festival there were three women demonstrating the making of bobbin lace, one of them in the traditional Ipswich fashion. I watched for awhile and found their skill and perfection mind-numbing. First of all, let me say that their tools were absolutely beautiful. The pillows the lace is made on are exquisite in fine fabrics with satin cording and braid and tassels. And the bobbins are just beautiful. One woman had bobbins that were decorated with all sorts of gorgeous glass beads. While I was watching one of the women said that she is in total control, quarter inch by quarter inch --- astonishingly delicate.

My table had a display of my handknit shawls on it and, throughout the day, people came by to look at them, talk about lace knitting, and even buy a few books. Though the lace readers in Ms. Barry's book read Ipswich-style bobbin lace, it was kind of exciting to be the only other person there displaying hand-made lace.

When Ms. Barry arrived everyone was quite excited to talk to her. She was as charming as could be and she made the rounds looking at everyone's work before her speech. When she stopped at my table I have to confess, I was thrilled. I told her how much I enjoyed reading her book and mentioned one part in particular. “You know,” she said, “that was really interesting to write...” and thus began a discussion about being a writer, the mysteries that involves and the unruliness of characters and how they often surprise their creators by not doing what they were supposed to do.

I gave her a copy of my book and she was very gracious about that and then it was time for her talk. She is fortunate in that she has a most pleasant speaking voice and her talk about the history of Ipswich lace, how she went about writing the book, her own dream that inspired it, and how her book has inspired a number of psychics in Salem to begin their own lace reading practices was delightful and informative. Afterward she signed books and stayed and chatted for a long time. She's a most personable woman, gracious, interesting and, even better, interested in the people who talk to her.

So it was an encouraging day. I sold some books, met a lot of lovely people and had a chance to meet an author whose voice I admire. She has two more books in the works that will connect to The Lace Reader, all set in Salem. I look forward to reading them.

Check out her blog, The Bruhaha.

On the drive home, as we passed through Ipswich, Leslie and I decided to make a point to get ourselves over to The Whipple House to see their exhibition of Ipswich Lace. They say that George Washington once made a special trip to Ipswich just to buy a bit of lace for Martha.... I'll post when I find out more about it.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Another Angel Gone Home -- R.I.P. Carleen

Yesterday I received sad news, Gloucester artist and beloved friend Carleen Muniz passed away after a long and valiant battle with cancer. She will be deeply, deeply missed.

I first met Carleen when I joined the North Shore Arts Association and was elected to their Board of Trustees. Carleen was both an artist and an officer and was utterly devoted to NSAA. She was one of those smiling faces that made that place the joy that it was. Over the years of serving two terms on the Board and then working for them as their web master Carleen was the person I most frequently talked to about issues concerning the web site's maintenance. When I started volunteering at auctions I was always on Carleen's team. She'd call me up before the auctions when she was orgnizing volunteers and say, "Well, I know I can count on you anyway."

She was a fabulous artist having studied with Charles Movalli. Her style was directly influenced by the Cape Ann School of Art founded by Emile Gruppé. I loved her paintings. They were brilliant, vibrant and alive. You can see many of them on her web site. They were frequent prize winners at NSAA. I especially loved her painting of sports. She was an active soccer player, playing on a women's soccer team until just a few years ago. She also worked at the YMCA and was just loved by everyone who knew her.

The last couple of years were difficult for her but she was always bright and cheerful. The last time I tlked to her on the phone I asked how she was doing. Her voice sounded frail but she said, "Oh, I'm fine." Then a pause and then she said, "you know." And I did.

So today the earth is missing an angel. She has left her poor, fragile little body behind but her spirit will stay --- in her paintings, and in the goodness of her life, and in all our hearts. Rest in peace, dear Carleen.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

seARTS Opening & Blogaplooza

As most people who know me know, I'm not the most social person in the world. I like people and I usually have a good time when I do go out but I'm frequently reluctant to actually go out and do things. I'm like my Dad, I guess. My Mother always used to say about him and social events, “You can't get him to go and then, when he does go, you can't get him to leave.”Which is actually part of the problem. I know myself and I know how bad I am about going somewhere and then being in no mood to leave. Last night was a case in point: two events that I knew would be great and both of them at the same time.

Our good buddy Joe Ciaramitaro over at Good Morning Gloucester had organized the first ever Blogapalooza, a gathering for bloggers, webbies, and their fans and followers. We were to meet at 6:30 at Cape Ann Brewery down in The Fort. This was great but it coincided with the opening of seARTS' first opening reception of an exhibition held at the Bass Rocks Country Club. What made that special was that the speaker for the evening was a sculptor whom I had known years ago when I lived in Marblehead. Carol Seitchek and I belonged to a group that met regularly to support and help on another through big changes in our lives. I had not seen her in years and was looking forward to hearing her talk.

So I went down to Cape Ann Brewery at the appointed time and popped in just to say hello. Joe was there with 2 other bloggers and we chatted for a few minutes before I had to leave for Bass Rocks CC.

The party there was already crowded when I arrived and, as always, there were so many people that I knew --- many whom I hadn't seen in ages. I finally got to meet the photographer-husband of my friend writer/photographer Susan Oleksiw and was able to visit with a few neighbors, and friends from other arts organizations. That's one of the great things about Cape Ann, we have such a rich and diverse arts community that every time there is an art gathering of any sort you can count on meeting a lot of people you know and whose work you admire.

It was great to see Carol again, she is just as lovely and vivacious as always and her lecture on individual tastes and “comfort zones” in art was interesting. She showed a number of slides of contemporary work and we talked about our reactions to them. I, typically, selected as my favorite a somewhat monochromatic mixed media piece that included an architectural detail as the dominant image. I think I was the only one there who picked that one.

So, when the party was over I'd had 2 glasses of red wine and was still feeling social so headed back to Blogapalooza. Many of the folks had left, a few had moved down the street to Cameron's for the weekly Sea Shanty Sing. But there were enough people there to make visiting fun. Joe, of course, and 2 of my other favorite bloggers, Jay Albert of Cape Ann Images, and Jim Barber of For the Birds. It was just nice being there and Cape Ann Brewery is certainly a comfortable, friendly place to be. So, well, what can I say? I'm my father's daughter --- I didn't want to leave.

Thanks for reading.

Tour Gloucester Harbor with Jay Albert

From our good buddy at Cape Ann Images:

Saturday, June 06, 2009

I spent ALL day on this!

They say you can never promote too much. Well, what do you think?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Pooling Instructions Available At Last

Life has been very busy lately and I never seem to have enough time. However, I finally finished the instructions and diagrams for my Pooling-On-Purpose Project. The instructions are available as a PDF download from Ravelry. They are 4 pages long and include directions on how to "pool", advice on selecting yarn, and directions/diagrams for three garments: The Wrap, The Ruana/Shawl, and The Kimono Jacket. You can visit the Ravelry page by clicking here: Pooling-On-Purpose or click on the button below to buy:

Pooling-On-Purpose Ruana/Shawl & Kimono Jacket

Shown here knit in cotton chenille. Patter includes directions on how to "pool" (get colors to collect in one place) plus directions/diagrams for the ruana/shawl, the kimono jacket, and a wrap (not shown)

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A package from my sister....

My sister Lisa is one of the most clever and talented people I know. If I am the knitter in the family, she is the quilter and her creations dazzle me. The other day I received a package from her in the mail. It was full of treats --- most of the made by her and the most gorgeous one was this (click to enlarge):

The colors are just absolutely beautiful but it is her meticulous craftsmanship that always boggles my mind. Every corner is neat and sharp and perfect. I wish you could see the quilting. I should have made a closeup. I'm thinking of hanging it on a wall --- it is too beautiful to use.

Also, because both she and I live by the motto "There's no such thing as too many tote bags" she included this in her package:
Can you believe she made that? There is an Ethan Allen factory near her and she often gets remnants of their upholstery fabric and she makes the most gorgeous tote bags and backpacks from them! I LOVE this and used it yesterday when I had to take several packages to the post office. It has pockets on both sides and is the perfect size for shopping.

Her lovely box also contained a beautiful hand-made pillowcase with little fairies all over it and a selection of one of my favorite guilty pleasures, maple goodies from Coudersport's Annul Maple Festival --- maple honey, maple sugar (unbelievable sprinkled on fresh strawberries) and maple cream which can be used in many ways but is best licked off of one's fingers.

I'm so lucky to have such a clever sister! So now it is my turn --- I get to fill up box and send it back to her. I have a few ideas....

Thanks for reading.