Friday, May 29, 2009

Summer Reading

Next to watching him learn to talk and walk, there was nothing more exciting to me than my two-year-old starting to love books. Seeing him pick through his crammed bookcase for just the right stories each night never fails to make me smile. Sometimes there is what seems to be endless pondering and other nights he knows just what he wants even before we get to the top of the stairs. I always have him choose (even through the What Color is Elmo? streak of '08) and we both look forward to this bedtime ritual.

I figured this would be the place I could make the choices. Summer has arrived and if I could pull some books off of my shelf that would be just right for the occasion they would be.....

Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey- A little girl and her mother, a bear cub and mama bear, set out to search for blueberries and sweet silliness ensues. A true children's literature classic, nothing evokes the Maine landscape of a warm summer day like McCloskey's timeless monochrome illustrations.

Image courtesy of

Three Days On a River In a Red Canoe by Vera B. Williams- When reading this child's journal of a canoe trip, it is difficult not to feel a part of her travels. Two cousins and their mothers take a true summertime journey and with every turn of the page are illustrations, maps, or instructions that detail the adventure.

Image courtesy of

Bats at the Beach by Brian Lies- For some, summer is all about time at the beach. Brian Lies tells the tale of the ultimate beach experience.....with bats. At night the sand and surf come alive- the humorous and wonderfully detailed illustrations are never too dark, but have the perfect rich purple-y luminescence of a moon lit sky. And those bats, their antics will exhaust even the most enthusiastic beach goer.

Image courtesy of

Come on, Rain! by Karen Hesse- Hesse and Muth collaborate to capture the anticipation of and jubilation during a summer storm in the hot city. Through prose poetry and muted, glistening watercolors we experience the wait for the clouds to roll in, the rains to pour down, and we take part in the celebration when there is relief from the heat.

Image courtesy

Weslandia by Paul Fleischman- Fleischman and Hawkes introduce us to Wesley. Wesley is teased because he does not fit in. After considering what he learned in school that spring, he decides to found his own civilization for a summer project. It is here is "Weslandia" that he can celebrate all of his innovations and pursuits and that sparks the interest of the neighborhood children. It is thrilling to witness Wesley creating his own intricate civilization and to watch him ultimately succeed outside of the created kingdom.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A show of hands?

"Elephant" (Or is it? Look carefully...)

Yesterday, due to a pretty good downpour, I lost power for about two hours. It's true that this was at about 6:30 when it was still light out and there was no threat of an extended blackout, but I still gave myself a little panic about my lack of practical candles (too many scented ones would contribute to sensory overload!) and the contents of my refrigerator (that bottle of water is in danger of being spoiled by the morn!). After collecting myself, I realized I was really only in need of two things: Monopoly and the ability to make shadow puppets. I'll soon be purchasing the game, but on my way to becoming a master of shadow puppetry - I found these amazingly painted hands or handimals. Do you think they are worth my lost time in early evening semi-darkness?

All handimal images by artist Guido Daniele

And, of course, if you are interested in hand shadow puppets, here and here are some pretty easy videos to follow and you can also find some neat how-to drawings here.

Happy Future Blackout!

image via

image from a 1956 activity book via

Monday, May 25, 2009

Entertainment's endangered species

Last night we went to the drive-in for a double feature: Night at the Museum 2 and Star Trek. The lot was dusty, the line for the bathroom was a mile long, the film quality was poor, and by the end of the night it was pouring rain. But I count it as one of our best-ever family outings.

I remember seeing Star Wars at the drive-in with my family when I was around 4 years old. Or, I should say, I remember being at the drive-in to see Star Wars, because I don't remember anything about watching the actual movie. But I do vividly recall the theater's rickety playground, and I remember changing into my pajamas when the movie started and snuggling under a blanket in the cargo space (what we called "the way way back") of our station wagon with my brother and sister.

The drive-in we went to last night could have been that 1977 theater. The playground was a cluster of worn out swing sets, seesaws, and aluminum jungle gyms, and the screen was simply a wall of aluminum siding. Admission was $17 for all 6 of us, and popcorn was $2 a bucket. After the first movie, the little ones got on their PJ's and climbed into the open back of our minivan, where we'd made a cozy nest of blankets, and we sat outside in folding chairs to watch the late feature. And when the last movie was over, we left them sprawled out in the back, in true 1970's style, to sleep on the 40 minute drive home. That's right--sans seatbelts. Now they know what it's like to sleep in the "way way back" with road sounds rumbling under their ears.

Functioning drive-in theaters are, of course, an endangered species in the 21st century, as digital-quality sound and picture draw us to the overpriced megaplexes. But there is a nostalgic beauty in drive-ins, most of which haven't been renovated much since they opened, some of which are beautiful even in abandonment.

(image via WebUrbanist)

(images via Wired)

The last few drive-ins (there are something like 400 left in the U.S.) are still there for families with noisy, restless children; for people who'll take folding chairs over stadium seating if it means sitting in the warm night air; for those of us who find comfort in the quiet breathing of children asleep behind us as Dr. Spock and Captain Kirk learn what friendship means.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Some very short films

The Library of Congress has a YouTube account.

I know it sounds a little surprising, but it's actually pretty neat. There are a number of recent presentations from the Library of Congress, but a collection of very early films, by Thomas Edison, was added about a month ago. The earliest surviving copyrighted film is of a sneeze. There is also what looks to be the first pillow fight ever filmed - flying feathers and all. Most, if not all, of the films are a minute or less long, but still incredible to watch.

"Newark Athlete" was an experimental fragment filmed in 1891. I think the "reanimated" version shown here is really beautiful. Pause on the film - how do you think they manipulated the image? What are those waves of light?

"May Irwin Kiss," filmed in 1896, is a scene from a New York stage comedy. I like how the actors are trying to kiss and then kissing, but they talk and seem to tease each other the whole time. I think it's sweet and funny.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Won't you let me walk you home from school?
Won't you let me meet you at the pool?
Maybe Friday I can
get tickets for the dance
and I'll take you

Won't you tell your dad, "Get off my back"?
Tell him what we said 'bout 'Paint It Black'
Rock 'n Roll is here to stay
Come inside where it's okay
and I'll shake you

Won't you tell me what you're thinking of?
Would you be an outlaw for my love?
If it's so, well, let me know
If it's "no", well, I can go
I won't make you

-"Thirteen", Big Star

"Thirteen" by Big Star- in my opinion it is one of the best little love songs going, but if you don't want to take my word for it....

"Chilton wrote this acoustic ballad about two kids in love with
rock & roll, featuring the deathless couplet, "Won't you tell your dad
to get off my back/Tell him what we said about 'Paint It Black.' " It's
simple musically; as Chilton said, "I was still learning to play and stuff." It never came out as a single or got any radio play, but "Thirteen" is one of rock's most beautiful celebrations of adolescence." - Rolling Stone
Do yourself a favor and listen. Tune into the teenage heart.

This is, like, really moving.

Because I'm watching it yet again. Because it needs to be said. Because no one should think that Browning or Shakespeare or Mr. Big in the "Sex in the City" movie say it any better. The best love letter ever written just might be the one Brian Krakow wrote (via Jordan Catalano) to Angela Chase on the brilliant "My So-Called Life."

For your reading pleasure:

Dear Angela,
I know in the past I've caused you pain, and I'm sorry. And I'll always be sorry till the day I die. And I hate this pen I'm holding, because I should be holding you. I hate this paper under my hand because it isn't you. I even hate this letter because it's not the whole truth. Because the whole truth is so much more than a letter can even say. If you wanna hate me, go ahead. If you wanna burn this letter, do it. You could burn the whole world down. You could tell me to go to hell. I'd go. If you wanted me to. And I'd send you a letter from there.
Jordan Catalano

The Rowdy Girls

Why do you think our culture has such a fixation on the moneyed and eccentric, but slightly off older woman desperate for love lost or for someone to just pay attention?

Little Edie's story has now been remade into the HBO film "Grey Gardens," a musical adaptation (which I loved and you can see a snippet here), some pretty gorgeous coffee table books, and, of course, there's the brilliant original documentary. Never mind the influence on fashion and the vast contribution of lines to quote. But Edie is one in a long line of these rowdy girls that mesmerize us with their musty mansions, fierce honesty, and haunting presence.

("Little Edie Art Mask" by Bruce Lennon)

The original:
Miss Havisham from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

(image via Blackfriars Theatre)

Her introduction in Great Expectations:

"She was dressed in rich materials — satins, and lace, and silks — all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table. Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore, and half-packed trunks were scattered about. She had not quite finished dressing, for she had but one shoe on — the other was on the table near her hand — her veil was half arranged, her watch and chain were not put on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets and with her handkerchief, and gloves, and some flowers, and a prayer-book, all confusedly heaped about the looking-glass.

It was not in the first moments that I saw all these things, though I saw more of them in the first moments than might be supposed. But, I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its luster, and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose, had shrunk to skin and bone. Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly wax-work at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress, that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now wax-work and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. I should have cried out, if I could."

Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in "Sunset Blvd." (1950)

(image via Daveland Art Gallery)

Bette Davis as Baby Jane Hudson and Joan Crawford as Blanche Hudson in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" (1962)

Anne Bancroft as Ms. Dinsmoor in a modern take on "Great Expectations" (1998)

(Don't you love how her pose is similar to the one in "Sunset Blvd"?)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Stories in silhouette

There's something haunting about papercut silhouettes. There is beauty in the black and white simplicity and a gorgeous irony in the way that, somehow, a featureless image can be so striking.

My favorite papercuts are of fairy tales. That shadowy wolf in "Rotkappchen" makes me shiver, as does the witch in the window of Hansel and Gretel's candy cottage, the moment before they land themselves in her clutches.

(Images via wackystuff)

One of my favorite Etsy artists, Elsita, has a beautiful series of prints of her original storybook papercuts. I love Alice in Wonderland the most, the white rabbit is so dignified in her illustration:

Another amazing Etsy artist, Paperdiecut, offers these original papercuts with a charming storybook quality:

I'm smitten with the vintage feel of these images, with their understated loveliness. And I am in awe of the steady hands that created these pieces--what a painstaking, exact art. And what a gorgeous result.

Now I know my ABCs

There are whole blogs dedicated to nursery design. I can see why - it is an exciting room- so many ideas, themes, so much art, and countless accessories. Just when you think you have seen the most ideal baby of another steal your heart.
Recently I realized I'm always drawn to rooms that have alphabet art or a single beautiful letter. They are timeless and perfect for a boy or a girl. There are just so many ways to incorporate the alphabet into a great nursery. I decided to share some of them....

Alphabet wall cards make a great border, but they can also be propped on a shelf or hung banner-style from a line ...the following are from eeboo, a company that has a wide variety of alphabet card sets (these just happen to be my favorite, bright and whimsical watercolor ).

For a vintage take on this idea, these French alphabet cards from etsy shop Bibitty are simple and lovely.

An alphabet poster for any setting......

Finally, the ultimate in alphabet decor....the mural.

Image courtesy of nurserymuralsandmore

Monday, May 18, 2009

"So was I once myself a swinger of birches."

Don't fight me on this. I know you think Robert Frost is boring or too familiar or writes long poems that you can't figure out because you don't "get" poetry. But give him another chance, give the poem "Birches" another read even if you sort of remember it from high school or think it's way too popular. As you may have noticed, I'm a reader of poetry and I try to read new poets as much as possible, but sometimes I just need those comfort poems - those poems that continue to move me with each and every reading. (And don't the pretty vintage postcards of birch trees entice you at all?)

by Robert Frost

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust--
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

"Tents under birches, Saranac Lake, Adirondacks, N. Y."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Dear Detroit

"Ballroom, Lee Plaza Hotel" from "The Ruins of Detroit"

It seems like a lot of people have recently been paying attention to Detroit aside from talking about the crisis in the automotive industry. For example, there are projects like Habitat for Hamtramck which is a grassroots organization working to revitalize the Hamtramck area by rehabilitating vacant houses (Hamtramck is a city surrounded by Detroit).

There also some amazing photo essays which capture the faded beauty of the city like the series titled "The ruins of Detroit" by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre (I found these pictures on - which also gives a bit more info on the buildings) and "100 Abandoned Houses" by Kevin Bauman. There are so many stories in these pictures, in these old and fading places.

The following pictures are from "The ruins of Detroit":

"United Artists Theater"

"Broderick Tower"

"Fisher Body 21 Plant"

The following pictures are from "100 Abandoned Houses":

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Love for the Late Bloomers

Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus, illustrated by Jose Aruego

A friend of mine, in his mid-30s, finally feels that he is finding his groove in his art. A little guy I know, on his way to three, kept his words to a minimum for a bit longer than most. Now he talks a mile a minute. Late bloomers can be those who blossom in beauty or skill or talent later in life. Sometimes that blossoming comes without effort, but sometimes there's some tilling to do. I recently revisited a New Yorker article, "Late Bloomers: Why do we equate genius with precocity?" by Malcolm Gladwell who I still find to speak eloquently about and for delayed genius:

"But sometimes genius is anything but rarefied; sometimes it’s just the thing that emerges after twenty years of working at your kitchen table."

Here are some of my favorite late bloomers:

Mrs. Wilder's 1st book of the Little House series was not published until she was 65 years old.

Julia Child become a PBS starlet. At 51.

Kenneth Grahame published his first book, the children's book classic Wind in the Willows when he was 49.

Purple Robe and Anemones," 1937
Many believe that Matisse only started to become the artist we know him to be when he was 35.

Charles Bukowski, the poet, only BEGAN to write poetry when he was 35.

image by

Forget summer flowers, chrysanthemums give your gardens color in the fall.

And isn't the story of the ugly ducking really the story of a late blooming beauty? Personally, I like this version best (watch and just try not to tear up):

Disney's "Ugly Duckling" (1939)


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