Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Photographic Year in Review

I had toyed around briefly - very briefly - with the idea of doing a Year in Review sort of post but then after deciding that it sounded way too much like work and I'm all for relaxing on this last day of 2011, that I would simply post one of my favorite photos from each month.  Of course even that was too much like work as I took an awful lot of photos this year but I finally grabbed a Baker's Dozen and called it 'good to go'!

January 29th - On a visit to Kent, Connecticut in the northwest corner of the state, I caught a shot of my favorite Princess at Kent Falls State Park. Note all the snow!

Intrepid Reporter Princess Patti Photographs the Falls

February 20th - Jamie in silhouette at Eastern Point Beach in Groton as we took advantage of a sunny and not-too-cold day in February.  As brutal of a winter as we had (see above!), it was nice to be able to go out and enjoy some sun! 

Jamie in Silhouette

March 1st - One of my favorite photos from my cruise on the Carnival Glory.  This was a tough pick as I took over 1,000 pictures on my first-ever cruise that I didn't enjoy while I was on but in retrospect liked more than I thought I did! 

Strolling on the deck

April 26th - The Callender Room at the Captain Lord Mansion in Kennebunkport where I stayed when I took myself on a pleasant little trip to Maine for two days.  Talk about luxurious, the picture doesn't do it justice! 

The Callender Room

May 13th - This shot was taken when Jamie and I took a trip to Chester, Vermont for a working weekend at the Inn Victoria where I made some wonderful new friends and had a fantastic time!  I've been back up several times since and Chester is just as charming every time I'm there! 

Main Street Chester

June 16th - I drove myself down to the town of Essex on the Connecticut River and treated myself to lunch at the Griswold Inn, the United States' oldest continuously operating inn!  Their chowder is just as delicious as they say it is! 

The Griswold Inn in Essex, Connecticut; the United States' oldest continuously operating inn.

July 7th - After putting Jamie on a bus in Toronto so she could spend a few months with a friend in Manitoba, I drove down to Niagara Falls and spent several fantastic days at a lovely bed & breakfast - Kilpatrick Manor - and met one of my long-time blogging buddies, Carol, as I witnessed the wonders of the falls.  It was definitely one of my best trips of the year! 

The American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls

August 4th - It was back to Boston for Amanda and I as we went to visit the Chihully Exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  Well worth the trip even though I had just been in town the week before to attend a Red Sox game with my cousin Amy! 

September 28th - Speaking of my cousin Amy, I flew out to Nashville with her as she attended the International Bluegrass Music Association Conference and quite enjoyed the trip.  We visited the Ryman Auditorium and other Nashville sights - the trip was mighty fine, mighty fine! 

October 6th - The Mountain View Grand Resort in Whitefield, New Hampshire was where this beautiful porch is located.  My mom, Amanda, and I made a one-night trip up to the beautiful historic resort that is located just north of Mount Washington in the White Mountains.  Definitely on my list of "gotta-go-back-there" places! 

Sunsets in the White Mountains

November 9th - Speaking of going back, Amanda and I went back to Salem (I have lost count of how many times I've been there this year but I've loved every single visit!)  I took this shot of the Old Burying Point near the Witch Trials Memorial and just loved the sun flare through the tree shining on the headstones.

December 2nd - Did I mention that I went to Salem a lot??  This photo is from the Clarence S. Clark House which was part of Christmas in Salem Historic House Tour that I was able to partially go on being that I had work obligations and couldn't be there for the whole event.  Still, the houses I got to see were beautiful - especially this one! 

Finally, one my very favorite photos of the year was taken once again in Salem when I was there on July 27th with my cousin Amy.  It was a beautiful evening and we spent some time walking around down by the waterfront where I shot this picture of the Friendship docked at Pickering Wharf.  

Reflections of Friendship

I have been very, very fortunate to have had the chance to travel to a lot of places this past year and take a lot of pictures. It's been a year filled with new opportunities, new adventures, new and old friends, and a lot of good stuff.  Sure, maybe there were a few not-so-high points but overall I can't complain and I'm quite looking forward to seeing what 2012 has in store for me.  Just as a guess, I'd be willing to bet there's another trip or two to Salem in there somewhere!

Best wishes to everyone for a wonderful new year filled with your own lots of good stuff from which to make wonderful memories with just enough not-so-great stuff to make you appreciative of all the good stuff even more!  That's my plan for the year!

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Day After

Happy December 26th to those of you here in America and Happy Boxing Day to my English and Canadian friends!  I guess that for some of us we could call today Boxing-Up Day as that's when we start putting away all of the trappings and decorations and other accumulations of Christmas and get ready to welcome in a brand new year full of all sorts of wonderful opportunities and adventures!  For me today is really just "Sit Around and Chill Until I Have to Go Back into Work" Day as I'm feeling rather akin to a slug and have about zero ambition in spite of the fact that I slept quite well last night!

Speaking of last night, the girls and I had a wonderful time at our family's annual Christmas Night gathering which was held at my Aunt Eleanor's this year.  It's become the one time of the year when extended family gathers around to eat way too much good food and visit for a bit and I look forward to it every year.  At last night's gathering my cousin Chuck - whom I haven't seen in years and years - popped in and it was great to see him and laugh about old times in Canterbury.

Sometimes it's hard to believe just how many years have gone by but as I was explaining to Amanda on the way home last night who Chuck was on the family tree, it dawned on me that I haven't seen his oldest sister Diana (whom I was practically inseparable from during our high school years) in over 18 years. Amanda asked if there was some bad blood there and I said "no, we've just never found the time to get together." Even though I don't make resolutions I really think I need to do something about that and resolve to get together with her perhaps in this coming year.  After all, it's not like she lives far away and even if she did, I've gotten quite good at traveling hither, thither, and yon!

So ... except for the several people who called 911 yesterday and felt that it was necessary for them to scream and curse at me in order to get an ambulance there quicker, I would have to chalk this up to a nice Christmas weekend ... we had a great Christmas Eve dinner at a friend's house, the girls seem happy with their presents, I got to see extended family plus my son and his wife along with my two grandsons at my aunt's, and I slept like a Yule log once I got to bed last night!  All in all, not bad at all!

I hope that your Christmas was merry and bright as we head into this last week of 2011 and that there aren't too many eggnog hangovers!

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Distracted Promo With a Tidbit of History That Would Have Made Scrooge Smile!

1937 Photo of The House of the Seven Gables
from the Library of Congress
Photo Credit

Three weeks ago I made my second visit in less than two days back to Salem's House of the Seven Gables since my original visit in 1975 as a high school junior - and no, the picture from above isn't from that original trip!  On my most recent visit I was given a private showing of the property and given permission to take photos inside the houses - something that is not allowed to visitors on the regular tours.  The reason for that was so that I could share both the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion and the Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace House with readers of The Distracted Wanderer.  Finally after several late nights and long hours, both posts are finally up and running so should you wish to see the inside of the house that is believed to have inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne to write his 1851 Gothic Romance novel The House of the Seven Gables, you may do so here.

As an added bonus, the house was decorated for Christmas - a holiday that was illegal in Massachusetts for many, many years following a law passed in 1659 by the Massachusetts Bay Colony that banned Christmas celebrations and required a five-shilling fine from anyone caught "observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way." The law was repealed in 1681 but it wasn't until 1856 that Christmas Day became a state holiday in Massachusetts. Gosh, if Ebeneezer Scrooge had known that, maybe he could have moved to Massachusetts where he would have been within his legal rights to "Bah Humbug" as much as he wanted and no one would have condemned him for it in the least!

Speaking of Christmas, I've got lots to do before Sunday so I'd best get to it!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Popping in Briefly ...

Wow, I feel like I have been MIA from the Blogosphere lately as any time management skills I may have once possessed have gone the way of the leaves on our trees here in New England! I'm going to chalk my latest bout of disorganization up to not enough hours in the day for me to do all of the things I want to do, especially on those days when I decide to add on a few overtime hours at work.

Ah well, 'tis the season!

It's my hope to catch up with everyone's lives sometime this week in between wrapping a few Christmas presents, baking another pumpkin cheesecake for Christmas Eve dinner at a friend's house, taking both Amanda and Jamie to the eye doctor for new glasses, working yet another overtime shift, and writing the second part of my recent trip to The House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts. Part One is currently up and running at The Distracted Wanderer and if you have any time at all in your busy holiday schedules, I'd love it if you could stop by and check it out.

Just to tempt you here's one of the photos from the post though it looks much nicer over there - honest!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

An Early Christmas Gift for My Cousin - and Me!

Even though it's probably going to rain a bit, my cousin Amy and I are heading up to Boston today so that I can present her with one of her Christmas gifts just a little bit early.  Being a little stumped as to what to get a librarian who also has a love of history like I do, when I heard about The Freedom Trail's Holiday Stroll I thought it sounded like an excellent gift idea - plus I couldn't possibly send Amy by herself so I'm rather giving myself a gift also!

Even though I should probably be staying home working on my post for The Distracted Wanderer on my tour of the House of the Seven Gables or perhaps wrapping a few Christmas packages or maybe even doing laundry, I'm not going to do any of that. Instead I'm going to drive up to Boston with my cousin, spend a little time doing some Christmas shopping, and then take a nice stroll along the Freedom Trail learning all about how Christmas was - and wasn't - celebrated during Colonial Times. As a special treat, the tour ends at Boston's Omni Parker House where we'll indulge in a nice cup of coffee or tea and the pièce de résistance - Boston Cream Pie!

The Omni Parker House is, after all, where Boston Cream Pie originated - not to mention the truly delicious Parker House Rolls. The one time I was there to have breakfast several years ago the hotel was absolutely beautiful and I'm thinking it will probably be made even more so decked out for the holidays! I'm looking forward to finding out firsthand!

I sure hope that Amy will quite enjoy her early Christmas present but if by some strange twist she doesn't, she can't exactly return it!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Santa, Santas Everywhere!

The last post in my series on the Historic Salem, Inc. 32nd Annual Christmas in Salem Historic House Tour is up at The Distracted Wanderer featuring more Santas than you can shake a yule log at!

I hope you'll take the time to read The Clarence S. Clark House in Salem, Massachusetts - A House That Santa Would Be Proud to Call "Home" or if you'd like, just go look at the pictures of a home that Martha Stewart would envy that was completely decorated by the homeowner herself featuring wonderful crafts and artwork that were done by herself and her very talented mother.  Add on the fact that the house is one of Salem's best examples of Colonial Revival architecture and I'm sure that Santa would be more than proud to live there - heck, there's even enough room for all of his elves and a 1796 barn in the back for the reindeer!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas and History and Houses ... Oh My!

Last Friday evening I was fortunate enough to tour four beautifully historic homes that were part of the 32nd Annual Christmas in Salem Historic House Tour that is presented by Historic Salem, Inc.  In addition, I was granted special permission and given the extreme privilege of being able to take photographs in the houses - something that is not normally allowed on the tours.

The houses were all located in the beautiful McIntire District of Salem which contains the greatest concentration of notable pre-1900 Federal and Colonial Revival style domestic structures in the United States. The district is named for Samuel McIntire, a woodcarver by trade who developed into one of the very earliest architects in America.

For those that weren't aware, Salem was once the sixth largest city in America and one of the richest in all of the country due to its reputation as a world famous seaport and involvement in the China Trade. Appropriately the city's motto, adopted in 1839, is "Divitis Indiae usque ad ultimum sinum", Latin for "To the farthest port of the rich Indies."

To be able to tour some of the beautiful houses from Salem's heyday was a real treat for me - to be able to take pictures (or pass the picture-taking duties over to my friend Juli due to my lack of planning skills!) was a real honor.  I hope you'll be able to take a moment to visit The Distracted Wanderer and take a small tour of the houses yourself with my posts, Christmas in Salem Historic House Tour, Part One and Part Two.

I'll have one more post in the series soon with photos from the 1895 Clarence S. Clark House that Juli and I were even more fortunate to get a private tour of on Friday afternoon. The home is a beautiful Colonial Revival style house that also just happens to currently be owned by the President of Montserrat College of Art - Amanda's school of higher education for one wonderful year and where I'd really like her to be able to go back to someday - and his wife who is one dynamic woman!  It's a gorgeous home that was beautifully decorated for Christmas by the homeowner herself who has a collection of thousands of Santas in all shapes and sizes.

Speaking of which, I do believe I need to get to work on that post now what with my triple double shifts looming on the horizon! Sigh, this darned real life job of mine is always getting in the way of my love of history but I guess I need it to keep paying for gas for my wanderings! And I do love to wander!

Oh, and lest I forget, I am very happy to say that one of the photos that I submitted for the 2011 Destination Salem Photography Contest made the list of finalists.  First, second, and third prize are decided by voters like yourself so if you've got a moment, I'd love to have you go over to their website linked above and take a look at the seven finalists and then cast a vote for your favorite - no registration is required. If my picture just happens to be the one you choose then 'yay!' but if not, I'm sure that whoever took the picture you did vote for will be happy.  I've got my fingers crossed that my picture of the Tall ship Friendship will make the cover of the 2012 Salem Guide as that would just be uber-fantastic but if not, I'll keep plugging away at it and try again next year.  Gives me more good reasons to go back up to Salem which I have adopted as my very favorite city in the country!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Today's Day Off From Work is Brought to You By the Words "Catch" and "Up"!

Today starts my four days off from work for the week and it's a darned good thing I've got no plans to wander anywhere further afield than Plainfield for our annual Dispatch and Scheduling Holiday Gathering on Friday evening as I've got more than enough things to catch up with from my last trip up to Salem, Massachusetts!  I'm still in the process of editing pictures from the Historic House Tour as well as the House of the Seven Gables but at least I've managed to catch up on two things over at The Distracted Wanderer:

I hope you get the chance to check one or the other post out and in the meantime, I'm going to do my best to try to get caught up with some of my very favorite bloggers before diving into more editing and writing and stuff! Wish me luck!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Previews of Coming "Distractions"!

I returned back from my latest jaunt up to Salem, Massachusetts late Friday night after having a totally fantastic overnight trip that was filled to the brim with wonderful things to see and do. I've got lots and lots of pictures to edit but that's a good thing as it means I got to see lots and lots of things to take pictures of and boy, do I have stories to tell once I get the time to properly write them!

For example, I had the opportunity to go back over and do a private walk-through of the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion - aka The House of the Seven Gables - with a fine gentleman named Alan who is their very knowledgeable and talented Curator. We ended up spending just a little over two hours walking and talking and taking pictures (something that is normally not allowed) and I can't thank him enough for all that he showed me.  Alan has also made me want to start reading more of Nathaniel Hawthorne's works as well as reread "The House of the Seven Gables".

The picture above is the main room of the Ingersoll-Mansion decorated as it might have been for Christmas.  See that couch just peeking out from behind the Christmas tree?  Hawthorne sat on that while writing "The Scarlet Letter" - something I thought was very cool!  There's a lot more to the mansion as well as the birthplace home of Hawthorne which sits on the same property and as soon as I get my act together, I'll be telling you all about it at The Distracted Wanderer. Just give me some time to edit pictures please!

Following my wonderful time with Alan, I had a quick meeting at the Hawthorne Hotel to discuss a very exciting project that I can hopefully write more about soon and then met up with my friend Juli so that we could get a preview tour of one of the homes on the Christmas in Salem Historic House Tour.  Juli and I were lucky enough to be treated to a tour of the home by one of the homeowners who did an absolutely stunning job turning her house into a showplace that deserves to be featured in "House Beautiful" rather than just my little old blog.

The gorgeous white tree above was jokingly referred to as the home's "mall tree" but I gotta tell you, that would be one very upscale and swanky mall!  If you think that one tree is nice, wait until I show you pictures of the the other three trees in the home as well as all of the other beautiful Christmas decorations throughout.  Juli used the word 'smitten' in reference to her husband's reaction to the house when he saw it and I've got to agree with him completely as smitten I was - and enchanted and awed and ... well, you'll see!  

Following our private house tour, I drove Juli back to work and then I did a quick bit of shopping at Treasures Over Time, one of the eclectic little stores that Salem is chock-full of, in search of a few Christmas presents. I had a gift certificate that I had won from Destination Salem to use and it seemed like the perfect time!   With a few Christmas presents to bring back to Connecticut we me, I then went back over to the Hawthorne Hotel to grab a quick bowl of Steve's Seafood Chowder (just as delicious as I remembered it to be!) before meeting up with Juli again to take a trip to the rooftop of the hotel.  Why?  To meet up with Santa and a couple of his "elves" of course!

When Santa arrives in Salem each year, he does it up right by descending from the top of the Hawthorne Hotel into the enthusiastic crowd below with the assistance of the Salem Fire Department and that's why these guys were up on the rooftop - click, click, click!  Watching Santa being greeted by the throng of children below, I almost felt like I was watching the ball drop in Times Square as I don't think the crowd could have been more excited. I'll be posting more about that also very soon!

From the rooftop Juli and I then made our way back over to the historic McIntire District to visit the other four houses that were participating in the Friday night preview of the Historic House Tour.  Making our way in and out of the homes along with the rest of the good-sized crowd, we got to see even more beautiful rooms and decorations.  And yes, I'll be posting about that also once I get my act together and photos all straightened out.  Like the House of the Seven Gables, photography was not permitted on the tour but I was given special dispensation by Historic Salem, Inc. to take pictures and I am honored to have been allowed to do so.

Finally, after what was a whirlwind day of activity, I went back to the home of Juli and Walt where we had a delicious meal of pasta and kohlrabi (the plant that looks somewhat like an alien) before I had to make the drive home in anticipation of working an overtime shift on Saturday.  As always, as good as the meal was, the company far exceeded it and it was tough to put my coat on and head out the door but alas, home was calling and I couldn't ignore it.

Now ... to get to that photo-editing so I can share some of my trip with you.  It's my goal to make you love Salem as much as I do and I certainly don't mind trying!

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Bit of History, Hospitality, and Humor in Salem

I'm sure it's no surprise to anyone that I'm off on another jaunt up to Salem, Massachusetts which has most definitely become my "go to" place on the East Coast this year. What can I say? I can't help it! It seems like every time I come up here there's something new to see and do or maybe even something to re-see and re-do - especially if it the last time I did it was back in 1975!

Yesterday was a little bit of both as first I took a tour of the House of the Seven Gables, a place that I originally went to way, way back when I was a Junior in High School and where we took a field trip after reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic tale.

Things have definitely changed a bit since that long ago tour but that's to be expected after lo' these 36 years!  One of the major things that changed was the addition of the birth home of Nathaniel Hawthorne which now sits nearby the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion (which is the real name of the house).

I'll be filling you in on more of that over at The Distracted Wanderer once I've had the chance to go back over to the House of the Seven Gables today and do a private walk-through with the Deputy Director and Curator who is going to allow me to take pictures inside the house - something that isn't allowed on regular tours.  Do I feel lucky to be able to do that?  Oh heck yeah!  The history nut in me can't wait!!

In addition to the something old, I had the chance to do a couple of new things last night as I went to dinner with Walt & Juli at the Red Lulu Cocina & Tequila Bar, one of Salem's newest restaurants having just held their Grand Opening a few days prior to Halloween.

Red Lulu has been described as "exceptional food ... in a chic environment ... paired with incomparable service" in a recent article in NorthShore Magazine and I'm going to agree with the author on that one!  I'm also going to kick myself for not bringing my Nikon to dinner with me but Juli had her iPhone 4 with her so there is photographic proof that I was there (as witnessed above) and again, once I get it together I'll be doing a post at The Distracted Wanderer.  I had the pleasure of meeting Josh, Red Lulu's owner, and he said that there were some great pictures on their Facebook page I can use so I will, I will!

Following dinner we attended the opening night of the Salem Theatre Company's latest show, An Empty Plate in the Cafe du Grand Boeuf  which was quite excellent! It had me both laughing and crying and saying "Olé" as well as applauding enthusiastically at the end.

Ya know, maybe if Norwich had some interesting things like Salem does, I'd stay home more but until that happens (and I won't hold my breath for it to) then I'm very glad there's someplace where I can go to experience history, hospitality, humor, and good food - more of which I'll get to experience today.

I really wish Salem would adopt me!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Trying My Hand Out as a Casting Director

The other day I did a short book review for my friend Gale Martin's recent novel, "Don Juan in Hankey, PA". Even before I had finished reading her very funny story of a small-town opera guild doing their best to put on THE best version of Mozart's Don Giovanni ever in order to keep from going under, I was wondering who might play who in the movie when Hollywood finally gets their hands on it.

After reading a blog post at Operatoonity by a guest blogger with her imagined cast list, I thought it might be fun to put my own cast together so I did just that with no thought to a casting budget or the possibility of temperamental artistes! Of course Amanda would accuse me of perhaps throwing a few of my own favorites in here but hey, if you can't develop an imagined cast list using the people you like then where's the fun in even developing one?  Exactly!  So, without further adieu,my choices for Gale's Dramatis Personae of "Don Juan in Hankey, PA" - ladies first of course!

Deanna Lundquist, A Community Organizer and Socialite, Recently Divorced: Diane Lane 

Vivian Frantz Pirelli, The Heiress to the Frantz Ketchup Fortune, Famously Divorced: Michelle Pfeiffer

Oriane Longenecker, Hankey Native and Amateur Opera Singer: Jennifer Garner

Mary Rohrer, Richard’s Late Wife, A Ghost of Saintly Demeanor: Susan Sarandon

Paylor Frantz, Vivian’s Mother, a Lonely Widow: Cloris Leachman

Jeannie Jacobs, A Wealthy Widow, Originally from Hankey: Helen Mirren

And now on to the men ...

Dr. Richard Rohrer, A Retired Physician and Widower: Richard Dreyfuss

Carter Knoblauch, Impresario born in Cincinnati: Gary Sinise

Leandro Vasquez, A Dashing Professional Opera Singer of Dissolute Habits: Orlando Bloom

Arnaud Marceau, Local Balloon Entrepreneur and Clairaudient Medium: Carson Kressley

Maestro Schantzenbach, Diminutive Conductor of the Hankey Opera Company and Lover of Dachshunds: Hector Elizondo

Donny of Donny’s Catering, A Metrosexual Caterer: Christian Bale

Donato Bianco, Aging Professional Baritone Whose Star Has Lately Dimmed: John Cusack

Picking out who should play each character was almost as much fun as reading the book as I changed my mind a couple of times thinking which role would fit each actor and vice versa before I came up with my final choices. Trust me, if I had been able to work RDJ and Colin Firth in here as well I certainly would have but alas, I'll just have to wait for Gale to write another book to work them into the movie! Either that or she could write a sequel and I'll work them into that!

So ... go ... read the book and tell me if you like my casting choices! Personally I think I'm pretty spot on!

HOLD THE PRESSES! Since I wrote this post I've made one small casting change based on a comment from Jean and the fact that this person somehow or other managed to skip my mind when it came to casting for Leandro, the to-die-for Argentinian opera singer for whom all the women melt. I don't know WHAT I was thinking but obviously the best man for the role would be none other than the very sexy man with a golden voice and molten eyes ... Hugh Jackman!

Swoon! Thanks, Jean, for the reminder - I don't know where my head was yesterday but it was obviously not in the right place! I do hope that Jamie can forgive me!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Even If You Know Nothing More About Opera Than I Do, You'll Really Enjoy This Book!

What I know about opera has been primarily restricted to an old Rice Krispies commercial from the late 1960's featuring a famous tenor aria from Ruggero Leoncavallo's 1892 opera Pagliacci: well as the 1957 Looney Tunes classic, What's Opera Doc? - an animated cartoon parody of 19th century classical composer Richard Wagner's operas, particularly Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) and Tannhäuser as well as music from Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman).

Widely regarded as cartoonist Chuck Jones’ greatest masterpiece and topping many Top Ten lists of the Greatest Animated Cartoons of All Time, the six-minute short features Elmer Fudd taking on the role of the demigod Siegfried (the central character in the Völsunga saga) while Bugs performs the role of the beautiful Brünnhilde (a shieldmaiden and a valkyrie in Norse mythology) - though beautiful may be up for debate in this case!  Yep, leave it to Saturday mornings to give us kids a little bit of culture back in the day!

The only other thing I really knew about opera was that my long-haired James Taylor/Carol King-loving Uncle Bill - who back in the early 1970's told me to keep an ear open for some guy named Elton John who was "going to make it BIG" - also enjoyed going to the opera when he lived in San Diego.  Huh?  Seriously?  Well, if Uncle Bill liked it then opera had to have something good going for it as Uncle Bill was the cool uncle in the family!

Even with knowing nothing more than that about opera, right now I've got to say that what opera has going good for it is a new book that I recently had the pleasure of reading that was written by a lovely lady whom I met through blogging several years ago, Gale Martin.  DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA is Gale's recently published novel which I was fortunate enough to win a signed copy of through a contest give-away that Gale was having on Facebook. Had I not won the book I certainly would have bought it as the reviews have been fantastic and I knew that if Gale wrote her novel at all in the style that she used to write her blog then I was going to quite enjoy it as Gale's got that snarky sense of humor that I so love in a writer.

I received my signed copy of Gale's book in the mail early in the week and thanks to Amanda accidentally giving my laptop charging cable to a friend when she mistakenly thought it was hers, I had the opportunity to sit down and do some reading whilst my computer was dead as a doorknob (to quote one of Gale's characters who somehow manages to butcher sayings even more than myself!)

It says on Gale's website, for readers of the book "Prior knowledge about opera is optional. Love of laughter, absolutely essential." which worked for me as I love books that make me laugh while the only thing I knew about Mozart, the composer who wrote Don Giovanni based on the Don Juan that appears in Gale's book title, is pretty much limited to the 1984 film Amadeus - the fictional story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (played by Tom Hulce) who tells the King that "I am a vulgar man but I assure you, my music is not."

The movie is told in flashback mode by Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), a Venetian classical composer, conductor and teacher and it probably would have been a good chance for me to expand my limited knowledge of of opera except for one thing .. Even though the movie won eight Oscars out of the eleven that it was nominated for, I couldn't stand Mozart's laugh so a lot of the opera featured in the movie zipped right past me while I anxiously waited for the movie to end so I could get the heck out of the theater.  If the opera Don Giovanni was at all featured in the film, you couldn't prove it by me!

However, even with my limited operatic knowledge and aversion to Mozart's laugh, I had certainly heard of Don Juan who is probably the most famous fictional rake of all time; a rogue and a libertine who takes great pleasure in seducing women (preferably virgins) and then fighting their men. The Don Juan legend was thought to have first been written about circa 1630 in the play El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra (The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest) by Tirso de Molina. However, no matter how many other people wrote about Don Juan, the most influential version of the legend was Mozart's two-act opera Don Giovanni (Don Juan in Italian), first performed in Prague in 1787. The opera contained an Italian libretto (the text used in an extended musical work like an opera) by Lorenzo Da Ponte which was billed as dramma giocoso, a term that denotes a mixing of serious and comic action.

Just as Mozart's Don Giovanni blended comedy, melodrama and supernatural elements into the story of the most famous womanizer of all time, so does Gale's DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA - the story of a slightly dysfunctional small-town opera guild and their attempts to produce a version of Mozart's famous opera in the hopes of saving the Hankey Opera Company from financial ruin.  From the first pages of the book straight through to the last, Gale writes a story filled with comic twists and turns, intrigue and mystery, longing and lust, and characters that make you think "Hey, I know someone just like that!"  I honestly found myself really laughing out loud while reading the book as well as quite unable to put it down until I finished reading it at 2:00 in the morning.

Now maybe I don't know much about opera or Mozart but I'm pretty sure I know a good book when I read one and DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA is definitely a good book!  Of course, you don't have to take my word for it, you can check out the reviews on or the reviews at Gale's opera-based blog Operatoonity or visit Gale's website and learn more about the book there.

Actually, if you visit Gale's website now or check out her video, you can get a peek at the fantastic prizes that she's offering during the novel's upcoming Online Launch Week starting on November 28th.  There's some really good stuff there including two tickets to a 2012 Glimmerglass Festival Production in Cooperstown, NY along with two tickets to Verdi's Oberto presented by the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia as well as signed copies of DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA which I think is the best prize of all!

Thank you, Gale, for being a padrona magnifica with the written word; DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA was truly a wonderful read filled with fun characters that literally jumped off the page. I'd like to also offer an additional personal thank you for not harming any ambulance personnel with large Bobbin' Robins falling from the sky! Molto buon, lo amavo!

Now to wait for the movie along with your next novel to come out!

Friday, November 25, 2011

In Honor of My Dad's Birthday ...

Today is the 77th anniversary of my father's birth and in honor of that I'm posting this picture.  Now, I suppose you're wondering what on earth a picture of a can of Van Camp's Beenee Weenees has to do with what would have been my father's birthday, aren't you?

In January of 1966, my Dad - who was a career military man in the Air Force and a darned fine aircraft mechanic - was deployed overseas to do his mandatory tour of duty at Da Nang Air Base in the Republic of Vietnam.  I believe that Dad was part of the 61st Tactical Wing at that time and Da Nang was considered to be the world's busiest airport with 1,500 take-offs and landings recorded on peak days.  It was also the target of a lot of bombings and my mother received many a letter that was written in very shaky script as my Dad waited out the bombings in a shelter.

This was back in the days before there was any such thing as web cameras and email so contact was limited to letters that came back to the States via snail mail and maybe - if one was very lucky - a very rare phone call.  If families today think they worry about their military members who are deployed, that's nothing compared to what families went through during the Vietnam War and the wars that preceded it. I've got no doubt that my Mom was probably worried sick pretty much every single day that my Dad was away but being made of the stern Yankee stock combined with a very stiff British upper lip that she inherited from her mother, my Mom very rarely showed any of that fear and worry that she no doubt felt as she waited for each letter to arrive.

Meanwhile, my Dad was no doubt on the other side of the world also looking forward to Daily Mail Call when he'd receive word from home or if he was really lucky, a Care Package that my Mom had lovingly put together containing some of his favorite things from the States that he couldn't possibly get his hands on in Vietnam.  As packages went over via slow boat back in those days, Mom had to be choosy about what she would include so she'd bake some of his favorites that she knew would last the long trip and also include a few other non-perishables like cans of Vienna Sausages and another of Dad's favorites - Beenee Weenees.

I hadn't seen a can of Beenee Weenees in years but on a recent trip to the grocery store, while searching the shelves for something else, I found myself looking directly at the Van Camp's label on the can of one of my Dad's favorite things to receive when he was in Vietnam.  Needless to say I had to buy a can and maybe - just maybe - I'll pop it open and eat the contents today in honor of my Dad and his service to our country all those many years ago.

Happy Birthday, Dad; as you can see, you'll never be forgotten even if it's in ways you never thought twice about!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Love Really IS a Many Splendord Thing!

Okay, I'm probably really showing my age with the title of this post but years ago when I was just a little girl I received a musical jewelry box from my beloved grandfather for Christmas and it played "Love Is a Many Splendord Thing" as a little ballerina twirled in front of a mirror.  I think I may still have that jewelry box somewhere now that I think about it but this post isn't about that, it's about the trip I made up to Vermont yesterday to photograph the wedding of a young couple at the Inn Victoria.  Jess, a staff member at the inn, was asked to put together an "elopement" and she contacted me to ask if I would be interested in doing the photos.

Now I've only shot one other wedding before for my friends Frank and Dawn so I wasn't sure if I had the best credentials to be their photographer but Jess apparently quite likes some of the  pictures I've taken so she thought I would be perfect for Mallory & Michael.  Needing the practice - and always looking for an excuse to go to Vermont - I said 'sure' and made the drive up to Chester early yesterday morning on what was a rather cold but very pretty day.

If I had any trepidation about how well things were going to go, that was pretty much alleviated when I met the two young people who had decided to skip all the hoopla and foolishness and make their special day about themselves and not everyone else.  They do plan on having a more elaborate service in about a year but for now they just wanted to share their love with each other and become husband and wife in a simple ceremony in a romantic setting.

I'm going to share just a few photos with you as I still have a lot of editing to do on all of the photos that I took but there is no doubt in my mind that these two are quite in love as it's very easy to see that shining through in their pictures and I wish them nothing but happiness as their love continues to grow with each and every day.

Oh, and may I just say that it's darned hard to hold the camera steady and take pictures when you're trying not to cry along with the bride.  I am always, and will forever be, a hopeless romantic!

Their wedding cake that Jess made - it was so cute! 

Mallory's beautiful bouquet

Mallory reads her vows to Michael

Michael & Mallory at the town gazebo

Tea for two!

Enjoying their champagne! 

Like I said, love really IS a many splendord thing, isn't it?