Monday, December 21, 2015

What's not to love about Christmas cookies?

Especially when the gingerbread men are TIE DYED! Among the snowflakes and snowmen on a cookie platter, this little guy beckoned me. I guess you could call it fate.

When you work in a school, you'll never go hungry. Inside every teachers' room is a fridge where leftovers lurk. But this time of year is especially lethal because the confections are EVERYWHERE. Students bring them in. Teachers bring them in. Librarians bring them in. Parent Groups leave goody bags in our mailboxes, and the freshly baked sugar cookies from Home Ec classroom fill the hallways with their heavenly scent.

By the time I get home on Wednesday afternoon, I will be in a sugar induced coma.

As for this groovy little gingerbread man.  .  .I'll see that he gets a good home.  .  .

Friday, December 18, 2015

Dollhouse Nerd-dom

So, my Christmas Story dollhouse, which is currently on display in the library. clearly wasn't complete without a wooden crate bearing everyone's favorite "Italian" word:

It's just made out of large craft sticks, cut to size.

And yesterday at the Scholastic Warehouse sale, I bought a little pack of Halloween themed erasers. The pumpkin with the witch hat on is perfect for The Odd Shoppe,a used bookstore in Hogsmeade (my HP themed dollhouse).

I love when I unexpectedly find things that I can use for this hobby. It can be a very expensive hobby to pursue, which is why I haunt the thrift stores and craft stores, and why I try to make things myself.

This time of year is PERFECT for finding things for this hobby, too. There are so many Christmas tree ornaments that are sized well for dollhouses, and the craft stores tend to have more mini supplies, and even regular toy stores seem to carry more stock of dollhouses and furniture- I guess because dollhouses are such a classic Christmas gift. Not to mention all the little Christmas villages that people love to collect for, as well as Nativity scenes. 

I recently bought a little creche structure at Goodwill for a dollar. I'm not sure what exactly I'm going to do with it, but I'll just wait for inspiration to strike.

Someone in my dollhouse miniature hobby forum (yes, I actually AM that big of a nerd) suggested a little barn sale/flea market stall set up, and I think that'd be fun to try.

It's a little insane how many dollhouses I have. Soon I will be wearing white stretch pants with t-shirts like this:

After I find a fanny pack, I'll really look the part.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

"I've just had an apostrophe"

So this morning I woke early, and instead of getting up and being productive, I just lay there in my warm bed, letting random thoughts stream through my mind, and it reminded me of what Tinkerbell says in Hook about "that place between sleep and awake- the place where you can still remember dreaming" , I started thinking very in-depth about the movie.

I watched it recently, and it remains one of my favorite examples of slipstream cinema. And there are questions I have always wondered about it:

1. When did Mr. Smee become a stand up comedian?

Before the movie audience ever sees Captain Hook, we're treated to a little stand-up routine by Smee, who even has his own little stage on the upper level of the deck. He introduces the captain by making jokes such as "A man so quick, he's even fast- ASLEEP!" and "So let's give him a very big hand- 'cause he's only got one.  . ." and I can't help but wonder how this little introduction tradition began. I guess we're supposed to assume that this precedes any appearance by Captain Hook, because the pirates don't seem surprised by this behavior. But did Smee just start making jokes one day? Did Captain Hook approach him and ask him to work up a little routine to lighten the daily drudgery of swabbing the deck and killing Lost Boys? If Smee though it up himself, what was Hook's reaction the first time it happened? Was he angry? Or did he enjoy the added attention? Does he have to pre-approve all the jokes before Smee can say them?

2. And speaking of Smee, at the film's conclusion when Peter wakes up at the foot of the statue in Kensington Gardens, he encounters a man sweeping up rubbish. The movie audience recognizes the man as Bob Hoskins/Smee, and Peter seems to recognize him too, but the man/Smee gives no indication that he recognizes Peter. Is that man sweeping up rubbish just a character that bears a striking resemblance to Smee, and the same actor was used for the movie audience's sake, so we'd make the connection that Peter is now back in the real world? Or, is the man actually supposed to be Smee? If so, does he remember that he's Smee, former lackey to a murderous, yet comical and bumbling, dark haired pirate captain? Or, did he flee Neverland (because although we see him helping himself to the ship's treasure, we never find out what happens to him) and go back to the real world?

If he doesn't remember anything about Neverland, then it would make sense that he doesn't recognize Peter. But if he does remember, then is he purposely not letting on that he recognizes Peter, as a reminder to him that he'll never really escape his Neverland past? Or, has he turned over a new leaf, and decided that he wants to have a new life, and he should also let Peter let go of his Pan-ness, and embrace his life as Peter Banning?

I discussed this second slipstream dilemma with my husband, and he ventured that the story of Peter Pan functions much like The Wizard of Oz, in that the characters have their 'real' selves, and also have their alter-egos in the fantasy world. This is communicated well in stage versions of Peter Pan because traditionally, the actor who portrays Mr. Darling, the father, also portrays Capt. Hook, which makes for some very Freudian interpretations.

So maybe, this groundskeeper in the Kensington Gardens is simply the 'real life' version of Mr. Smee? But then my husband wondered if this alter ego theory is sound because although Capt. Hook and Mr. Smee might have 'real life' selves, the Lost Boys are exactly what their name signifies: lost. According to Barrie's text, they fell out of their prams, were not claimed, and thus were sent to the Neverland. Those boys actually left the 'real' world- and they have no one to stand in for them.

BUT- then I surmised that although those particular boys left, and were Lost, that they were still replaced. Remember, Peter Pan does try to return home to his own window, but sees that his parents have had another child. His window is no longer open. He has been replaced. Like Peter, I would think that the parents of the boys who were Lost also replaced them with other children.

This leads us to the main story thread regarding Wendy. Wendy is the first girl to travel to Neverland, according to the original text. There are no Lost Girls because as Peter says "girls are much too clever to fall out of their prams."

And unlike all the male children who have preceded her, Wendy cannot be replaced. Why you ask?

Because she is a girl. She is a future mother (at least, in keeping with Edwardian gender role expectations).

Boys can be replaced; mothers cannot.

How do I know this? The proof is in the Pan pudding.

If you ever look up any biographical information of JM Barrie, you'll find out that he had an older brother who perished tragically in an ice-skating accident. That's right, he died taking part in a popular childhood past-time. Their mother Margaret was devastated by the death of her favorite son, a fact which is rarely contested by any biographer. Barrie tried desperately to fill David's shows, even dressing in his clothes and whistling in the same light-hearted, boyish manner. David was Lost, and would remain a young boy forever;  JM Barrie was not the exact same person as his brother, but he moved into the same role for the sake of his mother. Despite his intentions to assuage his mother's grief, no doubt he understood that Margaret Ogilvy is the only mother he could ever have. So despite the obvious preference she showed for David, he remained devoted to her, even writing a biographical account of her life so that a portion of her could live forever. A mother may give birth to multiple children, but we can only be born from one mother.

And indeed, it's not mere speculation that Wendy is a future mother, because we get a glimpse of her fate in the conclusion of the text.  She has a daughter, which "ought not to be written in ink but a gold splash" as Barrie writes. Of course when Peter returns eventually, Wendy is not able to fly away with him. She is no longer a future mother, but a mother. Or rather, she has become Other. And like her, her daughter will grow up and become Other, as will the next girl, and so on and so on.

This has been a very long-winded post, and I'm fairly certain no one invests as much time and energy into thinking about Hook/Peter Pan/Barrie's biography/gender theory that I do, but I had to write it down because it's the best early morning thought stream I've had in a long time.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Jodi Picoult Novels Anonymous

I recently started reading my fourth Jodi Picoult story. I admit that for a long time, I never even thought about picking up one of her books. I saw her novels everywhere, and her name is always very prominent, like it always is when an author becomes successful. It's a promise to the reader as she peruses the shelves at the bookstore, or at least the book section in Target: "Remember? This is the author you like alot. This story will be amazing because SHE wrote it. You need to buy this NOW!" And the author photos of Picoult, with her copper curls and serene face look like they're going to come to life and ask me if I'd like a cup of tea (to which I'd reply "sure. that's be great", and then I'd be trapped into having a four hour long conversation).

And since I saw her novels all the time, and couldn't keep count of how many were out there, glaring at me from the bookshelves as I passed them by to ooohhhhh and ahhhhhhh at picture books and YA novels, they all became part of the background to me.

But in 2009, Picoult's book My Sister's Keeper was made into a movie. Not a Lifetime original, or a Hallmark Channel one, but an actual film that starred Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin. It's not like I raced to the theater to see it, but it did make it onto my "Well, maybe sometime I'll rent it" list. I did end up watching it, and I enjoyed it, but I figured it was a one time deal. It was a heart-wrenching story about a teen who sues her parents for medical emancipation so that she will not have to undergo any more radical treatments in the interest of saving her older sister, who is renal failure due to leukemia, alive. Of course the masses are going to be touched by a story involving children and cancer. Cancer has become the scariest reality for us, one form of seemingly every kind striking anyone of any age from any part of society.

For me, I needed a bigger reason to read more, and once again, censorship saved the day. A couple years back, a highschool in Gilford, NH made headlines after some parents called for her book Nineteen Minutes to be banned after they became aware of the story content. 

****SPOILERS AHEAD**********

Interestingly, it's not the part about the horrific school shooting, a horror story which has become all too real for us in recent years, it's about the sex. It's always about the sex. Picoult's book has approximately three pages (gasp!) which these parents deemed 'pornographic' because they detail a scene in which a girl has non-consensual sex with her boyfriend. In simple terms, she is raped. I knew we had this book in our collection at the middle school, and I knew some of the 8th grade girls had been reading it so I decided to read it as well, both for that part in case anyone challenged the book, and also because it must be a good story if so many teens were interested in reading it.

I'm not going to get into the controversial plot points simply because that's not the focus of this post. What changed my mind about Jodi Picoult novels is simply her writing. In particular, the way she captures motherhood in her writing. Perhaps the reason I was initially prejudiced against her books is because I always saw Moms reading them, along with Nicholas Sparks books. Some authors become so popular among middle-age women that they're like the literary equivalent of mom jeans.

"Something that says I'm not a woman anymore, I'm a MOM!"

But now I know why the Moms are always reading Picoult novels: because she knows how to write for them. I don't often read romance novels of any kind, whether it's the relationships between men and women being romanticized or the miracle of motherhood that's being given a new, shiny coat simply because they don't appeal to me. But now that I'm reading my fourth Picoult story, I realize that the sentences which stand out the most to me are the ones in which she writes about mothers or children.

I'm a couple chapters in to Perfect Match, and the part that did it for me is when Nina is describing her son Nathaniel: "A little boy's neck is the sweetest curve on his body." It's like I already knew that, but Picoult wrote a perfect little sentence just to remind me that I already know it, so that now I'll always remember it.

Sentences like that are like little samples of something that's rich and delicious and probably too expensive to justify buying.  .  .those samples are meant to entice you. They speak to you, making sweet promises like "Just this one time" and "You can stop after this one". But all it takes is a taste, and now I'm addicted.

"One little taste" and I ended up devouring these

Thursday, December 10, 2015

I'm Crafty and I Know It

I'm not a big fan of buzz words like repurpose or upcycle, mostly because I've been doing this kind of thing for as long as I can remember. I think most people have been reusing and reinventing for much longer than the current trend would have us believe.

But "to speak in the vernacular of the peasantry" (can you place the quote without Googling it?), I recently decided to delve into our sizable collection of discarded books at the library and upcycle them into holiday decorations. Honestly though, it's always a little difficult for me to cut up a book. It just feels wrong. But I'd rather transform them into something else, and give them a new life than just have them end up in the recycling bin. Here are the first ornaments I made:

And why stop at a few ornaments if you can build a whole village?

The houses are each made of two books, opened facing each other at 90 degree angles. I printed out pictures of doors, but some old Christmas cards that feature doors would be even better. You can make a roof easily by just putting an open book on top, or you can put in a little more effort and make one out of cardboard and paper 'shingles'.

And of course you can add some evergreen trees by folding an old paperback book into the right shape:

You can use a marker to color the edges green, and/or add some glitter.

And of course, be sure to populate your village with some beloved book characters. It's only appropriate that Matilda would live in a book village.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Minerva, the Master of Horror, and Mounting Donuts in Maine

So yesterday, my colleague and I drove all the way up to Bangor, Maine to attend a free workshop at United Technologies Center. The day's agenda touched on a few different aspects of library service such as book talks, mending and weeding books, and how to apply for grants. Some of the sessions might sound like no-brainers to people who have LIS degrees, or someone who's worked in a library for a long time, but they were all valauble. Even if a librarian knows how to weed her own collection, or knows how to glue a book back together, it's always useful to hear how others in your field tackle these day-to-day issues. And I know it's also a struggle for many librarians, especially school librarians, to attend professional development opportunities to share their ideas with others because 1) these workshops are often on school days, and we can't get adequate coverage and or 2)our budget doesn't stretch enough to cover costs of registration and travel. Luckily, this workshop had no registration fee so we could justify it.

Because I reside in northern NH, I had to leave my house at 5:00 am. Luckily I had Minerva with me. She wanted to drive, but I put the kibosh on that pretty quick.

The workshop was a good investment, and I think the most useful part for us was the session regarding grants. This is a skill that I've been wanting to develop for a very long time, ever since I decided to get a degree in history. Unfortunately, my college's Museum Studies department at the time was really more of an independent study, so I missed out on it then. It's a useful skill for almost any type of profession, and we've already found ourselves in the position to apply for them.

On top of the free registration, they also provided some morning refreshments (delicious scones and coffee/tea) as well as lunch (chicken cordon bleu sandwich with hand-cut potato chips followed by strawberry shortcake). It was definitely the best free lunch I've had in a while.

And then we took a quick drive by the Master of Horror's house so I could see it. I brought my first edition of Pet Sematary with me because that's my favorite Stephen King story.

And a couple houses down from Stephen King, another literary minded person had a Little Free Library in the front yard, so I stopped to check it out. I took a book, and I felt bad that I didn't have a book to leave in its place, but I left a thank you note for them.

I really want one of these for my yard. I don't know who'd stop at it because I live on a highway, but I'd still love to try.

The professional part of the day was a resounding success. Unfortunately, I seem to be destined to have many travel misadventures. Right after I dropped off my colleague, my car got a flat tire. Luckily, I have AAA so I just had to request roadside service. But in the meantime, I was about an hour away from home, so my colleague, her husband and their greyhound came to my rescue. The AAA man, a very nice guy named Dave, had just gotten finished mounting my donut (which sounds awful when I say it that way but it's too funny not to) and when I tried to start my car, nothing happened. On top of the flat tire, I also had a dead battery. I swear, I can't make this stuff up. 
I didn't end up getting back home until quarter to nine which made for a much longer day than I'd anticipated.

Minerva insisted on getting out to look at Stephen King's house, too

Thursday, December 3, 2015

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out!

Just a few pictures of the latest dollhouse that's on display in the library. If you didn't guess what the theme of it is from the title of this post, then I'm sure you'll be able to once you look at all the details.

In order to work on this house, I obviously watched the movie, but even better, I was able to visit the real house in Cleveland, Ohio. The house is so much fun to visit! Everything is interactive, and the owner did a fantastic job of decorating the inside with furniture and details that match the movie and the time period.

This dollhouse only has four (well, actually three) rooms, so I has to make adjustments. For example, Ralphie shares his bedroom with his brother Randy, but there simply wasn't room for two beds in there. Also, the ground floor doesn't really have enough room for a full kitchen. It's too bad because I would've loved to include a big sink with a cabinet underneath to hide in.

I had to settle for just a little table, with a turkey and some Chinese food takeout containers to represent the family's Christmas dinner. Luckily, I already had a hound dog in my stash, and I love the way he looks posed under the table by the turkey.

I didn't show the exterior of the dollhouse here because it doesn't really match the exterior of the actual house in Cleveland. When I bought this dollhouse from a thrift store, it was painted a French blue with white trim. When I decided to try and paint over it with a mustard yellow, to match the house from the movie, it looked awful. Luckily, I only did one side, so I was able to paint it back to blue without too much trouble.

So this dollhouse is just a regular house, decorated for Christmas, on the outside, but on the inside you can clearly see what story it represents. I kind of hate whenever I have to compromise my vision because I really wanted the house to match the inside and the outside, but it doesn't seem to matter to anyone who sees it.

It's always funny to me when people look in my dollhouses and ask "How did you make all this?" because in reality, I don't make most of the stuff. I gather things, I look in thrift stores for useful pieces, I reuse things.  .  .for example the tablecloth is just a little doily. Ralphie's toys are mini Christmas ornaments. The leg lamp is a Christmas ornament. The fireplace was a photo frame. The radio is a fridge magnet. I made the Chinese food takeout containers and the Monopoly board game just by printing out images very small. 

I know of some artisans who do make many miniatures with incredible details, but for me, it's just about finding the right pieces and putting them together.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Hello, Dolly

In one of my previous posts, I wrote about how I don't just sit around and read all day, and I shared some photos of what types of things I spend my workdays doing. Everything from displays to obstacle courses. But I forgot to mention one vital part of my job: Minerva!

Minerva is the name of the Maine state library catalog, and it's also the namesake for our newest library mascot.

The story behind Minerva is actually pretty interesting. I found her in the garage of the grandparents of my friend Adi Rule, who happens to be a fabulous YA author. Her website is here, and you should check it out because she has a new book coming out soon.

Everyone who sees Minerva says that she's creepy or scary, but I suffer from Velveteen Rabbit Syndrome, a serious issue with a name I coined myself. Basically, I cannot stand to see a plaything abandoned or uncared for. I've rescued dolls, dollhouses, and teddy bears from attics, garages, thrift stores, the side of the road, washed up on the beach, the trash can at the flea market in Maryland where I used to live.  .  .It's just too sad for me to handle. 

So anyways, after being in my home for a bit, I brought Minerva into school to be part of my Halloween display. I displayed her with some horror books that center on dolls:

She attracted quite a bit of attention, and we started moving her around.

Here she is, hiding behind some books.

This week, my co-worker and I were talking about the Elf on the Shelf trend. Neither of us are huge fans of it, but she suggested that we do Minerva on the Shelf, and it was impossible to resist. So now we're trying to come up with ideas for Minerva. Today we caught her lounging around, watching some TV.

I think she deserves a little R&R- she looks like she's had a tough life.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Holiday Gender Hi-Jinks with a Delicious Bill Pullman

Now that it's officially Christmas season, I've been indulging in all my favorite holiday movies. One of my guilty pleasures is the 1995 romantic comedy While You Were Sleeping. I have a weird thing for 90's era Bill Pullman, with his denim shirts and perfectly tousled hair.  .  .

If you've never watched this movie 1) that's a minor tragedy and 2) let me tell you what it entails: it stars Sandra Bullock as Lucy, a lonely young woman who falls for the handsome Peter (coincidentally played by Peter Gallagher). The problem is that she's never actually spoken to him. When tragedy befalls him, she rescues him and accompanies him to the hospital. A misunderstanding occurs and she's assumed to be his fiance. After some innocent flirting she ends up falling for the guy's little brother.

Originally, this story was going to feature a young man who loves a woman from afar, and subsequently ends up with her sister, but this idea was viewed to be too predatory. I guess it's not a stretch, for a man to pine after a woman he's never met before, but if she were unconscious and he let people believe he was her significant other it would carry date rape implications.

That scene in the hospital when Lucy talks to comatose Peter, spilling her secrets, wouldn't really tug at your heart strings if the woman was in the hospital bed, unaware and unconscious of the lonely stranger who shares his life with only a cat, who enters her room under false pretenses.

"I always feel like- somebody's watchin' me.  .  ."

I bring up this alternate narrative because gender, with all its stereotypes and expectations, is always worth examining, even in innocuous holiday movies. 

I remember one of my grad school professors once said that she doesn't like the book Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. Of course the entire class exclaimed our protests: how can anyone not love a book which captures the essence of maternal devotion? But when she asked us to imagine the book with alternate gender roles, instead of a mother creeping into her son's room it'd be a father creeping into his daughter's room (even as she ages into a teen and young woman) we began to see what she meant. A mother can cradle her teenage son, or drive across town and sneak into his room, and it makes a comic picture centering on a  nostalgic mother bonding with her son in a way that a typical teenager or mature man would prohibit if he were awake. 

Nobody would be laughing if the father was creeping into his daughter's room, taking her out of bed in her nightie and holding her as she lies unaware in his arms.

For the record, I still like the book, but that exchange definitely made me reconsider what my own preconceptions about gender are, and how they've been informed.

So now that I've planted this little seed for discussion, maybe enough people will realize how uncomfortable the song "Baby It's Cold Outside" makes them, and it won't be PC to play it on the radio anymore. Please spare me from having to listen to yet another cover of the song in which the female sings "The answer is no" and "What's in this drink?" while the male singer worries about his pride. The latest cover features Idina Menzel, the famous voice behind Frozen's Queen Elsa. 

It gives this picture of Olaf, drink in hand, new meaning.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

"Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude."

~A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Raw and unadorned
Muted colors
Misty skies
The fairer days are mourned

Dawn comes slowly,
with a pale, intense greeting
Making shadows that stretch
towards each other
but stop before meeting.

The sounds of nature have hushed
The forest has grown still
Pause your steps
and look around
Steel yourself against the chill.

Fallen berries on the snow
punctuate the white
And the amber moon in the clear night sky
Spills down somber light

Halfway to eternity
Caught between the seasons
All at once it slips away
Such a bittersweet ending
without a reason

Monday, November 23, 2015

F*ck You, Read Me!

Usually if I review a book on my blog, it's a children's or YA book, but I couldn't help myself. This book just begs you to talk about it. I don't remember exactly how I learned of this book, but I immediately put it on inter-library loan request. Obviously, we weren't going to purchase a copy for the middle school library.

I had to wait a couple weeks for it come in- apparently it's getting pretty popular. So popular in fact, that it's now on the NY Times Bestseller list. It is quite an attention getter, with its blindingly bright cover and the almost-offensive title; that little asterisk has a pretty important job, standing in for the letter we all know it's representing. It's like a self-help guide written by Goodfellas.

But once you get past the ostentatious covering, is there anything of substance in the book?

The chapters have subtitles that are in line with the book's main message, such as F*ck Self-Esteem. The authors, Michael I Bennett and Sarah Bennett,  write that self-esteem has taken on an unquestionable infallibility in the all-mighty church of The Meaning of Life. We seem to think that it's the answer for everything; if a kid's not trying as hard as he should in school, he's got poor self-esteem. If that guy you meet at a party is having difficulty making eye contact with you, or anyone, he's suffering from poor self-esteem. If that woman responds to your compliment with "oh, no, not really.  .  ." it's because she has poor self-esteem. It's become a key to our collective happiness in this society to make sure that everyone always feels good about themselves, but is it working?

If a kid receives a participation trophy instead of a First Place trophy, is his fragile self-esteem really being salvaged? Maybe. Maybe not.

The authors' approach in each chapter is pretty straight forward; they present three scenarios which all center around the same issue. After a brief explanation and discussion, they present the parts which cannot be controlled by an individual, and then go on to point out the aspects which can ultimately be controlled by a person.

My personal favorite chapter is the one titled Stop F*cking Up. I laugh to myself whenever I think about it because in the school I work at, we are encouraged to work and teach the Growth Mindset. For those of you who aren't familiar with this term, it's a philosophy that preaches the basic principles of  resilience and dedication. Being good at something, or being very intelligent doesn't guarantee success when undertaking a project, and it's okay to fail at something as long as you try again.

I don't laugh to myself because I don't agree- I always tell the students I encounter that not being good at something is not the end of the world. But almost all of the adults I know hold ourselves to a much higher standard. I'm not sure when this happens- maybe it's around the same time we decide we don't like the current music on the radio, and we add the classic rock and contemporary stations on our car presets. If I don't do well on something I don't care about, it's not too difficult to get over it. But if I enjoy doing something, or if I think my success is important, my  internal monologue doesn't reassure me with expressions like "challenges make my brain grow", it screams "STOP F*CKING UP!"

Most of their advice to readers is pretty easy to understand and digest. Following through and trying the methods may require some shifting in your thinking. It does get trite at some points, at one point advising readers to just "forget" feelings of shame. Right, like someone could just "forget" someone holding a gun to their head, holding them hostage. 

It's a fun read, even if you're not in the market for any psychological advice. The wry humor contained throughout the text might even get a smirk out of you.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ballet Slipper-stream

I read a really interesting article last night. The author is kind of an expert on a particular holiday tradition: The Nutcracker ballet. Having seen 28 productions in 12 states, Alastair MacAuley is well acquainted with the variations that occur between the original 1816 German story “Nussknacker und Mausek├Ânig” (“Nutcracker and Mouse King”) which in 1844 was adapted into a ballet by Alexandre Dumas, and subsequent adaptations.

I did a presentation a couple years ago at Maine Reading Round Up (a state conference for librarians) on literary slipstream; slipstream is any attempt at reconsidering the historical record or the 'original' text. That sounds a bit complicated, but what it's really referring to is: revisions, re-versions, and re-tellings in the form of adaptations, prequels and sequels, fan fiction, parodies and other  multimedia projects. I focused on books and stories that have been slipstreamed, but I'm ashamed to say that I'd never thought much about slipstream in the form of dance. Slipper-stream? 

But that's exactly what MacAley is discussing in his article. I knew that the young heroine's name can traditionally be Clara or Marie, but there are other nuances that come to light when you spend time watching different productions. Aside from the Sugarplum Fairy's song, one of the most recognizable movements (referring to the song definition now, but I wanted to use that word as a play on the differing choreography!) is the candy canes. But in some productions, this is a Russian dance, with much different costumes.

From what I can figure out, even when the dancers are decked out in red and white striped costumes, the Candy Canes are still supposed to represent Russia, just as the chocolate represents Spain, the coffee represents Arabia, and the tea represents China. The variation is more about the costumes and the choreography: instead of dancing with hoops (many candy cane dances feature them), traditional Russian squat-and-kick moves (Cossack Dance). 

Personally, I prefer the candy canes. I've never quite understood how a bunch of big, gymnastic Russian men fit in among the other residents of the Land of Sweets. It sounds a bit like a Soviet version of Candyland. I guess there'd be no way to win that game because everyone would just be really cold, sitting around Snowflake Lake, and eating the exact same portions of licorice, which of course would be frozen and thus tasteless.   . .

Lastly, the endings vary. As MacAuley writes,  traditional “Nutcrackers” tend to choose between two endings. One which the young heroine realizes she’s been dreaming and is safe back at home . Here, it’s the young heroine  who, played by an adult delivers the climactic Sugar Plum numbers with the young ex-Nutcracker. Because she was a good girl, her reward is romantic love, on a heroic scale; so “Nutcracker” becomes yet another ballet love story. He goes on to discuss parodies such as  Nutcracker Rouge or The Butt-cracker Suite (set in a trailer park). The Butt-cracker suite looks pretty hilarious and I'd definitely pay to see it, but I think I'll skip the burlesque re-imagining.

Like many others, the music and performance of The Nutcracker is one of my beloved Christmas traditions. It has been ever since I was 13, and I played one of the toy soldiers on stage in the Buffalo City Ballet's production. I already loved performing, but performing during the holiday season made the whole experience even more magical. I was lucky enough to experience it again two year later, when I auditioned again and was cast as a mouse. That role was much more fun to dance in: the choreography was more free-form rather than regimented, each mouse had her own style, and since we were wearing big mouse heads, if we messed up, no one in the audience could tell which dancer was in which mouse costume. It's always more fun on stage if one is cannot concerned with the possibility of humiliation.

Since I was spared the humiliation on stage in front of hundreds of people, I'll make good here, (on my blog which almost no one reads) and display the photos from these experiences. 

                                     toy soldier, 1995                mouse (sans head), 1997

Who needs a Nutcracker burlesque when you can be a big, gray shapeless blob, hoping to God you don't lose your head? (A fitting description of me any day!)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

My Dear Mr. Gable

So on my quest for more pre-code films starring Helen Twelvetrees, I realized that she appears in The Painted Desert, which also contains the first talking and credited role for none other than Clark Gable. I realized I never blogged about my trip to Clark Gable's birthplace in Cadiz, Ohio.

Clark Gable has been my #1 guy ever since I first watched Gone With the Wind. I still remember sitting in the recliner in my parents' living room, watching that dramatic final scene and I could feel myself changing. I was no longer a kid who was satisfied just watching The Wizard of Oz and Shirley Temple movies- I needed more. More to take in, more to think about, more to analyze, and more to discover and more to research. I started haunting the library- tracking down other Clark Gable movies like Red Dust.  Back then, I was frustrated that I couldn't find many of these movies on VHS, now I'm frustrated that I can't find more of them streaming online. I may have been the first highschool girl since about 1950 that had a picture of Clark Gable in her locker. Of course I realized that he was long dead- he'd been buried for 22 years before I was even born. But whenever I watch one of his movies- I fall in love with his screen presence, and everything he represents.

I can't even express how happy I was when I discovered this film, in which one of my favorite actresses, from my all-time favorite film, sings a love song to my all-time favorite actor, in the way that only someone with the schoolgirl innocence of Judy Garland is able to.

Visiting the birthplace of Clark Gable's has been on my to-do list for years

The home is reconstructed (the original one was torn down), but it does have the layout of the original house. The museum is a very small one, and most of their collection is centered on memorabilia, most of which is Gone With the Wind related. They don't have many of Gable's belongings, but they do have his 1954 Cadillac.

Seeing the King of Hollywood's car was pretty cool, but the artifact that I liked more is his childhood sled. The simple wooden toy, painted red and embellished with a horse and his name almost brought tears to my eyes. It never fails to amaze me that no matter who we are, or who we become, we all start from the same place. Did little William Clark Gable ever dream that he'd be a Hollywood icon when he was playing in the snow during those cold mid-western winters? 

I'm pretty certain at this point in my life that I'll never become a film star (or any kind of star), but the fame is secondary. If someday my great-great grandchildren find an old trunk with a bunch of my stuff in it, what's is going to contain? What did I cherish enough to hold onto? Or, what did other people who knew me hold onto?

I used to go up into my great-grandmother's attic, and look at everything she kept up there. She held onto a couple of doll that belonged to her daughter (my grandmother). There was also a teddy bear that belonged to one of her grandson's (my Uncle Richard). Of course there was a ton more stuff, but those items are what always stood out to me because they belonged to children. It's funny how an inanimate possession can represent a person's identity, and childhood treasures always seem to hold the most significance.

So that's me waxing nostalgia and getting kind of philosophical on a Saturday night.

Luckily, it doesn't happen too often.

Friday, November 20, 2015

New pre-code film favorite!

I've been aching to watch more classic films lately. I don't have cable, so I can't access Turner Classic movies, and Netflix's selection of classic films is appallingly bad.

I have to find ones that are in the public domain and available to stream on YouTube, which narrows my selection down quite a bit. I'm not going to find any Clark Gable or Jean Harlow films in those parameters.

I ended up watching one called Young Bride from 1932. The opening scene takes place in a library, so I was interested in watching more. There's even a funny little aside in which a male patron comes in asking for an illustrated copy of Aphrodite. Upon hearing his request, the female library paige gasps and covers her mouth as she scurries on with her cart; the spinster librarian replies that the book is not currently in publication.  After a bit of research, I found out that this is referencing Pierre Louys' Aphrodite: moeurs antiques, published in 1896. The book was banned in 1929 by the United States Customs Bureau for being "lewd, corrupting and obscene," probably due to the lesbian relationships and "unrestricted sensuality among women."

From there, we cut to the children's room, where a pretty women is showing a miniature village to two children, and pointing out where all the fairytale characters such as Rapunzel and Peter Pan live.

So far the movie contained a library, banned books and a children's librarian who loves fairy tales and miniature renderings of them.


I was so happy in my new discovery that I can easily overlook the old spinster librarian trope. Librarians seem to be akin to nuns in 1930's and 40's films; remember George Bailey's horror at that alternate fate for Mary in It’s a Wonderful Life?

The story line isn't highly original; Good Girl falls for Bad Boy type of romance. The plot is reminiscent of No Man of Her Own, which is also from 1932. That movie must've had a much bigger budget for casting because Carole Lombard plays the librarian and Clark Gable plays the gangster.

I thought from the beginning that Eric Linden, who portrays the love interest, is a poor man's James Cagney and come to find out he actually plays Cagney's brother in Big City Blues (1932). The protagonist Allie is played by Helen Twelvetrees. I admit I'd never heard of her before, but from now on I'll be looking for more pre-code movies featuring her.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Not That There's Anything Wrong with That

Whenever I tell people I work in a library, they often reply with something along the lines of "Oh, that must be great! So do you just get to sit around and read all day?"

That always makes me laugh.  I don't even know how to reply to that question. Library jobs are so diverse, and have evolved so much to fit the needs of public/elementary/college/legal/film/corporate/medical/federal/theological/etc. libraries but the job description still gets reduced to that singular aspect.

I was scrolling through our library's Instagram history today, and I am so happy to see that our photos capture all the different types of responsibilities and tasks we undertake on a daily basis. If I just sat around reading all day, I wouldn't have time to:

set up displays that promote literature discussions

supervise our awesome library helpers

buy books for the library, and get them autographed!

take care of our two resident library bunnies

manage art supplies

fundraise for the library (with the book fair)

set up obstacle courses for our Hunger Games party

appreciate middle schoolers, and the things they think of/draw

write on bathroom mirrors with lipstick

what's your best guess?

These photos only show the last couple of months; there's so much more that goes on.

So for the official record: "NO- I DON'T just sit around and read all day."