Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lear's Follies

Last night we went to a staged reading of "Lear's Follies," by my teacher C.S. Whitcomb, at the Artists Repertory Theatre in downtown Portland. The presentation is part of the Portland Shakespeare Project, and because it was a staged reading instead of the full production, our tickets cost only ten dollars each.

Why do we need a new version of King Lear?

I can understand the desire to re-write Shakespeare. As an English major in college, I was required to take a Shakespeare class in which we were required to read all his plays. (Notice how I keep putting this in terms of requirements?) The problem with that kind of requirement, for me, at least, is that I read everything in the most cursory way possible, forget everything as soon as I'd participated in the required discussion section, written the required essays and taken the required tests. So I ended up hating the playwright, the plays, the whole culture of Elizabethan England, the whole thing.

Yes, I know, it's childish, but it got me through college. I did this to the extent that in a later English class, when the professor asked us to tell the class who we thought the best English writer of that period was, I said, "Christopher Marlowe." As if I knew anything about Christopher Marlowe besides having read his play "Doctor Faustus."

(That professor called me an iconoclast. I went straight to the library after class to look up "iconoclast." I don't think it really applied to me. I was actually just a confused little English major, though it's true he and every other English professor I ever met treated Shakespeare as some kind of religious icon.)

But I think most people who write new versions of Shakespeare's plays don't do it because they suffered through college Shakespeare classes or don't like his plays. They do it because they love his plays and want to make them more accessible to us. And I like that idea!

I don't think Shakespeare would object to this, by the way. Did you know most of his plays are themselves re-writes of older plays and classic stories? And what he did was make those stories more accessible to a very diverse audience, thus speeches like the "Blow winds and crack your cheeks" speech by King Lear, with its many layers of meaning and levels of vulgarity.

So if Shakespeare wrote about a crazy king with three daughters, one of whom is really too good for him and the whole rest of the lot, fitting his time and culture, why not have a senile old man with two arrogant and stupid sons (married to grasping and jealous wives) and one daughter who is really too good for him and the whole rest of the lot?

Ms. Whitcomb made a few changes so the play would fit our time. She explains them here. Most interesting, I think, is why she changed the three daughters to two sons and a daughter:

"I changed the two older daughters, Regan and Goneril, to sons.  In Shakespeare’s world the most powerful person on earth was a woman.  Elizabeth had her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, put to death, to secure her throne.   Regan and Goneril sprang from that world view.  America has never had women with that kind of power.  We have founding fathers.  Male presidents.  In 1929 women hadn’t even had the vote for a decade.  I hope women and particularly actresses will forgive me (a woman playwright) for changing two daughters to sons."

I'd never thought of that comparison between Elizabethan and Jacobean times and our own. Changing the king to a rich southern tobacco farm owner and his kingdom to the wealth he can pass on to his children is brilliant.

Ms. Whitcomb made me like the play for the first time ever. I may even go back and re-read the original. Maybe.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Birdley's Hideout

Here's his secret hiding place. Here he is climbing in, just after coming out, and in attack mode when he realized I'd seen him.

I think I'm going to have to cover that little place so Mr. B can't get in there any more. He's so old that it's just a matter of time before he'll get in but not be able to get out, and it's impossible for me to reach my hand in to pull him out. Maybe I'll make a new hiding place for him...

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Birdley's Walkabout Photos

I was able to include the photos, and I wanted to add them here, too, because I'm so fond of my silly little Birdley. Isn't he the sweetest little guy!

When I get a chance, I'll post some photos of his hiding place---yes, I've finally found it---and no wonder he could stay hidden so well.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Fiction Friday, January 28, 2012: Groundhog Day

Madame L thanks Louise for this chance to plug one of her favorite rom-coms of all time: the movie "Groundhog Day," starring Bill Murray and What's-her-Name, oh, that's right, Andie MacDowell. (Madame L has nothing against Andie MacDowell, who is a fine model for cosmetics and perfumes; it's just that any other model could have "acted" in this movie and it would have been okay.)

Not to say that Bill Murray is the only reason the movie is so funn and bitingly fun. He's the main acting-related reason, but not the only reason. The real reason is of course the writing.

What if every morning you woke up to find it was the exact same day as the day before? What if everything you did was the exact same thing you did the day before? What if your behavior made absolutely no difference to anyone around you?

That's what happens to TV weatherman Phil Connors, and Madame L suspects it happens to many of us on our not-so-great days. Or at least we THINK that's what's happening.

But what if you found out that your behavior DID change the way you felt AND the person you were becoming? Everyone around you may stay the same, but you could choose whether to help them and improve yourself or sulk in unhappiness.

The movie is rated PG, so most of Madame L and Aunt Louise's friends will find it inoffensive. The DVD is available right now from Amazon.com for $8.99 and will probably be available in your local grocery store in coming days.

Or you could get a boxed set of three of Murray's greatest hits, "Groundhog Day," "Stripes," and "Ghostbusters,"  for $19.99 from Amazon.com. Madame L would do that if she didn't already have all three of the movies readily available for viewing.

Madame L will follow her annual ritual of re-watching Groundhog Day this weekend or the next, and recommends that her Dear Readers enjoy it, too.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Birdley's Walkabout

I was frantic on Monday after half an hour of looking all over the house for Mister Birdley, who had gone missing. He loves to spend time out of his cage, but he usually sticks close to the table and couch nearby, only occasionally going as far away as the desk, where he sometimes hides so he can rush out and "attack" the feet of anyone careless enough to walk close to his hideout.

But this time he wasn't there, wasn't in my shoes which often end up near there, wasn't anywhere near the couch, wasn't standing next to the table leg, none of that stuff.

I went through the house calling, "Birdley, Birdley, Birdley!" and whistling his favorite little "Pretty Bird" riff. But nothing. I even went outside, unlikely as it could be that he'd gone out, since I didn't think I'd opened the door earlier, and called his name.

Finally I went to do some other things, and when I came back to start looking for him, Mister B. strutted right up to me, waited for me to kneel down and put my hand on the ground so he could step up and I could carry him up to his cage. If he could have talked, I think he'd have been saying, "What's the big fuss! Can't a guy have a few minutes to himself?"

I'm guessing he was in the hall closet, probably investigating all the shoes, since he seems to love shoes.

Here's Birdley the next day, coming back from a similar expedition and saying "Hi!" to his favorite person.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

My Friend Marta

I wish I had a photo of Marta to share with everyone. If I did, you would see someone who had decided long ago to be happy, to take care of the people around her (but without taking any crap from anyone), and to push on through every difficulty by sheer hard work and determination. Yes, you would see all that on her face.

But she knew she couldn't beat the cancer. She tried to let me know that, but I didn't understand, until her husband called me this morning to tell me the bad news.

So I've lost my friend whom I love (love, not loved, because of course I love her still) so dearly, who went through the events of 9/11 with me 10 years ago, who taught me how to live better and be better.

I'll miss her.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Fiction Friday: January 20, 2012: Sundance Shorts

No, that's not the title of a new novel or short story --- though wouldn't it make for a great title? It could be about the day when the Sundance Kid cut off the legs of his long underwear to make it easier to swim in the crick. Or about the crazy clothes people wear to the Sundance Film Festival, or the shorts skiers wear on the slopes at Sundance.

But it's not that. It's even better: The Sundance Film Festival has posted nine of this year's short films online, so you can watch them at home. What a great day to spend one of these snow-bound or rain-soggied days!

Then, after you've watched them all, vote for the one you liked the most. The winning filmmaker will win $5,000.

Here are the nine movies. Madame L hasn't watched any of them yet, and hopes her Dear Readers and Aunt Louise's Dear Readers will let her know if they like any of the movies, wouldn't recommend others, and why they did or did not like them.

Poll Choice Options
  • bit

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Brownie Cupcakes With Mint Sprinkles

Okay, so I tried something new yesterday: I used my regular brownie recipe to make some cupcakes, and they turned out kind of good. The big difference though was I wanted to use up some mint M&M candies, which I was the only one left who was still enjoying and therefore was eating when I shouldn't have been, and I'd run out of people to give them away to. In the past, I've just made my regular brownies with a layer of the M&Ms in the middle, and they were pretty good, but I wanted to try something different.

Ta-da! But this photo does not do them justice.

Even the most carefully noncommittal and trying-not-to-eat-anything-homemade-with-chocolate taster in the world (Jason) had to admit the one he tasted was "...umm, pretty good, not bad, what is it?" Here's what it is:

Louise's Regular Brownies
Melt at low heat in microwave or stove top or double boiler or however you want to do it:
2 sticks butter
4 1-ounce sticks (cubes? whatever) unsweetened chocolate

While the butter-chocolate mixture is melting, mix together:
2 cups white (granulated) sugar
4 large eggs

Mix the melted chocolate-butter stuff into the egg-sugar stuff, and add:
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Stir in:
1-3/8 cup regular unsifted white flour

Chop some walnuts and add them to the mix. I use a cup or more, though most recipes call for less. Because I like walnuts.

Okay, for my REAL regular brownies, I would pour this into a buttered 9"-by'13" baking pan and bake for 22 minutes at 350 degrees (Fahrenheit). I might pour half of the brownie batter into the pan, add a layer of M&Ms or chocolate chips or chopped up chocolate or Snickers or any combination of candy, and then the rest of the brownie batter on top.

All very well and good. But I wanted to try something different. So I poured the brownie batter into some regular cupcake molds and some of those little teensy tiny cupcake molds---AND I sprinkled on top this delicious sprinkle I made:

Louise's Delicious And Easy Mint Sprinkles

Put a whole bunch of Mint M&Ms into a blender, set to "Shred" or any setting, and let it run until the M&Ms have become little sparkly bits of chocolatey candy sprinkles.

Sprinkle a teaspoonful or so of these Mint M&M Sprinkles onto each brownie cupcake.

Bake at 350 for about 12 minutes for the small cupcakes and 15 minutes or more for the large ones. I don't remember the time exactly. I kept checking because I didn't want them to get all dry and hard.

Louise's Regular AND Delicious AND Easy Cream Cheese Frosting

Get 4 ounces of cream cheese (low-fat is fine) and 3 tablespoons of butter soft, and then add about 2 cups of powdered sugar, about a cup at a time, until it has a nice frosting consistency. Add more sugar or if you've added too much put in a drop or two of milk.

So, frost the brownie cupcakes or not. They taste great either way. But for future, if I'm going to frost them, I won't sprinkle the M&M sprinkles on the brownie cupcakes themselves, but on the final, frosted product.

BTW, I've sent a few samples to a couple of special tasters, who will know they're the "lucky" special tasters by the fact that they'll receive their packages within a day or two, and I'd love to hear how you two would improve these cupcakes. What changes in the ingredients would help? Did you prefer the large or small cupcakes? Did you prefer the frosted or unfrosted cupcakes? Did you like cream-cheese frosting or would you prefer another frosting? And so on.

And tonight I discovered another treat:

Louise's Bonus Delicious Mint M&M Recipe for Hot Cocoa
Microwave 1 cup of skim milk in a microwave-proof cocoa mug at High for 2 minutes, and then add 1 Tablespoon of your usual chocolate mix and 1 Tablespoon of Delicious M&M Sprinkles, stir well, and enjoy. When you get to the bottom of the cup, enjoy the chocolate-mint sludgey residue there.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Crow Sleds Down a Roof...

...and then experiments around and does it again.

Are corvids smart? You bet your life they are!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King, Jr. --- Remember Him Today

I apologize for not posting something earlier about this federal holiday. As usual, the stores treat it like any other three-day weekend, and we're supposed to believe that the best possible way to spend our time today would be to spend a lot of money in those very stores. But of course they're wrong. If you haven't had a chance to do some service or spend a few moments contemplating this great man's life work, you may want to listen to his "I Have a Dream" speech:

I used to teach English as a Second Language to advanced students, people about to take their TOEFL exams so they could go on to regular English classes, and one thing I loved to share with them was this speech. And why did I love this so much?

Because they could understand every single word of it, and many of them shed tears along with me at the intensity and power of his words.

The speech wasn't available to me on video back then (and YouTube didn't exist yet---so now you know how far back that was in the Dark Ages!), so I just played a scratchy tape recording from the college library.

And now you can even listen to this version of the speech with additions by Will I.Am:

My students understood how important it is to believe more in Heaven than in Hell, and that's why they were here in this country. I do believe in Heaven and in Hope, and in doing the work it will take to make this dream available to all of God's children.

Downton Abbey: More

Following Madame L's advice, I watched the second episode of the second season of "Downton Abbey" last night, and I loved it.

Yes, I really did. And I understand why Madame L said she would leave all the explanations and interpretations to everyone else: because everyone else is oh so willing to provide them!

This morning I found new articles and blog postings online examining why the author (who is too "Toryish" for some people's taste, which I don't understand completely and don't think is worth examining any further!) made this or that character do this or that. Is William the footman really a conscientious objector, or just a coward? Why are Lady Edith's parents so surprised when she is singled out by a visiting general for being most helpful to the officers recuperating in the makeshift hospital? Will

Even if you've missed the first two episodes of this season, you can still watch them online. Here's where you can find the online episodes. 

The remaining episodes will air January 22 and 29 and February 5,12, and 19 on PBS. Here's where you can find your local station.

But, unlike Madame L, I'll add to the blogosphere my idea about why so many people like this show so much: It shows us a group of mostly beautiful and likable and charming but also flawed characters, doing their best, and upholding all that we regard as great about Great Britain.

(Compare, for instance, with George Orwell's writings about the British and their empire, as in "Shooting an Elephant," which I don't think anyone is ever going to film and which I certainly wouldn't want to watch if they did.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fiction Friday, January 13, 2012: Downton Abbey

Madame L thanks Aunt Louise for again allowing her to expound upon her opinions about art, literature, TV, and the movies.

This Fiction Friday, Madame L wants to share with Aunt Louise's readers a delightful TV series which has returned to the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) for a second season: Downton Abbey.

Madame L would have mentioned this sooner except that she didn't have a chance to watch the first episode of the new season until last night. (Madame L must mention here the joy she feels at the invention of the DVR, which has allowed her to enjoy many worthwhile TV shows she would otherwise have missed.)

The second episode of the new season will appear this Sunday, Jan. 15, at 9 pm (8 Central Time). Please, Kind Readers, watch it, DVR it, or TiVo (R) it. Madame L promises that you WILL enjoy it.

World War I is in full blast, and it has affected everyone at Downton Abbey.


However, rather than try to summarize the plot or themes, Madame L is copying below the blurb from the official website:

"Downton Abbey's Granthams and their family of servants have already weathered scoundrels, scandals, and a momentous succession crisis. But by November, 1916, the Great War has rendered everything — and everyone — changed. Even Downton Abbey itself, like its residents, has risen to the call of duty and transformed. 

"At the war front, life intensifies for Downton's young men in the face of untold horrors. Meanwhile, at Downton, war makes new and often unjust demands. Some rise to its call for a stiff upper lip and a useful turn, and others see change as an opportunity for either growth or exploitation. Far from the trenches, there remains no shortage of scheming, meddling, and dangerous attractions. 

"As other great houses crumble, a diminished Downton Abbey struggles to prevail into a new era with its residents and its honor intact."

Madame L will leave to the critics and experts and others in the blogosphere to discuss why so many of us Americans enjoy these Masterpiece Classic shows about the British.

Oh, by the way, if you've missed or will miss episodes through no fault of your own (!), you can watch them online for a limited time.

You can also access lots of interesting features from the main page of the website, from interviews with the actors to information about the history and "world" of Downton Abbey.

Madame L loves the authentic detail of this fictional world, including the magnificent costumes. Here's some information about the women's clothing design:

"Costume designer Susanna Buxton prepares no fewer than three evening dresses for each of the ladies, as well as nightgowns, teagowns and other basic wardrobe necessities. She explains, 'These three dresses demonstrate the different ways in which we brought the costumes together for the show. Mary's dress was made for her. Edith's was hired — it was previously used in the Merchant-Ivory production of Room With A View — and Sybil's is an original Edwardian summer dress.'"

And about the servants' clothing:

"Fellowes describes how Edwardian period footmen were a true measure of status, hired for their good looks and height, with the taller footmen earning a higher salary. 'The real showpieces of the house were the footmen. Their uniforms would be provided by the house at great expense; when the men were offered the job, they would be told to go to the tailors to be fitted for the livery, trimmed with the family's crested buttons, and the cost would be charged to the family's account.'"

"Maids were not so lucky as footmen. 'The maids had to make their own uniforms of two dresses: a print dress with a plain apron for cleaning in the morning, changing into a black dress with a more decorative pinny for the afternoons and evenings. This could be expensive: in 1890 the price of the fabric could eat up six months' of a scullery maid's wages. In many houses, a bolt of cloth was given to the maids at Christmas so they had only the work, but not the cost, of the dress.'"

Friday, January 6, 2012

Fiction Friday, January 6, 2012: The Cricket in Times Square

Madame L has found another delightful children's book, the Newberry-Honor-Award-winning "The Cricket in Times Square," by George Selden.

A country cricket accidentally ends up on a train to Times Square, where a mouse, a cat, a young boy named Mario, Mario's parents, and an elderly Chinese man help him. What will Chester Cricket do when he becomes famous for his musical talent? Ah, you'll have to read the book to find out.

It starts off a little slow, but that's not bad for this kind of book. Madame L thinks it would be a good one to read at bedtime, a chapter every night, because it's interesting and there's always something happening, but it's not so exciting as to scare a child or keep her from sleeping.

However, Madame L doesn't know for sure if she's right about this, not having had a chance to test her theory on an actual eight-year-old or third-grade child (the age and grade the book is recommended for).

Dear and Gentle Readers of Madame L and Aunt Louise, if you would be interested in testing Madame L's theory on such a child, please contact Madame L, who will send you her copy of the book and will hope that in exchange you'll share with Madame L, Aunt Louise, and all their Dear and Gentle Readers, what your child or children think of the book.

Or, you can buy the book new at Amazon.com for $6.99.