Guest Movie Maker Elliot Bartlett

July 9, 2010 at 6:21 am (Art, Family, Films)

My brain has been so swamped with living my life that I have had no creativity left over for blogging. Hopefully, it will come back after this heat wave passes. In the meantime, luckily, my son Elliot has stepped in and allowed me to post his first movie. His beloved aunt challenged him to take the Bing Crosby version of “Dear Hearts and Gentle People” and create a video of Norwich, NY, our nearest “town,” which truly is one of those quintessential small towns. The story goes that Norwich was only allowed to incorporate as a “city” if it had a certain number of streets, so there are several streets that have different names on either side of an intersection. You will be driving along Borden Avenue, cross through an intersection, and suddenly be on Fair Street. Clever, those founding fathers!

Yes, although the boy is 12, this is very intentionally tongue-in-cheek. Elliot has a very sophisticated level of textual analysis and presentation. He recently read The Catcher in the Rye and noted that because the pace of the narrative was so much slower than the middle grade books he normally read, that Salinger was able to go more in depth about Holden’s thoughts and feelings and he liked this style, was planning to read more adult books. He’s twelve. Here’s the video.

And here is the young movie master. Be watching for him in years to come.

Couldn’t resist adding this one too:

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Jig of Life

April 6, 2010 at 2:53 pm (Family, Farming, Films, Ireland, Music)

Just to ensure that no one actually thinks I am a saint or anywhere close, I present as evidence the last month and a half of my life. I have been a basketcase. The combination of the flu, a sinus infection, cabin fever, and PMS turned me into a snarling lump of awful. I have been fit company for neither man nor beast, so I have just kept a low profile and stayed under the porch licking my wounds.

However, hope springs eternal and spring hopes eternal, and just as the lilacs breed out of the dead land, so does the creative spirit return out of hibernation.

I was in Western New York to visit my mother and brother and sister on Easter, and I also saw two of my uncles. It gave me enough boost to finish another Kate Bush movie I had been half-heartedly working on. So here it is, with much love to my grandmother Mabel Ruth Kellick and my great-grandmother MaryAnn Elliott, and yes, I know, Mom, the Kellicks were English not Irish. Artistic license.

I realized making this that these magical photographs, which I pored over as a child, had as much to do with my love for farming as Laura Ingalls Wilder.

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Delayed Gratification

February 21, 2010 at 9:41 am (Family, Farming, Films, God, Gorgeous Writing, Rant)

To truly understand the significance of the picture to the left, you would have to have experienced my downstairs bathroom as it has been for the past 20 years. I wish I had a picture. The old bathroom had a barf-pink tub and toilet and an ersatz vanity/sink. The floor was two layers of crumbling linoleum, half of which was peeled off and half of which was kind of barely nailed on. I insisted on a plumbing upgrade when the pipes got so bad I was literally showering with a hose in the milkhouse in the barn, hiding behind the bulk tank and hoping to heck the milktruck didn’t pull in. My very pregnant and naked self was not a pretty site. Demi Moore I ain’t. During one Thanksgiving, we made our respective parents pee in the lawn because the septic was so bad. My mom was much in fear of the rooster that was poking about.

We made do with this bathroom until Youngest was born in 1997, when we put a brand new bathroom in upstairs (we didn’t have an upstairs bathroom for the first 7 years, and by pregnancy number three, I was darn tired of waddling down the stairs in the middle of the night). So since 1997, we have had a nice bathroom on the second floor, and we tolerated the pink pit on the first floor. It served its purpose for toilet, brushing or gelling (Middle son) hair, washing the dog. We rarely (read “never”) had guests, and we bumpkins didn’t care where we relieved ourselves. Then the toilet broke, and it would only flush intermittently. AND we have hard water, and calcium and rust accumulate on the inside of the toilet and hold on to the … whatever else is put in there, if you catch my meaning. So it became useless to clean it, and things became worse.

Remember the scene in Slumdog Millionaire when Jamal is in the outhouse and the movie star is arriving? That is not too far off from my bathroom of the past two years. So last spring, in a fit of Spring Fever, Andy and I tore everything out: the cast iron tub had to be smashed to smithereens (lots of fun, actually). I was in charge of ripping off the lovely faux-marble laminate walls and the plaster and lath. We left the sink and the toilet in place, but then the milk price bottomed out and we had to put it all on hold.

So for a year we had a very scary space right off the kitchen, kind of like those communal bathrooms in tenements in movies? You think I am kidding but I am not.

But just after Christmas Andy stumbled upon a fabulous deal on flooring so he bought it. And then our neighborhood ace handyman hurt his back and couldn’t work, but he could do some stuff for us. So way-hay and away we go! Suddenly beaded board was going up and toilets were flying and flooring was going down and all of a sudden I have a pretty bathroom. Twenty years is a long time to wait, and it makes the one-year wait on doing this

seem like child’s play. I bought this switchplate in Durham, North Carolina, at Vaguely Reminiscent in April of 2009. I was spending the day with a fabulous bunch of people I had met online and we were all about to go and see Haven Kimmel and Augusten Burroughs. I bought the switchplate saying to myself, “This is the way I want that bathroom to feel.” One year – 20 years – later, I finally screwed it into place. It will remind me daily of that magical trip. But screwing that little thing of beauty to the wall got me thinking.

I don’t know if this is an Asperger’s thing or a first-generation farmers thing, but Andy and I got very used to delaying gratification in the early days. Any entrepreneur will tell you that if you want to succeed in business, you have to suffer through the early years when all the money you make gets shoveled back into the business, and you cross your fingers that some day the business takes off and makes it all worth it. Andy and I were so good at delayed gratification, that we usually just skipped the gratification part. We just went without, went without, went without, one-month splurge when the milk price was high, and then back to went without, went without.

The year 2008 was a record-high milk price year, and the money was a’sloshin’ around like crazy! Andy bought a boat, and the family got a pool. We got a little used to buying a little treat or a little toy or whatever. I confess to over-spending on Amazon Used Books, and Andy overspent on fishing gear. But then the Bush era finally took its toll and the country plunged into a recession.

If the dairy industry is any indication of what is happening in the economy at large, the prospects for recovery are looking grim. Over the past 15 years, the large farms have adopted sexed semen (meaning they have 90% heifer calves) and expansion and anything else that made them personally more profitable, with the result that the national herd is huge and growing, there is more milk on the market than the recessed economy can absorb, and as any economist will tell you, oversupply and shrunken demand equals low prices.

For the big dairies where large volume means that even a small profit margin keeps you in business, this is fine. For us small to medium-sized dairies, a small – or non-existent – profit margin means borrowing to stay afloat and watching years worth of growing sweat equity start to slow to a halt.

Andy (who has THREE Bachelors degrees, one of which is in Economic Theory) and I (who have learned all I know about Economics because I have to teach it) have been talking a lot about the shift that seems to be going on right now. From my perspective in public education, I have seen the past twenty years devoted to preparing America’s graduates to go to college, teaching them critical thinking and theory analysis. When I graduated high school in 1984, that worked. You got yourself a four-year degree, and everyone opened their arms to usher your brainy self in the door. Ask Michael Lewis. Ask Melanie Griffith. If you could think, you were welcome to come on in and help America’s growing companies make some money.

But Andy and I are both feeling like the years of graduating from college and easily attaching yourself to the corporate teat are at an end. First of all, many of those Jamals made it through the latrine, got themselves an education, and will now do what American graduates do better and for one-quarter the salary – and be happy about it! Most American graduates (self included) are so dependent on adhering to big companies or agencies like barnacles that they couldn’t start their own business if you gave them the money to do it. And with money being funneled to keep the economic Titanics afloat, no money is currently available for entrepreneurs wanting to do their own thing, where keeping your job is your OWN responsibility. Besides, what upstart rowboat can compete with the Titanic, even if it is bailing water?

The really frightening thought is that the economy we have known and enjoyed for the past twenty years might be dying away. The economic model we have embraced, enjoyed, and are now trying to save might not be savable.

This hit me pretty hard this past Friday. We had been struggling along between milkchecks until Friday when the milkcheck finally arrived. I breathed a sigh of relief and immediately went out and bought myself swim goggles, fancy soap, a video game for Youngest, and was heading toward Lowe’s to get the medicine cabinet for the new bathroom when I stopped myself. What happened to delayed gratification? Yeah, we had money again, but truly, it was all spoken for already. Had I truly gotten so used to gratifying my desires that I couldn’t wait for my own paycheck a week later to get the bathroom decorations? Maybe, in fact, I might need to wait a month – or even two – to get those pretty baskets and that laundry hamper and that shiny towel rack. Maybe I couldn’t get them at all. And in truth, Jamal would be happy with just having the darn toilet that was already sitting at home.

I fear some serious belt-tightening is going to be called for, and I know that lots of Americans have already had to do it. Part of what Andy and I are feeling is that by the age of 50 (or 43), it shouldn’t be a big deal to buy a cappuccino; we have truly worked our asses off to get where we have gotten with the farm, much harder than our peers who did pursue the big and stable salary. Shouldn’t we be able to buy at least a couple of luxuries in our middle age? Ask the middle-aged folks in Guatemala or the slums of Mumbai.

Could it be that delayed gratification – or no gratification – is going to be necessary in America? And what about the concept of the majority of Americans returning to physical or manual labor? Perhaps the economy is now calling for us all to actually produce something as opposed to spin it, analyze it, market it, train it, teach it, think it, televise it, or turn it into a video game.

As usual, through pure grace, I am currently teaching The Grapes of Wrath in my class. Andy used to joke that America needed another depression to get Americans’ heads out of their butts. Maybe then we WOULD get some Americans who would work as hard as Hispanic workers.

And now the joke is on us. We had lived like the Joads for years as we had started the farm, and like the Joads, we assumed that if we worked hard enough, we could at least have that pretty little white house in the orange grove. But unless everyone on the planet can have the pretty white house, it’s not going to happen. People living in cardboard boxes are going to take the jobs and be happy to upgrade to corrugated metal. And those who want to live in a Pottery Barn advertisement might find themselves replaced by someone who wants the job worse.

I am looking down right now at a Pottery Barn rug, one that I finally purchased after 18 years and with great guilt and trepidation. Maybe it’s the last one I’ll ever buy. And you know what? I have a roof over my head, more flesh on my body than I need, a job that I don’t think is going away, and healthy kids.

This was real:

And so is this:

And so I should consider this to be as much or more than I deserve in this lifetime. I used to think I would have been quite the survivor had I lived through the Great Depression. It might be that I’ll be finding out whether that is true.


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Winter in Central New York

January 10, 2010 at 11:05 am (Art, Asperger's Syndrome, Family, Farming, Films)

My oldest son created this one day when he was bored. I think it’s brilliant. He made it about four years ago, thus the spelling errors.

It’s even funnier to those of us who live here because we can name most of the people in the vehicles that go by. In the white station wagon is the wife of  the guy who fixes our cars. She is on her way into Norwich to buy car parts for her husband. They live in a strange enclave in the woods, built into a hill so that half is underground. We call it The Bunker. For the first many years we dealt with him, we were instructed to leave our car up on the road with the keys in it – not to drive down into the property. For a long time we suspected he was in the witness protection program, but now we just suspect they are older hippies. We also suspect they might be practicing nudists because sometimes we’ll stop at the house to pay our bill, and they have obviously just thrown on robes. Great mechanic. Cheap prices. Life in backwoods New York.

The truck that pulls in the driveway is our trucker Sue who takes our old cows to auction when they need to go. Sad but true. By some fluke of the camera, the film slows her down and then speeds her up. I laugh every time I watch it.

The other smaller car that pulls in is the artificial insemination guy. If you don’t know what that is, I’ll leave you to figure it out.

There is a surprising amount going on if you know what you’re looking for!

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Trolling for Chinook on Lake Ontario

August 9, 2009 at 5:45 pm (Childhood, Films, Fishing, God, Ireland, Marriage, Music)

Here is a movie of the trip Andy, Elliot, and I took on Lake Ontario. This is Andy at his very happiest – fishing.

(Elliot gets the credit for the ending footage of waves.)

Great_Big_SeaThe song is “Wave Over Wave” by Great Big Sea, a band that I love from Newfoundland. All the guys in the band are Irish, Canadian, English majors, and play hockey. Could you ask for more? The guy on the left is Alan Doyle (sigh) who will be in the new Robin Hood movie to be released next year. He is at his most charming in this video of Great Big Sea and the Chieftains singing Lukey’s Boat. My second choice would be Sean McCann, playing bodhran: so stinkin’ cute.

But of course neither one is as charming as my hubbie!

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I’m Excited About This Movie

August 5, 2009 at 5:00 pm (Asperger's Syndrome, Films, Rant)

Adam-movie-f05

In the past two weeks the New York Times has featured at least two different articles about the just-released film “Adam” starring Hugh Dancy, billed as an Aspie-NT love story. I gave it the old “askance glance” at first, having been irritated by certain other media portrayals of Aspergians.

boston-legal96I got hooked on Boston Legal through Netflix because I knew that in later seasons they introduced an Aspergian lawyer. I was not impressed when Jerry Espenson finally appeared. Perhaps he also has Tourette’s, but any Aspergian who has become a lawyer would have learned over the years to control odd hand and voice behaviors.

mary-mcdonnell-on-grey-thumbSame with Dr. Virginia Dixon, the heart specialist on Grey’s Anatomy. Any Aspie who could get through med school and land that job would have figured out how to accept a hug and not completely freak out. Asperger’s is not Kanner’s (I hope I did not just completely display my ignorance about Kanner’s since I don’t live with it.)

I DO live with Asperger’s, though, and neither of these characters seems anything like the Aspies I know and love.

However, the trailer for Adam seems a little truer, and (blushing boastfully) I gotta say my own personal Aspergian husband does have all the charm and good looks of Hugh Dancy.

So I have high hopes for “Adam.” It was an independent film, bought by Fox Searchlight for distribution nationwide, so that speaks well of its intent: not mass market. It won the Alfred P. Sloan Award at Sundance for its portrayal of science and scientists. And I liked Hugh Dancy in “The Jane Austen Book Club” as well as what I heard about his research for developing this character.

“Adam” has already opened in New York City. I will luckily get to see it in San Diego later this month. And it will finally arrive here Under the Rock of the more rural areas of the country on August 28.

If you see it, please comment!

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