Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Farewell, September, we hardly knew ye...

Can anyone tell me where September actually went? I have this sort of funny mental picture of a cartoon me grasping tightly onto calendar pages that are blowing too swiftly past (like they used to in old movies) to no avail. After the august ennui of August, September was a mere blur...a shadowy glimpse of a month you caught out of the corner of your eye.

This is my favorite time of year and I suspect that's why it seems to go by altogether too fast. I wait anxiously, enjoying the summer for a while, but mentally summoning the first cool evenings of fall. It's like the vacation you wait all year for and it zips by too quickly...that's what all of autumn is for me. The smell of leaves, the smoky fires, pumpkins and hearty soup. And there's nowhere like New England to celebrate the natural wonders of the season. While there are too many miles of scenic roads to ever get to see everything, it's still fun to venture out and stop at apple orchards and pumpkin farms. It's as pretty as every old movie or picture postcard that you've ever seen.

And while we're on the subject of old movies, (okay, we weren't, but I am too written-out from other work to manage a nice clean transition here) I have to admit I am a major fan of Bette Davis. The classic weeper, 1939's Dark Victory, is on now and in addition to her fine performance, I find myself seriously coveting some of her ensembles. During the first half of the film Bette is a total thrill seeker--living a life of fast cars (for 1939), handsome bachelors, and fast horses. So that means Orry-Kelly gowns and an utterly classic wardrobe. There's also an adorable plaid jacket--very Pendleton--that she wears! The movie features an all-star cast of men, too...George Brent, Ronald Reagan (looking stunningly good in a tuxedo) and Humphrey Bogart with an Irish brogue (because all horsemen are Irish and have brogues.) And of course there are horses...a horse named Challenger competing in the Grand National. It's marvelous. And I'm not the only one who thinks so...it was nominated for a few Academy Awards in 1939, but that was a tough year to be any other film than Gone With the Wind. Bette was given a Best Actress nod but lost to Vivien Leigh. The movie also lost Best Picture to GWTW.

So I can hear you wondering, what is her favorite Bette Davis film?  And thank you for asking so I didn't have to make another awkward transition. Hmmm...it's a toss up between All About Eve and Now, Voyager. All About Eve has some of the quickest and most acerbic dialogue ever...it's witty and never dull. Now, Voyager, though, has an edge as it is one of my all-time favorite films. My Jeopardy friend, Myshkin, (we didn't play against each other, but were in LA at the same time for the show) and I have devoted hours of email and discussion to the familial relationships portrayed in the film. I don't think that there's been a frame of the movie that we've not analyzed with scientific intricacy--in the most loving, scientific way, of course. I stop short of actually saying the lines along with Charlotte (Bette Davis' character), but only just.



With apologies for rambling on and a promise to be more cohesive and focused tomorrow (really, I'll try)...I think I'm going to try to watch the Minnesota Twins vs the Detroit Tigers for a few minutes. Any regular readers know that my saying I get a little jittery at defining moments (for team, horses...) is an understatement and tonight is a biggie for the Twinkies.

I'll sign off for tonight with a little Now, Voyager.

HERE's a link to listen to the 1943 Lux Radio Theatre version...it's AWESOME. (Ida Lupino playing the Bette Davis Role and Paul Henreid in his same role.)

And here's a little Walt Whitman...

Now Finale to the Shore
Now finale to the shore,
Now land and life finale and farewell,
Now Voyager depart, (much, much for thee is yet in store,)
Often enough hast thou adventur'd o'er the seas,
Cautiously cruising, studying the charts,
Duly again to port and hawser's tie returning;
But now obey thy cherish'd secret wish,
Embrace thy friends, leave all in order,
To port and hawser's tie no more returning,
Depart upon thy endless cruise old Sailor.


The Untold Want
The untold want by life and land ne'er granted, 
Now voyager sail thou forth to seek and find.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Books + Horses = Lucky 1st Graders!

One of the things I greatly enjoy are dispatches from the old hometown. My parents often send me newspaper clippings of various things or they'll alert me to something of interest in the online version of the local paper, usually it's something relating to an old friend or cause I used to be involved with.

Obviously from my previous posts here, I love books and I love horses, and I especially love books about horses. And to any horse-loving child, the books of Walter Farley are like peppermints to ponies. From the original The Black Stallion in 1941, all the way up until 1989's The Young Black Stallion which Farley wrote with his son, Steven, the series maintained a consistently high standard for its young readers. If you didn't read these classics as a child, it's not too late, you'll no doubt find them in your local library.

So to tie these two loose ends together, the aforementioned hometown paper, The Rochester Post-Bulletin, ran a story over the weekend about two area horses who are going to be auctioned off with the proceeds going to the Rochester Regional Equestrian Center. The RREC will then use the money to partner with the Black Stallion Literacy Foundation to provide two hardcover books to each first-grader at a local elementary school. Riverside Central, the school that would initially benefit from this program, is in the city and has a fairly large immigrant student population. What a great opportunity for city kids, many of whom are not likely to ever get to really spend any time with horses, to possibly be inspired by the these noble creatures. The article goes on to note:

"I've seen firsthand how children bond and relate to horses," said Carol Fosdick, chair of the RREC auction, who has given riding lessons for 10 years. "This program is a definite win-win situation for all beginning readers and their schools."


In the spring, the students would be taken to a local barn to learn more about horses -- how they eat, how they are cleaned and taken care of, and how the tack, such as saddles, bridles and bits, are used. They will even read to the horse, an experience supporters say leaves an indelible impression on young people and fuels a life-long interest in reading."

The full piece by Matthew Stolle is HERE.

The BSLF (check out their website at www.bslf-online.org) has a great mission..."The Black Stallion Literacy Foundation helps children discover the joys of reading and the excitement of learning through the wonders of live horses and Walter Farley's Black Stallion books." What a great way to get kids to read and appreciate animals and the bonds we forge with them. Any time you can get books into the hands of children it's a recipe for success.

The RREC's website also provides lots of good info about this upcoming wine-tasting and fundraiser for the project. They're at www.rrec.info. Also take a look at the two Thoroughbreds that are being auctioned off, one out of Ghazi, one of Minnesota's leading Thoroughbreds. Both are gorgeous and Rushford, won a great race at Canterbury with superb Minnesota jockey Dean Butler in the irons. Their info can be viewed HERE.

What a nice way to begin a Tuesday morning, horse books for lucky 1st graders, new homes for some Minnesota Thoroughbreds and a literacy foundation working hard for horses and kids. Wins all the way around.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Banning of Atlanta? (sort of)





It's Banned Books Week (September 26 - October 3, 2009) and I was trying to decide what, if anything, I'd have to say on the subject. Honestly, we all know it was unlikely that I was going to remain silent. As I glanced over the banned and challenged list--particularly those that are generally considered classics--I was surprised to find my beloved Gone With the Wind on it. Banning Scarlett's exploits from the greater reading public? Fiddle-dee-dee, as my favorite heroine would no doubt say. To paraphrase the late Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing, "nobody puts Scarlett on a banned book list!"

However, to say it's in good company is an understatement. The list includes The Great Gatsby (actually rather a lot of F. Scott and Faulkner are on the list), To Kill a Mockingbird, Catch-22 and seemingly all of Steinbeck's work. Full disclosure, I'm not a huge Steinbeck fan, but would NEVER for a minute want his work to be off limits to anyone. The list, from the ALA website can be found HERE. (There are several lists, actually, most banned/challenged which is updated every few years and then the classics list.)

I have particularly strong feelings about reading and the freedom to explore and learn--about not only far away places and eras, but more importantly, about ourselves. My parents have my unending gratitude for always encouraging me to read--even when it was checking out The Cat that Clumped** for the millionth time as a very young reader--and never censoring what I brought home from the library or bookstore. Due to my rather "willful nature" (don't you think that's a lovely euphemism for stubborn or mulish?) I would likely have campaigned for my reading freedom had it become necessary, but thankfully, it never was.

Growing up with such great literary choice, I was never terribly conscious of the numbers and types of books that were being banned and challenged in communities and libraries across the country. My friends and I all read what we wanted, we passed around racy romance novels and James Michener books with the "good" parts noted by dog-eared pages; we read Stephen King and sadly, yes, even Alexandra Ripley's ill-considered and poorly written "sequel" to Gone With the Wind, Scarlett. I think for the most part, silly youthful reading choices aside, we turned out pretty well. The brain candy of my teenage years was supplemented with excellent English Lit courses that I devoured, and my reading tastes and interests continued to evolve.

I'm well aware of the arguments put forward by the people who want to keep certain books off shelves for whatever reasons. They'll plead untoward influences or uncomfortable situations; sexual innuendo, racial epithets, explicit language--the usual. But there are more sinister reasons as well. Books allow us to share our experiences and ideas, and even live vicariously through our favorite characters--that's a very potent and real danger in the minds of a few organizations and individuals. Now, I am not a parent, but I can fully understand the wish to protect your child and to guide their reading choices...but that's a far cry from challenging a book in a library or school so that no child is given the opportunity to read it. Parents ought to check in with what their children read and if they don't approve, then that's fine--for their child--but please don't attempt to make that decision for everyone. I don't believe that any one person is qualified to judge a book's merits for the rest of the reading populace. And to my mind, the downside and negative impact of this kind of literary censorship is exponentially worse than any small positive perceived by the pro-censorship lobby. The great works of literature (hell, even the less-than-great) make us feel and think, they raise our aspirations and nurture our empathy. The bawdy adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn; the battling passion and malaise of Hemingway; the brutal precision of Truman Capote--they all are part of the collective literary consciousness. To deny a reader the right to participate in this mind-expanding world is criminal. (And also damned ignorant, if you ask me, but I digress...)

So have I been unduly impacted by the books I've read? Absolutely, and I'm proud of it. I'm utterly corrupted by the written word and I'm at least in part the sum total of my literary consumption. But that's a gift...not something to be concerned about. The more you read, the more you know...it's pretty simple. The more you know, the better equipped you are to think for yourself, choose for yourself, and make an impact of your own. And on the worst days, when everything seems to be wrong, we readers are blessed with our own literary therapists--those go-to books or authors that help make sense of a situation or make us laugh (or cry) so hard that we are able to forget our troubles for the moment. Books help us gain perspective and offer us new lenses through which we can view the world.

In the end, it's about trust, I suppose. Trusting our children or other citizens enough to allow them the opportunity to read what they want without fear of repercussions. Believing that we all benefit from sharing ideas and experiences, from feeling less isolated and more connected. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for trusting me enough to let me enjoy everything on the literary buffet, without guilt or question.

**(For those of you who weren't horse-obsessed children, The Cat That Clumped was about a cat, Hubert, who lived with the Baron. The Baron owned race-horses and Hubert wanted to be a race-horse. But of course he was a cat...therein lies the 'dramatic tension' of the book. Happily, the Baron figures this all out and puts washers on Hubert's feet so he can clump/clomp like the horses and it all ends well.)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

In Defense of Architecture


(Sacre Coeur)

I can already hear you questioning the need to defend architecture. But the seeds of this blog post were sown a few weeks ago during Mad Men (of course) when the team at Sterling Cooper was debating the tearing down of old Penn Station to make room for the soon to be (then) latest incarnation of Madison Square Garden. Lovable "hippie" Paul Kinsey attempts to defend it while the proponents of the razing invoke New York's very own doyenne of architecture, the amazing Ada Louise Huxtable, whom they bemoan as cranky and against the project. And let's face it, architecture and design can be showcases for the best and sometimes the worst of human aspirations.

That started the wheels turning. I had the honor of working with and meeting Ms. Huxtable while working on her book, On Architecture, which was published by Walker & Co last fall. One of the great pleasures of sifting through her volumes of critiques, columns, and books was the broadening of my appreciation for different eras and styles. Because her critic's eye is so well honed, she's able to persuade even the staunchest anti-modernism preservationist (me) about the values of modern architecture. When I expressed my surprise to her that I was really drawn to some of these buildings that I'd always pooh-poohed, she replied that it was what good critics did. They made you think, consider and reconsider. (As an aside, her post-9/11 pieces--from the WSJ--on the WTC and what to do with the space are striking when coupled with her writings on the construction of the Twin Towers in the early 70s.)

E.G: They wanted a photograph of Richard Meier's Hartford Seminary (photo below) for the book. I offered to go to take it myself since it was just up the road and I love taking pictures. I had seen some images of the building in other books and it looked like an oddly shaped igloo formed of ice bricks, so I wasn't expecting much. It was a beautiful spring day and when I got out of the car to wander the grounds for different angles, I found myself recounting some of the comments Ms. Huxtable had made about the design and about Meier's work. No one was more surprised than I was to find that I really liked and appreciated the building. It didn't move me the way Sacre Coeur did, or the Opera Garnier, but I found something in it to like and began to see why it was so highly acclaimed.

                                 

And to say that I could appreciate the lines/design of buildings like the Hartford Seminary is no small matter. I'm an architectural traditionalist from way back. I love the history and aesthetic of Beaux Arts, Classical Revival, Federal, Victorian Craftsman, and Prairie School structures. I've been a part of as many losing battles (the old Soldier's Memorial Field bathhouse: a WPA built colonial revival structure that looked like a smaller version of Mount Vernon!) as I have winning ones (the old Chateau Theatre, now a Barnes & Noble) in my work with preserving the built past. It's hard and often thankless work because there are always people who want to tear down the old and put up the new, with no thought at all for the historic importance of the building or even the city/site. And not every building is worthy of saving, or even structurally sound enough to save. But there are so many occasions when short sighted city councils bow to the whims and desires of greedy developers with shallow promises.

Then the other day I read a really good piece in the UK Telegraph by Simon Heffer on "Letting Beauty into Our Towns." (read the full piece HERE, you won't be sorry, and read some of the comments on the piece as well, interesting takes on the British aesthetic.) He referenced John Ruskin and his Seven Lamps of Architecture, which made my heart beat a little faster, I must say. (Invoking Ruskin is like waving an Hermes scarf at me or shaking an ice-filled martini mixer in my presence--it gets my attention! Ruskin was complicated and difficult--consider his feud with James MacNeil Whistler--but he is also to my mind the father of the modern preservation movement. No less than Tolstoy called Ruskin "one of the rare men who thinks with his heart." The Seven Lamps was an extended essay that was expanded later into The Stones of Venice and both books are well worth searching out for anyone with architectural leanings.) Ruskin aside, though, Heffer makes some very interesting points about the unfortunate bleak structures that were built under the mantle of modernism. Heffer is specifically pointing to the loss of the Euston Arch as the time when the "floodgates of modernism" were opened wide, which made me wonder what that watershed moment was for the US.

Surely there are bad buildings that have been built in every style, in every era. And clearly art and architecture are very personal visions. What pleases my eye may not interest you. But I think a case could be made for the loss of old Pennsylvania Station in NYC as our Euston Arch moment. The building erected in Penn Station's place is the completely unattractive behemoth of Madison Square Garden. While MSG has brought sporting entertainment to the Big Apple, not many would call it interesting to look at. In the years after MSG was built, so many office buildings of the 60s and 70s were glass and steel skyscrapers with no interest or ornament and surely no soul. Minimalist modern gone bad. Obviously not all bad architecture started with MSG nor did the preservation fights end with Jacqueline Onassis' heroic battle to save Grand Central Terminal. It's an ongoing struggle to keep important structures part of our communities.

Next time you're in a city, any city...look up. See what there is to see, what pleases your eye and why. It's fascinating to see how buildings have evolved right along with our society and values. There's something to be said here about no longer young dogs and new tricks, too...it's surprising what we can begin to appreciate when given the opportunity to learn more about a place or thing.  I'm coming around to some of Modernism's masters (a few...baby steps, you know) and can only hope that they'll have people fighting for their preservation in the coming decades as those architects and styles are indicative of our society--for better or worse.

Here are a few of my favorite buildings (my photos, as well)...I'd love to know what buildings/spots you love--what place do you photograph or sketch from every angle because it fascinates you?


(Grand Central Terminal)


                                             
(Paris Opera--Charles Garnier)



(St. Paul, MN --Landmark Center, St. Paul Cathedral in background)



(Classic white-steepled NE church)




(the stables @ Mayowood, where I first took riding lessons!)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bert and Ernie









                                 

This is a little memorial to my cat, Jackson, whom I mentioned a few posts ago. He loved my mother's ironing board (warm, toasty from her quilt making tendencies) above most other sleeping spots. Could he BE more comfy?? The other photos I always called the Ernie and Bert series. With Lady, the rescued Golden Retriever as Ernie (because honestly, is there a more earnest face than that of a Golden?? Nope.) and Jackson as Bert. They tolerated each other in the funniest ways...Jack would look with serious disdain at Lady as if to say "really, you don't get that they are totally playing you?" And Lady's look was more "What do you mean? They LOVE me..." It was adorable.

I miss Jackson soooooo much, he was the best little tabby cat ever. And Lady, well let's just say she rules the roost in Rochester, Minnesota, and she does it with grace and aplomb...and the best sad look you've EVER seen.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Um, is this thing on??"

So I really had nothing to write about today. It was a big day for the pacers and trotters--that is to say it was Little Brown Jug Day in Ohio. (No, not the big football game between Minnesota and Michigan for a similarly titled piece of small crockery!) The Little Brown Jug is the 2nd jewel in the Pacing or Trotting Triple crown. So all the best trotters and pacers descended on the Delaware County, Ohio, fairgrounds for the races. And these are tough races with multiple heats. Well Said carried the day and all in the pacing community seemed satisfied that a good day--with ample attendance--was had by all.

I thought about writing about the race and doing something about The Great Dan Patch (my personal favorite pacer/trotter of all time) or even about how pacing is different from trotting gait wise, but that topic, I'm sorry to say, didn't inspire me.

And yet, after my slightly wine-influenced manifesto I really felt I should follow up strong. I fear that is not to be, alas.

I'm no less impassioned than I was yesterday, just less verbose. (I know, I can hear those sighs of relief across the Northeast as I type...)

Even Project Runway, another of my television obsessions was disappointing today. For you non-Runway types out there, the winner was, in words I hope Tim Gunn might use, inexplicable. Fellow Minnesotan Christoper did a fantastic piece as did Epperson...I loved both dresses and think they both are much more talented and have a much clearer POV than Nicholas (the winner) did. And the judges in seasons past have always stressed POV...your Point of View as a designer. It should influence your take on everything...even costume and period clothing. I didn't see too much POV in Nicholas' design. Plus, I think he's rather a whinging putz. (Sorry, I know that's not nice!)

The new Chanel bio-pic, Coco Avant Chanel, got a very good review in today's NYT by A.O. Scott. I've been dying to see it might have to be high on the priority list. Shallow, maybe, but true. There's always time for Chanel.

And note to the Big 10 schedulers, how dare you fuck up the Minnesota-Michigan rivalry this season. It's for the aforementioned Little Brown Jug and it's one of the oldest and best contested rivalries in all of collegiate sports. Shame on you Big 10 lackeys!! (That last bit was for my dad!) For the record, and in the interest of full disclosure, I went to college in Chicago so I have nothing more than a sporting interest in either educational institution.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

To Thine Own Self Be True

I was watching Fox's Glee earlier tonight and was reminded of how much we all crave acceptance. (The show, by the way, is okay. However, I think the pregnancy faking wife and the pregnant "abstinent" cheerleader story lines are kind of tired, in my opinion, and there was a point I was kind of waiting/hoping for Kanye West to show up during the many All the Single Ladies dance sequences.) Whether it's applying for jobs, meeting new 'networking contacts' (okay, that phrase alone gives me hives) or just fitting in, we all crave a level of acceptance. Even the people who are right now shaking their head saying "everyone else maybe, but not me..." want some level of acceptance and validation.

I guess what made me think of this was the young gay character on the show...he lied to his father and said he was working out and trying out to be the kicker on the football team. The football lie came from one of his fellow Glee-Clubbers and it was all an effort to impress and garner acceptance from his football loving straight father. At any rate, he turns out to be a real boon to the team and a good kicker as well. It all ends happily, father accepts gay son and son joyfully has pleased his father. (Sorry if it sounds cynical...but I'm summarizing here!)

This not-untried story line started me thinking about the lengths so many of us go to in the name of acceptance. This young man, a true 'glee-clubbing fabulous friend of Dorothy' went as far as trying out for the football team to carry out a ruse and in doing so gain his father's love/acceptance. In our every day lives, we often have to make sacrifices to fit in. Whether it's not mentioning the glaring error a colleague made or not owning your life and it's truths...we all do it. It can be covering your light with the proverbial basket so as not to outshine someone, or just living an untrue existence.

In pressure filled situations it is so easy to succumb to wanting to say or do what is expected. When someone asks why you're not married (this one is my particular favorite) it's so easy to give stock answers. The truth is for me that it's not important to me. It doesn't define the relationship my boyfriend and I have. We love each other and don't feel the need to be married. But given a social situation it's often simpler to comment on commitment issues, timing, or location. The few times I've actually said what I felt and what I wanted I was greeted with blank stares and polite smiles. (Seriously, the comment running through my head was more like: "Really, this is what interests you about me? Not what I'm doing in NY or what book I'm working on? This is your burning curiosity? As if...")

I'm an only child with great need for space and ME time--could that sound more selfish?? But in all honesty I'm not terribly outgoing or gregarious--I'm generally more at home being the scribbling observer. Don't get me wrong--I love being with my boyfriend, but don't need or want him here all the time. Not pretty, perhaps, but the truth. I'm fine with me and while I love our "US" time, we're both just fine doing what we need to do. I'm not sure my parents always understand this, but they are supportive and seem to have accepted that their daughter doesn't do things the conventional way. They'd likely tell you that I never have and while they'd probably prefer it was otherwise, they deal with my eccentricities pretty well, all things considered. Thanks for that, Mom and Dad.

As you've gleaned from my previous posts, I spent a lot of time in a job that I should have left. Had I really been faithful to my ideals and true to myself, I'd have looked after my interests much more closely. I wasn't my own best advocate and I'll always regret that. I look back at so many times where I should have said something or done something but I didn't because I was afraid of how it would look. Honestly, I roll my eyes just thinking about me then!

So what's the right answer? Tell people what they want to hear or announce your truth to the discomfort of others? Both, neither...you decide. I've begun to believe that our own personal truths have to become MORE self-evident. It's not worth it to try to tailor your life or feelings to someone else's agenda. Understand, I'm not saying anyone should just act out every thought or emotion--it's just fine to have unexpressed thoughts and emotions. I'm just saying that whenever possible--meaning whenever we don't damage or impinge upon the truth or life of another--we should be true to who we are, what we need to survive. (And by the way, we all have VERY different needs. What is okay for me won't fill your bill.)

I was a weird kid who took Latin and read the New Yorker and Town & Country...in a smallish town in Minnesota. I fell in love with medieval literature and studied the cathedral architecture of Europe. I'm not "normal." My friends and family love me for/in spite of all this. They know I love my cocktails and my odd little historical facts, and that I'm as happy in an 18th century French Chateau as I am at the beach...with books at both places, of course.

My mini-manifesto, with apologies to Jerry McGuire, is this:
1. I love writing, whether it's about horses, clothes, silly situations I get myself into or whatever else might cross my mind.
2. I need my alone time and am perfectly okay by myself.
3. I love going to the movies and watching some bad TV.
4. I think books are both transformative and transportive--they can change your life.
5. I love French table wine, good cheese and crisp, tart apples.
6. The only champagne I'm at all interested in is made by The Widow Clicquot, in a manner of speaking.
7. I admire Europeans for their slowness in eating and drinking and spending time with friends. I love Americans for their unbridled confidence and sense of possibility.
8. Ideas are among the most necessary and important things we have as a people.
9. Negative energy can kill almost anything.
10. Gin martinis, with extra olives, are one of the great bar-tending achievements of all time.
11. I will always want to know more.
12. There will never be enough time on horseback.
13. A part of me is always in France...my mind, my heart, my soul.
14. A part of me is always in Minnesota with my family and old friends.
15. A part of me cares what people who read this will think...a part of me doesn't.
16. I made it in NYC, for many years...you know how the song goes. I still think I can make it anywhere.
17. No time spent with horses is wasted time.
18. No time spent on the beach is wasted time.
19. No time spent on the NYT Sunday crossword is wasted time.
20. The 10 most important two-letter words: If it is to be, it is up to me.

There's other stuff of course, but hey, you should always leave an audience wanting more.

So be yourself...I'm going to. Want what you want, and ask for it. Need what you need, and ask for it. I'm not good at that part of it, but I'm getting better. I aspire to a wardrobe where I love everything in it. I aspire to be a good, solid rider. I want to work and make a difference, somewhere yet to be determined, I guess. I've had two amazing careers, one in museums and one in publishing and I'm not anywhere near done yet. There are things I still have to share with the world! (Or at least the two or three folks who read my ramblings regularly.)

I'll be wearing my Hermes scarves a bit jauntier this fall, and my lipstick a little darker. My nails are going to be matte in some cases and will likely be navy, gun metal gray or black. It's time for corduroys, suede, and Barbours. *Okay, waxed cotton is seasonless, but you get the idea*

On that note, go forth and enjoy yourself...I plan to have an exceptional autumn!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Prominent Sire El Prado Dead, Summer Squall Euthanized

Requiescat in pacem, El Prado and Summer Squall.

Prominent Sire El Prado Dead | BloodHorse.com
Summer Squall Euthanized / BloodHorse.com

We are responsible, forever, for what we have tamed


Looking back on the pre-unemployment days--those "halcyon/salad days" (ha ha) of gainful employment, I wish I'd had the time to really pursue and really work with the equine charities that I'm now becoming familiar with. I'll admit I was too consumed with the daily grind--consumed to the exclusion of most everything else. Now of course, I have time (possibly too much time) on my hands, but am lacking the income from the aforementioned gainful employment.

So while I'm in no position to adopt and retrain a thoroughbred to ride and hack about on (yes, this is my dream), or give a pile of money to anyone,  I can give a little extra publicity to some of the groups that I've found so inspiring. It is amazing what starts to happen when people work together on projects for which they feel passion and love.

The H.O.R.S.E website (#2, below) used a quote from one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors, Antoine de Saint-Exupery. In his classic, The Little Prince, the fox reminds the Little Prince that he is responsible forever for what he has tamed. We owe horses (and dogs, cats, you name the domesticated creature...) nothing less than love and care throughout their lives. Here are 5 great equine organizations that I think are taking the lead in responsible care and treatment of horses.

1. Work to Ride (www.worktoride.net) 

I remember seeing this group highlighted on HBO's Real Sports a while ago, but was reminded of their good work with inner city kids and horses when CBS Sunday Morning did a piece on the ridiculously handsome Nacho Figueras and mentioned his connection to the group. From their own statement..."Created in 1994 by Lezlie Hiner, Work to Ride is a non-profit, providing disadvantaged urban youth from Philadelphia with constructive activities centered around horsemanship, equine sports, and education. Located in Fairmount Park, the setting provides a unique opportunity to bring 7-to 19-year-old youth in contact with animals and nature. While most participants are trained in several sports, polo has proven to be the perennial favorite of Work to Ride youth. In 1999, the Work to Ride polo team became the first African American polo team in the nation, and in 2005 the team won the Eastern Regional Interscholastic Polo tournament."

So many of these programs involve teaching children responsibility through the care and hard work involved in horses. These children learn everything from mucking out stalls to the finer points of polo and get to experience that special bond that just happens between humans and horses. What could be better that that?

2. H.O.R.S.E of Connecticut (www.horseofct.org) 

This organization has been around since 1982 and is a great friend to horses. Not only do they do a lot specifically with the Premarin mares and foals, they rehab horses for lease to riders and even have horses available for adoption.
Their missions, directly from their website:

ADOPTION:
After our horses have been returned to good physical and mental health, we place them out for adoption. Nothing is more satisfying than seeing that new bond of trust and love between human and horse.


EDUCATION:
We hold regular seminars and make guest lectures to teach people about caring for their horse. Other topics include the Premarin issues, animal cruelty, horse rescue and many other facets of the work we do here.


SPONSORSHIP:
For $50 a month, you can sponsor a horse of your choice. Sponsorship includes four visits a month where you can groom, spend time with and hand-walk the horse. Some horses are able to carry a small child while hand-walked. If you can't come to the farm, you can still sponsor a horse and one of our volunteers will be happy to take "your" horse for a walk and give it love and goodies.

After all the horse has given to humans they deserve nothing less than our care and compassion--and peppermints and carrots, too.

3. Standing In The Gap (www.standinginthegap.info)

I wrote about them a couple of weeks ago, but it's definitely worth another mention. How much more good could be done than to use rehabilitated and rescued horses to help ease the return of wounded American soldiers? Talk about a win/win proposition. I first heard the main forces behind the group, Darla Jeffery and Leslie Morley, on Ted Grevelis' Blog Talk Radio. (You can listen HERE.)And here's their mission statement again, for those of you who may not have read the earlier post:
Standing In The Gap's Mission Statement:
"We will stand in the gap for injured thoroughbred racehorses just moments off the track. We will provide nurturing care, rehabilitation, and training for these fallen athletes. We will guard their dignity with our integrity; teaching them - through love, commitment, and endurance - to become effective mentors for our returning military vets."


4.  Canter USA/Canter NE (www.canterusa.org)

If you're not in the Northeast, there are CANTER groups nationwide that help to facilitate the transitioning of thoroughbreds into good saddle horses--or even into hunter/jumper and dressage horses. Just because their racing careers didn't take off or maybe weren't terribly successful, doesn't mean these horses don't have long and productive lives ahead. You can browse the animals up for adoption and lease and see what other things CANTER is doing.


5.  Old Friends Equine (www.oldfriendsequine.org)

I follow the Twitters of the folks at Old Friends and they do such great work. From the big welcomes they give to their new charges to the tours of the farm that reacquaint racing fans with horses they've watched and loved. As is often the case, out of tragedy comes something very powerful. In 2002 word went round the world that 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand had been slaughtered in Japan.

As their mission/goal page relates, "Old Friends began as a retirement and rescue facility for pensioned Thoroughbreds. The discovery {of the Ferdinand tragedy} gave even more impetus to our organization. We went from getting five emails a day to hundreds, noted President and founder Michael Blowen. We knew such a death must never happen again. And so the plan became to bring " at risk" racehorses--those whose racing and breeding careers had come to an end--to Old Friends, provide them with the dignified retirement they deserve, and open the space to the public. By promoting these one-time celebrated horses through a campaign of education and tourism, we realized we could draw attention to all retired Thoroughbreds and all equines in need.


Since then Old Friends has retired two mares (including Bonnie's Poker, the dam of 1997 Derby winner Silver Charm) and five geldings (including Seabiscuit star Popcorn Deelites).


We are the only thoroughbred rescue/retirement facility that accepts stallions, and so we take exceptional pride in our pensioned champions, among them 1988 Eclipse-winning Turf Champion Sunshine Forever and the last great son of Damascus Ogygian.(See Our Horses).


Based in Georgetown, Ky.,  Old Friends has begun receiving visitors. We are hosting two to five tours daily (see Visit Old Friends), and while our guests come to visit a few ex-racehorses, they leave having been touched by the heart of a Thoroughbred hero.

If I'm ever fortunate enough to be in Kentucky, this is a pilgrimage site I'd love to visit. Check out the websites above if for no other reason than to see some great stories and beautiful horses. The difference that all these groups make is large, but there are still many miles to go.

Monday, September 21, 2009

It's All in the Follow Through

I'm not Julia Child. Or Paula Deen, Rachel Ray, Ina Garten, Tyler Florence...heck, I'm not even Brian Boitano. That is to say, when it comes to cooking, I'm a pretty rank amateur. Working in NYC and doing the daily commute from Connecticut meant lots of quick meals and carry-out from shops in the Grand Central Market. Being unemployed, though, means time to cook, or in my case, to learn how to cook.

I went to Catholic school for all 12 years and while we did have a Home Economics kind of course that we went to in a nearby public school, I wasn't overly interested and it was not very thorough. Oddly, I can sew, do various kinds of needlework and make a mean fabric yo-yo, but the cooking bug always passed me by.

Don't misunderstand, I've always appreciated a well made meal...especially the way the Europeans make them. Super fresh high-quality ingredients used in hearty and simple dishes. I had a killer Boeuf Bourguignon in Paris, an amazing Venison Stew in Vienna (with a side of the most verdant pureed spinach I've ever seen!) and a Goat Cheese Salad in Budapest that to this day makes me nostalgic--and hungry.

So obviously I knew what I wanted to be able to make and that I was going to have to sort out the cooking thing. My great friend Barb is not only a wonderful dining companion when I'm home in Minnesota, but she's also the best cook I know. (This isn't a dis to my mother, she's great at many things but she's never been an enthusiastic cook...she has many other wonderful qualities and talents, though!) Barb got me started with a few magazines and some recipes and I was off and running. My first major successes were Wild Rice Soup (like they used to make at Dayton's department stores) and popovers. Chuffed doesn't begin to describe my feeling of victory--especially with the popovers. In my kitchen, I am happy to celebrate small victories as great successes. Fast forward a few months and I'm building my repertoire and tackling more complicated dishes--and yes, I'm planning Julia's Boeuf Bourguignon next time my boyfriend comes down.

Today's recipe was a hearty and rustic Cream of Mushroom Soup--no great shakes, but I was making a recipe from Cook's Country (those amazing folks at America's Test Kitchen) and with most of their dishes they include a good long notes section  and some rather specific methods. After badly bungling a savoury cracker recipe in the early going, I've become much more attentive to how recipes ask you to do certain things. There is always a method to the seeming madness. From how to brown the butter to give the mushrooms and leeks a nutty, rich base to better ways to clean the leeks--they are right on. There are purposes behind everything. (Hello, they are America's Test Kitchen, they test and re-test everything, right?!?!)

And shout outs to the incredible and varied vegetable stands and farmers' markets all over CT and NY. I've had access to the best ingredients and it just proved what I'd figured out in France...fresh ingredients that aren't over-processed yield great food that is good for you.

I'm happy to report that the soup was a smashing success and it's going to make great leftovers for the rest of the week. And I've also mastered (LOL, if you can manage to "overwhelm" a recipe) those savoury crackers and they are an evening favorite when paired with wine and cocktails. If you check in on my Twitter feed you'll likely see both my failures and triumphs featured now and then. Let's hope there are more of the former than the latter. I secretly (or publicly, now I guess) love that I'd rather have my own fresh tomato soup or rhubarb dessert than one made by someone else. Probably this is partly, at least, a symptom of being without work--you take your victories whenever and wherever you can find them. Of course I'll still covet some of the dishes I've had on my travels here and abroad (in addition to most Indian food and the burgers at Shake Shack in NYC), but it makes me happy to know that I'm perfectly capable of cooking what I am interested in eating. It's good to learn and try something new.

The other small off-shoot of this is that it did remind me that as silly as some things may seem, there are reasons for doing them. If you set up the various components of the recipe the right way you are rewarded (usually) with a delicious dish. Things go wrong, popovers don't pop over and some easy recipes are too easy and watered down to be what they purport to be, just like life I guess. Whether it's washing the leeks properly or working hard on a goal, nothing worthwhile is ever easy. We all know that, but as I've become a better cook, I realize how satisfying it is to perfect the fundamentals in order to better my odds as I undertake more difficult challenges. In tennis, golf, discus throwing, cooking and life, it's all about set up and the follow through.

Happy almost Autumn, everyone...(a little Kandinsky--Autumn in Bavaria, 1908--for the new season!)


Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Power of Words

With the heightened rhetoric that's being flung about so carelessly these days, I've been thinking even more than usual about language. I love words, their etymologies and their power and I consider myself fortunate to have been able to edit several word/language books during my days in publishing. One of the things an editor learns early is how much it means to use words correctly and in their proper context--that it is imperative to understand the many varied meanings and connotations before committing to a word in ink on a page.

1st Amendment rights are an integral part of American society and coveted by citizens in many other countries around the world. But with the freedom of speech (as well as assembly, press, etc.) comes the responsibility to speak thoughtfully--to consider the possible reactions or outcomes to what you say. There's a reason that you can't yell FIRE in a crowded theatre: the reaction would be terror on the audience's part and the outcome would be a stampede to the exits, likely killing many in the melee. Understand that I'm not talking about being politically correct (PC) here, or having to speak in circuitous euphemisms, that's ridiculous. But I feel very strongly that there are a lot of people--media types, commentators, radio personalities--that use words without considering the consequences. And yes, sometimes there should be consequences.

This isn't about barring Kanye West from award shows (though maybe that should be a nota bene for any event planners for the next few months) or asking protesters to consult a dictionary before inking their signs. (Though again, I think that's a good "note to self" moment.) If you exclaim, during a speech, that the President of the United States is lying, there should be consequences. This isn't Britain and that wasn't a session of back-benchers question time. If you have to be asked/told to apologize, well, I think perhaps you should reassess and take a moment. Apologies don't fix everything, but they are surely the only way to start back down the road to civility. A simple "I'm sorry" goes a long way toward starting the discussion in a new direction.

And a note to a few talking-heads out there: when you use words like crusade, revolution or re-founding it is tantamount to inciting people to violence. Healthy debate over policy differences or how to approach a problem is one thing, but personal attacks, using hot-button words that frighten and rouse a small, but vocal part of the populace is irresponsible and quite frankly, insane. The baseness of most of these attacks--monkey and witch-doctor comparisons--is something out of the darkest days of the antebellum South. I think most of us believed those sentiments, for the most part, had died out a generation or two ago, but apparently not. And by the way, those repulsive sentiments have nothing to do with actual policy or legislation. It's not a policy debate--or healthy conversation--when stereotypes, threats and violent language are employed. It's a mob. And while I know many are proud to part of that mob, I think it's shameful and inexcusable to behave (and condone) that sort of mentality. I also suspect that the aforementioned talking-heads realize full well what their words are doing and how destructive they are, but they (a) actually want to provoke that kind of mindless furor and (b) enjoy seeing the sway they hold over their listeners/followers. This is low-brow fear-mongering is some of the most dangerous rhetoric out there.

A funny (not funny ha-ha, either) sidebar to this is the idea that being smart and using words well is somehow akin to not being a "Real American." That because I have a grasp of history, politics and American English that I'm not a real enough American. I'd argue that using words and language appropriately is most American--think about great wordsmiths like Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin. Taking that a step further on the critical thought spectrum, understand the context in which their beautifully crafted essays and broadsides were created. Using the words of our great "men and women of letters" out of context shows ignorance and weakens your argument as the people who actually know the context and meaning behind what was said will not be moved by ill-advised attempts to misuse language in support of a cause.

At the risk of being accused of trying to indoctrinate anyone, read. Read and read some more. Learn about your opponents and their policies so that you can speak intelligently about why your way is better or why their policies aren't going to help as many people. Simply labeling the other side fascist, socialist, or any other "ism/ist" is a little disingenuous unless you yourself really understand the fundamental tenets of those movements and are therefore able to make a fair contrast/comparison. Personal attacks garner nothing...when you sling mud, you generally lose ground.

My mother, who works with Special-Ed kids daily, has long talked about learning to disagree without being disagreeable. And that's the key to raising the level of discourse today. Disagree, but don't be disagreeable (or worse!) Realize the power of your words to persuade, to influence, and to inspire. Words have always had great power--think of RFK's many speeches; or a perfectly constructed paragraph in your favorite book; or the best lines from your favorite movie. We remember words. And childhood rhymes aside, they not only hurt, but they can do serious damage. To be taken seriously we must use words judiciously and with the full knowledge of their power. Choose your words carefully...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Well, it's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, my hometown, out on the edge of the prairie."


It seems like I've been making a lot of admissions lately. From my addiction to Mad Men to my penchant for gray-colored horses and all things autumn. So you'd think I was done for a while, wouldn't you? But as it happens, I'm not so much done yet.

I'm also a big fan of NPR. I love mornings with the usual NPR morning suspects, and always appreciate the keen insights and varied guests of Tom Ashbrook and his On Point program. The quiz show, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me! is a never miss for me and I can't help but love the Magliozzi Bros. on Car Talk...they rock.

As a native Minnesotan, though, I have a favorite of favorites. It's Garrison Keillor and his brilliant ensemble at A Prairie Home Companion. I'm not talking about the movie, I mean the weekly radio gig. With the Guys All-Star Shoe Band, Guy Noir, Dusty and Lefty; Bee-Bop-A-Ree-Bop Rhubarb Pie, The Ketchup Advisory Board, Powdermilk Biscuits. And then of course there's, the News from Lake Wobegone--perennially my favorite segment.

When I lived in Minnesota, I didn't pay much attention to PHC. I was always trying to get myself to the East Coast or Europe and was too busy to fully appreciate the warm comfort of the world Keillor built with his broadcasts. After chasing around Europe, New York City, and other points East, finally landing in lovely Connecticut, I started to find myself in my car at the time when PHC was on air. The occasional segment here and there grew into planning my weekend errands around being able to have Garrison Keillor and his uber-talented cast-mates as my companions.

Of course parts of it remind me of home and the people in Lake Wobegone, fictional though they may be, aren't so different from quite a few people I knew of in Minnesota and Wisconsin. This is undoubtedly part of the secret to PHC's success--it reminds transplanted Midwesterners (and maybe even wannabe Midwesterners?) of home, traditions, idiosyncrasies, and quirky characters. It's comforting with out being twee or too quaint. Keillor knows his audience so well and while he's often nostalgic, he's never maudlin. We remember the good times and smile at his recreation of a church picnic or town celebration because we've been to them. It is Keillor's spot-on assessments of people and fond reminiscences of 'good times had by all' that bring smiles to the faces of millions of listeners across the globe.

So imagine my sadness at hearing that Keillor, after suffering a minor stroke and being seen to by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, was looking toward a future--one where he wasn't doing News from Lake Wobegone or his other contributions to PHC. (So as not to sound too overtly selfish here, my first concern was for his welfare...it wasn't until he announced his future plans that this really settled in for me!! HERE's a link to the St. Paul Pioneer Press' little blurb on Keillor's announcement. ) Now of course I realized intellectually that he couldn't do the show forever, he is, after all, 67 and has given an awful lot to his listeners, so he's earned as restful retirement as he'd like to have. But selfishly and emotionally, it was a different feeling. How could he deprive us of Guy Noir or the News? What would become of the touchstones that we've all connected to for so many years? And the answer was a perfectly sensible one--they'd all still be there, of course. Mr. Keillor will never give us as many anecdotes as we'd like, just like the U2 concert will never be long enough, the stretch drive in a horse race will go by too quickly, and the summer will end before you've gotten rid of some of the unfortunate tan lines you may have acquired. It's just part of the deal. We're all greedy for more and more of the things that make us happy, that's human nature. The upside is that we've had PHC for all these years and we will be able to listen to reruns for many years to come. (Thankfully U2 keeps putting out new albums, youtube.com showcases horse races so we can re-play Rachel's Woodward victory over and over and over again, and those ill-planned tan lines will fade.)

Maybe Garrison Keillor's "chastening experience," as he called his minor stroke, is a good reminder for us all to keep following our passions and to stop and look around every now and then to right the compass.

So I hope, and I bet many of you out there join me in this, that it's a good long time before we hear the final sign off of the radio family of A Prairie Home Companion. Until then, that's "the News from Lake Wobegone...the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve ... where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Gifts of Late Summer

I spent today at the beach and was reminded how many and wonderful are the gifts of the final days of summer. The shadows are getting longer, the other beach-goers more scarce--it's part of the fun of the change of seasons. The baseball season is winding to a close and giving way to football. The Bruins poured the ice last week (ice that, some great deity willing, will still be hosting games into June 2010) at The Garden. Even horse racing has decamped from The Spa and moved back to the urban landscape of Belmont Park. And the newly released books that are filling shelves are taking on a decidedly more serious tone. Beach reads are being replaced with biographies, more serious fiction and of course, That Book. (You know who I mean--Robert Langdon returns to play lost and found with masonic symbology in Washington, D.C.!) Take heart, though, this does NOT mean the fun is over!

As I've grown older my reading interests and expectations have changed dramatically. I still like really good fiction--or what appeals to me as good fiction--as opposed to chick-lit, thrillers, or breezier novels. Of course I like the occasional mind-candy, but I'm increasingly interested in learning more about other people, how they've managed to be successful or how they've overcome the odds. It's more important to me at this stage of my life that I can understand where the characters are coming from, what motivates and moves them. How did they (real "they" or fictional "they") get from point A to point B? While I know that it's both impossible and inadvisable to map your path by way of someone else's landmarks, I also know that there's a lot to be learned via the written word. I'm not convinced it matters whether it's a fictional character that readers really connect with or the biography of a high-powered individual, there are things we can pick up to help us on the journey. And especially as a writer, it's beneficial to read other writers to see how they get the job done. It can be great inspiration and help to power through some nasty blocks, I've found.

So what have I been reading? What's up next on the reading list? (Part of that decision is dependent on my local public library!) Richard Russo is a huge favorite of mine and I'm going to be finishing Bridge of Sighs before moving on to anything else new. I read Straight Man (an absolute masterpiece), Empire Falls and That Old Cape Magic in the past few months so I've been on a sort of Russo marathon. I've also been reading the wonderful Eiffel's Tower, by Jill Jonnes. I'm a sucker for anything and everything Parisian, and she's done a marvelous job of not only giving a solid history, but making it lively and relevant, too. No easy task. Since I've already admitted to my weakness for all things Paris (actually it's all things French, but that's not the point here) I've also got a few Chanel related books waiting in the wings. Chanel: A Woman of Her Own looks quite interesting as does a smaller and cuter volume, The Gospel According to Coco Chanel. There's a pile of equestrian books--from tips on riding to a fantastic old history of The Great Dan Patch (the greatest harness-racing horse of all time, in my opinion) and a book on handicapping, too. I consider horse-related books to be my comfort food, my creamy mac and cheese, if you will. With the new Amelia Earhart movie scheduled for this autumn, there's sure to be both new books on the aviatrix as well as re-releases. Judith Thurman's excellent article in this week's New Yorker really made me want to know more about Earhart, so I'll be looking for those books in the coming weeks, too. I have a fondness for complicated characters--T.E. Lawrence, the Mitford Sisters, Wallis Simpson, and surely Earhart is in that group as well. All that said, though, the book I'm most looking forward to, though, is Ted Kennedy's recently released memoir. I'm in the queue for it at the library, but it's what I'm most jonesed about reading. I've got my highlighter and copper bookmark clips all ready!! And yes, I will be reading Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, but I'm much farther down in the queue for that, so I'll be avoiding the spoilers online.

On the days when I've had trouble deciding what I wanted to post here or if I even had anything to post at all, I've pored over photography or art books. I love grabbing the Taschen book on Atget or Brassai and immersing myself in Paris; or leafing through a William Morris print book to be inspired by nature. And let's not forget, the amazing equine art of George Stubbs or Alfred Munnings. (My little profile avatar is from a Munnings print.) I'm lucky to have a large selection of these wonderful art-filled volumes, carefully collected and curated over the years. Whether it's a book of English Cathedrals or a volume on Hermes scarves, inspiration and wonder are definitely to be found in beautiful art, architecture or nature. Who can say what will spark an idea or inspire a rant?

I've loved the summer (what summer we actually had in the Northeast) but I'm really looking ahead to autumn. To darker colors and flame colored landscapes; to the earlier setting of the sun and the longer shadows. I'm ready for comfort fare and slow cooked dinners with hearty wines.

With Bridge of Sighs as my companion for the evening, I'm going to have a nice glass of wine and offer up thanks for the inspiring and comforting bounty of late summer.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hello, My Name Is...(insert your name here) and I'm a Maddict.

Yes, it's true. I am addicted to AMC's Mad Men. I am so deeply addicted that I spend Sunday evening waiting for Mad Men, watching Mad Men (while Twittering with other Maddicts about the writing, wardrobe, liquor) and then usually end by watching the encore for any nuances I may have missed. Yes, it's THAT serious.

I realize it's not for everyone, and appreciate that it moves too slowly for a lot of viewers. And true, the lives of Madison Avenue ad execs in the early 60s might seem a bit mundane for a weekly one hour drama, but honestly, it isn't at all vapid. I've watched True Blood on HBO prior to Mad Men all season and have decided that True Blood--despite it's mythological aspirations and allusions--is all about the action and what you see. It's a very extroverted show. Mad Men, however, is much more introverted--and in the best ways. It's so much about your reactions to what you're seeing. It takes whatever prejudices or issues that you bring to the table and it exploits them shamelessly, forcing you to examine not only why you feel a certain way, but how you got to that feeling. Maybe watching the back-to-back all season is what made the juxtaposition so stark, but anyone who watches both shows might agree.

I'm not going to analyze my favorite characters (Roger Sterling, played by the deliciously gray-haired John Slattery) or favorite plot lines (Joan, Roger & Jane...) so no spoilers or anything. I was, however, really surprised at some of the things I began to think about as I watched tonight's episode which featured two story lines that I just had to write about.

Last season Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency (where the bulk of the characters are employed) was taken over by a British firm and this "unhappy marriage" is now beginning to unravel at the seams...and quickly. There were even arguments over paperclips and pencils. Sound familiar to anyone who has been downsized due to a merger?

So here's the thing. A company that I used to work for was taken over by a larger company with strong British roots. It wasn't so bad at the beginning, but as time went on things began to grow more tense, and people began to worry about their jobs, their longevity, everything. There was a very bad purge initially and those few of us who survived felt like polar bears floating on an ice floe. Left out, scared, rudderless, and wondering where our friends had gone. A while later when the economy began to show signs of recession there was another purge, with this final move most of us from the original company were gone. These things happen, good people lose their jobs...it's life. I get that.

But the gut check moment for me was that during tonight's episode, Peggy Olson, one of the younger copy writers--and the only female on the show who isn't a secretary or "lady of leisure"--is gently wooed to think about a job at another agency. She's in a horrible position, that of not wanting to bite the hand that has fed her, but also that of not wishing to miss out on an opportunity to grow. During a pivotal scene later in the episode Peggy points out that she makes much less than the guys doing her job and that her secretary doesn't show her proper respect due to her crummy salary (to which, the brilliant Don Draper replies that perhaps they ought to get her a cheaper secretary. *I wish I'd worked for such a witty crowd!*)

So...to stay in the safe harbor where you are treated okay, but not really well, or to take the leap and make the change. As Peggy says to Don leaving his office, "But what if it's my time?" I can honestly say this scene brought a lump to my throat as it was just all too close to home. Don is more forthright with her than one would expect, and I think she appreciates it. I would have.

And all this brings me to my point--it's a little one, but I do actually have one. Safe harbor is rarely as safe as we think it is, squalls come up from nowhere and the sea of life is pretty unpredictable. I can't do anything about the past, but I can resolve not to repeat it. I stayed someplace way too long, someplace where I was generally not treated very well most of the time, but when I brought up the subject of moving on or being appropriately compensated for my work, was assured (just as Peggy was) that (a) now wasn't a good time for that and (b) you'll have plenty of room to grow here, really you will. Peggy is smarter than I was...those of you who watch the show know full well just how self-possessed she is, especially this season.

I realize this comes off a little cynical and bitter, it's not, really. I just think it's good to be reminded of some of our foibles (especially when we see them repeated by a fictional character!) and to view them as cautionary tales. I know I should have left and looked after my own interests more closely, how could I have been so silly as to think otherwise? Well, I was brought up to work hard, not complain too much, and to just keep going. I was taught that loyalty would be rewarded. I think it usually is, but not as often in this present economy. I was naive, looking back on it, but that's okay. I had some wonderful experiences that I'd never have had otherwise and I like to think I'm a much stronger person now than I was then. After all...calm seas never a master sailor made.

I think Don Draper would agree...

Throwbacks--The Boston(?) Patriots and the (really) Golden Gophers of the University of Minnesota


With apologies to my equine readers, we're going to take a quick time-out to pay homage to one of the most American of all autumnal rites of passage--football. Surely you didn't think I was going to say tea parties?!

Most of you will realize, having read a few blog posts, that I love competitions and sporting contests. Since I was very young, my father has coached many things, and always has been passionate about sport. He is kind of a local legend for all the young track and field athletes whom he has coached/mentored over the years. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 shot putters and discus throwers under his tutelage have gone on to be Minnesota State Champions. Additionally, he coached basketball--including an ill-fated junior high school team of mine; and football. He's always loved football. He'd have fight songs and cool helmet logos for the kids on his youth football teams and I remember discussions about the single-wing and other formations. (As a weird aside, my memory of how I heard Elvis Presley had died is very much linked to my father's coaching days. Back then, the local firehouses kindly stored the big barrels of pads and equipment between youth football seasons and we were going to pick up supplies for the coming season. While my dad was inside getting the goods, my mom and I were outside sitting in our 1977 yellow Ford Fiesta and heard over the AM radio that Elvis had died. I remember it as clear as a bell.) Needless to say, from a young age I was taught the values of being on a team, participating, and how to throw a mean, tight spiral, pass. (And while I'm thrilled that rachel Alexandra has made it more than OK to run like a girl, I want it on record that I've never "thrown like a girl.")

So here we are at the first big Sunday of professional football. Ashton Kutcher in one of his tweets today said today was like Christmas Day for grown men, and I think he's right. It's part of the change of seasons and part of the rhythm of our lives, and not just for the boys!

I'll likely check in on a few games today, but my opening night is definitely tomorrow night, and I'll be happily cheering on my New England/Boston Patriots. In the interest of full disclosure, I was a New England Patriots fan even before I started following any other teams. I have a letter from the team in response to a letter I'd sent to Steve Grogan back in 1976. Understand it wasn't easy being a Pats fan (a little girl, no less) in a state of Purple-People-Eater obsessed Viking Fans.

I'll admit it will be hard for me to even see Brett Favre in his Vikings jersey, because I find him to be pretty vapid and I think he's behaved rather badly during all of his retired/not retired/retired sagas. That said, I know many Vikings fans out there will forgive him EVERYTHING if he can deliver them a Super Bowl victory. Yes, VICTORY. Even the most casual of fans out there knows that while the Vikings have been to 4 Super Bowls, they've yet to win one. So if Brett can deliver that, well, he'll no doubt earn a big growl and bear hug from Ragnar and the Viking faithful. (Seriously, Dad, it's okay if you admit that you'd like Brett to win the Vikes a Super Bowl. I understand!!)

I'm excited about the coming season for the Patriots, but I'll be missing Tedy Bruschi. Just his presence on the field was so incredible, he was the heart of the whole squad. He's a great human being first and a great athlete second, and that's what makes him so special. This is the 50th Anniversary Season for the Patriots and expectations are high--well, they're always high in New England--so he will be sorely missed. Thanks, Tedy, for all the grand memories of seasons past. Looking forward to seeing Jerod Mayo stepping up and growing into a larger role.

And if you're confused about the header, The Patriots--and all the original AFL teams--will be using their throwback uniforms, names, etc. for "legacy" games this 50th Anniversary season. I for one am happy to see even a partial return of Pat the Patriot in his tri-cornered hat. And no offense to the rest of greater New England--for I am one of you--but I'm happy to see they'll be the Boston Patriots for a few games this season, too.

Here's Dan Shaughnessy's piece from today's Globe re: the temporary name change, which is fun.

A side note, the Minnesota Golden Gophers downed the Air Force flyboys yesterday in their gorgeous new stadium. Wearing all gold with maroon numbers, they looked more like the Gophers of old. Check out the win (scoring 17 points in the 4th quarter!!) and the new digs HERE, looks like a good time was had by all--all except Air Force, of course! Rah Rah Rah for Ski-U-Mah!!

Happy footballing everyone, may the pigskin be with you and your grid-iron favorites.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Standing In The Gap

As I said yesterday, this Blog Talk Radio business is new to me, so I'm just figuring out what's out there. Happily, I stumbled upon Ted Grevelis' Owning Racehorses blog and then his radio show. There are links to his radio program on his site so if you have the time and interest, take a few minutes to listen to his shows.

I was particularly moved by his most recent show from 9 September where he was featuring the story of Standing in the Gap, a thoroughbred rescue in my native Minnesota. I'd checked out their website earlier in the day, reading and watching the stories of the two horses they've rescued, Solo Tour and Maverick. Maverick literally was saved from one of the trucks that ships horses up to Canada where they are auctioned by the pound for slaughter.

The injuries that sidelined these athletes from the racetrack were serious of course, but not life threatening. And the two women who spoke last evening, Darla Jeffery and Leslie Morley, were so eloquent and made such heartfelt statements about their two equine friends that it was impossible not to be moved. I hope you'll check out their website--www.standinginthegap.info and read about the good work they are doing and their two gorgeous charges, Solo and Maverick. Add to this fact that not only are these horses getting much needed second chances, they are also assisting our returning military vets. That's a winning situation for everyone concerned.

Standing In The Gap's Mission Statement:
"We will stand in the gap for injured thoroughbred racehorses just moments off the track. We will provide nurturing care, rehabilitation, and training for these fallen athletes. We will guard their dignity with our integrity; teaching them - through love, commitment, and endurance - to become effective mentors for our returning military vets."

It's so easy to get caught up in the wonderful races we see and the great, winning thoroughbreds that we can lose focus of the horses who are injured or who just aren't making the grade for their trainers.

I'm so glad I happened upon the Owning Racehorses blog and Blog Talk Radio Show and again, links are above for you to listen to both Wednesday's show as well as older broadcasts, you'll be glad you did.

* * *

I'll be taking some time on the 11th to remember the day and all the victims. I was living in NYC then, and walking to my job on Hudson Street in the W. Village when the loveliest day of late summer/early autumn turned so quickly and completely into something out of Hieronymous Bosch. Today is a day to quietly remember and reflect.

As a final note, today is not only the 8 year anniversary of the tragedy of the September 11th attacks, but it's one year ago that my beloved tabby cat, Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson Schmenckmann, passed away. In the best of all possible worlds he's a barn cat with a few late, great racehorses and all of our other pets who have passed on--all purrs, no growls. He's still much missed as he was a Tyger in all the best senses of the word. In his honor, a little William Blake. Requiescat in Pacem, Jackson.

The Tyger

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Macho, Macho Man

Isn't he a beauty?? My fondness for grays is well known, but Macho Again is a pure stunner!

So after making a brilliant stretch run at Rachel Alexandra--coming from 15 lengths off the pace--and coming in second by a head, Macho Again is being pointed to the Jockey Gold Cup at Belmont Park in October. It's looking like he'd face Summer Bird and perhaps even Quality Road, so that's a lively race possibility to look forward to. (Photo by Smith for News)

While we're on things to look forward to, it sounds as though (according the the NY Daily News, at least) Rachel will be getting a well-deserved break for the remainder of the year. The lucky girl gets to bunk in at Saratoga until October and it seems unlikely that she'll race again until next year. And if anyone more than earned their keep on Labor Day Weekend, it was Rachel and her team.

Several of the articles about Rachel and her trainer Steve Asmussen noted what a big weekend it was for everyone involved with her, which I thought was great. I can only imagine what a special opportunity it is to work with and have such success with an athlete--be it equine or human. All the racing public loves Rachel for her beauty and her heart and that special something that she just has. Whatever IT is, she's got IT in spades. It's nice to know that her trainers feel that way as well, though. Let's face it, racing thoroughbreds is a business, and it's about money. So it's great to be reminded that the trainers are HUGE fans of their charges as well. To see the emotional reactions of everyone after her amazing win was heartening and perfectly expressed the joy (and let's face it, RELIEF) we all felt Saturday afternoon. Was there ever a better late summer Saturday at Saratoga Springs? I'm doubting it.

If you've not seen this fantastic video by Ernie Munick, please watch it HERE. It's funny and poignant and a real joy to watch.

I was also charmed by this little piece in The Saratogian about some local children and an illustrating contest they'd entered. ThoroFan sponsored the competition to illustrate a book, Girl Power Rachel, written by Bambii Rae. According to Emily Donohue of The Saratogian, the book, with the winning illustrations, will be out this fall and the proceeds will benefit daycare for the children of backstretch workers at Belmont and Saratoga. Hearty congratulations to Anastasia Ivanova for 1st place; Courtney Lynn for 2nd, and Emma Shea for 3rd place finishes out of more than 1400 entries. Well done, girls!!

Also from The Saratogian, Mike Veitch's memories of some special moments from this season's meeting. Read HERE.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sea-ing The Stars and Some Juvenile Hopefuls (Hot Dixie Chick and Dublin!)


So hard to pull myself out of the cool sheets this morning. Even though autumn doesn't officially begin for a few weeks, there's a kind of post-Labor Day malaise hanging over this Tuesday morning. I think part of it is that I'm still kind of spinning from my weekend in Saratoga Springs...what an idyllic place to celebrate the end of summer.

Yesterday I'd written about the possibility of Mine That Bird's connections winning a kind of double crown (of the Kentucky Derby and All-American Futurity), which, in the end was not meant to be. I watched the race on television and it was an exciting one, won by Running Brook Gal, but I'm going to have to say that I much prefer thoroughbred racing to quarter-horse racing. Both are beautiful animals and incredible athletes, don't get me wrong, but the quarter-horse races are just too short. (I know, they're quarter-horses...that's the point.) It just doesn't allow for as much of the strategizing or gamesmanship of thoroughbred racing, in my opinion, at least. There's no place for a late closer, or a stretch running wonder. Those quarter-horses are the equine equivalent of Usain Bolt--they are speed demons!!

All fun to watch, in any event...I'd never even try to handicap a quarter-horse race, but their power and strength is admirable and beautiful.

Incredibly, there were some really well-contested races over the weekend that didn't feature Rachel Alexandra! And some of them were on the other coast, even! (That never-ending battle between Oriental and Occidental goes on!) I kid, of course. Though I must say that watching the Pennsylvania Derby (Gr II), won pretty handily by Gone Astray, I wondered if Rachel's camp had ever really seriously considered running her there. It just seemed a much smaller and certainly less prestigious race than The Woodward (G I).

Einstein, one of my other favorite horses, ran a strong race in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar but was defeated by long shot (24-1) Richard's Kid. Rail Trip ran valiantly in between them, but it was a real battle. I'm always going to be cheering on Einstein, but was very impressed with the off-pace run of Richard's Kid and Mike Smith's ride as well.

Two juveniles that I'll be keenly interested in over the coming months are Dublin (out of the athletic Afleet Alex) who won the Grade I Hopeful Stakes on Monday at Saratoga, and Hot Dixie Chick who won the Spinaway (also Grade I) Stakes there on Sunday. She's a two-year-old stable mate to Rachel Alexandra and she's won her last three races convincingly. I was amused to read that she's a very laid back youngster, because she certainly seems to be all business on the track. It seems wrong to be thinking about next spring already, but with so many talented two-year-olds, it's fun to keep an eye out and start to settle in on some favorites.

Now for a pipe-dream: I'd love to watch Sea The Stars race over here. He won the Irish Champion Stakes on Sunday--in convincing fashion--and has cut quite a swathe through European turf racing this year. As a three year old, Sea The Stars now has won five straight group I races, and has improved his overall record to seven victories from eight starts. Pretty impressive. While he seems pointed toward the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) at Longchamp in October, his trainers have not ruled out a trip to Santa Anita this fall. One of the writers or commenters on a blog weighed in that he would be a great stallion to match up with Rachel. With his love of the turf and hers of the dirt, the possibilities could be endless.

Something new to me is blog-talk-radio. It's an intriguing thing and while it's maybe not new to you all, I'm enjoying investigating it. If you haven't heard enough about Rachel and Sea The Stars or weighed in on Calvin Borel's ride on Saturday, then tune in to ABR blogtalkradio tomorrow, where they will be discussing all that and more.

And on a final note, congratulations to Linda Rice for her historic achievement--winning the training title at Saratoga and marking the first time in the 145 years of racing that a woman has taken that title. She's in pretty good company this summer with a large cast of talented equine females. You go, girls!!