Friday, October 23, 2009

Wild Things, you make my heart sing

If you are interested in children, strong emotions, coping with loss, group dynamics, or puppets and special affects, run, don't walk to see Where the Wild Things Are. I've also read two recent excellent stories on Spike Jonze, the director. This is the GQ one, and here's the NY Times magazine. And here's a link to a Newsweek interview with Sendak, Jonze, and Dave Eggers, who cowrote the screenplay with Jonze.

This is what he says to GQ that I really love:

“As a kid, that was really scary and confusing—both the wild emotions in me and the wild emotions in the people around me,” he says. “Unpredictable emotions, positive or negative—you don’t know where they’re coming from, you don’t know what they mean. Especially negative emotions. Your own behavior—you don’t know why you’re acting a certain way and it scares you, or you don’t know why somebody else is acting a certain way and it scares you. Big emotions that are unexplained are really scary. At least to me.

I guess it’s anger, or sadness, guilt—or guilt for being angry, you know. Just the whole big mess that we’re sort of thrown into. Emotions are messy and hard to figure out. Hard to know where you start and the next person stops. Even as an adult, that’s a hard thing to know. As a kid it can be really confusing, because it’s all new and you’re trying to sort of make your map.”

Be forewarned, it's not a kids movie, per se. As Jonze says, it's about emotions and how scary they can be. A parent said to me, it's not as scary as Coraline, but has its moments. The Wild Things are really wild, they howl and yell and rip up trees and do giant leaps and throw dirt at each other and cry and jump into a big pile and sleep. They have very real, very strong emotions that are right out there. It can be intense. That's what I loved about it. This movie, and the book, are very, very real, and that's a very, very good thing, especially when your kids is mature enough to handle it.

I insisted we go as a family and I think Lily got it and enjoyed it. She's reading the Clique books, god help us -- I see no need to censor her and promised myself I won't; I read The Godfather when I was her age -- and we had a little discussion about the differences between the two groups. "The Clique would go, 'ew, dust on my shoes!'" she said, imitating them in a funny voice. I keep commenting on how mean the Clique girls are. The Wild Things are not mean. Just BIG and WILD. Times a thousand.

I also read Lily that Jonze quote, above, and she talked about when she gets angry. She says she wishes she had a room she could destroy when she's mad and then it would be all picked up and perfect the next time she goes into it. I think we're getting her a punching bag for her birthday.

My friends said to see it on the big screen, and I agree with that. Definitely see it; don't delay. It's got very rich production values -- the sound, the color, the texture, the environment, the costumes. It's very evocative and powerful. I howled all the way home and Dave woke Lily up this morning by howling.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fall in New England, Part III: Weather & Light

BTW, as I was just on the subject of winter food and cooking, this is one of my most favorite articles on the topic of cooking for comfort, written by the extraordinary Regina Schrambling. Note the date. Note that she never once mentions what had just happened. In a way this is the best piece I've ever read about that event, ranks up there with Bruce Springsteen's The Rising. They both express the inexpressible, without ever getting into facts. There's a time for journalism and a time for art, and these are both the latter, the ever-elusive attempt to capture what we really feel.

The way the light changes almost overnight in the fall is breathtaking. It goes from a warm orange and red light to a cold almost bluish light. The colors are all orange and red around us, and yellow, and gray, and yes, even green, on the fields of winter wheat, and the evergreens, and the grass. But the light that shines on it is cold, and getting colder.

We hear Canada geese honking overhead as they fly in formation to wherever they are going. Lots of them hanging out on the lake near our house. The telephone wires were full of little birds today. Dave says the birds all came back on Saturday. The yard was full of chickadees, there were juncos and finches and woodpeckers. And of course those geese.

It was 32 last night and cold and rainy yesterday, finally -- late last week they'd started predicting rain for the whole weekend, but it only hit on Sunday. Mostly it's cold, in the 30s and 40s. Sometimes warmer, and you still see occasional shorts, but that's the New England sturdy thing at work; it's really too cold for shorts. I am waiting anxiously for the first snow -- the Hilltowns, just a few miles northwest of here, have already gotten snow that stuck to the ground. We've only had flurries in Northampton. Soon enough.

So now we rise in the dark, the sun just rising as Lily heads down the street toward her bus. She has to leave the house at 7:05 to make his first pass -- she can pick it up on the way back about seven minutes later, but better safe than sorry. Today no one set an alarm and I woke up at 6:52. Lily was driven to school, the sun glaring right into our eyes as we headed east to N. King Street, and then I made my way to the Evolution Cafe.

Now I spend time inside. Cafes are becoming my life again, or I load up the wood stove and sit at the dining room table with my computer and papers. Now I cook beef stew and watch the leaves fall in a flurry. Fall is rushing toward the death of winter, to be sure, but neither is endless and the promise of spring comes after that; even though last June put the lie to that, I still believe in rejuvenation. The longest day of the year is only December, after all. And meanwhile, there's nothing like the light of a full moon shining on a world of snow.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fall in New England, Part II: Fire

So the best thing we did last spring was buy a wood stove insert for our fireplace. I love having a fireplace, love having fires, but not only does 75 percent of the heat generated go up the chimney, it sucks the heat out of the room too. So the glamour has worn off and we got a stove this June, when the guys weren't busy.

I scouted out the various alternatives, talked to friends, and found Amherst Farmers Supply, with the very helpful Chad. He recommended a Pacific insert, I think this is it, or close to it. They installed a chimney liner and fixed our backdraft problem at the same time -- the fireplace smoke would get sucked into the pellet stove in the basement and make that room and eventually the house all smoky -- and installed this gorgeous stove.

We had a couple of fires before the summer heated up, just to test it out, and to burn off the new-stove, machine oil smell. We were not at all sure how much wood to get for the winter. We want to use it to heat the house but not exclusively, and we do have natural gas, which isn't that pricey these days. And we were daunted by the challenge of stacking and storing and bringing in all that wood.

In the end we got two cords, dumped from a dumptruck all over our driveway. It took us a couple of weeks to stack it near but not against the house (termites), with help from Mum! and Dave rigged up a plastic sheet over it to keep the elements mostly off. I gather lots of kindling when I'm in the woods -- you don't need this if you never stop using your fire, of course, but we don't run it 24/7. At least not yet. We have all that stored there too.

So now the drill is, typically, I come home and fire up the stove to warm up the house. We have a small wood pile on the screened-in porch. Then I usually take a load or two of wood from the big pile upstairs, keep that pile stocked, and bring in a couple of armloads next to the actual stove, too. The thing heats up incredibly, too much, and because our bedrooms are in a loft space, they can actually be really too warm at night. So we're learning how to feed the fire, when to stop loading up wood at night, so it's not too hot at bedtime.

And the fire is lovely! it does have a fan, which is a bit noisy, but I don't care. I love it, love looking at it, love the heat it generates. It's wonderful. I love bringing in the wood -- next year, three or four cords, for sure -- and it makes me feel much more secure, knowing I will be warm no matter what happens to the electricity (we've lost it several times already).

Fall in New England, Part I: Food

Only it's turning into winter before my eyes.

A friend told me that when people move, like, move their families and all, they do it by their mid-forties and back to their roots. So this may not be true for everyone but there was something visceral tugging at me to move back home.

I love this time of year, it really hits me in my core. I love the changing of the seasons -- the light is so different now, colder, bluer, less of it. Days are shorter, of course. Air is colder. Everything is buckling down for a good sleep. The leaves aren't entirely off the trees but a lot are. We see lots of nut shells around, beech, I think we have, as well as acorns, and someone is eating lots of them.

The urgency of impending fall started in me as school was starting and I started cooking and freezing just after Labor Day. I now have a freezer full of several half gallon bags of strawberries and peach quarters, five pounds of wild blueberries, and a couple of bags of raspberries. That's the fruit. All homepicked and prepared, of course, except the blueberries, which I bought from our CSA.

I also made around eight quarts of applesauce, eight of tomato soup (just add cream), three half gallons of tomato sauce (for lasagna) and maybe 15 quarts of tomato sauce just for sauce. Dave made several bags of pesto ice cubes, and we froze basil, cilantro and dill by grinding it up with olive oil and putting it into a ziplock baggie, flattening it out, and sticking it in the freezer. When it comes time to put it in your soup you just break off a piece and throw it in. My only fear is we only have one sheet of each. But live and learn.

I went to Hatfield Beef, a local wholesaler who sells meat from Amish country in Pennsylvania to retail customers too, and got 10 pounds of wings, tips, ribs, stuff like that. I separate it into baggies and freeze it for a meal. That I can do any time but it's nice that the freezer is stocked. Not sure this is the place for healthy meat but I think so, and I really like the prices. We also buy local meat from the coop and our CSA.

We also have lots of single serving soups and stews that Dave and I can take for lunch, but we often do that with leftovers. That's not a fall thing, except that we now have soups and stews to freeze. We are eating heavier food now, with a little more meat. Even the greens are heaver, more kale, and spinach, that sort of thing. We could do one more bout of applesauce but it's supposed to rain and snow all weekend so I doubt that will happen. Who knows.