“Hamilton” Redeems July Fourth in the Time of COVID-19

Probably I should drop the “…in the time of” business, because it’s all COVID time – our reality in perpetuity. Only the degree of infection changes – and it roars again now.

And didn’t the celebration of the nation’s birthday seem like a party that wasn’t, like an ill-behaved child’s birthday party cancelled, or maybe this is also apt, the child got sick? At least that was my Fourth of July. Only the president seemed to spend it in his alternate universe where a lethal virus and heartfelt protests don’t coexist, where he is threatened by all of us wearing masks and wanting fairness and health – frenzied hoards in his selfish, petty mind.

Gloomy weather and gloomy spirits on Saturday – until the evening, when we joined Disney, and, with millions of Americans watched the unparalleled, “Hamilton,” on television. What a gift from the creator, Lin Manuel Miranda. Oh, I know he’s already made a fortune, but watching all those performers – the dancing, the singing, the stage, the lighting, the humanity of the show – that should earn buckets of money.

And anyway, Miranda has now given it to us (for $6.95) – to watch and absorb how inexhaustibly creative it is – so clever, so witty and wise. And beautiful, and joyful, and tragic. It rewards multiple viewings (on top of all our listening to the soundtrack).

When I saw “Hamilton” two years ago (a lifetime ago), I kept thinking of the line, “immigrants get the job done!” (Even more true now in the time of essential workers.) This time I saw the inequities built into the whole American endeavor from the beginning. And registered, as the new Americans begin to create a nation (mocked by the glorious King George), the partisan fighting, the negotiating, the compromises.

On television it’s more personal, but it lacks the electricity of real people making this happen in front of a live audience (remember those times, sitting close to strangers!). But filmed during a performance in the early days on Broadway – now we get closeups of faces, beautiful Phillipa Soo as Eliza, singing her heart out in joy and grief, Miranda himself as Hamilton, expressive face alight. I would never have imagined it could be so luminously transferred to the screen – preserving the magic for all to see.

Firecrackers boomed across our island as we watched, and I finally felt slightly celebratory – for the creativity of Americans, for Black Lives Matter protesters (along with pain that this is still necessary on this 244th birthday). And maybe a glimmer of hope that we won’t “give up our shot!”

Alaska And A Name Change?

For four days in May, while Mrs. Hughes celebrated her birthday with her sister and her best friend in New York City, we flew north to help Mr. Carson hold down the fort. (He doesn’t really need much help.) Chill from the north wind dampened the days of our visit, but didn’t dampen Alaska spring activities.

Pretty much nothing is cuter than a six-year old girl with braids and a ball cap playing her first baseball game (after just two practices). Standing by the dugout full of tiny teammates, I watched the swing and heard the satisfying smack when bat connected with ball pitched by her coach. Braids flying, she headed to first base, a little uncertainly at first, and then swiftly!

One day Lady B’s kindergarten teacher planned an excursion to the Municipal Greenhouse and nearby woods, and asked me to lead a little watercolor demonstration. She provided good materials (that can make all the difference with watercolor) – tiny palettes with six real watercolors, fine line pens and brushes with points. The students didn’t need much direction, and soon scattered around the greenhouse to draw – watercolor paper taped to clipboards – then came together in a circle to paint. The penline and watercolors produced amazed me by their careful observation of shape and color, each unique to its creator.

It struck me that the days of Lady Baby are behind us. That little girl in the orange t-shirt, worn over a red, long-sleeved thermal shirt with Tyrannosaurus rex on the front, seems far from anything with baby in the title. The girl formerly known as Lady Baby has school life and social relationships of her own now – two best friends, a girl with a mop of blonde curly hair, and a boy with dark curly hair and big glasses. Maybe now I call her Lady B, a more grown up title, because Baby Brother (who rapidly outgrows that moniker) calls her Bopal.

We spent great days with Baby Brother while Lady B was at school. Playgrounds please, but nothing is as popular as “owside” – the back yard with swing and slide and balls to kick – or a slow amble down the sidewalk out front.

He loves books – specially ones with pictures of “boom boom crash” providers, particularly enormous bulldozers and crane trucks. Lady B reads to him, revisiting all the favorites (dinosaurs). He laughs with the same joy and relief at the resolution in “Knufflebunny” that I remember from her.

When we first arrived I marveled at his mom’s understanding of his language, but as the days passed I began to get it better. He repeats everything said to him – so the structure and intonation becomes more clear, and you realize how much he can communicate, if only his listener understands. He says all the family names, but somewhat curiously, Lord Cromwell became “Bacram.”

It sounds odd to say of someone so young (he’ll be two in early September), but he seems contemplative as he thoughtfully considers things. I say: “Look, chickadees – chick-a-dee-dee-de.” And he listens and looks, head tilted to one side, before repeating the call. It’s easy to be totally silly with him and make up nonsense, eliciting great grins and chuckles.

I loved watching Lady B and Baby Brother greet their mother when she came back. Both brave while she was away – and overjoyed at her return!

*Image used by permission of the artist

A New Header And An Old Friend

Finally “Her spirits rose…” has a new header – the banner at the top – one of several variations I made thanks to my friend who paints in the woods, Andie Thrams.

Last summer Andie, (www.andiethrams.com), came to stay in the Buffalo for a lovely long time. We have known each other since the night 20 years ago we met as strangers in the Anchorage airport for a midnight flight back East. We’d been linked by a mutual friend, who thought we would get along (being flower painters), and an invitation to attend a retreat for people “who keep field journals in their work.”

We share a love of watercolor – and the making of handmade books. Andie introduced me to Vamp and Tramp, those traveling purveyors of artists’ books who represent her ongoing series, “In Forests,” beautiful accordion-fold hand bound books, illuminated by paintings and words. Most of these now reside in collections of libraries and universities around the country.

Andie paints the pages of her books while seated on a little pad on the forest floor. She hikes or kayaks into wild places, carrying her art supplies in a backpack – brushes, watercolors, long sheets of paper, and easel – and immerses herself to paint. The press of development, the wildfires and bark beetle of climate change threaten her studio spaces, making observing and recording these woodland parts of the natural world ever more urgent.

Giant firs, cedars, sequoias, coastal redwoods (she has a long list of beloved trees) and their understory of berries, ferns, and fungi can be overwhelming to paint. But Andie captures the changing greens of season, the glowing light through forest canopy, and enough individual form to make species recognizable. Most days here, she headed into our nearby woods – or ranged further and longer to the old growth of the Hoh Rainforest.

Toward the end of her stay, before she went to kayak with her husband on the fjords of Vancouver Island for two weeks, we sat at my computer, and she attempted to bring my meager Photoshop skills up a level. She tried not to lecture me about my faulty filing system – I can be slapdash about organizing; she is orderly and patient.

But I’ve kept it up, “lassoing” images and making future headers (including the one below in Andie’s honor – wildflowers I drew in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains).

Thanks, Andie, for computer tutorial, visit, and long friendship!

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Armchair Series – Ireland

On this June morning, the window to my workroom stands open – sun shining, birds singing, weeds growing – the outdoors beckons. When the days of rain return, I will write about our big family adventure in May and early June. Meanwhile – two worn-velvet armchairs – purply-pink from a bedroom and blue from the sitting room of the Ferndale Guesthouse in Enniskerry, Ireland. We spent the night there before setting out to walk along the The Wicklow Way.

Armchair Series – Flowers

When I asked my old friend on Bainbridge to send a photo of her armchair I’ve always admired, I was startled to see it had no arms! It does have a large, matching ottoman, and is covered in flowered chintz that seems classic in her old Swedish farmhouse. And then I found the same floral genre of armchair (the kind that places you in a field of flowers) in the book “In An Irish House.” It tickled me to find Sybil Connolly’s chair upholstered with fabric of her own design, inspired by the paper flowers of Mrs. Delany.

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Armchair Series – Great Dixter

Last summer when we visited Christopher Lloyd’s garden at Great Dixter, I bought a postcard showing the “solar.” It’s a huge room with all the inviting elements – ancient beams, leaded windows, bookcases, and enormous, deep fireplace. On a worn Turkey rug, these two armchairs and an aged green sofa are arranged in a half-moon in front of the fire.

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Armchair Series – Maira Kalman

Maira Kalman often paints chairs, “Comfy Chair” depicts a warm-pink wingback with doilies, and she illustrated the book, “Lucky, Plucky Chairs” by Rolf Fehlbaum, told from the chairs’ point of view. From a Design*Sponge story I learned that Maira Kalman’s New York apartment has white slip-covered armchairs on a black and white rug, in a white room (except for art and treasured collections). Her exuberant paintings come from a tranquil, blank-canvas living space.

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Armchair Series – Writers

It’s a relief to wander the Internet in search of armchairs instead of news. An article  about Hillary Mantel’s writing room (with armchair pictured) appeared in The Guardian back in 2007, when she was “building her new novel about Thomas Cromwell.” Mantel says she writes “…in the main room of our flat, at the top of a former Victorian asylum in Surrey.” “If I feel travel would broaden the mind I take my laptop up a spiral staircase to a little room under the asylum clock.”

And the Wordsmith pointed out this recent interview with Penelope Lively who has a new book, “The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories.” She has an interesting thing to say about birthdays as we age. I love her novels and her memoir, “Dancing Fish and Ammonites,” which she described as a “view from old age.” She’s just finished a non-fiction book about gardening (I’m eager for that) – and she thinks about a new novel. “A writer writes,” Lively says – lucky for us.

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Armchair Series – Indigo-Blue

These armchairs live in the sitting room of a 17th Century Northumberland farmhouse full of “characterful vintage,” but I discovered them in the pages of a British edition of “Country Living” magazine. The owner of the house calls a sofa and the armchairs, “indigo-blue rescues.” Together with a red Turkish carpet, low table with tea things and books, and fireplace, they soften the stone walls and wooden beams of an old building.

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Armchair Series – Warmth

In addition to providing escape from the continual debilitating, depressing, mean-spirited news pouring out of the other Washington, the armchair project distracts from the iffy spring weather. Sunshine, we long for reliable sunshine! A yellow brocade armchair from a photo in “In An Irish House” provides it. My favorite part of the rattan armchair from Kauai is the little needlepoint cushion picturing flower-trimmed flip-flops.

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Flowers From The Garden – Hellebore

Hellebore – the Lenten rose, Christmas rose – even braver than snowdrops, hellebore bloom here in January, bowing their blossoms for protection from inclement weather. My plants are 10 years old now, big leathery leaves get cut back each fall, so the blossoms appear as a surprise in the depth of winter. I read a long time ago, that helleboe lift their heads and endure indoors if you carefully slit the stem vertically in several spots.

blue-white-hellebore

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Flowers From The Garden – Snowdrops

Planting snowdrops requires catching the bulbs “in the green,” and dividing the parent clump. Now patches of them appear in many garden beds here, and maybe someday they will form drifts like you see in old English and Northwest gardens. Undaunted by winter’s freezing rain and temperatures, when I brought them inside to paint I realized they have a small, sweet fragrance.

blue-white-snowdrops

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