On Celebrating Love

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I was just tickled by that little Doodle yesterday for St. Valentines Day. Traditionally, I’ve not be a great celebrator of Valentine’s Day, and this year was no exception. Boyfriend and I had had plans to go out Saturday evening for dinner and a movie, but I was tired after going to aerials and a friend’s matinee, so we stayed in an ordered Chinese food.

Yesterday, we did go for our standing Sunday morning coffee date at a local coffee shop. The shop had recently renovated and it was fun to see the change. Plus they added this cute little table with two padded chairs that were still free for the taking. It felt a bit more special as we ate our kolaches and had our coffees. Despite not doing anything particularly out of the ordinary for the day, I prefer our standing coffee date.

Getting out of the house and out of our weekday routines has be a great way for us to reconnect with each other over a meal. Boyfriend doesn’t often eat breakfast, but will always have a cup of coffee, and I don’t often drink coffee, but will make an exception for the occasional, well-made cappuccino. And the ambiance of the shop is both quiet and not too quiet, if that makes sense. They play music that is enjoyable and unobtrusive enough that the rest of the patrons, many of whom are working, can focus.

We like watching the people and discussing the coffee, too. Boyfriend is surprisingly vehement about his coffee, despite being relatively unfussy elsewhere. And I appreciate that, should I desire a cup of tea instead, they do serve one of my favorite brands.

And so we wake on Sunday mornings, dress, drive to the shop, and find a place to park. The short walk and the lingering breakfast is the perfect amount of time to focus on just us, without the distraction of work or electronics or television, before we both head out back our lives.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Vintage-Inspired Amusements: The Lady Magazine

I’ve discovered something new online! The internet is lovely for lovers of the vintage because you can find all sorts of original documents and vintage-inspired webpages so much more easily than when you had to go to the library and make a date with the microfiche viewer to see them.

The Lady magazine is apparently where Wodehouse got his inspiration for Aunt Dahlia’s Milady’s Boudoir periodical. And it’s not hard to see the resemblance. They even maintain a classified section for those seeking housekeepers, nannies, and other service personnel. Apart from those, they run articles about timeless style and a series of columns. They have a good old-fashioned agony aunt column, as well as an advice column for excellent manners that rivals the Grande Dame Judith Martin herself.

They also tend to provide styling, fashion, and interviews perhaps geared toward a more traditional audience. Rather than following trends, they focus on timeless advice for elegance. And they interviewed the current star of my new favorite show recently.

The magazine has been around since the 19th century and has the distinction of being Britain’s longest-running lady’s magazine. And issues appear weekly online. I love to read the features occasionally as they highlight a more timeless and elegant style than many American publications, particularly when it comes to home and fashion.

Reading such a publication gives me a profound sense of being connected to the history of publishing for ladies. Rather than being a magazine that pigeonholes us into assumptions about our interests in beauty or fashion or lace curtains, The Lady allows that ladies may have diverse interests and as such publishes diverse features, sometimes discussing food, or travel. The columns even target a range of ages, leaving few gaps in the possibilities that one will find something interesting to them. And the style is vintage and understated, rather than loud and trendy. All in all, it is a magazine that suits my style perfectly.

On Enjoying Shakespeare

I’ve teased in the past about a recent project in which I’m involved. Well, we opened two weekends ago. I’ve spent the last few months rehearsing a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I’ve loved to act since I was a young child, and I’ve been doing Shakespeare since I started in a local theater school’s company over 20 years ago, but I hadn’t had a chance to perform the Bard since returning to the stage two years ago after graduate school.

My first Shakespeare role was Ferdinand in The Tempest and it rather set the tone for many of my Shakespearean roles. I’ve played as many male characters as female ones. And that’s the beauty of Shakespeare: he creates characters that often transcend stereotypes and categories despite drawing on familiar tropes of comedy and tragedy. And I just love getting into these characters.

The language is what frightens some people when they think of Shakespeare, but the language is what I love. His words are his canvas and he paints beautiful pictures, both with the word meanings and with the sounds of the words themselves. My most recent role is that of Feste and he dallies nicely with words. It was a challenge to memorize some of his more mouthful pieces, but so, so fun to deliver them. He talks circles around most of the characters in the show (with the exception of the other two characters I’ve played in Twelfth Night in the past: Maria and Olivia).

But the language of Shakespeare truly has to be heard to be appreciated. Reading the text on the page has little of the same appeal. A colleague of mine commented that he’s decided to try to read his way through Shakespeare’s complete works, to which I responded with a grimace. That sounds like truly grim work. But a Shakespeare club? Get together a group of friends to read scenes from Shakespeare as a way of getting through the works? Fantastic! I suggested he at the very least look up films of the various plays that have had films made of them. So you don’t get much of the histories, but the more popular tragedies and comedies have some representation.

Above all, I think that most people take Shakespeare too seriously. He’s fun. He’s a playwright who chose to insert knee-slappingly funny bits into some of his most serious plays, often at the most intense points in the main action. He did this because he wasn’t catering to the enjoyers of high art, but the enjoyers of entertainment. Shakespeare is a reminder that sometimes in the darkest times, laughter is necessary. Sometimes you need the drunken porter or the nostalgic gravedigger to break up the intensity of life. Take the laughs as they come and let them temper the tragedy just a bit.

I’d love to hear anyone else’s views on Shakespeare, acted or read. And who wants to start a Shakespeare club?

An Historical Weekend Away

It’s been almost a month since Boyfriend and I decided to take a little long weekend trip to Gettysburg, but I suppose I ought to share some of the photos I took. It was a lovely weekend, with generally nice weather, if a bit warm and sunny some days. I certainly got more sun than usual, even with my sunscreen and parasol at the ready.

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We left on a Friday evening from work and did not meet much traffic, so we pulled up to the bed and breakfast a bit after 7 p.m. I had phoned ahead to make sure someone would be there to meet us if we were later than 8, and to save us a plate of food so we wouldn’t have to stop for dinner. But because we arrived before the restaurant closed, we were able to sit down to a nice family-style meal, complete with a glass of local wine for me and beer for Boyfriend. It was a lovely beginning to our weekend, and we got to our cottage relaxed and happy.

The next morning, we had our breakfast in the kitchen room of the main B&B house. It started with porridge, fruit, and tea, and then continued on with a big plate of cheesy eggs and bacon and toasted homemade bread with strawberry jam. The jam was obviously homemade as well, as it tasted incredibly fresh. I don’t generally prefer strawberry jam, but I enjoyed it very much. From there, we spent the day hiking around the historical park, doing plenty of walking. Although the clouds became rather dramatic at times, we did not get rained upon, although our feet were quite sore.

We ended up walking all the way around the north part of the park and back into town, where we got sandwiches for lunch at a little French-themed cafe, and then took the car back to the B&B to rest and clean up before dinner. Dinner was at the historic Farnsworth House, where we ate at the tavern before going on a ghost tour. The tours are given by guides in historical dress, and focus a lot on history, but devote plenty of time to the modern stories of paranormal encounters. I’m not too proud to admit, I felt a few chills while we sat in the haunted attic of the house.

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Sunday, after a casual breakfast in our room of sticky buns and blueberry muffins, we spend the morning touring the various wineries and cideries in the area. The countryside was stunning, particularly with the trees so laden with ripening apples. We bought plenty of wine and some cider to tide us over until we can get this year’s batch fermenting.

From there, we went back into town, where we had lunch at an Irish pub. It was rather upscale pub food, and I enjoyed my Scotch egg, fish and chips, and Murphy’s with relish. I was excited to see they offered “a wee bit of fish and chips” and 10 oz. beers for those of us with smaller appetites. Duly fortified, we ventured back into the historical park to walk around the south part of the park. Sadly, the hiking trails are far less well maintained, with the most care taken to keep up the newly paved driving tour route, so we spent much of our time walking along the road instead of braving the somewhat deserted trails. I found it sad that the roads so greatly reduced the number of walkers on the trails, with people preferring to drive up to the landmarks, get out of their cars for a few minutes, and then get back in and continue driving. But we enjoyed our walk, and I got a lovely panoramic view from the observation tower.

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Two days of so much walking and sunshine left us ready to head out on Monday after breakfast on the deck of the main B&B house. But it was a lovely weekend!

Vintage Exercise: Ballet Class

You don’t get a whole lot more old-fashioned than dance. It’s probably one of the oldest forms of human expression. And as far as dance goes, ballet is the epitome of old-fashioned grace to me. It seriously took a lot of doing to update ballet even a little, and even then, most of the updates are considered “modern dance” instead of ballet and are kept separate from classical training. There’s a reason it’s called “classical training.”

Well, like Zelda Fitzgerald, I’ve come to ballet late in life. I did my turn as an adorable a 5-year-old, but decided not to pursue it. Then, when I turned 30, I decided to take a class with a friend of mine from my original ballet class, at the original studio where we took classes. She’s since fallen out of the habit, but I’ve continued to go. Since starting theater a year ago, I’ve lapsed a bit, but I still love class whenever I get to it.

I finally got back to my favorite mid-week class this week, and loved it. The teacher is tough and doesn’t go easy on the combinations. Her only concession to the fact that it’s called a “beginner” class is that she’ll take an extra minute explaining the steps. Sometimes. But I like that. I’ve taken other dance classes and over the years have decided that I’d rather be the lowest level dancer in a class than the highest level. I learn more.

Ballet, and dance in general, has given me a strong sense of poise and body awareness. The costumier of a show I did over the winter commented on how I was able to wear her beautiful vintage 40s and 60s costumes so well, and I credit a lot of that to my dance training. It makes you look taller and more confident. And, given that I’m actually quite clumsy, can disguise a multitude of awkwardnesses under a veneer of control.

Dance is one of my favorite forms of vintage exercise. In addition to ballet, I also do some modern. I’ve taken classes with a company, but I also do some freestyle dancing on my own. When I read the autobiography of Isadora Duncan, her approach to movement as something that is inherently natural resonated with me, and now when I have my own private dance time, I try to mirror her philosophy, if not her exact movements.

Sadly, this week, upon my return to ballet class, I learned that the nagging soreness I’ve been having in my toe while jogging is not just stiffness that needs stretching out and loosening up. It’s probably a sprain. So I will have to take a few weeks off both jogging and dancing while it heals. But I’m excited to return once more.

In My Queue: The Bletchley Circle

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a Netflix find that I thought my readers would appreciate. I’ve been terribly busy with rehearsals and such, but I have found the occasional moment to toy with Netflix and find new shows. One that I’d had in my queue for a long time was The Bletchley Circle. As a woman with a technical background, I was intrigued by a show I thought was about women working at Bletchley Park during World War II.

Well, I was wrong, it’s actually about a group of women who used to work at Bletchley Park, but the show’s main action follows them several years later as they’ve tried to return to “normal life” after the war. None of them can say what they did during the war, and instead are officially named as secretaries and bookkeepers. For the first series, they solve a series of murders when the first-series main character, Susan, notices a pattern while listening about the killings on the radio. She gathers together Millie, Lucy, and Jean, her old colleagues from Bletchley, to help her. Each has a specific skill that helps put together the clues they find.

It blends a period drama with a crime procedural, something I’ve pointed out before as a particular favorite genre. But it then goes a step further and instead of introducing strong (but peripheral) female characters, it bases the entire show on four women’s experiences. And it captures the frustration of intelligent women being underestimated by the men in their lives.

The show also captures the atmosphere of post-war England well. While the US was celebrating victory in a war that virtually never touched their own land, England was picking up the pieces from having its major cities bombed and all their supply chains disrupted. Luxuries, like perfume and lipstick, were hard, if not illegal, to come by. So the women of The Bletchley Circle are not the carefree, red-lipped women of the 50s that we might picture, but instead are, for the most part, honest, unglamorous, and relatively free of makeup. The only character that regularly wears lipstick is Millie, the “bad girl” of the group.

The Bletchley Circle has sadly only made seven episodes that are on Netflix right now, so it’s a quickly-consumed series, but the characters and the plots are worth waiting for more.

Vintage Pastime: Radio Plays

When I was a girl, I would occasionally spend days with my grandparents while my parents were away or when I was sick and had to come home from school. One of my favorite things was when my grandmother would bring out her recordings of old episodes of The Green Hornet radio show. There was something so different about listening to a story rather than watching it on TV.

These days, radio shows are mostly podcasts, about non-fictional topics, but they can become massively popular. Boyfriend and I just started listening to Serial while driving home from his family’s home several hours from where we live. It’s so absorbing to listen to these people, but also fun to imagine what they actually look like. I’ve definitely been sucked in and we’ll have to set aside some time to finish it rather than watching TV at night.

But I love a good fictional radio play. On Christmas Day, we listened to two special Christmas radio plays on two separate public radio stations. They were both really silly, and not the best written, but they were fun. And listening to the actors try to differentiate characters through voice alone leads to some fun variation.

On Sunday nights, my NPR station airs The Big Broadcast. I used to only hear it when we drove to a Sunday night swing dance years ago, but it’s a lot of the same old radio shows that my grandmother used to share with me. Listening to it reminded me not only of a bygone era, but also of sharing time with her.