Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Double and The Gambler

It has taken me an extremely long time to finish this book, mostly because I have struggled to find a dedicated reading time like the one my afternoon commute used to provide.  I think I'm getting into something of a routine, and hope to be closer to my old reading pace.  Fingers crossed!
The brilliant Russian translators Richard and Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky brought together two of Fyodor Dostoevsky's short novels, The Double and The Gambler, into a single volume.  Both were gambles of sorts on Dostoevsky's part, the former dating to 1845 and the latter more than 20 years later.  I enjoyed them, but not in any way approaching how much I love Dostoevsky's other works.

The Double is something of a "rethinking" of Gogol - not a plagiarism or an imitation, but more of a tribute.  The protagonist is a poor government clerk named Goliadkin, not the most likable fellow and something of a scoundrel.  During a bitter cold November day, he finds himself spiraling into a nightmare of a situation: someone was quite literally taking over his identity, and there was nothing Goliadkin could do about it.  This story displays some of the earliest signs of Dostoevsky's genius, but frankly, I did not enjoy it all that much. 

The Gambler was risky for a very different reason: Dostoevsky himself struggled with a gambling addiction, and the general setting for the story closely resembles one of his own trips abroad.  The protagonist and narrator, Alexei Ivanovich, is a young man in the mold of Alyosha Karamazov from Brothers K or Prince Myshkin of The Idiot.  He is young, somewhat innocent and imminently likable.  He is in the fictional gambling town of Roulettenberg working as a tutor for a Russian general with whose stepdaughter he is in love.  The supporting characters - especially the kooky Grandmother - are superb and well written, and Alexei's descent into a gambling addiction is both inevitable and believable.  In contrast to the first story in this book, this was extremely enjoyable and easy to read.

I'd suggest that everyone read Dostoevsky's novels, but would only recommend this to his biggest fans.  It won't get you hooked the way Brothers K or Crime and Punishment will; neither will it be the worst book you've read.

Next up: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.  I have really read nothing by him since high school; time to give him a chance.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

This concert should be played loud!

A way overdue posting from our celebration of Joker's 40th birthday: one of the most amazing live music experiences I have ever been to.  Along with two of our dear friends, we headed up to Woodstock, NY (sans kids!!!) for a night to attend Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble.

Levon Helm was the drummer for The Band, and has been an active musician for maybe five decades.  He lives outside of Woodstock where built an awesome studio in his own house that can hold about 200 guests and as many as 16 musicians on an intimate stage.  He hosts these Midnight Rambles on Saturday nights year-round.  It's billed as a concert, but the experience is so much more than that.

First you drive up an unmarked driveway, recognizable only by the mailbox on the side of the road, which opens up into a parking lot with attendants.  Everyone in the car needs a wristband, essentially a proxy for your ticket.  Once you park, you're free to wander the beautiful grounds.  But before taking a look around, grab a beer from your cooler and pour it into a plastic cup (if you don't bring your own, you can get cups at the venue).  When The Barn, as it's called, opens to the public, people with seating tickets (as opposed to standing-only) toss jackets onto the chairs they stake out, perhaps contribute a dish to the potluck table, and return to the tailgating party.  Throughout the show you're free to come and go as you will, the rule being only plastic cups and water bottles are allowed inside.  It's Levon's home, remember?

The music was intoxicating.  We danced our asses off.  Levon's band is 13 or so pieces, including his 30-something, uber-pregnant daughter who sings some of the lead vocals.  Levon himself plays so enthusiastically you'd think it was his first time in front of an audience.  They played songs from this band's repertoire, songs from the Dead, from The Band and more.  The show went on for a couple of hours, and we would gladly have stayed for more.  A concert-going experience for the record books - we only hope to enjoy it again someday!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Yep, I'm a Gleek

Have you seen Glee yet?  Seriously??  It is like the most awesome show since Buffy, I shit you not.  How in the world am I only just discovering it?

We just finished Season 1, and the third season starts in a few weeks.  Do yourself a favor: GET IT!!  STREAM IT ON NETFLIX!! It's excellent.

The show is about a show choir filled with misfits: a social outcast, a gay guy, a kid in a wheelchair, a stuttering Asian girl, a fat black chick.  Then, under the guidance of a new club teacher, things begin to change.  The kids are awesome, and they are totally a lesson in perseverance and acceptance.  The singing is out of this world.  Doogie Howser has a 3-episode guest star run (and other stars like Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenowith, Olivia Newton John appear), Joss Whedon directs an episode, the songs range from Journey to Lady Gaga with everything in between.  Sue Sylvester is a character for the record books in both bitchiness and awesome.  In short, there's nothing not to love. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shine bright, Firefly

Two weeks ago a light went out too early.  A dear, wonderful, gregarious, warm woman who was just my age lost her battle with cancer.  I have had a really tough time processing this.

Christy wasn't a friend I saw often.  Hell, it'd been years since I'd last seen her.  But from the moment she and her family parked their camper in our yard she was my friend.  We must have been in middle school at the time, and Christy was everything I admired: confident, beautiful, hilarious and kind.  We were fast friends from that day forward, writing letters between family visits, sometimes even coughing up for long-distance calls.  But years passed and our friendship became somehow less immediate.  Even then, I thought of her far more often than my correspondence would attest.

When I learned of her illness I wanted to call, to give her support, to tell her that I loved her and was hoping against hope for her triumph.  But I didn't.  I suck at saying "the right thing" during difficult times.  I felt like my sorrow and anger paled in comparison to her own, like I didn't even deserve to feel it.  I felt like talking about my wonderful family in our great health doing our whatevers would sound trivial.  So many excuses, and I didn't call.  I thought of her and I feared for her.  But the cancer was fast and I was slow.

Still I believe - from our Facebook correspondence, partly, but mostly because of her magnanimous and loving and generous nature - that she knew.  I had the honor of spending a day with her parents, as they began their healing process.  I feel unfairly lucky - it's not fair that I get to have two beautiful daughters and a house in the mountains and a glass of red wine and my health - but while it is not fair, they helped me to see that it isn't my fault, either.  And I promise you, Christy, that I will never again let the fear of saying the wrong thing cause me to say nothing.  Shine on, beautiful woman, shine on.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Georgetown's narrow-gauge railroad

During one of our local adventure days last week, Joker and I took the girls a few miles west to the town of Georgetown.  There's a pretty neat old downtown with the highest per capita number of Victorian houses in the country (if I recall correctly), and if antiquing is your thing there is a ton to do there.  After we grabbed a quick lunch, we went to the historic Georgetown Loop Railroad.

The line dates back to around the turn of the century (1900, not 2000), when train travel was popular for day trips for Denver's well-to-do.  Passengers would ride up from Denver, have a picnic lunch and spend the day in Georgetown or Silver Plume and return in time for dinner.  The train is notable for two major reasons.  First, it is a narrow-gauge train, meaning the rails are only three feet apart versus the standard gauge of 4' 8".  This was popular for mountain rail in the heyday of the railroad.  Second, it crosses a pretty incredible 100 foot high bridge which offers beautiful views along with a little anxiety for anyone with a fear of heights. 

The entire round trip to Silver Plume takes less than an hour and a half, which is perfect for kids the ages of mine.  All of the cars and engines are super cool, dating back to around 1900 as well.  The ride is beautiful and fun and a great way to spend an afternoon.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Camping at Long Draw

We spent last weekend camping with my parents - the first time in over 20 years for me, and the first time ever for Joker and the girls.  What a blast!  It was such a wonderful way to relax and spend time together!  We all loved it, and we're already looking forward to our next camping trip.

Boppie picked the location: a wonderful campground on Long Draw Reservoir, over an hour up the stunning Poudre Canyon.  We lucked into a perfect site with a beautiful view, privacy and superb spots for both tents.  The only drawback was the 200 yard hike down the hill, which we shlepped our stuff up and down each night for bear-proofing. 

The Bug could not have enjoyed fishing more.  She even picked out her own fly: a giant black ant with two pink spots.  She learned how to cast out, and never wanted to quit.  The adults' best luck was just before dusk on the canoe - we floated out and were catching a rainbow trout on practically every cast when we hit out limit.  Trout for dinner, and again for breakfast, which is my personal fave.

The reservoir itself is below the Never Summer Range, which true to its name still has snow caps.  In the mornings, the water was perfectly still, even in the inlet where we camped.  The first morning it frosted, and a captivating mist rose from the lake. 

The girls loved throwing rocks in the lake, hanging out by the campfire and sleeping in tents.  They had so much fun the entire time, and the grown-ups did, too.  I predict many more camping weekends in our future!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Butterflies and dinosaurs

Since we are new to living in the Denver area and I'm home with the girls full time (for now), we are trying to see some of our local sites.  Joker is even able to take the week off so that we can adventure together - yesterday we visited with family, today we went to the Butterfly Pavilion in Denver, tomorrow we're taking the narrow gauge railroad between Georgetown and Silver Plume, and we're going camping this weekend with my parents.  I hope to have lots of pictures to share from our Colorado fun week!

The Butterfly Pavilion is pretty amazing.  The first rooms are filled with tanks that house spiders (including an entire "tarantula tower"), scorpions (some that glow in the dark), beetles, walking sticks, millipedes, a beehive, roaches and more.  Creepy.  But pretty cool.  Then you enter the rainforest environment, which is the main attraction.  Here, thousands of butterflies are flitting and sitting and eating... they're all over the place, all sizes and colors.  Total wow.

A couple of weeks ago, I took the girls to the Morrison Natural History Museum.  It's basically in our back yard, and the Bug has recently become very interested in dinosaurs.  The museum is tiny, but has some amazing fossils and casts - the first Stegosaurus and Apatosaurus (which was still a Brontosaurus when I was a kid) discovered in Colorado, T-Rex, Pteranodon, mammoth, saber tooth cat and more.  The highlight for the girls, though, was the fossil dig pit outside, where kids can find real fossils in the sand. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Dam Ducky Derby

Evergreen, our new town, is a very family-friendly place with loads of activities.  Among other things there is a summer evening concert series, art and music festivals every couple of weekends, a farmer's market right downtown.  And today was the Dam Ducky Derby, something totally foreign to us.  A fundraiser for a great local program for special needs kids and their families, 7,000 rubber ducks were sold for $5 a piece.  These ducks were then released at the Evergreen Dam, and floated down Bear Creek to a chute and finish line on the other end of town.  I haven't yet gotten the call to tell us that one of our ducks won, but I'm pretty much banking on it.