Thursday 13: Rainy Day Quotations

Closeup of Little Girl in Red Boots by Michael Simons

I haven’t done a Thursday 13 in a while, I started this last Thursday when it was rainy, but then I never finished it for whatever reason. It’s not rainy today, but rather, windy, so I’m going to just do weather-related quotations. Enjoy.

  1. “Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.” ~John Updike
  2. “Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.” ~Langston Hughes
  3. “Tears of joy are like the summer rain drops pierced by sunbeams.” ~Hosea Ballou
  4. “Thought is the wind, knowledge the sail, and mankind the vessel.” ~Augustus Hare
  5. “A rainy day is the perfect time for a walk in the woods.” ~Rachel Carson
  6. “There is a muscular energy in sunlight corresponding to the spiritual energy of wind.” ~Annie Dillard
  7. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” ~Alfred Wainright
  8. “The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.” ~Joan Didion
  9. Spooky wild and gusty; swirling dervishes of rattling leaves race by, fleeing windflung deadwood that cracks and thumps behind.” ~Dave Beard
  10. “Snow and adolescence are the only problems that disappear if you ignore them long enough.” ~Earl Wilson
  11. “Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.” ~Rabindranath Tagore
  12. “What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.” ~Jane Austen”
  13. “What my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
    I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
    Under my head till morning; but the rain
    Is full of ghosts to-night, that tap and sigh
    Upon the glass and listen for reply…”
    ~Edna St. Vincent Millay

Image Credit: Michael Simons via

Thursday 13: Falling for Fall

Autumn Running from

I haven’t been blogging lately – the need to do so ebbs and flows, and that’s okay – but I woke this morning to the sight of frost on the neighbor’s rooftop, so thought I’d share a list today in the grand old Thursday 13 tradition.

  1. Onomatopoetic Environments: Crunch! go the leaves beneath our feet. Creak! go the trees as they are pushed by the wind. Groan! go the pipes as hot water rushes through them. Hiss! says the heater when we cave in and turn it on.
  2. Sweater Weather: We’ve settled into the time of year when we can wear long sleeves or a light sweater during the day, and bundle into comfy cotton-flannel pajamas in the evening.
  3. De-bugging: Okay, we still have a few mosquitoes here in Texas, but there are fewer of them, and the stragglers are sluggish. If only the fleas would go away, as well.
  4. Cozy Mornings: Birdsong, soft light, whuffling dogs, fresh coffee, oatmeal with craisins, lingering over coffee…
  5. Guilt-free Baths: I might still take bubble baths in summer, but in fall I don’t feel like I have to justify the need to soak in steamy, sudsy, lavender-scented water. Also? I love the tingle on my skin, when I step out of my warm bath and into the chill air of the bathroom.
  6. Frost: Frost counts as a “weather event” here, and we’ve just had our first glimpse of it. I love the way the sun melts it away, oh, so slowly, as warm light replaces cold.
  7. Fall Produce: Yes, our modern society allows us to have squash and apples year round if we really want it, but food tastes best when it’s actually in season. Pumpkins, butternut squash, acorn squash, root vegetables, and apples – fall foods, all.
  8. Soups and Stews: Fall is soup weather. Rainy days, cool nights, and the need for easy lunches all mean that my crockpot gets a workout. A recent favorite? Chicken and sweet potato soup. So delicious.
  9. Quilts: I have no desire to step back in time and live on the prairie with the Ingalls family, but I do love the way a warm quilt doesn’t just serve a purpose, but is also a piece of art. I have books on quilting, and all the required materials, and yet, I never take the leap into making a quilt of my own. Must. Fix. This.
  10. Lamplight: This is a frequent theme with me, but I love the soft light of lamps, as opposed to harsh overhead lighting. I also love streetlamps, and fall is when you get to enjoy deep twilight and glowing streetlights in prime form.
  11. Figure Skating: I’m not a big follower of sports. I’ll watch the occasional baseball or hockey game. I like seeing soccer players in those tiny shorts. But the sports that I actually look forward to are horse racing (in spring) and figure skating. Skate France is on tv this Sunday. Guess what my plans are?
  12. Festivals: I’m a sucker for a good small-town festival, and fall is rife with them. Apple festivals. Pumpkin festivals. Craft fairs. Harvest fests. Even the state fair. Some are cheesy, it’s true, but it’s good to embrace hometown corn once in a while.
  13. Antici…pation: Even without the knowledge that Christmas is creeping ever closer (or we’re creeping closer to it, as the calendar is fixed), fall always fills me with anticipation. For holidays, for seeing family, for favorite foods. For the first local performances of Nutcracker. For the first time I see my breath when I take the dogs out in the morning. For the sense that all of the dying leaves and dwindling greenery isn’t an ending, but a Great Preparation for all the things yet to come in the next week, month, quarter, year.

For more of my thoughts on autumn, check out last week’s Sunday Brunch post, Sunday Brunch: The Light in Autumn over at All Things Girl.

Thursday 13: Bread, Cheese, and Kisses


Thursday is nearly over, but I wanted to write about bread, so I’m doing it this way.

1) I spent the day baking bread. Well, that’s not true. Twice today, I spent several minutes tossing the ingredients for bread into the bread machine and pressing buttons. But I spent the day smelling fresh bread being made, so it sort of counts, right?

2) My bread machine is a Breadman Plus, and was a joint gift from my mother-in-law and sister-in-law years ago. It remains one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. It has a jam setting that I’ve never used, though I have been tempted. I don’t really like jam though. I like marmalade. And lemon curd.

3) I learned my love of bread-making from my grandfather. He had a bread machine, too, of sorts. It was a large copper bowl with a hand crank, and it was meant to make it easier to mix the dough.

4) My fondest memories of my grandfather are of the times when we baked bread together. He would wear a blue calico apron with “Chief” embroidered across it (made by my mother – my grandmother’s matching one said “Chiefie”), and I remember him putting cornmeal in the bottom of loaf pans, and knocking on baked loaves to see if they sounded “done.” I was always amazed by the way his rough, thick-fingered, calloused hands could be so gentle with dough. But they were gentle in the garden, as well.

5) My grandfather was a great fan of James Beard. I’m not his greatest fan, but I love the way he wrote about bread. He said, “Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” I agree completely.

6) Just as I have a thing for beach novels, and coffee houses, I have a thing for bakery books. One of my favorites is Bread Alone, by Judith Ryan Hendricks. It’s a lovely story about a woman whose husband leaves her, prompting her to rediscover her love of baking, which began during an apprenticeship in France. Okay, I know, it doesn’t sound lovely, but trust me, it is. There’s a sequel, but it’s not as good.

7) Last year, when I visited my mother in La Paz (Baja Sur, not Bolivia) we found a Greek restaurant where the owner/chef bakes his own bread. He got me hooked on this rustic whole-grain loaf filled with pesto. It was amazing.

8) Sprouts sells a walnut raisin cinnamon bread that is to die for. It’s even better when toasted and slathered with honey-roasted almond butter.

9) My grandfather used to keep a special crock on the back of the dishwasher. It was his sourdough starter. I’ve never been fortunate enough to have anyone give me sourdough starter, but I have successfully done a wild-capture, when I still lived in California.

10) San Francisco style sourdough is special because of the type of yeast (wild captured), and the refreshment ratio (40%), but you can actually make it pretty much anywhere. However, true San Francisco sourdough is also special because you’re eating it in slightly salty, coastal air.

11) When Fuzzy is away and I really don’t want to cook, I often make a meal out of good bread, cheese, olives, and fruit.

12) In my family, Italian bread is the soft baguette that you eat with pasta, and it isn’t covered in garlic and cheese. We fight over the ends.

13) White bread (except baguette) never crossed the threshold of my house until I married Fuzzy. I looked at it in horror. He never bought it again. My favorite sandwich bread is pumpernickel. Especially if there’s liverwurst involved.

Bonus: “Blues is to jazz what yeast is to bread. Without it, it’s flat.” – Carmen McRae

Thursday 13: But it went on raining.


It was grey and damp over the weekend, which meant it was the perfect weather for Saturday’s International Tabletop Day board game party, and the rain returned Monday night and is still going on as I write this on Wednesday night. Rain and I have a special relationship, so this week’s list is all about that.

1) I grew up on A. A. Milne’s children’s books. Most people know him as the creator of Winnie the Pooh, but my favorite of his works is the book that was published right after Now We Are Six. It’s called A Gallery of Children, and it’s comprised of short stories that are all character studies of different children. My favorite is “A Voyage to India.” Here’s an excerpt:

To-day was the day. To-morrow will be too late. Perhaps even now if it cleared up – but each time she has said this, down has come another cloud. She tried shutting her eyes; she did try that. She tried shutting her eyes and saying, “One, two, three, four – I’ll count twenty and then I’ll open them, and please, will you let the rain stop by then, please, because it’s too terribly important, you know why.” Yes, she counted twenty; quickly, up to twelve, and then more slowly to fifteen, and then sixteen…seventeen…eighteen…nine-…teen…and then, so slowly that it wasn’t really fair, but she wanted to make it easier for God, twe…twe…twe…TWENTY!

But it went on raining.

2) On rainy days, I prefer tea to coffee. I love the way the sugar hisses as it falls into the tea (I don’t typically sweeten coffee). I love the way the rain hisses as it falls into my swimming pool.

3) When there is no actual rain outside, on really hot, dry days, I have movie marathons of weather disasters. A typical choice would be a double feature of The Perfect Storm and The Day After Tomorrow.

4) When I was a kid, I had no idea what a rain barrel was. When my friends and I sang, “Say, Say, My Playmate,” we would sing “Slide down my rainbow,” instead of the original line. (How do you slide down a rain barrel, anyway?)

5) Langston Hughes on rain:

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.

6) My idea of the perfect afternoon is a pot of tea, a stack of books, and a driving rainstorm. A fire in the fireplace is nice, but not necessary.

7) My ability to willfully suspend disbelief is so well-honed that if we see a movie with significant weather, I expect it the actual weather to be the same when we leave the theater. This is especially true for movies where there’s a lot of rain.

8) Despite the above, I actually have a very low threshold for movies where people are tired, hungry, cold, dirty, and wet for long periods of time.

9) A significant part of my childhood was spent in Colorado, where, during the summer, it rains every day, but only for about fifteen minutes. There is NOTHING like a Rocky Mountain rainstorm.

10) I didn’t start getting storm-related migraines until I moved to Texas eight years ago, but the funky purple-grey-green light that comes with storms has always made my eyes hurt. I don’t wear sunglasses at night, but I do wear them on rainy days.

11) I’m not a fan of power-outages, but on dark, dreary rainy days, I like to enhance the mood by keeping the lights dim and lighting candles. There’s something so magical about flickering flames inside and flashing lightning outside, and the combined scents of ozone and candle wax.

12) For my Sunday Brunch post at All Things Girl on March 31st, I wrote about rain. Read about My Romance with Rain.

13) On rainy days, my musical tastes run to instrumental jazz or classical music, rather than anything with lyrics, but my favorite rain-related song ever is Vienna Teng’s “Lullaby for a Stormy Night.” Here’s the video:

* * * * *

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Thursday 13: Connections


We ought to think that we are one of the leaves of a tree, and the tree is all humanity. We cannot live without the others, without the tree. ~Pablo Casals

2) The word “inkling,” which we think of as a creative spark as much as a mental hint, is supposed to come from an old word that means “utter in an undertone, hint at, hint.” I, however, prefer to connect it to the word “ingle,” which comes from an old Scottish word meaning “fire.” The hint of an idea, the spark that lights the flame.

3) While my drawing skills are poor, my closure skills are not. Games that involve pattern matching, or connecting literal or figurative dots always make me happy. (This may be why I love Seurat’s pointilistic art.)

4) For years, I’ve loved the music of both Jason Robert Brown and Georgia Stitt, because they write catchy melodies with complex lyrics that tell compelling stories. It’s only in the last year that I learned they’ve been married to each other for more than a decade.

5) Like most North American children, I grew up knowing how to play rock-paper-scissors.(Apparently kids have been playing versions of it since the dawn of time.) Similarly, I was aware of the existence of rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock before I ever started watching The Big Bang Theory. What I never really understood (mainly because I never paid attention) until recently was that there is a specific mathematical logic to the game, which requires that there always be an odd number of gestures.

6) I love fairy tales. The classic Grimm kind, you know, before Disney got their hands on them. When I was considering making folklore into a field of study (literary anthropology, anyone) I learned that some fairy tales are universal. Pretty much every culture in the world has some kind of vampire/succubus mythology. Every culture has a shape-changer (werewolves, and others.) Coastal cultures always have some kind of mermaid tale. “Jack and the Beanstalk,” however, is limited to a very small geographical area because climbing beans are not grown in very many places.

7) Fuzzy and I argued (playfully) for two weeks about whether our new puppy, Teddy, was a Theodore or an Edward. Chris, who likes animation, argued for the former, referencing a certain group of Chipmunks. I, who generally do not like animation, lobbied for the latter, because Edward is my grandfather’s name, and I’ve always liked it. We ultimately decided on “Theodore Edward Bear Bartell,” which makes me happy because “Edward Bear” is one of the many aliases for one Winnie-the-Pooh. And it makes his name a pun. Ted E. Bear. Teddy Bear. Which toys, of course, are so named after a former U.S. president of some notoriety. (I refer here to BOOK Pooh, from the classic A. A. Milne series (!) of books. Not the fluffy Disney-ified Pooh.)

8) One of Teddy’s littermates was Maddie. I don’t know if the woman who owned their mother was feeling literary, but I love the idea of Maddie referencing the French orphan Madeline (there were nine in the litter). Of course, if we’d taken home Maddie I would have been compelled to speak to her in a bad French accent.

9) In Russian, the word “chai” means “tea.” In Hebrew, the word “chai” means “life.” Coffee is my higher power, but tea is life.

10) I love science shows, and my all-time favorite is the old James Burke series, Connections, which explores things like why monks raising sheep led to the creation of computers. Here’s a link to the first episode:

11) Despite the fact that their math progressions are NOT the same, Roshambo (rock paper scissors) always reminds me of the Circle of Fifths, which, in turn, reminds me of a discussion I read about the “tempering” of musical instruments (as opposed to merely tuning them).

12) A friend recently posted a quote from A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, that made me remember why I loved that book so much (as I told this friend, this book was my gateway novel into sci-fi and fantasy when I was eight):

Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. ~Mrs. Whatsit

13) Two parables, the first, from the 500 Kindnesses community; the second, one I was reintroduced to at the UU church in Ames, IA a few years ago:

Two mice were sitting watching the snow fall and settle on the branch of a tree.

First Mouse: How much does a snowflake weigh?
Second Mouse: A little less than nothing.

They continued to watch the snow falling, eventually the snowflakes lessened and then they stopped. A final snowflake fell on to the branch of the tree. The branch creaked and snapped, and fell to the ground.

First Mouse: So a little less than nothing can make a big difference!

The lessons are clear:
Many people are doing little things.
Little things are laying the base for a big difference that is very much in the making.

Frogs lived in the ponds around a village in Africa. Frogs lived in the damp fields. Treefrogs lived in the trees. At night, the frogs croaked and peeped their mating songs—the village chief could not sleep.

In the morning, tired and irritable, the chief called all his people together. “These frogs offend me! They must die. All of you: take sticks and nets. Search everywhere. Kill those frogs!”

The villagers hastened to follow his orders, all but one — a very old woman. “Why don’t you do as you’re told?” demanded the chief.

“Everything is connected,” said the old woman. “I have lived long enough to see that you can’t make a big change in one thing, without causing changes in other things.”

“I don’t care,” said the chief. “I need my sleep! Go kill frogs.” But the old woman wouldn’t go. The chief grumbled, “She’s probably too old to be much good at frog hunting.”

That night, the pond and fields and trees were silent. Everybody slept well. But after a few nights, another sound interrupted the villagers’ sleep: ZnnnZnnnnZnnnn. Mosquitoes!

The people had no mosquito nets. They spent their nights slapping, and their days scratching. The chief was miserable. The old woman paid a visit to the chief, who was covered with welts from the mosquito bites. “You see,” she said, “everything is connected.”

~ As told by Fran Stallings

We are all connected.

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Thursday 13: In the Pink


I know Valentine’s Day was last week, but I’m in a distinctly PINK mood today, so I’m celebrating a color I used to detest, and now can’t get enough of, with this week’s late-ish entry for Thursday 13:

  1. Beet juice, when it stains the sink and cutting board, seeping into the cracks in the ancient enamel.
  2. Gerbera daisies, especially when they’re in salvaged glass bottle-turned-vase.
  3. Raspberries, the perfect sweet-tart explosion on your tongue.
  4. The blush of a new romance, just as it begins to take form.
  5. The tender kisses you still share almost twenty years later.
  6. The sky when the sun is at just the right angle against the clouds, at dusk or dawn.
  7. Cherry blossoms against a chilly gray sky on a damp day.
  8. Roses cut from the back yard bush – watch out for thorns!
  9. A fresh coat of OPI “Dutch Tulips” nail polish.
  10. A strawberry and vanilla breakfast smoothie made with unsweetened almond milk.
  11. Grocery store carnations that your husband brings home because he knows you love to fill the house with flowers.
  12. The soft, warm belly of a wriggling dog asking for attention and affection.
  13. The hint of color that makes watermelon tourmaline your favorite semi-precious stone.

Thursday 13 – Shapeless


I wanted to explore shapeless things today…Shape is subjective, to a point. For some substances, shape is determined by containment or confinement, for others, it’s an act of physics. And there’s metaphysical shapelessness, as well. In any case, here’s my list.

(I should note: I’m feeling oddly abstract today. If I were an artist, I’d be doing Pollack-esque splatter painting.)

  1. Water. I could list any fluid, of course, but the reality is that the shapelessness of fluids is due to water content, so if you take water away, shape exists.
  2. Thoughts. Shapeless, formless, free-flowing. Thoughts have no shape. Ideas have rudimentary shape.
  3. Dreams. Like conscious thoughts, dreams exist only in transitory moments, taking up temporary habitation, filling all space, and no space. Usually at once.
  4. Colors. One could argue that colors do have a shape because they’re made of light waves, but for the moment, let’s ignore physics, shall we?
  5. Emotions. Can a thing that has a color still have no shape? Because some emotions are vibrantly hued, while others are soft pastels.
  6. Straight lines. Shape requires three dimensions.
  7. The Senses. We taste, see, smell, hear, and touch things that have shape, form, and substance but we do this by utilizing those which have none.
  8. Truth. Lies are angular things, but truth is pure and therefore has no shape of its own.
  9. Breath. Whether in hitches or sighs, in invisible puffs or frosty huffs, breath has no shape. Our mouths form it to our needs.
  10. Clay. Malleable, damp, earthy, it has no natural shape, taking on the contours of the negative spaces left by objects, both natural and manufactured.
  11. Sand. Individual grains have shape, but collectively sand has none.
  12. Faith. Faith comes in many forms – spiritual, personal, emotional – but it has no true shape.
  13. Space. Douglas Adams reminded us that “Space is big. Bigger than big.” Can anything so large as to be literally immeasurable have any kind of shape that is discernible?

Thursday 13: Coasting

Seaside Heights Roller Coaster After Sandy by Brian Thompson

I don’t know the name of the roller coaster at Seaside Heights, NJ that was washed to sea by Hurricane Sandy last week, but Brian Thompson’s image of the scene – framed by the storm-tossed timbers from the boardwalk itself – has been permanently etched onto my brain. I’ve spent a lot of time at boardwalk amusement parks and piers over the years, so, as a tribute to Seaside Heights, Asbury Park, Keansburg, and boardwalks elsewhere, my first Thursday 13 in months is a list of my favorites:

  1. The Galaxy, Asbury Park, NJ: The first coaster I ever encountered, long since dismantled, but living on in my memory.
  2. The Giant Dipper, Santa Cruz, CA: One of the last remaining wooden roller coasters still in operation. The front gives the best view of the water, the back gives the joltiest ride.
  3. The Wildcat, Keansburg, NJ: Modern-ish, with corkscrews and such, but amazing night lighting.
  4. The Giant Dipper, Belmont Park (San Diego), CA: Another version of the coaster at Santa Cruz, further down the coast. Built in 1925 and recently restored.
  5. The Hurricane, Santa Cruz, CA: This coaster was the scarier of the two at Santa Cruz’s boardwalk, but 2012 was it’s last year in operation. It’s being replaced in 2013 by a spinning coaster called the Undertow.
  6. The Great White, Wildwood, NJ: Another wooden coaster, though technically it’s wood and steel. Classic coaster.
  7. The Cyclone, Luna Park, Coney Island, NY: Probably the most iconic boardwalk roller coaster in American history.
  8. Galaxi Coaster, Palace Playland, Portland, ME: Italian made steel coaster with a minimum height requirement of 42 inches even if you’re riding with a parent.
  9. Boardwalk Bullet, Kemah Boardwalk, Galveston, TX: A classic wooden coaster in a warm-weather locale. Everything really is bigger in Texas.
  10. Rolling Thunder, Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson, NJ: Okay, technically, this isn’t a boardwalk coaster, but it’s in New Jersey, so I’m counting it because it was the first BIG coaster I ever rode.
  11. The Swamp Fox, Family Kingdom, Myrtle Beach, SC: Another classic wooden coaster (you find these a lot at boardwalks). I’ve not been on this one; it’s on my list.
  12. Looping Star, Ocean City, MD: Another on my list of must-do’s, this one’s in Maryland, and looks awesome.
  13. The West Coaster, Pacific Park, Santa Monica, CA: This is the only seaside coaster in LA, and it’s as iconic as the coasters in Asbury Park and Coney Island to folks from the left coast. If you remember the opening of Three’s Company you know this coaster.

Thursday 13 – Ac-SCENT-tchu-ate the Positive

As a child, I wasn’t exposed to a lot of perfume because my mother is highly allergic to such things. I mean, she used to wear Norell from time to time, and my grandmother had a special fondness for L’aire du Temps, but other than that, my only memory of perfume was Aunt Molly’s Taboo, which smells like rice pudding in my brain, because my association between her and the family diner where rice pudding was served is so strong.

Over the last several years, though, I’ve developed a special fondness for perfumes, so even though this offering for Thursday 13 is coming in very late (it’s been an odd day) I hope you enjoy my list of 13 perfumes I really love (in no particular order).

  1. Clinique Happy: I received a sample of this when it first came out, and fell in love instantly. It’s a sunny floral, young, but not too young, and I really love it. Sadly, my bottle is now empty.
  2. Benefit So Hooked on Carmella: This is one of the Benefit “Crescent Row” scents, and it’s a bit foodie, but not too much so. It’s a good casual scent.
  3. Jennifer Aniston: While I’m not a particular fan of Jennifer Aniston as an actor, her namesake perfume, which comes in a whale-tail inspired bottle, is delightful. I bought it when I ran out of something else, and walked into ULTA and said, “I like florals and aquatics, but nothing cloying, and nothing too young, because I have young energy but I’m not twenty.” The saleswoman introduced me to this, and I really like it. It’s a little overpowering wet, but on dry-down it’s salty and sweet and pretty subtle.
  4. Vera Wang Princess: I confess, I fell in love with the box, and I was amused that the bottle is a cut-glass heart with pink glass hearts in the crown-shaped top. The scent is a crisp but sweet floral.
  5. Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Intrigue: This is a foody scent with figs and smoke among the main notes. It’s a good winter scent, and I like to combine it with my burgundy stiletto ankle boots and a forest green fedora (and other clothes, of course) and pretend (in my inner monologue only) that I’m a modern-day Mata Hari.
  6. Possets Silver Carnations: It’s a clove-y carnation scent but there’s something slinky and silvery about it. It reminds me of violets, in that once you get a whiff of it, you stop smelling it until suddenly, you catch the scent again.
  7. Escada Moon Sparkle: Fruity and sparkly, this scent is one that my husband particularly responds to. I wear it often when he’s just come home from a business trip.
  8. Possets Frou-Frou: Anyone who knows me will hardly be surprised that I am a fan of a perfume called ‘frou-frou.’ It’s got some figgy notes, but it’s also playful, and for a long time it was my signature scent.
  9. Bulgari Mon Jasmin Noir: I just got a sample of this in the September Birchbox, and I’m already really hooked on it – which is amazing, because I don’t really like jasmine most of the time.
  10. Christian Dior Miss Dior: This is another Birchbox sample, from a couple of months ago. It’s a little young, but it’s also classic.
  11. Benefit Lookin’ to Rock Rita: Another “Crescent Row” scent, clean, fresh, fun, and a little bit edgy.
  12. Juicy Coutour Viva la Juicy La Fleur: This is such a happy, playful scent, I can’t not love it. Really.
  13. Black Phoenix Jester: A great scent for summer, this has strawberries and currants, but still manages not to be horrifyingly sweet. This is Fuzzy’s favorite perfume of mine, but I’ve run out of it. Twice.

perfume bottles on glass shelf from istockphoto

Thursday 13: At the Ballet

I don’t like the room to be quiet when I’m writing, but there are only certain types of non-quiet that don’t distract me. For example, when I’m writing for work, or just reviewing and approving websites for a coppelia_bolshoi11-300x200 directory I help maintain, I can play DVDs of familiar TV shows or movies – generally those that have snappy dialogue (Pretty much anything Aaron Sorkin ever wrote, Gilmore Girls, Sex and the City, and a good portion of Joss Whedon’s creations.)

When I’m writing something that requires actual thought, however, I prefer to have music playing, but there I run into trouble, because if the music has lyrics I want to get up and sing instead of staying in my chair and writing. At times, if I’m writing something that fits with it, I can listen to French pop-jazz – artists like Sanseverino. Often I listen to jazz and blues, but that can make me moody, and even without lyrics, there’s enough story in that type of music that I can’t just have it on as background music.

As the final days of summer spiral away, and my mailbox begins to fill with ticket offers for various Christmas concerts and performances of The Nutcracker, however, I find myself listening to the soundtracks – scores, really – of various ballets. I like the old classical ones because they’re full symphonies and generally pretty long, with enough variation that I don’t get bored but a unity of tone that gives just enough story to keep writing, but no so much that I want to go watch every single dance film on Netflix.

The practical upshot of all this? My Thursday 13 this week is a list of the ballets I particularly love:

  1. The Nutcracker (Tchaikovsky): Yes, it’s a Christmas story, but the music is so familiar and infectious I can’t not love it, and it really brings E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tales to life. Also? Duke Ellington’s album Three Suites features jazzed up versions of many of the more familiar elements of The Nutcracker. I’ve seen it live in San Francisco and Denver, and never miss the ABT (American Ballet Theater) version from the 70s (Baryshnikov/Kirkland) when it’s aired on PBS every December.
  2. Cinderella (Prokofiev): I worked props for the Fresno Ballet production of Cinderella all through high school, and grew to love the music. To this day, when I hear certain phrases, I can see the prancing ponies in my head.
  3. Giselle (Adam): How can you not love a ballet that was partly inspired by Victor Hugo’s novels, and partly inspired by St. Vitus’ dance. It’s haunting and creepy and completely wonderful. Incidentally, the title role in Giselle is probably the most coveted in all of ballet. The movie Dancers from sometime in the 80s (I think) starring Baryshnikov, was about a dance company doing a touring production of Giselle. The plot was absurd, but the dancing was breathtaking.
  4. Coppelia (Delibes): Like The Nutcracker, Coppelia was inspired by E.T.A. Hoffmann’s stories, particularly “Der Sandmann” (“The Sandman”), but it’s also special because it marked the first use of automatons and marionettes in ballet. Because it is a fairly light story, this ballet is often used to introduce children to the art form.
  5. Romeo and Juliet (Prokofiev) Yes, it’s the ballet version of Shakespeare’s play. Yes, it’s an iconic ballet. The modern version still retains much of the mood and story from the version Prokofiev composed for the Kirov Ballet in 1936.
  6. Sleeping Beauty (Tchaikovsky): There were actually several other ballets based on the tale of Sleeping Beauty (which, itself, has a dual source of Perrault and the Brothers Grimm), but Tchaikovsky’s has become the standard. It premiered in 1890 in St. Petersburg, Russia, but a later production served to introduce ballet fans worldwide to Rudolph Nureyev. A very young George Balanchine made his own ballet debut in a production of Sleeping Beauty.
  7. Swan Lake (Tchaikovsky) This was the composer’s first ballet, and its initial reception was actually not that great, but today it’s probably the first ballet most people think of. My first introduction to it was via a music box I was given as a child, and I met it again as a slightly older child when my ballet teacher in Georgetown, CO, (David something. He had amazing thighs.) taught us all the “swan curtsey.” If your first introduction to Swan Lake was through the movie The Black Swan, you have my sympathy. Please wash your eyes and brain out with a double feature of The Turning Point (which was made in the 1970s and featured a recently-defected Mikhail Baryshnikov) and The Company, starring Neve Campbell (who actually had some real dance experience) and members of the Joffrey Ballet.
  8. Don Quixote (Minkus): This is one of those great ballets that came out of the Bolshoi in the late 1800’s, and has gone through many incarnations. Yes, it’s based on the same novel by Cervantes that inspired the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha, and both are fantastic in their own ways, but the ballet is something truly special, especially when you have really strong male dancers.
  9. La Sylphide (Løvenskiold): There are actually several versions of this ballet about a Scottish farmer who falls in love with a Sylph, and the original, staged by Taglioni, even used different music, but it’s the Løvenskiold music that I’m most familiar with (and, in fact, am listening to as I write this). Btw, there’s another ballet called Les Sylphides that also involves a man falling in love with a forest spirit, but it’s got completely different music and choreography, and is staged as a short ballet.
  10. The Firebird (Stravinsky): Like many ballets this is based on fairy tale, but this time it involves thirteen princesses (making it appropriate for a T-13 inclusion, yes?), forbidden love, and a stolen egg. Jerome Robbins choreographed the best-known version of this ballet when he was at NYCB (New York City Ballet).
  11. The Red Shoes (Easdale): Okay, technically, The Red Shoes is a movie about a ballet called The Red Shoes, which ballet was created just for the movie. But, honestly, does anyone watch this for the plot? Of course not, we watch it for the dancing (and more than one ballet company has staged the ballet itself, since the movie came out in 1948). By the way, the ballet within the movie was based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story entitled – you guessed it – “The Red Shoes.”
  12. Fancy Free (Bernstein): This is another Jerome Robbins piece, set to music by Leonard Bernstein, and it’s a ballet about three American sailors on leave in New York City. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the musical On the Town was actually inspired by the ballet. If you’re like me, you saw the movie version of On the Town (starring Gene Kelley, Frank Sinatra, et al) first, and thought the movie inspired the ballet. (I was fourteen when I asked my dance teacher, who was staging it at his ballet company, for the real story.)
  13. The Hard Nut (Tchaikovsky): If you begin a list with The Nutcracker, it only makes sense to end it with The Hard Nut, the sexy, dark, irreverent version of the same story (one that’s actually more in line with Hoffmann’s original tale). Yes, the music is the same, but this time it’s set in the 50’s, and the toy soldiers are actually an army of G. I. Joe dolls. This version was choreographed by Mark Morris, and features men en pointe as well as some subtle homosexual themes.