30 April 2011

Wasn't it marvelous?

.... And wasn't she gorgeous? Just lovely...

I loved everything about the Royal Wedding. This girl's got great taste! The dress, her hair, the trees in the Abbey, all just s0 serene, elegant and romantic.
More than anything, I adored her bouquet: Lillies-of-the-valley, Sweet William, Hyacinths and Myrtle.
A whole host of "Fashion" commentators are bemoaning the choice as too "dainty" and "small". I couldn't disagree more!
I think Kate's choice was utterly inspired, understated and elegant. Perfect.
Comparisons are being (rightly, I feel) made to Kate's bridal aesthetic and that of the legendary Grace Kelly.

28 April 2011

The count down has begun!

The Royal Wedding is less than 24 hours away! Where does the time go? And, where, oh where, has the great, warm, sunny weather gone?!
In the midst of last-minute street party planning -- at some point I completely lost my head and seem to have invited half the village to come along! Our small gathering has now blossomed into a massive get-together!
Shakespeare's Birthday Celebrations, postponed from last weekend due to Easter, have been re-scheduled for the day after the Royal Wedding...and just when I think I can't possibly do more...I get an invitation to write a syndicated piece on the Royal Wedding for BlogHer!!
I was staggered, and had less than 24 hours to write it! (Well, less than 5 hours really, factoring in all the hours spent freaking out and procrastinating...)
And, just add to my village life's rich tapestry, the Drama Group have decided they want to an abridged version of A Midsummer Night's Dream for the Village Show this summer. Of course, the first read-thru for casting was scheduled for tonight. So, I spent the evening in two zones, rehearsing in GMT, whilst sweating about meeting my deadline in L.A. I left at the coffee break, and ran home to post my feature.

Take a peek: "Royal Wedding Fever"

By the way, The DEB and I ending up being cast as Oberon and Titania...
Clearly, love is in the air!

23 April 2011

Happy Birthday, Mr. Shakespeare!

The title of my popular, New York University undergraduate seminar, “American Shakespeare”, always raised a few eyebrows. “It’s a survey of Shakespeare in America,” I once explained to a stuffy, Oxbridge colleague. “But,” he sniffed, “Shakespeare was never in America.” “Indeed,” I replied heartily, “but he is very much with us now.”

My seminar examined what Emerson termed the “Shakespearization” of America. I had no idea where this exploration might lead. And, certainly never imagined I would find myself re-discovering Shakespeare in a tiny, fishing village in southern Alaska.

That excursion began with a dare. One day, I sauntered into class with a topic I knew my students would be keen to devour. I’d found details of a production of Othello in Alaska. The play had been adapted into a 19th century, Alaskan context. Othello became a Native Alaskan, instead of a Moor. The goal of this touring show was to facilitate dialogue between Native and non-Native communities.

Can, or should, Shakespeare be used in this way? My students, as always, were hotly divided between the purists and the progressives. Reaching a fevered pitch, they demanded I settle the debate: “Dr. Smith-Howard, you must go there and find out.” They dared, and, off I went.
I wrote the theatre company and asked if I could observe their work. Next thing I knew, I was flying over the Rocky Mountains, to the vast, wild, least populated, and most breathtaking state in the American union.

The experience that followed was an incredibly powerful one, and one that underscores for me the discernable differences in what Shakespeare means today. One facet of Shakespeare’s inheritance is that he has become a trusted brand. His name, image and words are used to market and sell a staggering array of goods around the globe, from the Shakespeare Coffee Company (Bidford-on-Avon), “Hamlet” Cigars, and Austin motor-cars (“Travel…as you like it.”) in Britain, to mentholated cough syrup in Brazil (“To Coff, or not to coff, that is the question”).

In contrast is the esteem in which Shakespeare is held in America, where he is perceived as a touchstone, a symbol of artistry and wisdom. Americans seem to have accepted as gospel the 19th century, British notion of Shakespeare’s secular godship. Joseph Papp, America’s foremost theatre director, put it best:

Why do so many people get hooked on Shakespeare and develop a habit that lasts a lifetime? What can he really say to us today, in a world filled with inventions and problems he could never have imagined? Because, Shakespeare is showing you human nature. Shakespeare has enriched my understanding of life immeasurably. I hope you’ll let him do the same for you.”  (Shakespeare Alive!, 1988)
Like Papp, I, too, have experienced the transformative power of Shakespeare in people’s lives: from disadvantaged teens in NYC to Native American elders in rural Alaska. I have witnessed Shakespeare’s words empowering the voiceless; and being the common language differing cultures previously lacked. I have seen his texts creating a common ground, a campfire around which a divided community could gather. For me, this is his greatest and most enduring legacy. 

Happy Birthday, Mr. Shakespeare, wherever you are!

13 April 2011

A time of firsts

This week has seen the commemoration of quite a few significant firsts: the first man in space (Yuri Gagarin, 12 April 1961), and the adoption of the Union Jack as the official British flag (1801).
On a far more personal level, it has been a period of significant firsts for me, too. This past weekend, Team DEB completed our massive 15K charity swim. It was amazing. We were utterly exhausted after a week of hard-core swimming, but the finish was positively exhilarating!
We had balloons in the pool, and we popped a cork and had champers after we crossed the finish line. And, it was a team finish, as we swam the last lap in tandem. Marvelous, and a truly incredible experience.
From this awesome experience, I have learned that I am much stronger and braver than I realize; and that people are far more generous than you might expect. Same time next year? Absolutely!
My other “big first” was assisting The Vicar in his School Ministry pre-Easter assembly programmes. Another amazing experience. Very early mornings, working with adorably well-behaved schoolchildren, leading them in acting out the stories of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday.
The request came as a bit of a surprise, but then, not really. First of all, with my theatre background, I should hardly ever be surprised when anyone asks me to do anything!
And secondly – a rather big confession coming here – a few weeks ago, I met with The Vicar to have “the talk”. The “vocations” talk, the “I-think-I-might-be-being-called-to-do-something” talk.
For many, many years, in fact, I have toyed with the idea of pursuing holy orders and becoming a Deacon. At my old parish in NYC, there was something in the air it seemed. Every week someone else was signing up for Holy Orders and joining the Deaconate! It really was that sort of zealous, joyous place. I never did then. Only because I wanted to be sure that my “call” was mine, and not just a case of collective exuberance!
I now feel, more than ever, that my calling, is, well,…calling. I love my tiny, English parish, and I do wish to serve it in any ways I can. I’m currently a member of the Parish Council, a part of the Morning Prayers group, and recently became a church “key holder” (My father would be so proud. He was a long-life Church Warden.)  
My dear friend, Paul, recently became ordained, and we met for coffee a few weeks ago in Stratford-upon-Avon to discuss “the journey”. Paul’s situation is really interesting. His chosen position is that of “Ordained in Secular Employment”, which basically means he is ordained, but maintains his regular job, and once a week he wears his clerical collar to work. Very interesting, to reveal and live out ones faith in such a way.
I like the choice that Paul has made, and I really appreciate that the Church of England has so many unique paths to follow for those wish to serve. Of course, it is still very, very early days for me. This is a path that will take years and years to come to fruition, if it does at all.
The period of “discernment” both for the potential candidate, and for the powers that be is quite lengthy and arduous. Then, if one is even successful to make it through those phases, there are years and years of training to follow. (More school?) So, at the moment I am just taking my time, seeking and thinking about it.
First things, first.
From the sublime, to the ridiculous: my last big first is…packing. The DEB and I are off for three days in Ghent. The DEB is attending a training session for work, while I get to play “The Corporate Wife” at long last!!
Of course, I had to buy a new travel case that looks appropriately “Corporate Wife” enough. I opted for stylish and small. The DEB stunned when he saw the case. He thought it was a new handbag.  “You’ll never get all your clothes in that,” he laughed heartily. I am determined to prove him wrong! I can pack light.
And, that will truly be a first.  

11 April 2011

Ugh, deadlines...and, a give-away, AT LAST!

I have hit the ground running today!
Seems I have nothing but deadlines everywhere I turn. Today's deadline is for my June column in Warwickshire Life magazine. Unfortunately, inspiration has been on low ebb this time due to Swimathon, etc. 
But, I have pushed through, and spent the day writing about quilting, and a local artist whose work I truly admire.
Joanna Smith-Ryland turned her hand to a quilting project of mine, and truly saved the work from disaster!
She's a very talented lady, and her work evokes the simple pleasures of a gentler, more Austenian time...

Joanna Smith-Ryland cathedral window design "The Garden Collection"

JSR's original design "The Big Jewel Collection"

One of JSR's silk evening bags in cathedral window patchwork, with semi-precious stones

I'm a huge fan of Joanna's, and thoroughly satisified customer. Her artistry and attention to detail are impeccable. To say thank for my comments both here and in my print column, Joanna has very graciously offered me one of her silk evening bags to give away to one lucky reader!

Would you like a chance to win one of these lovely bags?
(Other colours/designs can be seen on her website.)

Send a postcard with your name, contact details and email, by 1 July 2011, to: 'Shakespeare Diva Readers Prize', Joanna Smith-Ryland, Corner Cottage, Fulbrook Lane, Sherbourne, Warwickshire CV35 8AS. 

One lucky winner will be drawn at random! International replies welcome! Good luck! 

More about 'Passionate about Patchwork'- Joanna Smith-Ryland - www.joannasmith-ryland.com

06 April 2011

Sleepless nights, Coffee mornings, and "the usual suspects"

I have found a moment of quiet in the midst of a very busy day. Almost magically, it is 22 degrees Celsius, and I am sitting outside, in a sun hat, worried about sunburn…
Can this possibly be England in April? I wish I could capture this day and share it with you!
I have found an absolute haven of tranquility in the garden of The Glebe Hotel.  Sipping coffee, undisturbed, I try and process all that has transpired in yet another hectic week. I often think to myself, and the DEB often asks me aloud, whether I really need another challenge to take on, and clearly, it seems I do. Routinely.
My charity Coffee Morning went off really well. We raised £150.00! This was largely due to support from “the usual suspects” – loyal friends and kind neighbours who dug deep, and gave of their time and treasure to support our cause.
The night before was a sleepless one for me, as I tossed and turned and panicked: “All this effort, and what if no one comes?” I finally gave up on sleep at half five, and wandered around the house trying think of what I may have forgotten. Then, at half six it dawned on me: coffee, tea, sugar, milk and support staff.
Just a few minor things!
A frantic text to my friend, Hannah: “Help!” The reply came: “When do you need me?” My plea: “As soon as you can be here!” Friends like that are gold dust! When Hannah arrived, I threw my arms around her, and thanked my lucky stars! She dutifully set off to the village shop for supplies, while I blew up balloons and schlepped cakes and raffle prizes to the church.
Pam, Alex and Hannah’s mum arrived to lend a hand, as did my Darling Neighbour, Mary Sue. (Yes, a rather unique name for a Briton.) MS brought along a gorgeous, chocolate cake, and singlehandedly commandeered the coffee urns. Hannah’s sweet mother, Ann, donned the giant Marie Curie daffodil hat and walked up and down the road wooing punters to our party. Remarkable.
Of course, to start off, we had more helpers than punters, and I feared that this way the entire event would go. I had baulked at tradition and scheduled my Coffee Morning at the ungodly hour of 9:30 AM, in an attempt to woo the “school-run mums” who seem to gaggle and loiter outside the church each and every day around 9 AM. Monday was not one of those days.
The road was positively empty, quiet and devoid of mums. My plan had backfired. In my effort to attract what I thought would be a captive audience, I had seemingly offended purists who believe a Coffee Morning should start later. Sometimes, you just can’t win!
In my more cynical, paranoid and self-obsessed moments, I am convinced that the school-run mums – viewing me as some sort of childless, social pariah – conspired against me, and all purposely stayed away, and gathered elsewhere on the day. But that would be very cynical, indeed. And, to be sure, three mums from the school actually did turn up to the Coffee Morning, and seemed to have had a nice time, and each won a prize, I think.
All in all, it was a great experience, and one that has taught me (yet again) that no matter how “small” an event is, it is still an event, and requires lots and lots of effort. Pictures from the day, forthcoming.
After the Coffee Morning, I went home and collapsed. Despite the virtual ton of caffeine and sugar I had consumed, I was spent. But, my respite was short-lived – on to the next task. More fundraising, and of course The Big Swim.
The DEB and our new Teammate, Hazel, began our 15K challenge on Monday, with the goal of doing 1K per day. Our first kilometre completed, the DEB and I dashed home from the pool to host the first “Royal Wedding Street Party Committee” meeting. With wet hair and aching arms, I thought to myself “What on earth am I doing?” But, everyone’s really excited about the street party, and offering to help, I just needed to get the ball rolling.
No rest for the wicked: yesterday was spent facing down a massive, lingering deadline I had for a restaurant/pub review for the magazine. This is my first piece for our new editor, and I did not want to disappoint.
I made the foolhardy mistake of “tweeting” (Note to self: need to reflect upon Twitter.) that I would have the piece in by 5 PM. Great. Now, the entire world could witness my tendency to procrastinate. I must say, the fact that I had broadcast my own potential downfall, did propel me to get it done. Maybe Twitter is just what I’ve always needed…
And so, today. Finally a breather, of sorts, and at least a few moments of reflection. That, along with the workmen who have been in and out of the house today. We are having a new kitchen floor installed, and a new window in the living room.
Did I need another challenge this week?
Ironically, as the first workman arrived at 7:45 AM, I went to the door and found that someone had slipped a note through sometime in the night. I opened the card to find a donation to our Marie Curie funds and a short, simple note: “Thank you.”
As I stood there, my eyes filled with tears. All the aches and effort are truly worth it. And, in that moment I remembered what this is all about, and what it’s all for. So that somebody, somewhere may have the peace, comfort and care that a Marie Curie Nurse can provide them in their final days here on earth, in the comfort of their own homes. That is truly an incredible gift, and my efforts are just a wee, small part of making this wonderful gift happen.
That gentle reminder helped me to put aside thoughts of who came to the Coffee Morning, and who didn’t; who’s supported us, and who hasn’t, etc. It’s about love and the greater good. And surely, this world is in desperate need of that right now.
With these thoughts in mind and heart, I glided through my 1k today.  (Number 4 of 5!) Hazel arrived at the pool just as I’d hit my half way mark, and we chatted and swam the rest together. Hazel’s in my Aquafit class, and we had never really spoken much before, but once she heard about our swim she felt compelled to get involved. I think she may become a good friend.
As we’ve now all reached the 4K mark, we’ve decide to space out the rest of the swim for the remainder of the Swimathon. We’re talking about getting together and doing the last lengths together, and maybe taking a Team photo. I think we should break open a bottle of bubbly when we’re done as well!
Oh, dear, sounds like I’m on my way to planning yet another “little event”.

02 April 2011

Peas, please!

You have spoken!
Garden peas are the quintessential English veg!
Thanks for voting!

Now, I'm ready!

I purchased this fetching piece of swim kit yesterday from a sweet, little shop in Oxford, called "Saratoga". 
The staff there were helpful and knowledgeable, when I rang up. I shared my hair and swimming dilemmas with them, and they immediately suggested this lovely Hedgehog hat.
Isn't it adorable!? 
If this doesn't inspire me to meet my 10k goal, I don't know what will!
Saratoga Fine Lingerie have made a friend for life in me! Stressing to them that I'd like to start my swim today (which I would), they guaranteed delivery and indeed, it arrived early this afternoon. 
And, so, with my light-blue swim costume/suit, I shall match the lovely Marie Curie Cancer Care logo:

Go, Team DEB!!!

01 April 2011

A bit of inspiration

First of all, I'm rubbish at math(s)! I have been saying that I have completed 2.8K in training for my 5K swim. I have, in fact, completed 3.7K! 

Clearly, simple addition is not a strong suit of mine.

So, the start of the Swimathon looms, my neck strain has returned, and I fear my Coffee Morning's going to be one gigantic failure! And, to crown all, like a fool, I raised our target fundraising goal to £1000. 

Needless to say, I'm stressed, panicked and anxious.

True to form, I have decided to procrastinate by focussing on randomly related things. My latest distractionary obssession is...Swimming Caps. 

In an attempt to source something that will keep my hair from getting in the way and/or turning green, the following have caught my eye. A winsome homage to glamourous era of Elizabeth Taylor?