Monthly Archives: June 2013

Margaret and Helen Rip it Out Over Texas


Wendy Davis, D-Ft. Worth
Eric Gay/AP

This gem was written before articulate State Senator Wendy Davis pulled it off. I can’t leave it up long (you’ll see why), but I post because Margaret and Helen are a riot (if they exist) and in honor of today’s good news from Texas. Apologies to my Republican friends for Helen’s, um, approach. And shame on those who tried to tinker with the official time on the vote records.

The actual full story is astonishing in every way.

For those agreeing with single mother, Harvard grad, and champion of low-income women Wendy Davis, the outcome is a fresh breeze of good air. Thank you, Miz Davis. Thank you.

Hoist Up the Father’s Day Sale

yard sale wares

Oddly, none of these went.

While normal people were celebrating on Father’s Day, my neighbors and I held a yard sale. It was not a sanctioned event.  Nor was it particularly reverent of fathers; my own had to wait, until the rain shut down the sale, to begin the family festival of socializing, overeating, and a viewing of The Shining, a touching little film about a father.

I freely admit my portion of the yard sale was weak. There was little of value (set aside for when I learn how to sell on eBay, which will be never) next to the incomplete, broken, and useless items for sale. I also admit I enjoyed watching shoppers regard my sad offerings with knit brows, trying to make polite conversation, wondering why I had even bothered and was I indigent or just crazy. Others glanced about in an uncomfortable silence and moved quickly on.

The few desirable objects I’d included I, at first, priced too high—maybe so as not to have to part with them (mistake number one). As the day went on, I grew despondent from lack of sales and underpriced these treasures, realizing much too late that I should have just kept them as gifts for people I actually know, rather than selling them for peanuts to strangers (mistake number two).

But the entertainment was priceless.  While the big coin my neighbors were hauling in made me feel inadequate, mine was  a Feel-good Mart, with neighbors, nutters, friends, friends of friends, and a lovely new Southern neighbor all engaging in lighthearted convo, some of it with clever volleys and returns—always a delight—and some with thoughtful advice or heartfelt condolences.  I told a young couple they looked happy.  They were. Another couple and I swapped ghost stories.  True ones. Another adored my flower boxes I’d sawed and painted by hand. With reversible colors. I taught a teenager how to clean an antique typewriter; maybe one day he’ll be a writer, or the only typewriter repairman left on Earth. A madcap golf buddy showed up.  We laughed and laughed. Because my “storefront” was right on the road, it was almost a drive-through; I could have rollerskated over and taken orders carside. But I’d sold my skates before I thought of it (mistake number three).

At one point it “snowed” fluffy cottonwood seeds. When the golf buddy showed up, her cheer generated a flurry of sales. My junk was wanted! People loved it as I had, and thrilled at getting it on the cheap. It solved problems for them, saved them a trip to NH, provided a Halloween costume for 2013. Another satisfied customer.

I know my trifling sale and its collateral laffs are nothing to brag about.  I have a television. I see the “This is your life…at 50!” commercials with young-looking retired couples in vaguely nautical outfits and deck shoes shaving happily away at their nest egg, having planned well, invested well, married well, dressed well, monitored their teeth well…roaming a beach hand in hand, scanning the buffet, taking Cialis®…when, in Vermont, we’re selling our shirts to get by. But it was a fun time for All. And I didn’t have to listen to my husband of 40 years tell the same story for the 300th time to a table of yachties (at the Captain’s table, in the Mediterranean!), or tighten my Hermes scarf to protect my ears from our (private!) chopper’s (noisy!)  rotors, or turn my head politely as our other (handsome!) golfing couple (in Scotland!) sandbagged their scores. I set sail when I wanted. Dropped anchor when I wanted. Ahoy.

In closing, your good news:  Prague subways now have cars where singles can meet, dubbed “love trains” by Reuters, so you can be wookin’ pa nub in at least one wight place. The Washington Post was skeptical, considering this train car “a great way to attract unwanted advances,” but I promise you there will be at least two lucky Czechs in 2013 who find nub. Maybe they’ll retire early and linger around seaside buffets a lot in special outfits. Now that’s what I call a good day, one right after the other.

Ann Aikens can be reached at ann.aikens.7 on Facebook, or on Twitter at @uvgvt.

I Love Big Sh*t

Giant TiresWho doesn’t?

I’ve been waiting since I got my iPhone to happen upon one of those rigs with giant spools on it. This will have to do.

What do you boys do with this stuff?

“Gardening Makes People Happy.”

Eagle Street Garden – Photo by Jackie Snow.

In rural America, we hear little about urban farming.

“Gardening makes people happy,” says this urban farmer in Chicago. “I do not believe we are in a bad spot with community. People know how to be together.”   (Good news!)

This garden in Brooklyn is up in the air. Its High Priestess, the Manager of the Edible Academy at the New York Botanical Garden, talks fast in a New York way I miss.

This crunchy Cali textile artist makes lovely yarns from local plant dyes and animal wools. Looking at colors makes people feel good. It’s why we knit in a troubled world.

Every day, do something sensory that makes you feel good, even if it’s just watching upbeat clips like these. Keep it clean, people.

Man, Wish I’d Seen the Tonys


Neil Patrick Harris.

If just for this unreal opening number.

NPH is a total God and Broadway is his playground.

The lyrics, his laugh, the fans going wild, the sheer enormity of it….

ALAS, the cruel, cruel psychos at NBC took it down from every site (via, no doubt, strongly worded letters)–if someone you know recorded it, for the love of God, go watch the opening number!!!

Another National Donut Day

dd victor

Chef Victor, in Quechee.

…comes to a close.  Dunkin’ Donuts has 3 things going for it:  donuts, coffee, and Victor.  He offers excellence in service, witty volleys, and fashion advice (the Miche bag).

dd dogs

Dawgs, chips, and sodeys…yEs!

Dovetailed gastronomically with the Customer Appreciation BBQ at a local store — rained out but, gamely, hotdogged in.

dd tank

Feeding frenzy at the Wat.

With fare like this, who needs the healthiest Asian fusion cuisine in the Upper Valley (Chef Chy’s Angkor Wat, in Woodstock)? Clearly:  All.  Try the spring rolls, coconut shrimp, curry soup, Thai custard…really, anything on the menu…dy-no-miiiite!

A YA Mystery Both Smart and Charming

Hard Magic book coverAt the 2013 San Francisco Book Festival on May 18, Braintree author John Caruso’s textured novel Hard Magic received an Honorable Mention for Young Adult Fiction, in what organizers called “a very, very tough competition.”  A dark yet sparkly mystery comprising multifaceted characters, dialogue among kids and adults that is neither corny nor precious, and rural issues—with clues, clues, and more clues — it is written with a deft hand requiring young readers to not only pay attention, but to look up the occasional vocabulary word. Hear, hear!

A story involving magic and teen sleuths begs comparison to other YA works, but important elements separate Hard Magic from the pack. First and foremost: superior writing. Caruso is a writer’s writer. He includes brilliant metaphoric turns of phrase, a nuanced tone, and observations about rural life that delight adult readers while rendering young readers just plain lucky to have him directing his writing, for the first time, their way.  Second: it is expertly plotted (and sub-plotted), without overly descriptive passages to spoil a calculated pace that begins as lazily as a summer’s day, then barrels ahead in a race to the finish. Third, it has the intelligence to let the reader decide who’s good or bad, and why; it is more about exploring how the world works and who controls things than delivering a clichéd battle between good and evil. Fourth: it is poignant, with characters worth caring about. That’s because, Caruso says, he wanted in his book the emotional payoff of YA books he read as a young adult himself.

As for the title, one reader interpreted it this way: “Real change comes from hard magic, real work, not comic human hopes in the supernatural.” The characters must work for what they want; there is no magic fix, and the reader sees each making choices for thought-out reasons. Caruso’s teens are determined sleuths that use their smarts—they do not serendipitously stumble upon clues like my generation’s ever-lucky Nancy Drew.  The players are complex people with good and bad qualities, and vulnerabilities. Even the most cutthroat among them displays wit, style, and heart.

With a generous mix of male and female characters that pop in and out, there are delectable hints at romance, but in this book the mystery’s the thing.

Hard Magic took the author two years to write plus one year of revisions, the key to excellence in writing. A natural born novelist, Caruso (a Vermont resident since 2001), refuses to “write down to” young readers, as he puts it. His style encourages them to ask, “What is really going on here?”; “What does that phrase mean?” and—which makes it a page turner—“What happens next?”

This tale set in Vermont has something summery for everyone: intrigue, family, fireworks, spells gone awry, cookouts, contraptions, junkyards, bewitched teachers, swimming holes, enchanted flora, evil fauna, magic potions, carnivals, Vermonty characters, word games, diabolical forces, weird behavior, and the long arm of the law. The magical parts are deliciously crafted. A passing reference to a possible physical or sexual assault renders it suitable for readers over age 13, depending upon the child and parents.  Most importantly, the book fosters…reading. Imagine that.

Hard Magic is available at Bud and Bella’s Bookshop in Randolph, at The Yankee Bookshop and Shiretown Books in Woodstock, and online at, (print or Kindle), or

Get it. Read it. Love it.  coverphoto

Ann Aikens

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