Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ms. Hen visits Edith Wharton's mansion The Mount

The Mount
2 Plunkett Street
Lenox, MA 01240

Ms. Hen had wanted to go to The Mount for years. She had visited Western Massachusetts frequently: she went camping there many times when she was young, and her hen sister went to college in North Adams. Ms. Hen went to graduate school in southern Vermont, so she was always in close proximity to Edith Wharton’s house, but she finally visited it on a sultry August afternoon with some chicken friends.

The group arrived right before the scheduled two o’clock tour of the house and garden. They decided to take the tour of the house. The tour guide’s name was Cecily, a young bubbly woman who was intent on everyone in the tour group on looking at her when she spoke. Ms. Hen wasn’t interested in looking at her, she wanted to take pictures of the house, but the tour guide told everyone that they weren’t to take photos until near the end of the tour. She originally said that there was just no flash photography. Ms. Hen didn’t care what she said and took pictures anyway.

Ms. Hen has been to many writers’ houses. She has been to the Mark Twain house, the Emily Dickinson house and the Louisa May Alcott house. She thought The Mount was different from the other houses in the way that none of the original furniture was there. Edith Wharton built the house and only lived there for ten years. She wrote in bed most of the time.

Ms. Hen at the foot of Edith Wharton's bed

Edith Wharton came from New York society, and was expected to marry, have children, attend parties and fit in. She married an unstable man, who might have had bipolar disorder, and they divorced, which caused a scandal in society. She also wrote, which was against what was deemed appropriate for a woman of her station. But Edith Wharton didn’t care what society wanted. She did what she wanted to do.

Ms. Hen, doing what she wants

The garden at the Mount is stunning. Ms. Hen thought this was the best part of the house. Two fountains flank each side of the mansion, with carefully sculpted hedges and benches for resting.

Ms. Hen, relaxing

Even though the weather was hot, Ms. Hen and her friends went to the terrace café and had some refreshments. The view from the terrace is lovely. Visitors could have wine, beer, coffee and different kinds of food. Ms. Hen had iced coffee. The evening that Ms. Hen’s group went to the Mount, there was a “free” jazz concert. It was free, but people have to pay 18 dollars to get in. 

On the walk toward the mansion in the back or the estate, art decorates the forest. Different modern sculptures adorn the trees, with the price of each one on the descriptions. Ms. Hen’s favorite was the coats without heads.

Ms. Hen and her alter ego

The Mount is a long drive from Boston, but Ms. Hen stayed in Northampton for the weekend. Ms. Hen recommends The Mount because it is wonderful to walk where a famous writer walked and to see the views from the window that she saw. Ms. Hen gives the Mount five enthusiastic feathers up.

What Edith saw

Friday, August 21, 2015


Lynne Tillman

Ms. Hen picked this collection of short stories up on a whim in her local public library. She didn’t know anything about the book or the author, but she liked the cover and was intrigued by the title. She figured since it was a library book there was no loss of money, so she checked it out.

Ms. Hen liked reading the book, but she didn’t like it too much. She thought the stories were very snappy. What she means by that, is that they’re very contemporary, quick-witted and sharp and almost too smart for their own good. She didn’t want to like the book too much, but there were some stories that caught her attention.

In “Playing Hurt,” the protagonist, Abigail, is a lawyer interested in money and honesty. She gets married to the wrong man, but she doesn’t discover how wrong he is until she’s already married to him. One of the reasons Ms. Hen liked this story was the opening sentence mentioned that her friends thought that Abigail better lay her golden eggs fast. Another reason Ms. Hen liked this is because it’s not like other stories in which everyone lives happy ever after. The character is shallow, and Ms. Hen didn’t like her, but Ms. Hen was still happy that Abigail didn’t lose in the end.

“But There’s a Family Resemblance,” is a story about the legends of someone’s family. Everyone has rumors in their families, but Charlie, the narrator, talks about the duty for a family to keep its secrets. However, Charlie never found out the secret of his namesake, Uncle Charlie and why his uncle broke his own mother’s heart after his death. Ms. Hen kept reading the story, and was waiting to find out Uncle Charlie’s secret, but she never did. Ms. Hen felt cheated because she never discovered what happened.

Ms. Hen enjoyed the story “Love Sentence,” because she thought it was more like a poem than a short story. She didn’t pay a lot of attention to the characters or what they did or said, but she did pay attention to the things around the stories, quotes from everyone imaginable were injected into the story, such as Shakespeare, Andy Warhol and Freud. She thought this story made her feel comfortable.

She didn’t like the way a lot of the stories in this collection made her feel. She thought a lot of the stories were trying to be offensive and crude without making much effort. She realizes that every writer has a variety of styles, but she didn’t like the different tones of most of the stories.

Ms. Hen’s favorite thing about this book was that there were four times in which the author Edith Wharton was mentioned. She was excited because she visited Edith Wharton’s mansion, The Mount, at the time she was reading this book. She thought it was a happy coincidence. Readers should expect Ms. Hen’s review of The Mount soon!

Ms. Hen liked taking a chance and choosing a book that was unknown to her. She didn’t completely dislike this collection, but she didn’t love it. She gives SOMEDAY THIS WILL BE FUNNY three and a half feathers up.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Ms. Hen reviews MR. TURNER

Directed by Mike Leigh

Ms. Hen loves films about crazy artists and writers. She stumbled upon MR. TURNER because she saw a preview, and she thought she would like it since it was about an artist. She remembered studying the painting THE SLAVE SHIP when she was a young undergrad hen. She was not an art major, but she had the option of taking an art survey course right before she graduated. Ms. Hen loves art, even though she might not understand everything about it.

What Ms. Hen enjoys the most about art are the stories that surround it. She loves learning about who the artists were and why they painted what they did, and how they went about doing their work.  J.M.W. Turner was a painter that worked in the middle of the nineteenth century in England. He mainly focused on ships and nautical scenes, adorned with blazing sunsets and violent skies.

The film opens up with Timothy Spall, who plays the artist, strolling through the Dutch countryside at dawn or sunset with the sun streaking the sky and nature in full bloom. He goes back to London and talks with his father about what he saw. He father buys his paints for him. At first, Ms. Hen thought Turner might have been a spoiled child, but it turns out that he took care of his father. There’s a scene at the beginning where his father is shaving him, and Ms. Hen thought that was odd, but later she found out that his father had worked as a barber.

The film follows Turner throughout the last years of his life. His father passes away, and the artist becomes depressed. He goes to the seaside on a ferry and rents a room from a couple and the husband tells him about his life as a marine carpenter and how he saw the slaves tossed into the ocean because they were simply cargo to the owner. The man said he had never seen such inhumanity and it haunted him to that day. Turner keeps going back to the rooming house and eventually starts a love affair with the woman after the husband passed away.

One of the most striking scenes in the film is when the artists were all in the gallery with their top hats and fighting over where their paintings were hung, and who had the best spot. All the men seem to be pumping their chests, but there are no women. Ms. Hen understands that there were no women artists in that era, and she thinks if there were any women present, the men might have behaved differently.

Turner was a showboat when he painted: he spit on the canvasses, he used cream and chocolate. A scene shows two women discussing how disgusting he is when he paints, but Turner does not seem to care. He does what he wants because he knows he is good at his work, and most of the artists surrounding him cannot touch his talent.

Ms. Hen decided Turner wasn’t crazy; he was just extremely eccentric. He was not the kind of person Ms. Hen would like to know. She thinks his personality would not fit with the 21st century.

Ms. Hen liked this movie because it was beautiful and she learned something about a brilliant artist, even though she didn’t like his character. But it was long and meandering, twisting through the artist’s life as if naturally with no direction or plot. She gives this film four feathers up.

Friday, August 7, 2015


By Margaret Atwood

Ms. Hen came across this book because it appeared it her house one day. Her chicken brother brought it to the house and never read it, and left it on the table. It took her a long time to get around to read it, but she was happy she finally did, because it swept her into a different world.

This novel is a novel within a novel, then another novel within another novel. The story winds around in different directions, with multiple characters at different times in their lives. The story is told by Iris Chase Griffin, an elderly woman looking back on her life who is in the process of writing a book for her granddaughter to read after she is gone.

The story surrounds Iris’ relationship with her sister Laura and their family. Iris and Laura’s mother dies in childbirth when they were very young. The girls remember their mother dying from the kitten that was inside her. Reenie, the housekeeper, raises the girls in place of their mother. Their father is the heir to a button factory that amassed the family fortune. They live in Fort Ticonderoga in Ontario, outside of Toronto.

Laura was always a scatterbrained girl, who grows up to be a young woman who is not quite together. Iris marries a man because her father wanted her to keep the family money. Iris is unhappily married, and immediately after her honeymoon, her father passes away.

The novel within the novel is THE BLIND ASSASSIN, written by Laura Chase, a noir piece about a woman and a man having a love affair in squalid rooms. The novel within this novel is the story that the man tells the woman that he is writing: a blind assassin rescues a mute sacrificial virgin from being raped and slaughtered, which all takes place on another planet.

The story of the blind assassin is the core of the novel. But Ms. Hen never finds out what happens to the characters. The man never told the woman the real end of the story. He told her rumors that could have happened, but never a definitive ending.This confused Ms. Hen, but she understood why it moved that way. Real life doesn’t have an ending. It just keeps going on and on.

The other novel within the novel is the one that octogenarian Iris is writing about her childhood. We go with eighty-three year old Iris through her daily life, walking to the donut shop, reading the perverse graffiti on the walls in the bathroom, trying to make sure she doesn’t fall and hurt herself.

Iris is a person who has suffered in her life, and Ms. Hen feels sorry for her. Some people have bad luck: they get mixed up with the wrong people, and they never get to love to the extent that they should have loved. Iris never finds true peace, but she has secrets. She has her traveling trunk that held her trousseau that hides all her memories. She plans on leaving the trunk to her granddaughter when she died. She wants the truth of her past to be known.

Ms. Hen loved this book. It is many different stories at once, and the sadness of the characters holds depth. Ms. Hen doesn’t remember the last time she read such a many-faceted novel that brought her to multiple places. Ms. Hen gives this novel an enthusiastic five feathers up.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Ms. Hen reviews Jitters, one of her favorite places

Jitters Café
12 Main Street, Oak Grove Village
Melrose, MA 02176

Ms. Hen believes a coffee shop is not a place simply to get coffee. She thinks that they are places for people to go to get a different perspective. She has been going to Jitters in Melrose for two years and enjoys it as a place of respite.

Ms. Hen is a particular hen when it comes to coffee.  And the coffee at Jitters is good: amply caffeinated, with a decent flavor selection. The lattes and Americanos are also excellent. Ms. Hen likes to go to Jitters in the afternoon after lunch to sit and drink coffee and either read or do work. In the summer, Ms. Hen’s favorite iced coffee is the coconut, and in the fall, she favors the pumpkin.

Ms. Hen has had lunch at Jitters on several occasions. Her favorite Panini is the Panino, a tomato mozzarella sandwich with heavenly balsamic vinegar on the side. She also loves the Greek salad with chicken. All the sandwiches and salads are made fresh to order. They also have gelato in the summer, and muffins and baked goods all year round. The scent of muffins baking in the store tantalizes the customers.

The café is comfortably decorated in warm tones with lots of art about coffee hanging on the walls. There are couches and booths where people can cozy up and sit all day if they so desire. Jitters is rarely crowded during the week in the afternoon; however, on the weekends especially in the morning, the place can be packed.

Ms. Hen went to have lunch with one of her hen friends at Jitters recently. She decided to try something different and have a chicken salad sandwich. It usually comes on a croissant, but she asked for whole wheat bread instead, and the cashier was obliging. The sandwich came with cheese, which Ms. Hen thought was a little strange, but she still liked it.

Ms. Hen’s friend got the chicken pesto sandwich, which she said was her favorite. It comes with cheese and pesto and the delicious balsamic vinegar on the side. Ms. Hen and her hen friend both really like chicken. When Ms. Hen decides to write a restaurant review, she usually orders chicken because she wants to eat something that is delicious. She is not a cannibal; she just has good taste.

The people who work at Jitters are always friendly. Most of the customers who go to Jitters are regulars, so a lot of the time there aren’t any weirdoes in the store. Ms. Hen doesn’t like weirdoes in coffee shops. She’s not weird; she’s a good customer, and she expects everyone else to be as well.

Ms. Hen will continue to patron Jitters in Melrose for as long as she can. She enjoys the relaxing atmosphere at the coffee shop, and you can probably find her sitting in the last booth with a book or her laptop on a weekday afternoon sipping an iced coffee, soaking in the pleasure.