Thursday, February 27, 2014

Poem: Corner Crop

Corner Crop
by Joanne Faries


candidate embraces God's earth

oozes green gooshy pledges

smears competition over fracking

accepts gas money contributions

blankets countryside with patriotic

banners. Signs of environmental love
Note - I returned a book to the library the other day and could barely find the building for all of the campaign signs, tents, and clamor. The election madness these days is out of hand.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book Review: Valley of Amazement

Ever since The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan has not let us down.  Her rich writing, her complicated characters, and her insight into the Chinese/American conundrum have given us a lot of good reading. Add The Valley of Amazement to her pile.  This stunning book covers forty years and two continents. We see the collapse of China’s last imperial dynasty and we learn about old Shanghai. It’s Shanghai 1812 and Violet Minturn is a “privileged daughter of the American madam running the most exclusive courtesan house. But the Ching dynasty is overturned and Violet is separated from her mother in a cruel act of chicanery.”  (cover blurb)  It takes forty years for her to find her mother again and also reunite with a daughter she lost.  

Violet and her mother Lucia choose disasterous courses in life, but then manage to pull it together. There are some good loves, sad deaths, wealth and poverty, and journeys of discovery. The key is the connection between mothers and daughters. At times convoluted, humor, desire, drama , and deception pull together the huge narrative. There were times when I wished Lucia’s story was more intermixed between Violet’s tale. I think that would have given us more insight into both women’s saga. But it all ties up in the end satisfactorily, and the writing is stupendous.  

p. 588 “On sleepless nights, when I could not bear my life, I thought of that ship and imagined I was aboard. I had been saved…….. But the ship never left, and I would have to disembark, and begin my life again each morning.” 

The Valley of Amazement is a book, a painting, and a life journey.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Hooray for Hollywood: Upcoming Oscar

Oscar Buzz

Who will win? Lots of good choices actually and very few “sure things”. Don your evening gown on March 2nd, pop the bubbly, and say hooray for Hollywood.  

Best Picture –

American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street

Who should win? 12 Years a Slave was a brutal picture but excellent. The subject matter could be too harsh.

American Hustle is popular but since Silver Lining’s Playbook won last year, I don’t think director Russell gets it again. 

I think the tiebreaker is Gravity – it was super popular at the box office and with critics and audiences alike. It’s a space story – always cool. And the special effects were considered groundbreaking.  

Best Actor –

Christian Bale, Bruce Dern, Leo DeCaprio, Chiwetel Eijofor, Matthew McConaughey

Chiwetel gave the performance of his life, BUT Matthew had an awesome year and his role in Dallas Buyer’s Club was transformational. He’s won a bunch of the early predictors. He is worthy.  

Best Actress

Amy Adams, Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench, Meryl Streep

Cate Blanchett held the screen in Blue Jasmine. She was mesmerizing. I think she clinches. The only other thought  is Judi Dench – always so good, so classy 

Best Supporting Actor

Barkhad Abdi, Bradley Cooper, Michael Fassbender, Jonah Hill, Jared Leto

Abdi is new to acting and held his own against Tom Hanks. He was excellent. BUT Jared Leto as Rayon in Dallas Buyer’s Club was heartbreaking. His soulful eyes acted and he took the part to a new level.  

Best Supporting Actress

Sally Harkins, Jennifer Lawrence, Lupita Nyong’o, Julia Roberts, June Squibb

Jennifer has been Hollywood’s new darling, but newcomer Lupita in 12 Years a Slave gave a wrenching performance. She was pivotal and bared her soul. Very deserving 

Those are the key categories. Place your bets now and go see these Oscar worthy movies and performances. Cinema is life, dreams, and magic.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Poem: Wills

by Joanne Faries


how to answer  lawyer questions on death

we are both alive,breathing,fearsome

yet a DNR lurks

future coma question or worse

who gets what crap

look around and our precious possessions

are nothing
Ray and I just updated our wills, and when you really look at the whole package - who's going to want our measly possessions?  The hard questions were the medical directives in regards to final comfort/pull the plug.  Very scary and yet necessary components of a will. I feel like a grownup.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Book Review: The Tao of Martha

Jen Lancaster is so funny and her latest book The Tao of Martha is a new winner. Jen is constantly seek to improve -from Bitter is the New Black to My Fair Lazy, her humor shines, and now she’s tackling the diva of all house issues – Martha Stewart. Jen plans to organize, bake, cook, and party plan based on Martha’s advice. “Maybe she can go four days without giving herself food poisoning if she follows Martha’s dictates on proper storage. Maybe she can finally rid her workout clothes of meatball stains by using laundry tips…maybe she can discover the key to happiness lies in perfectly arranged cupboards…or maybe not.” (cover blurb) 

The opening line will grab you – “You think Martha Stewart shoves her clutter in a gun cabinet?”   Aaah, Fletch – Jen’s long suffering husband is constantly amused by his wife’s antics and he tends to have cleanup duty. in the Tao of Martha, the reader is engaged in the author’s life and year as she over glitters everything, seeks the perfect pumpkin, and almost forgets Thanksgiving. Meanwhile she is meeting book deadlines, dealing with a very sick dog, and making the perfect toffee.  

There are so many laugh out loud lines in this book. If you want to giggle your way through a book, The Tao of Martha will bring you joy. And Jen Lancaster’s writing blurts from her heart – by the end of the year she can reflect and be glad that “I know where my shoes are and I don’t miss the Drawer of Shame.” (p.332).

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Movie Review Madness: The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men is a fabulous story brought to life on screen with an okay movie. Basically near the end of World War II, a motley collection of American art specialists were given the task of finding and saving tens of thousands of art pieces.  These were priceless items the Nazis had stolen from Jewish families, museums, churches, etc throughout France, Belgium, and Italy. Thanks to a lucky break, this group of men made a connection with a woman (played by Cate Blanchett) who worked for the Nazis (not happily) and kept meticulous records of the art work acquired. All in all, the Monuments Men’s goal was to save and preserve history and a part of humanity. Sadly it took the loss of some lives to do it, and yet the men sacrificed themselves for the sake of art.  

So, that is an incredible and inspiring story. The film is a Hollywood version that glosses over the difficulties. We get a smattering of war and danger, but it’s more about the chase. The movie itself has an all-star cast – George Clooney, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, and more. It’s fun and glib, with snappy dialogue, jokes about Damon’s character and his horrible French, and the group putting together pieces of the puzzle to find the art. They do discover that the Nazis hid huge amounts in salt mines. They seek the famous Ghent altarpiece and basically rush to save it before the Russians hit the town at the end of the war.
The Monuments Men is entertaining, but my guess it’s better to read the book written by Robert Edsel to gain a full appreciation of what transpired. George Clooney looks great in uniform and he gives some inspiring speeches. The pictures at the end of the film of the actual art finds gives one chills.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

UTA Maverick Speaker: Anderson Cooper

Ray and I enjoyed UTA's Maverick Speaker Series presentation with Anderson Cooper. This was rescheduled from the fall, when Anderson had to report on a tsunami. I held my breath this weekend, hoping there would be no disasters in Sochi,Russia. Fortunately for us, Anderson had to brave a cold Monday evening to speak to a warm audience in the College Park Center.

The set-up was a moderated Q&A. Anderson Cooper proved himself charming, lively, sincere, and interesting. He discussed graduating as a poly-sci major - "yeah, what do you do with that?" Basically he grabbed a camera, had a fake press pass, and headed to Burma to begin reporting. He said he went where others didn't want to go - Rwanda, Somalia, etc and reported on world horrors, seeking the stories of the people. He emphasized that deaths are important and one should listen to the survivors.

His career as a journalist from Channel One News to CNN anchor has been ever evolving and he said he wanted to always be learning. He urged students to work hard, hustle, and sacrifice to do the best. There were light moments - he acknowledged that his upbringing wasn't "normal" since his mother was Gloria Vanderbilt, but that also taught him about celebrity and limelight.

Anderson Cooper is a man on the move - striving to bring us stories about the good and bad in humanity.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Book Review: The Invention of Wings

On Sarah’s eleventh birthday in 1803, she is given ownership of a handmaid – ten year old Handful. This starts in motion an excellent novel The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. Over thirty five years, ”both strive for lives of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement, and the uneasy ways of love.” (cover blurb). 

Sarah is never easy with the concept of slavery and her journey beyond Charleston to Philadelphia marks her as an early pioneer in abolition and women’s rights. She dons the Quaker gray cloth and vows to fight alongside her sister for their beliefs.  Handful, a talented seamstress, embraces her mother Charlotte’s story quilt and is emboldened by the blackbird wings – sure she will achieve freedom someday.  

The author has done a lot of research about the early 1800s and the slavery issues, along with women’s rights issues. Her characters are strong women “whose struggles for liberties, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.” (cover blurb). Indeed, I enjoyed the intertwined tales and strong voices. I worried for Handful when she was sent to the Work House. I felt for Sarah as she yearned for love but had to say no to a man she loved. She would not compromise her principles.  

Sue Monk Kidd is a superb writer with a smooth delivery.  P. 3 “We weren’t some special people who lost our magic. We were slave people, and we weren’t going anywhere. It was later I saw what she meant. We could fly all right, but it wasn’t any magic to it.”
Read The Invention of Wings and fly away on a writer’s words.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Poem: Wonder


If snowflakes prioritize landings 

best spot - line a branch with

their friends

icing perfection

dread falling into  mouths

gaped holes, warm tongues

instant death

plunged into pool


ice chill

swirled onto asphalt

pulverized by trucks

converted to dirty slush

lacy free fall


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Poem - Irony

by Joanne Faries -  continuing the Gamekeeper Thumb theme - what the heck - a tribute poem


loose ligament


pain on pressure

this bonnie lass

auld sod in her blood

diagnosed with gamekeeper’s thumb

 winces at thought of wrenched rabbit neck

far from a ski slope

any athletic  endeavor

instead splinted left thumb

testament to folly

leaves doctor perplexed

far from Scotland hunting grounds

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Who Knew? Gamekeeper's Thumb

Starting back in October 2013, I had trouble at work with a binder clip.  At home, pressing a chip clip proved problematic. Very odd. Then at Christmas, I was baking my mom's recipe for mini-pecan pies. Pressing the dough into the pie pans with my thumb was excruciating.

My personal medical mantra is "Wait - it will go away. Ignore it."

Well,  this thumb issue pain did not go away, so I finally went to an orthopedic doctor two weeks ago. He pressed around, moved the joint, and asked if I'd been wringing rabbit's necks. Say what? The diagnosis - Gamekeeper's thumb. It's named after Scottish gamekeepers and their dealings with rabbits and fowl. This is very ironic for me - a person afraid of animals - see my memoir My Zoo World.

Also known as "skier's thumb" - again, ironic considering my upcoming memoir Athletic Antics about my lack of athletic ability. I include a chapter on skiing (or lack thereof).

Per Wikipedia:
Gamekeeper's thumb and skier's thumb are two similar conditions, both of which involve insufficiency of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) of the thumb. The chief difference between these two conditions is that Skier's thumb is generally considered to be an acute condition acquired after a fall or similar abduction injury to the metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint of the thumb, whereas gamekeeper's thumb typically refers to a chronic condition which has developed as a result of repeated episodes of lower-grade hyperabduction over a period of time. Gamekeeper's thumb is more difficult to treat because the UCL has lengthened and become thinner as a result of repeated injury. It is moderately painful compared to similar injuries

The patient will often manifest a weakened ability to grasp objects or perform such tasks as tying shoes and tearing a piece of paper. Other complaints include intense pain experienced upon catching the thumb on an object, such as when reaching into a pants pocket     Yup - I've had that.

It is bizarre and ironic for me to have gamekeeper's thumb. Who knew?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Poem: One of Those Days

One of those days
    by Joanne Faries


normal route, average speed
creeped up, talk radio morning
laughs, no other distractions
rear window
car lights approached rapidly
swerved around, such a rush
to stop at red light
right turns from left lane
passed left, passed right
anxiety arose, not a competitor
today. Admired sunrise

I missed the memo of urgency

Usually my drive to work is very routine. Same speeds, same rhythm. But the other day was crazy. I checked my speedometer. I was going the correct (slightly over limit) speed. I checked the clock - I was right on time to get to work by 8 am. But the world was rushing by - everyone else seemed to be on a Red Bull rush. Ever have one of those days?