Sunday, December 21, 2014


 The neighborhoods are cheerier this time of year. Candles glow, wreaths are lit, twinkly lights abound, and then there are the manger scenes. Some are simplistic. Others have the Wise Men bearing gifts for Baby Jesus, along with a ton of supporters - Santa, Snowmen, the Grinch, Gingerbread Men, Charlie Brown and crew, et al.  Some folks might not approve, but I appreciate the spirit.

It sums up this time of year - Jingle Bells and Jesus
No matter what, we all hope for Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men.

 I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I shall take a short blog break and be back in 2015 with reviews, poems, and assorted writing blather. Take care, everyone.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Countdown II

 Winter Santa kicks up his heels indoors
 This is my little Swedish gal - I got her back in the summer of 1974
 Santa fun on the shelf
Frosty and a Christmas elf

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Favorite Ornament

I have plenty of ornaments gathered from travels, and I enjoy placing them on the tree.  But this (paper) tin soldier made from a toilet paper roll is my favorite. Kevin brought it home a long time ago (he's 33 now). It has stood the test of time, and sums up a lot of Christmas joy.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Book Review: Station Eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a different take on the future. It was named Entertainment Weekly’s top fiction book of the year, and I’m good with that. We meet Arthur Leander, a famous actor, as he has a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, former paparazzi is the EMT who tries to save him, and a child actress Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as her friend and mentor dies. Meanwhile, a horrible flu is breaking out. This is the last night of normalcy.  

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. This nomadic troupe moves between settlements never knowing what they’ll find. Kirsten lives by a tattoo on her arm – a line from Star Trek: Because survival is insufficient.  Unfortunately, the arrival into St. Deborah by the Water finds them battling a new violent prophet. The troupe is tested and friendship, love, and the new order of family proves momentous.  

Cover blurb – Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty….Strange twists of fate connect them (Arthur, Jeevan, Kirsten, and more) all.  A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it. 

This book truly reflects on the people involved. Many still remember how things were and can tell stories -rueful scratching of the head as they think back. I enjoyed Emily St .John Mandel’s characters and the lives portrayed before the flu, and now after.   

p. 32 No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. 

Station Eleven entertains and makes one think. It’s a worthwhile way to end 2014 in the world of fiction.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Countdown

 Penguins guard our door
 Plenty of stockings hung by the chimney with care. My sister made the green one for me a long time ago. It's not easy being green, but Santa can find my stocking!
 Ray's mother made our cheery Christmas table runner
The bar is open and even a bottle gets a Christmas hat

Friday, December 12, 2014

Behind the Scenes - Christmas as discussed at work

Two weeks exactly until Christmas and my guys at work are complaining. It's funny because I'm "one of the guys", thus I get to listen and be amused as they grouse about their significant others. It happens every year. The complaints don't change, and ultimately they have a very nice Christmas.

These guys are generous, but a bit of Scrooge does appear.

Last year, R declared, "I'm putting her on a budget next year. She's going to have to save out of her grocery money or something."  Well, that didn't happen. Thus, this year R says, "She's over budget again. I don't know what she's doing and she claims I'm being a Grinch." 

(There are three kids and a new baby - treats can add up, I'm sure)

As for J.R.  - his wife works outside the home and earns a decent stash of cash. According to him, "I don't know what she does with her money, but she asked me to transfer some to her for Christmas. She's out of control." They have one three year old girl.  "I'm going to put her on a budget."

The B word - budget is invoked and then blows out the window with the north wind.

Aah - Christmas joy.  Are you under control?  Or blowing the budget?

I'm happy to say Ray and I have our house in order - no need to yank on the reindeer reins.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Behind the Scenes for Christmas Prep

 Everyone posts the glamorous side of Christmas on blogs or Facebook. Fantastic decorations and mouthwatering treats.  Well, here's the empty pan hoping to be filled
 Top secret - yes, I cheat and bake the instant cookies. And you know what?  People gobble them down in no time.
 Ray has a new vision for lights.  Here are the outdoor trees in our family room having a test run. You'll be pleased to note that they have remote controls. We can change the show nightly.
 Early Christmas cards are featured on the kitchen counter.  My friend, Linda, made sure I had a "cat with a Christmas sweater" card.
Mini-pecan pies fresh from the oven. I took them to work the next day...all gone!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Rejection Tuesday

Sounds of Italy 
by Joanne Faries

gladiator echo in the Colosseum
ruts of chariot wheels in Pompeii
ancient rumble of carts hauling wares
operatic arias reverberate in Venice
gondolier chatter, tourist camera clicks
shopkeeper patter, rustle of money exchange
Latin chant rolls with the mists surrounding Assisi
slurp of  gelato tongue tingle
shoe shuffle stumble on cobblestones
inner grazie for the life concerto
sigh - rejected as "where's the ebb and flow? " and "too many adjectives"
Oh well.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Review: The Paying Guests

It's 1922 and times are tough in London after the First World War.  "Widowed Mrs. Wray and her daughter, Frances - an unmarried woman with an interesting past, now on her way to becoming a spinster - find themselves obliged to take in tenants." (cover blurb)

Life will never be the same with the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a young modern couple. The change is unsettling with extra footsteps, music, laughter, and a dash of frivolity. Frances is drawn to a new friendship with Lilian, and uncertainty with Leonard. With this comes underlying currents of danger, passion, and drama.

This historical fiction novel has "nail-biting tension, believable characters, twists, and surprises. It's a love story, a crime story, and an atmospheric portrait of a fascinating time and place."  (cover blurb)

Opening chapter - The Barbers had said they would arrive by three. It was like waiting to begin a journey, Frances thought. She and her mother had spent the morning watching the clock, unable to relax

I found The Paying Guests to be an interesting journey - well-written and mannered. I could frown with Frances, sigh with Lilian, and worry about everyone under this one roof. Nothing like opening the door to strangers. Life would truly never be the same.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Movie Review Madness: The Theory of Everything

Science and love are a strange combination for a movie, but in the story of Dr. Stephen Hawking those are the themes.  In the Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne gives a tour de force performance (Oscar worthy) as the brilliant man struck in his prime by ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Holding her own is Felicity Jones, as Jane the precocious student flirting with Hawking, seeing his kindness, and stepping up to admit love and seeking marriage. He is fragile, his brain unlocking new physics theories as his body deteriorates. She is fragile steel, the good woman behind a flawed man. 

Together they strive in the academic world. She gives up a lot, but stays stoic – helping him from canes to wheelchair to motorized chair to a computer voiced machine. He can continue his work, the brain unraveling theories about time – forward, backward, black holes, big bang theory, and the element of God. The director does a good job of showing Hawking’s work and discoveries without getting bogged down into too much deep material. We grasp the import without sitting through a lecture. We also see the love and struggles by Jane as she seeks help for Stephen and in raising their three kids.  

The caretaker issue is a tricky one navigated by many. Jealousy can arise, lost hopes and dreams of normalcy cause frustration, and it certainly tests a marriage. Watch the film to see what I mean. I don’t want to give away more.  

Needless to say, Stephen Hawking condemned to a two year death sentence in 1963 is still alive at age 70+ . His spirit and brilliance have inspired many, and advanced science. The Theory of Everything brings his and Jane’s story to a wider audience.  Love and science – a unique combination and worthy tale.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Book Review: The Secret Place by Tana French

I Know Who Killed Him – that card with a picture of Chris Harper kicks off The Secret Place by Tana French.  The secret place is a bulletin board where the girls of St. Kilda’s school can pin anonymous notes. Detective Stephen Moran is handed the card by Holly Mackay, a student, and a lagging investigation kicks back into gear. Moran hopes to show his skills and get into Dublin’s Murder Squad. Detective Antoinette Conway hopes to redeem herself. Holly’s father, Detective Frank Mackay, circles to protect his daughter.  Conway and Moran must penetrate a close-knit group of teenage girls. Tough crowd.  

Tana French’s writing is sublime and the Irish setting adds a fresh flavor to the genre. In describing the Court, a mall, and the kids – They always act like they’re having an amazing time, they’re louder and high pitched. ..Their faces on the way home afterwards look older and strained, smeared with the scraps of leftover expressions that were pressed on too hard and won’t lift away. (p. 41) 

p. 48 Detective Moran at the school – The air felt full and glossy, felt high, felt shot through with the sun at mad-dash angles; sun swirling along the bannisters like water….lifting me, catching me everywhere and rising.  

p. 431  Moran again – All I could find was the look on Holly’s face and Julia’s, watching the last shadow of something craved and lost; the distant blue of Selena’s eyes, watching things I couldn’t see; Rebecca’s laugh, too clear to be human. The car was cold.
I liked the book’s structure. We’d go back to when Chris was alive and see the interactions of the teens from different perspectives. Then French brings us to present day questioning – Holly’s group versus the Joanne mean girls group. So many little picky moments. She captures the true horror of that age, when girls are figuring out friendships, loyalties and life. I personally did not immediately guess who killed Chris Harper. I just went with the flow of the book, until author Tana French got us to That Secret Place.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Movie Review Madness: Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is a place setting movie. Ever since Hollywood figured out there were big bucks to be made from splitting  finales into two parts, the game is on, and it works. They get my money. I’ve read the series by Suzanne Collins, and I do recommend the books. It’s not too late. You get more of the descriptions of despair and fuller characterizations. But if you are only watching the films, then be sure to watch this Part 1. The first Hunger Games gave us Katniss and Peta as wily competitors from District 12. Catching Fire had the two playing the game better with heightened stakes. By the end, District 12 has been destroyed and Katniss is the model for the growing revolution.   

Now, Katniss has been pulled out from under President Snow’s nose. Hiding in the once rumored ruined District 13, Katniss worries about Peta’s status captured in the Capitol. He’s transmitting a message of forgiveness under duress. Katniss does not believe he turned into one of “them”. She’s torn between Gael and Peta. She misses Cinna. She’s unsure of her message as the mockingjay. The district president, played by Julianne Moore, is wise and wants Katniss to recognize her potential as a leader. As Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) ventures out on missions, sees the destruction and poverty, her stoic demeanor cracks and she vows to do what she can.  

There are a lot of quiet moments in Mockingjay, but the tense undercurrent heightens the urgency of the situation. As the propaganda machines heat up and Katniss is showered in white tulips, she knows her battle with President Snow is for the sake of the world. Jennifer Lawrence just keeps getting better as an actress – she can look so sad and forlorn, and then kick butt. Donald Sutherland is suitably sinister. Liam Hemsworth, as Gael, is loyal to the revolution and fights hard for Katniss’s heart. Josh Hutcherson, as Peta, is soulful and tortured. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman, as Plutarch, is plucky (his performance makes us sad to know he’s gone).  And Woody Harrelson is a hoot as a regrettably sober Hammish.  

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 makes us hungry for the true finale. It’s well filmed, has plenty of action, and gives us fear, sorrow, worry, and some humor. Raise your three fingers, and give the soulful mockingjay whistle. Katniss needs rebels on her side.

Monday, December 1, 2014

December - Full of Christmas Cheer

No, this is not my Christmas tree.  Look for this one at the Galleria shopping mall in Dallas. Very lovely mall, and you can ice skate around the tree.  Not quite Rockefeller Center, but a tad cheaper and it is indoors.

So, let's kick off Christmas full of good cheer (and maybe still a bit stuffed from Thanksgiving).
We're going to have a fun month.   No Scrooges allowed