Friday, October 18, 2019

Book Review - The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy

The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy was written in 1972 and it’s a timely read. My book club suggested it and the late Pat Conroy never disappointed. His humor and smooth talking Southern voice drawls from the pages as you turn them. He’s a sharp writer and deft with descriptions and the human narrative. I dare you to read this book and not be touched by his true story.

Cover blurb: The island is nearly deserted, haunting, beautiful. Across a slip of ocean lies South Carolina. But for the handful of families on Yamacraw Island, America is a world away.

Currently, their school has no teacher and looks to the mainland for “volunteers” to give a year of life to live on the island and try to teach these “heathen black kids”. Pat Conroy chooses his calling and climbs aboard the small boat that ferries him to the island. Here’s this white man who’s consciously moved from southern prejudice to teach black kids the ABCs. He’s appalled at what they don’t know. He’s appalled that the members of the school board have given up on these kids. He’s especially appalled at the one black woman who looks down her nose the most at these poor youth.

Oh, it’s a struggle and you will laugh out loud at how he describes some situations. He’s dealing with a lot of traditions, a lot of fears, and he learns quickly who he needs to get on his side (an elder grandmother holds the key). With some acceptance, he can arrange a field trip to the mainland for the kids to experience Halloween. This is a whole new world and requires shoes for some kids.
The poverty is immense. The lack of proper learning is a huge gap. The Water is Wide indeed. But by the end of the book, it looks like Pat Conroy has learned the most, and  gained the respect and touched the lives of kids. Neither party will ever be the same. It’s quite an eye opening education and book to read.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Book Review - A Gentleman's Murder by Christopher Huang

A Gentleman’s Murder by Christopher Huang is an old school mystery set in 1924.  Think wafts of Christie, Chandler, Ellery Queen.  Classy setting in the Britannia Club, but poor Benson’s found dead after a bet. Everyone in the club could be guilty – all are connected fresh from WWI battles and Flanders Field. Many healed at the Sotheby Estate/ war hospital. Some frequented the dens of Limehouse (morphine addiction – not uncommon).

Lieutenant Eric Peterkin (of the Peterkin nobility) has his work cut out for him – his esteemed father and forebears set standards for the club. However, his father did marry a Chinese woman and Eric’s Asian features cannot be disguised. He’s a club member due to history, but his brash youth could be his downfall. He’s an editor of mystery books for a publishing house and can name every plot twist possible. But…there are a lot of unexplained twists and turns to this tale. How is Benson connected to Emily Ang? What of Mrs. Benson – Asian descent? Former nurse at the hospital? Who was last seen with Emily and was it her body found in Bruten Woods? Who took a shot at Eric while he walked home from the club with Mortimer Wolfe? What’s the scoop on the policeman – Patchett?

Huang slowly spools out clues and the nice thing about 1924 – no cell phones, no instant photos. Eric has to do old fashioned foot work, get papers from the library, and actually call on the genteel members at proper visiting hours. There is a certain decorum to these things, after all. A Gentleman’s Murder is a delight to read curled up in a cozy chair with a spot of tea. Hopefully, the fog swirls outside your window, and then finally lifts to reveal the finale. Cheers!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Monday Moments

 Sunday was spectacular at the Dallas Arboretum. Perfect blue October skies, crispness in the air, and pumpkins. Glorious amounts of orange abounded.  Linda considered getting garden advice from Lucy.
 Linda T. and I enjoyed it all
 Plenty of crowds but everyone behaved in the Peanuts pumpkin patch
Lovely sculptures tucked among colors and pumpkins

Happy Monday!

Friday, October 11, 2019

Book Review - Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

It's been awhile since I've done a book review. I've got a stack of books, but too lazy to write down my thoughts. Here's one from the summer that proved to be a good poolside read.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton begins with a family picnic on a farm in the English countryside.  Laurel, age sixteen, witnesses a crime of murder and cover up and her mother, Dorothy, is the killer. Now, fifty years later, it's Dorothy's 90th birthday and Laurel and her sisters are gathering to celebrate.

Still curious as to what occurred that awful day in the past, Laurel searches for answers.

Back blurb - Clue by clue, she traces a secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds thrown together in war torn London (circa 1940s) - Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy - whose lives are forever after entwined.  A gripping story of deception and passion, The Secret Keeper will you enthralled until the last page. 

Indeed, this is a jolly good read and Morton keeps you turning pages. The clues were not obvious as the why? and the backdrop of WWII is always a heart breaker. Deep secrets and intriguing mystery - worth checking out.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Wednesday - Birthday Week, The State Fair, and Fall

Birthday Tuesday October 8th. Yep - getting older.  But wiser. I knew I didn't want to go to work. Neither did Ray on J Day.  So we put in for vacation and headed to the Great State Fair of Texas. 

Go big or go home - that's the TX motto and I love this fair. It's truly bigger, bolder, better, badder, than any one on the planet.   We started with the very cool chainsaw carver. The man is amazing with a design in 30 minutes.

Then there are art sculptures, a fake Big Tex (and little me), an exhibit at the Hall of State about Texas Cinema - yes, we had to pose with ol' Hank Hill.

Throw in a bird show, creative arts building, auto show, huge Ferris Wheel, Fletcher's Corny Dogs, Dairy/Ag building, music, stunt bike/skateboard/scooter show, and stunt dogs. Whew!

And for a fried finale - the Fla-Mango - 2019 award winning dessert.  Mango deep fried in a light batter with a side of mango/berry sorbet, and a dollop of whipped cream.

9 hours. Over 10K steps. Calories - hey, it's my birthday - who's counting?  Gosh, I love fall and October.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Monday Moments - Finally Fall

 Sunday - record high of 97. Very warm September, serious drought conditions, and no end in sight.
 Then, last night the wind shifted, we got a trace of rain, and temperatures plummeted.
 I awoke this Monday to 65.  Delightful
 And our project Saturday was kicking October into gear with pumpkin heads.  The pop of orange gives me a fall fabulous feeling.
Just don't walk into the spider web out back.

We have the spirit, and now with fresh cooler air, a kick in the step. Have a good Monday and week.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Movie Review Madness - Judy

I grew up in a very Judy Garland household. My folks loved her - dad had the albums, they had seen her in concert, etc.  Thus, when my father heard Renee Zellweger was playing Judy Garland in a film called Judy, he was askance. Renee, with squinty eyes, playing Judy....outrage!

Reviews and praise have been high for Judy and Renee, so I had to go see it, admittedly with bias. I'm giving it a B-.  The movie portrays Judy Garland on her last legs - a London show run. She needs money, she wants her kids back (Lorna and Joey Luft), she's living on pills and booze.

She's got a handler in London, a young lady who's job it is to prop Judy up and get her on the stage. Renee does a very good job with Judy Garland mannerisms and tics. Renee can sing decently but lacks that extra tremulous tone. And yes, she has squinty eyes. The film has some flashback scenes showing a young Judy Garland stuck in the Louis B. Mayer studio system. She's considered "fat" and they give her pills to curb appetite, then pills to help her sleep. The poor kid was put in a cycle of destruction. But that voice....that voice brought in the bucks.

Judy is well done enough and kudos to Renee for giving it her all. It's a small "artsy" film. I'm glad I saw it and could discuss it with my Dad. Then I played "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in tribute.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Wordless Wednesday (Almost)

 Ray on the final day of baseball at Globe Life Park
 Nice farewell ceremonies

 Sunday game time 2:05 pm and temp of 94 degrees or so.   Damn freakin' hot for us in the upper upper deck (2 rows from shade). Whew!  It's not supposed to be that hot at the end of September
 So while some folks lament the loss of a lovely 25 year old ball park, I'm excited. See that metal work in the distance. Amen and Hallelujah - new Globe Life Field will have a retractable roof and air conditioning.
Oh and we got free T-shirts.  This is me with Esperanza. Her husband had our free tickets.
Very nice!

Free still equals over $50 -   parking, food, one beer, one soda, water, and yes, more water.

Fun day farewell. (and the Texas Rangers beat the dreaded Yankees. But we kinda stink and are not in the playoffs)

Monday, September 30, 2019

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less by Andrew Sean Greer is rather funny in a low key manner. I had never heard of the book – it won a Pulitzer for goodness sake – but it came up as an Amazon selection for me. Hey – Jeff Bezos must know me well by now – kinda creepy, but Amazon and Netflix control my life. (You know what I mean).

So anyway – Arthur Less is turning fifty. He’s a failed novelist invited to a wedding of an old (former flame) friend and just can’t face it. What to do? He has his pride so he manages to accept speaking engagements from around the world to various literary events. He can coast on the fame of his one book and his brush with fame with older authors. Mexico, Italy, Germany, Morocco, India, and Japan – enjoy Arthur’s adventures. What could go wrong?

Back blurb – Less is a love story, a satire of the American abroad, a rumination on time and the human heart.

p. 132 He admits to himself at last: It is indeed, the money. If course it is the money. And his brain suddenly decides it is not ready, after all, for fifty.

p. 162  Flight from France to Morocco – lands.  The French, so stately at home, seem instantly to lose their minds on the soil of their former colony. They ignore the line, removing ropes from the carefully ordered stanchions, and become a mob charging into Marrakech.

I wasn’t convinced at first if I liked Arthur – so unsure, rather weak. I did not have a good grasp of this man holding on to his youth. But by the end of Less, I wanted more. The author did a grand job.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Book Review - Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers is a master writer and with Zeitoun, he brings the harrowing hell of Hurricane Katrina into focus, as he writes about Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun. These hard working, high achieving folks in New Orleans are caught in two disasters – the war on terror and the response to Hurricane Katrina. This non-fiction book reads like an adventure tale, and you root for these folks to come through quite a storm.

Zeitoun (he goes by his last name) is from Syria, a citizen of the USA living in New Orleans with his American wife, Kathy. They run a Painting Contractor business and have a lot of jobs and responsibilities throughout the city. They monitor the storm news on Katrina with growing concern. She finally decides to take the kids and head to family in Baton Rouge. Zeitoun chooses to stay to take of the house and properties. He’s adept at prep work, hauling things to upper floors, nailing up boards, etc. How bad could it be?

As we know, Katrina was a monster. It hit fiercely and then worse as levees broke. People were trapped, and chaos slowly built. Zeitoun had a kayak and used it to row through the flooded streets. He helped folks or made note of their location, so larger police boats could do rescues. Everything seemed okay and while scared, people were working together. And then another level of trouble began as a bad element entered to steal. In the confusion, at his own home, he’s dragged up and hauled to a makeshift prison. He’s put with other Muslims, equally as confused as to their status and why they are under arrest. No phone calls to his wife or to a lawyer. Meanwhile, Kathy is frantic – trying to find out if he’s alive, and what’s going on.

Trust me, as you read Zeitoun, you’ll feel outrage, concern, and many other levels of emotion at the full story of this man’s life during the Katrina hurricane and aftermath. Dave Eggers does an excellent job in telling this tale, and you’ll be impressed by our hero and his wife. His calm in crisis, his faith in America, his strong spirit, and his brother back in Syria who refused to lose him in the system, are all factors in making this a must read.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Wordless (almost) Wednesday - Music Soothes the Savage Beasts

A few Saturdays ago, Ray and I attended the Fort Worth Symphony Family Series. I love it - 11 am, one hour, and a cool theme. Very reasonably priced. The place is sold out and families with kids are excited - often first time for symphonic music.

This theme was Carnival of the Animals. It opened with William Tell Overture (the gallop), then Flight of the Bumblebees, On the Trail from Grand Canyon Suite, Old MacDonald, and then a musical set to animal poems by Ogden Nash.  Finale - Lion King tunes. There was a featured youth ballet troupe with animal costumes - leaping,  prancing, etc. Quite clever.

Keep your eye out for programs by your local symphony geared for the family. Your heart will soar as the instruments play.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Movie Review - Downton Abbey

 Downton Abbey - the movie was an "event".  My friend, Linda T, coordinated a group of ladies for movie and luncheon on Sunday. Delightful, splendid, and fun.

The movie was like visiting old friends.  As Time magazine wrote (9/30/19 issue) - It's a featherweight delight, like the prettiest pink-and-white cake on the tea tray."

The familiar music swells. The soaring views of the mansion. Servants running about answering bells, attending to the family, and living their lives. It's 1927 and the King and Queen are on a tour in Yorkshire and intend to stop for one night at Downton Abbey.  Everyone's in a dither. In two hours, we see wee stories of all of our favorite folks as they contend with the royal contingent. And of course, Lady Mary calls upon Carson to come bring his gravitas to the occasion.

Ruffled feathers, sharp quips and retorts from the indomitable Countess (Maggie Smith - to me, acting royalty of the highest sort). Yes, the creator and writer, Julian Fellowes checks off each box as we visit and bask in the time spent with these familiar friends. And our time spent is reassuring. It's a glimpse into the monied class, but also the effect it has on the local economy and town. It's a point of pride to work  at Downton Abbey. It's a huge honor to have the King and Queen visit.

And yet times keep changing - will this way of life continue? 1927 - now 2019...contemplate history, contemplate royalty, contemplate tradition.

and contemplate these cookies below.  Two friends brought these from a neighbor with a side baking company.
Downton Abbey - a show, a movie,  an event to bring folks together.

Friday, September 20, 2019

NPH - author, singer, dancer, actor, magician

Super fun author night at UTA.  Ray and I attended an event featuring Neil Patrick Harris. He was promoting his third book in a series. It's geared for middle school age, so there were lots of families in the audience. Half Price Books was the sponsor, and the PR person did a great job with the author interview.

This man is multi-talented and engaging. He was warm,  funny, and spoke to the kids in the audience. He promoted reading, and encouraged kids to put yourself out there. Everyone is a misfit of some sort. You just have to plug along. He talked about growing up in New Mexico, being an actor. He did voices from Lemony Snicket (all of his roles on the Netflix series). He briefly discussed Broadway (Hedwig!), and Wait for it.....Barney on How I Met Your Mother.  He's also a keen fan of magic, and he's a family man. He and his husband have twins. 

All in all, it was a very fun,  interesting hour, and I left even more impressed with Neil Patrick Harris.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Wordless (Almost) Wednesday - More Dior

 Marilyn Monroe in Christian Dior
 A breathtaking gallery of gowns worn by some famous folk - Rhianna, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lawrence, and Marlene Dietrich.
Need something to wear to a picnic?   ha!

Nifty exhibit - fantasy clothes and prices.  But sooner or later - haute couture design makes its way in many iterations to the racks of Wal-mart. Color, buttons, wide belt, or skinny - as we learned in the movie  "The Devil Wears Prada", it may seem silly but then it comes to the masses.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Movie Review Madness - Hustlers

Oh Baby. I've always liked Jennifer Lopez and she is beyond Jenny on the Block in this movie. She OWNS the freaking block - Manhattan, Wall Street - at night, when men are looking for some fun/trouble.

Hustlers is based on a real story and it's hot. It's gritty, female empowerment, working hard for the money, and it's entertaining. Destiny (Constance Wu) is caring for her grandmother and trying to make a living. She's dancing at a club and as the new girl is aced out of the big bucks.

Fortunately, she plays it smart and gets in good with Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). Ramona is a star - she's rolling in the dough and sees potential in Destiny, takes her under wing, and teaches her how to dance and play these Wall Street fools. It's all business. The hustle at the club is grand until 2008 and Wall Street explodes. The economy busts and times are hard. We see it all.

Then after a few years, a child for Destiny - she reunites with Ramona. New opportunity. New and old contacts to hustle, and Ramona has it figured out. Here's where it's dicey - drugging the guys, maxing their credit cards...hey, no one squeals because who wants to be out-hustled by some strippers? Until....

This is a slick, entertaining movie with good acting, a solid story, and it's not a stripper with hearts of gold. It's a bit down and dirty. Thumbs up. This is J-Lo at the top of her game. Don't laugh. She's darn good. And as Ramona says, "This world is like a strip club. There's always someone throwing money, and someone dancing."   Think about it!    Hustlers!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Movie Review Madness - Blinded by the Light

Blinded by the Light is lightly based on a true story, and is a glorious little film with a great soundtrack. 

1987 England. Times are tough and especially for immigrant citizens. Javed (Viveik Kalra) is sixteen, Pakistani born, and chafing at the bit. Any money he earns must be turned over to his father. Any decisions are made by his father (Kulvinder Ghir). Javed is talented at writing and wants to go to university for writing. Let's see - that's a big NO.

Basically he wants to change "his clothes, his hair, his face". The lyrics of Bruce Springsteen strike at his very soul. He's given a Born to Run tape by a friend and Javed's life changes. He becomes rebellious. A teacher, Ms.Clay (Hayley Atwell),  encourages his poetry and writing. Javed likes Eliza, a white English girl, and he does sneak around to see her. He's Down by the River, Dancing in the Dark, Born to Run, etc.

Meanwhile, friendships change, but Matt's still a backbone from when they were young lads. The film shows the hardships of the times and the immigrant experience. It also shows a timeless theme - a young man yearning to break free and find himself.

Blinded by the Light was a really good small film. I loved the kid playing Javed - his soulful eyes, so innocent and smart. I was quite pleased with his journey and the outcome of the flick. And I loved the Bruce Springsteen tunes - American and yet connecting across the pond.  Go ahead - turn it up. Baby, you were born to run!

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

September 11th

September 11, 2001   A day I shall never forget and so many of us will not.

But just think - 9/11/19 - kids are turning 18 years old.  Obviously they get to celebrate their birthday - dinner out, presents, cake.  Is there a shadow that looms?  What do they know of their birth date? Do they care?

What is taught in the schools?  Do we have any lessons learned? 

I just know that for me, the date brings a pause...a slight stutter step if I type the date at work.
If I watch a documentary of some sort or the news and the brief tributes on 9/11, I will cry.
I have not been to the National Memorial in NYC, but I understand it is quite well done and rather haunting.

September 11, 2001    There just really are no words

Monday, September 9, 2019

Monday Moments

A Monday moment after a Sunday at the Dallas Museum of Art. The featured exhibit is Dior: From Paris to the World. 

This is a wow showing of haute couture. Christian Dior founded his fashion house in 1947 and brought an elegance to a world still reeling from war. He died in 1957, but his work lived on  with designers appointed to continue his vision - Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferre, John Galliano, Raf Simons, and now Maria Grazia Chiuri. All stayed true to the Dior image and legacy "to make women happier and more beautiful.

Yes, there are some crazy designs, but the structure, detail, and seamstress skill is astounding.

Really cool exhibit.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Book Review - The New Girl by Daniel Silva

The New Girl by Daniel Silva is another in his long line of Gabriel Allon international thrillers.  Gabriel never disappoints – Israeli spy extraordinaire, devoted family man, skilled art restorer, and  famous for his emerald green eyes.

This time he’s called by Khalid bin Mohammed, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia – a man celebrated  for some  reforms and reviled for his role in the murder of a journalist. Now his only daughter is missing from an exclusive Swiss boarding school. While Gabriel has fought terrorists, jihadists, and regards Khalid as a flawed leader, he respects Khalid’s love for his daughter.  The stakes are high and this is far more than a kidnapping.  Gabriel will fight any in the secret war for control of the Middle East.

From the back blurb – Both men have made their share of enemies. And both have everything to lose.

Daniel Silva knows how to write a page turner – a book with strong characters, ripped from the headlines plot lines, and a solid knowledge of the Middle East and  politics. Silva has done research and analysis of issues.  At times his books are almost too ahead of the news cycle – it’s rather scary.  But, as a reader, we count on Gabriel Allon and his  wily crew  of Israeli spies to save the day. The New Girl  is a work of fiction and an entertaining read.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Movie Review - Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein was a popular book a few years ago. It had a very zen flow and was different – the narrator,  Enzo, was a dog. It was tough to imagine the book translating to the big screen, but now it’s in theaters. I’ve read mixed reviews,  but I enjoyed the film and yes,  I had to sniff at certain moments. So bring your tissues.

Denny (the charming and sensitive Milo Ventimiglia) is a lower rank race car driver. He stops one day at a farm and picks out a puppy he names Enzo. It was like a calling, a fated stop.  Enzo is voiced by Kevin Costner and he’s a wonderful  narrator. His gravelly voice gives a lot of personality and spark  to Enzo’s character – Denny’s spiritual guide in life. Denny meets and marries Eve (Amanda Seyfried – always the perfect wide-eyed sweet partner in movies). They have Zoe and that’s where Enzo is sold on this whole family thing.

Of course, Eve’s folks are rich (and rather smarmy mean). Of course there’s a medical drama.  Of course there’s family drama. The movie  does hit solid plot points that aren’t surprises. Yet, it’s decently acted and I cared.  I rooted for Denny to move up in the race world and show Eve’s parents he’s worthy. Through it all, the glue is Enzo – his observations, his concerns, his view of the world – of time, death, relationships, love,  etc. The book is better, but the movie The Art of Racing in the Rain made for a decent matinee and will  be a good family Netflix pick for you soon.  I’ll  give it four barks out of five.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Thirty Years

Today, September 1, 2019 is our 30th wedding anniversary. It's also the opening day of dove season. Yes,  I got flowers (so pretty) and Ray went dove hunting. It's a successful marriage.  We had a wonderful anniversary lunch on Friday at Chef Point - I'm talking gourmet, melt-in-the mouth food. And we shared dessert - key lime pie. I'm good for 30 more years.

Just hard to fathom - the time has gone by fast. We met and did not text all day. We talked in the morning. We talked at night. On a land line. I created mix tapes for him. Then moved to CDs.
We'd go to Blockbuster together and pick out  a movie to watch.

We laugh. We love to travel together. And he's still a darn good cook - those sour cream chicken enchiladas are to die for. And we can just sit in the same room and breathe. Well..yeah, then I have to talk, and yeah he nods at the right time and says, "hmm, okay." 

Lots of teensy moments that add up to the real deal.  So, happy anniversary Ray. Thanks for putting up with me for 30 years and vice versa. Have fun hunting...just don't bring home any victories.

Seriously - I'm good with just looking at my flowers.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Book Review - Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

from the cover blurb -
Let me tell you about our brother. The fourth Dunbar boy named Clay. Everything happened to him. We were all of us changed through him. 

This is a story told inside out and back to front.

The Dunbar boys were wild - all five lived in the moment, fought among themselves, fought anyone who challenged them, and lived by their own rules. Their sainted mother had passed and their father walked out on them. They survived.

And now - Clay. He's quiet, has secrets, is the smartest, fastest, and yearns for more.

He builds a bridge - to and for family, for the past, for greatness, for  sins. He builds literally and figuratively. The father is back. Does anyone forgive?

This was a challenging book to read. I had to get into the rhythm of the back to past, and the hints of the future. I really liked Clay and he kept me connected and interested.