About Me

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Recent retiree--35 year's experience teaching reading, English, adult basic education and volunteer leadership skills. Started this blog to exchange ideas and commentary with friends and others having an interest in joining the discussions. Greatest life accomplishments include: 1.organized my 3rd grade class to check out library books for me to get around librarian's weekly limit--Amazon.com, the Mullins Elementary 3rd Grade Class of 1956 is still waiting for "thank you" notes; 2. volunteered in the Peace Corps, island of St. Kitts, West Indies; 3.taught adults to read, earn their GEDs., and speak English as a second language; 4. bought a border collie puppy for $6, got evicted rather than give him up, and began a life-long love affair with all things "Dog"; 5. joined a physical fitness boot camp in my mid-50s--don't mess with someone who's been doing regulation pushups in wet grass at 5:30 a.m.; 6. walked across Northern England with best friend Sally--over 80 miles from the Irish to North Seas; and 7. travelled to many foreign countries for pleasure and work.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fun Monday -- Springtime in Kentucky

Springtime is the topic for this week's Fun Monday. Janis, our host from Life According to Jan and Jer , would like us to share some photos of whatever represents spring to us personally. Spring arrives for me when I catch the first glimpses of redbuds and dogwoods in the landscape. And when I drive through the Bluegrass region of Kentucky and see thoroughbred mares and colts frolicking behind the traditional brown and white fences around our many horse farms.

The photography in this post is the work of James Archambeault who specializes in capturing the natural beauty of all parts of Kentucky. He also photographs cityscapes, events, rural scenery, and historic sites for which Kentucky is known--Louisville Slugger Baseball Museum, Mail Pouch barns, Kentucky Derby. I send these photographs on postcards to people all over the world through the Postcard Crossings Project.

Redbuds and Dogwoods -- for as long as I can remember these two trees were the harbingers of spring to me. I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains and had the view of these beautiful hills in front of me all the time. Starting in March I looked for the first flashes of dark pink and white of dogwoods and redbuds blooming as the hazy soft green spring growth could be seen over the mountains. This old farm on a rural road would be a typical sight in April:

Once spring broke, my father and I used to hike the mountains looking for redbud and dogwood. We also looked for may apple and blue-eyed mary, a viola-like wild flower that bloomed alongside the may apple. This is what you would see in Kentucky's many state parks as well:

Thoroughbred Horse Farms -- beginning in January and going on through the spring many thoroughbred colts are born to mares in the central part of Kentucky, the Bluegrass region around Lexington. Kentucky is known for its state of the art horse farms where future racers are bred and raised for competition all over the world. In the spring you drive past horse farm pastures bounded by miles of brown and white fencing and, if you're lucky, see a young colt hanging close by its mother's side:

Or, mare and foal may frolic joyfully in the spring air:

The colts are especially endearing with those long, skinny legs and short, stubby tails. Just a promise of the speed and power you'll see at the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.

So Janis, whenever I think springtime in Kentucky, it's all about blooming redbuds, dogwoods, and thoroughbred horses. Be sure to go to Janis' places for the links to other Fun Monday springtimes.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ballymaloe Cookery School & Garden - County Cork, Ireland

So many Irish gardens to share, so little time left in March when we're still in an Irish frame of mind. We're still on the gardening tour in 1998 and still in County Cork, southern Ireland. After leaving Brian Cross' Lakemount, we headed into the country to check out the Ballymaloe Cookery School and Gardens near the picturesque seaside fishing village of Ballycotton.

Before going to Ireland I knew about Darina Allen--chef, cookbook author, gardener and director of the Ballymaloe Cookery School. I had seen her on television and read articles about her efforts to get people to eat seasonally, locally, and organically. What I remembered mostly was her enthusiasm for the simple foods of Ireland--starting with home gardens, local farms and farmer's markets and fresh seafood from the waters near Ballycotton. In her cookery school students first go to the gardens and orchards on the school grounds and to local farms for dairy and meats before even getting in the kitchen.

I'm having a hard time organizing this post because there are the school and the gardens and Darina to discuss, so I'll just let you follow the tour that we took. Darina was waiting for us outside the cookery school student quarters on a rainy Irish morning when the tour bus pulled up. Thankfully, it wasn't raining hard enough to keep us out of the garden. I loved the rosy red brick of the student quarters and the bright primary colors of the room where students gathered to watch demonstrations of specific cooking techniques and recipes. Note the overhead mirror so everyone had a great view of the prep area.

Next, Darina led our small group of gardening enthusiasts(about 15 ppl from all over the U.S.) through a series of garden rooms--vegetable, herb, flower borders, soft fruits, orchards. Each "room" was enclosed by tall, precisely trimmed beech hedges.

The first "room" that we entered was this formal herb garden. The garden was planted with all manner of culinary and medicinal plants. The herbs were enclosed by low box-edged beds laid out in geometric shapes. Gravel paths allowed you to get close enough to savor the fragrant scents and textures of the herbs. Each plant was identified to make it easier for the cookery students to find the exact herb that they needed for a particular dish:

Next stop on the tour was the vegetable garden, planted as a potager or French style garden on a strict geometric pattern. This garden contained many exotic vegetables that I had never seen growing--globe artichoke, fennel and all manner of salad greens like arugula and rocket. The vegetables were arranged as precisely as a bed of tulips--and just as beautiful. The vegetable garden had several structures, a gazebo seating area and the tower for growing climbing plants like the purple hyacinth bean. Darina is in the red coat in these photos:

Everything at Ballymaloe is grown organically which is why you see netting protecting many of the beds. And I can't believe we're this far along on the tour without giving you a glimpse of the resident garden pooch. Meet Buddy sitting in a bed of rocket salad greens. I hate to nitpick, but if you look closely the rocket has some damaged leaves. Buddy must not be trained in insect control. . .

After leaving the vegetable garden we went outside the hedge walls to enjoy the long flower border. One end of the border was anchored by the Shell House, a fantastic work of art by artist Blot Kerr-Wilson in 1995. The Shell House is special because the work was commissioned by Darina's husband Tim Allen for Darina using sea shells collected on the Celtic Sea beaches near their home. The floor of the house features traditional Celtic symbols created with the shells:

And now we get to the high point of the tour. After seeing the gardens and orchards we followed Darina back to the cookery school kitchen where she showed us how to make some traditional Irish dishes using the fresh ingredients from the estate gardens. First Darina made Irish Soda Bread which is simplicity in a loaf: flour, buttermilk, butter leavened with baking soda. The soft dough is turned out on a floured board

and shaped into loaves with the traditional X cut in the top of the loaf. I also got a first lesson in making scones. Herbs were added to the same dough and then the dough was cut out in diamond shaped rolls, brushed with butter and sprinkled with more herbs before baking. We had these warm with a knob of yellow Irish butter--heavenly! Darina also made a sweet version of the bread by adding raisins and currants. Aptly named Spotted Dog:

Next we got to the main course--Irish Colcannon. Darina boiled Irish potatoes, called"red roosters" and then lightly steamed some fresh shredded cabbage. Next she mashed the potatoes with some Irish cream and butter. The mashed potatoes and cabbage were gently combined and then spooned out in individual bowls, topped with another knob of butter and a sprinkle of fresh chives. Darina also prepared Irish bacon to eat with the colcannon. Irish bacon is meatier--more like our ham or Canadian bacon--because it comes from the back of the pig, not the belly.

Since learning to make colcannon, I enjoy it regularly, not just on St. Patrick's Day. It's comfort food at its best. Perhaps the Irish equivalent of mac 'n cheese?

We ate this delicious meal in the Ballymaloe student kitchen. Then back on the bus for a rainy drive--and maybe a wee nap--around part of the Ring of Kerry to our next stop Bantry Bay and Illnacullin, a magnificent Italian garden that could only be reached only by a boat ride across the choppy Bantry Bay. Come back in a few days for yet another unique kind of Irish gardening.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Fun Monday -- Reality doesn't Bite

Our host for this week's Fun Monday is the DIY Queen Sayre over at Sayre Smiles . Today she's handing out DIY fantasies, allowing us to live any way we want--what would our home look like? where would it be? who would we share it with? how would we spend our time? Well Sayre, at my age things are pretty good as they are. However, since it's not good to pass up a fantasy at any age, here's a couple of changes I'd make:

I've lived in a little white frame house built in the late 50s for the past 25 years. It is a functional but not very soul satisfying place. The house is on Summit Court, a little cul de sac where the neighbors go about their own business but can be counted on in emergencies like when we have a storm or need a dog sitter.

The house sits on a corner lot which means there's entirely too much lawn to mow. Over the years I've let what was once a very nicely landscaped lot with good trees, shrubs and flower beds get away from me. Now, with spring just coming on, I am dreading the months of mowing and weeding while still not having a place that's pleasant for outdoor living. So, with Sayre's permission, I got on the Internet and found this little jewel of an English cottage. Love the house color, small size, the paned windows and entrance with personality plus. And then there's the ivy covered walls around the yard and lovely shade trees. I'm also imagining that there will be a pleasant porch in the back of the house where Willie and I can sit and read while looking out over a small flowering garden.

When you step in the front door of my English cottage, this is what you'll see for my living space. It will be one huge room filled with low tech but functional appliances and old-fashioned furniture in sunny colors. My current home is broken up into many rooms which is a great waste of space since it's only Willie and me living here. We prefer to hang together in the office/hidey hole so most of the house doesn't get used--or get a lot of attention. My decorating style is pared down with lots of earth toned colors. The places doesn't say much about my personality. In the past I've lived in small one-room spaces and I do love having everything right around me. Too many rooms are just a burden to keep up when I'd rather be doing other things.

What would we be doing in our fantasy life? This is where reality doesn't bite. I have a good retired life. I enjoy spending my days chatting with you through our blogs, watching good films, reading, visiting with close friends, learning new things--right now it's a knitting class--doing a bit of volunteer work. I'm always plotting the next travel adventure so a fantasy world would allow me to take off at any time--right now that would be Greece and Turkey--with no worries about expenses or responsibilities left back home. As for a life companion, Willie the pit bull is hard to beat. He keeps me company, gets me moving every day and makes me laugh with his antics.

So there you have it Sayre. My fantasy island. Which lucky for me is not too much different from reality. Be sure to check out Sayre's place for the list of other Fun Monday players who are looking to escape reality.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Irish Gardens & Gardeners -- Lakemount, Co. Cork

Since March is the month to celebrate all things Irish, I thought I'd share some photos of Ireland's gardens. In 1998 I spent a couple of weeks with a Horticulture Magazine gardening group visiting many different styles of gardens--cottage, city, cooking school, estate, castle, stud farm, historic--throughout southern Ireland. And if you're beginning to think about what you'll plant in your own garden this year--look at these photos and weep! Or, get inspired. We'll begin the tour in County Cork:

Lakemount Gardens, Glanmire, County Cork -- The gardener/owner Brian Cross (second from right in wellies) plants with an artist's eye--blending a wide variety of plants, shrubbery, trees, and stonework. Everywhere you looked, plants were used like an artist's palette. Lakemount sets on the hill above Cork with views of the River Lee from the sloping, perfectly groomed green lawn.

By the way, most gardens
came with a dog. Meet "Violet"
Lakemount's resident pooch
and assistant tour guide.

Cork is situated on the southernmost tip of Ireland and gardens benefit from moisture off the Celtic Sea to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the south west. We visited Lakemount in May when a great many flowering plants and shrubs were in full bloom, aided by the constant moisture from surrounding waters. However, like all good garden designers, Brain Cross planned his garden for a full display in every season.

Garden Closeups:

1. Mixed shrub border--6-8 ft. wide running in front of the house. To the left and right of the house there were herbaceous borders as in the photo at the beginning of this post. Hydrangeas, azaleas, and rhododendrons provided color for the various plantings.

2. Wall borders, iron and stonework -- plantings close to the house were protected from wind coming off the waters by stone walls. Borders along the walls were intensively planted with the same wide variety of shrubs and blooming plants. Notice the blood red grass in the corner and the wilder plantings on the other side of the wall. Loved the simple iron gates and the slate pavings and steps.

3. Terra cotta pots and lichen-covered stone troughs -- Cross incorporated terra cotta pots--some empty, some planted--throughout the garden as an invitation to look closer. Again, his artist's eye was evident as in this combination of bronzy red grass and terra cotta pot and the lichen-covered stone trough planted with small jewels.

4. Long Views -- one trick that Cross used very effectively was that of making a particular arrangement of plants to entice you down a garden path. On the left, he has an ornate terra cotta pot at the very end of a high, clipped beech hedge. Follow the slate pavers for a closer look. On the right two beautiful hostas and a clematis vine with burgandy blooms invite you to enter the greenhouse to inspect a special plant on a stone pedestal just inside the door.

So, hope you've enjoyed this tour of Brian Cross' private garden--the garden of an artist. Next stop Ballymaloe Cookery School and Gardens--you might call it Ireland's answer to Martha Stewart.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Day to be Irish

O Ireland isn't it grand you look
like a bride in her rich adornin?
And with all the pent up love of my heart
I bid you the top o' the mornin!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!
(1998 bus trip -- MacGillycuddy's Reeks, Ring of Kerry, Southwest Ireland)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fun Monday -- School Lunch Memories

March 15 Fun Monday--and the topic is:

School Lunch Memories

Recently I've been reading Anne Lamott's excellent book on writing: bird by bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Lamott also taught a basic writing class. In one class she had her students write for a half hour about their memories of school lunch. The idea was to take a pretty universal topic--school lunch-- and write down their memories of that one hour in the school day. She had her students complete the exercise to show them that the first challenge for a writer is to get something on paper--a rough draft that can be revised and polished into a good piece of writing.

Wow. I discovered I have a lot to say about school lunches. More than one post, in fact. I'm guessing you also have plenty of memories of that hour in the school day when you ate lunch. Chances are pretty good that school lunch meant a lot more than the PB & jelly sandwich or slice of pizza that you ate.

So your assignment for March 15 is to share your memories of school lunches. What kind of school did you attend--public, private, parochial, city or country? Did you bring lunch from home or buy in the school cafeteria? Or, did you go home for lunch? What did your lunch look like? Who prepared it? Who did you have lunch with? Was this a happy part of the school day? What did you do during lunch time other than eat your PB & J sandwich?

Here are the players for this week. After you've written your post, try to visit as many other Fun Monday participants as you can over the next couple of days.

1. debs -- daydreams in the shed
2. janis -- life according to jan and jer
3. joangee -- musings n waffle
4. sayre -- sayre smiles (host for March 22--yay sayre!)
5. ari -- beyond my slab
6. sandy -- myanderings
7. ingrid -- what link for you?
8. church lady -- living life in pa
9. loonyhiker -- successful teaching
10. gracie -- mama rehema
11. swampy -- anecdotes
12. wendy -- wendishness
13. gattina -- writer cramps
14. celeste -- ragracers
15. mariposa -- mariposa tales
16. min -- mama drama (? usually plays)
17. jill -- life is not bubble wrapped (? usually plays)
18. pamela -- the dust will wait (just added!)


In bird by bird Anne Lamott has this to say about school lunches: "Here's the thing I know about public school lunches: It's only looked like a bunch of kids eating lunch. It was really like opening our insides in front of everyone. . .the contents of your lunch said whether or not you and your family were Okay. Some bag lunches, like some people, were Okay, and some weren't. There was a code, a right and acceptable way. It was that simple." That's what I remember all through school. A struggle to not be different from other kids, even in what I ate for lunch. So my "School Lunch Memories" aren't the greatest. However, I'll try to keep the childhood angst to a minimum since it IS Fun Monday! :-)

Elementary School 1950s -- I started school in a small, one-room country schoolhouse for grades 1-8. My older sister and brothers were in the upper grades. We sometimes shared our lunch out on the school grounds, eating from the same lunch pail. Usually it would be biscuits (for our English friends biscuits are a breakfast bread not a sweet cookie) filled with fried eggs and salt pork or jelly. Even in the first grade I wanted my own lunch sack to put up on the cloakroom shelf with the other kids' lunches. Finally my no nonsense mother gave in to my pleas. However, she didn't understand that the sack was just as important as the lunch itself. It must be a plain brown bag NOT one advertising Watson's Department Store. It embarrassed me that my lunch was different. Even more important, I wanted a sandwich made with store bought bread slices and bologna, not egg biscuits.

In the mid-50s school changed drastically. A big consolodated school opened up near my home, closing all the small one-room schools. I was in the 3rd grade. That school came with a cafeteria and a whole new set of lunch problems for a proud kid. The lunches were wonderful cooked from scratch meals. And there were foods that I'd never had before--spaghetti and meat sauce, hamburgers and hot dogs. The only problem was that the lunches cost 25 cents--a lot of money in those days. However, kids whose families were on welfare could get free lunch. My family was eligible.

Every morning the teacher collected lunch money from students. When it was time to go to the lunchroom the teacher would announce that everyone should line up. Those who paid got in line first. Free lunch kids waited and lined up last. Every day I cringed to be singled out as a "free lunch" kid. After about a year of this, I rebelled (the start of a long career of civil disobedience!). My mother had to send a note to school asking that I get free lunch. I refused to turn it in, tearing the note up instead. My father sneaked me enough money to get some chips and a coke for lunch. When my mother found out what my father and I were doing we both got tongue lashings and threats. But that was better than being humiliated every day.

High School early 1960s -- lunch time was a lot happier when I got in high school. At 14 years old I started working after school and on the weekends, doing babysitting and house cleaning for several great families. I earned money for school expenses. No more free lunches for me. Instead, I joined my friends at a little diner/store next to our school. We had cokes and potato chips for lunch and fed the jukebox with our spare nickels so we could dance. None of us missed those cafeteria lunches. I was glad to not be singled out--to be Okay.

Training the Lunch Ladies 1980s -- I've had ties with school lunch for most of my life. At one point in my working career I was hired by the Kentucky Department of Education to conduct training for cafeteria cooks because of my previous work as an adult basic educator. The lunch ladies were mostly good home cooks, so I traveled across the state conducting workshops on quantity food service. The training was to help them plan and cook nutritious lunches that used the government commodity foods from the US Department of Agriculture. We had great fun in these workshops learning how to do everything from making 10 gallons of mayonnaise to setting up the first salad and potato bars for self service lunches. (Here's my best hint for the lunch ladies on baking and serving the perfect baked potato: 1. bake the potato uncovered so it dries out, 2. give the hot potato a gentle whack on the counter to fluff it up, 3. cut an X in the top and then 4. gently squeeze each end of the potato to open it up for the toppings--when they practiced this, I told the lunch ladies to imagine that they were pinching Richard Gere's butt!)

So there you have it. My school lunch memories--some Okay, some not Okay. Thanks everyone for playing today. I'll be around shortly to see what you remember from the lunchroom.

(school lunch image credit: http://www.staugustineschools.com/)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Fun Monday - Shopping for Two

How do we handle the dreaded grocery shopping? That's the topic for March 8 Fun Monday. Our host is Gattina at Writer Cramps . Gattina herself lives in Belgium, but Fun Monday bloggers are from several other countries as well. Do we all go about this chore in the same way or do we shop differently, depending on our location? Here's the drill in Louisville, KY:

First the lists--my goal is to leave the house no more than necessary. It is not unusual for me to go out only once a week. Plus, I've figured out that any time you go in the grocery store you don't get out without spending close to a $100. So I try to limit the trips to the grocery by using a Master Shopping List. I made this template of everything I would likely purchase at the grocery in a month's time. I then print copies of the list and post on the fridge,marking the items as I use them up. Then once a month I'll go to the big "box" store(Kroger's)and stock up on all the non-perishable things. (BTW, I also have a Master Packing List for Travel, a Daily/Weekly Chore Schedule and a Master Monthly Task Schedule. We won't even get into what this says about my personality this late in the evening. . .)

Sister's List --in addition to my own grocery shopping I also help my older sister with this chore. she would be just as happy if I took this job off her hands, but I feel that she should continue to take responsibility for this as long as she is physically able. It can be very frustrating to take her shopping though because she never had a list. She would just careen up and down the aisles and then check out without getting nearly all the things she needed. Then on the way home she'd say something like, "The next time we go out I need to get this or that." It was driving me crazy.

To help with this problem, I made a master list of all the groceries she would normally buy and arranged the list by the aisles in the store where she does her shopping. I gave her multiple copies of the list on a clipboard so she can mark down what she needs to buy and then just take her clipboard with her when she goes grocery shopping. This helps some.

So, usually once a month we take our master lists to the mega Kroger's and buy all the non-perishables and staples. Then all I need to do once a
week or so is to go to Paul's Market, our really good local fruit and vegetable market for fruits, produce, bread and milk. Paul's is also a gourmet store which offers food products made in Kentucky from our local farmers--cheeses, sauces, honey, meats, pickles--with the Kentucky Proud label. When I took this photo last week, employees were busy setting up the outside sales area. In just a few weeks, there'll be spring vegetable and bedding plants for sale and other gardening supplies.

So there you have it--grocery shopping for two in Louisville. It's still a chore but Paul's especially is fun to go through for all the great fruits and vegetables. No excuse not to buy healthy! I'll check out your grocery places in the next day or so.

Fun Monday for March 15 -- I'm the host. Come back around on Wednesday for the assignment and sign up.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Tolstoys, White Ribbons, & A Single Man

Gasp! Yesterday I made it through a movie marathon getting prepped for tonight's Academy Awards. So here are my last three Oscar picks: The Last Station, The White Ribbon, and A Single Man.

But before we get to the reviews, take a look at this postcard which I received from a Postcrossings friend in St. Petersburg, Russia last week. The postcard was especially intriguing--the colorful, onion-domed churches on the stamps, the Russian postmark, and the mystery photo.

I couldn't translate the name for the man in the photo so was just guessing Russian writer or composer. Until yesterday, when I saw this face again in The Last Station, the film about Leo Tolstoy, the Russian writer and utopian movement leader in the late 1800s. The same writer who, as it turned out, experienced War and Peace in his own life.

The Last Station -- Best Actress, Helen Mirren (Tolstoy's wife, Countess Sofya) and Best Supporting Actor, James McAvoy (Tolstoy's secretary Valentin)

This film focuses on the last years of Tolstoy's (played by Christopher Plummer ) life and the power struggle between his wife, Countess Sofra and Vladimir Chertkov, the leader of the utopian movement which Tolstoy founded. It is also an account of the Tolstoy's "war of the roses" marriage. And then thrown in between them is the idealistic young secretary Valentin (played by McAvoy) who is overcome with the honor of working with Tolstoy and needing Countess Sofra's help in navigating his first experiences at love with one of the young women followers of the movement. Here's a glimpse into everyday life in Utopia:

Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer are both perfectly cast as the aging Tolstoys. They love each other still on many levels, despite their brawling dramas. Tolstoy wants peace to finish his work; Sofra wants to protect her 13 children's inheritance from Chertkov and keep Tolstoy to herself. After one outburst over him wanting to go away from their estate to work, Tolstoy tells Sofra, "You don't need a husband, you need a Greek chorus."

I first noticed McAvoy in First King of Scotland, then Atonement and Becoming Jane as well as some minor roles in BBC dramas. In Last Station he was the perfect foil for the Mirren and Plummer characters. It won't happen tonight, but I be happy if best actress went to Mirren and supporting actor went to McAvoy.

Continued later today!

Later today--I just lost my reviews of The White Ribbon and A Single Man. It's 15 minutes to Academy showtime, so Blogger must have been telling me "enough already"! For the record, I hope Colin Firth wins for A Single Man and that The White Ribbon wins Best Foreign Language Film.

Enjoy the show!

Friday, March 5, 2010

This Year at the Movies - Oscar Picks

So, here's the next installment in my picks for Oscars at the Academy Awards on Sunday night. Reader warning: you may be subjected to more film clips than you can handle. Just skim until something strikes your fancy. I just wanted to collect under one "roof" what were, in my opinion, some of the best films of the season.

Today my award winners are all about love--young love to be specific. Two movies are set in the early 1800s and based on actual historical events. First, there's The Young Victoria, the story of England's Queen Victoria and her Prince Albert. The second is Bright Star, director Jane Campion's re-telling of the poet John Keats' ill-fated love affair with a local English girl, Fanny Brawne. Next, we'll skip a century or so to 1961 for An Education--school girl from London suburbs meets an older man on her way to Oxford and gets side-tracked. Finally, there's 500 Days of Summer, a modern day not-love story.

The Young Victoria -- Best Original Musical Score, Costume Design(tie with Bright Star) and Runner up Best Song ("Only You" sung by Sinead O'Connor)

I love this movie so much--have seen it twice so far in the theater, will rent it as soon as it's on Netflix. Emily Blunt plays an 18 year old Queen Victoria who ascends to the throne suddenly when she is barely more than a girl. She is courageous and stubbornly determined to carry out her duties as Queen of England. She gets plenty of counsel, some not the best. At the same time, she is courted and falls in love with the shy, but equally savvy, Prince Albert of Austria, played by Rupert Friend. This movie tells the story of their awkward courtship, beginnings of a marriage and ruling partnership that provided stability for England for many years:

Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend are perfectly matched in this film. Even their bodies and personalities hint at what we know of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Emily Blunt, as Victoria is sturdy of frame, direct and open in her dealings with people. Rupert Friend, as Prince Albert, is almost frail in appearance. He reads people, understands the politics, and wants Victoria to be the people's queen with his help. The costumes are perfect. If queens wore business attire, they would look like the costumes in this film--beautiful, but free of excess. The original score, composed by Ilan Eshkari, with its swelling strings adds so much to the love story in this film.

Continued on Saturday!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Oscar Picks - Best Original Song

Before the Oscars are handed out on Sunday night at the Academy Awards Show I decided to capture some moments from my favorite films this past year. And cast a vote for my Oscar picks. Best Original Song was easy--it has to be "The Weary Kind" by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett from Crazy Heart. Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, a washed up alcoholic country singer who rides the highway from one sorry town to another, playing gigs at bowling alleys and bars. Then retreating to sleazy hotels to continue his drunken escape.

Your body aches
Playing your guitar and sweating out the hate
The days and nights all feel the same

Whiskey has been a thorn in your side
And it doesn't forget
the highway that calls for your heart inside

And this ain't no place for the weary kind
And this ain't no place to lose your mind
And this ain't no place to fall behind
Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try

Just watching the Crazy Heart trailer brings tears to my eyes. Like in the 1983 film Tender Mercies which starred Robert Duvall as a down and out country singer who was saved by a woman and child's love and belief in him, Bad Blake is turned around by a young woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her son. Through them he found something that mattered more than the next bottle of cheap whiskey:

It is amazing that a songwriter so young as Ryan Bingham could capture the emotions and bone weariness of a man like Bad Blake. But late at night, driving himself from one gig to another, Bingham listened, as he said, to the "rhythm of the road" and found the soul of a man twice his age. Here is Ryan Bingham in a live performance of "The Weary Kind"/div>
I hope he gets to accept an Oscar on Sunday night. I'll remember this song for a long time.
(Come back later in the week for more Oscar picks. I have to get to the theater a few more times before Sunday. Do you have favorites that you're rooting for?)