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, February 27, 2011

The Oscars Pre-game Show --My Year at the Movies

Well, since it's a few hours before have to get ready for the Red Carpet, thought I'd throw out my two cent's worth on this year's films. It's been an odd year. Usually there are a couple that just captivate for one reason or another like last year's The Young Victoria or best song "The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart. Not so for this year. I really don't care who wins in any category tonight, although I like--in some cases love--many of this year's films. Here you can see the ones that I cared enough to see on the big screen. The rest were fine to catch on Netflix.

So, without further ado, here's my take on the 2010-11 films:


By far the favorites in this category were the three based on Swedish author Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy that's been such runaway best sellers this past year. His books and the films got me interested in other Scandinavian authors, films, and travel(in August this year).

Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Stars: Michael Nyqvist as financial journalist Michael Blomkvist who is hired by a prominent Swedish businessman to solve the 40 year old case of his missing niece. Noomi Rapace plays Lisbeth Salander, the pierced and tattooed punk computer prodigy who helps Blomkvist investigate. They uncover complex family secrets, murder and financial intrigue--and, in the process, develop an unlikely friendship despite Lisbeth's unwillingness to share her troubled past and trust Blomkvist.

The Girl Who Played with Fire

The story continues with Michael Nyqvist still playing the journalist Michael Blomkvist and Noomi Rapace the fierce computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. BlomKvist decides to publish an expose on sex trafficking in Sweden that involves the highest government officials in wrong doing which results in two journalists' murders. Meanwhile, Lisbeth's troubled past draws her into this story and she is accused of the murders to shut her up. She goes into hiding to solve the crime and Michael uses his journalistic talents to clear her name.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

In the final film of the series, Lisbeth Salander is under house arrest in a hospital suffering from a bullet wound to the head. When she recovers, she will be tried for three murders. With the help of her friend Michael Blomvkist she will fight for her innocence, identify and bring to justice those in authority who failed to protect the young and vulnerable. Will she be able to get justice for herself and others who have been victimized by government officials for their own evil purposes.

The American

Stars George Clooney as an assassin who's ready to get out of the business. In summary, it's George Clooney in an Italian village interacting with the locals and falling in love with a local beauty. 'Nuf sed!

The Tourist

Stars Angelina Jolie as a crime fighting agent with a designer wardrobe who entangles Johnny Depp, an American tourist/math teacher, in the intrigue. This one was painful to watch. Angelina was little more than a clothes rack. Only saving graces for this film were Venice film location and occasional appearances of the lovely Rufus Sewell. Don't pay full price for this one!

Scenes from a Marriage --these next four films depict couples at various stages in their relationships.

Blue Valentine

Stars Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling as a couple trapped in a marriage that no longer satisfies either of them. Cindy(Michelle Williams) is the preoccupied mother who struggles with her day to day life, escaping in work and sexual flirtations. Dean (Ryan Gosling) is the under-employed, but caring, husband who can't figure out how to prevent the impending breakup. He tries to be a better father and partner, but his efforts fail. He is just not enough for Cindy any more. This film is a heart breaker because Cindy no longer wants what Dean can offer.

Rabbit Hole

Nicole Kidman
and Aaron Eckhart play a couple mourning the death of a child in a freak accident. Kidman copes by trying to perfectly order her daily life whether it's planting neat rows of flowers or baking the perfect pie or getting rid of all mementos of their son. Eckhart needs to talk about their loss, watch videos of their son. and remember him. Kidman feels like she is on the edge of that "rabbit hole" and may plunge any time. Eckhart just wants to grieve with his wife and find a way back. It's not hard to feel the pain in this film.

Another Year

Stars the wonderful character actors Jim Broadbent (Tom) as a genial geologist who's happily married to Ruth Sheen (Gerri) a kindly therapist for many years. They garden, cook together and try to support their long time friends Mary (Lesley Manville) and Ken Tom's childhood friend. This quiet movie is my favorite of the year. If you're going to be married for a long time, this relationship is what you're looking for. And Lesley Manville deserves all the awards she can get for her work as the flighty, self-absorbed, alcoholic friend who goes too far for even the tolerant Gerri.

Eat Pray Love

Even Julia Roberts; scenes of Italy with bowls of pasta, India and Bali; and the lovely Javier Bardem as the possible love interest couldn't save this film. Loved Elizabeth Gilbert's book about her journey around the world to learn to live with divorce and find a new center for her life. The film was just boring, like having the book read to me on screen. Didn't live up to the hype.

"True grit" films--I've lumped these three films together because each portrays a central character who overcomes great obstacles with the help of family, friends, and unlikely allies.

Winter's Bone

Everyone in Louisville is justifiably proud of the performance Jennifer Lawrence turns in for this film. She's a local girl who has delivered an award winning role in this bleak rural crime drama. She shines as the young girl struggling to take care of her young brother and sister and depressed mother, keeping them fed, sheltered, and in school. At the same time she takes on the meth lab owners and dealers in the Missouri foothills to locate her father who is mixed up with this crowd. She endures mental and emotional strain and physical violence at the hands of family members, neighbors, and law enforcement. Yet she keeps on. Jennifer won't win Best Actress tonight, but at barely 20 year's old it's great that she's recognized.

True Grit

This re-make of the old John Wayne western was just plain fun to watch. Young Mattie Ross (played by the surprisingly young actress Hailee Steinfield) systematically enlists the reluctant help of U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn (played by Jeff Bridges) to track down the man who killed her father. She stubbornly insists on riding out with Rooster and the dandified Texas ranger (played by Matt Damon). they form an unlikely team to track down the killer. Mattie was looking for "true grit" but she had plenty to spare on her own and a sharp tongue to explain her expectations to any one she did business with.

The King's Speech

There's very little left to be said about this film. Everyone knows the story of the would-be king who had to conquer the staggering handicap of stuttering so that he could lead England in a time of great danger and war. Colin Firth delivers an Oscar worth performance as King George VI. Geoffrey Rush played the impudent but oh so confident speech therapist Lionel Logue. With the help of his queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and Logue, Bertie was able to step before the mic and deliver the words of courage to the British people on the brink of war. (Blast from the past: how many noticed that Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett were back together again? This time Jennifer Ehle played Lionel Logue's tolerant wife.)

Psychological Drama

Black Swan

This is a film of contrasts. Natalie Portman plays a rising New York ballerina and repressed young woman under the control of her mother, a former ballerina as well. Nina (Portman) is replacing the lead in Swan Lake but she must prove that she can dance both the pure White Swan as well as the dark and destructive Black Swan. The film follows Nina's downward physical and psychological spiral as she tries to prove she can dance the darker role. The film is shocking for its physical and mental violence. Natalie Portman deserves the accolades she is winning for this role but this was not an enjoyable experience for this viewer who can take a lot of on screen violence.

Now I doubt that anyone gets through all this re-cap, but I just wanted to get it down. And now it's time for the Red Carpet. Let the show begin!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Teaser Tuesday - Fire Along the Sky by Sara Donati

Teaser Tuesday is described by its host Miz B over at Should be Reading as a "weekly bookish meme" open to any reader who wants to play along. If, like me, you're always curious about what people are reading or on the lookout for the next great read, then this may be your meme. If you want to play, just click on Miz B's link above for the very simple rules.

Sometimes life just imitates art in such a way that you can't ignore it. This morning's sunrise could have been the sky described in Sara Donati's Fire Along the Sky, my selection for this week's Teaser Tuesday read:

Fire Along the Sky
by Sara Donati

"Trees tangled together against the horizon, a web thrown up to hold the sky and still its color seeped away and into shadows purple and copper that faded to rosy golds. The winter sun, too heavy for the sky, moving down and down like a sleepy child, radiating colors that defied pigment and palette and brush, putting every artist who ever lived to shame." pp. 170-1

Book Description: This fourth book in Sara Donati's Into the Wilderness series begins in the summer of 1812 in the village of Paradise in the northern frontier of New York State and spills into Canada. The grown children of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Bonner, central characters of the first books in the series, are together briefly in that summer of 1812 on Hidden Wolf Mountain. Their oldest daughter Hannah, a half-Indian healer trained in both Western and native medicine returns home without her Indian husband and baby, carrying burdens that may break her. Older son Luke comes from Canada with a young Scots woman, Jennet, that he loves but cannot marry yet. The twins Daniel and Lily face great changes as well. Daniel is determined to go to war. Lily is equally determined to escape Paradise and go to a city where she can study her art. As the country goes to war again, what will happen to these young people when they leave Lake in the Clouds? And the rest of the Bonner clan and village people left behind?

Okay, I'll admit it. Even with all the great books I have in my TBR stacks, I'm reading this Into the Wilderness series for the second time since January! They are just that interesting and flat out good reading.

I had been totally engrossed in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series which you fans will remember was set in Scotland, England and the U.S. during the Jacobite Uprising and the American Revolutionary War. After finishing the seven books of the Outlander series, I was looking for more of this kind of historical romance. Gabaldon suggested that her fans try this series while we wait impatiently for Outlander Book 8. So, I did.

If you enjoy historical fiction with memorable characters, even the babies and animals--and some great love stories--Into the Wilderness series will keep you entertained for many hours--even the second time around.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fun Monday -- Tools for a Serious Reader

Favorite tools or inventions is the topic for February 21 Fun Monday. Molly over at Return of the White Robin continues with her February hosting duties by asking us to share our favorite tool or invention. A "tool" is defined as a gadget or hand instrument used to accomplish a task. Like many of you, I'm a serious reader so my tool is one that makes this daily task(?) easier. This print, Thursday Night Book Club by Mark Sowa, doesn't relate directly to the topic. Clipped it on here just to give you a laugh on Monday!

My favorite reading tool is called several different things, depending on it's use. First I have the book buddy, a lightweight beanbag square that's perfect for resting a heavy volume--say like War and Peace--at a comfortable prop on your lap for reading while sitting upright or reclining. The sides have ties to hold the book covers in place as you read. I also have a favorite version of the book buddy that has a detachable rigid top so that I can read and take notes at the same time. I use this version every day.

The second book buddy is a bit fancier, but very handy for reading, writing, paying bills, working puzzles from the ease of your sofa. It's called a lap reader and I got mine from Levenger's catalog of overpriced items for serious readers. On this one the foam base comes off so you can use just the wooden lap board alone.

My final handy reading tool is a mini flexi-booklight. When I travel I always bring one along, much handier than the overhead lights on a plane or bus. I also keep one in the emergency storm box at home in case we lose power. All is not lost as long as you can continue reading while waiting for power to be restored.

So Molly, there you have my favorite tools. Use and enjoy them every day!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Teaser Tuesday - Rose in a Storm by Jon Katz

Teaser Tuesday is described by its host Miz B over at Should be Reading as a "weekly bookish meme" open to any reader who wants to play along. If, like me, you're always curious about what people are reading or on the lookout for the next great read, then this may be your meme. If you want to play, just click on Miz B's link above for the very simple rules. (photo credit: Rose in the Garden, Jon Katz)

I have met so many wonderful dogs through Jon Katz's writing about his experiences in living with these amazing creatures both in the suburbs and on Bedlam Farm in upstate New York. There's Stanley and Julius his zen-like yellow labs who retreated with him to the mountains when he was deciding to leave the corporate world of New York City. There's Devan (re-named Orson) a young border collie who taught Katz to change in order to help a deeply troubled animal. And there is Rose, his resident working girl border collie whose sole mission is to help Katz the city slicker run a hard scrabble farm. In this week's Teaser Tuesday, Rose is the star.

Rose in a Storm
by Jon Katz

"Rose felt the storm coming, smelled snow and heavy air. She remembered other storms, the snow and wind and killing cold. She felt a flash of deep alarm run through her like a bolt of lightening. The hair on her back and neck came up. Sam called for her, but she waited a moment longer before following him inside." p. 12

Book Description: This is Katz's first go at writing fiction with a dog as the central character. Rose is a hard working border collie on a farm in upstate New York. She is the farm owner Sam's partner and sole companion since his wife Katie left the farm. It is lambing season on the farm so Rose has her work cut out for her herding the animals and protecting them from wild predators like coyotes and fox. And then the area is hit with an epic snow storm. Will Rose be able to help Sam and the other farm animals survive the storm? And, if she does, at what cost?

Over the years I've read all of Katz's books that tell the stories of the individual dogs with whom he has shared his life and work. First there were the yellow labs and then after he moved to Bedlam Farm there were border collies and more labs. At first Katz concentrated on what he learned about dogs and the farm. In later books he explored some of the common issues and questions that dog owners must work through:

--Is it right to buy a purebred dog when there are so many animals needing rescue?
-- What is the best way to train a dog?
-- Should people keep a dog even though they are not compatible--is it more humane to re-home?
--Do people expect too much from a dog ?

--Do dogs have a soul?
--How do dogs help us be better human beings?

If you love dogs and stories of people and dogs living together with all the up and downs in these relationships, I highly recommend Jon Katz's writing.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Fun Monday - Letters to Juliet

Since Fun Monday falls on Valentine's Day this week, our host for February, Molly over at Return of the White Robin ,gives us a chance to tell Valentine stories. She asks us to describe the best Valentine's Day gift we've ever received. Well Molly, I've given your question a good think and have to admit that I can't come up with a single Valentine's Day gift that I've received. Never fear though, I do have a rather good romantic story to share. How about Juliet's wall of love letters in Verona, Italy? And a little tour of Venice, the city of love?

A couple of years ago I enjoyed a tour of several European countries, Italy being one that I enjoyed most. Our first stop in Italy was Verona, the home of Shakespeare's star-crossed young lovers Romeo and Juliet. We were looking for romance both medieval and modern. From the town square we walked down one street in particular which was lined with couture shops for everything from the ultimate black dress to these fantasy wedding gowns. Italian men and women window shopping in this area were walking advertisements for Italian fashion.

Not far off the square, however, our attention turned to the most romantic balcony of all, Juliet's. It was here in a narrow little street in Verona that two young lovers pledged their ill-fated love. Since the 1930s, lovers from all over the world make the pilgrimage to this site. On the door, and through the passage leading to Juliet's balcony,
lovers leave graffiti amore.

The messages on the passage walls tell of love lost and found. In the courtyard it is customary to rub the right breast of the Juliet statue for luck in love. Notice that it is worn from the constant touching. Every year before Valentine's Day all the graffiti is powerwashed away to make room for next year's collection of lovers' wishes.

Late in the day we left Venice and travelled east to the small port city of Treviso on the Adriatic Sea where we boarded a ferry for Venice Lido. As we waited for the ferry we were delighted to watch this bridal party as they got on a launch to take them to the waiting cruise ship for their honeymoon. I just wish I'd been able to get a photo of the bride's shoes complete with organza bows at the ankles!

The fashionable Lido Beach was our base for the Venice and Burano leg of the tour. Our hotel, Le Boulevard, was aptly named because it was in the center of the beach action. It was also one of the most interesting accommodations for me. When you travel single, the rooms are often not the greatest, even though you have to pay a hefty single supplement. But sometimes you get a pleasant surprise. My room at Le Boulevard fit that bill. It was on the top floor and when I first opened the door my spirits dipped because there were no windows--how claustrophobic. And then I spotted two large skylights. A little tinkering with the blinds and I was able to sleep under the Italian stars for two nights--nice! This photo was an early morning view along Le Boulevard.

Perhaps the most romantic symbols of Venice are these gondolas with their black ad white striped shirted gondaliers making their way through the narrow canals of Venice. This photo was taken from the Rialto Bridge, one of the oldest parts of Venice.

So Molly, while I can't claim any special Valentine Day gifts, I do have some great travel memories of travels to romantic places. I even left a love letter on Juliet's wall. Nobody needs to know that it was to Willie the pit bull saying that I missed him and hoped to be home soon! :-)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Teaser Tuesday - The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland

In the early 1600s Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653) was the eager student of her father, Italian Baroque painter Orazio. They lived and worked together in Rome with Artemisia serving as one of the many apprentices for Orazio's great works commissioned by the Catholic Church, nobility and wealthy merchants of the city. By age eighteen Artemisia was becoming a talented artist in her own right, especially when it came to depicting the power and beauty of the female form on canvas. (Painting: Self Portriat as the Allegory of Painting, 1630)

Then her father betrays her publicly for his own selfish artistic interests. The Passion of Artemisia is Susan Vreeland's novel of a woman's struggles to become an artist within the confines of a male dominated society.

Teaser Tuesday is described by its host Miz B over at Should be Reading as a "weekly bookish meme" open to any reader who wants to play along. If, like me, you're always curious about what people are reading or on the lookout for the next great read, then this may be your meme. If you want to play, just click on Miz B's link for the very simple rules.

The Passion of Artemisia
by Susan Vreeleand

"The next morning, I started "Judith Slaying Holofernes". I could barely bend my fingers to grasp the egg-shaped muller to pulverize the pigments on my marble slab. Pain is not important. I had to ignore it, I told myself. Only painting is important. Paint out the pain, Graziela had said."

Book Description: Susan Vreeland's novel is based on the life and work of the first woman to ever be accepted to the famed Accademia dell' Arte of Florence, Italy. Artemisia Gentileschi is a fortunate young woman until 18 years of age, happily working with her father Orazio and learning to paint under his protection. At that age her father engages a tutor, Augustino Tassi, to teach her, among other things, how to show perspective in her works. Tassi ends up raping young Artemisia and her father hauls him before the papal court. Not for abusing his young daughter, but for harming his reputation as a painter. Artemisia is forced to stand before the court and defend her own innocence without her father's support.

Her reputation is ruined in Rome, she is forced into an arranged marriage with another painter from Florence where they go to live. For the remainder of her life Artemisia must struggle to balance her life as an artist, wife and mother. And, at the same time, find acceptance and patronage for her work. Her paintings of strong Biblical women figures such as Judith, Susanna, and Magdalen and historical figures like Cleopatra and Lucretia mirrors her real life struggles and triumphs.

I enjoy films based on books that I've read. Here is the movie trailer from "Artemisia", a 1997 production of the early life of Artemisia Gentileschi. It is somewhat romanticised, but still a fascinating account of painting in early 1600s in Italy.

(Note about Artemisia's damaged hands: when she was forced to testify before the papal court in Tasso's trial, she had to submit to an in court examination to see whether or not she was still a virgin. That was not enough, while on the witness stand she was also subjected to the sibille. Her hands were bound, palms facing each other with cords through her fingers. As she gave testimony a wooden screw was tightened with each question to force her to tell the truth. When they finished with her, Artemisia feared that her hands would be too damaged to paint again.)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fun Monday --Step Right Up! Claim 10 Million $

Hosting duties for February Fun Mondays will be in the capable hands of Molly at Return of the White Robin . Her assignment for February 7 is very intriguing:

If your were to win 10 million dollars what would you do with it? How would your lifestyle change?

In answer to the second question, I would go on living very much the way I do now, only with more freedom to pursue some activities that would make me happy and a bit more secure in my senior years. Here's some specific uses I would make for 10M (by the way, it would take about 20 of these gold bars to do the trick):

World Travel--so long as I'm healthy I'd spend some of my winnings on fabulous travel all around the globe. Sometimes I just look at a world map and think of all the places I still want to visit. I'd want to travel with a purpose--spend time in Jane Austen's England, a writer's or painter's retreat, gardens of world, cooking classes in Tuscany,wayfarer's walks, train trips across Europe.

Universal Home--I'd buy a home in the older part of Louisville and turn it into what's now called a universal design, fully tricked out to make it accessible, safe, and easy to live in independently as I grow older. I'd still want to be in a multi-generational community instead of being hermetically sealed off in a senior citizen's enclave.

Education--Endow annual college scholarships for students interested in studying literature or music. The help I received in getting a college degree is something I never forget. Locally, I would make annual contributions to agencies and groups responsible for humane education and animal care. Peace education would also get some of the 10 M. Specifically it would go to Greg Mortenson's (Three Cups of Tea, Stones into Schools)Central Asia Institute which promotes peace through education, especially for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Long Term Care--since aging is a reality that we all must face, I'd set aside funds for my care when I'm no longer able to do this for myself so that I could approach the golden years with Maxine's good attitude! :-)

On the subject of winning big bucks, specifically Publisher's Clearinghouse bucks, here's a post that I wrote a couple of year's ago about dating S the accountant and accompanying him to New York to pick up his Publisher's Clearinghouse winnings. Yep! They're for real so get those entries in:
Sweepstakes Winner Date From Hell

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

First Day of the Month - Winter Skies

In January I discovered an exciting blog photography meme started by Jan at Murrieta 365 . This meme appealed to me because I need to work on taking better photos, which do a lot to enliven and illustrate blog posts. Here's how it works:

Jan is calling her new meme First Day of Each Month. Here are her directions: "The goal is to capture one thing repeatedly on the first day of each month. It can be a landscape, a person, an animal, a project; whatever your focus is fine. It can be a record of where you are each first day of the month." Interesting exercise, right?

I decided to photograph Kentucky sunsets. However, here at the first of February I'm expanding the focus a bit and doing Kentucky skies. For the past few days I've been snapping the cold winter skies--outlines of bare trees against steel grey skies, shades of pale rose in the evening, very little sign of the sun recently. Except! Here's what I woke to on Sunday morning--just a day or so short of February 1 when the official photo was to be taken for Jan's meme. I couldn't not share this beauty and, after all, rules are made to be broken , right? So, here we have Kentucky Skies -- taken on January 30, 2011:

Even if you're weary of winter who could not feel glad to see a sunrise such as this? If you'd enjoy seeing some more beautiful photography from all over and on many subjects, just click on Jan's webpage for a list of other First of the Month players.