Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Afternoon with Gloria Bell, Bill and Ted

Today was pretty much the most springy day we've had all spring, but I had initiated indoor plans to see Gloria Bell with some friends.  Kid/Life logistics kept me from seeing the film last night with some friends from a women's group I'm in so I reached out to see if anyone could catch the show this afternoon.  I didn't know much about Gloria Bell, but it had a high Rotten Tomatoes rating and I liked the images I'd seen of of Julianne Moore dancing.  Looks fun, I thought.  Three of my pals were willing to meet up.

Gloria Bell is a tough movie to review. 

The positives:  great cast (Julianne Moore, Brad Garrett, Rita Wilson, Jeanne Tripplehorn, a grown-up Michael Cera, and even Rudy/Sean Astin in a super strange sequence); great soundtrack (Who can't relate to the pleasure of singing Air Supply while driving?); a few moments that were kind of beautiful/funny/real/joyful, especially between Gloria and her daughter.

Here's the Gloria Bell teaser blurb: "A free-spirited divorcee spends her nights on the dance floor, joyfully letting loose at clubs around Los Angeles.  She soon finds herself thrust into an unexpected new romance, filled with the joys of budding love and the complications of dating."

To me, that description promises something light, fun, hopeful.  And while the movie wasn't the exact opposite of light, fun, and hopeful, it was a bit light on the light and the fun (though possibly, possibly twas a little hopeful at the end).

The negatives... The movie is slow.  I kept thinking, we'll get in the groove here soon, but we never did.  Gloria Bell is likeable, but I never quite figured her out.  As good as the soundtrack is, the score is kind of creepy.  There were moments when the instrumental music made me think something super dark was coming.  Unsettling.  Speaking of unsettling, lots of screen time for a hairless cat.  Also plenty of screen time for Julianne Moore's breasts (small but lovely, I guess, but I didn't need to see them so often).  There's also a lot of drinking and some pot smoking.  One of my friends described the movie as filled with awkward moments (kudos to the actors for making them seem so).  Another said, "This is one that makes you thankful for your marriage." 

One lingering question from the film:  Do clubs where well-dressed, normal looking, middle-aged people dance to 70s-ish music really exist?  Asking for a friend.

I don't feel like I wasted my afternoon, but I don't think I'll urge others to rush out and see Gloria Bell.  Maybe if my friends and I had more to time to reflect and discuss afterward and make sense of it all, my review would be more positive.

But alas, school pick-up was calling so we all moved on.  In the window between movie and school pick-up, I took advantage of the gorgeous day to pop into The Pink Elephant (hospital resale shop).

I couldn't resist this Colorado "candy dish" (which I realized upon bringing home was an ashtray -- Gloria Bell is a smoker, btw).  I washed it and am going to give it to my friend who grew up in Colorado.
Pink Elephant customers could choose a FREE DVD with purchase so I nabbed Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, which is actually light and fun, if I'm remembering it correctly.  If we can get our DVD player to work, the kids might like this one.  Or, maybe we'll save it for the RES on our next road trip.  Good feeling to secure a candy dish and a DVD for one buck.

All in all, a good spring afternoon.



Monday, April 1, 2019

Snackshots: Q1 2019

Favorite snacks from the first quarter of this year...

I found these Lumpy Bumpy Mandarin Oranges at Marianos.  They are larger than clementines, easy to peel, and SO GOOD.  I've had six in two days and now the kids are in on the act so there's only one left.  Need to hurry back as the packaging warns of "limited availability."

Two things going on in this Snackshot.  First, there are the Nabisco Corn Thins.  Honestly, it's not the most exciting cracker you'll ever eat, but for those of us living the WW lifestyle, the bargain is attractive:  17 crackers for 1 WW Smartpoint.  The Corn Thin is salty enough to enjoy on its own, but I prefer it as a vehicle for other foods (see hummus above and once I even used the Corn Thins as a nacho base). 

Second thing happening in the Snackshot ... carrots!  I think I actually forgot that you don't have to eat raw carrots in their slightly slimy, bagged baby form.  I was tasked with bringing a veggie platter and a fruit tray to a ladies' painting party.  I found some baby cucumbers that I wanted to slice longways (first things to disappear, btw) and thought it would be more symmetrical and visually appealing if I had longer carrot sticks as well.  I got out the Costco peeler I've had since my wedding shower (thank you, Aunt Pat!), went to town, and then sliced them up.  And I haven't looked back.  I've been eating way more carrots that I peel and slice myself than I ever did babies from the baggie.  I'm embarrassed that I forgot peeling and cutting carrots myself was an option.

If you're like me, regular Um, Skinny Pop isn't blowing you away these days.  Sure, it's a caloric bargain, but the plain version is starting to feel blah to me.  I tried the Pepper Jack version at an airport in January and loved it.  It's got plenty of flavor and a lil kick.  I haven't seen a movie yet in 2019 but when I finally do, I'll be packing some Pepper Jack Skinny Pop in my large mom purse.  Outside of airport convenience stores, I've only been able to find the Pepper Jack variety at Walgreens, but as I go there at least thrice a week, it's been easy to stay supplied.  I've also tried the Black Pepper Skinny Pop, which I like but not as much as the Pepper Jack.  I am not a fan of the Aged White Cheddar.

Noted but not pictured because I am pretending I didn't eat them:  two bags of Brach's Conversation Hearts purchased at Walgreens (see above) as part of post-Valentine's Day clearance; a bag of Starburst Jelly Beans because they are amazing, even six weeks before Easter.

Favorite snacks these days?  Do tell.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

#instajoy -- Doodles with @diane.bleck



We're on Spring Break ... in the snow.  My husband and kids are spending most of the day skiing and then returning to our lodgings for plenty of downtime.  Yesterday, so that all the downtime didn't default into device time, I pitched a creative activity to the kids and two of them took the bait.

I showed them the Instagram of @diane.bleck, where she includes lots of doodle ideas and brief how-to videos for doodling inspiration.  We decided on the cabin and skis for obvious reasons.  We were working with a Walgreens sketch pad and the contents of my daughter's travel backpack (hint: lots of gel pens).

We all had fun with the activity.  The kids' doodles turned out better than mine.  I think because they added more personal touches whereas I stuck to the program a bit more.  I love how my daughter drew multiple pairs of skiis and branded them.  My ten year-old son added sun and snowflakes -- I was surprised by how he enjoyed the doodling. 

My daughter and I moved on to bunting doodles next.  The ones featured above are mine.  I can see adding some bunting flair to a thank you note, journal page, or bookmark.  So fun!
My daughter turned the bunting doodling into a real party!  I couldn't be more charmed by her disco ball.
 
If you're on Instagram, follow @diane.bleck for creative inspiration!  I checked out her website and  it looks like she also offers a variety of online courses, which I can see us enjoying in the future. 

This doodling afternoon was another reminder of how fun, relaxing, and satisfying it is to carve out time to do stuff, create stuff, try new stuff, etc. 

Circle back for future #instajoy posts wherein Instagram inspiration and action will intersect.  And, of course, for #bookstajoy posts where I follow up on literary inspirations from #bookstagrammers.
 

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

2018 Reading Highlights -- Nonfiction


I was trying for one massive 2018 Reading Highlights post, but it was becoming too unwieldy. Here's Part 2 of 2:  2018 Reading Highlights:  Nonfiction.

As with the Fiction Highlights post, I will note which books are available via Hoopla as it is an easy-to-use digital resource to which many libraries subscribe (including my beloved Elmhurst Public Library, featured in photo above).

2018 Highlights -- Memoirs
I like to be inspired, especially by people taking risks and/or living lives totally different from mine.
 
Educated by Tara Westover:  Kids are so much tougher than we imagine and family love so much more complicated and messy.  I said a bit more here.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs:  That Steve Jobs was a strange cat and I feel like his daughter did a good job of telling her story honestly and letting her Steve-focused anecdotes speak for themselves.  Available via Hoopla.

The Year of Living Danishly: My Twelves Months Unearthing the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country by Helen Russell:  Would be great for book clubs!  I'm not ready to pack my bags and move to Denmark, but I enjoyed (and learned from) the insights of a couple who did just that.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less by Terry Ryan:  Inspiring story and good glimpse into an earlier (but not always easier) time.  Available via Hoopla (though I had purchased the ebook).

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson:  Humor, historical tidbits, witty and sometimes wise commentary.  A gem!

2018 Highlights -- New Books from Old Favorites
If you can't easily secure the title I mentioned, you're safe finding a backlist pick. 

Calypso by David Sedaris:  Sedaris tackles some tougher topics in this collection, but his keen observations and humor are still present.  His Fitbit essay is an all-time favorite of mine.  This one isn't available via Hoopla, but some backlist titles are.  Try Me Talk Pretty One Day.

Go Ask Ali: Half-Baked Advice (and Free Lemonade) by Ali Wentworth:  Ali Wentworth has written three books and they've all made me laugh.  She's honest and funny.  Go Ask Ali is her latest.


2018 Highlights -- New Favorite (Nonfiction) Author
I will track down all future titles.

Clare Balding:  I read two Clare Balding (British TV presenter and radio host) memoirs this year and look forward to more.  I loved Walking Home: My Family and Other Rambles and My Animals and Other Family.

2018 Highlights -- Practical Inspiration
I appreciate reading to learn.  The older I get, the more I realize how much I still have to learn.

Decluttering at the Speed of Life by Dana K. White:  I've already written about White's first book.  This one was also full of inspiration and practical tips.  Both of her books available via Hoopla.

The Year of Less:  How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store by Cait Flanders:  I'm always looking for inspiration to spend less and declutter.  My stage of life is different from Flanders' but I learned from her and liked her straightforward, honest writing style.  Available via Hoopla.

2018 Highlights -- Essays by Women
I need to explore this category even more widely.  Lots of good writing and wise women out there.

Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan:  I've read all of Kelly Corrigan's books.  I appreciate her honesty and love her writing style.  I laughed and cried reading this one.

Nothing Good Can Come from This by Kristi Coulter:  One woman's story of drinking and then stopping with lots of larger insights about gender and drinking.  A serious topic but still some funny moments in these essays.

Heating & Cooling:52 Micro-Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly:  These are micro-memoirs not essays, but I feel like putting them here and not above with the memoirs.  They aren't exactly poems but are clearly penned by a poet.  Quick but satisfying reading experience.

2018 Highlights -- Funny Books and/or Funny People
These are books by or about funny people that I really enjoyed in 2018.
 
The Chris Farley Show:  A Biography in Three Acts by Tom Farley, Jr.:  Farley's friends, family, colleagues all share memories, offering a full (and I suspect, fair) depiction of Farley with all his goodness and genius and struggles and flaws and demons.

A Polaroid Guy in a Snapchat World by David Spade:  A friend recommended this one and Spade just cracked me up with his self-deprecating humor.  I tracked down Almost Interesting (available via Hoopla) and that made me laugh as well.  Neither book suitable for children!

My Squirrel Days by Ellie Kemper:  Hmmm, a lot of people didn't like this, but I enjoyed Kemper's fresh, distinct, engaging voice.  She comes across as much smarter than many of the characters she plays.

The Actor's Life by Jenna Fisher:  This book could also be categorized above with the "practical inspiration" titles.   I'm a huge JAM fan so had to read this one.  I have never had ANY plans to pursue acting, but there is loads of practical advice here for someone seeking an acting career or anyone with a dream.  Don't wait for work!  Find ways to create your own opportunities and projects.  Very encouraging!

What about fiction?  I covered that yesterday:  2018 Reading Highlights -- Fiction.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

2018 Reading Highlights -- Fiction


Better late than never.  I'm writing two posts.  Here's the first:  2018 Reading Highlights -- Fiction.   My descriptions are going to be BRIEF and still this post will be too long. 

I chose this photo of the Elmhurst Public Library at sunset because EPL is truly the beating heart of my reading life.  Not only do they have a wonderful selection of books, often arranged in tempting displays, but their e-resources are unbelievable.  Thanks to My Media Mail/The Libby App and Hoopla Digital, I read and listen to many wonderful books for free.  Because Hoopla is the easiest digital resource to use (if your library subscribes, which I hope it does), I will make mention when a title is available via Hoopla.

2018 Highlights -- New Books from Old Favorites
If you can't easily secure the title I mentioned, you're safe choosing a backlist pick.

All I Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin:  Giffin's best book in years.  It's a whole new world out there with social media, even for "good" kids.

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith:  I am obsessed with the Cormoran Strike series.  I waited almost two years for this one.  Start at the beginning with Cuckoo's Calling though.  Even my husband is hooked, though he won't gush about it like I do.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty:  Some people found this one to be a snoozer, but I liked the characters and their back stories.  Stick with it.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones:  A tough novel to read, but so well-written and worth it.  If it's unavailable, try Silver Sparrow.

How Hard Can It Be by Allison Pearson:  I waited over a decade for this follow up to I Don't Know How She Does It.  You need to read that one first, but then you won't have to wait ten years for this worthy sequel.

Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles:  Cameron was paralyzed and walks again.  Miracle?  Medical breakthrough?  You'll want to meet Cameron, his sister, and his neighbors. 

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny:  I listened to seven Chief Inspector Gamache books in 2018,  I recommend listening because the narration is exquisite.  My heart about burst at the end of How the Light Gets In, but you can't start there.  You have to start at the beginning with Still Life.  Sorry.

2018 Highlights -- Solid, Satisfying Novels
These books just hit the spot for me. I'm not going to say much more.

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center:  Center's best yet.

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi:  Includes witty text exchanges.

I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi:  Premise is the worst, but stick with the story and you'll be glad.  Available via Hoopla.

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood:  Great for fans of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.  Available via Hoopla.

One Day in December by Josie Silver:  Read it and imagine the blockbuster rom-com it will be one day (see what I did there?).

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell:  This one was a WOW for me.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh:  Dark, dark, dark, but it worked for me.  You might hate it though.

2018 Highlights -- New Favorite Authors
I will track down all future titles.

Jane Harper:  Great mysteries with cool Australian settings.  I enjoyed The Dry and Force of Nature.

Cherise Wolas:  The Family Tabor asks big questions:  How does one negotiate life without faith?  What happens if you try to bury, deny, discount the past?  Her previous novel also made me think.  I'll come back for more.

2018 Highlights -- New Favorite YA Authors
I am picky about my YA.  I don't like YA novels where teen characters are mouthpieces for adult author social/political commentary or when situations are exceptionally brutal, bleak, or sexual.  I like books that feature interesting teen friendships and relationships with witty, realistic-seeming dialogue.

Emma Mills:  I started with First and Then, a romance involving football and a play on my beloved P&P.  Stay tuned for reports of the 2019 Emma Mills bender I went on.

Brigid Kemmerer:  I started with More than We Can Tell and have since read another from the Letters to the Lost Series.  Looks like there are some other series, but they sound sort of Sci-Fi-ish so I'm not likely to be going there.  Letters to the Lost though ... I'm all in.

2018 Highlights -- Short Stories
I always think I don't like short stories until I remember that I do.

You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld:  Just right.  Smart, witty, ringing true.

Fight No More by Lydia Millet:  These interconnected short stories were a fantastic surprise.  Sad and happy and hopeful.  Available via Hoopla.


2018 Highlights -- For Anne (with an "e") Fans
In case your spot for Anne of Green Gables is as soft as mine is.
Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy:  Lovely and heartbreaking to imagine Marilla's life before Anne.  Available via Hoopla.

House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery by Liz Rosenberg:  This book is NOT fiction, but all those who love L.M. Montgomery's fiction should read it.  I said more here.

2018 Highlights -- Fun/Creepy Reads for Boy Moms
Consider yourself warned.  Who's good enough for your precious boy?

The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances

The Other Woman by Sadie Jones 

2018 Highlights -- Romance
Combination of some steam and a good story.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang:  BOTM pick.  Available via Hoopla.

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal:  Reese Witherspoon said so.  Via Hoopla. 

If you're not exhausted, check out Part 2:  2018 Reading Highlights -- Nonfiction.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Revisiting The Blue Castle


Here's my copy of The Blue Castle from the late 1980s.
I was scrolling through #bookstagram the other day and spotted a copy of L.M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle.  Scanning the comments, I glimpsed someone saying that it was their favorite L.M. Montgomery novel.  Hmmm, really?!  I knew I had read the book but had no memories or impressions of it.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  After I finished off the Anne of Green Gables series in around seventh grade (maybe that's late to read them ... I don't know, but that's when I discovered them), I made it a point to buy and read any other L.M. Montgomery book that crossed my path.  So, I likely read The Blue Castle somewhere between 1987 and 1989.  I can be forgiven for not recalling a book read thirty years ago except that I do remember many other books read during that period.

The L.M. Montgomery titles available via Hoopla have the gorgeous artwork from the new Source Books editions.
Last year, I revisited L.M. Montgomery's Emily of New Moon series as audiobooks checked out via Hoopla Digital.  I did a quick search and discovered that The Blue Castle was also available on Hoopla.  I downloaded and pressed play, and this weekend's listening experience was wonderful!

The Blue Castle is just fantastic.  L.M. Montgomery tells the story of Valancy Stirling, a plain young woman of twenty-nine who has lived a small, dull, stifling life with a proud but fairly miserable family.  She's unmarried and mostly ignored.  She's existing but not living.  Having experienced some heart trouble, she gathers up just enough gumption to see a doctor outside of her family's circle.  The news she receives convinces her that if her life won't be long, she ought to at least live it.  What ensues is an energizing, satisfying story of bravery, friendship, and love.  When Valancy finally realizes she doesn't give a hoot what her family thinks and begins speaking her mind, I was laughing aloud and cheering her on. 

Just some of my L.M. Montgomery books from the late 1980s.
At 44, I loved every second of The Blue Castle, but I guess at 12 or 13, I wasn't that impressed.  Perhaps a middle schooler can't fully appreciate the courage required to explode one's whole world and sever family ties.  I'm now excited to see what other L.M. Montgomery titles I can reread.  Nine years ago while nursing my daughter, I reread all the Anne of Green Gables books on my iphone.  I revisted the Emily of New Moon books last year.  I think I'll head back to Pat of Silver Bush next.

This book is very readable and includes perfect illustrations by Julie Morstad.
I find I am appreciating all of L.M. Montgomery's books even more after having read Liz Rosenberg's House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery this past autumn.  This well-researched account shows how un-dreamlike Montgomery's life was.  One appreciates the spirit, life, and struggle of Anne and Emily knowing how tough Montgomery's own climb was -- that constant interplay between darkness and light.  Heartbreaking, actually, to know that someone who saw and brought so much beauty in and to the world suffered so keenly.  If you are an Anne Fan, please check out House of Dreams

Have you revisited any childhood books as an adult?  Despite the "so many books, so little time" reality of life, my experience with The Blue Castle makes me think I should do more rereading, especially with favorite authors. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

(Lil) Lil Project: Cardinal Art via Post

Today's (Lil) Lil Project is barely a project, but I'm giving myself credit anyway because I had a vision and took steps (literally) to make it a reality.

I turned 44 last week and received a birthday gift from my aunt and uncle.  In addition to a really cool necklace and earrings from the Mill City Museum, I received a birthday message written on a cardinal notecard. 

The cardinal notecard had a lot going for it:  cool, modern lines; the way it featured a female cardinal (most cardinal art features the showier male); a turquoise background (currently can't get enough turquoise); and the fact that it was chosen with love for a niece obsessed with cardinals

"I need to put this little birdie in a black frame to join some of its friends," I thought to myself.  And then, our Saturday was kind of expansively empty in the best possible way and the sun was shining so I took a walk to The Pink Elephant, the hospital resale shop here in Pleasantville.  For $1.00, I found a black frame with the subtlest red/rust accents and knew it fit the bill (or beak).  After walking home, I got out my glass cleaner and spiffed up the frame.  Then, I chose a piece of cardstock from my home stash for the background, popped the notecard into place, and added the new frame to a little cardinal vignette I've got going in the library. 

Ah, the satisfaction of a lil (lil) project complete!