A Blue Moon Farewell

It is a fitting farewell to Neil Armstrong, and I wonder if his family planned it that way.

This evening, we will see a rare blue moon, a second full moon in a calendar month. So, tonight’s moon is definitely worth gazing at, as we fondly remember the first man who walked on the lunar landscape.

My memories of Neil Armstrong go back to 1968, one year before that auspicious moonwalk that touched so many aspects of our culture.

It was an exciting time in my hometown of Sudbury, Ontario.

Astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were using Sudbury as a testing ground for their walk on the moon. Somehow, NASA had discovered that our bleak landscape—often compared to Hiroshima—would provide Aldrin and Armstrong with a ready-made lunar environment.

While we basked in the attention, the mayor and city council members were not too pleased with the negative publicity generated by this mixed blessing. The mining industry had done a great deal of damage to the local environment, releasing clouds of sulfur gas that affected the residents and nearby ecosystems. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the mining industry was finally forced to clean up their act.

That fall, the space program was the main focus of the Grade 9 science program and I remember clipping articles for my moon scrapbook and watching all the telecasts leading to the moonwalk on July 21, 1969.

Tonight, I intend to honor Neil Armstrong by winking at the blue moon.

Sudbury 2012

The Sixes

While I enjoyed reading Kate White’s best-selling career bible, Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead…but Gutsy Girls Do, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the high-profile editor of Cosmopolitan also has a passion for writing fiction.

The sixth of seven novels, The Sixes is a stand-alone psychological thriller. From the first page onward, I was engrossed in the story and had trouble putting the book down, disrupting my sleep patterns for several nights.

Celebrity writer Phoebe Hall is hiding in small town Pennsylvania. After her long-time boyfriend abruptly ends their relationship and she is accusing of plagiarism, her best friend and college president Glenda Johns offers her a teaching position.

Phoebe was hoping to keep her head down while she planned her next book. Instead, Glenda asks her to investigate the Sixes, a secret society on campus. This crop of mean girls has taken feminism to a dangerous extreme and may even be responsible for several grisly murders on campus.

As Phoebe becomes a target of their hateful pranks, she starts reliving some of the horror from her own boarding school years. At one point, she wonders if any of those tormenters have followed her to Pennsylvania. She also suspects her love interest, a psychology professor who is guarding his own secrets.

So many red herrings, twists and turns in this novel.  I was kept guessing right until the end.

An excellent read!

Oprah and Beasts of the Southern Wild

During a recent interview, President Obama asked Oprah if she had seen the movie, Beasts of the Southern Wild. Intrigued, Oprah decided to watch this fantasy drama and then added to the buzz surrounding this magical tale of hope and redemption.

On yesterday’s Super Soul Sunday, Oprah interviewed co-writer/director Benh Zeitlin and actors Dwight Henry and Quvenzhané Wallis.

Benh Zeitlin

This is the first feature film for the 29-year-old visionary who wanted to fill his life with wild, brave and good-hearted people. Struck by Hurricane Katrina and how people responded to it, Zeitlin decided to create an anthem to those courageous survivors who had held out for their homes and culture.

Dwight Henry

He was not looking for an acting job. Content with his bakery—later called Buttermilk Drop Bakery and Café—Henry served his delicious donuts to Zeitlin and the rest of the crew at the casting agency across the street. During a slow hour, he read for the part and was asked to return. Flattered, he refused the part because he had no intention of sacrificing his business for a possible acting career. But Zeitlin persisted, strongly believing that if Henry could start a bakery, he could be a lead actor in the film. Also, Henry had lived through Hurricane Katrina and would bring a passion to the part that no experienced actor could match.

Quvenzhané Wallis

Chosen over 4000 other possibilities, this miniature force of nature was only five years old when she auditioned for the role. While her reading abilities were limited, she impressed the film-makers with her improvisational talents. She also had a tremendous scream and the ability to burp on command.

Quotable quotes…

  • Stand in the face of things that people say you can’t stand.
  • When you find someone who believes in you, take heed and respect it.
  • Everything in life has its own heartbeat.
  • Everybody loses the thing that made them. The brave men stay and watch it happen. They don’t run. (Hush Puppy)

To Rome With Love

With the eternal city as backdrop and a cast of A-list actors, Woody Allen succeeds in creating a magical kingdom where anything is possible.

Using both languages, we follow two relationships involving Italians and two relationships with Americans in Rome.

When a newlywed couple is separated, the man becomes involved with a call girl (Penelope Cruz) while the woman pursues her own romantic fantasy. Roberto Begnini stars as a clerk who wakes up one day and discovers he is the most famous man in Rome.

A famous architect (Alec Baldwin) drops in on a young student (Jesse Eisenberg) and his ménage a trois with a girlfriend and a femme fatale (Ellen Page). After a young New Yorker falls in love with a successful Roman layer, her parents (Woody Allen and Judy Davis) cross the ocean to meet the in-laws. Obsessed with retirement and death, the Woody Allen character orchestrates a bizarre production.

Woody Allen has proven again that he can write, direct and act in a film that appeals to a wide audience.

Simply delightful from start to finish.

Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child

When Bob Spitz was asked to escort an older woman in Sicily, he replied, “I don’t do that kind of work.” But he changed his mind when he heard the  woman was Julia Child, admitting that he had a huge crush on the six-foot three-inch cooking icon.

During that month in Sicily, Julia poured out her entire life to Spitz, and he was smart enough to run a tape recorder. He took a nine-year detour to write The Beatles and then spent four years writing and researching Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child. The result is a beautifully crafted book which was released earlier this month. An excellent way to mark the centenary of Julia Child’s birth.

While there have been many other books and movies about Julia Child, Spitz has managed to breathe new life into her story, providing us with fresh information and insights into her remarkable character.

After graduating from Smith College, Julia was a lost soul. Her marks were less than stellar and she did not demonstrate any special talents. Her adviser commented, “She would do well in some organized charity or social service work…In any case, Julia’s family is wealthy. She will not need a job I do not believe.”

In her diary, Julia wrote, “I felt I had particular and unique gifts that I was meant for something, and was like no else.” She had to weather many misadventures before those gifts started to materialize and did not hit upon her true calling until the age of forty.

In other books and the movie Julie and Julia, great emphasis is placed on her marriage to soul mate, Paul Child. I was surprised to learn that it was not love at first sight, but a gradual deepening of affection. In an early letter, Paul wrote, “I believe she would marry me, but isn’t the right woman from my standpoint.” He questioned “the lack of worldly knowledge, the sloppy thinking, the wild emotionalism, the conventional framework.” They also appeared to be physically mismatched. Nevertheless, they married and enjoyed a decades-long love.

While in Paris, she learned French, attended the Cordon Bleu and spent hours honing her cooking techniques.  What was even more remarkable is the fact that she didn’t learn how to cook until age forty. She was all thumbs in the kitchen and had to be walked through the most basic tasks. One nephew commented, “The joke was she could burn water if she boiled it.”

It took six years for Julia and her collaborators to write Mastering the Art of French Cooking. As Julia and Paul moved through Europe, she continued testing and retesting each recipe until perfection was achieved. When Mastering the Art of French Cooking hit the stores, it was a phenomenal success. It also helped launch Julia’s career in public television at age fifty.

Julia remained independent all her life, actively living and cooking until her death at age 92.

Definitely a page turner–all 500+ pages!

Hope Springs

After watching the trailer, I assumed there would be many humorous moments as heavyweights Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones paired up in Hope Springs.

I was disappointed.

While there were lighter moments, for the most part, the movie is a serious drama about marital conflict.

Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Jones) have just celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary with a new cable TV subscription. Their lives in Omaha have settled into a dull routine, where they co-exist in separate bedrooms. Desperate to recapture the passion in the marriage, Kay signs the couple up for an intensive week-long marriage therapy course in Maine.

In Maine, the couple meets with Dr. Feld (Steve Carrell) who serves as a sounding board for the couple. He guides them through a serious of exercises and asks pointed questions that lead to a breakthrough. This breakthrough, however, is only the beginning of the long road back to intimacy for Kay and Arnold.

Hope Springs has been described as the perfect date movie—if you’ve been married for a while.



Oprah and Rev. Ed Bacon

Rev. Ed Bacon doesn’t want everyone in church on Sundays. More concerned with filling hearts rather than filling pews, he has no problems with anyone who enjoys wonderful Sunday morning experiences elsewhere.

Taken aback by his statement, Oprah asked him to elaborate on spirituality, the main theme of yesterday’s Super Soul Sunday session. He came up with the following definition which resonated with Oprah and many of her followers on Twitter and Facebook.

Spirituality is the experience of feeling unconditionally loved so powerfully that you know there is some Power greater than you. And it fills you so much that you want to share that feeling with others.

He went on to discuss the difficulties encountered by people who choose to live in a house of fear. Dependent upon someone else’s dogma, these people are not interested in developing their own inner voices. Spirituality empowers people to think for themselves and make the choice to live in a house of love.

Throughout yesterday’s program, Bacon stressed the fact that everyone is equally advantaged before God and we should all be moving toward creating a human family.  He acknowledged the challenges and gave practical advice on dealing with anger and conflict.

Stop | Take a breath | Become an observer

I was very impressed by this extraordinary thinker, often referred to as the chief spiritual officer at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. While reading about his early life, I discovered that Bacon was greatly influenced by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A chance meeting at the Atlanta airport in 1967 inspired Bacon to reread the Bible using a different lens, one inspired by universal compassion.

Quotable quotes…

  • The kingdom of God is within you. You are your own priest.
  • Satan and the ego are the same thing.
  • Save us from those who think evil is external.
  • In every moment, there is something sacred at stake.
  • You don’t order grace; it just comes.
  • The cockpit shakes the most just before breaking the sound barrier

Spiritual nourishment at its best!

Margaret Atwood at Stratford

At yesterday’s Celebrated Writer Series in Stratford, Margaret Atwood entertained us with her readings and her special brand of humour.

As I listened to her read excerpts from Gertrude Talks Back and Oryx and Cake, I could feel her passion for the written word. The feisty septuagenarian is definitely a force in English literature, having written more than fifty volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction and non-fiction.

When asked about her reading preferences, Atwood told us that she reads everything she can get her hands on, even In-flight Magazine. And she enjoys watching a wide range of movies, among them Kung Fu Panda and Mirror Mirror.

While growing up, Margaret Atwood was never told what to read.  She knew that certain books were not appropriate, but that didn’t stop her. She recalls climbing up on the garage roof to read Peyton Place.

Other interesting tidbits…

  • She never throws out books. Instead, she inserts name plates with the message—This book is yours—and leaves the books on park benches throughout the city.
  • The only books she did not enjoy writing were those she did not finish.
  • She has her own attitude about semi-colons.
  • While she prefers print books, she has tried e-readers and believes they have their place.
  • She has read every trashy book about Mary Queen of Scots.
  • She encourages everyone to visit Wattpad for information about a digital poetry award called “The Attys.”

Spilled Blood

It is every parent’s worst nightmare—A son or daughter accused of murder.

In Spilled Blood, award-winning author Brian Freeman skillfully weaves several plot lines around this disturbing premise, and in the process, creates a heart-pounding psychological thriller.

When lawyer Chris Hawk arrives in the small Minnesota town of St. Croix, he is ready to defend his teenage daughter, Olivia, who has been accused of murdering Ashylnn, the beautiful daughter of wealthy Florian Steele. While he believes in her innocence, others—including his estranged wife—have their doubts.

In the prologue, Freeman introduces myriad reasons for this gruesome crime. As Olivia plays Russian Roulette with Ashlynn’s life, we are privy to the victim’s thoughts: “All of the hurt, loss, jealousy, bitterness, humiliation, frustration, and anger of the past three years had converged on this moment. It was Kimberly dying. It was the lawsuit failing. It was tit-for-tat violence that had erupted between the two towns over the past year. Olivia had found someone to take the fall for everything she’d suffered.”

While investigating, Chris uncovers many secrets that lie within the two rural towns linked by the Spirit River. Chilling threats from a psychopath known only as Aquarius. A pornography ring. A cancer cluster. An unwanted pregnancy and the resulting abortion. The author leaves a trail of clues leading to an unexpected but logical climax.

Freeman likes to put ordinary people in situations that force them to cross lines. While reading, I wondered just how far the minister would go to protect his son. Would the brother of a notorious thug say or do anything to protect the girl he secretly desired? Why would a rich man’s daughter drive alone through a ghost town?

The pacing is superb. Brian Freeman ends each chapter with a twist or cliff hanger, compelling many of us to read well beyond the midnight hour.

An excellent read!