Celebrating La Befana

befanaGrowing up, we celebrated the feast of the Epiphany with a special meal and treats. While my brothers and I attached more significance to Christmas Day, my mother considered January 6th to be the Italian Christmas. She would regale us with tales of la Befana, the friendly witch who delivered gifts to good children and lumps of coal to the bad ones.

Over the years, I’ve heard many variations of this tale, but I still prefer my mother’s version.


The Magi stopped at la Befana’s house on their way to visit Baby Jesus. The gracious hostess treated them to a meal and offered them shelter for the night. She also gave them directions. Touched by her hospitality, the three kings invited her to accompany them on their journey, but she declined. She had too much housework. After they left, she changed her mind and decided to join them. She packed up some toys for the newborn child and set off on the journey. She never caught up to them. Disappointed but practical, she decided to share her bounty of toys. To this day, she delivers her gifts to Italian children on the night before the Epiphany.

Does anyone else celebrate the feast of the Epiphany? I would love to hear about your traditions.



Movie Review: The Greatest Showman

Inspired by the life of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman celebrates the birth of show business with an empowering storyline, eleven original songs by the Academy-Award-winning lyricists of LaLa Land, and spectacular choreography.

Hugh Jackman dominates practically all the scenes as he assumes the role of the larger-than-life visionary, who rose from humble beginnings to create a worldwide sensation. A long-time fan of Jackman, I found him irresistible as he sang and danced in his red impresario’s coat and top hat. Definitely a contender in the award season ahead.

I was also impressed by the supporting cast.

Michelle Williams delivers an excellent performance as Barnum’s behind-the-scenes wife, Charity. Possessing a strong, clear voice, she comes across as supportive and adventurous, choosing to leave behind a privileged background to follow Barnum on his entrepreneurial journey.

Zac Efron embraces the role of playwright and society boy Phillip Carlyle. An unlikely collaborator, Carlyle is a quick study, stepping in whenever Barnum leaves to pursue other artistic paths. His budding romance with an African-American trapeze artist (Zendaya) provides many tender, bittersweet moments. Their standout performance takes place in the empty circus tent when Zendaya flies on the trapeze as Efron tries to meet her partway, all to the haunting lyrics of “Rewrite the Stars.”

I was moved by the courage of all the “human oddities” that Barnum recruited for his “Museum of Curiosities.” My favorite–Lettie Lutz the “Bearded Lady”–played by Tony-nominee Keala Settle. Cringing from shame, Lettie reluctantly agrees to participate in the show and then uses her powerhouse voice to transform into a fearless Diva.

While the “real” story has darker undertones, director Michael Gracey has chosen to downplay those elements, focusing on the importance of diversity, encapsulated by P.T. Barnum’s philosophy: “Everyone is special, and nobody is like anyone else.”

A class act for the whole family to enjoy.

This Year is Yours

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

At the beginning of each new year, I reread the following poem for inspiration:

God built and launched this year for you;
Upon the bridge you stand;
It’s your ship, aye, your own ship,
And you are in command.

Just what the twelve months’ trip will do
Rests wholly, solely, friend, with you.

Your logbook kept from day to day
My friend, what will it show?
Have you on your appointed way
Made progress, yes or no?

The log will tell, like guiding star,
The sort of captain that you are.

For weal or woe this year is yours;
Your ship is on life’s sea
Your acts, as captain, must decide
Whichever it shall be;

So now in starting on your trip,
Ask God to help you sail your ship.

By Alfred Lord Tennyson

Movie Review: Molly’s Game

The storyline is a compelling one: an Olympic-class skier runs an exclusive, high-stakes poker game for a decade before being arrested by seventeen FBI agents wielding automatic weapons. Insert Oscar-winning actress Jessica Chastain in the leading role and screenwriter-turned-director Aaron Sorkin at the helm and the movie becomes even more mesmerizing.

After suffering a devastating injury on the slopes, Molly Bloom, an Olympic hopeful, walks away from her small-town life and her father’s unrealistic expectations. Hoping to soak in the sun and have fun in Los Angeles, Molly ends up working as a personal assistant for an abusive employer (Jeremy Strong), who puts Molly in charge of organizing a weekly, back-room poker game populated by A-list actors, politicians, millionaires, and billionaires.

Under Molly’s supervision, the game grows exponentially as she adds more exclusive trappings: a suite in a luxury hotel, gourmet food, and expensive liquor. She also increases the buy-in, ensuring that she’ll make more in tips. In a recent interview, Molly revealed that her income in 2009 was over $4 million.

A run-in with Player X (Michael Cera) forces Molly to take her game to New York. There, she increases the buy-in to $250,000. While the clientele is still high-end, the game also attracts wealthy Russian gangsters who want a piece of the action. About this time, the FBI becomes very interested in Molly’s game.

Nominated for a Golden Globe, Jessica Chastain also deserves an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of this strong but deeply flawed woman. Her voice-over throughout the film skillfully anchors all the events from an early accident at age twelve to the handcuff scene to conversations in her lawyer’s office.

The supporting cast of male characters delivers award-winning performances. I was impressed by Idris Elba’s portrayal of Charlie Jaffey, the lawyer with scruples, who takes Molly’s case even though she’s broke and facing jail time.

Kevin Costner delivers an excellent performance as the hard-driving sports father and psychologist, who demanded academic and athletic excellence from his children. The skating rink scene provides a glimpse into his softer “dad” side.

Molly’s Game is more than just another poker movie. In fact, the Poker Princess aka Molly Bloom doesn’t even play the game.

A must-see film!

10 Interesting Facts About Calamity (Callie) Barnstable

I’m happy to welcome Canadian author Judy Penz Sheluk to the Power of 10 series. Today, Judy shares ten interesting facts about the protagonist of her Marketville series. I enjoyed reading and highly recommend Book 1, Skeletons in the Attic, and look forward to future installments.

Here’s Judy!

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable is the protagonist in SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC, the first book in Judy Penz Sheluk’s Marketville Mystery series. PAST AND PRESENT, the second book in the series, is scheduled for publication in early 2019.

1) Calamity (Callie) is named after Calamity Jane, a Wild West frontierswoman of questionable repute, although her mother actually named her after the considerably softened Calamity portrayed by Doris Day in a 1950s movie of the same name.

2) Callie is the only child of two only children, whose parents disowned them, and by association, their only grandchild, when Callie’s mother got pregnant at the age of 17.

3) Callie worked in the fraud unit of a bank call center in Toronto until she inherited a house in Marketville from her father, who died in an “unfortunate occupational accident.”

4) Callie has also inherited her father’s black-rimmed hazel eyes, unruly brown hair, and stubborn streak.

5) When it comes to love, Callie believes she is a victim of the “Barnstable family curse.” Her last boyfriend dumped her on Valentine’s Day, when Callie was expecting an engagement ring. Enough said.

6) Callie’s favorite take-out comfort food is cheese pizza with extra sauce and hot peppers, though she does make a great homemade lasagna and mac and cheese. Maybe cheese is the not-so-secret ingredient here.

7) Callie’s favorite alcoholic beverage is Australian chardonnay. Her favorite tea is Vanilla Rooibos.

8) Callie is a runner who runs in temperatures from -30 to +30 (that’s Celsius for you Fahrenheit folks…translation -22 to 86+)

9) Callie is “addicted” to cocoa butter lip balm and has tubes of it stashed everywhere.

10) Callie is both fascinated and doubtful about tarot and all things psychic.


What goes on behind closed doors doesn’t always stay there…

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, though she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville—a house she didn’t know existed. However, there are conditions attached to Callie’s inheritance: she must move to Marketville, live in the house, and solve her mother’s murder.

Callie’s not keen on dredging up a thirty-year-old mystery, but if she doesn’t do it, there’s a scheming psychic named Misty Rivers who is more than happy to expose the Barnstable family secrets. Determined to thwart Misty and fulfill her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic?


Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries (THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE), and The Marketville Mysteries (SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC). Sequels to both series are scheduled for 2018. Judy’s short crime fiction appears is several collections.

Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. She is also on the Crime Writers of Canada Board of Directors as the Regional Representative for Toronto/Southern Ontario (2017-2018).

Where to find Judy…

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon

Find Judy’s books at all the usual suspects, including Audible and the publisher Barking Rain Press.