Tuesday, August 30, 2011

10 Countries I'd Love To Visit

I've traveled a lot more than I ever thought I would, but there are still places I want to see both here and abroad. Here are the top 10 international places on my list:

1. Australia. Why? I want to take a train trip into the famous Outback, see kangaroos and wallabies hopping around,  visit a sheep station, then see the Sydney Opera House and the Great Barrier Reef, share a shrimp on the barbie with some friendly Ozzies, and cuddle a koala bear.

2. China. Why? I want to visit the Forbidden City and see its treasures. Then I'll climb the Great Wall (yeah, that'll happen), and take a cruise down the Yangtze River. China is such a vast country, I doubt I'd have any trouble finding places to go and people to see.
3. Ireland. Why? I'm half (or thereabouts) Irish, so I'd like to see the home of my ancestors. I want to see the countryside where "The Quiet Man" (John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara) was filmed. I want to look down at the sea from the Cliffs of Moher and visit a castle or two. I want to order Irish stew at an Irish pub and stay at a cozy Irish inn.
4. Malta. Why? I read about Malta in Tim Willocks' historical novel "The Religion," then learned more about it in a travel brochure. Located in the Mediterranean just south of Sicily, Malta would be a fascinating place to visit. It has ancient Roman ruins, modern seaside hotels and great weather. This tiny country even has its own language, and we've all heard about the Maltese Falcon, made from "the stuff that dreams are made of."

5. Nepal. Why? Who could resist saying they've been to Kathmandu? I would explore that wonderful city and buy exotic trinkets from its busy markets. I'd take a million pictures of the Himalayas (if they were visible), but it's highly unlikely that I'd try to climb them.

6. New Zealand. Why? Well, not only is this a beautiful place, it's also the location for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, which I have seen a gazillion times, home to director Peter Jackson and Weta Workshop, wherein the most creative people on earth created all the fantastic things that brought Middle Earth to life.

7. Prince Edward Island. Why? The picture above is part of the answer; isn't it beautiful? Part of the Canadian Maritimes off the eastern coast of Canada, PEI is the setting for Lucy Maud Montgomery's "Anne of Green Gables" books, which describe the island in loving detail. I'd love to wander around the lovely place with camera in hand.

8. Spain. Why? I've loved Espana since I was a child. Its stories have always appealed to the romantic in me. I would see the wonders of the Alhambra in Granada, watch flamenco dancers and listen to guitars at sunset. I'd listen to the cheers outside the Plaza del Toros and practice the Castillian Spanish I learned in high school. 

9. Turkey. Why? Because it seems so cool! I would see places like Cappodacia (above) and visit the legendary city of Istanbul (because I can't go back to Constantinople) where I would shop in the Grand Bazaar and see the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace before taking a cruise on the Bosphorus, the strait that separates Europe and Asia.
10. Wales. Why? Wales has gained considerable notoriety as the home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, or Will and Kate as the world knows them. But it's also a beautiful place, and pretty much off the beaten path. I'd take a stab at learning Welsh, but I don't think I'd be very successful!

 That's my list. Where in the world would you like to go?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"The Help" - A Bit Flawed But Worth Seeing

Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) and her mother (Sissy  Spacek) head for a luncheon with their maid Minny (Octavia Spencer) bringing up the rear with one of her famous pies.

I finally got around to seeing The Help yesterday. At 11:45 a.m. the theater was packed! Word-of-mouth  (and blog) has really provided great (and well-deserved) advertising for this film, based on the best-selling book about the pre-Civil Rights South by Kathy Stockett.

This look at the de-humanizing of black people by the white people they work for is quite compelling. The "help" consists of black maids who serve as housekeepers, laundresses, cooks, maids and child-rearers for white women who have neither the time nor inclination to perform these duties for themselves. Although the maids are paid, their status has changed little since the age of slavery.

Their story is related primarily by Aibileen (Viola Davis), who tends to Elizabeth Leefolte (Ahna O'Reilly) and the child she neglects. She is joined by her friend Minny (Octavia Spencer), who has the misfortune to "do for" the Holbrook household, headed by the vile Hilly (Blythe Dallas Howard).

The white women they toil for six days a week for less than minimum wage are the hoi-polloi of Jackson, Miss. society. Immaculately clothed and coiffed (usually by the maids), they spend their time hosting luncheons and raising funds for African children while ignoring the needs of people right under their noses.

The leader of this pack is the aforementioned Hilly, a honey-drawled racist who has a way of steamrolling everyone into doing her bidding and truly believes that blacks are a sub-species.

The catalyst of the story is Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone), a recent college graduate who sees the injustice of the maids' plight and persuades them to share their stories for a book. Reluctant at first, and rightfully fearing retaliation, Aibileen and Minny finally agree. Skeeter sells her book idea to a New York editor (Mary Steenbergen), with the proviso that she add a dozen more maids' stories to the two she has submitted.

One maid's desperation leads to her arrest for theft (at Hilly's request), and her unjust treatment and the increasing violence against blacks - including the assassination of Medgar Evers - bring more maids to the fore to share their stories.

And what stories they are; raising white children while leaving their own at home in the care of someone else, being denied the use of the toilets in the white families' homes, and being treated as less than human in a hundred different ways.

The Help is beautifully told, both in story and cinematically. The acting is superb throughout, although Davis, Spencer and Howard take it to another level.

The major problem with the film is that is uses a very wide brush to paint the story. All the maids are caring and noble, and loyal to a fault. All the white women are shallow trophy wives who blindly follow where Hilly leads. There are no nuances, no gray areas. Hilly is so unceasingly horrible that you really appreciate Minny's flaky form of revenge.

Skeeter is just too perfect; the only person in all of Mississippi who cares about black people who play such an important role in the lives of the whites, the only one willing to risk breaking the law to present their problems to the world. We are never told what makes her different from her peers or why she's so determined to fight the system she was raised with.

The highlight of The Help is Sissy Spacek, who plays Hilly's not-quite-all-there mother. She's having a grand old time with her small role and provides just the right amount of humor.

In spite of its faults, The Help brings to light a very bleak chapter in America's history and lets us relate on a very human level.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Roadside Beauty

I saw this huge crape myrtle in full blossom on a recent trip back to Arizona from Oklahoma via Texas. (Sometimes we go across the top (I-17/ I-40), but this photo was taken on our way across the bottom (I-35/I-20/I-10).  I believe we were still in Oklahoma, somewhere around Paul's Valley as I recall. I was able to take photographs because I wasn't driving for a change. My youngest son came along and provided  good company and excellent chauffeur service.

Because of family ties I have visited Oklahoma many times. The photo in my blog header is a view of I-40 somewhere in New Mexico, taken on the eastward leg of this trip.

I'm linking to:

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Little Help, Please?

Can any of you more experienced bloggers help me with a commenting problem? I've tried to leave comments on a number of sites that have this comment form that does not offer a name/url option:

I type in my comment and click "Post Comment" as "Google Account" because I have Gmail. But instead of posting my comment, I get sent to Blogger and this message appears:

I only have one Gmail account so logging out and changing accounts doesn't help. Has this ever happened to you? Any advice on how to fix it?

FYI: I'm able to comment on all blogs that have a different kind of comment form.


Let's Drop a Bomb on the F-Word

Is the f-word all his fault?
In the 1939 Civil War classic "Gone With the Wind," Clark Gable (above) played the dashing Rhett Butler, who rank the blockade of no-profanity in films by telling Scarlett O'Hara, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Mr. Gable can't take all the blame, of course. Margaret Mitchell wrote the words (without the "frankly"), screenwriter Sidney Howard included them in the script and director Victor Fleming saw to it that they got said. Even though Rhett's farewell line is the most famous, "damn Yankees" was also heard in an earlier scene at Twelve Oaks. Two uses of "damn!" What were they thinking?!

It's hard to believe that a word that seems almost innocent today could be the cause of such furor. If the censors hadn't changed the rules shortly before the movie was released, Rhett may not have given a darn.

I usually think that progress is a wonderful thing, but look at what Mr. Gable started. In the classic mode of "give 'em an inch, they'll take a mile," films became bolder and bolder in their use of once-forbidden words. Finally, someone decided that it was time to drag the f-word out of its Anglo-Saxon backroom and let it sound proudly and profanely onscreen.

Many film makers turned their backs on the great movies of the past, which relied on story-telling and talent rather than how many profanities could be squeezed in.

By 1970 what was once shocking was common in mainstream cinema, although limited to R-rated films. But the inch became a mile again, and now you'll find the f-word in PG and PG-13 movies as well. No sense keeping the kiddies out of the loop seems to be Hollywood's philosophy.

Television could have taken the high road, but profanity can be found just as easily on your TV set as in the multi-plex. Junior can get quite an education while channel-surfing for cartoons.

Like it or not, the f-word has become part of our popular culture (although it's not very popular with me). But let's confine profanity to the R rating where it belongs. Parents should be confident that the movies they take their kids to are appropriate. TV executives, it's time to clean up your act. Remember the Golden Age of Television? Bring it back, darn it!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My, How Things Have Changed!

As I reached for a cold Diet Coke this afternoon, it occurred to me that the contents of today's refrigerators are quite different from the ones I knew growing up. In fact, refrigerators are also very different!

I remember when I was five and looked forward to being allowed to mix the margarine. In those days, you see,  there was butter and there was some white, lardish-looking stuff called oleo-margarine, known as "oleo" to most cooks and still used by some today. The oleo came in a clear plastic bag with a quarter-sized button of red coloring that you mixed in to make it yellow and thus more palatable. I loved to squish the bag and watch the the red dye (mostly paprika, I think) do its magic. My hands weren't very big, so Mom probably had to finish it off, but at least I helped. Very important when you're five.

Our house did not have a refrigerator, it had an ice box. The ice box didn't have french doors and a bottom freezer and it wasn't covered in stainless steel. It had a small top compartment for the block of ice that we purchased at the nearby ice plant, a larger compartment for food, and a metal tray underneath to collect the water that accumulated when the ice melted. That didn't take very long. Many's a time we'd come home to find a puddle of water in the kitchen where the ice pan had run over.

The ice box was wood on the outside, as I recall, and the freezer compartment was tiny. There was no such thing as an ice-maker or auto-defrost. There may have been room for a small ice cube tray and a quart of ice cream, but that was about it. There was no room for frozen dinners, because there were no frozen dinners at the time. I don't know how we managed!

You can imagine how thrilled we were when we finally got a refrigerator. No more ice pan, no more puddles. We still didn't have auto-defrost or and ice-maker, but neither did anyone else. We had arrived!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I Was a (Very) Juvenile Delinquent

Escape and public nudiy were just the beginning

Let's start at the very beginning. When I was born during World War II (gasp!), it was standard procedure to keep new moms in the hospital for several weeks. I must have been plotting a life of crime during this lengthy incarceration.

My dad was in the Merchant Marine, so my mom and I lived at his parent's house while he went to sea for months at a time. My dad was on liberty when I was born, so we got to meet right away. But we were soon to be separated.

My grandparents did not have a telephone (so how did they text, right?), but the police station did, so the police chief brought the news that my dad was going to have to report for duty right away. His ship would be taking bombs to the war in the Pacific. My mom was not too thrilled by this, but he came back safe and sound, and he brought back a little souvenir.

Dad had the bright idea to bring a captured Japanese machine gun home. No matter that it meant breaking federal laws to do so - it was cool. Thus I was given the opportunity to make the FBI's Most Wanted List before I could walk or talk. Pinkerton detectives watched over every disembarkment, and so Dad had to be very careful. He broke the gun down and hid the pieces in his duffle bag. My mom and I met him aboard ship and when we came down the gangway, the machine gun ammunition was concealed in my baby blanket!

Our lawless scheme went off perfectly. Until we got home. My granddad had a fit! He took the gun and ammo and buried it somewhere only he knew about, thus saving my baby self from a life of crime. Darn - my mug shot would have been so cute!

Monday, August 22, 2011

What I'm Reading

I've been a reader since I was four. It's almost an obsession with me. I break the cardinal rules of not reading while I eat; I even read when I'm watching TV, which used to drive my husband crazy! I'm also one of those weird people who read more than one book at a time.

So, without further ado, here's what I'm reading now:

Bantam Books
Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

There was a lot of hoopla when the fifth book of the series was recently published, and there's a series on HBO based on the books. I decided to see what all the fuss was about, so when I found the first four books in nice little bundle at Costco I put them in my cart.

I'm about halfway through the first book and I'm really enjoying it. There's a lot going on with a lot of characters, but not so many that it's hard to keep track. I had that trouble withe The Wheel of Time series by Richard Jordan, but I made it to Book Six before I got bogged down and didn't finish. I'll get back to it again someday, I'm sure.

Game of Thrones is a great tale of good vs. evil, how greed can overcome honor and how perceived enemies can turn out to be friends (and vice-versa).

There are noble and not-not-so-noble knights, a reluctant and increasingly unfit king, scheming queens and brave young boys and girls. It is violent, bloody and a bit risque in places, but the story barrels along and  keeps me eager to know what happens next.

The picture on the left shows the lovely origami bookmark cover I made all by myself.

Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier

Sun Dial Press - 1943 edition
This is an oldie but a goodie; I can't remember how I was when I first read it, but it was a long time ago. My mom probably introduced it to me.

Written by the famed author of the classic Rebecca, this swash-buckling novel contains none of the former's dark mystery and the heroine has a lot more spunk than did the wishy-washy companion who married the master of Manderley.

Both books were made into movies,
and neither is nearly as good as the book.

Frenchman's Creek is about a noble English woman who, bored and disgusted with the life she has led in London, leaves her husband behind and takes her children to their country home. There she meets an agreeable but mysterious manservant and discovers that a French pirate has been using her home as a place to escape when local landowners pursue his ship.

Lady and pirate meet, of course, and become the players in a wonderful tale of danger and deception. I highly recommend it.

Prayers for Rain by Dennis Lehane
By now you may have gathered that I have very eclectic tastes when it comes to reading material. What can I say?

The other book I'm reading is about as far from romantic fantasy as you can get. The cover proclaims Prayers for Rain to be a “hard-boiled shocker,” and that pretty well sums it up. The language is a gritty as a Boston back alley, but I think it's appropriate here.

It's about Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, two Boston P.I.s with a murder to solve and Patrick's guilty conscience to assauge. Kenzie and Gennaro aer the protagonists in many of Lehane's other books, including Gone Baby Gone, which was made into a movie by Ben Affleck and featured his brother Casey as Patrick.
Prayers for Rain is a good yarn well-spun. I like the way Kenzie and Gennaro apply their own morality to their less-than-savory job.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

One Thing and Another

Here's a Nifty Craft Project from Ginger

 Isn't this a great idea for a jewelry organizer? Go to Gingersnap Crafts to see how she did it - without spending a cent!

Ginger is one of the many creative bloggers out there on the Interweb whose talents I envy and admire. I copy many of their ideas and tutorials into a folder for future use. Yes, I know I should be using Pinterest, but I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

I did manage to make a craft that was extremely time-consuming and complicated and expensive and...OK, I'm lying. I made an origami bookmark corner courtesy of Fabric Fascination. It was so simple that I figured I could handle it, but I won't bore you with a picture.

My goal, and I do have one, is to take the time to complete some of the great projects that I've found in Blogland. I'm going to start with baby steps, but eventually I'm going to make a quilt!

Aroma-Scope Smells of Disappointment

I saw Spy Kids: All the Time in the World this morning with my youngest son and four of my grandchildren. We paid an additional three dollars per ticket for the 3-D and Aroma-Scope version (touted as 4-D) because I thought the kids would get a kick out of it.

The young ones liked the movie well enough, and the rest of us appreciated the nod to the old Spy Kids movies (which were vastly superior to this one). The 3-D was OK, though not in the Avatar class, but the Aroma-Scope was a huge let-down. 4-D, hah!

Along with our 3-D glasses we were given scratch-and sniff cards with eight numbered squares. When a number appeared on the screen we were to scratch the corresponding number on the card to experience the smell of what was being depicted on the screen. The smells were supposed to range from bacon to dirty diapers (oh, joy), but each square on the card smelled like air freshener - the same air freshener.

Aroma-Scope smells, all right, so save your money and wait for the DVD. Your nose will never know the difference.

Thank you to all my new blogger friends who've taken the time to visit me and leave wonderful comments. And special thanks to my first followers, Beverly and Montanagirl! I'm starting to feel like a real blogger!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pretty in Pink

Hibiscus and oleanders are very popular with Phoenix gardeners. When I see a hibiscus I'm tempted to cut it and put it behind my ear and pretend I'm on a tropical island. Oleanders can be found in nearly every yard and many people use them to hide the ugly concrete walls that are so prevalent here. They don't seem to care if they get watered or not regardless of how hot it may be. Both of these pretties were in my front yard at my old house.

Visit BEV of How Sweet the Sound to browse more PINK BLOGS.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Summertime, and the living is...HOT!

I hereby submit that there should be a law that forces summer to end when school begins. It's going to be 112 in Phoenix today. It's too hot for kids to be allowed outside for recess! That seems downright un-American to me. Many Phoenix area schools started the first week of August. All civilized people know that school should begin after Labor Day.

It will still be plenty warm in September, but it won't be hotter than the hinges of...heck like it is now. People who have lived in Arizona for any length of time like to boast, "But it's a dry heat!" I admit that dry is better than humid - who needs their glasses fogging up when they get out of their car?

My niece was married in Oklahoma - outdoors - in July! I could really have used some dry heat then. Can you say m-i-s-e-r-a-b-l-e?

The funny thing is, I was born and raised in Southern California where it got nice and toasty in the summer. I can remember seeing a thermometer downtown registering 118 degrees. Our home didn't have air-conditioning, but I don't remember being bothered by the heat then.

I lived in Oregon for a number of years. Summer would come one day when the sun came out and the temperature rose to 60 or -rarely - 70. People would run around in shorts and tank tops just like they had good sense. Then that day would end and the rain would continue for the next 364 days.

Moving from the Pacific Northwest to the Desert Southwest was quite an experience, especially because we moved at the end of July and our car air-conditioner conked out halfway through the California desert. We survived - barely - and I've lived here for a very long time.

I had the misfortune to experience Phoenix's hottest day ever the hard way. I was a newspaper reporter and responded to an accident scene. I was doing fine, taking photos and talking to the emergency crews while we waited for an air-evac helicopter. Once the victim had been airlifted, I suddenly noticed that it was very warm. I started to wobble a little and a paramedic immediately gave me some water and walked me to my car. I stopped at a nearby convenience store and bought two large cups of ice water. I poured one over my head (it felt so good!) and drank the other, narrowly avoiding a heat stroke. I later learned that, at 122 degrees, it was  a Phoenix record.

Too bad no one told me it was too hot to play outside!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Everyone Should Be a Grandparent

I married at the ripe old age of 16, following my mother's example. We both had very long and happy marriages and became mothers while still in our teens. My mother became a grandmother at the ripe old age of 36 and loved every minute of it. She was a very good grandmother.

My three boys did not follow in my footsteps. They took their sweet time about getting married, even though I was quite eager to welcome my first grandchild. My oldest son waited until he was 30 to tie the knot, and his two brothers did the same. I didn't become a grandma until I was almost 50! But that first grandchild made the wait worthwhile and it was love at first sight.

I had to wait six years for granddaughter number two, and another six for my first grandson. The grand total of children who call me Grandma is five - three girls and two boys. They range in age from 19 to 4 and I love them all dearly.

I watch the three youngest (7, 6 and 4) two or three days a week. School started this week so I don't put in a full day, but I take them to and from school on the days they're with their dad. I drive to my son's house, take the boys to school, then wait a half-hour for preschool to begin. Preschool gets out at noon, so I take the munchkin home for lunch and a nap and pick the boys up later in the afternoon. Weird schedule, but whatcha gonna do?

They can be a handful at times, but who else would ask me to become Zombie Grandma and chase them around the house while they scream and laugh? They could keep this up for hours, but I wear out pretty quickly these days.

Thanks to my grandchildren, I can sing along with the "Sponge Bob" theme song and I know what Phineas and Ferb are going to do today. I know who "those meddling kids" are and that Zack and Cody are bound to make trouble for Mr. Moseby. (Parents of youngsters will also have this special knowledge.)

Nothing has given me greater joy than my grandbabies (which is how I will think of them regardless of how old they get). I wish everyone could experience the joy and wonder of being a grandparent. The world looks pretty good from Grandma's lap.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

New Blog on the Block

Once upon a time, in a land not so very far away, there lived a beautiful princess...no, that's stretching it a bit too far. There lived a woman who very much lived up to the title of this blog. That would be me. I discovered blogs as an antidote to boredom at work (gasp!) and became a shameless lurker.

Yes, I peeked into other people's blogs from the shadows, occasionally offering a comment and thinking that this blogging thing might be fun. But rather than diving into the diverse universe of all that is bloggy, I chickened out, just like my old friend George McFly: "I don't know if I can handle that kind of rejection." The rejection would come, of course, if no one read my blog.

You see, I am not at all crafty and I am constantly amazed at the creativity and talent of the many bloggers who can make anything out of anything. I do like to take photos but wasn't sure my efforts could measure up to the "real" photographers (even though I was a newspaper photographer for many years).

I continued to enjoy sharing the lives of bloggers all around the country, such as Sharon of A New England Life (New Hampshire), whose blog was my first inspiration, and Ree at The Pioneer Woman (Oklahoma) and Linda at The 7MSN Ranch in New Mexico. I was introduced to bloggers in other countries as well. Hello, Rhonda at Down to Earth in Australia! I downloaded their craft tutorials and saved their recipes and laughed at their jokes and cried at their sorrows. But I was still on the outside looking in.

Then one day it occurred to me that I'm not getting any younger (another gasp!) and that I could still have fun with my blog whether anyone else read it or not.

So after months of mental labor, here is my bouncing baby blog. It will touch on any number of topics, depending on what's on my mind at the moment.  (I know the layout needs tweaking, but I'm bound to get better at this, right?)