The Gifts of Imperfection – Two-Minute Book Review

Sakes alive, it’s been ages since I officially reviewed a book! More than three years, actually.

Pourquoi? I started to explain, but I’ve decided it doesn’t matter! I do want to write about books, but I don’t have time to wax philosophical, and you may well not have time to read such blither-blather either.

Hence — The Two-Minute Book Review. I’m excited about this concept.

(I actually have no idea if this will take two minutes to read. We all read at different speeds, after all. And with widely varying levels of mental imagery – more on that later.)

First book that came to mind that I’ve read in the past three years is actually NOT from Book Club, but no matter.



Title: The Gifts of Imperfection – Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Author: Brené Brown

Other works: Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and I Thought It Was Just Me, etc., as well as several TED Talks (my first exposure was this wonderful talk, which I looked up after reading about Brené on Momastery.

Genre: Self-improvement… Spirituality… Life journeys…

Recommended by: My hairdresser, who had just come to a place in her life where she was feeling truly happy with herself in her life. She glowed with it.

Main characters: Brené, her many unnamed research subjects, her family, and especially you, the reader.

Opinions: My hairdresser found it really helped her to be happy with herself and thus to move forward with her goals. She was hoping to convince her husband to read it, because he was feeling stuck in a place of insecurity on many fronts. (I’ll need to get a haircut for an update.) Personally, I found it to be an interesting, comforting, thought-provoking read. Not a difficult or jargon-y book whatsoever. Brené is a professional researcher, and she’s also a very human human.

A quotation I liked: “The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” I really, really relate to this statement.

What sticks with me: The concept of living “whole-heartedly,” with all the things you and your heart are together, including the painful parts and the vulnerability to let them be seen. Also the statistics that indicate that one of the factors associated with happiness and contentment is belief in something greater/larger than ourselves, whether it be God or love or global connectedness or something else altogether.

Recommended to: Anyone struggling with self-acceptance, anyone wishing to be forgiven, anyone beating themselves up about stuff too often.

To sum up: I liked The Gifts of Imperfection a lot. It didn’t change my life drastically, but I can see how it would for some. And I’d like to read ALL of Brené.



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A Smiley Video for a Happy Frozen Friday

My kids love the movie “Frozen.” Like almost all kids. And I’m not ashamed to say that I also love it; I’ve probably seen it a dozen times and I could still cry every time, if I let myself. I will most likely go on about the reasons why another time.

For now, here’s two-year-old AB’s side of a (highly edited) conversation we had in November about the plot of Frozen. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll probably recognize a concept or a direct quote here and there. You may also notice some outright fallacies. If you haven’t seen the movie – don’t worry! This information doesn’t make enough sense to contain spoilers.

Mostly, I just love her sense of drama. I wish you could see her, when E closes his bedroom door – she’ll go knock and sing the whole first verse of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman,” complete with wistful “Okay, bye…” at the end. Or even better, the two of them do an inspiring version of “For The First Time In Forever” – with many bits missing, but the passion is there.

Anyway, here’s this. I hope it makes you smile. Happy Friday!



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BANG Double Feature Review: The Imitation Game + Into The Woods

Dilovely had herself TWO MOVIE DATES over the holidays, y’all. Both are still kinda recent (released in Canada on Christmas Day, only two weeks ago!), so I figured I could still say a few words. After all, it’s been ages since I reviewed a movie. (It’s the lack of frequency and/or freshness. That is to say, for example, that by the time I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, it had been in theatres for ages and was on its way out.)

into the woods poster

Into the Woods I saw with a friend and two of my siblings (plus the third in spirit!), one week after it came out. I had been really stoked to see it because A) yay musicals! and B) double yay Sondheim! and C) Anna Kendrick Meryl Streep Emily Blunt Johnny Depp Chris Pine and company, you know?

Let’s start with B), the brilliant Stephen Sondheim, cliché-defying composer of 23 musicals, including Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (made into a movie by Tim Burton in 2007). His work has been criticized for being un-hummable. He does use unpredictable timing, melodies, and key signatures a lot of the time – which can be fun and/or confusing – but let’s be clear: he can also nail a memorable, sweeping refrain to bring tears to your eyes.

We had varying degrees of Sondheimism in attendance: my brother Ben was Props guy for a production of Into the Woods at his university years ago; my sister Emily has been a Sondheim junkie for a long time (since the era when she would pirate soundtracks from the library onto cassette tapes) and I’d wager she has memorized the lyrics of at least a dozen of his musicals, including this one. I, on the other hand, am an odd kind of Sondheim fan – I’ve known every word of Assassins for many years; I saw Sweeney Todd on stage; I did a project about Sondheim in university, learning many interesting things about the man and his music; but I was only acquainted with about 1/3 of the songs of Into the Woods.

I was actually in an ideal position to enjoy this particular film. I had the advantage of being familiar with Sondheim’s rapid-fire, overlapping lyrical techniques, as well as the most common melodic themes – but I didn’t really know anything about the story itself, other than that it interweaves lore from a bunch of different fairy tales. Thus, I could simply relish listening to Sondheim’s dazzling rhymes unfolding, without being weirded out by his unconventional style AND without being distracted by comparing every vocal nuance to a pre-memorized soundtrack (as I did with Les Mis). I felt that the editing made it possible to understand what was going on, even during fast, complex sections of lyrics.


Also, I could watch the story happen without knowing what to expect. I felt like a kid, spellbound by a dramatic tale that might go anywhere.  The story is unusual and interesting, the locations are beautiful and real, the singing is top-notch, and the effects, banal as it sounds, really bring the plot to life. We all enjoyed it thoroughly, feeling it must be just what Sondheim wanted when freed from the constraints of the stage.

I also appreciated that, as always, Sondheim put his critical thinking skills to work when he created this story, spoofing or overturning stereotypical prince and princess characters. (I have several posts brewing about princesses.)

In case you’re wondering, my favourite songs/scenes were “Agony” (a sentiment shared by iTunes customers, apparently) for the melodramatic comedy, “On the Steps of the Palace” for sheer lyrics-based delight, and “Your Fault” for the singing (and editing) agility. They nailed ’em.

We did all wonder what it would be like to see this movie without prior knowledge. According to one friend, it was “really strange but really good,” which makes sense. Obviously people are agreeing with this – despite music that is not as conventionally catchy as, say, Les Misérables or ChicagoInto the Woods tickets, along with the soundtrack album, are still selling like hotcakes. It makes me happy that current moviegoers are open to this, and to movie musicals in general. That means more musicals to come, for all of us!

For more on my intermittently obsessive relationship with musicals, please click here.

And to hear a memorable, sweeping Sondheim refrain, please click here.

(I heard recently that seeing hyperlinks in the middle of an article, even if you don’t click on it, seriously disrupts one’s reading experience. I’m pretty sure it’s true. Henceforth, I’m putting my links separately.)

And now, on to The Imitation Game. An altogether different sort of film.


I went to see this one with my Hubbibi just a few days after it opened, having only seen the trailer, and knowing little about Enigma, the supposedly unbreakable encoding machine used by the Germans during World War II.

I did not know anything else about the plot or about Turing’s life, other than that he’s the genius known as the father of digital computing, and that he was gay. (Not a spoiler – it’s made known early on.) Oh, and I knew that Enigma was eventually solved and the Allies won the war.

Here’s what I can tell you without revealing any other plot points:

  • The movie manages to be suspenseful and heart-pounding at times, even though we know the outcome of the codebreaking efforts and the war. It also has a surprising number of chuckle-out-loud moments, and several that make you want to cry, for different reasons. (I didn’t cry, but I could have. The tears hovered in my chest for the whole film.)
  • After reading a novel called “Enigma” many years ago, then watching this movie in 2014, then watching the documentary “Codebreaker” (which I recommend, if you’re interested), I still didn’t understand what made Enigma so hard (how is it different from simple letter substitution?) until I found this sentence at “What made the Enigma machine so special was the fact that every time a letter was pressed, the movable parts of the machine would change position so that the next time the same letter was pressed, it would most likely be enciphered as something different.” OH. Now the movie makes sense.
  • Keira Knightley’s role as Joan Clarke, the only female cryptanalyst to work on Enigma with the men, is memorable and incredibly satisfying to watch. I’d like to see a movie all about her.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch impressed me. Perhaps the most because he is playing a character with great similarities to his Sherlock from the BBC series (genius, arrogant, socially odd), and yet his portrayal is not the same at all. His accolades are well-deserved. And I can’t think of a weak link in the supporting cast.
  • The only aspect I found a bit feeble was the structuring of the story, flashback-style, around Turing’s interview with Detective Nock. It was compelling at the beginning, but it kind of fizzled. And then they had to drop it before the final scenes anyway. But I guess these days a linear story doesn’t cut it. (Except in movie musicals with many overlapping plot lines; see above.)


If you’ve already seen the movie or know lots about Alan Turing – or don’t care about spoilers – I can also tell you the discussion topics that Sean and I chewed over after the movie:

  • It’s mind-blowing that Bletchley Park (central site of the Government Code and Cypher School, where all this codebreaking took place) wasn’t declassified until the 1970s – and some people who worked there maintain secrecy about it to this day. During the war, even high-up military officials didn’t know that the intelligence was coming to them via Enigma (an imaginary MI6 spy codenamed “Boniface” got the credit). Codebreakers never told their own spouses, even long after the war was over.
  • This also means that Alan Turing, whose own work literally made it possible to win the war, was never formally recognized for his monumental contribution. He could never tell that nasty-face Commander Denniston: “HA! See?? I TOLD YOU IT WOULD WORK.” Which must have rankled.
  • Even more mind-blowing (though sadly inevitable at the time) is the fact that the British government not only failed to honour Turing for his work, it criminalized him for his homosexuality. He opted for chemical castration (in the form of synthetic estrogen) over prison, in the hopes of continuing his work – not knowing it would wreak havoc on his mind as well as his libido.
  • Therefore, even though his death from cyanide poisoning at age 41 was chalked up to suicide, in my mind, he was killed by his own government, whose members didn’t know they basically owed him their existence. It could hardly be more tragically unfair.
  • Interestingly, it seems that on December 24th, 2013, the Queen issued a posthumous “Royal Pardon” for Alan Turing. How nice. No offense to the Queen, since I don’t think there exists a posthumous “Royal Acknowledgement of Heinous Injustice and Subsequent Begging for Forgiveness,” but a royal pardon does seem a bit thin. Not to mention grossly overdue.
  • Alan Turing did amazing things with his unique gifts while he was alive, and could have done many more of them if he had lived longer. Doesn’t it make you wonder how many great, world-changing minds and ideas have been quashed by people’s fears and prejudices? How much further we might have come by now, as a species, if we hadn’t been spending so much time and energy squelching humans because they were gay/black/women/etc. – and how many victims of prejudice had brilliant brains being wasted in obscurity?
  • It is also interesting to consider which individual humans in the world have truly changed the course of history. If Alan Turing hadn’t lived, the Allies might have lost, and the world might be extremely different right now. Which other historical figures – or present-day people – have had (or will have!) such impact? Discuss.

We also talked quite a bit about War then vs. War now, but that’s for another blog post.

So, to sum up: see Into the Woods for fun and singing; see The Imitation Game for heartstring-pulling and brain stimulation. I highly recommend each, but I wouldn’t try both in one day.



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BANG Music Review: James Hill – The Old Silo


the old silo james hill

Y’all already know I’m an ardent fledgling ukulelist and, as such, a James Hill fan. (Actually, I was a James Hill fan first.) Therefore, I need to tell you that his new album, The Old Silo, was released on Tuesday. Even better, you can stream it live, RIGHT NOW, at

As it happens, I have already had my signed copy of this album for a few weeks, as co-crowdfunder of its production (if I sound smug and boasty about it – yes, I totally am), so I’ve had lots of time to listen to it and ponder it.

If you’re familiar with James’s other original albums, you will find this one different. From the first chord, it’s harder and rockier. The uke is still in the forefront, but for the most part not the shimmery, folksy acoustic sound. Not exactly the same sound I fell in love with, but so much fun. (A few songs feature the baritone ukulele, whose sound I did not even recognize as a uke at first.)

Also, Sean and I agreed – there is a certain Plaskettesque quality to the sound. Joel Plaskett, famous Canadian rock sailor (whom Sean and I also enjoy), produced the album and performed in seven of the eleven songs, and although the songs are James’s, the influence is audible. (I mean… it is if you know it’s there.)

Here’s what I love about the album as a whole: it has this epic, image-rich, brimming-with-history feel to it. Listening to the whole thing in order, to me, is like watching a movie – my imagination runs away with me and there’s so much drama.

You’ll notice on the album cover, above, that there’s an hommage to American Gothic going on.

american gothic

Right? Not just me?

So, in my mind, The Old Silo is flashbacks and alternate realities that this couple might have experienced. Did you ever look at this picture and wonder what it was like when these two fell in love? What they looked like when they were young? What would have happened if they hadn’t found each other? What secrets of their past they kept from each other? What their sex life is like? What will happen when one of them dies?

It’s all here, guys. I’ve completely lost count of how many times I’ve listened to The Old Silo straight through, and I can’t get tired of it.

A few other notes:

  • A silo up close looks like a giant fretboard, what?! Effing brilliant.
  • Several songs sounded similar to each other the first time I heard them, and sort of overlapped in my head. The more I listen, the less alike they sound.
  • I finally looked at the lyrics for the first song, “New Moon”, after I’d been singing along for a couple weeks. It’s “My faithful Datsun Bluebird”, but I’d been hearing “dachsund“. It never occurred to me I had it wrong, but actually Datsun makes a lot more sense in the context.
  • The entire album is very singable. And danceable.
  • The one we like to sing most in our house is “The Village Belle” – it’s such a foot-stomper. One of those Stan Rogers-ish songs that sounds like it must have existed for over a century already. LOVE IT.
  • (Also, E asked what “village belle” means, and I told him it’s the prettiest girl in town. He thought about it and said, “Mummy, you’re the village belle. Actually, you’re the galaxy belle.” He often speaks galactically. Oh little-boy mama-bias, I cherish you.)
  • E’s fave is “She’s Still Got It”, which makes me giggle. Since, you know, he’s five, and it will be at least a few years before he figures out that it’s about sex. Between elderly folk. 😉
  • There are no purely instrumental songs on this album, which surprised me a little. But there are a couple of delicate, quiet ones that might just break your heart.
  • As in Man With A Love Song, there are lyrics that make you shake your head because they’re so astute, not to mention neatly-rhymed. (“Are you with old money or the nouveau riche? Did they put you on a throne, or on a leash?”)
  • The song that has grown on me the most is called “Tie One On” – and it’s actually about the old silo. It didn’t particularly grab me the first time I heard it, but I like it more with every listen. Mysterious, haunting, bitter, raucous enough to hint at violence in the backstory. Because there’s definitely a grand backstory, if I only knew what it was.

So, to sum up:

If you didn’t already do this at the beginning of this post, go on over to and take a listen. The worst (and best) thing that could happen is you’ll become obsessed.



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Singin’ and Dancin’

In our house, we like music a lot. Our family favourites include Raffi, David Francey, Vampire Weekend, Great Big Sea, the 3 Bs (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms), The Good Lovelies, The Lumineers, and The Beatles.

Right now, here are some selections we can’t do without:

fanfarlo reservoir

E and AB and I fell in love with this album while my Hubbibi was working evening shifts for three weeks in a row. We listened to it basically every night as dinner music. Our favourite song is called “Harold T. Wilkins, or How to Wait for a Very Long Time,” but we call it “Sad to Say Shay!” because that’s what it sounds like during E’s favourite part, near the end of the song (about 3:10). (It’s actually “They sail the same strait”.) Now even Baby AB sings “Say say SAY!” Check out these lovely young ‘uns.

Then there’s Mika – The Origin of Love.


We’ve always been Mika fans, and when I discovered (thanks to Rdio) that he’d gestated and birthed another album right when I was doing the same with my daughter (released September 17, 2012), I was very excited. The album did not disappoint. It’s one delightfully-poppy-and-subtly-complex song after another.* There’s one we especially like because it’s about an Emily, and we love an Emily. There are a bunch of great songs in French (Mika/Michael lived in France from age one to age nine). Overall, it’s unique and epic, and most importantly, it makes all of us dance.

I’m pleased as punch that my kids both have a sense of rhythm and some rad moves. (All that pregnant bellydancing ain’t for nothing.) And it tickles me that AB automatically bops around when she hears music, since she gets that DIRECTLY FROM ME. That, and a disproportionate passion for popcorn.


*Unfortunately, there are a few wee lyrics that aren’t fully appropriate for kids… I’m just hoping hard that E never latches onto singing “I Only Love You When I’m Drunk”. So far he still has no idea what words most singers are actually singing… and gosh darnit, this one is just one of the funnest, catchiest songs ever.



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BANG Book Review: 9-Volume Bookstravaganza!

{Tra la, this post was supposed to be finished and posted OVER A WEEK AGO. Ridonculous. Had several rough nights with congested baby, also working on E methodically testing every boundary he can think of, especially the one where he tries to get us to do his bidding by being a whine-meister. Boo, excuses.}

Sooo… You may or may not have noticed that I haven’t posted any GGG book club reviews for a while. I got behind by a few, and then they just piled right up. You know, like books.

Ergo, I’m going to catch myself up, shorterness style: Four Bullets Only Per Book. !!! ONLY.

1. One Day, by David Nicholls.


  • A love story in which we follow the relationship of our protagonists for one day per year (St. Swithin’s Day) for twenty years. A neat idea, though it makes for a (deliberately) disjointed story.
  • Very readable, smart, interesting, but if you’re expecting a light, fun summer read, look elsewhere. This book has quite a bit of sad/depressing/frustrating stuff along with the romance.
  • It’s set in the U.K., written by an English author, and therefore contains cute words you don’t read in North American books. I enjoy them generally, but I noticed certain ones (such as as “raffish” and “larky”) came up too many times to remain charming.
  • One Day has the distinction of being the first book I ever read on my Kobo (e-reader). I loved its portability, but the editing was wonky: there were well over a dozen instances where the second letter was missing in words starting with F, so “flatly” became “fatly” and “frightened” became “fightened”, etc. At first it made me chuckle, and then I thought it was a weird joke I wasn’t getting, and then it made me unreasonably annoyed.

1.1 We watched the movie at our book club meeting, because obviously. (I get an extra set of bullets for that. Since it’s my blog and I say so.)


  • I think I actually liked the movie better. *gasp.* The embodied characters were more endearing, probably because I liked the actors.
  • I finally saw the appeal of Jim Sturgess, who didn’t do anything for me in Across The Universe. Somehow, he was cuter and charminger in this – maybe I just don’t like him in Beatles-y hair.
  • Anne Hathaway was great, as usual, though her pronunciation (I think it’s supposed to be a Manchester accent) was unstable. AND, they actually made her look full-on frumpy in one scene. Impressive.
  • If I remember rightly, I got kinda choked up at the end. In a good way. (Whereas at the end of the book I was more like, “HUH???”)

2. Falling Backwards, by Jann Arden

jann arden falling backwards

  • Memoir of Jann Arden’s journey from (sorta) normal Canadian childhood to successful music career.
  • This lady is FUNNY. Also bizarre and disarmingly candid. I laughed out loud, many times.
  • She’s also a really good writer – very honest and unaffected, with occasional profound phrases that seem to pop up out of nowhere.
  • And she did some crazy stuff in her life. Alcoholic father, very troubled brother, and personal illnesses aside, she had adventures in fields and woods, rivers and high seas – and the urban jungle. Not exaggerating.

3. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley.

sweetness at the bottom of the pie alan bradley

  • Eleven-year-old detective Flavia de Luce narrates a tale of murder-mystery-solving, and gets herself into some serious escapades.
  • This character drives the book. She’s mischievous and smart and sassy and a little vulnerable sometimes, and I relished her.
  • She makes you want to learn chemistry. (That’s where much of her Sherlock-ability lies.)
  • There are more books about her! Someday I’ll have time for those. (But don’t worry, unlike SOME books, this one has its own gratifying ending.)

4. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig

Pirsig zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance

  • Classic (1974) philosophical novel about a guy who takes a motorcycle road trip with his son and some friends, and lets his deeper mind do most of the talking.
  • This book was ground-breaking, life-changing, when it came out. (As indicated above.) My own parents have referred to it in such terms.
  • For us, it was not as thrilling as we’d hoped. Many (though not all) of the ruminations on technology are obsolete, and some bits seem kinda naive. Most of the GGG found it dense slogging, to the point of groanishness. I found some parts quite interesting, but to be honest, I haven’t finished it. I do plan to… someday.
  • I now associate it with the horribly sweet neon-orange beverage I had to drink during the 3.5-hour glucose test I did while pregnant with Baby AB, because Zen and TAOMM was how I passed the wait.
  • One extra point! to state that later editions have a bonus ending section that is not part of the original! Yes, I’m saying that if you haven’t read this since the 70s… THERE IS MORE TO THE STORY. (See how it makes sense that I get an extra bullet? Boo-yah, loophole.)

5. The Colour of Tea, by Hannah Tunnicliffe

color of tea hannah tunnicliffe

  • Grace moves to China for her husband’s work and is left listless by news of her infertility. Eventually, she picks up her bootstraps (or whatever the phrase is) and starts a new life as a café owner.
  • The heroine irritated me for the first few chapters (even though I could hardly blame her for her torpor), but I ended up liking her a lot.
  • The descriptions of the city of Macau are vivid and interesting, but not as much as the mouthwatering descriptions of the café food, especially the macarons of different flavours. (NOT macaroons – these are more like gourmet meringue sandwich cookies, as pictured on the cover. Our host procured some for the book club meeting, because obviously we were dying to try some, but I missed it. 🙁 )
  • The synergistic ending was one I (and probably many others) saw coming from a mile away… but it was still satisfying.

6. The Knife Of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness


  • In the land where there are no female humans – and the males can all hear each other’s thoughts – all the time – one young boy must escape. Things are not as they seem. Dun dun dunnnn.
  • Really interesting, thought-provoking concept. I think all of us enjoyed the way this alternate world was imagined, and were fairly carried away by the plot and flinty characters.
  • We were unanimously annoyed by the deliberate wrong spellings, though, since they only partially made sense. Maybe they appeal more to the (intended) YA audience.
  • Warning: it’s not over at the end! In fact, I was somewhat ticked off at the end. HUGE… BUILDUP… CRESCENDO… OMG CAN WE PLEASE JUST KNOW HOW IT ENDS?? And then it’s over, but nothing’s wrapped up because go read Book Two, people. Hmph.

7. White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

white teeth zadie smith

  • An unlikely bunch of people in London are connected, practically as family, by a strange history and even stranger present events (present being mostly the 70s in this case).
  • I was fully impressed by the confidence with which Zadie Smith, at age 25, wrote this debut novel. The writing is quirky and opinionated and speaks brashly about all kinds of topics where I’d be tiptoeing. Evidently the rest of the world was also impressed, because it became an immediate bestseller and won a bunch of awards.
  • Some in the group found it kinda hard to get into. I found it mostly interesting, full of characters that were engaging if not completely likeable, but it helps that I was reading it on a very lightweight device, as it was apparently a very large book. The absorption-to-weight ratio matters.
  • There was one part in particular about a young black girl going to great lengths to achieve straight, silky hair. It is now branded on my memory forever, because shortly after finishing the book, I watched the documentary “Good Hair” on Netflix. It’s true and it’s crazy, y’all.

8. The Story of Beautiful Girl, by Rachel Simon

the story of beautiful girl rachel simon


  • Where do a deaf black man and a woman with Down Syndrome find true love together? At the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded.
  • This is an amazing and lovely story, written sensitively and beautifully through the POVs of several different people. We were all moved by it.
  • The author’s note at the end was great, too. She wrote humbly about not wanting to appropriate voices that weren’t hers, but needing to write about this, and give these characters a more joyful story than the real ones on which it’s based.
  • This book, like The Help, makes you shudder. This kind of treatment of differently-abled people was only a few decades ago (or less? could still be happening?) in the United States (and probably here in Canada, too). How scarily, horribly recent. How outrageously shameful.

9. Something Fierce, by Carmen Aguirre

something-fierce carmen-aguirre

  • Memoir of a young adulthood spent as a (daughter of a) revolutionary in South America, particularly Pinochet’s Chile; winner of Canada Reads in 2012.
  • One of those books that makes your jaw drop. Seriously?? She did all that stuff? At WHAT age? How was she this brave??
  • It reminds you that concentration camps and everyday danger are not limited to the WWII Holocaust. As the author points out, we have a sheltered, relatively naive existence here in Canada.
  • Despite all this, the book is not as harrowing or depressing as you might imagine. It’s written with a dark humour and frankness, and the evolution of Aguirre’s 11-year-old self to her adult self, under crazy circumstances, is fascinating.

Alors, voilà!

There are (I think) three books missing from this list (namely Animal Vegetable Miracle, Quiet, and Gold), which I will be reviewing individually, because the five-bullet rule was just not going to work for me in those cases. Please stay tuned.



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BANG Movie Review: The Great Gatsby

I read a high-school copy of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald in Monteverde, Costa Rica, at my host family’s house, during a teaching internship. I also read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and The Bluest Eye, but The Great Gatsby was the most incongruous story in a place where the houses are made directly out of the trees that were cut down to carve a little space out of the Cloud Forest.

You see, I’ve remembered embarrassingly little from the book, despite enjoying it – but I did remember the decadence. The impressions of glowing parties, visible for miles, full of sparkly people, under glamorous starry skies. (Glamour in the cloud forest comes in the form of quetzals and fireflies – but that’s another blog post or seven.)

I also remembered a tense, emotional scene in a hot hotel room. And I remember that Jay Gatsby is a mysterious man in love. That’s about it.

So really, when Skye and I went to see Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation, nothing about it was spoiled for me. From what I can tell via Wikipedia (since my memory does not serve), the film’s plot is very loyal to the book overall, and there’s tons of action in it that I did not see coming. Win!



Bullet Time, in which I do not spoil anything, in case you too have forgotten the entire plot of the book or never read it in the first place:

  • Seriously, what an amazing cast. Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan, Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson… all brought their characters to life memorably (unlike the book, apparently, for this lazy reader). Joel Edgerton (Tom Buchanan) and Elizabeth Debicki (Jordan Baker) were quite believable as well, IMO.


  • If you’ve seen Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” or “Moulin Rouge”, you could immediately guess that this film was also by him. It has all the earmarks: the era-conscious style from the very credits; the deliberate juxtaposition of loyal period costuming and anachronistic music; the crowd/party sequences that make you feel like you’re on drugs. And he likes him some Art Deco.
  • We saw the 3D version, not because we’re particular fans of 3D but because the showtime worked best for us. As I saw it, the 3D stuff is kinda contrived. The plot doesn’t exactly lend itself to OMGitscomingrightatme!! Nevertheless – the stuff they did was pretty cool. I found the 3D effective in illustrating connectedness, underscoring distances of space and time, making snowflakes look cool, and rendering those surreal scenes even more trippy.
  • I’m going to have to read The Great Gatsby again. The film showcases (often with onscreen handwriting that’s coming right at you) a lot of direct quotes from the book, the kind of fascinating writing that makes you go “Aha. Yes. Legendary American classic. Bravo, F. Scott.”
  • Did you know? The original book cover, designed by Francis Cugat, was commissioned while Fitzgerald was still writing it. Wikipedia says: The cover was completed before the novel; Fitzgerald was so enamored with it that he told his publisher he had “written it into” the novel. [You can’t see ’em too well, but there’s some nekkid ladies in those eyes, old sport.]


  • In the movie, the effect of that billboard with the disembodied eyes is downright eerie, and is probably branded on my memory forever. Well played, Baz.
  • I enjoyed the party scenes and the sweeping 3D vistas and so on, but I enjoyed even more the focused scenes with the hard-core dialogue and acting. Those were SOLID. And now that I think about it, Luhrmann is just as good at taking things down to their essential heart as he is at making a big fancy imagery-fest.
  • And I guess Fitzgerald was also good at getting to the heart of things. The Great Gatsby was a commentary on excess and corruption and certain flaws in the American Dream, but it also is about people. What kind of attitude matters, what makes a person good or bad. It’s an interesting perspective that definitely provoked me some thoughts.
  • We went to see this movie – at 4 pm on the day it opened, no less – because it stars Skye’s boyfriend, Leo. Kudos, Skye, I have to admit he’s looking mighty fine these days.
Leonardo and Carey
  • Skye and I gave this movie four out of four thumbs up.

Riveting Real-Life Side-Story:

So. We went to see this movie at the UltraAVX (“Ultra Audio-Visual Experience!!!”) theatre, which has assigned seating. We got to pick our seats when we purchased them, and there were like six other seats booked in the whole place, so naturally we picked far away from anyone else. Upon arriving at our seats, we saw that there was an elderly couple in our seats. They had chosen not to sit in the seats they’d picked originally, because those were too close to another couple of people who were, in the words of the curmudgeon gentleman, “just yappin’.” He recommended we not sit near them (even though they were more than entitled to yap – the previews hadn’t even started).

We came up with a recommendation of our own out of this experience:

If you decide to move from your assigned spot in a theatre where there are approximately twelve-and-a-half zillion empty seats, proper etiquette does not allow for you to sit one seat away from the people whose seats you accidentally took, then complain about the noise level of some innocent moviegoers… and then proceed to SNORE THROUGH THE LATTER HALF OF THE MOVIE. No. Ce n’est pas acceptable. Just so you know.



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BANG Movie Review: 42

Watching 42, it dawned on me that, for a person who can’t hit a baseball to save my life, I have seen – and enjoyed – a goodly number of baseball movies. (The Natural, Bull Durham, Stealing Home, Field of Dreams, A League of Their Own, and Moneyball – only a drop in the bucket of baseball movies.) I guess it’s a game with natural theatrical value.

42-movie poster chadwick boseman

42 is the story of Jackie Robinson’s rise to fame in 1947 as the first black player in Major League Baseball – and it really is an amazing story. I must admit I knew nothing about it – his name was familiar to me, and I probably could have told you he was a baseball player, but I had no idea of his pivotal role in the civil rights movement, “just” playing ball.

jackie robinson
Jackie Robinson in 1954

In case you don’t know, Jack Roosevelt Robinson was an athlete who was raised by a single mom in Pasadena, California. He attended UCLA and served in the military, and was known as “combative” when it came to being treated with racism. (He was even court-martialed once for this, but was acquitted.)

He was hand-picked by Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to be the man to break the colour barrier in Major League Baseball. And by gum, Jackie broke that barrier, using solid talent and incredible restraint.

  • This movie is not subtle. It is unabashedly earnest, like a kid telling a story: the characters are whole, clean, deceptively simple. They speak plainly and their lessons are clear. We don’t see the nuances of every mood and quirk.
  • I personally think this is a positive thing – not every movie has to be gritty and fast-paced just because we’re in an era of gritty, fast-paced movies. Even if the real-life story was more ambiguous (and I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that it was), I enjoyed THIS version of the story. Isn’t that why we go to the movies anyway?
  • Besides, the subject matter has quite enough layers and puzzles in and of itself. It endows each character with the fullness of history, and that’s complex enough.
  • Look at that, I’m waxing cheesy, and I don’t care. That’s the kind of film this is.
  • The music goes right along with that unequivocal sincerity I mentioned: it’s full-on epic, swelling emotionally at all the right moments, designed to jerk those tears. Just as you’d want it to be when you combine sports with moral metamorphosis.
  • Can you bring your kids to it? I would say yes, it’s a family movie. There’s almost no violence included, and it puts tough messages in very watchable terms. To my recollection, there is but one (well-deserved) S-bomb. The N-word is used in abundance, as it would have been at the time.
  • Chadwick Boseman is endearing and convincing as Jackie. And looks a lot like the real one.
  • Harrison Ford does as great job as Branch Rickey, a rather less curmudgeonly character than usual for him. A daring and innovative guy.
42 branch rickey harrison ford
Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey
  • By the way, how does a guy born in 1881 get a name like “Branch”? It seems so hippie, like Meadow or Rain. Well, Wikipedia says his name was actually Wesley Branch Rickey, so I’m guessing it’s a family surname somewhere. There’s no evidence that his parents smoked weed.
  • I really enjoyed John C. McGinley in the role of commentator Red Barber. You could tell he relished all his folksy expressions. (In stark contrast to his role as Dr. Cox in Scrubs, who is only remotely folksy in sarcasm, right before he says something really mean.)
  • I also enjoyed Christopher Meloni as the Dodgers’ manager Leo Durocher. Now there’s a character who’s weirdly honourable and dishonourable at the same time.
Chris-Meloni leo durocher
Christopher Meloni as Leo Durocher
  • I did not so much enjoy my dear Alan Tudyk (a.k.a. Wash in Firefly and Serenity) in the role of racist asswipe Ben Chapman, the Phillies’ manager. But he did a good job, you know, as an actor. That’s why I disliked him so much.
  • One of my favourite elements in the story was the idea that Rickey asked for Robinson because he needed a Negro player “with guts enough not to fight back.” As a Quaker, I dig this concept of fighting assholery with dignity – MUCH harder than responding in kind.
  • Like my friend lola, I am way more affected by watching movies now that they tug at my mama-strings. There is a lovely scene where Jackie stares through the nursery window to tell his newborn son that he will be there for him, unlike his own father was… and all I could think about was generations of babies and their mamas who didn’t cuddle together RIGHT AWAY after birth, dissuaded from breastfeeding or taking any ownership of each other… those babies just lying in their separate little bassinets, waiting for someone to come pick them up, because that’s how it was done… I could cry just thinking about it. Not really on-topic, though.
  • There are so many well-executed inspirational moments in this film. I lost count of the number of times I found myself just grinning at the screen.
lucas black pee wee reese chadwick boseman jackie robinson 42 movie
Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese and Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson.
  • Even having absorbed lots of pop culture revolving around the civil rights movement, I found it eye-opening to realize how truly brave Jackie Robinson had to be, simply to do his job as a ball-player. Had he been possessed of less self-control, or had one of his aggressors been just crazy enough to cross that oh-so-fragile, invisible line… this could have been a tragic story.
  • Further to that, it’s eye-opening to realize how much his teammates took on, just playing with him. Racism in America was OFF THE HOOK back then. (I wish I could say it’s disappeared now.)
  • Makes you wonder what humankind as a species could have accomplished if we hadn’t spent so much time, energy, and brain power trying to keep people segregated. So pointless.
  • Further to that, it makes you wonder what humankind as a species could be accomplishing right now if we didn’t spend so much time, energy, and brain power protesting gay marriage. And so on and so forth.

So, to sum up: TOTALLY FRIGGIN’ HEARTWARMING. You should go see it.



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Dilovely’s Extra Oscars 2013 + Defense of Seth MacFarlane

Might as well make a tradition of the Extra Oscars! I know it’s two days later so in Internetland, the Oscars are ancient history. But whatever. I have this thing called a baby. She sabotages my deadlines, dudes.

I do watch the ceremony almost every year now, thanks to Karissa’s parties that make it all worthwhile. It was a really fun evening. I think that if you’re going to watch the Oscars, you need to have lots of delicious snacks and some friends around. That way you can be in a good mood and enjoy the show – and not take it too seriously. MOTL (below, in fact).

First, the actual Hollywood-Related Extra Oscars:

  • Best Dressed: Jennifer Lawrence, even though the dress proved problematic, and Jennifer Aniston. I like pretty skirts.
Jennifer Lawrence 2013 oscars
Jennifer Lawrence
Jennifer Aniston
  • Honourable Mention: Helen Hunt, who famously wore a dress from H&M for its green cachet (made entirely from sustainable, and some recycled, materials).
helen hunt oscars 2013 h&m gown
Helen Hunt
  • Worst Dressed: Halle Berry (I think she’s awesome but I didn’t like the robot look) and Anne Hathaway (oh, nipple-darts, you are not attractive).
halle berry 2013 oscars
Halle Berry
oscars-2013 anne hathaway
Anne Hathaway
  • Most Surprising Dress: Salma Hayek. No cleavage showing WHATSOEVER.
salma hayek 2013 oscars
Salma Hayek
  • Strongest Shoulders: Kristin Chenoweth. She’s so tiny it’s almost ridiculous, so no matter who she’s interviewing, she has to hold the mike way up.
  • Best Name: Quvenzhané Wallis. Names don’t get cooler than that. It doesn’t hurt when they belong to 9-year-old acting prodigies with serious moxie.
quvenzhane-wallis 2013 oscars
Quvenzhané Wallis
  • Best Song About Boobs: Seth MacFarlane, We Saw Your Boobs. Okay, it was the only song about boobs. But we, in the room, chuckled. People have been complaining that this silly little song was offensive, but because MacFarlane pre-acknowledged that it was, I personally took it to be a mockery not of women who’ve been topless in films but of men(‘s obsession with boobs). It’s possible I also got a kick out of it because I happened to have my boob out at the time.
  • Best Spats: Channing Tatum. Okay, they were the only spats, as far as I could tell, and he only wore them for his dance number. But seriously, there aren’t enough spats-wearing gentlemen these days.
charlize theron and channing tatum dancing oscars 2013
Charlize Theron and Channing Tatum
  • Best Surprise Talent: Charlize Theron is a lovely dancer, and Daniel Radcliffe can totally sing. Maybe you guys already knew those things, but both were pleasant surprises to me.
  • Best Earrings: Norah Jones, singing Everybody Needs a Best Friend from Ted. Dress was good too. And hey, might as well mention that the singing was spot-on.
norah jones oscars 2013
Norah Jones
  • Best Tie: Sound Editing. (Get it?? Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall tied for Best Sound Editing. Haw haw.)
  • Best Klutz: Jennifer Lawrence. Kristen Stewart was in the running – she apparently had crutches backstage because she’d “stepped on glass” at some point, and opted to hobble for her presentation instead of using them. Her heart was clearly not in the whole experience. Jennifer Lawrence, despite falling up the stairs to accept the Best Actress Oscar, managed to be gracefully self-deprecating (seeing the audience standing for her, she said, “Thank you. You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell, and that’s really embarrassing, but thank you.”) Love her.
  • Best Joke: Christopher Plummer’s intro by Seth MacFarlane. The camera swung with the spotlight over to the doors, where Mr. Plummer did not appear. MacFarlane announced, “Family Von Trapp!” with the perfect fanfare from Sound of Music. While it may be hackneyed to refer to the movie around Mr. Plummer, well… The S of M is dear to my heart. So I dug the tribute-joke.

Okay, segue into mini-Diatribe. As mentioned re the Boob Song, the Twitterverse and Internetland in general are all hating on Seth for his hosting job. He predicted it himself (that is, he had Captain Kirk come from the future and tell him he was going to be the worst host ever). People are saying they should bring back Billy Crystal. Two responses from me:

a) You’ve forgotten how bad Billy was last year. I mean, I love him, he’s a funny guy, but last year… even our good-natured group found him very unfunny.

b) I don’t think Seth was that bad. Maybe I was all high from getting out of the house for the evening, but I took his jokes in the most positive light, and it wasn’t that hard to do.

People are all “He’s racist and sexist! He’s homophobic! Shocking and offensive!!

Firstly, let’s keep in mind that part of the job description for an Oscar host is to be politically incorrect, to jokingly cross the lines of appropriateness. Can you name a host who hasn’t? And if there ever were one, people would jump on that person for being wimpy and boring.

Secondly, he is not homophobic. He is, in fact, a well-known and vocal supporter of gay rights, including gay marriage. If there were jokes that sounded homophobic (I personally don’t recall any), they were not intended as such.

Thirdly, about the racism. He joked to Daniel Day-Lewis about his staying in-character on and off set: “If you bumped into Don Cheadle on the studio lot, did you try to free him?” Maybe I’m being thick, but how is this racist? Don Cheadle is black. Lincoln was against slavery of black people. I actually think that’s a very interesting, even insightful, question. What would Lincoln think of today’s civil rights situation in America?

He joked, regarding Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and Salma Hayek, that “they get up on stage and we have no idea what they’re saying, but we don’t care because they’re so attractive”. You could take that as racist. Or, since the statement is so obviously untrue (with respect to language, not attractiveness), you could take it as a nod to those same actors for being critically acclaimed successes in more than one language – and even a little jab at the monolingualism of most of America.

People got up in arms about “I always thought the actor who got most inside Lincoln’s head was John Wilkes Booth.” Our party groaned along with the audience, but come on. The play on words was a little bit funny. Seth acknowledged the groans with, “So, 150 years and it’s still too soon, huh?” Good point. Yes, we know Lincoln’s assassination was a tragedy. Joking about it serves the same purpose as gallows humour: sometimes you have to make light of things that suck.

Even the jokes that failed with the audience could be given the benefit of the doubt. There was Seth’s comment on Django Unchained: “This is the story of a man fighting to get back his woman, who’s been subjected to unthinkable violence. Or as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie.” I agree that this joke isn’t in good taste, but domestic brutality needs to be talked about; sometimes we joke just to get an issue out and give it airtime. And after all, “unthinkable violence” is strongly condemnatory language.

I admit I didn’t enjoy this one: “For all those women who had the ‘flu’: It paid off. Looking good.” This may have been an attempt to address Hollywood’s unhealthy preoccupation with thinness; if so, it was clumsy and fell flat. But I do think it’s important to bring up. Hollywood’s female actors as a group are TOO THIN. Period.

FYI, I’m not a particular fan of Seth MacFarlane. I barely knew who he was before Oscar night. In all honesty, I’d rather have Jon Stewart or Ellen Degeneres back to host. But it irks me when people get unnecessarily hatey. Why are you watching the Oscars if you’re in such a bad mood?

It’s the same with Anne Hathaway – people were all a-Twitter with how she’s insincere and overeager and blah blah blah. Whatever. She’s a human, and I don’t see why she deserves such nitpicky bullying. People will pick on any random stupid thing and get internet validation for it. Anne Hathaway did an amazing job in her nominated role, and she fully deserved to win. And I don’t think she comes off as insincere; could you do any better on the Avenue of Awkwardness that is the red carpet?

Bottom line: if you’re jaded and humourless, you should probably do something else with your Sunday night.

Now, our personal party Oscars:

  • Best Co-Hosts: the kids. Karissa is the hostess with the mostest, but I also appreciated that her five-year-old daughter made absolutely sure we had napkins and her three-year-old son filled in for E by giving my baby a kiss when we arrived.
  • Best Potluck Dish Name: Finger Lickin’ Chicken Lincoln Wontons, by Krissy. Just say that to yourself – it’s fun. (For the record, my flourless chocolate cake, dubbed Cocoa Unchained, did get a couple votes.) (Hey, attendees, if you’re reading this – could you put your dish name in the comments so I can remember them all?)
  • Best Celebrity Detective: Carrie, for identifying the most magazine-cutout celebrity smiles and bodies AND answering the tie-breaking question.
  • Trivia Winner: technically Karissa, but since she was host and thereby ineligible, my sister Em (Oscar trivia rookie) got the next best score.
  • Most Flabbergasting Trivia Fact: How many times do you think John Williams has been nominated for his movie scores? Twelve? Eighteen? Twenty-five? No. Try forty-eight.
  • Highlight of the Evening: finding out, through the subtleties of trivia, that our friend Meg is expecting! YAY!!
  • Best Dressed Guest: Skye’s Baby G, with his necktie onesie. Even without pants, it works.
  • Best-Behaved Baby: Normally Baby G would take this category too, because he’s basically the best-behaved baby on the planet, but he had a couple of uncharacteristic bouts of screaming, so I’m going with Baby A (a.k.a. mine). Of course, I paid for this… dearly. She was in great spirits all evening, snoozing on-and-off, getting passed around and flirting with my friends, until abruptly she was not fine anymore (two presentations before the end of the show). This leads to…
  • Worst Parenting Decision: goes to Dilovely, for allowing the overstimulation of my daughter. She was up every hour that night. Not restful for anyone. Lesson learned.





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Narcissism on the Interwebs

My husband has a love-hate relationship with Facebook. He has created and deleted his account countless times. He knows that, for now, no other social media site does what Facebook does – that’s why he always ends up returning. The part he dislikes – apart from their sneaky privacy policies – is how it encourages narcissism.

facebook like

I can see his point. There is something about publishing things on the internet that seems to lend them validity. You can go on Facebook and tell people: “Kids are at school, time for my morning coffee!” and chances are, there will be friends who Like your status, or who comment: “Me too! :)” or “OMG I <3 my Timmy’s!” Yep. Morning coffee: validated.

To Sean (and many others, I imagine), this is annoying. Who gives a poop about your morning coffee? Why should this be important to anyone?

And this is just a microcosm of the Greater Interweb, where anyone can be a published writer by starting a blog, anyone can initiate a comment war with a well-placed bitchy remark, and you never know if your stupid video of yourself accidentally face-planting in your kitchen might just go viral.

To me, the internet is simply a reflection of humanity. I’m not going to deny that, unfortunately, it has its evil side. The web validates child porn, white supremacy, and gun violence along with your morning coffee. That’s humanity for you.

At the same time, there are forums to condemn those things. And sources of sheer awesomeness to counteract them.

I see it as an equalizer. You can have your say and I can have mine. The floor is open.

I remember what it was like before the internet. I got my first email address in university, and it was a saving grace for a homesick freshwoman just a bit too introverted to love residence life. You mean, I can write to my family all at once? And they can write back that same day??

It took me longer to enjoy the wider internet. I remember my dad, who has been working with computers since they took up whole rooms, saying, “If you don’t know, you could look it up. On the internet.” I was dismissive; it seemed like too much bother. (HA.)

Now, I can barely imagine life without it. No more calling the Weather Office if you miss the long-term forecast. No more flipping futilely through Leonard Maltin if you can’t remember where you saw that actor before. No more recording grainy songs off the radio with DJs talking over the first ten seconds. No more researching with a mountainous pile of hulking tomes edited by a few academic strangers; Wikipedia weighs nothing, and it’s edited by everybody. Amazing!!

It’s a brave new world, easily accessible.

Aside from its handiness, though, it’s a great reminder that we are never alone. Whether your obsession be belly dancing, quantum physics, vintage cars, or high-quality writing implements with literary cachet {insert *Sean-cough*}, you know that online, you can find your peeps.

If you or someone you love has a miscarriage, postpartum depression, cancer, a broken heart, or anything else, there’s a community.

Also, if you need to laugh so hard you cry, or have your faith in humanity restored, it’s all there.

Some say that blogs are the ultimate example of narcissism. Any idiot can start a blog and start spewing their opinions and minutiae of their lives into cyberspace. True. The quality of blogs ranges from sublime to asinine.

But so what? As with all forms of media, all you need is a filter. If it sucks, DON’T WASTE TIME ON IT. If it smacks of narcissism, find something else.

I barely knew what a blog was when I started blogging; I just wanted to write. Little did I know that it would become the creative outlet I hadn’t realized I craved; that it would be an enveloping source of healing when my son died; that my message of encouragement to my colleagues would be read by thousands of disheartened teachers; that blogging would strengthen old friendships and open pathways to new ones.

It is wonderful, and humbling, to meet a reader for the first time and hear, “I feel like I know you – like we’re already friends!” And it’s not untrue: if you connected with me through my words, then we are connected. I wrote them for you.

I’ve felt similarly reading other blogs, learning so much about that writer and thinking, Wow, I love this person I’ve never met.

Mutual blog-reading and commenting is a unique form of friendship I’d never imagined. You can bond with people thousands of miles away, with whom you would never have crossed paths in life. That’s pretty special. The blogs I gravitate to are written by thoughtful, intelligent people, on all kinds of topics, and it’s genuinely comforting to read and relate to their words – especially after a national tragedy. In a community like Yeah Write, where mutual-readership is on fire, it’s like having a group discussion where we contemplate and compose our perspectives, then offer them to the company. I dig it.

And I don’t consider it narcissism to base your writing on your own experience. After all, that’s what we have to work with that’s most authentic and relatable.

As for Facebook… I like it. People complain about toxic comment threads and nasty gossip; I avoid those things as much as possible. It helps to have really nice friends.

It makes me smile to read about the kids or the garden, or see a photo of a delicious dinner or the dog looking silly. Those ordinary tidbits make me feel close to people I don’t see enough.

And when there’s serious news, whether personal or global, it’s heartening to see it through the lens of people I love.

By all means, tell me about your coffee. We can have one together.

continental breakfasts march10
Photo by Lisa of Continental Breakfasts.



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