See, here I am again! This time with a whole backlog of recommendations. For shows tostream, books to read, & theater to see. I have gotten lifts, thrills, and even life lessons from things I turned to simply for distraction. Hope they prove as valuable to you. And please, share your own entertainment discoveries in the comments section!
1. Lark Rise to Candleford (available on Amazon Prime)
Alfie. Queenie. Minnie. Twister. Such memorable, adorable characters. Oh, and Bates from Downton Abbey. (Though I'm not such a fan of that actor really, or the character he plays here.) It's amazing what resonance this story of poor villagers rubbing up against middle class townsfolk in early 19th century Oxfordshire, England could have for a modern gal such as myself. The main storyline in each episode is usually such a minor incident in old-fashioned country life -- a post-office package gone missing and then recovered, a lost dog adopted -- that it's a true accomplishment how engaging and important it seems while you're watching it. I really can't recommend this enough, especially for fans of Victorian literature and series/movies based thereon such as myself. And there are 4 seasons!!! So satisfying. Here's a little clip to give you the flavor.
2. The Last Man on Earth (broadcast on Fox, available on Hulu Plus)
I really don't know who's funnier, Will Forte or Kristen Schaal. Kristen's a lot more loveable, that's for sure. This show is hilarious. Hilarious. Hilarious. The first episode is slow, but by the end it gets funny, and the show just gets more and more hilarious with each episode. Did I mention I find it hilarious? By the way even though it is kind of inappropriate I do let my 10-year-old watch it with me, and he loves it as much as I do. Which is fun.
3. Poldark (available on Amazon Prime)
Swoon! That's my response to Poldark (the character, as played by the smoldering Aidan Turner). You can catch up on Season 1 while waiting for Season 2 to begin sometime this year on PBS. I can't wait. I've even gotten my mom into it. The story is replete with passion, resentment, family & class tensions, powerfully conflicted men riding their horses across the starkly beautiful coastal landscape of 1790's Cornwall, England... if that sounds like your kind of thing, get on it!
...or listen to on audiobook, as I do (thank you New York Public Library):
1. Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella
Totally vapid. And totally entertaining. I especially recommend the audiobook, which (unlike most of the others in the Shopaholic series, which have a different reader for some reason) is read with deadpan understatement by Clare Corbett. I chortled out loud more than once. You don't have to have read the previous books to enjoy it. It's perfect light reading for when you just want to laugh!
2. The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin
I'm not going to lie to you, this one's trashy too. Despite its trappings of historical fiction -- the story interweaves interesting fictional characters with real aristocrats and royals from 19th century Europe -- it amounts to not much more than a guilty pleasure. But the characters are engaging, and the story is just unpredictable enough to help this novel transcend the bodice-ripping genre to which it arguably belongs. A well-written, light, juicy read!
3. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
3. The good thing about having a memory that gets worse and worse is this: I can read great books I have already read and enjoy them as if for the first time, because I have completely forgotten them! I have done this now with practically everything by my favorite authors. This book, though, I had omitted to re-read because I vaguely remembered not liking it very much when I first read it. I don't know if that memory is faulty or if my tastes have changed (probably both), but boy did this exceed my expectations (no pun intended) when I finally got around to re-reading it recently! So gothic, so epic, so affecting! I can't think of a more purely endearing character in literature than Joe, nor a more oddly sympathetic one than Pip's convict. Dickens' narrative voice is as cleverly droll and inimitably trenchant as ever. The whole thing is just a big, touching treat.
Full disclosure: my husband gets a free pair of tickets to most Broadway shows because of his professional involvement in musical theater (huge perk for me, when I feel well enough to join him!). So I am not really judging the shows I see according to the same standards as most, i.e., "Was this worth the hundreds of dollars these seats cost?" Which is not to detract from the enthusiasm of my recommendations; just to let you know I'm not saying the shows I liked ARE necessarily worth spending a fortune to see.
1. Bright Star (now on Broadway)
Who know Steve Martin was such a talented composer! I loved his (and lyricist Edie Brickell's) folk/bluegrass score as much as I loved his story, the great performances (especially by hugely talented leading lady Carmen Cusack), the wonderful choreography and costumes, and the clever set. With a cast of unknowns, this show may not attract enough of an audience to stay open long on Broadway... so catch it while you can!
2. On Your Feet: The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan (now on Broadway)
We were indeed on our feet by the end of the show, dancing and singing along! Which is saying a lot for both me (endurer of fibromyalgia & chronic fatigue that I am) & Mark (harborer of inhibitions and epitome of propriety that he is). I really can't believe this show wasn't nominated for any of the major Tony awards, with its super-talented cast and appealing, inspiring story. If you do go see it, be forewarned... the rhythm is gonna get you!
Well that's the round-up of my latest recs. Hope it leads to lots of enjoyment!
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So I went on a retreat this weekend, for families with kids in Oliver's Hebrew School. It was wonderful in many ways: a bucolic spot, meals taken care of, kids independent & having fun with each other, adults getting to know each other and exploring spiritual and other issues through discussion, ceremony, and communion with nature. So why did I feel so crappy when I got home? It wasn't the transition back to normal life. It was the same old stress-causing thoughts that come up in my normal life, popping up and sowing discontent within me even as unspoiled nature and all the means to relax surrounded me.
I still had fun on the whole and am glad I went. But it was a mistake to think that simply getting away from the external aggravations of daily life would be enough to create peace of mind. What I needed to do while there, and finally did a day after coming back, was notice the thoughts that precede a shift towards negativity in my outlook and take the time to re-anchor myself in acceptance & positivity. I have tools that help me do this thanks to a number of books I've read, workshops I've taken, and other resources. But sometimes I don't use them... either because I'm too lazy, don't think I need to, or am so far gone into negativity that I've convinced myself they won't help. And yet they always do! Thank goodness for that.
My most reliably stress-causing thoughts, which require only the briefest of interactions with almost anyone, include gems like: "She probably thinks I'm a pathetic failure," or "He must view me with utter contempt." My most reliably peace-restoring tool is taking a time-out to remind myself that I can't read minds, that it's actually me thinking those things, and that I can return to feeling happy and free by letting go of such thoughts and focussing instead on actions that increase my sense of wellness & connection.
What stress-causing thoughts can pop up for you no matter where you are? What tools have you learned that help (when you actually use them)?
Topping my list of actions that increase my sense of wellness & connection, of course, is making a gift for a friend with needle and thread. Here's the onesie I made over the weekend. I actually made 2 so I could sell one on etsy. I got my first order on Friday & it gave me such a lift I can't tell you! Turns out making stuff for total strangers is as much fun as making stuff for friends & acquaintances!
As always, thanks for reading, please comment, and please share with anyone you think might enjoy!
Someone told me they liked my blog but found me intimidating. I was surprised because I think of myself as anything but. I struggle a lot with anxiety that I’ve failed in certain areas and that various people will find me ridiculous. But I wasn’t so surprised when I really thought about it... after all I do quite a lot of showing off in this blog! Which I am embarrassed to realize. It reminds me of when I was reading this parenting book on how to help your children develop good social skills and there was a chapter on the child who brags a lot. The author explained that this child just wants to be liked and belong, and mistakenly believes that telling others how great he or she is will make this happen. At the time I thought: I used to be that child! Now my thought is: I guess I still am sometimes! Hopefully this true confession makes me less intimidating. When I catch myself being less than my most enlightened & mature self, it actually helps me to call myself out on it, rather than pretend it didn’t happen… as an affirmation of how imperfect yet totally acceptable I am! As a wise person reminded me recently, it’s lonely trying to be (or seem) perfect, because no one else is. (Thank you for the inspiration Barry.)
Other recent inspirations:
1. My adorable nephew painting watercolors with total concentration and confidence.
2. My sweet Tucker, who did everything with a smile (except when he didn't) this week: transitioned from diapers to underpants, started sleeping in his own bed, & even slept over at his grandparents' without a fuss. And made this in preschool! (Thanks for the photo Tara!)
3. My friend Phyllis’ family, who gathered from across the country this weekend for a celebration of her life and work. What a testament to the power of a life well lived. She passed away a few weeks ago and, as her niece put it, there is less light in the world because of it. The beauty of the creations she left behind, the amount of happiness she gave her loved ones, and the depth of the attachment her many friends and relatives felt for her amount to a legacy for the living that is bright indeed.
OK: your turn!
Who or what has inspired you lately? Call out your heroes, your "aha" moment triggers, or just someone who filled your bucket! It's of great interest to me... and it will create good karma for you!
(Here's how you do it: click on the words "Add Comment" just below, right underneath the "Tweet" and "Like" icons!!!!)
This week I’d like to share some super-specific recommendations for free internet resources that have greatly enhanced my life. Of course everyone is different so maybe they will totally not work for you. But they are awesome enough for me to want to share them with you just in case. (Oh and I am a luddite and have no smart phone or tablet so am therefore ignorant of all the "apps" that probably supplant these... but if you still use a laptop like me you might agree that they are genius!)
These yoga videos on youtube
These are short and generally not strenuous (with the exception of the first, which is more focused on strengthening than stretching, but like the others feels really great). Mostly they are just really delicious stretches that get the kinks out and build strength and flexibility. The channel has tons of others, and I like all the ones by Cindy & Jen & some of the other teachers too, but these are my faves. I do at least one of them daily, as part of my morning routine, and it inevitably marks the turning point in my morning from physically uncomfortable, mentally unfocussed & grumpy to calm, centered, and looking forward to the day. I sometimes have to force myself to get started but once I do it’s just a pleasure; I feel like I’m honoring my needs and giving myself something good that I deserve.
Bookflix & Tumblebooks
When my 3-year-old wants to be read to and I am just too dead tired (think: early early morning), these two book websites are great substitutes. Both have interactive ebooks that will read a story aloud to your child as he or she turns the electronic “pages.” Both are free to use if you have a New York Public Library card, & are accessible through the ebooks page on their website (scroll down the ebooks page & you’ll see the links). No, it’s not the same for kids as having you read to them. But it gives you a breather & they have some fun books & accompanying musical videos! Tucker’s favorite is the groovy musical version of “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” on Bookflix. When Oliver was younger he loved 50 Below Zero on Tumblebooks, which is read (to hilarious effect) by the author, the priceless Robert Munsch.
I’ve already shared (in this post) how much I love listening to audiobooks, especially at bedtime, where it has basically cured my insomnia. I wanted to add that I got my 8-year-old hooked on them and now we often listen together to some of the great new and old books that are out there for kids (and adults who love kids’ books like myself). Recent favorite series we have enjoyed together include The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter (of course), and the Artemis Fowl books by Eoin Colfer. Sometimes we discover unknown gems of hilarity just by browsing the site, e.g. I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President. The New York Public Library website audiobooks page explains how to download audiobooks to your computer or portable device using the software they provide (also downloadable for free). I would assume libraries all over are providing the same service to their members via their websites.
Question of the Week: What free internet resources have enhanced your life? Please share your recommendations via comment! THANKS!
Lately I've thoroughly enjoyed several books written for tweens and teens. Most are what I guess is called the fantasy genre, but in addition to having very imaginative settings and inventive and exciting plots, they have very sensitively and evocatively written characters who deal with the "ordinary" emotional issues of adolescence despite their extraordinary circumstances. Even with 3 decades of distance from my own adolescence, I became wholly absorbed in their struggles and even felt I learned some wisdom from them! Here are some favorites:
1. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. This immediately engaging, surprising story is a whole new take on the dangers of being different. The fantasy elements are quite original and unexpected, and resonate quite powerfully with metaphorical meaning. I can't wait for the promised sequel!
2. Percy Jackson & the Olympians by Rick Riordan. This is the first book in a series (actually 2 series, with 5 in the first and 3 so far in the "sequel" series, The Gods of Olympus) and they are ALL terrific! Told in first-person narrative by a relatable teen boy hero who actually becomes a Hero (i.e. saves the world and that sort of thing), these stories are written with humor and sophistication and breathe fascinating life into Greek Mythology, a canonical subject that helps form the basis of western civilization... so you feel you're gaining an appreciation for your cultural heritage even as you're being thrillingly entertained!
3. Camille and And Both Were Young by Madeleine L'Engle. Less well-known than her A Wrinkle in Time series, this pair of books about girls on the brink of adolescence are almost painfully accurate in their rendering of the moments of hopeless yearning, dread, and disillusionment that can strike when parents aren't there (emotionally or otherwise) for children and seemingly overwhelming social hurdles loom large.
If anyone reading this is an insomniac, I want to share with you the fantastic solution my friend Naomi taught me that has virtually eliminated my insomnia: audiobooks. I download them on my mp3 player (a sansa clip that cost $45 and is conveniently tiny), put in my earbuds, set the sleep timer to automatically shut off power in 20 minutes, and invariably doze off before the machine does. Something about having the distraction from my own racing thoughts that a book provides, while lying down with my eyes closed (as opposed to sitting up with the light on to read a physical book, which always just kept me awake), makes it super-soporific for me. If you have a library card and your local library has a website equipped for it (most do), you can download audiobooks for free! I do it on: ebooks.nypl.org. They have a great selection.
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