Monday, September 26, 2016

Autumn To-Do List 2016

I was so encouraged by how well my summer to-do list kept me on track with my goals for my personal, interior life (as opposed to my life as a wife, as a mommy, a homeschooling teacher, a Sunday school teacher, etc.).  So here's my list for this autumn!  Except that I meant to make this weeks ago, and then... we went on vacation for two weeks.  Which was great!  But between visiting relatives and running my Tolkien blog party from the road, I never got around to writing up a to-do list.  So this is going to be a bit shorter than my previous ones, because I want to finish this by the end of November.  Here goes!

~ Re-read Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery

~ Read Letters on an Elk Hunt by Elinore Pruitt Stewart

~ Read Song of the Ean by Emily Nordberg

~ Read 3 other books from my TBR shelves

~ Read 3 books from the library

~ Watch Two Years Before the Mast (1946)

~ Finish season one of Leverage

~ Watch the Ioan Gruffudd version of Great Expectations

~ Watch 3 more movies from my TBW shelves

~ Make tomato basil soup.  This recipe looks good...

~ Try making my own pumpkin spice latte, possibly this one.

Skinny Pumpkin Spice Latte
~ Finish a rough draft of my western Little Red Riding Hood

~ While I'm at it, find a good title for that story

~ Print, frame, and hang family photos in our foyer

That ought to keep me busy, don't you think?  Do you have things you hope to accomplish this fall?  Do you love to-do lists, or hate them, or are you indifferent to them?  And do you have a good recipe for pumpkin spice latte?  I can't keep spending $4 on them at Starbucks all the time, I'll go poor.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

"Femnista" Article about "The Man from UNCLE"

The September/October issue of Femnista is focused on "Derringers and Fedoras."  It's all things spies and detectives, and my article, "A Tale of Two Illyas:  Character Changes in The Man from UNCLE" is up here today.  In it, I theorize on why they changed Illya Kuryakin so much for the film, while Napoleon Solo remained essentially the same.  I'd love to know what you think of my theory, either in comments here or on the actual post itself!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Tolkien Blog Party 2016 Tag

Yes, it's time once again for my annual Tolkien Blog Party -- this post on my book blog has the tag and lots of info, and the giveaway is here.  Come join the fun!

Speaking of the tag, here are my answers:

1. How many books by J.R.R. Tolkien have you read?

Five.  I've read The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, and The Silmarillion.

2. Have you seen any movies based on them? 

Indeed!  I've seen all 6 of Peter Jackson's films in the theater, and many times on DVD.

3. Are there any scenes/moments that make you cry? 

So many!  I think my #1 cry spot is when Sam picks Frodo up and says, "I can't carry it, Mr. Frodo, but I can carry you."  Oh, the tears fall thick and fast there, both for book and film.

4. Are there any scenes/moments that make you laugh? 

Also many!  I think one of the spots I laugh the most is the bit during The Hobbit:  The Battle of the Five Armies where Bilbo goes sneeeeeeeeeaking past the guards in Dale.  It's a moment of pure physical comedy that delights me.

5. Have you ever chosen a Middle Earth name for yourself? If so, what is it?

I've chosen a couple, actually.  The one that means anything at all interesting is Taulaes -- in some Elvish language, it means "lamb."  My real name, Rachel, also means "lamb," so that's why I chose that one.

6. Who would you want to party with/marry/fight to the death? (pick three characters) 

I want to party with Samwise Gamgee (because he's so sensible and I know we wouldn't get in trouble), marry Bard the Bowman (for all these reasons), and fight Grima Wormtongue to the death (because I despise him and I'd probably be able to take him down).

7. When was the last time you visited Middle Earth, via books or movies? 

Ummmmm, it would be when I last watched The Hobbit:  The Battle of the Five Armies, so sometime around February, I think.

8. Do you consider Gollum to be a villain? Why or why not? 

Kind of?  He does work against our heroes, so is a definite antagonist, but of course, not all antagonists are villains.  He does fit the definition of villain, in that his evil actions are important to the plot, and he's malicious, sometimes cruel.  I guess I view him as a tragic villain, one who lacked the moral strength to resist temptation, and who could not overcome his addiction to his Precious.  In the end, his need for it overwhelmed his ability and desire to do good.  Kind of a great picture of how sinful people cannot, by their own reason or strength, believe in Jesus as the Savior -- no matter how much they want to.  Good intentions and desires are not enough.

9. How would you sum up what Tolkien's stories mean to you in one word?


10. List up to ten of your favorite lines/quotes from the books or movies.

(I'm going to repeat some favorites from previous years because I am not currently in the same place as my heavily underlined and annotated books.)

"Go where you must go, and hope!" -- Gandalf

"Now there's an eye opener, and no mistake." -- Sam

"The Men of the Mark do not lie, and therefore they are not easily deceived." -- Eomer

"However it may prove, one must tread the path that need chooses!" -- Gandalf

"What new devilry is this?" -- Boromir

"Will you have peace, or war?" -- Bard

In the dark at the rear, grim and silent, walked Aragorn. (Fellowship of the Ring)

"Look, I know you doubt me. I know you always have. And you're right, I often think of Bag End. I miss my books. And my armchair. And my garden. See, that's where I belong. That's home. And that's why I came back. Because... you don't have one. A home. It was taken from you. But I will help you take it back, if I can." -- Bilbo

(That last one is long, so I'm only doing 8 this year.)

Please join me at the party!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

How'd I Do with My Summer To-Do List?

Well, Labor Day is almost a week ago already, so I guess that means summer is kinda over, huh?  Time to see how I did on my Summer To-Do List!

~ Finish reading Sixguns and Society by Will Wright  Check!  I reviewed it here.  TL;DR:  It's wonderful!

~ Read The Shadow on the Mesa by Jackson Gregory  Semi-Fail.  I started it, decided I didn't care for it, and donated it to the library.

~ Read Much Ado About Anne by Heather Vogel Frederick  Check!  I reviewed it here.

~ Read 6 other books from my TBR shelves  Semi-Fail.  I read 4, not 6:  Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart, Greenwillow by B. J. Chute, All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani, and I, Claudia by Charity Bishop.

~ Read 3 books from the library  Check!  In fact, I read 5, so that makes up for my TBR pile fail, in a way, right?  Anyway, the five I read were:  The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King, A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich, Unnatural Causes by P.D. James, The Last Kind Words Saloon by Larry McMurtry, and The Dragon Turn by Shane Peacock (review coming soon!).

~ Try a new pie recipe  Fail.  I did bake pie this summer, but not from a new recipe.

~ Make Lemon Blueberry Cake  Check!  I made it when my mom was visiting, and it was delicious.  But a LOT of work.  Not something to make on a whim.

~ Watch the Ioan Gruffudd version of Great Expectations  Fail.  Again!  Man, I need to just sit down and watch that thing already.

~ Re-watch and review Branded (1950)  Check.  My review is here.

~ Watch one of the Rudolph Valentino movies I own but haven't seen yet  Check.  I watched Beyond the Rocks (1922) for the first time, and reviewed it here.

~ Watch 5 other movies from my TBW shelves  Check!  In fact, I watched 6:  The Iron Mistress (1952), Ant-Man (2015), Appointment with Danger (1951), The Great Gatsby (1949), Meet the Robinsons (2007), and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939).  (And only half of those starred Alan Ladd :-o)

~ Find out if it's okay to build a tree house on our property.  If it is, build one like this.  Half-check.  I did the research and found that it is okay to build tree houses here IF you get your design approved by HOA board in advance.  And I never drew up plans and submitted them because I don't have it entirely worked out in my head yet and... yeah... we don't have a tree house.  Yet.

~ Meanwhile, make at least one of these  Check!  And the kids have used it quite a bit this summer.

~ Visit Colonial Williamsburg while the flowers are all pretty  Check!  We only stopped for lunch one afternoon, in May, but what we drifted through was quite pretty.  

~ Make myself a new skirt  Fail.  I got the fabric measured and cut, but haven't sewn it together yet.

~ Order my costume for the Star Trek convention -- and SOON  Check.  Obviously.

~ Get a significant amount of editing done on my YA western novel, Fickle Creek  Fail.  Terrible, awful fail.  I apologize most sincerely to all the dear characters in it that I have neglected.

~ Pick which novel to begin writing next  Check.  Except I ended up deciding to write another short story instead, a western reimagining of "Little Red Riding Hood."  I don't have a good title for it yet, but I do have a Pinterest board for it...

I hope to post an Autumn To-Do List soon!

How about you?  Did you have certain things you hoped to do/read/watch/eat/enjoy this summer?  Did you get them accomplished?

Thursday, September 08, 2016

My Ten Favorite "Star Trek" Episodes

Fifty years ago today, on September 8, 1966, Star Trek debuted on NBC.  Happy fiftieth to one of the most influential shows of all time!  Not to mention one of my favorites :-)

So here are my ten favorite episodes from Star Trek:  The Original Series as it's called now:

1.  "Court Martial" -- Captain Kirk is brought to trial over the death of a crewmember.

2.  "Mirror, Mirror" -- A few crewmembers encounter an alternate universe version of the Enterprise that is much more warlike than their own.

3.  "The City on the Edge of Forever" -- Captain Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy are thrown back in time to the 1930s, where they inadvertently change history and have to figure out how to fix things.  Probably the finest episode in the series.

4.  "Shore Leave" -- The crew visit a seemingly uninhabited planet that is filled with fun surprises.  My kids love this one almost as much as "The Trouble with Tribbles."

5.  "Day of the Dove" -- Klingons and Enterprise crewmembers are locked in a deadly struggle facilitated by a mysterious creature that feeds on hatred.

6.  "A Piece of the Action" -- The crew encounter an alien society that has modeled itself around Prohibition-era gangsters of Earth's history.  Everyone looks so yummy in those fedoras.

7.  "I, Mudd" -- That rascal Harry Mudd from season one is back, this time lording it over a planet full of androids.

8.  "Balance of Terror" -- A Romulan ship squares off with the Enterprise and a lot of tension and excitement ensues.

9.  "Journey to Babel" -- Spock's parents are among the group of delegates gathered to discuss diplomatic and political stuff.

10.  "The Trouble with Tribbles" -- Who doesn't love those prolific little fuzzballs that help Captain Kirk discover a Klingon spy?  My kids' favorite episode, which means I've seen it a LOT lately.

Tell me -- what are your favorite Star Trek episodes?  Are you celebrating today in any way?  I'm wearing my Captain Kirk t-shirt and hope to watch an ep with my kids later today.  It'll probably be "Shore Leave," but who knows -- I might show them one they haven't watched before.  We'll see!

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Announcing the John Wayne Blogathon!

Hey, guess what?  Quiggy at The Midnite Drive-In and I are going to co-host a John Wayne blogathon in December!  And you are hereby invited to attend, participate, and generally enjoy the festivities.

The John Wayne Blogathon will run for three days, December 9-11.  You can sign up for this event either here in the comments on this post, or else on The Midnite Drive-In's post.  We will add you to the list of participants, along with your chosen topic.  You can post on any of those three days, and if you want to write multiple posts, that's cool with us!

EDIT:  Please leave a link to your blog as well if your sign-in name doesn't lead to it, so we can link to it on the list.

Because John Wayne was such a prolific actor, we are insisting that there be no duplicates as far as movie reviews.  But you don't have to review one of the Duke's films to participate -- you could write about anything related to John Wayne.  A list of your favorites of his films?  Or his characters?  A review of a book about him?  An introspective look at why you're his fan?  An overview of his career?  There are so many options!  If you're not sure your idea for a post would work or not, feel free to ask either Quiggy or myself if it will be a good fit for this event.

And here's something else exciting!  Quiggy is going to host a giveaway during the blogathon!  He'll be giving a copy of the book American Titan:  Searching for John Wayne by Marc Eliot.  And his giveaway will be open world-wide.  I may or may not do a giveaway of some sort myself -- we'll see what I come up with.  You know I love me a good giveaway, so stay tuned for more about that closer to the event.

I got a little carried away with the buttons for this event, but I figure a nice variety is good, since John Wayne had such a wide spectrum of roles.  And that means you can pick the one you like best to post on your blog to spread the word about this event.

As you probably know, John Wayne is my absolute favorite actor of all time.  I'm really excited to be able to celebrate his films with this blogathon!

The List

Hamlette's Soliloquy -- Without Reservations (1946)
The Midnite Drive-In -- Stagecoach (1939) and The Shootist (1976)
Caftan Woman -- Island in the Sky (1953)
Christina Wehner -- In Old California (1942)
High Noon -- Rio Bravo (1959) and The Big Trail (1930)
Phyllis Loves Classic Movies -- Rio Grande (1950)
Coffee, Classics, and Craziness -- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and The Horse Soldiers (1959)
Love Letters to Old Hollywood -- John Wayne's appearance on I Love Lucy (1955)
Old Hollywood Films -- She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)
Critica Retro -- John Wayne's early collaborations with John Ford
Movies Meet Their Match -- The Sons of Katie Elder (1965) and True Grit (1969)
Silver Scenes -- Tall in the Saddle (1944) and the films and friendship of John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara
Ekaterina -- Rooster Cogburn (1975)
Silver Screenings -- Operation Pacific (1951)
Thoughts All Sorts -- The War Wagon (1967) and Big Jake (1971)

Saturday, September 03, 2016

"Branded" (1950)

Happy birthday, Alan Ladd!  To celebrate the day, I'm going to review one of my favorite of Ladd's films:  Branded (1950).  (I'm also wearing my only Ladd-related t-shirt in his honor.  It says "Grafton's Mercantile Co. Sundries & Saloon" on it, and pretty much no one I run into is going to know that it's a reference to Shane, but that matters not.  I know.)

Branded is one of those thinky westerns.  Not a bang-bang-shoot-'em-up western, but one that's more of a character-driven drama that happens to take place out west.  It's kind of about swindlers, but not totally.  It's kind of about mistaken identity, but not totally.  It's a little hard to define, except that it is definitely about a man's search for acceptance and belonging.

The movie has two parts -- the first concerns the main character's fall, and the second shows how he tries to atone for what he's done.  And the ending is all about forgiveness and acceptance, not about having a big showdown and killing off all the villains.  No wonder it fills me with joy, huh?

Also, in case you're curious, no, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the Chuck Connors TV series called Branded (1965-66).  Not related in the least.  (Though Mona Freeman, who stars here as Ruth Lavery, did appear in an episode of the TV show, but as a totally different character.)

So... on to the story!

Choya (Alan Ladd) is a Bad Guy.  When we meet up with him in the first scene, he's using an innocent old man as a shield to escape the wrath of a bunch of townspeople.

He killed a townsperson (in self-defense, they're careful to point out), so now the whole town is out to get him.  But he's clever and resourceful and quick-thinking, and is soon beyond the reach of the law.  However, he's not beyond the reach of other Bad Guys.

Two hombres named Leffingwell (Robert Keith) and Tattoo (John Berkes) find him and convince him that they have the greatest get-rich-quick scheme of all time.  Leffingwell knows about this wealthy ranching family whose only son was kidnapped twenty years earlier and never found.  The son had a very distinctive birthmark on his shoulder.  Choya looks enough like the family that he could conceivably be that son, so all he has to do is get that birthmark tattooed on his shoulder, convince the family he's their lost son, and then make off with lots of money.  Which, of course, Leffingwell expects a good cut of for masterminding the whole thing.

Choya's skeptical at first, but finally agrees to go along with it.  But he insists on going to the family on his own and running this con game his own way.  Leffingwell doesn't like being left out of everything, but doesn't have much choice.

Choya meets up with some of the cowhands on the ranch, acts all tough and mean, and somehow wrangles himself a job.  He goes on being antagonistic, like a guy with a grudge against the whole world.

He does soften up a little around Ruth Lavery, the boss man's daughter, but he growls at everyone else.  And then he deliberately gets all dirty trying to break in a horse, which means he has to take off his shirt to clean up, thereby revealing his "birthmark."  And then he gets into a big fight with Mr. Lavery (Charles Bickford), before anyone notices the "birthmark," but they do see it eventually.

I will pause here a moment to mention that poor Alan Ladd was forever having to take off his shirt in movies.  And forever having to get beaten up.  I almost suspect there was someone at the studio keeping a tally -- every Alan Ladd movie has to have either the Obligatory Shirtless Scene or the Obligatory Beating.  In some, like Branded, we get both, just for good measure.  I've watched 14 of his films since February, and I've started wondering at the beginning of each new one just how they're going to work a shirtless scene and a fight scene into it.  The only one I've seen so far that doesn't have either one is And Now Tomorrow (1944).  I'm sure this trend says a lot about movie studios in the '40s and '50s (Alan Ladd is trim and muscular -- we must show off his body!), audiences then (we want to see our hero suffer!  While shirtless!), and myself (Must comfort and protect my Alan from those meanies!), but anyway, back to the story.

After they decide that he's their son, Choya acts like he wants nothing to do with the Laverys, making them really really really want him to accept them as family.  It's quite genius -- they have no reason to suspect he's conning them because he insists he doesn't want to believe he's the long-lost Lavery heir.

No sooner does he have them convinced, by letting them convince him, than he starts to have second thoughts about this whole affair.  Mrs. Lavery (Selena Royle), a fragile and bewildered woman, dotes so on him that he can't help but start feeling guilty about all his lies.  Which is what makes casting Ladd such a good move, as he does "guilty and repentant" looks so effectively.

Choya knows he's falling in love with Ruth Lavery, but he can't act on it because she believes he's her brother.  He tries to keep up the deception, but eventually, he realizes how wrong it all is.

He confesses to Ruth, then leaves, vowing he'll find the real Lavery boy and return him to the family to make up for all the pain he's caused by tricking them.  His partner-in-crime Leffingwell isn't at all pleased about this, as you can imagine.  The rest of the film is about Choya's quest to atone for his misdeeds by finding the man he was impersonating (Peter Hansen), who grew up in Mexico believing he was the son of a bandit chieftain (Joseph Calleia).

And I won't spoil any more of the film, because if you like classy, thought-provoking westerns with lots of character development and deep moral and emotional questions, you need to watch this yourself.

The name Choya, of course, is an Americanization of the Spanish word cholla, which is a kind of cactus.  It's the perfect name for this character -- he is so prickly and hard to eradicate, you expect him to sprout actual spines at any moment.  And yet, when treated well, he blooms.  Also, it seems that cholla plants will attach themselves to you and refuse to let go -- at least, according to my extremely cursory internet research.  And Choya does the same.  Once he's attached to the Lavery family, he will not let go of them, even if it means trading his life for their real son's while returning him to his rightful parents.

One of the things I like best about Branded is their handling of Ruth Lavery.  She could have been clingy and annoying.  She could have been naive and heedless.  She could have been bold and tempting.  Those seem to be the cliches that female love interests in westerns fall into all too often.

But Ruth Lavery is much more realistic that that.  She really feels like a woman who has grown up on a ranch, used to lots of independence and responsibility.  She's authoritative and intelligent, but also kind and affectionate.  I would like to be her friend.

Doesn't hurt that Mona Freeman has a fresh, spunky prettiness that contrasted really nicely with the bitter toughness Alan Ladd was projecting.

Anyway, happy birthday again, dear Alan.  If you want to drink coffee at my chuckwagon, I promise not to point any rifles at you.