Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Announcing the We Love Pirates Week Blog Party

Ahoy there!  I am going to host a pirate-themed blog party in February!  From Feb. 22-26, we will be celebrating all things piratical here, and you are hereby invited to join the crew!

This will be much like the Western Cinema Week party I co-hosted last year -- you can contribute anything you want to, from a movie or book review, to a top ten list of favorite pirates, to your favorite pirate music.  Whatever you can come up with sounds good!  (With the caveat that we DO want to remain family friendly, since participants can be of all ages, so do try to keep that in mind.)

I will also provide a tag that you can fill out, with all sorts of piratey questions on it.  And there will be games of some sort!  

Obviously, we will be focusing on fictional pirates, but if you want to do a post about real pirates, past or present, you are certainly welcome to contribute that as well!

There is no formal sign-up process, but I would love it if you commented here letting me know you intend to participate.  You can use any of these blog buttons/banners in your own posts, and add them to your blog sidebars to let other people know about the upcoming fun!

And, yes, I will be hosting a giveaway for this event :-D  Ye've been warned.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

New Winter 2020/21 To-Do List

 Whatever shall I do to keep myself busy this winter?  Hmm.  I'm sure I can think of a few things ;-)

~ Finish writing a short story 

~ Finish the first draft of my Beauty and the Beast retelling 

~ Finish re-reading The Lord of the Rings

(All photos mine from my Instagram account)

~ Read 3 Christmas books

~ Read 6 other books off my TBR shelves 

~ Read 3 books from the library 

~ Read at least 1 book each month about/by someone who is not white 

~ Host a pirate-themed blog party in February

~ Watch 3 Christmas movies

~ Watch 4 movies off my TBW shelves

~ Go see Wonder Woman: 1984

~ Try making cookies with my new patterned rolling pin

~ Help my daughter make a playground for her hamster

~ Repaint the main floor bathroom

~ Get back to regularly reading the blogs I love

That ought to keep me occupied, don't you think?  

How about you?  Are you planning anything in particular you'd like to do this winter?

Sunday, December 13, 2020

"Young at Heart" (1954)


I first saw Young at Heart (1954) on AMC about 20 years ago, back when AMC showed classic American movies.  I was in college, and I only caught the middle of the movie because I was just watching TV in the lounge between classes, and that's what happened to be on.  I came in around the time that Barney (Frank Sinatra) and Laurie (Doris Day) met and spent a lot of time verbally sparring, and I had to leave before the ending, but I liked what I saw, and so I kept an eye on the TV listings for it to come around again.  

Eventually, it did, and I managed to record it with my VCR (I went to college in the dark ages, you know) and watch the whole thing.

Because I saw the middle part first, I tend to think of this as a movie about a couple who have a lot of sparky chemistry, but it's really more about how another person's faith in you is never going to make up for your own lack of confidence.

Laurie Tuttle is one of three daughters of a music professor.  All three daughters are intelligent, spirited, and musically talented.  One day, a friend of her dad's, Alex (Gig Young) comes over and causes a bit of a sensation -- he's not a classical musician like the Tuttles, he writes pop songs.  Alex is charming and funny and nice, and Laurie gets along well with him, so people start to assume they're an item.  

But then, Barney arrives on the scene.  He's Alex's arranger, and he's everything Alex isn't -- quiet, morose, acerbic, and unsure of his own talent.  He's also basically the exact opposite of Laurie too, and she finds him an exciting challenge.  Laurie is absolutely certain that Barney has what it takes to be a great composer, and she supports him with everything in her when he decides to go ahead and try to write something big and grand.

Somewhere in there, they get married.  And they have kind of a gloomy life for a while.  No matter how encouraging Laurie is, Barney remains unconvinced of his own abilities and talents.  He feels he doesn't fit in with her family and her old life, and that the life he's able to give her is just not good enough.  Barney also thinks that Laurie "settled" for him and should have married Alex instead. 

But, they eventually come to really understand and cherish each other, after many lovely songs get sung.  I do wish Sinatra and Day got more than one real duet -- I've always felt like the opportunity to have these two splendid artists sing together got largely wasted, which is my only quibble with this movie.

I think what draws me to this story is the contrast because the Tuttles' polished, pretty world and the cynical Barney who has had a very hard life and can't quite see how the Tuttle family's happiness can be real.  Or can be something he can share in.  Its his gradual blossoming, and the way that Laurie gets to shed some of her own glossy ideas about life, that makes me want to watch this movie over and over.  Culture clashes are always interesting to me, even when they're not huge ones.

Is this movie family friendly?  Yup, it is.

This has been my contribution to the First Annual Frank Sinatra Blogathon hosted by KN Winiarski Writes.

12 Delights of Christmas Tag

Heidi started this tag on her blog Along the Brandywine last week, and I'm happy to say, she tagged me with it!  Thank you, Heidi :-)  

So here we go with my answers to her questions!  As usual, all pictures are mine from my Instagram account, except ones that are movie screencaps I took myself.

1) A favorite Christmas tradition? 

Every year, we take "Christmas walks" around our neighborhood to look at the Christmas decorations outside their homes.  One of the kids gets to carry a little lantern with a battery-operated candle in it, and sometimes we sing Christmas carols as we walk.

2) Say it snowed at your domicile, would you prefer to go out or stay curled up inside? 

I do both!  First, I go out and help my kids build a snowman, maybe have a snowball fight, maybe do a bit of sledding down the hill in our backyard.  It tends to work best if I go down the hill first, to carve out a deeper track than they can make.  Then they can just sled down in that track all they want.  When I come inside, I make hot chocolate for everyone.  After that, I curl up and watch the snow.

3) Tea or hot chocolate? 

Hot chocolate, all the way.

4) Favorite Christmas colors (i.e. white, blue, silver, red and green etc)? 

Red and silver and gold are my favorites.

5) Favorite kind of Christmas cookie? 

I have a recipe we call "Mandi Cookies," named after a college roommate of mine who gave us the recipe.  They are fantastic for cut-out cookies, and I could eat half a dozen in one sitting.  I have the recipe here on my recipe blog.

6) How soon before Christmas do you decorate (more specifically, when does your tree go up)?

I like to put it up the day after Thanksgiving.  I would put it up the day after Halloween, but Cowboy would object strenuously, so I don't.  Some years, it's gone up later, though, like the years when we spend Thanksgiving somewhere else with family.

It usually takes us one day to set up the tree and decorate it, and I spend another day doing lights and decorations outside and in the foyer, and another one decorating the living room.  So it's a job for a long weekend.

7) Three favorite traditional Christmas carols? 
  1. "What Child is This"
  2. "Go Tell it on the Mountain"
  3. "Silent Night"

8) A favorite Christmas song (i.e. something you might hear on the radio)? 

I have a great fondness for Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You" because one of my first college roommates really loved it and we would grab pencils for microphones and belt it out along with the radio.

9) A favorite Christmas movie? 

White Christmas (1954) is my top favorite, and you can read my thoughts on it right here.

10) Have you ever gone caroling? 

Yes!  Though not for a long time.  When I was a kid, my parents and the rest of the church choir (which my mom led) would go caroling to the homes of shut-in members of our church.  When I was a teen, our Sunday school went caroling to some nursing homes a few years.

11) Ice skating, sledding, skiing, or snow boarding? 

Sledding!  I didn't learn to ski or ice skate until I was in my teens, and I never really have enjoyed either of them.  But I love sledding.

12) Favorite Christmas feast dish?

Every year, for the last 10 years or so, I've made coconut cream pie for Christmas.  We love it!  Especially Cowboy, who loves basically all pies.

Time to TAG people!

I would love it if these bloggers took a turn with this:

And if YOU want to do this tag yourself, even though you haven't been tagged, you are 100% allowed to do so!  Here are the questions, for copying ease:

1) A favorite Christmas tradition? 
2) Say it snowed at your domicile, would you prefer to go out or stay curled up inside? 
3) Tea or hot chocolate? 
4) Favorite Christmas colors (i.e. white, blue, silver, red and green etc)? 
5) Favorite kind of Christmas cookie? 
6) How soon before Christmas do you decorate (more specifically, when does your tree go up)? 
7) Three favorite traditional Christmas carols? 
8) A favorite Christmas song (i.e. something you might hear on the radio)? 
9) A favorite Christmas movie? 
10) Have you ever gone caroling? 
11) Ice skating, sledding, skiing, or snow boarding? 
12) Favorite Christmas feast dish?

Friday, December 11, 2020

"Holiday Affair" (1949)

I've watched Holiday Affair (1949) at least four times in the last four years.  And I'm still not sure why I like it so much.  It's wildly improbable and often defies logic... but it makes emotional sense, even if it doesn't make logical sense, and so I like it anyway.

Also, the first time I watched this movie, it surprised me over and over.  I like stories that surprise me.  Not when they do stupid or awful things, but when they take turns I don't expect or have characters who make choices that aren't obvious or conventional.

If you like unconventional characters, you are gonna love Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum).  When we meet him, he's working at a big NYC department store, selling toy trains.  He takes his job very seriously, and his clientele too.  He answers questions from every little boy and girl, demonstrates the different capabilities of the train set, and is generally the kind of person I want to be when I grow up.  Steve Mason is the main reason I like this movie so much, and I'm not afraid to admit it.

There's something very watchable about Robert Mitchum, isn't there?  He seems to take everything in stride, even scary or horrible things.  I know he's played his share of baddies too, and he's definitely watchable then too, but I prefer him when he's a straight arrow (which, let's face it, is true of basically every actor I like, heh).  I'm not sure I've ever seen him play a nicer guy than Steve Mason, and this might just be my favorite role of his.

Now, Steve doesn't want to sell toy trains all his life.  He wants to design and build boats.  Not fancy yachts, just serviceable little sailboats that people can enjoy themselves on.  He's got a friend out in California who owns a shipyard and says any time Steve wants, he can hop a train out there and start working for him.  Steve's been saving up money for a few years so he can do just that, but you don't seem to make a lot of money selling toy trains.

Enter our conventional character, Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh).  Well, she's got quirks too, but she doesn't like to admit it.  Especially not to herself.  She works as a professional comparison shopper, because I guess that was a thing?  She's on a mission to buy a train from the store where Steve works, and she doesn't waste any time doing so.  She's coldly polite and too practiced, and Steve quickly figures out what she's up to, but he sells her the train anyway.  

I am not a big Janet Leigh fan.  I don't dislike her, I just never find her very interesting.  She's perfectly fine in this, but you could replace her with any number of other actresses and the story would work just as well.  But if you replaced Mitchum, well, the whole thing would probably fall apart.

Anyway, Connie goes home to her son Timmy (Gordon Gebert).  And here's where we find out Connie's more interesting and unusual than we'd expected.  She calls her son Mr. Ennis and he calls her Mrs. Ennis, and they greet each other formally and pretend that he's the man of the house.  It's obviously a cute little game that they play, but it's just off-kilter enough that we get the idea that Connie has some issues going on behind her perfect hair and perfect outfit and perfect professionalism.

Gordon Gebert is a gem, by the way.  It's no wonder he got to act opposite big names like John Wayne (in The Flying Leathernecks, 1951), Joel McCrea (Saddle Tramp, 1950), and Burt Lancaster (The Flame and the Arrow, 1950).  He even played the young Audie Murphy in To Hell and Back (1955).  He is just awesome in this -- never precious or cutesy, but a sturdy little boy in the mode of a young Ron Howard.  

Connie takes the toy train home instead of taking it to work the next day, and Timmy finds it.  He's positive it's for him, and his mom is just teasing when she says she has to return it because she only got it for her job.  He's been yearning for a train like it, and he is over the moon with suppressed joy.

So, Connie's a widow.  Her husband died in the war, and she's been mourning him ever since.  She keeps his picture all over the house, and she tells everyone how much Timmy looks like his father.  Basically, she's tried to fill the gap in her life that her husband left by pushing her son to be as much like his dad as possible.  But lately, she's started to move on, and has been dating a lawyer named Carl Davis (Wendell Corey) for almost a year.  They have an easy rapport, and he's nice to Timmy, though Timmy thinks he's very boring.

Timmy is not wrong.  Carl is nice and kind and gentlemanly and boring.  But it just happens that his boringness makes Connie feel very secure and sheltered, and she's convinced herself that this is what she wants out of life.

Connie returns the train the next day and asks for a refund.  Steve tells her he's tagged her as a comparison shopper.  He's not supposed to let her return the train, he's supposed to signal the floor walker to take her out of the store and write up a report about her so the rest of the clerks know she's not welcome to buy things there anymore because she's not a real customer.  She pleads with him not to do that because she needs her job so she can support her little boy.  He gets really snarky because he thinks she's lying about having a son, and he asks how come her husband can't chip in.  But when he finds out her husband died in the war, his whole tone changes.  He's apologetic, sincere, kind... and he issues a refund for the train.

Steve then gets fired for not turning Connie in.  Nice guy finishes last when it comes to retail at Christmas, I guess.  Because yes, Steve is also a nice, kind, gentlemanly guy.  This is not a case of fall-for-the-bad-boy nonsense.  Both Steve and Carl are Good Guys.

Steve, being freshly out of anything to do, helps Connie with her comparison shopping for the rest of the afternoon, cluing her in on how not to get spotted by salespeople.  He and Connie have lunch in Central Park, talking to the squirrels and the seals and each other.  But after another round of shopping, they get separated by a crowd, and Steve gets left with all Connie's packages she's supposed to take to her job.

Connie goes home to her picture of her dead husband, her son, and the prospect of one day marrying predictable Carl.  Timmy is not a fan of this idea.  He reminds Connie that if she marries Carl, she won't be Mrs. Ennis anymore.   Connie is stricken by this thought.  Not be Mrs. Ennis?  Maybe marrying Carl won't be the safe non-change she thinks it will be.

Naturally, Steve just happens to know Connie's address because of the return slip for the toy train.  So he shows up at her apartment with all her packages.  Connie had not told Carl about spending all day with Steve.  Naturally, Carl is suspicious when Steve shows up.  Much tension ensues.

Steve ends up having a chat with Timmy after Timmy acts out and yells at Carl, and Carl yells at Timmy, and so on.  Steve takes Timmy very seriously, and Timmy appreciates that (as do all kids).  He confides in Steve about the train that he thought was for him, but wasn't, and says his mom says he shouldn't wish for big presents like that because when he doesn't get them, he'll just be disappointed.  Steve disagrees.  He thinks hoping and wishing are important, even if you don't get what you hoped for.  You have to aim high, he says, even with wishes.  He's not just talking to Timmy about trains by that point, we can tell.

At which point, Steve goes out to the kitchen and gives Connie a Christmas present.  He walks up behind her, taps her on the shoulder, and kisses her when she turns around.  It's a bit of a surprise kiss, but not a forcible one.  I know this wouldn't fly today, in a world where a person must ask permission before kissing another person because, it seems, kisses are extremely important and dangerous and must not be given to anyone unawares, or unexpectedly, or unpredictably.  This movie was made back when a kiss was just a kiss... and also, I sincerely doubt that Steve would have kissed Connie if they hadn't spent a whole long afternoon getting mighty friendly first.  

This kiss is a turning point.  Connie has slowly been realizing that she's barricaded herself into a tiny, safe, stale life where nothing can actually touch her.  Where she can control how she feels, what she feels, when she feels.  But Steve Mason has gradually elicited annoyance, surprise, anger, and amusement from her, and those smaller emotions have begun to crack open her walls, leaving her ready to feel bigger things like attraction, gratitude, and maybe even the glimmerings of love.

Steve does something wonderful and generous:  he buys that toy train for Timmy and leaves it outside their apartment door on Christmas morning.  Timmy is ecstatic -- his new friend Steve told him to wish and hope and dream big, and sure enough, sometimes you DO get what you thought you could never have!  Timmy convinces his mom to give Steve a gift too, so she finds him in Central Park and gives him a necktie she'd bought for Carl.

Carl would never have worn this necktie -- it's too loud.  But it suits Steve just fine.  Steve gives his old necktie to a passing bum, and the bum later gives Steve a gift in return.

Connie also drops the bomb that she's going to marry Carl.  All the joy leaves Steve's whole face when he hears this, but he wishes her well and says he hopes she'll be happy in the safe little world she's built for herself.  Which Connie doesn't appreciate, obviously.

Connie's dead husband's parents come over to spend Christmas Day with Connie and Timmy.  They congratulate her on her impending marriage and say they can't wait to meet the new love of her life, Steve.  Connie is upset.  She's marrying Carl!  Why would they think she's marrying Steve?  Well, only because Timmy won't shut up about how nice Steve is and how wonderful his new train from Steve is and how much he likes Steve.

And that's when the police stop by.  Did I mention this movie turns in unexpected directions?  Steve has been arrested for stealing something, which actually was given to him by that bum in the park.  But Steve has no job (because Connie got him fired), no money in his wallet (because he spent it all on that train for Timmy), and no address (because he left his rooms when he lost his job).  So he's basically a vagrant.

Happily, remember Carl?  He might be a little boring, but he's a good lawyer.  He convinces the police (personified by Henry "Harry" Morgan) that there's no evidence against Steve, and they let Steve go.

Steve ends up back at Connie's apartment for Christmas dinner.  Connie's in-laws make heartfelt toasts to each other that make me cry a little because they have so much love and affection for each other.  Carl toasts Connie and their impending marriage.  Everyone says Steve ought to give a toast too.

SPOILER ALERT!!!!  Honestly, just skip from here to after the frame that says "THE END" if you have decided you want to see this movie and don't want all the big surprises spoiled.

Instead of making a toast to health and happiness and so on, Steve asks Connie to marry him, not Carl.

Do you have whiplash yet?  Cuz wow, that just smacks me upside the head every time.  Wow.  Steve has just proposed marriage to another guy's fiancee.  I never saw this coming the first time.

As you can gather from the picture above, this does not go over well with Connie.  Steve accepts her refusal gracefully and makes his goodbyes.

Timmy is distraught at the thought of his friend Steve having spent the last of his money on this toy train set, when he should have spent it on a train ticket to California to get that job that's waiting for him.  So Timmy takes it upon himself to return the train to the store and get the money back for it so he can give the money to Steve and make Steve happy like Steve made him happy.

Do you want to hug Timmy?  Cuz I sure do.

Timmy gets the money and convinces Connie to give it to Steve.  Carl and Connie break up.  Connie gives the money to Steve and tells him she's broken things off with Carl.  She thinks this means that Steve will propose again, but it's time for another hairpin turn in the plot!  

Steve's not having it.  He doesn't want her to offer herself to him out of some kind of weird gratitude, and he doesn't want to get married to a woman who still mentally belongs to her dead husband.  Thanks, but no thanks, Connie.  Have a nice life.  Enjoy being Mrs. Ennis.

Here comes New Year's Eve, and Connie's getting ready to go out with some friends.  No date.  Just friends.  Timmy comes in, and they have a very serious conversation, and, well... 

...the two of them end up on a train to California, where they find Steve just at the stroke of midnight, and the three of them enjoy a big group hug, the end.

Like I said, don't stare at the plot too hard or it won't make much sense, but at the same time, it's completely awesome and I think I need to admit that I don't just like it, I love it.  I do.

Is this movie family friendly?  Yup, it is.

This has been my contribution to the Second Happy Holidays Blogathon hosted by the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society.  I've been meaning to review this movie for a couple of years, so I'm glad this blogathon gave me the nudge to review it that I've been needing!

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Ending My Autumn To-Do List

December is here!  December is here!  I've waited a whole year for this month!  And man, it has been a looooooong year, hasn't it?

This picture is brought to you by my getting to go out and see Casablanca (1942) in the theater with some friends last month.  We all dressed up in as close to period-correct clothing and so on as we could.  (This picture also brought to you by the Keto diet, thanks to which I have dropped 15 of the pounds I picked up after my gall bladder removal a few years ago.  I finally have a jawline again.)

Anyway.  Because December is here, that means it's time to wrap up my autumn to-do list and see what I got checked off.  All book and movie titles linked to my reviews where applicable.  All pictures are my own, and most are from my Instagram account.

~ Write a short story Semi-fail  A couple days ago, I did get an idea for a short story sequel to One Bad Apple, and I've started it, but it's not nearly finished.

~ Start writing my Beauty and the Beast retelling Check!  It doesn't have a real title yet, though I call it Schoen und Stark just because I hate writing things without a title.  But I know that won't be its final title.  I've got three chapters done and will start on the fourth as soon as I finish the aforementioned short story.

~ Read Roverandom by J. R. R. Tolkien Check!  It was enchanting -- my review is here.

~ Participate in Heidi's read-along of The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien Check!  It's still going on, and I'm still participating.

~ Finish reading Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome aloud to my kids Fail.  Other books distracted us, plus we've had less reading time the last few weeks.  But we're still working on it!

~ Read 1 other title for my Classics Club list Check!  In fact, I read SEVEN more classics!  They were:

~ Read 7 other books off my TBR shelves  Check!  I read TWELVE books off my TBR shelves besdies Roverandom.  They were:

~ Read 2 books from the library Check!  I read three: 
~ Read at least 1 book each month about/by someone who is not white Check!  I read:
~ Watch 4 movies off my TBW shelves Fail.  I only watched three: Manhattan Melodrama (1934), Mamma Mia! (2008), and season 3 of Leverage (2010).

~ Finish the blanket I'm crocheting for my 8-yr-old's bed Check!  I'm so pleased with it, and so is she:

~ Make a new fall wreath Check!  I love how it turned out, too:

~ Go hiking Check!  We went hiking while on our staying-in-Virginia vacation this fall.

~ Toast marshmallows Check!  We did that on our vacation around a fire pit, and we've toasted them in our fireplace too.

That's all, folks!  I'll make a winter to-do list and share it soon, but for now, I'll leave you with this picture of my hairdo from my evening at the movies last month because I did it myself with no help, which can be hard when your hair is 4 feet long, but it came together at last:

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Three Things I Love in a Story

 I've been mulling over this sort of thing for years.  What do I, personally, need in a story?  What do I want?  What do I not want?  I've discussed this various times, with various people, but it's always fun to revisit, so today, I'm sharing three things I love in a good story, whether it's a book or a movie or a TV show. 

(All photos are mine from my Instagram account.)

1.  Characters I want to be friends with.  No lie -- this is make-or-break for me.  If I don't want to be friends with at least a few of the main characters and hang out with them, I won't be re-reading or re-watching this, which means I don't love it, or even like it much.  I realize this is highly subjective, as no one can really predict what will make me want to be friends with a fictional character, but there it is. 

Actually, I do have some pretty basic things I like in a character.  They need to be nice and helpful.  I also appreciate characters who are loyal, sensible, and practical.  A little quirkiness is nice, and I appreciate both sarcasm and sass a lot.  But those are all gravy.  I don't love characters who are not both nice and helpful.  Now you know.

2.  Realistic dialog.  It needs to sound like things real human beings in that point in time would say.   (William Shakespeare gets a pass for this one -- no mere mortal talks as well as his characters.  But it would be nice if we did!) 

Also, I really appreciate it when an author tells me a character has an accent, say Scottish, and then lets me imagine the accent.  I dinnae apprrreciate it when they mun go to verrrah grrreat lengths to wrrrite oot the accent -- ach, mon, it gives me a rrroarrring headache if I cannae rrread it easily.

3.  Happy endings.  And by that, I mean endings that make me happy.  I want moral balance restored to the universe at the end of a story -- good triumphs over evil, etc.  This is why I consider the ending of Hamlet to be happy -- good has triumphed, even if at great personal cost.  If evil wins, or if good kinda wins but evil is still lurking somewhere, then it's not a happy ending, to me. 

How about you?  What do YOU love in a story?