Catching Fireflies: A Book Review

Catching Fireflies book coverTony Rocca and his wife Mira left their London jobs and moved to Tuscany, Italy. He was a journalist and she was a travel agent, but they agreed to leave city life behind, and venture into the quaint countryside of Italy. They purchased an old farm that was in sore need of repair and love with the intent of turning it into a small hotel.

 Sounds easy enough right? Well, not really. The red tape, bureaucracy and mistrust of foreigners combined to make them think that they had made a huge mistake. They lived at another location while the repairs were being made and their landlady proved to be a thorn in their sides for many years to come. They moved into their hotel but whenever they felt that there had been some level of sabotage, they would look at each other and call the jealous woman’s name and say, “Mafalda.”

 However, they stayed the course and after going through a host of workers, they finally got the hotel up and running. There are colorful photographs in the book to show how their beloved Collelungo looked before and after its repairs. They also worked the vineyards on their property and became grape growers and sellers of fine wine. What they accomplished is just short of miraculous!

 Tony Rocca is a very descriptive writer who uses beautiful metaphors, similes and analogies as he makes his readers see and feel the Italian landscape. As I sit here listening to the late summer cicadas sing, I remember Tony writing about the sounds of the cicadas and the light from the illusive fireflies. The Italian children sang:

Firefly, firefly come to me,
I will give you the bread of the king.
The bread of the king and of the queen-
Firefly, firefly come to me.

 Interestingly, our area has an unusual amount of both cicadas and fireflies this summer. One of our local weathermen talked about watching the fireflies light up his backyard the other night and he said that we have more this year because of the rainy spring.

We used to watch the neighborhood boys catch them when I was a child. They put them in Mason jars that had holes punched in the lids so the bugs could breathe. We called them lightening bugs and it was amazing to see how they could they could turn on their lights at will.

Yet, quite like the intriguing yet short-lived fireflies, all good things must come to an end. The bureaucracy and red tape eventually caught up with the Roccas and a long-standing court case brought their Italian years to an end. They had to move on from the Collelungo, but the fond memories are forever etched in the psyches of Tony, Mira and all those that they met and touched during their twelve-year stay!

Lynn M.                     August 3, 2019

 

My Summer, Thus Far!

untitled a

I wrote a poem earlier this summer called My Staycation. It says:

‘As I watch others run to and fro,
I just sit here in quiet and know,

That in Christ’s presence, I am free.
So, I slow down, develop and be.

I seek all that He would have me do,
I sincerely listen and pursue.

Both His statutes and mission for me,
I delve deeply so that I may see.’

So far, I have spent some mornings sitting by the lake while sipping coffee and jotting down my early thoughts. At home, I continued deep breathing exercises and practiced some of my Yoga moves to enhance feelings of being grounded and centered. Deep breathing exercises remind me of Thich Nhat Hanh’s book title, “Breathe! You are alive!

Also, muting the talk shows and limiting the news have left me feeling less anxious. I have found a form of relaxing through a Word Find website. I find it rewarding as I add new words to my vocabulary, and I time myself to see how I am doing.

I saw the biopic of Elton John’s life called Rocketman at the movies. It was informative and as I wrote a movie review, I listened to his songs on You Tube. I felt his presence through his lyrics and the good memories rushed back in like a tidal wave.

But my mainstay has been reading. Francis Bacon reminds us that, “Reading makes full man; conference a ready man and writing an exact man.” Thus far, I have digested eleven books and reviewed them on both Amazon and Goodreads.

From the Victorian Era, I read Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell; Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser and The Bostonians by Henry James. They were interesting stories and I noted the various writing styles, learned new vocabulary and further understood why they are called great writers by the scholars.

On the British front, I read Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde by Franny Moyle; Hope by Terry Tyler and Lipstick by Peter Davey. The first title pretty much describes this little-known historic figure and the latter two are by current UK authors who I met on Twitter.

Back stateside, I read Clock Dance by Anne Tyler and spent time catching on Alice Walker’s later works. I have read most of her books over the years. Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth and Hard Times Require Furious Dancing are collections of poetry. I took a host of notes to commit her spewing wisdom to memory. The Cushion in the Road and We are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For both encase her global speeches on a variety of topics.

It is the last weekend in July though the summer is not quite over. Those school bells will soon be ringing signaling summer’s end. But until then, there is still time to add on more memorable moments of this summer’s joy!

Lynn M.                                                                                               July 27, 2019

Rocketman: A Movie Review

rocketman_ver2Elton John is one of the most beloved and revered men on this planet in 2019.  I finally got around to seeing the movie Rocketman and there is so much to say here.  I first remember hearing of him when we rocked to Bennie and the Jets back in the day, as we say.

His songs have been the musical backdrop for many years of our lives and certainly for those of us who have been around for a while.  As he went through his changes, we went through ours.  This movie gave us insight into what sparked those songs during his personal battles.  Taron Egerton was so believable as the knighted one.

For starters, Reginald Kenneth Dwight was born in the UK and lived with a loving grandmother, a troubled and lonely mother and an impatient and distant father who goes off to leave the family. The movie shows him at age five, as a preteen and then as an adult. 

A lot of creative risks were taken as this biopic unfolds but we learn that Elton John wrestled with his own sexual preference.  His outlandish clothes, his cocaine addiction, heavy boozing and pill-popping were his soul’s way of screaming, “I don’t like who I am.”  One friend even told him, “When you finish killing yourself….”

His mother’s biting criticism, his father’s second marriage with two sons on who he doted and a love affair with a handsome but cruel business manager landed him in a hospital and a sanatorium.  The only constants in his life were his grandmother who had escorted him to the Royal Academy of Music years earlier and his songwriter and loyal friend, Bernie Taupin. He and Bernie remain friends and business partners today.

Thank goodness Elton John finally accepted himself for the gods know how to create a genius. One line in the movie said, in essence, “You have to kill the person you are so that you can become the person you were meant to be.”  He found a level of balance and peace through grace and we are all the richer for it. 

I only wish that more of his songs had been played in full length, but a movie only has so much reel time. So, I have done the next best thing and took to YouTube as I continue to enjoy the music of the incomparable Sir Elton John! 

Push play and Listen to Someone Saved My Life Tonight

      Lynn M.                                                                                                          July 20, 2019

 

 

Creative Expression!

laptop writing

Creativity can unfold in many forms and shapes.  If one thing is not shaking, then we can try something else to unleash the creative spirit within us.  There are so many ways to open new channels. 

I recently communicated with a fellow writer and she said that she was trying some new things.  She meant that she was funneling her energy in new media formats.  She had not written a new book, but she was doing more online interviews and articles and has found newer ways to stay in the creative mode.

It helps to unload and get rid of some of the inner angst on many levels.  Journaling is a great way to talk to that silent friend and let those emotions fly on paper and then disintegrate into nothingness.  It is like letting out a big sigh of relief!

If no new ideas for a book project have, as Alice Walker said, “crawled in,” then we can find other ways to color our worlds.  We can always blog, write poetry or even paint for that matter.  Ernest Hemingway spoke of how painters influenced his writing and said, “ I was learning something from the painting of Cezanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them.”

Lately, I have been creating e-cards for family members and close friends.  They have worked as a panacea for both the receiver and me, the giver.  As I acknowledged special events, I found increased calmness as I worked with pictures, colors, designs and fonts. I took the time to personalize each birthday, anniversary and sympathy card and found myself deeply engaged during the process.

Many have found peaceful rewards through a host of activities like doodling, whittling, drawing, knitting, crocheting, glass staining  and of course, the list is endless.  They offer quiet  gifts and no talking is required. What a great outlet!

Lynn M.                                                                                                         July 13, 2019

 

 

 

My Staycation!

Lawn chair relaxing a

 

 

 

 

As I watch others run to and fro,
I just sit here in quiet and know,

That in Christ’s presence, I am free.
So, I slow down, develop and be.

I seek all that He would have me do,
I sincerely listen and pursue.

Both His statutes and mission for me,
I delve deeply so that I may see.

Lynn M.                                                         July 6, 2019

 

Good Manners & Protocol!

 

etiquette.jpgSo much has been lost in the way of good manners and protocol.  My generation was taught that, “Age comes before beauty” and we were reared to respect our elders.  They too were once young, vibrant and fashionable and certainly had their days in the sun. 

The mere fact that the older generation has remained and survived gives them the rite of passage. A heavy line of demarcation should be drawn in the sand to separate those learning and the learned.  As the Farmers’ Insurance commercial says, “We know a thing or two because we have seen a thing or two!”

Those who do not know the ropes should be better observers and if necessary, they should read and discover what the Georgians call “fitting and proper” behavior. They can visit their local library, Google or talk to people who have been on the earth for a while.  Then they can learn what good manners and proper protocol look like in the real world.

In some of the Victorian novels that I have recently read, parents who felt that they did not have all the tools to give to their sons and daughters entrusted them into more cultured households.  They would allow their children to stay with others for long periods of time so that they could be taught how to interact in society.

Franny Burney’s novel called Evelina shows the adoptive father sending Evelina to a host of homes where the older women groomed her for her debut into society.  He knew that he had given her all the love that he could muster but understood that she needed the refinement of seasoned women.  In one instance, Evelina is attracted to a young Lord Orville yet she feels that her lack of proper training could hamper his acceptance of her.  Over time, she finds her way and things work out just fine between them.

Mary, a widowed doctor’s daughter in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters is also sent to a variety of homes of polished and refined families.  They each prune her and teach her by taking her around people in high society. She attends sequined balls, social parties along with operas and plays.

In The Bostonians by Henry James, Verena Tarrant is from an impoverished family in Cambridge.  She has been taken under the wing of a wealthy woman, Olive, and soon people note her heightened sophistication and confidence.  Her clothes become grander and her European trips help to develop her image as a more cosmopolitan woman.

Nowadays, it would behoove us to continue to prepare our young people so that they can function on many levels without insulting those around them.  The book Miss Manners Book of Etiquette is still available in several editions and there should be a copy in every home library.

It is better to get behind the eight ball and have a chance of shooting one’s best shot rather than be knocked out of the game.  No one wants to be left on the sidelines with the discarded ballsand  a lack of good manners may leave many out of the game!

Lynn M.                                                                                June 29, 2019

Great Choice!

Graduation capIt’s officially summer!  At last.  The warmth has not quite shown up, but many graduations are taking place all around us.  Today, I was sitting by the lake when I noticed a family taking pictures with their freshly-minted graduate from the local university.

The first day of summer was calm and pleasant and I enjoyed observing this family revel in their delight of their accomplished young one.  They took a variety of poses and by the time they finished, I knew which one was the mother, the father, the brother and the grandmother. I was like Harriet in Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy.

They finally dispersed and the grandmother walked by and said, “This is a really good day.” “Yes, it is,” I replied.  The graduate was still wearing her cap and gown, so it was clear that she was the honoree. I asked her “What was your major?” She responded, “English.”

I perked up and sat taller on the bench and said, “Me too!  You will always find work.  You can teach or work in corporate.”  The testimony just seemed to roll out and stand like a rook on a chessboard.

 “Thanks,” she beamed.  “My parents will be glad to hear that!” It was a good way to kick off the summer as I reassured this young person setting out on her path that she had indeed made a great choice.

Employers are always looking for those who can read, write and effectively use the language. English majors can branch out in so many directions. 

They can serve in the fields of writing, technical writing, corporate blogging, copywriting, news reporting, public relations, editing and certainly education, to name a few.   One of my ministers often said, “It works, if you work it!”

Lynn M.                                                                    June 22, 2019

Simply Compare!

There is nothing as exciting as reading a book first and then viewing the movie.  Let’s face it, without writers, there would be no films.  When the producers and directors borrow an author’s work, I am quite certain that it is a daunting task. 

How closely will they follow the actual story line?  Will they take a few liberties or several?  If the authors are still alive, will they be contacted for consultation?  If the authors’ works are used posthumously, will their visions be respected? 

I recently read two British novels by Elizabeth Gaskell and then looked at the movies.  They were Wives and Daughters and Cranford.  Both were done in mini-series formats by the BBC.  Wives and Daughters was done in four episodes and I watched it on YouTube.  I really liked it and though the characters are never look quite as imagined, they did a fine job.  They stayed true to the course and the acting was superb.  Many of the actors have been seen in other British projects.

Cranford, though named after Gaskell’s book, was a compilation of events from three of her books.  However, like playing jacks, I was able to pick up bits and pieces of scenes that I remembered from the actual book.  Liberties were indeed taken but no one could argue that it was magnificently done.

 I then traveled stateside and read Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, an American author.  What a read!  Carrie moves to Chicago around the 1900’s and looks for work.  Her job as a seamstress is too strenuous for her so she ends up moving in with the dashing Charles Drouet who treats her well enough.

He does not marry her but begins to see her worth after she is a hit as a stage actress.  By then, she has also caught the eye of the polished George Hurstwood and they start meeting in secrecy.  She has no idea that he is a married man, though unhappily.  He tricks her into taking a long trip to Detroit and Montreal but they end up in New York where she finds her place on the stage.

The 1952 movie is called Carrie and Laurence Olivier, Jennifer Jones and Eddie Albert play the leading roles.  I rented it after finishing the book and I can see why Laurence Olivier’s name lives on as a revered actor. To me, a lot of liberties were taken because Carrie was portrayed as a much more loving person than she was in the book.  Perhaps, her coldness was too stark to show in a woman of the 1950’s.

George was an accidental thief in the movie and not a man who contemplated the robbery of his employer’s coffers as revealed in the book.  A scene was also added whereby his employer decided to give his earnings to his wife to perhaps  accentuate his reasons for escaping her financial control.

Carrie had me sitting on the edge of my seat as I noted the similarities and the differences from Dreiser’s Sister Carrie. During the summer, take time to continually crunch down that reading list.  If a movie has the been made of that book, view it and simply compare the two!

 Lynn M.                                                                                                                June 15, 2019

61gJGn8Ew+L._SY346_[1]                       Carrie- Movie

 

 

 

 

Playing Catch Up!

BooksBefore losing my precious items that were in a storage facility, I had many of my literature books from my college days.  As an English major, they meant a lot to me. They went wherever I went and lined my bookshelves at every dwelling. They seemed to patiently wait for my full attention.

But time ran out and the Universe chose to relieve me of them in circumstances that were beyond my control.  Yet, I have a photographic memory of how the books looked as they lined my shelves. I had always intended to read each one in its entirety.

During my college days, I had a full class load, worked almost full-time as a cashier at A& P and added some semblance of a social life to the formula.  There was little time for in-depth reading, so  many of us found short-cuts through both student collaborations and using the ever-trusty Cliff Notes as we muddled through those essays and exams.

I can still see my Emily Dickinson book with its pink and white cover and my Walt Whitman poetry collection with its green and white cover.  I had other titles such as Henry James’ Daisy Miller and Frank Norris’ The Octopus along with my beloved anthologies of both American and English Literature.

So, now that I have a reprieve, I am taking the time to play catch-up.  I am paying my debt to the literary Universe by truly reading and digesting the great works of those assigned authors from long ago.  Maturity and life experiences are now on my side as I seek to understand why these books were on the syllabus.

On the American front, I have had the pleasure of delving deep into Emily Dickinson’s poems and even visited her home in Amherst.  Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass immediately touched me, so no dues are needed there.  But recently, I truly enjoyed The Pit by Frank Norris which is about the financial district of Chicago around the turn into the 20th century.  I am still reflecting on that book!

On the British front, I have read Fanny Burney’s Evelina.  She was the forerunner of Jane Austen and many of Austen’s plots and characters mirror Burney’s choices.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters and Cranford offered insight into Victorian life and she was a friend to Charlotte Bronte.  Bronte’s father even asked Gaskell to write Charlotte’s biography.  What an honor!

I am currently reading the digital format of Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie.  Again, it takes place in Chicago at the turn into the 20th century.  The lure and trappings of the big city have Carrie, a young Wisconsin woman, making some rash decisions.  Will she come out okay as she shuffles between her two suitors? Who knows?  I will just have to keep scrolling forward as the plot truly thickens while I play catch up on a few more classics!

Lynn M.                                                                      June 8, 2019

 

Phoenix!

The other night, I was listening to NPR radio and I heard Isaac Hayes’ voice during snips of an interview.  Parts of some of his songs were also played along with Carla Thomas, daughter of the legendary Rufus Thomas. The Memphis music sounds came flourishing back to me.

Hayes’ most memorable song for me is “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”  He made great songs and his entire Hot Buttered Soul album is truly historic and marks a certain era.  But the Phoenix song was long and detailed as he contemplates and then leaves his cheating woman.  This time the shoe is on the other foot and this is a man who is in deep pain after he has forgiven her over and over again.

The first line starts, ‘By the time I get to Phoenix, she will be rising.’  He is driving and has left her a letter to say that it is over.  Years ago, I was with some Houston friends and we drove down to Galveston.  We listened to Isaac Hayes belt out this song and the images were so vivid as he created a mental movie for us.

 I am sure it lasted during most of the short trip because it lasts for over 18 minutes. If it had to be a testimonial in a divorce case, I feel certain that the judge would rule on his behalf as he sings of his anguish.

Little did I know that years later, I would name my main character Phoenix in A Golden Leaf in Time Revised and all of its subsequent novels in the series. 

Golden Leaf thumbnail

The city of Phoenix was obviously a place of refuge for the singer.  For me, Phoenix is like the phoenix-bird who continually renews herself and shakes the dust off her feet when life has let her down.  She keeps on getting up and trying again though her heart is heavy.

She is much like Isaac Hayes in the song because she too keeps it moving.  If you have time, push play and listen to one of the greatest R&B singers of all time!

Lynn M.                       June 2, 2019