August 25th, 2014

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

school busForget January 1. As the parent of a school-age child, the first day of school rings in the real New Year where the optimism shines as brightly as the new first-day-of-school outfit.  My son, though, has never been able to fully revel in this joyful season.  Instead of inspiring him with talk of a new start or lofty resolutions, his ever cynical mother can offer only real-life, social-doom-related adages, such as never ever leave your lunch tray unattended at any time for any reason or let your cosmetologist cousin “fix” your hair the day before class pictures.

This summer, I resolved to rediscover the magic of a new year by reading and watching characters reinvent themselves. My favorites included:

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
Rebecca, a once famous photographer, finds herself stuck in a raccoon-infested cabin in rural New York consumed by worries about money and her stalled career.  Relaxing into daily life with her quirky neighbors and the roofer who traps the rampaging raccoon, Rebecca leaves her old self behind, finding inspiration and a late-in-life second chance in the upstate woods.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Once renowned L.A. architect Bernadette Fox finds both the people and weather of Seattle eroding her sanity. Attempting to plan a long promised family trip to Antarctica hilariously derails as Bernadette is forced to ever more eccentric means of hiding her agoraphobia. Bewildered by his wife’s behavior, Microsoft guru Elgin Branch attempts a mental health intervention, during which Bernadette mysteriously disappears. Compiled by her daughter, the story uses Internet postings, emails, magazine articles and FBI reports to trace Bernadette’s journey back to her family and a rediscovered life.

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison
A former stay-at-home dad whose wife has left him, Ben takes the job of caregiver to Trev, a teen with muscular dystrophy, hoping to find a purpose in life. Their subsequent road trip in search of Trev’s estranged father (during which they pick up a runaway, a pregnant farm girl and a tail in a Skylark) points the way to forgiveness for Ben’s past deeds.

Doctor Who: The Second Series – DVD

The poster child of reinvention, Dr. Who’s regeneration in “The Christmas Invasion” features murderous Santa robots, a deadly spinning Christmas tree and a plot by the alien Sycorax to enslave the human race.  Putting his own stamp on the beloved character, David Tennant’s debut as Dr. Who encapsulates both the confusion and excitement wrought by a brand new start.

Busy Monsters by William Giraldi
Jilted by his fiancée for a giant squid hunting oceanographer, Charles seeks to win her back by embarking on a manhood-proving quest of his own. Confronting Bigfoot, alien abductees and other questionable creatures, he fights his own self-created monsters on a comic road trip to true love.

All good intentions aside, as my son left the car to wait at the bus stop all I could think to say was to sit toward the front, keep your eyes forward, ears closed and hands to yourself. I was rewarded with a massive eye roll and just the hint of a smile. I guess there’s always next year.

What’s your favorite back-to-school advice?


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January 6th, 2014

Escaping the Cold

underIt’s time to get away. From it all. From the cold, from the snow, from everyone’s constant social media updates about the cold and snow…  And there are more ways to escape than yet another episode of House Hunters International.  So pack up your imaginary suitcase and click “play” on your remote to savor a feast of escape movie treats. It’s time to escape the winter cold snap blues with some magical films (all available at the library!)

A personal favorite is Under the Tuscan Sun, the film version of Frances Mayes’ successful book of the same name.  When Frances is talked into going to Italy to help her get over her recent divorce,  she finds herself so in love with the sun-drenched, laid-back lifestyle that she abandons her tour group and recklessly buys a near-ruin of a villa in Tuscany.  How she renovates it and finds love, friendship, and a new life there results in a captivating story that will warm your winter heart.

a_good_year-dvdBask in some Provencal sunshine with A Year in Provence,  starring John Thaw—of Inspector Morse fame—loosely based on the bestselling books by Peter Mayle.  Here an ad executive chucks it all—as the author really did—to live in the south of France, slow down and write of the local food, wine, and eccentric villagers.  In A Good Year, also based on a book by Mayle, a high-pressure executive (played by Russell Crowe) travels to France to sort out the vineyard he inherits. Of course, it proves to be a life changer for him.

Back to Italy again to serve up Bread and Tulips, a delightful story of a housewife, who, after her family forgets her at an auto rest stop, decides to hitchhike to Venice.  The life she finds there what she has always wanted, but when her mother-in-law tracks her down and tells her she must return to her family, will she give up her new-found happiness?

breadIn Enchanted April,  two English ladies escape dreary London for a stay at a magical Italian villa.

Do you sense a theme here—France, Italy—sun-kissed locales—escape?

Then, if you haven’t had enough, there are travel videos such as Rick Steves’ Europe. Check out the one titled Italy’s Countryside for an unforgettable hike around the Cinque Terre—Italian hill towns—and Brava Italia, a four hour feast that tracks the whole of Italy, indulging in the food, wine, villages and famous sights, all set to the most evocative music that will have you reaching for a glass of wine yourself.

Il Postino (The Postman) is the story of a postman who delivers mail to the famous poet, Pablo Neruda, and looks to him to help him write poetic and convincing missives to the waitress he is in love with. Set along the scenic Sicilian coast, it is a quiet and mesmerizing testament to the power of poetry.

chocolatChocolat, starring Juliet Binoche, Johnny Depp and Judi Dench, is about a woman and her daughter who open a chocolate shop in a small French village.  Their sensuous approach to chocolate is unique and shakes up the rigid morality of the townspeople, showing them how to love, laugh and live.

Finally, a little gem of an escape movie that for so many people has become an all-time favorite: Local Hero.   An oil company sends a rep to Scotland to buy up an entire village to build a refinery, and although the townspeople are receptive to the idea, it is the rep who has a change of heart. The lives of the colorful inhabitants are played out against the haunting beauty of the seacoast town, where the Northern Lights are visible on any given night.

So pack up your imaginary suitcase and escape to sunny lands and remote villages. Best of all, these titles are available for free through Cecil County Public Library.

What’s your favorite movie escape?


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