Friday, August 5, 2016

Traces of Guilt: A Review

In the opening scene, old friends Ann Falcon and Josh Thane reunite, one single, the other married.  An overly nice, polite conversation lets us know that nothing is really happening in this story, at least nothing of interest between them. As we meander through a thinly veiled explanation of Ann’s backstory as a retired cop, and Josh’s backstory as a heartbroken bachelor, eventually we learn that Ann has come to ask a favor. She wants Josh to help a girl, a former crush of his. The plot centers on a tragedy that this girl suffered, involving several other people, but sadly, I could not bring myself to care. The story lacked a sense of immediacy, and fell into a series of drawn-out conversations between people who had no vested interest in how the story ended. If there was a protagonist and antagonist, I never found either; the people in the story seemed like carbon copies of each other.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the patience to finish the book all the way through.  The writing style kept getting in the way of what meager story line there was. Ms. Henderson left nothing to the imagination, explaining every character’s thoughts, and how they came to them in laborious detail.  I regret that I cannot give this book what its cover suggests it deserves. Billed as a bestselling author, Dee Henderson did not sell me. Fraught with wordiness, and conversations that are so unbelievably contrived, I’m surprised any editor let this one slip through.
(In Ms. Henderson's defense I had similar feelings halfway through Victor Hugo's War and Peace.)
I’ve never written a review like this one, and I hope I never have to again. Please keep books like this out of the public’s hands.

I was given a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in return for my honest opinion.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Piano Diaries: PART IV

She's here!

I've named her Baby Grace. She's a svelte 1000 lb black beauty. What a blessing God has graciously loaned to us.

The men that came to deliver her were an assortment of professionals and regular guys, as well as a couple staff members from church, including our head pastor! I was happy to get all their signatures in our guest closet, and then just as soon as they arrived, it seemed, I was left home alone with the piano. I played a few songs, and she seemed in good tune even for all the moving.

Hubby will be enjoying her tonight, no doubt about it.

A picture is worth a thousand words, er, a thousand pounds?!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Piano Diaries: PART III

At the moment I am awaiting the delivery of a nine foot Yamaha grand to my newly painted and carpeted living room. Hubby and I prepared the room with the anxious fervor of new parents preparing a nursery.
I hardly know how to describe my emotions, other than, "ecstatic!"
Or maybe "terrified!" At the thought of moving that large an instrument, even though we've hired professionals. 
This is in actuality not our piano, but we are storing it for our church. 
This is a trust we feel honored to have bestowed on us. And as much as we'd wanted to enjoy a piano like this in our home, it is a bigger responsibility than I could have anticipated. 
The large sounding board gives this piano a rich sound unlike many pianos I've played, and I'm humbled at the opportunity to try to play in a manner that's worthy of its capacity. 
I'm working on a name for her. 
Will keep you posted. 

The Twins

The news hatched another monster story today. This time children were among the victims. This has to stop, I thought as I filed it under tragedies that are far away, but may come close all too soon. While this tragedy was unfolding, I was waging a battle of my own with evil, and it all happened during church. 

Contemplating evil and trying to sort the levels of evil is not a job for the faint of heart, but it seems that if someone could just take out the maniacs who keep blowing themselves up along with whoever's close, the world would be a better place, and certainly a safer place.  This form of evil is so very crystal clear. And I myself do not engage in it. Subject closed.

Not really.

A small voice reminded me that to hate is to kill. The smallest act of hatred is evil that can blossom into all forms of murder. The subtle cold shoulder, the snide remark, the well-placed lift of the eyebrow, the suggestion of one's own superiority can be ever so camouflaged in a show of humility so convincing that only those who know you well can detect it. You can, of course, even fool yourself. 

And in my very morally superior castle, I reign as the queen. But there, you see, lies my problem. I cannot see to solve another's problems for the beam in my own eye. Though I harangue and rightly so, condemn evil and ego alike, it resides within me. The suburban American housewife who shops at Costco, attends church and is faithful to her husband of 30 years. In other words, crystal clear evil has an opague evil twin and it is self-rightousness. If Isis has a corner on evil acts, the American church has a corner on self-righteousness.

I venture to say, that until we all are able to swallow this bitter pill, we can have no hope of understanding the world. It is all very well to hope for a brighter future, and to give to charities, and world missions, to support the troops, and to buy girl scout cookies, but the real hope of the world is truly a heartbeat away from every one of us.

The Savior told us, 

"I am the light of the world"

"I am the bread of life"

"I have living water"

"I have overcome the world"

 and most reassuringly --

"I am with you always". 

So unless we are looking to him for the quintessential answer, indeed unless we realize that the question is, "Who shall save us?" we may as well all strap on the explosives and give it up now. Death and destruction is the only paradigm that makes sense. Without the hope of the world, it is no wonder people are destroying each other.

One result of recognizing your own weaknesses is compassion for others.  Make this small change in your heart daily. Every action has a consequence. We can't afford to go the other way much longer. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Nest, an Update

Some cliche's are unbearable. Others seem to hit the spot with razor sharp accuracy. Although my husband and I have recently become - insert cliche'- empty-nesters, the nest is far from empty. And this cliche' is ironic.

Oh yes, the children don't sleep here anymore. Blissfully, they don't keep their stuff here, either. Well, maybe a little bit of it.

It's been twenty eight years since we went to bed without being conscious of the babes in our charge, and it does take some getting used to.

Ok, I think we've got it.

So now when we go to the store, the things we buy are more befitting a couple trying to stay healthy, trim down and keep the food budget low. Not much different than before, except it's a whole lot more tempting to eat out, now that we're only paying for two. So much for the budget, and on the rare but wonderful occasion when we're all together, it's really nice to splurge and have a feast of a meal.

The once grand central station - the laundry room -  is nearly deserted, and I have it all to myself.

No one comes behind me and dirties up dishes after I have the kitchen clean. But then again, no one is there to unload it either. Now it's all my job.

No one is there to let the dog out if I'm out all day.

No one there to check the stove and make sure I've turned it off when dashing out of the house, or text my grocery list to me that I left on the fridge.

But in its place are memories of five girls (one big one) making play doh food, musical and artistic experiments, snail watching, pinatas on the tree out front, tents in the living room, human turkeys making an appearance at Thanksgiving, miraculous abundance at Christmas, Mom's Movie Matinee, Snowballs, bonfires that went way too late, the never ending clothing exchange, a guest closet full of signatures, and feeling so grateful that often, even in the middle of chaos, (and believe me we know the definition of chaos) I tried my best to appreciate the moment I was in.

The joy of raising children is now in its afterglow, and that fills a whole house.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Empowering Book on Fear

How To Live in Fear is a book for anyone who has ever had or heard of panic attacks.

Lance Hahn has panic attacks. Sometimes they happen when he’s giving a sermon at his church. That doesn’t stop him. This amazing little book is the story of how he handles living with anxiety and the amazing hope that he brings to that story. As the mother of children who have suffered from anxiety and panic attacks I have often wondered at the lack of support and understanding that I found first in myself and then in the church at large. This book bridges the gap between real people and common Christian ideology about emotional disorders.

He explores topics such as the pros and cons of medication, how lifestyle changes can help, and how he handles his personal nightmare. There is a fair amount of wisdom from the Bible too, although he manages to bring this to the table without any pat answers or oversimplification. I am amazed at his resiliency, humanity and his compassion for others who deal with panic and anxiety.

This is a book for those who suffer, and for those who have loved ones who suffer.

I have been given a free copy of this book from Bethany House in return for my honest opinion.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Other Side

Some imagine that a life of prosperity,  wealth, and ease is a sign that one has 'made it'.  If this were so then the richest people in the world and the most famous would be the happiest.  We all know better,  but we imagine that if we could only take their place, we'd be the happy ones.

We are not defined by our successes, but rather by our ability to continually overcome adversity. Overcoming assumes there is something to be climbed over. Something that maybe you can't even see over. Sometimes it means getting up just one more time, one more day. Hardships are the black velvet against which our life is viewed.  And real gems show to advantage on black. 

It's like riding a motorcycle on a curve. You must lean towards the curve to stay in balance, although it's somewhat counterintuitive. "Lean into your fears. You bring light with you." I once heard a preacher say.

So next time you get blindsided by a random struggle of life, and it may be sooner rather than later, lean in. Trust the process. And fight for all you're worth to get to the other side. 

There is another side.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Piano Diaries PART II

I met a few more new pianos last week.

First of all I started an accompanying job with a new school. The campus is new and beautiful, the choir room the newest and brightest I’ve seen for a junior high school. The piano I got to play on was a little accommodating studio Pearl River, in a warm wood tone and a touch to match. It had a few tuning issues, but on the whole it did the job. Pearl River is a sort of connected with Yamaha, and makes a lower end piano by the name of Essex for Steinway. I don’t know why, I don’t know how these alliances happen, but they are common in the piano manufacturing world.  I’d played one once before in a music store, and thought about buying it as it was priced modestly.  

I only had one rehearsal with the little Pearl River before our performance the next day at Milpitas High School. My warm-up piano was a blonde studio Wurlitzer with a somewhat loose touch, but it was still plugging away. It had put in serious time from the look of it. It made me feel like it had been a hippie back in the day, and was still attempting teenage music. Then we were whisked off to the performance room, where I played a dark wood grained Kimball. A decent little studio but with a rather muffled tone. I had no chance even touching a key before launching into Dona Nobis Pacem. Softer keys wouldn’t play every now and then. This piano worked better for loud songs; it dared me to attempt piano. It could more aptly have been nicknamed Forte. Fortunately for everyone, the next two songs were loud. The piano won in the end.

After that the fun began. Hubby and I decided to do some research on pianos, since we’re in the market. We googled piano stores. Have you ANY idea how many piano stores (and pianos, for that matter) are in the bay area?? And why?? One salesperson’s reason was, “Well, we are in Silicon Valley.” As if that would explain it. I nodded. Best not to let all your ignorance out of the bag at once. I had already run out of samples to play, while my husband’s fingers poured out music as if it was the Trevi fountain at Mardi Gras.

We stopped in at one place near the Winchester Mansion and discovered the 6ft 1 inch Shigeru Kawai grand.  Pause here for effect. Let me just say that this piano has the most beautiful tone and touch I’ve ever experienced. My husband is still talking about it in language that sounds like he’s in love. Sorry Yamaha. Sorry Steinway. Sorry Bosendorfer. You are stellar pianos, all.
Please try one of these new pianos before passing judgement. More on this later.

A bit of a diversion. Thanks to an extremely knowledgeable guy named Jeff, in the middle of this piano playing fantasia, we learned a few things about refurbished pianos. We had called his number because we stopped in at a place that had discount in the name (I know, but pianos are expensive!). We played the only decent choices in the store, two Yamaha grands that looked as if they were shined like the top of the Chrsyler building, as the notorious line from Annie goes.  Looking back I guess they may have had a bit of the Rooster-shyster who almost out-Hanniganed Hannigan. After nearly strapping a six foot Yamaha C3 to the top of our compact car, we got a call from some random guy who was selling a piano for a friend. We weren’t interested in that particular piano, but in conversation with him we learned about the piano gray market. Yep. It is as bad as it sounds. Short story? Pianos built for humid climates (Asia) should not be sent to dry climates (North America). But sometimes they are, and usually these pianos are cheaper. Buyer beware. Check your serial number. They’re all documented.

So, we moved on to the store with the Bosendorfer, the Emperor of Pianos. The oldest piano maker of the modern variety made in Europe and played by the masters, Chopin, Liszt, etc. this piano will be an heirloom, a legacy for your great-grandchildren. That is, if you can afford one. No question it’s a beauty in form and sound. (Some larger ones have more than the standard 88 keys, which is good if you really think more keys will help you play better) Until now, I’d never seen one in person, at least that I was allowed to play. I feel as if the name itself was so intimidating that I didn’t totally get the sample of sound and experience I needed. And, in Bosendorfer’s defense, at this point in the day I had played dozens of pianos and was starting to feel like Lucille Ball working on the chocolate conveyor belt, chocolate stuffed in her mouth and every other available pocket, just to keep up with the constant flow.

Stay tuned for PART III as I need time to digest the rest of the chocolate, er, story, before I go on.

The Piano Diaries PART I

Ever notice that each person is unique? Well, of course. But did you know that every piano is unique as well?

As a pianist of forty plus years, I have played a lot of pianos, from the first crumbly old monster I ever played, that had sticking notes and was missing a few ivories (yes, real ivory), to the big, luscious Steinway nine footer at the Gallo Center for the Arts I got to play a couple years ago. I’m going to attempt here to document some of the pianos I have the opportunity to play. Unless you’re a great name and virtuoso you usually have to play whatever piano is put before you. If variety is the spice of life, then we may need some tums along the way.

Some pianos fight you tooth and nail for every note or chord you attempt, as if to say, "I dare you" like the Kawai studio I played a couple years ago at Disneyland in the outdoor theater near Thunder Mountain. It sounded great, but the touch on the thing was like playing through mud. Every note I played was hard won. I felt like a victor when I had finished. This spring at Disneyland I played a white Yamaha that was quite a bit friendlier. And it was white. The only other piano I’ve ever played that was white was my youth leader’s piano when I was about 15. It was covered in white leather with brass tacks. I know. Tacky. Can’t remember how it sounded.

Now I must digress to electric keyboards, even though the purist in me says they aren't to be compared to acoustic pianos. I play a keyboard every day. Two different ones, in fact. One, I teach on. It is a twenty-something old Technics that has never failed to produce beautiful sound, even if it is digital. Of course there was that time that someone spilled orange juice on it, and we had to send it away for repair. The other is a Roland. Brand spankin' new and brought in to my place of work by the choir director I work for as a kind of Christmas present. It's sparkling sound and crisp touch makes me sound better than I am. It replaced the old keyboard that had a creeping unattached pedal, which replaced the even older Roland keyboard that ever so randomly blasted out middle "G" as if it was a trumpet.

But back to the acoustic. A good piano (and I mean good in the solid, fully classical sense of the word, not just good as compared to better) will work for you. Let me explain.
In the past week I have played on a dozen or so different pianos, and so far the Steinway wins. Well, there were actually three of them. One was at Johanson High School on the stage where I played for Ceres High School's CMEA competition. That piano seemed to anticipate every note before I played it and assist me in doing it. It was an oldie but still in pretty good shape. (I had this same experience with the Steinway at the Gallo Center by the way.) There were a few less responsive notes in the higher register, however. It wasn't exactly on tiptop shape on the outside but its guts were wonderful. I had rehearsed the same music at Ceres High Choir room on a Kawai studio which had a very bright forward quality. The soft pedal was missing and the piano seemed to know it by playing perpetually loud. Back to the Steinways. The other one was at Modesto High in the choir room, which I used to play regularly when I was the accompanist there.  This poor old nine footer looks like she's gotten in the way of a football scrimage, but she plays like a queen. An old queen, but a queen nonetheless. She was half covered with a piano cover and half covered in sheet music. “If you won’t appreciate my sound,” she seemed to say, “then I will hold your music for you.” Can Pixar please make a movie about the life of a school piano?

The third piano (the name was not visible anywhere, but it sure played like a Steinway) was in a music room (not the choir or band room) at Beyer High School. I wandered in and there was a large grand piano looking like the elephant in the room, and taking up about as much room as an elephant would.  I must explain for Beyer High School choir that I normally play a Baldwin studio that is cheerfully doing its job as a rehearsal piano. Its pedals were bent down like broken legs when I first came in to play. It is mildly battered piano with five inches of music stacked on top and assorted trophies perched on top of the music, and whatever doodads the students leave behind  such as ipods, headphones, drink caps, etc. My husband, who may possibly have missed his calling as a mechanical engineer, fixed the broken sustaining pedal for us one day when he had some time off. Back to the third piano. I’ve never played this piano, but when I accidentally discovered it, I fell in love with it. Can you have a crush on a piano? It has very beautiful carvings on the music backboard and the legs. Apparently it cannot be moved into the choir room (I begged) and it has a storied past, which my director friend hinted at. So my goal is to find out more about it, and of course, to play it more often. I may have to sneak into the room and spend the night in the school to do it. Stranger things have happened.

The other piano I played recently is a five foot something Kawai grand that I’d like to buy. It’s sitting at Langlois music. This piano is like that beautiful boy in high school that didn’t know I existed.  In the meantime, my field research continues. It’s a mixed bag. Playing pianos is not as black and white as you might think.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

NIV LifeConnect Study Bible: A Review

I've been an New International Version reader since 1990. It's been twenty six years since my husband and I bought our matching leather bound monogrammed red letter edition of Zondervan's cross-referenced translation in modern language. Before then it was King James Version for me, the Bible my father bought me in 1972, after I was baptized.  Consider me shocked, then,  to find so many changes in this 2015 publication, the NIV LifeConnect Study Bible, which contains so much more than my original Bible. Shocked in a good way, mostly.

A few notes about the actual text included in this Bible.  I found the quotes inserted of the middle of certain pages of Scripture excellent and inspiring. On the other hand,  the conservative scholar in me questions the choice of laying quotes inside inspired text, which action perhaps implies, even if unintentionally,  that both have equal value.  On first view,  I wondered by whom they were written, as no name is given credit. I then discovered (in the preface) that they were all taken from writings from Pastor Wayne Cordeiro, the General Editor of the publication. I was surprised to learn (also from the preface) that the translation labelled NIV is actually changing over the years, but still under the same name. A few comparison text readings from my old Bible bore this out. The schedule for reading through the entire Bible in a year was very handy. It made sense to me to include it in a study Bible. The LifeConnect articles were insightful and well-placed, and the introductory information before each individual book was snappy and up to date.  As a resource, I found a wealth of information for the serious Bible student.

Next, a few points about the formatting and physical attributes. I liked the generous lined margin space for personal notes. However,  I  found the print color, a teal blue, difficult to read as it did not contrast fully with the paper color, and it was small in comparison with most books I read; it seemed that function was sacrificed to form.  And although it may be personal preference, it seems to me that a hard bound book is less suited to everyday use than a soft, leather bound.

In summary, although I liked the overall innovation of this resource, it is not a book that I would choose to purchase, primarily because of the print being difficult to read.

I have been given a free copy of this book from Booklook Bloggers  in return for my honest opinion.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A for Arrogant or Aragorn; An Honest Review of LOTR (the book)

Somehow, its still possible to learn things about yourself far into middle age. And even in middle earth. My foray into Tolkien's mind has been enlightening as well as entertaining.

Let me start by way of confession.

I was wearing a monogrammed necklace that was a gift from one of my students, and it dawned on me as I gazed on it that I am somewhat proud of the fact that my first name starts with the first letter of the alphabet. As if I had anything to do with that. The alphabet or my name!! Sometimes I surprise myself.

So, on to middle earth. For a moment let me speak in literary generalities. Every good hero is a delicate mixture of self doubt and self approval. Every villain must be out of balance in the same way - either a slithering  Gollum or Wormtongue, who possess qualities best described as self-absorbed and devoid of healthy self-esteem. While I don't identify with either of the villains, I'd like to find myself in Frodo, or perhaps Aragorn (I would say Gandalf, but I'd rather hide that arrogance a little longer, thank you) but more often I find myself in Bilbo Baggins. This is a more subtle recrimination. I find that my self-aggrandizement is often challenged by the reality of, well, being me.

It is a great satisfaction to know that the great JRR himself knew this personal angst. How else could he have written so honestly about human traits, even if he did assign them to hobbits, elves, dwarves, and wizards? The enduring quality of the Lord of the Rings story is that ability it has to make us look at ourselves.

Having made it to the end of the book, (it was of ponderous size) my fond remembrance is of the heroism of Frodo and the sacred faithfulness of his dear friend Sam. May we all be Sam, because we can't all be Frodo.

Sweet and Sassy Book is a Trip to Florida Panhandle

Blogger's note: 
An author's journey often leads through dark and stormy nights. Blessed is that author when he or she can huddle together with other like-minded artists who can help to hold each other up through the soul-searching business of scrawling a bit of your own journey onto each page.  Ron and I connected at one of those times. Without giving away his story or mine, I can tell you that reading his book is like a cool refreshing dip in a river after a blistering hot day, or like warming up to a cozy fireside after braving a blizzard. Satire is his forte, and a forte that has been tested in deep waters, making it almost a form of preaching. It's without hesitation that I recommend this second book in his series, Wedding Day.
It’s not often that a book captures the flavor and feel of a very specific part of the country, but Ron Vincent’s sweet and sassy little tale does just that, with a side of southern cooking. In dialogue and between each line Bryan Flynn gives us a window into life in the Florida Panhandle.

Part lazy fisherman, part typical bachelor, our intrepid, reluctant, limo-drivin’ hero actually hears voices, well one Voice at least, and gets himself in a heap of trouble when he feels compelled to share with his clients what he’s heard. We follow him eating his way through every mouthwatering dish any southerner would be proud to serve, getting himself banged up in an accident, and nearly destroying and then saving the limo company from a lawsuit. Still he remains modest enough to refuse the gift the Voice insists belongs to him, at least as long as possible.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Of Wardrobes and Rings: A Review

There was a full house for the performance   Of Wardrobes and Rings at Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto on February 28, 12016.  Perhaps it was general knowledge but it was a complete surprise to me that this was the premier of the show!

In a pub setting JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis meet over beer and tea (tea for Lewis because his recent heart attack has him under doctor's orders to cut out alcohol) which gave the audience a glimpse of the highlights of their famed lifelong friendship. Hattie the barmaid provided a light and youthful backdrop to showcase the somewhat stodgy academic figures of Lewis and Tolkien, or Jack and Tollers as they referred to each other.

At times they reminded one of a catty, gossipy David Niven and Bob Newhart if I must be honest. In other words, while brilliant, successful, and creative, they were so very human. There is an invisible 'fourth wall' we readers often construct that keeps us from understanding such literary icons. It is easy to forget they were people, people that nursed grudges, that wore catheters, that were turned down for promotions, and often misunderstood even by their dearest friends. Despite this laundry list of terribly human realities, the end result for me personally was that I came to respect and admire Lewis and Tolkien in a greater way, and their friendship even more.

Having seen and thoroughly been inspired by Max Maclean's stage production of CS Lewis' Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce, I was poised for something similar.  Instead, Phil Crowley and David Payne's thoughtful dialogue had a very comfy and almost 'homey' feel, unlike Maclean's clipped stage treatment of Lewis' books. I had attempted a very heroic last minute read of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, which I didn't quite complete, and was rewarded several times with connections to the story that I would otherwise have been oblivious to. In case you were there, I was the gaping fool who laughed a lot, and cried at the end. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Scat Post

I'm so easily distracted.

In the past hour, after completing my first week's lesson on Futurelearn, an online course that I'm taking on composing a musical score, I've looked up master's degree programs, taken an aptitude test, (it said I should be in an artistic position, thank you) which led to interest in Music Therapy jobs (I was just curious) and then Drum Circles for health, (I planned an entire drumming party for my students in my head) which website then led to drum notation. At this point I realized the folly of my ways.

There are literally dozens of things waiting in line for me to accomplish, and I'm a blubbering internet slave, dazzled by whatever is put before me. I could have had a hundred pages of The Lord of the Rings read by now, and any number of household projects. I sat, blankly staring up at the universe of google before me and wondered, 'What was that burning question I needed an answer to??'

My blog!! I realized about ten minutes ago. I could have been blogging !!!!!

During the writing of the above, I also thought about the dishes, and I'm not getting up to check and see what I've left behind in the wake of frying egg rolls for dinner.

I was supposed to go to the mall with my daughter tonight, but I guess that's out as I've been in webland all evening. Although I have a fuzzy blanket wrapped around my shoulders, my toes are literally ice cubes, but do I stop? No, I continue on bleary eyed and determined. If I'm going to sit at a monitor and keyboard for two solid hours, I will have a blogpost to show for it, by golly.

So here you are, sweet patient readers. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Review for the Deutschland83 Series

May I say at the outset, that Sundance's Deutschland83 is the FIRST EVER series to be aired in the United States in German! That alone gives it enough credibility to watch. Conceived and written by Anna Winger along with her husband Jeorg,  this amazing creation is truly a feast for the audience. 

Set in the year 1983,  just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Deutschland83 follows the fictional character Martin, or Mortitz (code name Kolibri which means hummingbird in English) played by a fresh faced, pink cheeked Jonas Nay, complete with endearing scar above his left eye. He lives in East Germany, and with a little cold war pressure he agrees to be a spy for the Soviet government and is sent into West Germany undercover. His mother's health condition requires a transplant and he is promised that if he complies, she will be taken care of, the implication being, if he does not, perhaps even more ominous things may happen (he's already had a finger broken as a 'motivation' to prove his loyalty to the cause). 

In the course of Martin's induction into the army (we never see bootcamp, but he's frequently in uniform) Martin finds himself planting bugs, getting beat up, and almost killed by a tough East German woman spy, and sleeping with various women, including his West German boss's secretary, and his East German superior's daughter--if only that was all. But alas, from back home in the Soviet Bloc there is sweet Annette, who finds herself pregnant with Martin's child. Sweet little Annette is also working for the East German government, and uncovers a trove of forbidden books in Martin's mother's basement. 

In order to save the unfolding of the plot for you, and the center of the storm, into which Martin/Moritz/Kolibri flies at the climax of the series, I will stop here.  Suffice it to say, this series has everything -- original footage of ICBM weaponry being poised to shoot, as well as clips from speeches by Eastern and Western world leaders--and on top of that, hearing the original language beats anything I've seen out of the BBC that is German-related. 

If you happen to have been a teenager or young adult in the eighties, which I was, a further delight awaits you as you see the fashion of the eighties in all of it's (horrible) glory. And the soundtrack!!! If Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder and Queen aren't enough, there are plenty of German artists, such as Metropol, Nena, Ideal to name a few, to make this series a fresh re-thinking of the era before 1989, and a nostalgic trip down memory lane at the same time.   I watched it with a young German friend and she added her stamp of approval. 

You can watch episodes from Season 1 at hulu or purchase at amazon. Avid viewers like myself are awaiting expectantly for news of the next season, but so far, we have no news to report. Please, please, Ms. Winger! We want more!!

Monday, February 15, 2016

What If?

It was a clear sunny day. As I turned slowly through the parking lot, there appeared from seemingly nowhere a car driving approximately 40 miles an hour coming straight at me. I was in too far to the turn to either stop or turn back, so I kept moving as his nose raced pass my tail so close that I was sure we would hit. In fact, I was so sure that moments later I thought how much like a dream it was. Miraculously, we passed within what must have been a hair's breadth of each other. 

Shaken, I thanked God. I gulped oxygen as my body and mind caught up with each other.

The next most logical move was clearly a Russian candy run, so I stopped in at my favorite ethnic market for some exotic candy. After one's life (or car) has been spared, celebration is the only fitting response. 

I downed a couple on the way home, or maybe three, and my gratefulness was far sweeter than the candy.

Oh how often a small thing saves us from catastrophe. How inexplicable when it doesn't, as my father's fatal car accident proved.

My 'almost crash' wouldn't likely have proved fatal, but extremely complicating, as both my husband and I use one car every day for our income generating jobs. 

Did I mention I was grateful? 

Three candies before noon surely demonstrates this, as my children know I never eat candy until after lunch. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Letter to My Father

Dear Dad,

Now that you're gone I see your life in perspective like I never could before.

It's been 10 years. You would have been able to count that much quicker than me, because you always carried memories, dates, names, and historical happenings in your head. I didn't. And so often I say, "I wish Dad were here. He'd remember."

I'd like to thank you for a few things that seem more precious the longer you've been gone.

Thank-you for:

Loving me unconditionally.

Being a person that loved other people, cultures, languages. It was hereditary.

Teaching me to wrap a Christmas gift.

Being a calm, safe driver.

Having grandiose ideas.

Writing music. Making sure there was a piano in our home.

Taking pictures.

Marrying my mother.

Moving to California, three times.

Speaking from the Bible so much that it is the voice in my head.

Teaching me to dig a hole and plant things.

Being the reason I have a peach tree in my backyard.

Building things with a hammer and nails.

Loving my husband and my kids.

Understanding that I've gone on with my life without you.

I feel somehow that I am a part of you and that even though you're not here, we still exist together, on some father-daughter plane. It happens especially when I say things you used to say, when I eat black licorice, when I put my towel back on the rod without jamming it in too tight (you always said that would loosen the screws so I never do it).

One more thing. Thank you for not being perfect. For having glaring faults. I have them too and it takes some pressure off.

I love you, DAD!