Friday, January 12, 2018

What We're Streaming Now...

After having it recommended to me by multiple people, I finally gave in and started watching “The Crown” on Netflix. It was interesting seeing John Lithgow, an American actor (and a very talented one at that) playing Winston Churchill. On an interview with Graham Norton, he explained how difficult it was to speak and sound like Churchill, but he seems to have nailed it (and won an Emmy for his portrayal).
I wonder if Mr. Lithgow has visited the Cabinet War Rooms and seen where the real live Prime Minister was quartered during the Blitz. I also love seeing Matt Smith (Doctor #11 on “Doctor Who”) portray Prince Philip (in one scene sleeping completely in the buff lying face down). I feel for the actor hired to play King George VI having to cough and cough and cough some more before later meeting his demise (sorry about the spoiler alert : ) We have a lot of catching up to do, but hopefully we’ll be up to speed by the summer.

We’re currently streaming Season 2 of “Orange is the New Black.” This is based on the true story of Piper Kerwin who was arrested after helping her girlfriend smuggle drugs. Some time had passed between the deed and when the FBI finally caught up to her (I think it was 5 years), and she was originally sentenced to 18 months in a prison in upstate New York. I find the characters absolutely fascinating, even if many (most actually) of the prisoners have a checkered past, a glimpse of which we occasionally get to see via flashback. This certainly humanizes the prisoners and helps us sympathize with them. How many of us would have done the same thing in their predicaments? For instance, in the opening episode of Season 2 we learn that Piper was definitely a rule-follower as a child, refusing to jump out of the back of the bus when all her peers did (even when the bus driver told her it was okay to follow them). That describes my childhood to a ‘T.’ I doubt I could have been talked into helping smuggle drugs, but I can see how vulnerable and easily influenced some people are, especially depending on who your role models were (if you had any). I look forward to getting to know many more of these characters week to week.

Just after Thanksgiving last fall, started airing “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” We didn’t have time to watch it until recently. If the pilot is anything to go by, I hope the rest of the episodes are equally captivating. It’s 1950s New York (which is just amazing to gawk at) and Midge Maisel is the ever supportive housewife going to great lengths (hand delivering a homemade brisket to the club owner) to ensure her husband has the prime 10pm spot at a local comedy club where he does stand-up several evenings a week. She even takes notes and makes suggestions for his nightly routine. Without giving too much away, things happen in the first episode where suddenly Midge finds herself in the spotlight, and rather likes it, and discovers she has a talent for it. Anyone who is a fan of period dramas, NYC or stand-up comedy should enjoy this. I look forward to spending more time in the past (that I definitely glamorize) cheering on another strong woman. By the way, this series is written and directed by Amy Sherman-Palladino of “Gilmore Girls” fame (which I am also streaming; season 3 presently).

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Movie Reviews

This time of year if I can force myself to leave our nice, warm couch and head to the cinema it’s usually worth the effort (especially as we’re so selective these days preferring to see the blockbusters with lots of special effects that are always better on a large screen).

“Star Wars”

The day after Christmas my husband and a friend of ours all went to see the latest “Star Wars” flick. Don’t ask me to explain how it fits into the complicated timeline and who is related to whom, because I didn’t take notes the last time my husband explained it to someone. If you’re not a “Star Wars” fan and haven’t seen most of the last few movies, you won’t know the backstory, but you could conceivably enjoy this film on its own. It has comedy, action and even a brief almost romantic moment. Sadly, it’s the last time we’ll see Carrie Fisher as this was her final appearance before her untimely death last year. It will be interesting to see how the writers and producers work around her in future films since she was such an integral part of things. I guess that just leaves R2 D2, C3PO and Chewbacca the only principals from the original films.

“Murder on the Orient Express”

If you’ve read the book or seen any of the previous incarnations of one of Agatha Christie’s best known books, you already know this isn’t a simple Whodunit with one victim and one murderer. Professor Plum didn’t commit murder in the library with a candlestick. The story is a lot more complex, and very tragic. I am one of the few who hasn’t actually read the book or seen any of the previous movies, so it was all new to me.

To the movie’s credit, it has a star-studded cast with the very likeable Kenneth Branaugh playing Hercule Poirot with a fairly decent French accent (best as I can tell anyway). Johnny Depp plays the unfortunate victim, so he only makes a very brief appearance. Everyone is a suspect, even Dame Judi Dench (and she’s a national treasure!). I guarantee you would have to be Sherlock Holmes, or in this case, Hercule Poirot to solve the mystery behind this one.


The film opens in a Norwegian lab where some sort of an experiment is being conducted on a white mouse/rat. Next scene: lots of rejoicing because apparently “it” worked. Fast forward several years to a well-filled lecture hall where a short speech is made and then a box brought in. Inside the box is a human 1/10th the size of a normal human (but without the stereotypical high pitched voice) who explains about the technology and the benefits behind becoming little or “downsizing.” A small black trash bag is produced which allegedly contains several years’ worth of trash from the first little people settlement. Yes, little people produce less waste. That goes without saying. However, the real reason to be small is because their economy is different. Those of us on this side of reality who barely scrape by living paycheck to paycheck might find they’re suddenly millionaires there (not everyone though). Plus, how cool is it seeing a dandelion from underneath? We haven’t had that kind of view since “Honey I Shrunk the Kids.”

The movie addresses the bigger issue of global warming and the effect humans have had on the planet earth, but does it in such a way as to not be overly moralizing or grim, so I much appreciated that.

I liked "Downsizing" because it was interesting, more than a little entertaining, funny, and also a little sad. It's also inspirational as one of the main characters, a Vietnamese dissident, spends her days cleaning wealthy peoples' houses and evenings helping her poor neighbors in the slum she lives in. I have to admit I was surprised to see a slum, but I guess there will always be rich and poor no matter what size you are.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

My Favorite Christmas Presents 2017

Hello everyone! I’m back. It was a really nice 10 day break being away from working two jobs and my volunteer work, but now it’s back to the regular grind of things.

Did everyone make it on to Santa’s Nice List? I must have because he was very good to me this year. I am very grateful for every gift I received, but there are a few that stand out and deserve a shout out.

At the top of my list is a Viewmaster and a wooden box full of assorted reels given to me by my parents. As soon as I opened it my mom related the story behind it. Earlier in the summer we (my parents, husband, and I) were all at a flea market/yard sale of sorts being held in the grounds between my old high school and city library. While browsing I noticed the Viewmaster and box of reels and contemplated buying them since the price ($15) was so reasonable. [I have a vintage Viewmaster made out of Bakelite I like to use.] My husband suggested I look around a bit first and then maybe come back for it later (typical, he hates it when I spend $$ at these things), so I reluctantly walked away. As you have already guessed, the item was gone when I went back. Though I was a little disappointed, I figured it wasn’t meant to be, so I didn’t mourn the loss too much and picked up a couple other small (inexpensive) treasures and got reacquainted with an old schoolmate.

I was definitely surprised and touched by the thoughtful gesture. Turns out all three of them (my parents and husband) were in on the surprise. Thank you! I can’t wait to sort through the box of reels and see what vintage surprises lies among them.

My second favorite present is a homemade gift from my 11 year-old nephew, Carter. I stopped over at my sister’s house on the day before we left for vacation so I could drop off presents for her, my parents, and my uncle. In turn, she had a present for me (a mug with a packet of powder to make a cake in a mug – yummy!) as did my nephew. He made me a candy sleigh topped with a chocolate Santa. He must have remembered that I have a sweet tooth, so the gift is much appreciated and I promise to eat it later after I’m done admiring it for the fine craftsmanship.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also recognize the thoughtful gifts my husband gave me – a box of Double Dark Meltaways chocolates from one of my favorite local coffee shops, and a beautiful sterling silver heart necklace from the local Irish imports store in downtown Dublin. I’ve already eaten one of the chocolates and worn the necklace several times and truly love it and the gesture behind it.

Thanks one and all for everything and know that each one of you mean as much (more!) to me as any present wrapped under the tree.

Happy 2018!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Last posting of 2017....

Hello everyone! Just thought I’d check in one last time before I board a plane and hop across the pond to spend the holidays with my in-laws relaxing in Hereford, England. When I’ve told people my Christmas plans I’ve had a myriad of reactions from just casual interest (“That sounds nice…”) to absolute excitement, (“That is sooo cool! England, Wow!” yadda, yadda, yadda…). It makes me realize I take for granted how special my life is because I’m married to a Brit, so my life isn’t always like everyone else’s (though most days it is). Fourth of July and Thanksgiving aren’t always celebrated with the same level of planning and social interaction for us for obvious reasons (neither are British holidays and Independence Day is a bit awkward because of what it signifies). That’s not to say we don’t enjoy having the day off of work, but we don’t always celebrate with family, etc.

Having lived in England it’s no bigger a deal for me to return there than it would be for anyone else to return to their hometown, though heading overseas is a slightly larger undertaking than driving back to Cleveland or Miami I suppose. I remember once telling my husband that he should be happy he got to travel to so many countries when he was a child, when the only states I remember visiting were Pennsylvania and Tennessee (prior to my Girl Scout Road Trip to Wyoming when I was a teenager), which are hardly exotic. I now understand the blasĂ© attitude.

I will try to cultivate more of an attitude of gratitude (we should all do that!) and promise to try and take interesting and relevant photos and email those who have requested them so I can give you a little (and it will only be a little since I’m only spending about a week there) glimpse of the England I know.

I wish you all the happiest holiday and a blessed and prosperous new year!


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Why I Like Working at Yankee Candle....

When I filled out the application I was unemployed and figured it would be nice to get out of the house and earn a little money during the holidays. It was between Yankee Candle and Bath & Body Works (torn between candles and lotion). Yankee Candle won out.

One of the nice things about retail positions is that they tend not to require a lot of brain power (except for dealing with the technology that is the modern day computerized cash register). Hence, it’s easy to build your self-confidence without taking on too many difficult tasks.

One of my managers, Ted, compliments me almost daily saying he is proud of me, even when I make mistakes (usually minor). I love this about him. Too bad none of my other bosses (elsewhere) do that, but I guess one shouldn’t typically express much in the way of praise. Unless you get reprimanded for a screw-up I suppose it’s safe to assume you’re doing a good job.

I love helping the customers find the perfect candle. Okay, so candles aren’t going to solve all the world’s problems, if they help make someone’s day, then I’m glad I could help with that. Most of the customers are pretty nice and grateful for your help and a few even thank you too.

The customers can make or break your day and some are definitely more memorable than others. My favorite customer, thus far, was Mr. O. He and his wife came in one Friday afternoon with their miniature Chihuahua curled up sleeping in her carrying case. Mr. O and his wife proceeded to select half a dozen tumbler candles and decided to personalize them with photos. I think that’s the biggest order Yankee Candle has received this season.

Anyway, Mr. O was a larger-than-life presence in his over-caffeinated Ray Ban-wearing state. It shouldn’t have surprised me that the photos he selected for the candles were selfies he took posing in front of a mirror – one in a public restroom. They were hilarious, and he was so unabashed about it. In the hour or so he spent in our store he managed to win everyone over and started his own unofficial fan  club. We were all quite sad to see him, his wife, and Lola (?) their dog leave.

It goes without saying that if I didn’t like candles I wouldn’t have wanted to work in a candle store. Yankee Candles may cost more than their brethren, but they’re also far superior in quality. They sell a lot of candles because of three things I’ve observed about the candles: They usually smell like the description (and you don’t have to hover over the candle to pick up the scent); they have creative and memorable names for the scents (Cozy by the Fire, Storm Watch, Autumn in the Park, etc.), and they have really pretty pictures on the candles. The name and picture gets you to pick up the candle, but the scent sells it. By the way, my favorite scents are all food-related (Buttercream, Vanilla Cupcake, CafĂ© Al Fresco), though aren’t necessarily the ones I own personally (Balsam Cedar, Hot Buttered Rum, Honey Clementine, etc.).

I genuinely like my coworkers and the managers, who are very reasonable to work for. Even though I could care less about all the financial details (like what target we need to hit by the end of the day as compared to the previous year), I am goal-orientated enough to care just a little about achieving my sales target for the day. Last night I made half my goal in one transaction when an elderly lady bought almost $300 worth of candles and accessories. My coworker helped her out by carrying the lady’s bags to her SUV.

Although I really don’t like being a salesman, I have discovered I have a certain talent for it and am proud of all the sales I’ve made for the company. To date, I've sold three (3) personalized candles and am really proud of that (technically I've sold four, but because I had trouble printing out the label for the fourth one my boss took credit for that one).

At any rate, it’s been a pretty positive experience and I’m glad to have had it.