Blogging from A-Z – ‘Unbroken’: the book vs. the movie

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “U.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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UnbrokenQuoteI’m so glad I decided to read Unbroken before I saw the movie. I’m also happy that I didn’t finish reading the book before the movie left town. (The book is pretty long; then again, so is the movie.)

Now that I’ve read writing coach Kristen Lamb’s deconstruction of the story, the desire to see the movie has left me. It must have been eaten by sharks much like the ones Louie and Phil managed to evade for 47 days on a life raft in the Pacific after their plane was shot down.

Laura Hillenbrand’s reputation as a storyteller (Seabiscuit) had made reading the book especially appealing. And, by all accounts, her book Unbroken is far superior to what it was turned into for Hollywood. I agree with everyone who sings the book’s praises. Hillenbrand is a superb storyteller.

Unbroken_coverBefore I downloaded it to Kindle, I thought Unbroken was about Louis Zamperini’s running career. He was an Olympic runner (5,000 meters) in 1936 whom I had read about in Runner’s World magazine before I knew about the book or the movie. I suppose the book’s subtitle, A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, should have clued me in. (Read an excerpt of the book here.)

But I was concurrently listening to The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which I reviewed here on April 2. That book was, indeed, about the University of Washington rowing team and not so much about WWII. So maybe I was just hopeful.

Louie’s Olympic feats were featured, to be sure, but they were a minor part of Unbroken.

Our critic acknowledged that the book could have been turned into an excellent movie but made key errors that left viewers in the dark about certain motivations:

  • Why did Louie turn from being a thug and a thief in his youth into an Olympic runner?

In short: Athletics saved him. The book goes into detail about how Louie tried to reform, couldn’t, got in trouble with the high school principal and was allowed to participate in school sports. (Louie’s brother, Pete, had to charm the principal into giving Louie the opportunity. Pete may have saved Louie’s life.) We learn later in the book that Japanese officials kept Louie alive for leverage because he was a famous Olympian. So, not only did running save Louie as a teenager, it ultimately saved him from being executed as a prisoner of war. It seems that God had a plan for Louie.

  • The script lacked the dramatic tension that would cause Louie’s story to arc (change).

“He’s always the one who remains calm, the one who is levelheaded, the one who does the right thing. He takes the beatings while in captivity and presses on to stay alive. He is the same when the plane crashes as the day when he walks out of the POW camp. … We get a sense that Zamperini was already a ‘hero’ before his plane was ever shot down.”

This is where the book reader has the advantage: Louie did not always remain calm. Hillenbrand has him clenching his fists in silent defiance when he’s beaten by the sadistic Japanese corporal who has a special hatred for Louie and singles him out for arbitrary punishment multiple times a day. Louie and the other POWs take risks they might not have taken under less critical circumstances. Their freedom and their dignity are at stake.

You get inside the prisoners’ heads just a little when the author details how they sabotaged goods they were assigned to ship while on work detail. How they filled socks with contraband sugar to take back to the barracks. How they urinated on the bags of rice destined to ship out. How they stole tobacco, fish and wine and smuggled the goods back to the other prisoners.

Here’s how Lamb sums up the movie’s main flaws:

“In order to make a story into a movie (even TRUE events), it must be dramatized, meaning put into three-act structure. The biography did well (I assume) because the real story was actually Zamperini’s journey of FAITH. The crash and then time as a POW developed his trust in GOD and not himself. He survived, dedicated his life to God and then later returned and made peace with his tormentors. Forgiveness was how he triumphed, not just in taking beating after beating. He traveled to Japan and forgave them. But this is reduced to an afterthought in the film.

Those weren’t the only flaws that Lamb pointed out, but some of them aren’t relevant comparisons to the book. (Too many flashbacks, for instance: “often a sign of weak writing.” Showing Louie being starved and beaten for two hours is easier than writing a better script, she said.)

Commander Worf of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation.'
Lt. Cmdr. Worf of the USS Enterprise. He’s a Klingon.

She thought the movie would have made a good documentary, or perhaps be helped by the addition of Klingons.

“I see other reviewers also saying it wasn’t done justice, no character development, no emotion, etc. I personally find the story dramatic, but perhaps the movie structure killed it. It’s a shame. I think there was a story there to tell.”

Lamb complained about the three-hour length, specifically mentioning nearly two hours of Louie being beaten and an hour of unnecessary flashbacks. She didn’t mention the ongoing detail of Louie and Phil’s nearly seven weeks on the raft. I kept wanting them to just get off the darned raft. And then I wanted them to just get out of the darned POW camp. If I, the book reader, had those thoughts, how much more would I have been thinking them if I had been stuck in a movie theater, needing to pee, and watching two men stranded for weeks on open water? 🙂

In my comment on Lamb’s blog, I thanked her for sparing me the three hours of torture (mine, not Louie’s).

I’m fairly certain that lots of people who didn’t read the book have enjoyed the movie and had no conscious thought about any of the critical elements Lamb mentioned. But she teaches writing, and this was a situation where she turned lemons (watching a three-hour movie she considered extremely boring) into lemonade (a writing lesson).

You may agree or disagree, but I consider myself $8 to $10 richer because I’ve skipped the movie. Thank you again, Kristen.

I forgive novice director Angelina Jolie for taking a great book and making an inferior movie out of it. After all, forgiveness is one of the main themes of Unbroken.

Have you read the book? Seen the movie? Read Lamb’s full critique here (same link as above), and give me your thoughts – good, bad or somewhere in between.

UPDATE: On Thursday, April 30, I updated my “review” by talking more about Louie and the book’s author, Laura Hillenbrand. Read about it here.

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Saturday: V is for (help me out – what starts with V?).

Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT

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Friday Five: Favorite Holiday Movies

It has been an exhausting and difficult few weeks, so when I saw my blogging friend Tara’s Friday Five this morning, I knew that it was time to put my long to-do list away for a few minutes and spend some time having fun.

And, if you know me, you know that talking about Christmas movies and singing Christmas songs are my idea of having F-U-N!

(Confession: I break out my Amy Grant Christmas albums – all three of them – around July every year. I’m sure Bruce loves them just as much as I do. Right, Honey? I’m waiting for someone to challenge me to a Christmas Song Trivia Contest. I would totally win. Any takers?)

I “met” Tara of Running ‘N’ Reading when she followed me on Twitter a few months ago, and I recently realized that we probably came face to face in August when she traveled to Batesville to run the White River 4 Mile Classic (she ran; I handed out cups of water along the route). We’ve gotten to know each other a little bit through our blogs, social media and the Arkansas running community, and we share a love of good books, too. Tara posts a Friday Five every single week (I don’t know how she keeps up with all her blogging, marathon training, book reviews and what-not and also finds time for work and sleep!), and it’s not often that I get to join in, but this is my way of saying, publicly: Tara, you rock!

Here are my Favorite Holiday Movies, and stay tuned for my Favorite Christmas TV Specials. (There are so many to love, I have to separate the movies and TV shows into different categories!) But don’t expect a Favorite Holiday Songs post, because the list would go to infinity and beyond.

In no particular order (mostly because I can’t decide for sure on No. 1):

  1. It’s a Wonderful Life  (1946).

ItsAWonderfulLife_image

Even before I began working at a bank that gives back to the community in so many ways, both large and small (I personally have been a recipient of donations to my “causes” from both the corporate entity and employee support), I loved the themes in this movie: generosity, community spirit, personal accountability, angels watching our backs (“Attaboy, Clarence! Attaboy!”), love (family, spouse, friends, neighbors) esprit de’ corps, buddies (remember Ernie and Bert, the cops?) and forgiveness. Mr. Potter, eat your heart out.

And then there’s Jimmy Stewart. Could you imagine anyone else, ever, as George Bailey? If anyone ever attempts to remake this movie (I sure hope no one has), the casting director would have a heckuva time finding a replacement for the incomparable James Stewart.

  • 2. Elf (2003).

Elf_imageThe first time I saw this story of a 6-foot-3 human who was raised by elves, I went to the theater thinking it was going to be dumb but I decided to give it a try. And the first time I watched it, I thought, “Yeah, it’s dumb but I kinda liked it.” Now it’s a can’t-miss movie every year, and I pop it into the DVD player several times a season (starting in … October?) while I’m puttering around the house on Saturdays. For sure, there are dumb moments, but maybe the adolescent in me chooses to embrace them (I still laugh out loud during the long-and-loud-belch scene).

But I love Buddy’s childlike innocence and enthusiasm. Can you imagine being happy and bringing holiday cheer every day, all year, to everyone you meet? As they teach in elf school: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” There are so many great one-liners in this movie, especially from Buddy: “I just like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite.” And to the fake Santa: “You sit on a throne of lies.”

(This was also the first time I became aware of the awesome Zooey Deschanel, who played Jovie. Love her.)

  1. Miracle on 34th Street (1947 and 1994).

MiracleOn34thStreet-1947This is one of those rare cases in which I enjoy the sequel as much as (well, nearly as much as) the original. (Notable non-holiday examples: Sabrina and True Grit, although my brother would challenge me on that last one.)

Natalie Wood is wonderful as the 6-year-old Susan, but little Mara Wilson is equally precocious; she steals every scene she’s in, because she’s just so stinkin’ cute. And the Santas (Edmund Gwenn, 1947, and Richard Attenborough, 1994) are both engaging and delightful. If I had to pick the main character love-interests, though, I’d choose the always wonderful Maureen O’Hara from the original and good-guy Dylan McDermott from the sequel (although John Payne is not bad on the eyes).

For me, the 1994 version is eye candy. The costume designer chose classic wardrobes for all the characters, and the scenery takes you back to days gone by. New York is stunning and nostalgic in this film. I have no doubt the visuals in this version are a nod to the 1947 classic.

That being said, notice that the piece of art I picked for the 1947 version is in color. Weeellllll, the original was in black and white, and that was just fine with me. Why do they have to go messing with the classics? (It sounds like I’m contradicting myself because of the above comments about sequels, but I’m talking Colorizing here, people. In the 1980s, Ted Turner turned a bunch of black and white classics into color versions for what purpose? Money? I guess I’d better stop here, because sequels are about money, too, no? Except I have to say this: “It’s a Wonderful Life” was a black-and-white movie too, although the movie poster above is also in color.)

  1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1983).

ChristmasVacation_imageThere are just too many quotable, laugh-out-loud and now-classic moments to list here. I live for the scene where Clark receives what he anticipates is the usual generous Christmas bonus (he has already made a sizable down-payment on the swimming pool he plans to build) and instead gets a subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club. His rant/rave is over the top and classic Chevy Chase. (Wouldn’t anyone have a meltdown after suffering through a Christmas week like he’s had?) But Uncle Lewis and Aunt Bethany have their own hilarious moments … and should I admit here that I, too, have a cousin Eddie? Fortunately, my cousin does not have a dog named Snots.

(Note to Tara: Yes, I have had “Mele Kalikimaka” running through my head for hours now, but I forgive you. It’s such a great song.)

This movie is sentimental, well-acted and funny. If you need to laugh until you cry, check it out.

Where’s the Tylenol?

  1. Christmas in Connecticut (1945).

ChristmasInConnecticut_imageI’ve long counted this as my favorite Christmas movie, so I saved it for last. (I said I couldn’t decide on No. 1, but when it comes down to it, this still reigns.) This one is a bit hard to find in stores or online, but it’s worth the effort. Barbara Stanwyck is always outstanding, and here she gets support from Dennis Morgan as the lonely sailor, Sydney Greenstreet as her overbearing boss, and the delightful S.Z. Sakall as her “Uncle Felix.”

Premise: Stanwyck, as Elizabeth Lane, is a columnist for “Smart Housekeeping” magazine and writes ad nauseam about her wonderful husband, baby and house in the country, as well as all the yummy food she loves to cook for her family. Trouble is, in reality she’s single and childless, lives in a flat in New York City and doesn’t know a flapjack from a latke. When her boss invites the poor lonely (single) sailor to spend Christmas with her family in their Connecticut farmhouse – and then invites himself along – hilarity ensues. She has to come up with a husband, a baby and a farmhouse (no problem, right?) and learn to cook, pronto. Or, wait. Maybe “Uncle Felix,” who works at the NYC restaurant she frequents, wouldn’t mind tagging along to cook the meals. At least she’s got that part covered, eh?

When they arrive in Connecticut, secrets, borrowed babies (yes, babies, plural), hasty wedding attempts and, of course, a love story are the order of the day. This classic is in black and white, but I believe a colorized version is available (but who wants that?).

If you attempt to find this movie, do not make the mistake of renting the 1992 TV version directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and starring Dyan Cannon and Kris Kristofferson. Do I really need to explain why? Lord, help us all.

What are your favorite Christmas movies? Let us know in the comment section below.

NEXT FRIDAY: Stay tuned for my five favorite holiday TV shows.

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Seen, heard and liked (or loved)

December has been a month of busyness, but not of the Christmas variety, exactly.

Last weekend we shot the commercial for Baptist Health. That took several hours Friday and most of Saturday. We froze our frannies off in the windy 30s on Saturday by the White River. But it was SO MUCH FUN, and I do plan to write more about it. (Didn’t get much in the way of photos, though.) We had several wardrobe changes because they plan to run the campaign throughout the next two years (starting with the Super Bowl), so even though it was shot in December, it is supposed to depict several seasons.

This weekend was our alternate date for the White River Christmas Half Marathon & Relay. Sure, it happens at Christmastime, but it’s more indirectly related to Christmas than the typical holiday festivities – shopping, cookie baking, gift-giving – unless you consider that our half-marathon elves (race co-founder Sara and her helper elf, Becky) shop for the families that benefit from the race proceeds. And then the gifts are given to families chosen by a tenderhearted woman at a local agency.

We postponed the race on its original date (Dec. 7) because of ice storms. Makeup date: Dec. 21. Again, dangerous weather intervened. We got up this morning and decided that the threat of lightning and the flash flood warnings made it too risky – so we called, texted, emailed and Facebooked all those who had preregistered, telling them we would try again next year.

It was a huge disappointment, but we raised a good amount of money for needy families (entry to the race is free, but we encourage donations and most people do give).

Disappointing, but also, for the Oakleys, a day of much-needed rest. After we had contacted everyone and Bruce put a sign on the church door for any potential race-day registrants, it was under the electric blanket for Pepper and me and onto the sofa for Bruce and Salsa. After rest time we went to Mom’s to watch Hallmark Christmas movies (even Bruce likes them), and we veg’d for several hours.

Back home again, and I want to write about deep and thought-provoking topics, but the best I can come up with tonight is a roundup of some of the things I’ve been reading and listening to in the past week or so. I’ve been planning to do this regularly – these favorite-pick posts – but we’ve been half-marathoning and Christmas-partying and otherwise running ourselves ragged for several weeks. (Can I tell you I skipped a free yoga class Thursday night at our church because of race planning? That’s some kind of irony.)

So, without further delay, here are some randomly ordered but thoughtfully collected links for you to ponder:

First up, you’ll be thankful that I condensed what was going to be an entire post about the pitfalls of Christmas spending (I tend to get preachy) to a mere reference to some wise words from my favorite debt-proof-living guru, Mary Hunt. Read about Mr. Diderot and His Red Robe – good advice for any time of year.

And while we’re getting introspective about our habits and thought processes, here’s a little C.S. Lewis to get you thinking. From a letter on “the slow process of being more in Christ; and on doing one’s duty, especially the duty to enjoy.”

I get an email each morning with a C.S. Lewis reading excerpted from his books, letters, essays and other writings. To subscribe, visit Bible Gateway by clicking here.

I have long loved the books and sermons of Chuck Swindoll. So when my friend and fellow runner Betsy forwarded this link to me with a reference to Olympian Wilma Rudolph, I took notice. (When I was in high school, I wrote a book report on Ms. Rudolph. I wasn’t a runner then, so all I can remember about the book was that her story was inspirational.) As soon as I listened to the sermon, “What’s Necessary for Victory?” I logged onto the Independence County Library’s website and looked up the books on this woman; I plan to check one out soon. The entire sermon on Christian victory is good, but if you want to skip ahead to Wilma’s story, start at 9:30 minutes.

Next up – because it’s the perfect season for recipes and inspiring food stories – a couple of shout-outs to my friends.

I’ve linked to Alison’s blog a few times over the years, but today I was catching up and read a reposted story about her sister’s new-ish restaurant outside Chicago. I’ve long known that Anna was an awesome baker and cook, but now she is celebrating a year as a restaurateur with her husband, Bob. They opened in December 2012, and you’ll have to read Alison’s description of the cafe and her sister. And if I’m ever in Glen Ellyn, Ill., I’m making a point to stop in at Blackberry Market.

One more food-related link: A friend tagged me in a Facebook post this morning, and I clicked through to discover a conversation about a food blog, and then a reference to my childhood friend Liz’s very own food blog – a site I immediately clicked to and which I love! Light and fresh recipes made from the heart – who could resist? (Plus, I’m a little jealous of how great it looks, especially the food photos, which I’m terrible at.) I love food blogs, but the bonus here is that this one is by someone I know; that makes it extra-special. So come delight with me at Elsie’s Kitchen 101 (read the About section to find out where it got its name).

This list barely scratches the surface of the interesting things I’ve been reading, listening to and watching, but I think it’s enough for now. Except this one last link.

In the spirit of Christmas, I’m going to leave you with a schedule of the aforementioned Hallmark Channel Christmas movies (they’re showing all December long!). Go ahead and watch a few. I won’t tell.

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Book review: ‘J.R.R. Tolkien’ by Mark Horne

I must have been tired, busy, distracted or just cranky when I started reading the biography J.R.R. Tolkien last year. I just couldn’t get into it. And when I picked it up a few weeks ago to try again, it still seemed dry and uninteresting.

But I had to finish it, because I had agreed to review it (more on that below). And I’m happy to say that, in the end, I liked this book.

Part of my interest in this fantasy writer and poet stems from the fact that my husband reads Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy about once a year; and my brother, who usually is too busy living life to read much, read The Hobbit once upon a time – one of the few books he has ever read – and loved it.

Also, when I heard that Tolkien and C.S. Lewis (my favorite author) were friends (wow!), that sealed it for me. I had planned to read the Hobbit books for years (even before the movies of the early 2000s) but never had gotten around to it. And when I ordered the biography last year, I debated about whether to read it first or read the fantasy novels first. Will the biography help me enjoy the novels more, or will starting with the novels help me appreciate the bio more? The debate lasted so long, it took me months to get around to reading the bio (I finally decided to read it first, and I think I chose correctly).

So here we are at long last: I’m ready to share my thoughts on the biography.

The prosaically titled (and, at times, prosaically written) volume, written by Mark Horne as part of Thomas Nelson’s “Christian Encounters” series, begins with a tale of a 3-year-old John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (or, simply, Ronald), a tarantula bite and a quick-thinking nanny to the rescue. Giant scary spiders would figure into stories he wrote for his children, and longtime Tolkien fans will recall their presence in the Hobbit stories. But not because he remembered the tarantula – this was not a case of art imitating life. He later said he didn’t recall the tarantula bite as part of the incident – he simply remembered the heat of the day and running in fear through the tall, dead grass.

In other ways, though, the difficulties of his life did inform his writing. While he was still a child, he endured the deaths of both parents, and several resulting moves because of financial necessity and educational needs. His mother’s family ostracized her because of her Catholic faith – a factor that contributed to her death, in her older son’s opinion, and which may have strengthened his resolve to remain true to the faith.

Tolkien was born in South Africa, where his parents had relocated from England for financial reasons. When he was 3, his mother took him and his younger brother to England for a visit. The plan was for the boys’ father to join them later, but it was not to be; he developed a brain hemorrhage and was buried before his wife even received word that he had died.

Ronald’s diabetic mother died when he was 12. She made arrangements in her will for her friend and spiritual helper, Father Francis Morgan, to be her two boys’ legal guardian. Tolkien’s faith played an important role in his writing, even though he at one time said he preferred not to write overtly Christian stories but “to let readers make their own choices.” Still, his faith in God was communicated throughout his works of fiction. “Having written an epic of good versus evil, Tolkien left readers free to make up their own minds how to apply his fiction,” Horne writes.

Although his works portray the battle of good vs. evil, they also portray a world in which there is much beauty “and where there was true courage to do what is right even at great cost.” Even though I haven’t delved into his books yet, I’ve seen the first two movies in the LOTR trilogy and can attest to that point. “Tolkien portrayed a fantasy world that could not only entertain us but could also challenge and inspire us.”

Entertaining and inspiring stories aside, the area where I most identified with Tolkien – besides his love of languages and linguistics – was his perfectionism. I call myself a “recovering” perfectionist, but, oh, how I understood his extreme difficulty in letting go of a manuscript. He kept revising, changing, modifying and tweaking his stories. He never thought one was good enough to be published and was surprised at his novels’ success. (Similarly, it takes me forever to write a blog post, and once I’ve published it, I’m still not finished with it!) One theory for his procrastination problem was that Tolkien avoided completing a project “because doing so would mean that he was no longer being creative.” Maybe. But as a fellow sufferer of the disease of perfectionism, I doubt that was the main reason.

And then there was his obsession with The Silmarillion, which gives background and history to some of the people, places and things in his Hobbit books. The Sil seemed to be his pet story – or, as his biographer put it, “his life’s work” – but it’s one I have been advised by fans of his to save until later because of its dense history and similarity to the Old Testament! And, even though I rather like the OT, I’m taking the advice of my husband and my friend’s Facebook friend, with whom I got into a conversation about Tolkien and his works. I’ll start with The Hobbit.

I am leaving out major pieces of Tolkien’s history in this already-long post: his friendship and, later, break with fellow Oxford professor and fantasy/sci-fi writer C.S. Lewis; his service in World War I; his marriage; his children; his death; and so much more.

But any good writer should know when it’s time to shut up, and that time is now. I’ll leave you with this:

     “Not all those who wander are lost.”
            – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Excuse me now – I have some Hobbits to get acquainted with.

I’ve been a part of Thomas Nelson’s BookSneeze project for nearly three years. It allows me to get free books in exchange for giving my honest opinion, whether I like the books or not. If you’d like to get in on this sweet deal, click the link above.

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Goodbye, Sheriff Taylor

(CNN) — “Actor Andy Griffith, who played folksy Sheriff Andy Taylor in the fictional town of Mayberry, died Tuesday at the age of 86, his family said.”

A quick glance at my iGoogle news page while I ate a turkey sandwich during my lunch break Tuesday made me alter what I had planned to write about. The first headline that caught my eye, and that prevented me from reading any others: “Actor Andy Griffith dead at 86.”

I had just spent a hot hour-plus standing in the drive-through lanes at one of my bank’s branches, handing out little flags, patriotic wristbands and bottles of water, just like we employees do each July. In the minutes between cars, I was pondering the Fourth of July and what I would write about it.

I’d been trying to compose a July Fourth post in my head for a week or two, and I had no idea how I could do this day justice with my words. My dad, Bruce’s dad and many of our relatives and friends gave of themselves to their country, something I’ve never done – at least not in the way they did. I’ve never experienced that living sacrifice that so many demonstrated so ably and nobly, many of them before I was born.

So how could I write with any depth of insight about what it took for them to serve their country, both in times of war and beyond?

I can’t.

I can only say how grateful I am to my dad, my father-in-law, my uncles and countless others for what they gave up for me. They gave me a country where I could work, worship, play and love my family, then go to sleep at night without fear.

They gave me a country where a town like Mayberry can exist in every state, if we want it to.

Sure, those days of Mayberry were the 1960s, and we’re much more sophisticated now, aren’t we? We have touch-screen phones, spray-on tans, automated teller machines, and refrigerators that remind you when you’re out of eggs. Heck, I bet that fridge would even order you a dozen eggs and a gallon of milk and have it delivered to your door if you asked it to. We barely have to lift a finger to get through life these days.

But is that such a good thing?

We talk to each other by emailing, IM’ing or texting, not by picking up the phone, dialing and listening to a live voice (yeah, I’m guilty of it, too). The chirping bird I listen to the most? It’s the ring tone I hear when Mom calls me on my cell. At my Nanny and Papa’s house, if you wanted to make a phone call you had to wait for one of the other parties on your party line to hang up. I bet kids today don’t even know what a party line is.

Remember Sarah, the operator on “The Andy Griffith Show”? When Andy or Barney needed to call Mount Pilot or Raleigh, they talked to Sarah first. She had to put the call through.

Sarah knew everybody’s business.

So did Gomer, Goober, Floyd, Emmett, Howard, Aunt Bee and her friend Clara.

And when an outsider happened by, he wasn’t an outsider for long. Some of my favorite episodes involved needy “strangers” who came to town not knowing quite what they had gotten into, but leaving all the better for it. And by the time they left town, they weren’t really strangers anymore. They were just folks.

Remember Malcolm Merriweather, the very proper English butler? He rode a bicycle and taught Opie to draw faces on hard-boiled eggs. We missed him when he went back to merry old England.

Or the businessman whose car broke down in Mayberry on a Sunday – the day before an important meeting in Charlotte? He learned a lot about living the quiet life, just hanging around Mayberry, sitting on Andy’s front porch and listening to the sheriff quietly hum and strum his guitar. (Didn’t you love Andy’s front porch with its swing, where he could peel an entire apple with his pocketknife without breaking the strand?)

If you watched the show as much as I did, you’ll remember these sweet, funny, crazy and wonderful people and their shenanigans:

  • The Darlings (pronounced, of course, Darlin’s). Oh, how they could sing and play that mountain music.
  • The high-strung, rock-throwing Ernest T. Bass. Remember when he tried to get educated to impress “Romena” (Ramona)? Andy tried to teach him geography and such. Ernest T. would sooner throw a rock through a winder than learn manners.
  • Sweet, lovable Otis, the town drunk.
  • Aunt Bee and her pickles that tasted like they were canned in kerosene. Too many Aunt Bee stories to tell.
  • Barney Fife. There’s so much to say about goofy but lovable Barney, but probably my favorite Barney moment was when he told Andy he could recite the Preamble to the Constitution from memory, and then tried to prove it. Classic Barney and Andy.
  • Andy and Barney’s girlfriends, Helen Crump and Thelma Lou. (And before Miss Crump, Ellie the druggist.)
  • Gomer Pyle making a “citizens arr-ay-est!” of Barney.
  • Gomer’s appropriately named cousin, Goober. “Hey, Andy!” “Hey, Goob.”
  • Opie being mama to a nest of baby birds after he accidentally killed their mother with his slingshot. I still cry right along with Opie when he realizes the mama bird is dead.

Some of these were merely moments (or brief minutes) rather than full episodes, but they stuck in our memories and have touched our hearts over and over, no matter how many times we’ve watched. (And if you don’t get the warm fuzzies from watching Andy, Barney and the rest of the folks of Mayberry … well, then, you’re just an old grump!)

1960s Mayberry was a simpler time and place, and I think we like it so much, still today, because our lives have gotten so busy and complicated. And because our good-hearted Andy Taylor was so wise and patient (most of the time). All the town folk took their problems to Sheriff Taylor. With all the goings-on in Mayberry, both silly and serious, they knew he would always come up with the right solution to their problem.

Sometimes the stories made us laugh, and sometimes they touched our hearts. Much of the time they did both. The show was a unique combination of heart and humor, and I hope I get to watch episodes until the day I die. And who knows? Someday I may be watching it in hologram, or with some technology that hasn’t even been invented or imagined yet. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

And when past meets present, old meets new, technology ain’t always such a bad thing.

As I was writing this, a friend posted on Facebook: “Andy Griffith marathon on TvLand.”

I immediately turned on the TV, saw what episode was playing, and texted my brother: “Andy Griffith marathon on TVLand. You working today? The Darlin’s are singin’.”

JT texted back that he was watching, then a minute later: “You did know that Andy Griffith show’s 1st show debuted on Oct 03, 1960.” I texted back: “I knew it started in 1960 but didn’t know Oct 3. That was a great day all around!”

Andy Taylor and Jim Taylor, born the same day.

Who knew a text message could give me the warm fuzzies?

Ain’t technology great?

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The Grace Card

My friends in California forwarded an e-mail about a movie that opened around the country today: The Grace Card, made by a church in Memphis. I’ve watched the trailer and read a few reviews, and it is worth checking out. Watch the trailer below, then click this link to read a review from Christianity Today.

Too bad it’s not playing in Batesville this weekend; I’d pay full price and even drag Bruce along to see it with me. For those of you in central Arkansas, it is playing at Lakewood in North Little Rock and at Breckenridge Village and the Rave in Little Rock. Click here for those show times.

Can’t wait to see it!

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Random thoughts 01/10/10

I was writing an e-mail to a college roommate this afternoon when I realized that if she clicks the link below my signature and goes to my blog – which she’s likely to do because we haven’t been in touch since I started the blog – she will see very few recent posts.

So, even though I can’t seem to form a coherent thought lately, you need to know that I am not dead.

Random thoughts on a Sunday afternoon:

  • I’ll begin Accounting II on Saturday, Jan. 16, after withdrawing last semester so as to avoid a heart attack from everything that was going on in our lives (I mentioned the latest heart symptoms in my Sept. 12, 2009, random thoughts). I decided to try a Saturday morning class because I simply hate having to rush home from work, gulp down a few bites of something and rush to class, sit there for nearly 3 hours trying to stay awake and get home just before bedtime. Besides, I’m a morning person, and that’s when I do my best thinking (if you call me after 9 p.m. – or if you’re a former roommate [hi, Di!] – you’ll understand). My class this semester will be 8-10:40 a.m.
  • I finished reading In Cold Blood, although I never told you I finished it. I mentioned it in my March 22, 2009, post (a random-thoughts post that was a LOT more interesting than this one, and a lot less depressing than the 09/12 one, so check it out), and I finished it months ago, but now I have closure since I have told you about it. 🙂 The book was great, if creepy. Killers with no remorse. And it’s a true story. I read somewhere that when Perry and Dick were hanged, Truman Capote (the book’s author) became physically ill and had to remove himself from the crowd of onlookers. Interviewing the killers, retracing the events of the heinous murders, left a lasting impression on him, and he was never the same. I believe it was his last book.
  • And this year I finally started reading the book on which my favorite movie was based – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Since the first time I saw the movie about 20 years ago, I’ve been in love with Atticus Finch (Bruce understands – I think). I kept telling myself I needed to read the book, but when I checked for it at the local library, it was always checked out. After several months (maybe even a year) of checking, I finally inquired about it at the desk, because the electronic card catalog kept saying it was NOT checked out. They said it probably had met the same fate as a lot of the other classics: Someone simply took it and never brought it back. Before Christmas, I finally checked again, and they had 2 copies! (Bruce was an English major and has many, many of the classics, but we’re not sure whether this book is in one of the boxes-upon-boxes of books that we have packed, ready to move “someday.)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Part 2 (because the above paragraph was getting long and this really should be a separate post): So I’ve been reading it, along with dealing with the usual Christmas chaos, which this year included getting new windows installed all over the house (the “2 1/2-day” job took nearly 3 weeks!), and trying to read a little of my Accounting I book to refresh myself since taking a semester off, and being tired and going to bed early. And from the very first sentence of this long-desired book, I was hooked. It just draws you in immediately, this tale told through the eyes of a 5-year-old tomboy in a small 1930s Southern town. I have to say, though, that this is one of the rare cases in which I didn’t immediately start to think, “The book is way better than the movie.” The movie is just so darned good, it actually enhances the reading of the book. When I read a book after I’ve first seen the movie, I try not to imagine the actors as those characters. Most times, the actors are too Hollywood, I guess. But in this case, I am imagining Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus, and the kids who played Scout and Jem and Dill, and of Calpurnia and the schoolchildren and the neighbors. … I’m in chapter 10 or 11, and we haven’t even gotten to the rape trial yet. But it’s not slow reading. It’s written through the eyes of little tomboy Scout Finch, and it’s just delightful, because the actress they picked to play Scout is just perfect  – not Hollywood at all (please, if you know anything about the actress that will burst my bubble, keep it to yourself!). And Scout and Jem and Dill and Atticus – and even Boo Radley (Robert Duvall), even though the kids haven’t laid eyes on him yet – those are the faces I see as I read. Brilliant casting.
  • This bullet point is sort of To Kill a Mockingbird (hereafter referred to as TKAM), Part 3, but it’s technically about the author and not the book, so cut me some slack. 🙂 Did you know that Harper Lee and Truman Capote were childhood friends? In fact, Harper Lee was Capote’s research assistant for In Cold Blood. And her character Dill Harris in TKAM was based on old friend Truman. Some say Capote was the real author of TKAM, but others say it’s a ridiculous notion, the different writing styles being one clue among many.
  • (Link to info about the movie To Kill a Mockingbird.)
  • The next book I read may be Breakfast at Tiffany’s (by Capote), another book I’ve never read but I’ve seen the movie. I didn’t like the movie the first time I watched it – not in spite of Audrey Hepburn but because of her, or at least the character she played. Audrey Hepburn is delightful to watch, but I did not like Holly Golightly the first time I experienced this movie (I tend to judge people I perceive as flighty and irresponsible). Fortunately, my favorite song, “Moon River,” is a big part of the movie, so there have been times when I’ve popped the DVD into the player just to hear that beautiful Mancini tune. So, because of the wonderful song, I’ve grown to love the movie and appreciate the sadness and lostness of the main character. But I imagine this will be one of those times when the book will be much better. It has to be – Capote has written so many wonderful books, and the film version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (BAT?) is somewhat Hollywoodized, I think. And I want to know what the sad, lost Holly was thinking that early morning as she stood outside Tiffany’s looking in, after having partied all night in that iconic hairdo, dress and black evening gloves. All dressed up in party clothes yet all alone, and I want to know what she was thinking. A movie doesn’t give you that. (Unless it’s Ferris Bueller.)
  • Last year I decided to read more of the classics and am gradually getting around to them. I read slowly, and I tend to get sleepy when I find the perfect comfortable spot to read in, so it takes me a while to finish a book. But now that the holiday season is over, I won’t be watching Food Network as much, so I’m already reading more than I did in the fall. I tried some Solzhenitsyn (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) and Upton Sinclair (The Jungle), but those are books I didn’t finish. I’ll eventually get back to Solzhenitsyn, but the only thing I liked about The Jungle (it’s a really gross expose on the meatpacking industry) is that it has caused me to eat less red meat! I think the problem with Denisovich is that I’ve read too many concentration-camp books (I had the same problem with the movie Schindler’s List); maybe I’m desensitized to the issue, or maybe it’s that nothing on the subject comes close to my all-time-favorite book, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom (“No pit is so deep that the love of God is not deeper still!”). That is a book that I’ve read several times already but could read every year and never get tired of it. I’ve loaned my copy several times and just told the friend to keep it, then I go buy myself a new paperback copy. The tale of God’s light in a sea of darkness never gets old.
  • I’ve decided – officially – that Naps are a Good Thing. Because I finally have a job that allows me to take actual holidays off (I may never get used to that!), Bruce and I have spent a few long weekends at Mom’s lately (Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s). Thanksgiving weekend, I took a long nap (really, a short nap but a long rest) every single day. At Christmas we were busier, so not so many naps, but New Year’s I got a couple of good breaks in, with the exception of the day that Mom was noisy in the kitchen and I got up cranky at her (don’t worry; I apologized). Just goes to show how important naps have become to my mental health. I turned 47 in November, so I am not a spring chicken anymore. For sure, Naps are a Good Thing. (I’m thinking of trademarking that expression.)
  • A soft bed, a warm puppy and a good book – who could ask for more?
  • I have written a set of “goals” – not New Year’s resolutions – for 2010 (it will include naps, although not in so many words). I didn’t get them posted by the time we rang in the new year, so it may be March before you seem them here! Or I may post them tomorrow – just depends on how tired I am when I get home from work.
  • And of course I’m supposed to be reading my accounting book!

This concludes another portion of our semiregular feature, Random Thoughts. Tune in again, when you may hear Suzy say, “Has it been that long since I posted?”

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Maple almond-butter cookies

also your first look at my new countertops!
Have a cookie and a smile.

Friends, baking with healthy ingredients can be a delicious way to satisfy your sweet tooth, I am here to tell you.

You may be skeptical of the recipe I’m about to give you, but try it before you rush to judgment. Ever since I ran across it on the blog I discovered recently (while trying to find a description of Sucanat, an ingredient mentioned occasionally in Clean Eating magazine), I had been dying to bake these almond-butter cookies sweetened with maple syrup. Today I finally had the opportunity.

Not a stick o’ butter, a teaspoon of refined sugar or even a drop of egg is included in these cookies. And, trust me, after seeing the movie Julie & Julia a couple of days ago  (and watching Kate & Leopold on TV that night), “rich, creamery buttah” was on my mind!

But these cookies are a healthy alternative to the baked goods I usually make. I am not quite of the Paula Deen and Julia Child variety (“You can never have too much butter”), but I definitely like the stuff.

So I was happily surprised when Bruce and I sampled the first cookie a few minutes after I pulled them out of the oven.

And, just so you know, I’m adding Sweet & Natural to my blogroll at right.

The blog is right up my alley. In fact, it’s the blog I had imagined I might someday write, if I had the time (and money) to experiment as much as the author does with different ingredients and recipes. I have long wanted to come up with a way to turn my love for baking into something healthy.

I bake because it gives me a sense of “home and hearth” (and, frankly, because I like the accolades I get when someone tastes my sweet confections), but all too often my recipes are laden with unhealthy ingredients, simply because it’s easier to find those recipes.

But I am no longer willing to settle for that for my family or for myself. We all (except Bruce) could stand to lose a few pounds and clean up our eating habits. And, as Ashley of Sweet & Natural has proved, you don’t have to trade taste for healthy.

I have a heart condition that the doctor says he doesn’t think is caused by overweight, but who really knows? There’s no clear-cut cause for mitral valve prolapse that I’ve been able to discover.

And because I’m 30-40 pounds overweight (I know, I know, I don’t look that heavy, but my height disguises some of it) and have been having more noticeable palpitations and shortness of breath lately, it’s time to stop dabbling in healthy eating and get serious. Being overweight puts extra strain on my delicate little heart valve.

Last week I wore a portable EKG monitor for 24 hours, and I will get the results in a few days. Even if the doc doesn’t report any serious concerns, it’s still time to quit messing around and cut out the unhealthy fats and sugars. It’s a process that will take some time, some retraining of taste buds and a lot of commitment – but it’s well worth the journey.

Friends, even if you don’t have any health issues and you don’t feel the need to “clean up” your eating, try these cookies. It will be worth your time – and the effort it takes to find the ingredients you may not keep in your pantry routinely (natural almond butter, real maple syrup, whole wheat flour).

I have made a couple of tiny modifications, but I don’t think the author would mind. See her original recipe here.

Maple Almond Butter Cookies

1/2 cup natural almond butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup chopped almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, combine almond butter, maple syrup, canola oil and almond extract until well blended.  In a separate bowl, mix together pastry flour, baking soda and salt. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, along with chopped almonds, and stir until just combined.  Let sit for 5 minutes.

Roll heaping tablespoons of dough into balls, flatten to about 1/3 inch and place onto cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes.  Makes 18 cookies.

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