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Movie Review: La La Land

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We saw La La Land last night, and it was great, if…

…if you like musicals. This is not deep drama. It’s a musical. With people out of their cars and dancing during rush hour, with people breaking into song. You know, the things that make the old-fashioned musical fun. I was told that this movie was about song and dance, that the plot was unnecessary, and I have, in the past, condemned stories with no deepness, no real artistic value. That is not the case, here (but it IS a musical). To me, the music pervaded the story, rather than the story being a flimsy vessel for the music. I left inspired. And sad. Too bad I don’t do spoilers, or I would explain what it is that bothered me about the story but yet I wouldn’t change.

…if you like a sweet love story. There is no deep conflict between the two lovers, but rather between their love story and their dreams. They live in Los Angeles, the city of dreams, after all. That’s the feel-good, inspirational portion of the story; each of them was encouraging the other to be the hero of his/her own life story. When I think about it, that makes each of them a hero in the other’s story. See? Feel-good. Such an interesting and difficult-to-pull-off concept that their love and their dreams are the enemies of each other, while also motivating the other. What’s more important? Romantic love or dreams? (Christian note and perhaps spoiler: There is no sex in this story at all—again, it is the characters’ La La Land dreams that is the story’s focus—however, the couple does live together.)

…if you like jazz, or would like to learn to understand its musicians.

…if you ever had a dream you feared was only a pipe dream.

Otherwise, you won’t like it. 😉 The secondary characters are kind of placeholders, not bringing much to the story. And there is the odd part I wouldn’t change (no spoilers). BUT it is a musical. Some of these things take a back seat or happen because of the music. Which was enjoyable.

So enjoy.

Blessings,

Voni

When Dad was Wrong

Most of the time, my father was right …

Even if I didn’t realize it till later. Or much later.

Even if he took whatever it was more seriously than I thought it was worth.

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But there was one time when he was just plain old wrong.

I was a teenager, and my job was to work in the family rental property over the summer. Didn’t get paid in money, but I got a boatload of new clothes come school time. At any rate, my friend was having a party at her place (her dad was an ATF agent, so there was just clean fun). I went to Dad a couple weeks ahead of time and got permission to go, and to drive two of my friends. They had been giving me free rides all over the place, so Dad complimented my desire not to be a mooch friend. Yes, he used the word mooch. He told me I could have the car for the night.

However, when the day arrived, it was also carpet-laying day in the rentals.

Dad had never laid carpet before, but he was confident.

Would we be done in time for me to still take my friends to the party?

He was sure we’d be done by early afternoon. Absolutely positive. Absolutely, absolutely positive.

This was summer, so it had been several weeks since we’d had any friend time like this. I was excited and talked Dad’s ear off about it all day. Probably drove him nuts, but he was a good sport.

But come about 3:00, it was clear we were not even going to be done in time for me to give my friends a ride to the party.

Could I go call my friends and tell them I couldn’t give them a ride? (Dating myself, here. It was days long before cell phones…I would have had to drive to the diner two blocks away and use a pay phone.)

Nope. He wouldn’t let me even do that.

I realize now, even more than I realized then, that it wasn’t really the sort of job you could leave in the middle. And I realize that Dad had overestimated himself on a job he’d never done before (and no YouTube to learn from).

And I realize now that he was (internally) frightened about what the failure of the rentals would do to the family finances.

However, he was in the wrong. When we FINALLY finished and got home, Mom told me my friends had called an hour earlier, and she told them they should go ahead to the party without me. I was so furious over ditching my friends that, in my self-righteousness, I stomped around the house like a crazy woman as I showered and got ready for the party.

He didn’t didn’t punish me for my attitude. He didn’t even say a word.

Don’t get me wrong, my Dad was a good man, a strong man.

But there was a reason why, even before this, if he said something would take a certain amount of time, I would double the time and add an hour. He was no good at time.

And there is a reason why now, at the age of 50, I want to have a writing career, yet I am afraid. If I get a contract, there will be a deadline on that contract. A legal deadline on that contract.

What if I misjudge my capabilities and agree to a deadline I can’t meet? I already mostly don’t meet—self-imposed deadlines. I am like my Dad in this way.

Yet, I am also like my Dad in another way. I will not make a decision out of fear. As he did when he purchased the rental property, I will follow my dreams.

I will learn the art of fiction writing, as he learned to lay carpet.

As Dad moved from idea to landlord, I am moving from hobbyist to “real” writer.

I will write. And, eventually, I will sign a writing contract. (traditional or self-published)

And … hopefully … I will meet said deadline.

Blessings,
Voni

PS … Also like my father, I will make—and be forgiven for—parenting mistakes.
Because LOVE. Right, Leah?

The Wedding Rings–True story

We were like most people first starting out. When we got married, we were at the beginning of our careers. In other words, we couldn’t afford an expensive wedding ring, just an awesome one. It was a small marquis-cut diamond with rubies on either side. Beautiful. Both traditional and unique. I loved it.

Wish I had a picture of this ring, but this happened long before cell phones and phone cameras.

 

Six years later, we adopted our daughter. Beautiful. On my first Mother’s Day, she was ten months old. My husband, who loves me, handed me a ring-sized box. “Leah got you this with her allowance,” he explained.

My heart melted.

It melted again when I opened the box: A ring with a ruby in the center and diamonds on either side. The perfect companion to my wedding ring. Wife and Mother.

The two rings reminded me every day of my love for Rich and Leah, and their love for me.

Perfect.

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Then we attended the Navy Bean Festival in Rising Sun, Indiana. Yep. It’s a thing. A cool thing. It was a great time, enjoying the Indiana Fall and all the creative crafts and events. It was time to sit down for some bean soup and cornbread for lunch, and we found our place at a long, crowded table with open windows to let the gently brisk fall air stir our senses. Who knew bean soup tastes and smells like home? The inviting smell of the soup wafted out the windows.

Attracting wasps.

One of which made his way into the building, where my left-hand ring finger apparently bothered him.

So he stung it.

The paramedic hated telling me he was going to have to cut it off my poor swollen ring finger.

I did, too.

Rich did, too.

But that’s life.

 

We couldn’t afford to replace the ring, but I wanted a ring so we went to Walmart and got a cheapie, planning on buying a good one later. It was pretty. However, it didn’t take long for a prong to get messed up and get caught on everything; a diamond chip disappeared. I had to quit wearing it.

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Fast forward several years later. My husband, who loves me, decided enough was enough. He was on a trip to Juneau and decided to surprise me with a new ring.

Yet another melt-my-heart moment.

Only I am just 4’6”. The ring needed to be sized. Our local jeweler couldn’t do it, as he knew it would end up almost a square shape, as far down as it needed to be cut. The jeweler in Juneau said he could do it, but he was preparing to close up for the winter, so I had to make haste. We mailed the ring along with my old high school class ring which did fit, insured and all, to Rich’s co-worker in Juneau, who took the ring to the jeweler and returned it to us when he finished sizing it. Yeah, it’s the slightest bit square-ish. But not really. It fits. And I love it, and it reminds me of Rich’s love for me every time I put it on.

Perfect.

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Fast forward a couple of years. We were at the movie theater, and my hands were dry. As we waited for the movie to start, I took off my rings, put my lotion on, settled in to enjoy the movie…

And I noticed later…at home…No ring.

My heart dropped. I took it off for the lotion. But it was also cold that day, and I took gloves on and off as we went to and fro. It could have fallen anywhere. Especially with be-lotioned hands.

My husband, who loves me, did not get upset.

My heart stayed in my stomach for the next couple of days until the movie theater was open and I could call. But I didn’t need to call.

Someone responded to my Facebook message asking people to watch for it. That someone was the manager of the theater.

A teenage boy had found my ring when he went to watch the late movie that night.

And turned it in.

Hope for the world.

And my heart returned to its rightful place, beating away in my chest.

 

As our pastor reminded us yesterday, a wedding ring isn’t a marriage. It is just a symbol, just a thing.

So why have my ring(s) meant so much to me?

The same reason why stomping on a flag is more than stomping on a piece of cloth.

The same reason why a cross is more than just a decoration or something pretty to wear.

It’s the meaning behind the symbol.

A cross is not my faith, but it is a symbol of my faith in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. That sacrifice is why the cross means something.

The American flag is not my country, but it is a symbol of my country and its history and its rich legacy of democracy. That history and legacy is why the stars and stripes mean something.

A wedding ring is not love. But love is why my wedding ring means something.

I love you, too, Rich.

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What symbols mean a lot to you? What is behind the symbol? I’d love to hear!

Blessings,

Voni

Review: A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

A Portrait of Emily Price by [Reay, Katherine]

“Francesca sported a perfect American accent–one that stretched flawlessly from Chicago to Seattle, dipping down through Colorado rather than passing up near the Canadian border.”

This…this is why I loved Katherine Reay’s Book, A Portrait of Emily Price. These characters are friends to me, now. Emily simultaneously broke my heart and warmed it with her instinct to fix everything, whether it be a pan with a loose handle or a teenager whose home Emily was restoring from a fire, whether it was her sister or her mother-in-law. I don’t do spoilers, but this instinct to fix things comes from Emily’s childhood, and it is the very thing that brings her family to a boil. And solves their problems, in a way, ultimately through faith and family. I loved watching the art come out of Emily the way pizza came out of Ben, pasta out of Donata, and bread from Lucio.

And that’s the thing. Often in a Hallmark movie, a character has a job…something artsy or community-service oriented in some way. But the writers/actors fail to make that a real part of who the character is in their core. It’s kind of a token designation that a character is a florist or a poverty lawyer or whatever.

Reay has no such failure! The artsy, fix-it side of Emily, the food-and-family side of Ben made them who they are, and it made the story what it is. I want to be frowned at by Donata, given a book by Lucio, and fed by Ben. I want to help Emily fix something and watch Joseph paint. These are people I feel like I know. This is a family whose Sunday Dinners I want to join.

I was surprised not to find myself in Atlanta or Italy when I had to look up from the book…Oh, the field of sunflowers! I wanted to go sit there until they turned my direction. I want to go truffle hunting with their dog.

But the story of Emily and this family stopped my heart in places, as it frequently stopped Emily’s heart, left her not knowing what to do, panicked. As warm as these people are, as close as they are…the secrets buried in this family are heart-breaking. And heart-warming.

It’s that kind of book.

So what did I not like about A Portrait of Emily Price? The end. I literally flipped the page on my Kindle, desperate to read more, not conscious I had reached the end. But it was over. Reay does not tell us what happens with Joseph (oops, almost committed a spoiler there). She leaves us hanging, having to think it through for ourselves. Heart-warming. And heart-breaking.

Yep. It’s that kind of book.

Blessings,

Voni

When the arts make you angry

 

I have to tell the truth. I’ve seen ads, and I watched a trailer for the movie Sausage Party. That’s it. That’s all I needed. Some of the obvious imagery I won’t mention here, but really, food saying the f-word?

Let me back up…

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The other night was date night. Rich and I really wanted to see Collateral Beauty, so that’s what we did. Pizza and a movie.

It is rare to leave a movie touched to the core the way we left that movie.

Tears were shed. We clung to each other’s hands.

It should win an Oscar. Hopefully Will Smith, too, though Naomie Harris and Helen Mirren were standouts…the whole cast, really.

DON’T—I repeat do not—read a synopsis or review before you see it. You do not want spoilers for Collateral Beauty. And that’s not what this is. Let me continue.

So, anyway, on our way out of the theater (the Billiken on base at Kodiak, which has some of the most honest people around—but that’s another story), Rich picked up a printed movie schedule for next week to show me in case I wanted to see any of them.

My eyes stopped at Sausage Party. Yes. Sausage Party.

That’s when I got angry.

Movies like Collateral Beauty are possible.

     Movies that make us cry.

     Movies that make us laugh.

     Or take a new look at history.

     Or leave us breathless like a fun, crazy roller coaster ride.

     Movies that make us think about life.

     Or take a deep look at ourselves.

     Movies that touch our hearts.

     Movies (like Collateral Beauty) that touch our souls.

All that is possible.

 

And then there is Sausage Party.  The makers obviously had the talent, time, and money to make a well-marketed feature movie.

And they wasted—wasted—it all on Sausage Party.

 

I am not against fun movies. Sausage Party had the potential to make us laugh, make silly family memories. But the writers and producers and actors and animators and all the people involved did not go down that path. No. The makers aimed not at fun and humor, but at titillation. A low aim.

How pitiful.

 

Why did God give us the arts?

To draw our eyes upward. To inspire. To help us to really see the world. Collateral Beauty is not a sweet, safe movie. (Read, boring, right?) Nor is it out to teach a lesson (Read, boring, again!) It is not even a Christian movie per se. But it is raw. It is real. It is authentic. It aimed high.

Why did God give us the arts?

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

God, may I follow You as my creator in this, no matter whether I’m creating a home, an afghan, a novel, or a text. In Jesus’ name!

Blessings!

 

 

Flash fiction: The Ice Cream Competition

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The ice cream Jeff had made looked beautiful…all the colors swirled just right, an invitation to the perfect creamy summer treat.

But the flavors were all wrong.

Red tasted like orange, instead of raspberry or cherry. Or even apple.

The orange tasted like licorice.

Green looked like mint or pistachio. But it tasted like popcorn.

Yellow tasted like…he tasted it again…sunshine. Nothing else to describe it. It was wonderful on the tongue, fruity and fresh and creamy and sweet and tart—not too tart—all at once. But it was supposed to be lemon. He dipped his finger back into the left-over yellow and closed his eyes as the flavor tingled each taste bud.

Blue should’ve been blueberry. Yet it had a distinct garlic taste. Garlic ice cream? Really? As if he would ever do that!

And the purple. Worst of all. It tasted just like tunafish.

He saw the three judge’s faces crinkle in disgust as they tasted his rainbow ice cream cone. He would not be winning this competition.

Crud! He’d pulled out all the stops to win. The judges owned this famous creamery and were looking for a young up-and-coming partner. What could’ve happened?

He gazed over at the creamery’s famous Wall of Flavors just in time to see Michael messing with the “licorice” and “orange” labels two of the flavoring bottles. Well. That explained how his flavors got mixed up. But they would never have tunafish and garlic. He glared at his competitor.

But wait…that sunshine flavor still filled his mouth.

The judges hadn’t seen Michael switching the labels. Or the two presumably smelly containers that looked just like the Wall of Flavors bottles that practically hung out of the man’s apron pockets.

They were too busy gushing over Michael’s peppermint mocha ice cream.

He strode over to his competitor. “Funny joke, Michael. Switching the labels on the bottles.”

He shrugged. “Whatever it takes to win.”

True. With Michael as his competitor, it would have been smart to taste his ice cream bases before putting them in the ice cream maker. But he’d been making so many different flavors, he hadn’t had time. His overconfidence had beaten him.

“It’s okay. I just have one question.”

Michael shrugged again.

“Which label did you switch with the lemon flavoring?” He leaned against the wall nonchalantly.

Michael pointed. “The yellow one over there without the label. Banana? I don’t know.”

Thank goodness. “Like I said, funny joke,” he responded, as though it made no difference. Michael walked over to where the prize ceremony was getting ready to start.

Jeff sauntered over to where Michael had pointed on the Wall of Flavors and picked up the small yellow bottle without the label. He opened it and sniffed. Definitely not banana. It was that sunshine flavor.

He looked around. Everyone else was focused on the awarding of the prize to Michael. No one was looking.

He stuck it in his pocket.

Then he left.

This could make all the difference.

Review: Warror’s Seal by Ronie Kendig

I was enjoying my lunch out (it was my birthday, and Rich was traveling for work). I took my Kindle and was reading Ronie Kendig’s novella, Warrior’s Seal.

The waitress walked up to ask me if I wanted a refill. “Oh! Sorry!” she said. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Yep.

I was that into it.

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Ronie has a way with a military novel. She has a way with imagining an impossible (fiction) situation, and making it more impossible. She has a way of connecting your heart with the characters, so that when they are nervous, you are; when they are determined, you are; when they are exhausted, you are; when they are happy, you are.

All these things are very evident in Warrior’s Seal. Thus, the waitress’s ability to startle me.

What did I like about this novella? The situation, first and foremost. The main character, Tox, is the leader of a military team tasked with a mission to save the President, a mission that is complicated by his personal relationships (no spoilers here, but this is a doozy). I absolutely love how Ronie was able to bring in ancient history, too. Do we today have the ability to save the world from the ancient toxin that is released?

What did I not like about Warrior’s Seal? Not much. It makes me angry that Tox is in trouble (I told you it was a doozy), though his loyalty to his team is very evident in the end. It makes me even more angry that Tox accepts the trouble. He is an extraordinarily capable warrior of integrity and yet sees no way out? He obviously feels powerless, destined to the trouble. He has more strength of character than this; If he told his story, explained why he did what he did, America would be on his side.

Of course, it’s complicated (I told you it’s a doozy), and Tox himself is complicated.

I did not like the ending: I wanted more!

But that’s the purpose of this free prequel. (Get it here) It’s setting up her Tox Files series, the first book of which is on preorder now, and releases tomorrow. It’s called Conspiracy of Silence.

Ronie is sending the more that I’m craving.

Thanks, Ronie.

Blessings,

Voni