Last year, I posted the Declaration of Independence in its entirety.  This year, I give you “The Signing” from one of my favorite movies of all time, 1776.  No, the Founding Fathers did not sing and dance their way through the Revolution, but there are still enough facts in this play/movie that it cannot be called “mindless entertainment.”

This scene gives me chills each and every time I see it.  If you ever get a chance to watch this movie, I cannot recommend it highly enough.  It’s on TCM this evening at 5 Eastern time.  Enjoy!

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Thanks to Tropical Storm Debby, I was able to finish 2 books this weekend.

First was That Woman, a new biography of Wallis Simpson by Anne Sebba.  My knowledge of the story of Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson was gleaned from books, movies and newspaper articles in which the couple were mentioned, but I had never read any biographies about either of them.  One of the things that appealed to me about this book is that Ms. Sebba read letters, journals and contemporary accounts of the events that led up to Edward’s abdication and then his marriage to Wallis.

I had never had much sympathy for either of them, to be honest, and this book made me have even less.  They both come across as being selfish, self-absorbed hedonists.  The big difference between the two of them is that Edward was weak and desperate to be led, and Wallis was manipulative and more than happy to “wear the pants” in the family.  They both complained a lot and blamed others for all of their problems.  Edward doesn’t seem to have cared much about his duty to his country.  His attitude is so different from that of his niece, Elizabeth II, who has devoted her life to her country during her 60 years on the throne.  We are told several times during the course of the book that, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a good thing that Edward did not continue on as King and that George VI was there to lead his country through the horrors of WWII.

The other book I read this weekend was Murder on Fifth Avenue, the 14th entry in Victoria Thompson’s “Gaslight” series (as an aside, this synopsis was obviously written well before the book was published because there is no Algernon Abernathy in the book; the character referred to in this synopsis is named Chilton Devries in the book).  I mentioned in my review of Threadbare, Monica Ferris’ 15th Needlework Mystery, that I thought the series was getting old and that I didn’t know how many more of the books I would bother to read.  I had the same worries about Murder on Fifth Avenue when I learned it was about to come out.  But, in this case, my worries were for naught.  I really enjoyed this book.  There were 2 murders in this story and, while I did not figure out who killed these people, I did manage to figure out some of the other plot twists before Sarah and Frank did.  So #14 gets 2 thumbs up from me.

It’s now after 7:30 and the weather in Florida is still awful (and looks to be awful for the foreseeable future), but I likely won’t get any more reading done tonight; RA and CC are facing each other in Queens starting in about 1/2 hour and it should be a good game. LGM!

I first saw this movie via DVD a couple of years ago and I loved it.  Being that this is Memorial Day weekend here in the US, it’s been on the various HBO channels and I made time to watch it again.  I freely admit that I sobbed off and on during the entire film.

Taking Chance is the true story of Lt. Colonel Mike Strobl, a Marine who worked at the Pentagon (he has since retired), and who wrote the screenplay for Taking Chance.  One day, he was reading the casualty list and saw the name of Pfc Chance Phelps, a 19-year-old Marine who died in Anbar Province.  Phelps died protecting his colleagues and was posthumously promoted to lance corporal.  Strobl asked his superiors if he could escort Phelps’ remains to his hometown in Wyoming, and permission was granted, even though men in Strobl’s position did not usually perform this task.

The movie is the story of Strobl’s trip from Virginia to Wyoming to take Chance Phelps home to his parents.  It is gut-wrenching, it is powerful and it is beautiful.  I cannot recommend it highly enough, on Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day or any other day.  It’s an outstanding movie, and all Americans should see it.

Here are a couple of links that will add to one’s knowledge of the real events that inspired the movie:

And, last but certainly not least, to all of the men and women who have put their lives on the line to protect and defend the rest of us, I say “thank you.”

I know it’s been a while, but I’ve actually used my “time off” productively.  I’ve read a slew of books — more books than I have in a while, and that can only be a Good Thing.

First off, I finally got to re-start (and then finish) The Cello Suites by Eric Siblin.  It’s outstanding.  Siblin is a former rock writer for the Montréal Gazette who, when he discovered Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, became obsessed with them.  He traveled the world to learn more about Bach, the Suites themselves and Pablo Casals, who found a copy in a tiny music shop in Barcelona in the late 19th century and gave them back to the world.  Bach has long been my favorite composer and, while I prefer his orchestral work to these Suites, the book is a great read.  Here is an interview with Silbin at Harper’s that includes some clips of Casals playing the Suites.

Next up was R.A. Dickey’s memoir, Wherever I Wind Up.  Dickey is the sole knuckleballer left in the major leagues, but that’s only a small part of who he is as a person.  He had a rather awful childhood, and it affected him until he was able to get help facing the demons.  I love him as a Met, and have a lot of respect for him as a man since I learned more about him.  And, speaking of the Mets, they are looking so much better than anyone (including yours truly) could have predicted.  As of right now, they are 5 games over .500 and are only 2 games back of the division-leading Nationals.  As of right now, life is good, and I am actually looking forward to seeing them play the Rays next month.  Hopefully the good times will continue and they won’t embarrass the Blue-and-Orange faithful who are going to convene at the Trop next month.

Then there was Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon.  I’m not sure why they call her “Lady”Almina, considering she was not the daughter of a Duke, an Earl or a Marquess, but the mistake was not just for the North American market.  The title of this book is the same in the UK, which truly boggles my mind.  Anyway, once I forgot the title, I could get interested in the book.  I liked it.  Almina Wombwell was a Countess of Carnarvon at the turn of the last century.  She was the illegitimate daughter of Marie Wombwell and Alfred Rothschild.  Her mother was married, but everyone knew that she and Rothschild were “an item” and that Almina was their daughter.  He was officially her godfather, but he left her his entire estate, and also gave her the enormous dowry that enabled her to marry the Earl.  This particular Earl of Carnarvon was avid Egyptologist and played a role in discovering King Tut’s tomb.  So, why is the title Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey?  Because Highclere Castle, which plays Downton Abbey in the series, is the ancestral home of the Earls of Carnarvon.

As a follow-up to this, I read through Jessica Fellowes’s book The World of Downton Abbey.  This book talks about the series Downton Abbey but in terms of what would have happened to the characters in real life.  For example, what were a footman’s duties?  What uniform did a housemaid wear?  Etc.  I already knew a lot of the material covered, but for those who don’t, I think the book is worth reading.

I’ve mentioned before that Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God is one of my comfort reads. Before it went into storage, I read it at least once a year.  Unfortunately for me, I’ve only been able to read it once (via interlibrary loan) since I moved here.  I’ll have to see about buying a paperback to tide me over until I can get my original copy back in my hands.  Winner’s latest, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis is a completely different experience.  It’s more about re-finding God than finding Him in the first place.  Since Girl Meets God, Winner has gotten married, lost her mother, gotten divorced and lost her way spiritually.  She’s now an ordained priest in the Episcopal church and a professor at the Duke Divinity School, and her mid-faith crisis was especially discombobulating.  Most people of faith have gone through a period when they aren’t sure God is really there, including priests and professors of divinity.  This book is not quite a memoir, and not a self-help book either.  It didn’t affect me as much as Girl Meets God, but I do think I will read it again at some point to see what else I can get out of it.

In an example of perfect timing, just as I was ready to start Andrew Ferguson’s Crazy U, I learned that the library was ready to lend me a copy of Natural Woman, Carole King’s memoir.  In short, I loved it.  I have been a fan of King’s music for decades, and could hardly wait to read her story.  OK, so she glosses over a few things, but not the things I cared about.  She doesn’t go into detail about how she and Gerry Goffin “had to get married” while she was a 17-year-old student at Queens College.  All I cared about was learning about how and why they created the music.  It’s always been about the music for me.  As for the music, I also downloaded Carole King’s Legendary Demos from iTunes.  I’d never heard her sing some of these songs before (such as “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” or “Crying in the Rain”), and it’s a real treat to be able to hear the writer’s take on songs that other artists turned into classics.

There is, however, a book that has more personal details about King’s life, and I took that out of the library as I was returning Natural Woman.  This one is Girls Like Us, by Sheila Weller.  It deals with 3 of the great women singer-songwriters of our era: Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon.  It contains more intimate details of these women’s lives than does Natural Woman, but it doesn’t appear to be unauthorized, so I imagine that the stories are all true.  I’m only about 1/4 of the way through, and am finding it thoroughly engrossing.

I’m still waiting for the library to tell me that Victoria Thompson’s latest, Murder on Fifth Avenue, is ready for me to pick up.  I’ll report back when I’m done with it.

Another thing I want to do is to get back to stitching.  There are times when stitching helps me clear my mind of work-related stress; it’s nice to be able to put aside the craziness I deal with every day and to spend my time concentrating on creating something beautiful.  I’m also looking into buying my own place, and have been scouring various websites and newspaper articles to see what’s out there that answers my 2 basic questions: 1) can I afford it and 2) is the neighborhood safe?

In between streaming the first 8 episodes of Wish Me Luck, I have been renting the 5-disc set of Tom Hanks’ epic series From the Earth to the Moon.  The series came out in 1998, and I honestly cannot remember why I never saw it before.  I will say that, as someone who was alive on July 20, 1969, it is a series I have always wanted to watch, but I somehow never got around to it.  Well, as they say, better late than never.

From the Earth to the Moon is a 5-disc set with 12 episodes plus a disc with bonus features, including a “making-of” featuring many of the actors and crew from the series.  It is, in a word, outstanding.  Some of the cast members are familiar (Tom Hanks, Peter Scolari, Tim Daly and Elizabeth Perkins, to name but a few), but the majority are people I have either never seen before or who are not instantly recognizable.  And that’s OK.  In fact, I really like it when movies based on real events have actors I don’t know because the actor’s persona doesn’t get in the way of the character he or she is playing.  I know this isn’t always possible to do, but I do appreciate it.

The stories aren’t always told in a linear fashion.  For example, one of the later episodes deals solely with the wives of the astronauts, and the episode shows us their perspective on events that have already been covered in other episodes.  So we see the Apollo 1 tragedy twice — once from the perspective from NASA and its employees, and then we see it again from the perspective of Marilyn Lovell, who was with Gus Grissom’s wife when she learned that her husband had died in the fire.  Another episode focuses on the lessons in geology that the astronauts received later on in the Apollo program. One episode is entirely from Alan Bean’s (Apollo 12) perspective.  It sounds rather hodge-podge, but it really works.

The bonus disc is also worth watching.  We get to see some of the real astronauts interacting with the men who played them.  We get to see how they recreated the scenes on the Moon.  This was a well-made, compelling series, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

My most recent trip to the library was a disappointment. I took out 2 books for which I had high hopes, and brought both of them back unfinished. In fact, I barely got through 50 pages in each of them before bringing them back to the library.

First is The Lost History of the Canine Race: Our 15,000-Year Love Affair With Dogs by Mary Elizabeth Thurston.  I recently rented a documentary about dogs from Netflix, and Ms. Thurston was one of the interviewees.  I thought she had a lot of interesting things to say in the documentary, so I decided to take out the book.  Unfortunately, I did not find the book to be as interesting as the documentary.  I found it to be very dry and I quickly lost interest.  I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but this was not it.

Second was American on Purpose by Craig Ferguson.  This is another book I had high hopes for, but they were quickly dashed when I discovered that Ferguson’s primary means of getting laughs was through the almost non-stop bashing of George W. Bush.  The insults weren’t clever or original — they were merely gratuitous.  They also got really old really fast, so I put the book down after a chapter or two with no regrets.

Mom and I were at Books-a-Million the other week and I picked up the first 4 books in a mystery series I’d never heard of before.  The author is Rhys Bowen, and the books are in her Royal Spyness series.  The series focuses on Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie Rannoch, 34th in line to the British throne and totally penniless since her brother Binky, the Duke of Glen Garry and Rannoch, cut off her allowance because his dukedom isn’t worth quite as much money as it used to.  I just finished book 1, Her Royal Spyness, where “Georgie” finds a dead body in her family’s London home and sets out determined to prove that Binky didn’t kill him.  I suspected “whodunnit,” but I still found the book to be entertaining.  I am about to start Book 2, A Royal Pain.

I also just started a book I bought a while back, The Cello Suites, by Eric Siblin.  I love Bach and I love the cello, so I am really looking forward to this one.

I just finished Michael Lewis’ latest book, Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World.  Boomerang picks up where The Big Short left off, and discusses the background of the worldwide financial crash via visits to Iceland, Greece, Ireland and Germany.  What I found particularly interesting is that, in The Big Short, Lewis seemed to place the blame solely on the shoulders of the US bankers who created the credit default swaps and other products that proliferated in the years leading up to the crash in 2008 but, in Boomerang, more blame is placed on governments and citizens.

Personally, I think that he needs to read Gretchen Morgenson’s Reckless Endangerment as a reminder that the US government most certainly had a role in the  crash.  That said, Boomerang is the latest in the growing list of eminently readable books by Michael Lewis.