Tin Cottage Journal

Tin Cottage Journal

Friday, December 23, 2016

Angel in the House

A childless couple, a failing toy factory, a troubled marriage,  and a door nobody opens set the stage for a mystery that will keep you guessing from start to finish. 

Who can slueth out this puzzle?  Enter Eli - a suit wearing, news watching, 7 year old foster child who sleeps with a teddy bear and calls a taxi when he decides to play hookie from school.  That just leaves one missing piece -  who is this pint sized cosmopolitan sage?  

"Angel in the House " is heartwarming and sweet, without a crumb of cheese.

"Angel in the House" deals with sensitive issues of grief, loss and disappointment with disarming delicacy and a mischievous grin.

This movie was first released under the title "Foster," then "Angel in the  House."  At one point, Netflix released it as "Christmas Angel in the House."

Netflix released it as "Christmas Angel in the House."

I streamed "Angel in the House," via Amazon Prime.

Rated PG for 1-2 uses of strong language and sensitive issues.

Photos used under Fair Use terms for the purpose of product review.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Syrian Wedding

A Syrian Wedding

by Nicholas Seeley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Za’atari by Moonlight

Eighteen year old Amneh and Mohammed, 22, could make beautiful music together if only they were living in the peaceful Syria where they grew up instead of the bleak and impoverished, Jordanian provided refugee camp, Za’atari.

If Za’atari by moonlight is more attractive than sunlit Za’atari, it is only because the darkness hides the harsh realities of makeshift shelters, community toilets and the publicly visible clotheslines that typify the loss of privacy and dignity the refugees lost when bombs and gunfire drove them from their Syrian home.

The primary question the refugees all face is, " Shall we do our best to get on with our "normal" lives, or is "normal" only something we left behind and hope to return to someday? How a family answers that question determines whether they pursue education, business, or social connections or defer the major events and accomplishments that make up life: preparing for the future, schooling, career preparation, building relationships, marriage and childbirth.

Amneh's and Mohammed's families decide they have delayed their marriage long enough. They face the fact that they will not have the extended, extravagant festivities they so enjoy, and rent a lovely wedding dress from the ramshackle bridal shop and make plans to prepare the best meal they can on their one-burner camp stove.

I couldn't help but think of Fiddler on the Roof and Anne Frank as I read this documentary account of Syrian life in a refugee camp. Their Jordanian benefactors offer basic shelter, and donations from other nations provide the minimum allowance of calories needed to maintain life. But, as the Za’atarian villagers know, "normal" is a relative term and truly, "There is no place like home."

I didn't give this book a 5 star rating to measure it's enjoyment factor. Three stars given for how interesting it is, and 1 star is to indicate the importance of its message. The 5th star is a medal of honor for the courage and strength it takes for these people to persevere. They deserve far more, but like resources in Za’atari, those are all the stars I have.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's January of 1946.  World War 2 is over, but young Juliet Ashton, like all Londoners, is attempting to emerge from the ruins and begin life anew.

As she searches for a topic for her next book, she receives a letter from a stranger, Dawsey Adams, living on the British Isle of Guernsey,  requesting that she find and order a particular book for him

Guernsey had been occupied by the Germans and, unable to get any supplies, the people had, in desperation, burned the books in the town bookshop as fuel to keep from freezing to death.  Dawsey made mention of their literary society, which sparked a correspondence between him and Juliet, in which he attempted to satisfy her curiosity about the a paradoxical existence of such an organization on a book poor island.

Juliet, entranced by the poignant and humorous tales of the occupied islanders, decides to write their story, so she leaves the rubbles of London behind and relocates to Guernsey.  There, she embraces the griefs, grit and gifts of the eclectic, indomitable people who will change her life forever.

Once I remembered to carefully note the writer and receiver of each  letter or telegram, I was able to immerse myself in the story.

As Juliet is the primary protagonist and the most frequent writer and receiver of the messages, I slipped into her chair, sipped her tea  and reveled in the struggles, mysteries, and triumphs of Guernsey from behind her eyes.  Like Juliet, I fell in love .

Whenever Juliet was not privy to the facts, I became a nosy postmistress, steaming envelopes open and entertaining myself with the secrets and drama of Guernsey's citizens, then innocently resealing them. What fun, as the reader, to know the thoughts, desires and intentions of each character, while each character knows only that which or she has personally observed or had confided in them.

How I wish I could be a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Even Potato Peel Pie might be digestible among such a hardy, supportive group of survivors.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Adventures of Nicholas

The Adventures of NicholasThe Adventures of Nicholas by Helen Siiteri
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My Mother read the 1966 Scholastic version of this story to our family around 1969 or 1970. I was 9 or 10.  We all enjoyed it.

I loved this book and shared it with my husband during our first Christmas season as a married couple. He loved it also.

I honestly do not remember reading it to our son, born in 1990. I know I fully intended to. Perhaps I couldn't find it!

I may still have my old copy somewhere. This is a treasure, a lifetime favorite.

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Thursday, December 01, 2016

Autobiography of an ExColored Man

The Autobiography Of An Ex Colored ManThe Autobiography Of An Ex Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just finished this book for the 3rd or 4th time. I reread very few books, no matter how much I like them. Though classified as fiction, the speaker in this narratives lives & breathes. This time, listening to the Libravox recording, read by James K. White, brought him more to life than ever.

The character is SO real, and the historical perspective so revealing. I felt as if I were there with him, from his "Little Lord Fauntleroy " beginnings to his cosmopolitan adulthood, and the down to earth stuff of life that both broke & shaped him.

His comments on the attitudes, weaknesses & strengths of the various demographics of the African American population at that time explained so much. Both black & white Americans need to understand the changes since that time, both encouraging & discouraging if we are to grow in unity and become a mutually supportive society. This should be required reading in high school. However, in mixed race class in some localities, there might be too much friction to get the benefit of it.

I wonder if this would make a good movie or if it would lose too much in that form. It would be interesting to meet his family, friends & enemies, and I'd enjoy the 1920s styles and music but so much of the meat of the novel is introspective. Only a very gifted, sensitive director could hope to achieve good results. Anything less would cheapen it.


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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Does it take a village?

It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach UsIt Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us by Hillary Rodham Clinton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Considering I spent years in the Conservative community, where people who never read this book joked about and condemned it, I had never bothered to read "It Takes a Village" qin the 90s. It's been on my "to read" pile a few years now, and I decided if there was ever a time to read it, that time had come.

Regardless how one feels about Hillary's ambition or political tactics, this book is worthy of being judged on its own merit. It offers plenty of wisdom for every time and place in human society.

At it's simplest, this is a pleasantly nostalgic read, exploring the general sense of safety most Caucasian, middle class families felt in the 50s and 60s. Penny candy, walking to the park to play until the street lights came on, the values instilled in church and school, the strong sense of community, community pride and patriotism, and so much more.

Though African American families faced tougher challenges, I have long heard those who grew up or raised a family during that time also reminisce about the pleasures of walking to the corner store, playing outside without fear of impending danger, and how family, friends and neighbors all kept a watchful eye on everyone's kids, intervening as needed, affirming and mentoring, and telling your Mama if your escapades were of a dangerous or ill intentioned nature.

Hillary addresses, within the context of her pleasant or fearful memories, how different our society is today: how long work hours increase family instability and undermine marriages, the importance of monogamy in creating a safe environment in which to nurture a child, and how when families fall apart, the undergirding of our entire society is torn asunder.

She speaks of how our sense of alienation, fear of strangers, and inability to feel safe anywhere, limits our involvement in community, cooperative service projects, and ability to raise children to be free, run and play, or even go to the corner store without a sense of forboding.

She reminds of things we took for granted, such as good schools, public pools & playgrounds, safe streets, and neighborhood policemen who knew your family and were our mentors, protectors and  friends. Libraries were free, most school supplies were provided, we had recess twice a day, participated in public performances, created art & explored many types of physical activities to increase our health and fitness.

She explores how extremist political policies have robbed us of most of these ingredients of creating cultured people, fostering compassion, patriotism and developing skills to express ourselves as needed to be active participants in our careers and the national dialog.

By condemning the safeguards and opportunities that made these things possible, by calling it "government interferance" and "communism," we have allowed private business to take over these privileges and have ceded our American inheritance to corporations who monopolize our resources and hold them for ransom at unaffordable prices.

Though "Mayberry" was never a complete reality, its spirit did exist in communities who fostered its sustaining values for many generations. In the name of "free market," we've sold our birthright as Americans to preserve community rooted in our shared strengths, wisdom and contributions. We now sacrifice our mutually owned public amenities to private control. Public libraries, school systems and public utilites are becoming increasingly owned or controlled by private interests. Guardians and transmitters of classic literature, art, history and the 3 RS have become purveyors of pop culture, mythological versions of history, and expensive tutoring with the sole intention of gaining profit, whether or not they successfully perform or deliver the promised goods and services.

The Hillary who wrote this book in no way resembles the person the conservative right presents as a murderer and a dictator who will ruin our lives.This Hillary is a person of commitment, humility and a desire to serve.  Whatever the sum total of Hillary Clinton may be, the foundational building blocks of a healthy society offered in "It Takes a Village " are generally agreed upon by most Americans.  Only suspicion and political programming keep us from exercising our rights and reclaiming our personal and common birthright from those we allowed to defraud us of it.

I'm taking my time with this book, so I have no idea when I will finish it. I'm sipping it like a fresh cup of coffee. It's a pleasure to read.