Poldark, Episode Two: Dumb things men do

Dancing is not one of the dumb things.

Dancing is not one of the dumb things.

So last night found me once again sitting raptly before the TV, immersed in the world of “Poldark” while warming my hands on my obligatory cup of tea.  (I always drink tea while watching “Masterpiece Theatre.” I’m such an Anglophile dork.)

Anyhow, Episode Two was just as good as Episode One, about which I blogged last week.   I am loving this series.  It’s as good as “Downton,” though so very different; it’s like comparing apples and oranges (or like comparing bowlers and tricornes?).



Below are a few thoughts on Episode Two.  I will warn you that there  are mild spoilers coming up, so if you DVR’d it, watch it before proceeding.  (And if you haven’t watched any of the series yet, you’re only two episodes behind!  Go watch it!)

Episode Two musings:

1) Where “Downton” has the servants, “Poldark” has the miners.  Each series, in its own way, deals with the class differences.  Class has more fluid boundaries for Ross Poldark than for Lord Grantham; this is surely a function of time, setting, and personality, as we have already seen that Ross is a bit more of a rogue than Lord G. is.  I love how Ross cares about the welfare of his miners and eats and socializes with them and won’t let Demelza demean herself.  Maybe he brought more home from the Revolutionary War than just the scar?  Could it be that those “all men are created equal” ideas rubbed off on him? (yay America!). Anyhow, this lack of snobbishness is one of the nicest parts of his character.

2)It must have been quite a job for the makeup artist to put the scar on Aidan Turner every single day of filming.  Was there a “scar continuity” person to make sure it was always the same length, width, and color?  Viewers tend to notice if it isn’t, and then they write snarky blog posts about it.  (This is not one of those posts.  It looks pretty consistent to me.)

3) We had a ball scene!  A period drama is not a period drama without one.


Every time I watch one of these balls, the dances look so enormously complicated.  They have all these intricate weaves and patterns and turns; you really have to know what you’re doing.  I try to imagine myself in there dancing and I see myself making a wrong turn and knocking a few bewigged gentlemen down like bowling pins.  Good thing I live when I do.  But still: such dancing is lovely to look at, and these scenes always serve to further the relationships between the characters in dramatic ways.

4)  George Warleggan = thoroughly bad guy.  And if you couldn’t tell from his actions, you could tell from his hair.  Am I right in thinking they would never give a romantic hero hair like this?


5) The media has said that Ross Poldark is the new Mr. Darcy.  There is some truth to that.  I have to say, though, that Mr. Darcy would probably never pick up a prostitute in a tavern, a plot twist which was probably less surprising to me than to others because I’ve read the books and knew it was coming.   It is unfortunate that he unwittingly chose George’s girl, a fact that would probably make Ross lose his lunch in a hurry.  Maybe he should try a different stress release next time.

6)Kudos to Ross, though, for knowing how stupid it was for Francis and Verity’s boyfriend to fight a duel.  Honestly, the male ego has been responsible for some seriously idiotic things throughout human history, and the concept of a duel has to be right up there at the top.  Women would never do anything that stupid, right?  Right?

Did you watch?  What did you think?

The senses of summer


What do you love about summer?  I love how it means the return of all sorts of welcome sights and sounds and smells and feels and flavors, all the things that make summer a very sweet season indeed.  Here they are, one sense at a time.


*Blue hydrangeas

*Roses … from my own garden:



And from other gardens:


*A big pile of library books on my desk (and the chance that I may actually have the time to read them)


*Birdsong in the mornings  (usually I am rushing too much to notice it)

*The soundtrack to my kids’ favorite TV shows (including “Phineas and Ferb,” which — I must admit — I also find hilarious).

*The sound of neighbors through the open screens at night:  good sounds, like kids playing and people having backyard barbecues


*The privet tree in my backyard, which unleashes my allergies but is still oddly comforting, reminding me of childhood

*The smoky delicious smell of a barbecue

*The scent of lavender blooming in my front yard


*The feel of cold water on hot skin


*The soft breeze of a ceiling fan

*The cool loveliness of sheets on a hot night


*Water infused with orange and mint (highly recommended)


*Perfectly ripe strawberries

*Cannoli and champagne, our preferred way of celebrating the last day of school

Now it’s your turn!  What would you add to the list?

Two great new books for teaching social justice


I love reading books with my kids before bed.  It’s especially fun when it’s a book I enjoy too, and not, say, something inspired by Legos or Transformers.  To me, the ideal bedtime storybook is colorful and well-paced and has a little spiritual weight to it, too.

So I was only too happy to receive review copies of two new children’s books from Loyola Press.  Both are part of their Two Feet of Love in Action series, a collaboration between Loyola Press and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Department of Justice, Peace,  and Human Development.  The goal is to help kids recognize the link between faith and social justice, and to build awareness of the importance of concrete actions to make the world a better place.


They’re terrific books, each one taking on a different aspect of social justice.  In Green Street Park, a little boy realizes that the park where he loves to play basketball is actually littered with trash and full of weeds.  He sees the need and, with the guidance of his teacher and mother, is inspired to mobilize his friends and start a campaign to clean up the park.  (In a nice touch, the book invokes the example of St. Francis of Assisi as a model of someone who cared about the earth and the environment).

Drop by Drop tells the story of a girl named Sylvie, who lives with her family in the West African country of Burkina Faso.  Because her village has no running water, she must walk three miles each day to the river to fill a large water jug for the family.  Sylvie desperately wants to go to school, but her family needs her to fetch the water.  Finally, one day Catholic Relief Services builds a well in her village, and Sylvie’s wish of attending school comes true.  In the book, her story inspires schoolchildren in the US to raise money of their own to build wells in other villages.

I love how the books show two different faces of charitable works. One focuses on a need close to home, the other on a need far away.   There are so many ways to work for social justice; that’s a great lesson for kids to learn early on.

The books are gorgeously illustrated, too.  Green Street Park has vivid primary colors that pop off the page; Drop by Drop has softer, more muted tones that capture the colors of the desert, punctuated by the bright colors and lively patterns of the clothing worn by Sylvie and her family.  They’re lovely to look at and their strong visual appeal is perfect for sparking young readers’ imagination.

What’s great is that there are also supplementary materials that go along with the books.  Each book can be purchased alone or with the Pray Me a Story guide, short guides that parents or teachers can use to help kids engage prayerfully with the story they have just read.  They include questions and a guided meditation to help kids bring Jesus into the story and into their own lives.  They’re a great way to help kids process the books and help the lessons stick.

All in all, these are engaging, colorful ways to introduce kids to the connection between faith and social justice.  It’s fun to plant the seeds and see when and how they bloom.

In fact, the other night, we read Drop by Drop before bed, then I tucked the kids in for the night.  As always, I asked my kindergartener who he’d like to pray for.  He looked at the world map posted by his bed and waved his arm.  “All of the people in the world,” he said.  He paused, then added, “Especially those who don’t have water.”

I think it’s working.

Check out the Loyola Press website for more information about these books, and the Two Feet of Love initiative.  (Both books are also available on Amazon.com)  And if you like the idea of Pray Me a Story, you can see the whole range of guides they offer, including for picture books you probably already know and love.

Poldark, Episode One: A guy with great problems and even greater hair


Did you watch the Masterpiece series “Poldark” last night?  Based on Episode One , I can safely say I know what I’ll be doing every Sunday night at nine.  I’ll be in eighteenth-century Cornwall, watching Ross Poldark live and fight and love and learn.

This is good news indeed.  Ever since “Downton Abbey” finished for the year, I’ve been looking for another  period drama to take its place, preferably one in which people named Bates do not regularly end up accused of murder.  I believe I’ve found it.

If you missed last night’s episode, here is a quick intro: Ross Poldark is off fighting in the American War for Independence (on the wrong side, but we’ll let that pass) when he gets wounded in battle.   This has the effect of 1) giving him a rather dashing facial scar and 2) leading his family to think he is dead.  But he isn’t, and he returns home to a family dinner party at his uncle’s to a bunch of very surprised people.  No one is more surprised than Elizabeth, the girl with whom he exchanged vows of love the day before he left for war, but who is now engaged to marry his cousin Francis. Welcome home, soldier!


Ross also finds out his father is dead, his servants have let the family home go to ruin, and he has no money.  And all this happens in the first fifteen minutes of the hour-long episode, which should let you know that this will be one roller-coaster ride of a series.

I have to admit that I knew the storyline already; the series is based on the books by Winston Graham, and so far it is adhering pretty closely to the first novel.  But the episode still had me enthralled.  The actors so far are very well-cast, in my humble opinion, and the rugged coastal scenery … oh, it’s making me put Visit Cornwall on my bucket list.  Every frame of the episode that takes place outside could be hung on a wall, it’s that gorgeous.

A few other thoughts:

*Aidan Turner (whom I had never seen before in anything) is a very good Ross.  He is the very picture of “brooding hero” (I refer you to the photos above) and he sure has a lot to brood about, seeing his girl marry his cousin.

There’s something very modern about the character of Ross.   He is a member of the landed (if impoverished) gentry, but he feels a close kinship with his poorer tenants and sees them as equal in human dignity.  I love the character because, for all his occasional outbursts of temper, he has a social conscience and is willing to risk his reputation to rescue a small dog from a fight and a teenage girl from her abusive father.  Aidan Turner thus far captures that mavericky, essentially good  side of him very well.   He is as convincing crying as he is brawling, and in the first episode Ross has ample occasion to do both.

He also has great hair. It is so great I had to put it in a paragraph of its own.  (If you don’t believe me, watch the show.)

*Elizabeth was in a bind, poor girl. What would you do if you were supposed to marry a perfectly nice if somewhat boring guy in a few weeks’ time, and then the guy you loved and were sure was dead suddenly materialized?  There is really no good way out of this.  She marries the boring guy, and we’ll see how that works out later on.

One nitpicky thing that bothered me: Elizabeth appears to be wearing a fetching purply shade of lipstick.  I’m no cosmetics historian, but I found it somewhat unrealistic to see something that looks like it should be called Maybelline Reckless Raisin in a period drama.  Then again, she also had flawless skin, which is also somewhat unrealistic in a period drama.  On the other hand, if they showed people as they really looked back then, we might all be so repulsed that there would be no audience.  (And props to them for making the teeth of Ross’s servant Jud appropriately disgusting.)

*Speaking of nitpicky: In a scene that is taken directly from the novel, Ross washes the lice of out his serving girl Demelza’s hair.  He does it simply by sticking her head under the pump, which got me wondering.    I have never yet had the pleasure of a lice outbreak myself (thank you GOD for my boys and their buzz cuts), but I know dear friends and family members who have, and by all accounts it is almost impossible to get rid of the little bastards.  Perhaps lice in the 18th century were less tenacious than their modern counterparts?  Now I am curious.

*My husband, who was watching with me (Happy Father’s Day, Honey!) remarked that he thinks the guy playing Jud is the same guy who was the murderous cabbie in Season One of “Sherlock.”  I am not convinced (perhaps I was distracted by the teeth), but it would not surprise me, because in every English period drama I watch I see at least one actor I recognize from another one.  It’s like Six Degrees of Separation, BBC-style.  I like it.  It makes it all one big family.

Did you watch Episode One?  Will you be watching Episode Two?  What did you think?

Summer books and TV — ’tis the season for getting lost in a good story


Ah, summer.  I am loving it: the slower pace of life, the lack of papers to grade, the chance to catch up on reading and writing (more on that later).  And sleep!  No longer does that alarm go off at the brutal hour of six.   That may be the best thing of all.


The kids and I are in reading mode, with another trip to the library planned for today.  Matthew and I just got a kick out of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, which I read as a kid and loved.  It was pretty darn fun as an adult, too.


On my summer radar is introducing Charlotte’s Web with the kids.  They haven’t read it yet, and I haven’t read it in years, and can one properly be a child without this marvelous book?



I’m engrossed in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  I’m reading it with an eye to improving my teaching practice (sometimes you end up with a classroom full of introverts, and you can feel it), but a plus is that I’m starting to understand myself better as well.


On a whim a while back, I also picked up Pray Like a Gourmet:Creative Ways to Feed Your Soul by David Brazzeal.  It’s a book on expanding your prayer repertoire, offering a whole smorgasboard of things to try, and it’s a beautifully-designed book as well.  A very unique approach … sort of like fusion cuisine for the spirit.



‘Tis the season to get lost in a series, and luckily Masterpiece Theatre is about to oblige.  Tomorrow night is the start of “Poldark,” and I am counting the hours.


I’ve read the first three books in the series, and they’re fabulous, so my hopes are high.  Apparently the series was a colossal hit in the UK (they got to see it a few months ago), so the advance buzz is good.  Tomorrow night it starts — set the DVR!  And check back here Monday for some post-show thoughts.

Intrigued?  Here’s the PBS preview.

What are YOU enjoying this summer?