Category Archives: Really random

Famous People Who Have Improved the Quality of my Life, Volume 1


A while back, I was brainstorming — just for fun — a list of famous people who had improved the quality of my life.   I deliberately excluded religious figures (Jesus and Mary: duh)  along with spiritual writers, as I think and blog about them a lot.  I wanted to see which other folks — novelists, entertainers, musicians, etc. — had given me laughter, insight, inspiration, and other great things that make life worth living.

High on the list was John Cleese, the English actor.  You may know him from “Monty Python” and “A Fish Called Wanda.”  I know and love him because of “Fawlty Towers,” the English series from the 1970s that has seen me through oh- so-many blue periods.  Do you know this show?  It is hysterical, the funniest TV series I’ve ever seen.  It is about a small English hotel, run by Basil Fawlty (Cleese) and his wife Sybil  (Prunella Scales — don’t you love that name?), with a very small and overworked staff.  They face all kinds of awkward and zany situations, including an overbearing American guest, a pet rat on the loose on the same day that a health inspector is coming to call, and a cook who gets drunk the very night that they are hosting a posh dinner.  Even people who don’t typically like British comedy seem to like this series, because the plots are so well-constructed (you appreciate the genius of the writing the more you watch them — believe me, I’ve seen each episode at least fifty times)  and because the acting is so darn good.  Cleese, as the short-tempered and overwrought Basil, is the stuff of legend, and the rest of the cast is just as superb.

I was given the new DVD version of the show for my birthday, and I’ve been listening to them with Cleese’s commentary (in addition to being the star, he also wrote the scripts with his ex-wife Connie Booth, who plays the waitress Polly).   It’s nothing short of fascinating to get an insider’s perspective on the series.  I have often heard actors say that comedy is far more difficult to pull off than drama, mainly because it has to be so precise; there is a very fine line between a gesture or a facial expression that is funny and one that is not.  When you hear Cleese talk about the experience of playing this role, you really understand this in a new way. If comedy is done right, it appears spontaneous; in reality, it’s very intentional.  And I actually appreciate the show’s humor even more for having this  glimpse behind the curtain.

There have been many times, since high school, when the Fawlty Towers tapes (or, now, DVDs) got me out of a funk.  They are pretty magic that way.  It’s not just due to the witty writing and the perfectly-executed slapstick; it’s also, quite simply, because there is something innately cheering about seeing highly talented people at work.  It always makes me feel more hopeful and positive.

If you haven’t seen it, take a look.  (My personal favorite episodes: “Gourmet Night,” “Basil the Rat,” and “The Psychiatrist.”)  It’s brilliant, brilliant stuff.

This and that, Saturday-morning style

I always like it when bloggers do early-morning daybooks: you know, they sit down with coffee before the day really begins and type a few random thoughts.   Somehow, though, I never manage to do it myself.  Leaving the house at seven to get to school on time is more conducive to wild panic than to blogging.

But today is a weekend, and I’m determined to try.  So here we go: a few little random thoughts about life, faith, and books.

1.  Is it really already March?  Wild.  I think the late start of Lent this year has  thrown me off.  Usually, by this time, we’ve had Ash Wednesday, and I’m not eating meat on Fridays, and I’m in the middle of my Lenten Resolution.  Speaking of which, I’d better start thinking of what I’ll do this year.   It’ll involve prayer, somehow … that much I know.

2.  Among the five or so books that I’ve got going at the moment is Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle.  And wow: it’s fabulous.

It’s written by a priest who works with gangs in L.A., and yet it’s about so much more, too: about community, and love, and who God really is, and what God isn’t.  I will write more about it someday, I promise.  I’m not kidding when I say it’s one of the best spiritual books I’ve read in the last five years … maybe more.

3.  The other day, driving home, Matthew asked, “How old do you have to be to drive a car?”

“Sixteen,” I told him.

“Yes,” he said seriously.  “And you’re seventy-eight.”

I look darn good for my age, don’t you think?

4.  What the boys are currently listening to on the stereo: Juice Box Heroes, No Sugar Added.  It’s the brainchild of two musician dads who decided that “Wheels on the Bus” and similar were getting old fast, and so they rewrote the lyrics to twelve songs from the eighties and nineties, making them more palatable to kids.  My favorites are  “I Wish I Had my Puppy’s Fur” (an homage to Rich Springfield’s greatest hit) along with “Cheerio World,” which is Madonna without the materialism.  It’s a kick.

Happy weekend!

Happy feet

Stop the presses: I got a pedicure.

I owe these terrific toes to my wonderful sister-in-law.  She sent me a salon giftcard for Christmas, and I just got around to using it.  My timing was impeccable, given that we’ve had sandal weather here the last two days.  Instead of hiding these beauties inside my boots, I can put their pink perfection out there on display.  (And how cute are those daisies?  I wasn’t going to get a design, but the lady talked me into it.  I’m glad she did.)

And wow, that was a great way to spend a Friday afternoon.  My feet got the deluxe treatment, with paraffin and warm stone rubs and hot towels and who knows what all.  It was phenomenally relaxing.  I learned all about the Vietnamese New Year from the friendly lady who did my nails, and I got to put my feet up (literally!) and let someone else pamper me for a while.  That doesn’t happen often, you know; like all moms, I tend to care for others more than I let others care for me.  In fact, this is only the third pedicure I’ve ever had.  (#1: Day before my wedding; #2: Sister-in-law gift; #3: Sister-in-law gift.  She is a very sweet sister-in-law.)    And I have to say, these pretty nails do give me a lift.  They make my feet feel girly and fun instead of utilitarian and tired.   It’s not yet spring, but I’ve got a definite spring in my step.

Dumb move (and even dumber luck)

Here’s a very vivid childhood memory: about thirty years ago,  when my family was eating dinner at an Italian restaurant, my sister Amy accidentally spilled an entire glass of  Coke directly into my mom’s open purse.

I thought of this yesterday, when I was sitting at a café with a tall paper cup of hot tea on the table in front of me.  In a stunning act of clumsiness, I somehow managed to knock three-fourths of the contents into my laptop bag.

Here’s what got wet: A library book (eek); a letter from my sons’ dentist office; some spare change; an old bookmark; assorted pens.

Here’s what did not get wet: My computer; my cell phone; my wallet.

With luck like that, I should go buy a lottery ticket.

Finally, a Masterpiece series that is both “his” and “hers”

It’s no secret that I have a pretty huge affinity for Masterpiece Theater series, particularly anything based on a classic English novel.  If it has huge estates, horse-drawn carriages, plucky heroines in empire-waisted gowns and characters with names like Lady Smythington-Smithers, I’m instantly hooked.  My husband … well, less so.

But last week ,we stumbled upon a Masterpiece Mystery series that satisfies his desire for action and mystery and my love of English literature.  It’s Sherlock, the modern updating of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

We’ve seen two so far, and they’re fabulous.  The screenwriters did a terrific job of translating the characters of Holmes and Watson to modern London.  Sherlock is  a consulting detective, whom the police both despise for his ego and need for his brilliance.  Watson is an army doctor, wounded in Afghanistan, who is readjusting to civilian life and ends up sharing a flat (and wild crime-unraveling adventures) with Sherlock.  The two leads are perfectly cast; Holmes (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is far younger and less prickly than the iconic Jeremy Brett in the same role, but he still has the perfect balance of arrogance and likability.  Watson (Martin Freeman) is far less bumbling than he is in previous presentations, and is a complex character in his own right.  And the writing as a whole is tight and sharp and, at times, very funny.  It’s also fascinating to see the way that modern technology plays a role in the stories, in ways that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could  never have anticipated.

Bottom line: I won’t watch CSI, and Scott won’t watch Cranford.  But we will both hunker down on the sofa to see Sherlock and Watson do their stuff.   And that’s a very nice thing.