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I often think of the book Angela’s Ashes. It is one of those tales, so vivid, so brutal, and yet so powerfully full of the force of life that it is impossible to forget. I spent some time today watching McCourt in various videos around the internet. He spoke of the authors that he clung to during his desperate childhood and guess what? They were all humor writers. P.G Wodehouse, Mark Twain… people that made him laugh in the middle of his miserable childhood.

Frank also credited his low-life alcoholic father who abandoned him, and the rest of his family to utter poverty for giving him a love for language and a great story. I often see this capacity in authors to see the good in their ‘captors’. Another example that immediately springs to mind, is Jeanette Walls, author of The Glass Castle. Both of these writers have an amazing sympathy and love for the very people who caused all of their misery. They have a generous perspective to see the good in the people who caused them the most pain. And they almost always have a ferocious sense of humor that helps them battle the demons of their lost youth. More often than not, it is one of their misbegotten parents that taught them how to laugh at life.

Want to give your kids a great gift?

Give them the ability to laugh.

To laugh at hardship.

To laugh at difficulty.

To see the absurdity of some of their most trying circumstances.

And most of all, to laugh at themselves.

We all need to be able to laugh at ourselves.

It is a basic survival mechanism.

I don’t think that there exists a single act that promotes mental health more.

After surviving a bitterly poor childhood in Limerick, Ireland, Frank McCourt came to America and eventually served in the Korean War. When his tour of duty came to an end, the GI bill funded his education and he became a teacher. Frank McCourt taught creative writing in New York public schools for 27 years. He retired in his mid sixties and wrote three memoirs. His first book, Angela’s Ashes won him the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a movie. If you have not yet read this book, might I highly suggest it?  It is a story that you will never forget.

I lead a very exciting life.  Very, very, very exciting.  It is probably too exciting for most people to bear.  If you suffer at all from any sort of nervous disorder, you may want to stop reading this post right now.

Lately, the most exciting thing that has happened to me has been watching the new Agatha Christie mysteries online.  Did you know that you can watch them online?  I told you my life was exciting!  You can watch them at this link here.  It’s free, but the various episodes are only up for a few weeks at a time.  


In other very exciting breaking news….

In the new PBS Mystery series, there is a new actress playing Miss Marple!

Are you still with me?  

I hope you didn’t pass out from all the excitement!

Julia McKenzie was chosen to play Miss Marple after Geraldine McEwan announced her retirement.  


Over the course of film history, at least seven different English speaking actresses have played the role of Miss Marple.  (There have been a few Miss Marples in other countries as well.)  Gracie Fields, Helen Hayes, and Angela Lansbury were three of them.


Margaret Rutherford played a memorable Miss Marple in some comic adaptations of Agatha Christie’s novels.  Agatha herself, hated these goofy versions, but later became a personal friend of Rutherford.




Joan Hickson played the role of Miss Marple for the longest period of time from 1984 to 1992.  All twelve Miss Marple stories were eventually filmed starring Hickson.  Joan’s Marple was penetrating, observant, and almost searing.  Her outfits never varied much from the gray tweed and simple hat.  The interesting part of Hickson’s Marple was the deliberate delivery and the way you could almost hear her brain grinding the characters into pulpy clues as she sat quietly knitting and observing everyone who passed her way.





After Hickson, Geraldine McEwan took on the role.  Her take on the character was far more feminine and friendly including more lace, more color, and more curls in her hair.  McEwan’s voice is higher, her gait is more lively, she has a sort of perpetually pleased look about her.  Her vast knowledge of human behavior truly seems to come out of left field as McEwan’s Miss Marple is more reminiscent of Mary Poppins than it is of Sherlock Holmes.  





Julia McKenzie is the latest actress to give Marple her own unique spin.  Clad in a sensible grey suit, she definitely reaches back towards Hickson’s Marple in her appearance, but her open demeanor is more like McEwan’s.  I’ve only seen one of the new Agatha Christie’s at this point, and am still smarting from both the exit of Hickson and McEwan.  I suppose after a while I will learn to accept this new Marple, but I do hate to start all over again!  I suppose in my heart, it will always be Joan Hickson who is the ultimate Miss Marple.  She is the one I watched first, and something about her seems just right to me, though I learned to love Geraldine’s Marple too and her outfits are unsurpassed in the world of elderly woman detective fashion.  

Speaking of elderly woman detective fashion…

Who’s up for a Miss Marple fashion show?


Here we have Joan Hickson sporting plain brown hat and plain brown jacket…

Only her sparkling blue eyes betray any sort of superior powers underneath that prim and austere exterior.



Julia McKenzie sports a humble grey jacket, minimal jewelry, and hat with only the most simple of trimmings.  It is a bit more flash than Hickson, but not much…





Comparitively, Geraldine is all about the flash.  





Extraordinary flash…





Shocking flash…






We better get back to Joan Hickson in plain brown hat and plain brown jacket to calm ourselves back down.


I told you that it was exciting around here!

Now off with you!

Go watch the new Agatha Christies for free on  

And just try and get your heart to slow down and beat normally when you are done!

Good Book Therapy

June 28th, 2009

It has been a rough couple of weeks here at My Sister’s Farmhouse.  I don’t even want to think about how many miles I’ve put on my car driving to and from Arkansas, to and from the Western end of my state, to and from Atchison and Kansas City.  I thoroughly enjoyed all these trips that I have taken in the past few weeks.  I met Sarah Susanka for crying out loud!  I met and toured the home of Mary Carol Garrity!  I went with nine teenagers (along with my friends Jenny and Dave) to Heifer Ranch!  I ate dinner in Appalachia, spent the night in Guatemala, and breakfasted in the urban slums!  I went to puppet camp!  I played a gig in Kansas City!  

I didn’t just visit a bunch of different places… I visited a bunch of different ideas too.  Ideas on how to build a good house.  Ideas on how to beautifully decorate your home… and then at the opposite end of the spectrum… ideas on how to sustain your family on two cups of rice and a stolen egg… ideas on how to stretch your meager food supplies through the monsoon season… ideas on which assets are more important to keep… your health… or your groceries…

These two opposing worlds forced me to take a hard look at my own life and determine if I am not possibly the most shallow person on the face of the earth.  Just when I was about to find a way to merge moving to a third world country to help the utterly destitute with which of these super cute designer platters should I purchase at Nell Hill’s?… an old songwriting buddy called me up and asked me to come to KC and sing with him at an honest to goodness gig.

Now in the midst of cataclysmic, life changing chaos, I am forced to deal with the ghosts of forgotten dreams.  

Then I start thinking about blogging.

And Oh Lord… here we go…

Why… Why… WHY???

Why do I do this?  

What am I doing?  

What am I going for here?  

What am I trying to achieve?

What is the point?

It can’t possibly be worth all the time and money I have spent on it.

Maybe it’s time to do something of real value… something that matters… something that means something.

Something that I could possibly even succeed at!


No wait…


That might be going too far…



But maybe something that comes with a real paycheck… and helps people… and gives back… and amounts to something…


 I was distraught.

I was sad.

I was overwhelmed by a feeling of uselessness and stupidity.

I felt empty and also…

like a total dumb-ass.

Then I remembered that my book club was meeting in just a few days.

I picked up the book that I was supposed to read and I started reading it.

Furiously reading it.

Reading  to distract myself from myself… 

To ignore myself…

To forget that I even existed.

And it worked!  

I didn’t put the book down until the last page.

And when it was over I still desperately needed to escape from my own miserable flesh…

So I fished around for another book.

And I found one!

And again I was swept away by a story.

And I didn’t put it down until the last page.

And then I looked up and saw four very hungry boys, one very messy house, a garden that needed tending, and a husband that kept calling from work every three hours because he knows that I have a tendency to fall deeper and deeper into a melancholy until I am nothing but inconsolable.

But I was consoled.

Two books consoled me.

My life still does not make any sense, but I feel better about it.

Reading a good book has always done that for me.

And these were two VERY GOOD BOOKS!


The first book was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.


Book cover



The second book was The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck.



I hope to have both of these books in an upcoming giveaway and I will give you a synopsis at that time.

Until then…

If you are in need of a good read, might I highly recommend either one?

The life you save might just be your own.