#FBF: Spaghetti Westerns

We Americans love our Westerns. There’s just something about the battle between good and evil fought by two gunslingers on the dusty road outside the saloon with Miss Kitty (because there’s always a Miss Kitty) rooting for the good guy (for whom she secretly holds a flame).

The good guy wins. The bad guy dies in the dirt like a dog. And everybody gets their own horse.

Yeah. Here in the old U.S. of A. we sure enjoy our Westerns. In fact, the 1960s saw a huge flux of Western movies and TV shows. The demand for this genre was so huge that film makers in other countries took up the mantel and made their own! One of the most popular such film maker was Sergio Leone of Italy.

Yup. That’s right. Italy. And Italian made Westerns were given an interesting name: Spaghetti Westerns.

At first, these Italian made movies were received by American critics with much criticism. They were made with lower budgets than their American counterparts with dubbed over English (most of the movies were filmed in Italian). They “borrowed” story lines from other, already released movies (oopsy) and some just felt like their genre was being infringed upon.

But a few of them have stood the test of time and are now considered classics. Films like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Django are still well loved by film lovers.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Italian movie poster

In fact, the style of Spaghetti Westerns can be seen to have influenced Quentin Tarantino in films such as Kill Bill, Django Unchained, and Inglorious Basterds

(Note: All of these Tarantino flicks are rated R and contain all kinds of rated R language, violence, etc. Now you know)

But what I love most about Spaghetti Westerns was how much my Grandma Pearl enjoyed them. She’d get all wrapped up in the drama, the drastic camera angles, the intense close-ups of a young Clint Eastwood’s face.

They’re just one more pop culture treasure that we can thank the 1960s for.

If you enjoy reading about all things 1960s, consider following my blog. Each Friday I feature something fun and unique from the era. Also, check out All Manner of Things releasing this June. Preorder available now!

Good Reads for Kids and Families for Black History Month

February is Black History Month and while I encourage readers to add diversity to their reading list all year long, this is a good month to start!

This week I’d like to high light books by black authors that my kids and I have greatly enjoyed and a few that I’m planning to read aloud to them in the coming months.

Please note: These books may be classified as children’s literature, but every single one is great for adult readers too.

Jesus Power by Tonja Lynae-Gofoe Moyer and illustrated by Piper Adonya is a beautifully realized picture book about about the abilities we have through the Holy Spirit. Uplifting, hopeful, and artistic, this book makes for a great gift.

I have three words for lovers of middle grade fiction. Christopher. Paul. Curtis. Easily one of my favorite living authors, Curtis gives us some of the most vividly written characters in kids’ lit. Readers don’t even know that they’re getting a history lesson as they read the stories. CPC writes true, tender, and tenacious. My favorite? All of them. You cannot go wrong with Curtis.

You may have read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry when you were in school. Let me encourage you to give it another read as an adult. You’ll catch so much that you missed the first time. You’ll remember images that you’d forgotten when you were younger. I plan to introduce this classic to my kids this year. And I know that it will break my heart all over again.

Two summers ago the kids and I read One Crazy Summer. This sister story made us laugh, tear up, and really look into the history of the Civil Rights era. We hope to read the rest of the series this year some time.

I have two boys who are major sports fans so I know that Kwame Alexander’s Crossover Series is a good bet for them. And get this. They’re novels written in poetry. So…I can get my boys into POETRY! I feel like this is a major win. This series is on our list for Spring and Summer.

Recommended by a friend, Piecing Me Together is the kind of book I’m chomping at the bit to read with my kids. It’s about a girl who overcomes, which is a value I like in just about anything I read.

I love a story about how creativity can change the world for the better, and that’s the kind of true story William Kamkwamba shares in his memoir The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Great for kids who prefer nonfiction, stories about other cultures, and for families to share. This book will make hope spring in your heart.

Have you read any of these books? Would you add any to my list? I’m always happy to take a good recommendation!

Keep your eyes open for a list of adult books to add to your list next week.

#FBF: Junk Food

Hey, junk food junkies! Did you know that a lot of the snacks you love were first enjoyed in the 1960s? So, next time you’re at the grocery store and wonder how we ended up with aisles upon aisles of nutritionally nonessential food items, you can thank the Baby Boomers!

Chicken in a Biskit made its debut on grocery store shelves in 1964. These flaky, crispy crackers actually contain real (dehydrated) chicken! And MSG. But you know…

Goldfish Crackers swam onto the scene in 1962 in their original (non-cheesy) flavor. Since then they’ve added flavors and varieties including Xplosive Pizza, Blasted Atomic BBQ, and Cheeseburger and their crumbly remains can be found in the bottom of school lunch boxes all over America.

Pop-Tarts! That’s right. Boomers were the first to enjoy these pocket pastries. And, hey! An 8¢ coupon? Neato!

(Note: 1960s Pop-Tarts don’t look nearly as radioactive as the modern variety)

Oh-Oh! SpaghettiOs! 1965 brought us canned pasta that was sweeter and easier to eat (so as to appeal to kids). Thanks, Franco-American!

In 1963 Chips Ahoy! promised 16 chocolate chips in each cookie. They made for a quick and easy after school snack. Plus their mascot was Cookie Man. I mean, how cool is that?

Opal Fruits got stuck in the teeth of children starting in 1960 in the UK. When they joined the British Invasion of America, they were given the name Starburst.

Finishing off the list of 1960s junk food are the great, the amazing, the extremely “with it” Doritos! And at 7¢ for a 1/2 oz bag? What a bargain.

(Also, can we talk about how nobody makes a 1/2 oz bag of anything anymore?)

So, which is your favorite snack from this list? Did I miss any that you loved?

Listening to Abraham, Martin, and John

When I was a kid in the 80s we had a giant station wagon, the kind with the seat in the way back that faced rearward. Despite my propensity for car sickness, that rear facing seat was my very favorite. I’d sit back there with our lab-mix pup Ursa and listen to the radio through my very own speaker.

Most days — when my mom had her way — we’d tune into the “Golden Oldies” station. While I think she resented her era’s music bearing the name “old”, she loved singing along to Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, and Credence Clearwater Revival.

I remember a specific Sunday afternoon, sitting in the way back and coming home from a day at my grandma’s house. We didn’t have a long drive home. Just long enough to hear one or two songs.

That day we heard “Abraham, Martin, and John” by Dion.

I’m certain it wasn’t the first time I’d ever heard it. Friends, we listened to the “oldies” station a lot. But it was the first time it made me cry.

It was the first time I understood what it was about.

Not long before, I’d read a book about the Civil Rights Movement. I’d read the stories of sit-ins at lunch counters and marches in Washington D.C., about the violence of fire hoses turned on people and dogs let loose to attack.

I’d learned about the church bombing in Birmingham, Rosa Park‘s arrest, about the burning of the Freedom Riders’s bus. It was after I understood — even if in part — the price some paid for the cause of equality.

I sat in the way back, Ursa’s head resting on my leg, the harps and violins and Dion’s gentle voice playing through the speaker, letting the meaning sink in.

Now I’m the mom, driving her giant family vehicle. There’s no back-facing seat in our car, though, and we listen to the 60s station through an app on my phone.

We listened to the song again recently, just a few days before Martin Luther King day. The kids and I talked about what it meant and how things were before the Civil Rights Movement. And we talked about how it wasn’t really very long ago.

Then we talked about the work that we still need to do and how to make sure we don’t go backwards. We discussed how sometimes doing the right thing is scary, how it costs us something.

My daughter said, “But it’s worth it to be a good neighbor.”

I sit here today, letting the meaning of that sink in.



#FBF: Fun Slang from the 1960s

The 1960s introduced some fun slang into the vernacular. Often, these words were already in use, but were given a new definition. While some of them endure today, others fell out of use.

Some of them need to make a comeback, my friends! Why? Because they’re fun. Let’s see how many of these words we can work into our conversations this week.

  • Peachy keen: fine, great, satisfactory. I think you’re peachy keen, jelly bean!
  • Cat: originated in the 1930s as a word for a jazz musician. In the 1960s it was more generally used for cool guys. You see that cool cat across the street?
  • Truckin’: walking toward a specific destination, with purpose. I best get truckin’ or I’ll be late for work!
  • Dig it: term of appreciation and acceptance. Did you hear about the new pizza place in town? I can dig it.
  • Marvy: short for marvelous. I love your dress! It’s marvy! 
  • Far out: term of approval. You got accepted to Harvard? Far out, man!
  • Bippy: hind end. I hope I don’t fall on my bippy while ice skating.
  • Fooey: an exclamation that something is not right. He said that about me? Fooey on him!
  • Hotdog: term of amazement. I got an A+. Hotdog!
  • Nifty: cool, neat. Your new shoes are nifty.
  • Outta sight: cooler than cool. My new washer and dryer set is outta sight!
  • Spiffy: term used when something looks good, neat, or cool. I saw that you swept the floor. Now the kitchen looks spiffy.

Do you have any 1960s terms that you’d like to have come back? Be a cool cat and leave them in the comments. That sure would be nifty.

#FBF: Paper Dresses

The 1960s was a decade of — ahem — interesting style choices. One that my mom mentioned to me years ago was the disposable paper dress.

Yeah. That’s right. Paper dresses.

By 1967, these paper dresses had become popular enough to be sold in major department stores. According to Wikipedia these dresses sold for up to $8 (or $61 in 2018).

That’s a lot of dough!

Also available were bridal gowns, vests, raincoats, and underwear. WHAT? Oh, and the paper bikinis were good for up to three wears.

Some believed that paper was the clothing material of the future and was here to stay. Like paper plates, napkins, and plastic cutlery, these dresses could be worn a few times and tossed.

(NOTE: It is inadvisable to wear plastic cutlery unless your name happens to be Lady Gaga, in which case you can wear whatever you like.)

Eventually, though, folks realized that the paper cloths didn’t fit so well and were super uncomfortable. Besides, they were hot…and by ‘hot’, I mean flammable.

By 1968 the paper dress trend had fizzled out.

You may, however have worn the second cousin of the 60s fad if ever you’ve had the privilege of donning a paper hospital gown or a disposable bib at a lobster joint.

I’m trying to imagine which characters from All Manner of Things would wear a paper outfit. And, honestly, I’m not sure that I would.

Would you wear a paper dress/vest/etc? If you’re the kind who remembers the 1960s fashion trends first hand, did YOU wear one?

Readerly Confession: Fear of the Overhyped Book

Every so often, I find myself having the following conversation with another bookish human.

Bookish human: Hey! You read. Have you read such-and-such-book?

Me: Not yet.

Bookish human: Dude. Seriously?

Me: Yeah.

Bookish human: It’s so good! You’d LOVE it!

Me: I’m sure! I’ll add it to my list.

Bookish human: You HAVE TO READ IT! Everybody in my book club loved it, it hit the New York Times bestseller list in the first hour it was out, they’re even making a movie of it. IT’S THE BEST BOOK EVER WRITTEN IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE WORLD AND YOU MUST READ IT AND LOVE IT TOO!

Me: Okay…so…um…I’ve got to go do….stuff. Thanks!

AND scene.

Typically after a convo like that I do one of three things. I might buy the book. I probably add it to my Goodreads to-read list. But more than anything else, I usually put off reading the book.

Why would I do that?

Because I fear an overhyped book.

I know. I KNOW! It’s completely irrational. Like my fear of sharks somehow making their way into Lake Michigan just so they can finally eat me.

Still, I get nervous whenever someone oversells a book. Why? Because I’m worried that I won’t like it. I fear that I’ll be disappointed. More than that, I’m afraid that if I don’t like it, my friend will be let down.

And so I put off reading the book. Sometimes indefinitely. If I’ve purchased it, it gets lost on my shelf and collects dust. Forgotten.

That is until — perhaps years later — I rummage through my book collection for something to read. I stumble upon the book, pull it off the shelf. I feel the cover, flip through the pages, consider the weight of it.

“Why not?” I whisper to myself, deciding to give the book a try.

I begin to read, determined to give it a fair shake despite my reservations. Sometimes I realize that I was right. That the book doesn’t quite live up to the hype. Sometimes I truly am disappointed. I might give up on the book, but I’m more likely to read it all the way to the end, hoping for a satisfying close.

When a book doesn’t hold up to the rave reviews I feel let down.

But then there are times when I read an overhyped book and find myself immediately engaged with the story, right away enamored of the characters, impressed with the narrative. Sometimes I find that the excitement was earned. That what I hold in my hand is a treasure.

And that, my friends, is worth its weight in hype.

What British bakers taught me about life

Over the past few months I’ve become enamored of the British Baking Show. There’s just something relaxing about watching them kneading and mixing and activating gluten. Whenever the pressure starts to build, the camera always cuts to someone enjoying a cuppa, the upper lip stiff as can be.

I was talking to a friend about the show (okay, I’ve talked to ALL of my friends about it) and its appeal. It’s not the baked goods (all of which I could never eat…boohoo!). It isn’t their accents (although that’s kind of nice). And it isn’t because I have nothing better to do (because I DO!).

The reason I love that show is because of the people.

Sure, they’re in competition to win the crystal cake stand at the end of the season. But they don’t undercut, backstab, or create unnecessary drama. In fact, they’re helpful, encouraging, and pretty chill.

When one of their competitors’ cakes falls flat, they have a sympathetic nod. When another receives good marks for their meringue, they share a sincere smile. They cheer each other on and commiserate over failure.

We can learn a thing or two from those baking Brits.

  • When the pressure’s on, take a breath. Maybe even grab a cup of tea. As an English born friend once told me, “There’s nothing so bad a cup of tea can’t fix”. My favorite calming tea is honey vanilla chamomile.
  • Never resent someone else’s success. Instead, celebrate with them. You’ll get your turn soon enough and you’ll want them to be happy for you, too. Besides, it’s just better to live life without bitterness.
  • Never rejoice in someone else’s failure. Nobody becomes a better person by taking part in a schadenfreude party (delight in the misfortune of others). In fact, people who do usually end up being lonely and intolerable. Instead, offer some mercy, a little encouragement, and a cookie. Everybody likes cookies when they’re down in the dumps.
  • Kindness is usually a good choice. Kindness offers to help. It desires the best for others. It values friendship over winning. And, if nothing else, it does your soul good.

And, above all else, it never hurts to have a good recipe for something yummy.

Geek Girl Goals: or 6 ways to grow as a reader in 2019

I’m just going to be completely honest with you. Ready? Inch a little closer, let me whisper in your ear.

I’m not good at New Year’s Resolutions.

I mean, I’m absolutely wretched at them. I break them mere hours after the ball drops in Times Square.

You want to know what my resolution was last year? To wish all my Facebook friends a happy birthday on their actual birthday. I lasted 6 days.

See? Wretched.

BUT when I determine to achieve some geek girl goal (ie. write a novel, read every Steinbeck novel in 6 months, memorize Kate’s monologue from Taming of the Shrew) I’m SO ON THAT!

So, I decided that for 2019 I would resolve to grow as a reader.

Living a literary life take building some brainiac muscles, but I think I’m up for that challenge.

Want to join me?

Fantastic. Here are some habits we can practice in order to grow as readers in the New Year.

  1. Less screen time, more page time: Blerg! Don’t you hate it when you realize that you have spent an hour toggling between Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter just to have seen the same old things over and over? How about the amount of time it took to binge watch this or that show? I don’t know about you, but I, for one, am going to spend less time with my eyes on a screen and more time with my nose in a book. It’s okay to log off, close the lap top, put the phone across the room. I like to use an app blocking program like 1Focus to keep me honest.
  2. Read books about — well — reading: 2018 brought us a few books about refining our reading lives. How wonderful! Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well is a literary tour with many recommendations. I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel (of Modern Mrs. Darcy) reminds us of what made us fall in love with reading in the first place. Check out these books and be inspired in your reading!
  3. Challenge yourself: Do you struggle to find new-to-you books to read? Do you find that you easily get stuck in a rut? Why not try a reading challenge? Anne Bogel recently announced her 2019 challenge complete with free printables. You can also check your local library or indie book store.
  4. Consider adding a few classics to your list: The literary world has a rich history that is full of beautiful writing. John Steinbeck, Alexandre Dumas, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Kurt Vonnegut, Frederick Douglass, Flannery O’Connor, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Harper Lee, Shusaku Endo…I could go on all day. There is a classic for every taste. Not sure which would be best for you? Leave a comment below to let me know a book you LOVE and I’ll try to hook you up with an excellent classical match.
  5. Track your reading: Looking back at all you’ve read is quite satisfying. I love remembering all the wonderful books I’ve enjoyed (and some I didn’t like all that much) at the end of each year. Lately, I’ve come to love tracking my reading on GoodReads and BookBub. A bonus is having the opportunity to connect with other readers and get recommendations. Let’s connect on those sites!
  6. Join a book club: Book clubs are great for breaking out a reading rut, getting new perspectives on literature, and providing deadlines for when a book needs to be finished. Plus there’s usually snacks involved. What’s not to love?

I can’t wait to hear how your reading lives are going in 2019. If you’d like to keep up with what I’m reading, you can follow me on BookBub, GoodReads, and Instagram. It would be fun to follow each other in our literary endeavors!

Happy Reading!

10 ways to get into the Christmas Spirit

I super duper love (almost) everything about Christmas! Decorating the tree, baking cookies, singing carols…I love (nearly) all of it! 

What’s that you say? What’s the “almost” and “nearly” all about? 

Well. Sigh. There might be a few things about the holiday season that get me down. Like the stores packed with grumpy shoppers or the pressure to get the very perfect gift. Or the battle over how festive a coffee cup is or how to offer a kind greeting to strangers. On a deeper level, I hurt for friends who are experiencing a first Christmas without someone important to them. 

It can be a rough season, right? It’s easy to get stuck in the ick of emotions and stress and downright anxiety. 

So, how do we combat that? Well, I’m glad you asked! 

Here are 10 things I do to help me get into the Christmas spirit. I hope you get at least a few ideas. And I’d love to hear what you do in the comments! 

  • Watch a Christmas movie! There’s a Christmas movie for all tastes. Snuggle up in a blankie and watch your favorite!
  • Get out the photo albums! Find photos from Christmases past. Bonus points if you can laugh at your funny hair and/or outfits! 
  • Read some poetry!  A few that I recommend are Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longellow and In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti.
  • Bake! Get out your Grandma’s old recipes (or Google some). Bake a few batches of cookies (or buy them pre-made) and decorate them to your heart’s content. Bonus points if you share a dozen with your neighbor. 
  • Avoid the mall! The hustle and bustle can be overwhelming. But the intimacy of shopping at a local store can be just what you need. Plus, they usually have staff who can help you pick a sweet gift for a loved one. 
  • Choose kindness! Volunteer at a soup kitchen, pay for the order of the guy behind you in line, hold the door for someone, call a loved one just to chat. You’ll be amazed how much better, how much more Christmasy this makes you feel!
  • Listen to a child tell about the birth of Christ! If there are kids in your life, ask them to tell you the story. There’s nothing like hearing it all from their perspective. Or you can always watch this fun and touching retelling: 
  •  Sing! Play some Christmas music and sing your lungs out! Oh, it doesn’t matter if you can’t carry a tune. Nobody has to hear you. Just sing and dance and let the music work its magic. Bonus points if you gather a group of friends to carol at a retirement home. 
  • Send a few cards! I know that sending Christmas cards is both overwhelming and expensive, especially when we have a list of hundreds of friends and family. Instead, pick 5 people who could use a little encouragement and send them a handwritten note. Bonus points if you deliver it in person.
  • Attend an event! Plan on going to a Christmas Eve service at church or a community concert. Find a church play or a hymn sing. Whatever it is, being with others can left your spirits. Gather a friend or two to go with or take along your family. You might just have a great time.

I hope at least one of these suggestions proves helpful to you. What do YOU do to fuel the Christmas Spirit? I love to hear from you. 

And…Merry Christmas!

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