Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Review of the Guernsey Literary & Potatoe Peel Society

Here it is--my first book review. From time to time I will add reviews of the different books we have read as part of the Sexy Potatoe Peel Book Club.

Christine’s Rating: 5 stars
Book Club Rating: 4 stars
A Babe Book

Despite the heavy subject matter, this epistolary novel is light-hearted and endearing. A historical fiction book about the Nazi occupation of this English island during World War II, the author, a former librarian, cleverly tells the story through a collection of letters. Whereas the narrator in the Book Thief was the haunting first person voice of Death, the narrators in this book are the many characters, each writing his or her letter to the other. With their sing-song regional accents and myriad personalities, the characters almost leap off the pages while the words are embedded in your heart.

The politeness and levity with which the English communicate about serious matters, reminded me of the character played by Hugh Grant in the movie with Julia Roberts, Notting Hill. The stoic but gentlemanly response to an American woman’s brash and blunt remarks left me weak in the knees. Are most English folk really that poetic in everyday conversation? Perhaps it’s time for a sabbatical and a “live abroad” field trip. In this excerpt below, Juliet (the main character--an older maiden, and a writer) is writing to her gal pal, Sophie. Sidney is Sophie’s brother and also Juliet’s Editor. Her wit and humor about escaping her book tour and her self doubt about a string of failed-to-ignite relationships with men is not only comical, but speaks to today's modern woman. Note her mention about marriage. Perhaps if more couples or woman followed that sage advice, there may be less divorces.

From Juliet to Sophie Strachan

12th January, 1946

Mrs. Alexander StrachanFeochan
Farmby Oban Argyll

Dear Sophie,

Of course I'd adore to see you, but I am a soul-less, will-less automaton. I have been ordered by Sidney to Bath,Colchester, Leeds, and several other garden spots I can't recall at the moment,and I can't just slither off to Scotland instead. Sidney's brow would lower—his eyes would narrow—he would stalk. You know how nerve-racking it is when Sidney stalks. I wish I could sneak away to your farm and have you coddle me. You'd let me put my feet on the sofa, wouldn't you? And then you'd tuck blankets around me and bring me tea? Would Alexander mind a permanent resident on his sofa? You've told me he is a patient man, but perhaps he would find it annoying. Why am I so melancholy? I should be delighted at the prospect of reading Izzy to an entranced audience. You know how I love talking about books, and you know how I adore receiving compliments. I should be thrilled. But the truth is that I'm gloomy—gloomier than I ever was during the war. Everything is so broken.

Sophie: the roads, the buildings, the people. Especially the people. This is probably the after effect of a horrid dinner party I went to last night. The food was ghastly, but that was to be expected. It was the guests who unnerved me—they were the most demoralizing collection of individuals I've ever encountered. The talk was of bombs and starvation. Do you remember Sarah Morecroft? She was there, all bones and gooseflesh and bloody lipstick. Didn't she use to be pretty? Wasn't she mad for that horse-riding fellow who went up to Cambridge? He was nowhere in evidence; she's married to a doctor with grey skin who clicks his tongue before he speaks. And he was a figure of wild romance compared to my dinner partner, who just happened to be a single man, presumably the last one on earth—oh Lord, how miserably mean-spirited I sound!I swear, Sophie, I think there's something wrong with me. Every man I meet is intolerable. Perhaps I should set my sights lower—not so low as the grey doctor who clicks, but a bit lower. I can't even blame it on the war—I was never very good at men, was I? Do you suppose the St. Swithin's furnace-man was my one true love? Since I never spoke to him, it seems unlikely, but at least it was a passion unscathed by disappointment. And he had that beautiful black hair. After that, you remember, came the Year of Poets. Sidney's quite snarky about those poets, though I don't see why, since he introduced me to them. Then poor Adrian. Oh, there's no need to recite the dread rolls to you, but Sophie—what is the matter with me? Am I too particular? I don't want to be married just to be married. I can't think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can't talk to, or worse, someone I can't be silent with. [Christine’s comments: I love how this woman thinks—she must be over the age of 40 to have such wisdom] What a dreadful, complaining letter. You see? I've succeeded in making you feel relieved that I won't be stopping in Scotland. But then again, I may—my fate rests with Sidney. Kiss Dominic for me and tell him I saw a rat the size of a terrier the other day. Love to Alexander and even more to you, Juliet

Another delightful, quirky character is Isola, a girl after my own heart: single, slightly naïve and eccentric who awaited no man who did not measure up to her romantic novel standards. She was equally pessimistic about marriage as Juliet.

So who do I identify with--Juliet or Isola? Perhaps both. Educated and with a penchant for writing, I align with Juliet. On the converse side, like Isola, my naivete punishes me with constant disappointment. Like both characters, I'm definitely cautious about marriage.

In summary, this Sexy Potatoe Peel recommends ordering the book now to read by a crackling fireplace, with a cup of English Earl tea, and blankets tucked around.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


The Art Deco Weekend Festival starts this Friday through Sunday (January 16-18) here in South Beach, FL. This is one of my favorite festivals in Miami. Why? Where else can you enjoy lectures, films, exhibits and musical and dance performances for FREE! That's right. This event, organized by the Miami Design Preservation League is run by volunteers, including me!

The theme this year is the Argentine Deco period of the 1930's. Known as the "Paris of the South", Buenos Aires emerged as a sophisticated city with its own identity in the arts especially that of evocative music and sultry dances mostly in the form of the well known TANGO dance.

The Festival takes place between 10th and 12th street on Ocean Drive. Start with a stroll down Argentine Way with street side cafes. Then travel in time to learn how viticulture and wine-making techniques evolved in the countries of Argentina and Chile through one of the free lectures. From lectures to films, catch a classic movie with famed Betty Grable and the Brazilian wonder--Carmen Miranda.

A popular feature for locals is the third annual ARF Deco Promenade. Bring your dog dressed in a stylish costume and enter the contest for great prizes. What will Mon Cherie wear? Not sure--I may have to work!

Speaking of work, moi is offering walking tours. To better appreciate Art Deco, it helps to learn the basics of this classic period. Take my tour and you'll learn the origins dating back to Paris, the architecture and all other influences of that time period. My $7 walking tour is only offered Saturday (January 17) at 10:30am and 1:00pm. Space is limited for this group tour so make your reservation now!

Bring the family, kids, dogs, drink some wine, and immerse yourself in the Argentine classic period of the 1930's. See you at Art Deco Weekend Festival!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Photo: taken in Paris, France
This picture is not enhanced in any way.

The New Year is here! Did you celebrate in style with pomp and jazz and all those noisemakers? Or did you keep it simple and quiet? Either way, entering the New Year is no longer confined to a decorum of loud parties and Niagara-Falls-rushing of champagne and liquor. A quiet evening at home with loved ones or friends, sharing a homecooked meal and some sparkling cider or the real Perrier Jouet at the stroke of midnight, is as much a celebration. For a celebration of life, health, family and friends and the hope for a better year has no strict definition. It's not always about the money and parties.

For many, the economic hurricane of 2008 has caused us to pause and reflect on priorities in life. Do we really need the shiny new model flatscreen TV or iPhone after purchasing one just a year ago? Probaby not.

The United States is still the land of opportunity and personal freedom, a garden of Eden. However, stemming from these opportunities are the forbidden fruits--unlimited credit --the hidden trap for maintaining ten or more credit cards, acquiring the latest appliances and electronics, or purchasing a new car every three years. How many of us live on the edge or beyond our means? 2008 was a wake up call. Do I really need a precious stone the color of bright hard candy and as big as an apple? No. Do I want one? Sure, in hot pink too ( the color of the year).

But alas, we have eaten the forbidden fruit and now are summoned to offer penance. No more fine dining where a glass of wine costs as much as the bottle in the supermarket. No more designer handbags and brand-name labels. Can we, as Americans who closet-worship ourselves more than any God, in the form of consumerism actually correct our myopic religion and put our future first? According to all the statistics, Americans repeatedly fail at upholding their New Year's resolutions, whether it's weight loss, the cessation of smoking, or saving a dollar a day.

But to suggest that most people will never change, no matter how much they want to, seems almost, well, un-American. After all, this is a country born of change (revolution), and our most cherished historical archetypes (the Pilgrims, the pioneers, the rags-to-riches entrepreneurs) are parables of reinvention. Bookstore shelves are swollen with the latest self-help books, and life-change gurus like Anthony Robbins, Dr. Phil and, yes, Oprah are pop-culture icons.

So what to do? Quit your job, sell your home, and live like a gypsie in the prairie land-a euphemism for a well-dressed homeless person. Perhaps without all the fancy cars speeding down the highway, designer clothes purposefully hanging off size zero mannequins, and TV commercials for Tiffany's jewelry, we might be grateful for what we have and do not need. Ok--it was a thought. Seriously, I think of the Amish population and their simple, home economic ways of living. Maybe a retreat in Amish country will remind us of what's truly important--health, a roof over our head, and nourishment.

Maybe starting small by taking leisurely walks with a friend, loved one or pet, we can appreciate the fresh air, the green trees, our limbs for walking, the intact homes and modern technology in the form of transportation. A great place for reflection, is, yes, Church, or Temple or Synagogue. Think of Church as a spiritual book club. Reading parables and interpreting it's poetic meaning for direction and clarity. Church is a great starting place for reflection and change. Another idea is volunteer work. If you had a difficult year, there are countless others who endured tougher times. Helping others less fortunate can be transforming.

It's all about going back to the basics. Taking a breather from the rat race and turning off the endless din of doom and superficial glamour on the TV, America can and will reign the New Year with a stronger sense of self preservation and self worth. We're not just dreamers, we are doers! We're all in this economy together. Let's act together!

Wishing you a prosperous 2009!

There's Always a Silver Lining


Before ushering the New Year, I reflected on this past year, personal highs and lows. If you know about my blog and have followed it like a faithful reader of a book, then you already know most of my story. Or maybe you're a friend or relative that I have not seen or written in years or a stranger who's facing a struggle and can draw on my experience. This is my online journal, and I invite you to read and take away any morsel for staying in touch or even inspiration.

It was smooth sailing for the first half of the year and then the summer and Christmas Holiday presented unchartered waters, challenges of life and death. It said that the strength of a person's character is determined and developed by how one deals with life's unexpected blows and emergencies. I wonder if may peek at God's scorecard.

In January, the new year did not kick off with rose-tinted glasses (gosh that is unlike my optimistic nature--but I'm a business woman as well). My crystal ball forecasted a dark 2008 for the local economy. OK--so I don't have a crystal ball, but experience is the best teacher of all and after three layoffs in ten years, I sensed it was time for a down swing in South Florida if not the nation. Little did I know, I would hit the bullseye. I hate it when I'm right about these things. I think I missed my calling as an economic forecaster. Hence I embarked on a self-tutorial of blogs to keep up with the marketing trends. So I began to home school and hone my marketing skills and learned how to create and program blogs--a social marketing phenomena.

In late February, I became a permanent employee of Young & Rubicam, an advertising agency. I could not be more happy with my job, bosses, coworkers and team spirit. I also work seven minutes away from home. A savings in gas and time and sleep. I now have a life again to spend with friends and my cherished pets. It's not about the salary or money--for me a job has to support my values of quality of life.

Springtime is a season of rebirth and giving. In May, I graduated as a certified tour guide for the Miami Design Preservation League. So what does one have to do with the other? As a volunteer for MDPL, I offer walking tours of the Art Deco district highlighting the architecture and influence of the hurricanes, Prohibition, the mafia and Hollywood. Hmm, sounds like corruption was beneficial to Miami. It was at the time (but you have to take the tour to learn more)! Walking outside in the breezy, tropical outdoors, highlighting the history and physical features of Miami (including the transplants and implants--I'm talking about the buildings) and meeting people from around the world is how I donate my time and expertise. Is this volunteer work? Yes, but it is so much fun and rewarding.

June--a nip in the economic air tells this bellweather that dollars and cents will be void of value and sense. I decide to launch a side business to supplement my income by offering Art Deco Walking Tours! You're probably thinking I'm competing with MDPL. Not really, if anything, my attempts have sent MDPL more customers during the week. How so? I can only offer tours on the weekends, so hotels have been sending tourists to MDPL during the week. My business is still in infancy, so I rely on my marketing skills and experience to get the word out at minimal cost. In a coconut shell, I offer the same 90 minute walking tour for same price. The only difference is that I offer the tour at a TIME CONVENIENT FOR THE CUSTOMER.
So on your next visit to Miami, be sure to make your reservation for this fun tour! And tell your friends too!

July --sounds off with a drum roll and the launch of my first of six blogs. Yep Six blogs. Am I crazy? If I join the elitist group of mad authors like Hemingway and Capote, then consider me officially crazy!

The first blog is all about moi:
Then there's my Fashion and Shopping blog:
Of course, you have to have money before shopping, hence my "We'll Show You the Money" Blog
With so much hype about going green, there's my Green Blog "Going Fishing at Lake Valdez"
So what is the best remedy to remove a stain? With so many useful and fascinating tips out there, I share ZIP TIPS

It's a part-time job but blogging is like an online journal and has served a therapeutic hobby and creative outlet.

August--the buzz of the Olympics leading up to the big day had me swatting at invisible Chinese flies. On August 8, the din turns out to manifest itself as a well planned, spectacular opening grand ceremony. Perhaps under the influence of the parade of athletes, the next day, my mother thinks she's an agile gymnast and attempts to climb a piece of furniture. She slips and falls and is in agonizing pain. Life and death flash before my eyes. If you read my emails, then you probably followed the link to my blog detailing the event.

October-- this month I became a European. I worked less and vacationed more. I took what seems like a three week vacation all at once. In reality I planned two different four- day weekend trips. Why? I turned the BIG 40 this year and I was going to celebrate and do everything I dreamed of. First a weekend trip to a spa resort at Phoenix, Arizona at the Buttes. Pampering and relaxation is therapeutic and rejuvenating. I highly recommend it. The following weekend was a trip to Key West with my sister and brother-in-law. And the next weekend I invited a group of girlfriends for a limousine ride to various cocktail destinations in South Beach. And then Halloween decided to share in my month-long festivities. It was another night of drinking and dancing. For details follow the yellow-brick links. Or in this case the purple links. Don't worry, I'm still proud to be an American.

December-- aah the Christmas season. The scent of faux pine tree spray (for the fake tree) lingers in the air while velvet stockings are hung with great care. Sipping eggnog laden with whiskey and rum, the pets are frolicking til they tire like a bum. You know I just made that up! (To be clear, I was the one drinking the egg nog). Suddenly the love of my life passes away. I was devastated. Aside from my aging grandmother, I had never experienced a sudden loss of someone so close. Francois taught me lessons of life.

So what do I wish for in 2009--well good health of course, but honestly--how do I get my friends and family to post comments on my blogs?! They read it. But instead of writing a comment on the blog, they send me an email. No matter how many times I explain the advantage of collecting comments on the blogs in keeping the conversation connected, they don't get it. Strangers send me comments. How ironic is that? If that is my biggest worry, then life is good.

(Warning: the syrup is about to spill...)
But I am still grateful for all that I have and share in this world. Despite difficult times around me, I am blessed in many ways. There is a silver lining in every trial. For me it was the test of job layoffs early in my career that I have learned to confront loss with an appreciation for what I have. I embraced the basics and focused on what I have rather than what I lack. It forced me to leverage my marketing skills and financial savvy. (Funny, my skills served me more in times of unemployment. Employment taught me new skills). Together with faith, I was bouyed afloat. Never have I amassed any type of debt aside from my mortgage even when I was jobless or even employed. Never. And no, I never borrowed money from anyone. As I write this I'm thinking "Wow--this is so rare in today's 'max the credit limit' society." I feel proud but not over confident. There will be triumphant times and new challenges in the future. Who knows what 2009 holds? But I await with great anticipation. In less than 20 days, our country will inaugurate the first black President of our country. No matter who one voted for, it is a great time to be an American. For there is always a silver lining.

Happy, Healthy & Prosperous New Year to all!