Movie Review: Murder on the Orient Express

I am two for two today…two movies, in two days. This afternoon I met my daughter Elissa, son-in-law Josh, and grandson Dayan for lunch and a viewing of the newest remake of Murder on the Orient Express. I have been excited about seeing this star studded film since first seeing the trailer. This Agatha Christie mystery is one of Dayan’s favorite stories. How serendipitous that it released at the theater while he is home on Thanksgiving break.

Murder on the Orient Express stars Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Josh Gad, Olivia Colman, Penelope Cruz, Marwan Kenzari, Sergei Polunin, Manuel Garcia-Ruflo, Lucy Boynton, Tom Bateman, Leslie Odom Jr., and Willem Dafoe. Kenneth Branagh also directed this film, based on the Agatha Christie novel by the same name. The crime drama carries a PG-13 rating, for violence and mature themes, and has a run time of 1 hour and 54 minutes.

Aboard the luxurious Orient Express, bound for France, a shocking murder takes place. Hercules Poirot (Branagh), self proclaimed as the greatest detective in the world, is called upon by the train owner Bouc (Bateman) to solve the crime. Still two days away from their destination, an avalanche in the mountains halts the train, delaying them further.

Inspector Poirot makes a shrewd observation…if there has been a murder on board, then there is also a murderer on board. And everyone is a suspect.

Gangster turned art dealer Edward Ratchett (Depp) lies in his cold sleeping quarters, dead from multiple stab wounds. Poirot begins the arduous task of interviewing each suspect and collecting clues.

The possibilities are many, and all have secrets to uncover. There is the governess, Mary Debenham (Ridley), who seems to be more than an acquaintance of Dr. Arbuthnot (Odom Jr.). There are the two men employed by the shady art dealer, his valet Edward (Jacobi) and secretary Hector McQueen (Gad).

The others include the Austrian professor, Gerhard Hardman (Defoe), Italian car salesman Beniamino Marquez (Garcia-Rulfo), American socialite and husband hunter, Mrs. Hubbard (Pfeiffer), elderly Princess Dragomiroff (Dench) and her assistant Hildegarde (Colman), a sad missionary named Pilar (Cruz), the train conductor Pierre Michel (Kenzari), and the young Count and Countess Andrenyi (Polunin and Boynton).

With so many suspects, Poirot finds his analytical mind and his deduction skills challenged as he puts together the pieces of this mystery. Meanwhile time is ticking away, the train is derailed, and a murderer hides among the travelers. Help is on the way, to right the train. Will Poirot solve the crime in time?

This was a fun who dun it to watch. I read the novel years ago, so I knew the general story, but it was still enjoyable to watch the great detective, whose keen observation of people and crime scenes rivals Sherlock Holmes. Kenneth Branagh made a fine Inspector Poirot, complete with the distinctive mustache.

The rest of the cast worked well in their roles. I always like seeing these big ensembles of well known performers together. And the scenery was gorgeous, the falling snow and rugged mountains adding to the chilling mystery within the train.

As one who is exploring the world more, watching the train chug to its destination and seeing the lush accommodations created a desire to travel to an exotic location by rail. The gypsy spirit within me stirred and answered the siren call to wander with a heartfelt yes.

I just hope there aren’t any mysteries to solve, should I travel by train. If so, may there be a clever detective aboard to sort it all out.

Movie Review: Loving Vincent

A cold kept me from seeing a one time showing of the independent film Loving Vincent Tuesday evening in the Joplin area. I was very disappointed, as I have long appreciated this amazing and often misunderstood artist. I checked to see what nearby cities might be showing this unique movie. Springfield, Missouri, a little more than an hour away, had a 3:30 showing today, at a arthouse theater in the historic downtown area. Feeling much better, and armed with natural elderberry and zinc cough drops, I had the privilege of watching this beautiful film this afternoon, in a very cool setting. I am grateful to Greg for encouraging me to go and for accompanying me on this adventure.

Loving Vincent, while not a live action movie, used actors to portray the characters and supply the voices. The filmed scenes provided the artists who created the movie with foundational material. Actors include Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Robert Gulaczyk, Helen McCrory, Aidan Turner, Eleanor Tomlinson, Chris O’Dowd, Saoirse Ronan, and Cezary Lucaszewicz. This biographical animation was written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman. It carries a PG-13 rating, for mature themes, and has a run time of 1 hour and 34 minutes.

What makes Loving Vincent so unique is that it is the first story depicted entirely in oil painting animation. Over a six year span, more than 100 artists created the paintings, in Van Gogh’s artistic style, that became the 65,000 frames of the movie. Van Gogh’s landscapes and buildings come to life, and his portraits become the characters who are telling Vincent’s story.

A year after the death of Vincent Van Gogh (Gulaczyk), a young man named Armand (Booth) travels to the artist’s last hometown, at the request of his father (O’Dowd), who is a postman. He carries a letter that Vincent wrote to his now deceased brother, Theo (Lucaszewicz), in hopes of delivering it to a close friend of Vincent’s, Dr. Gachet (Flynn).

The doctor is away, allowing Armand time to explore Auvers-sur-Oise, and talk to the people who knew Vincent. He meets Adeline (Tomlinson), the honest barmaid who became Vincent’s friend, and the not so honest Louise (McCrory), housekeeper for Dr. Gachet. The Boatman (Turner) shares stories about Vincent and strong drink, while the doctor’s daughter Marguerite (Ronan) prefers to keep her stories to herself.

As Armand listens to the villagers’ tales, his curiosity turns to a realization that Vincent was more than a crazy or sick man. He recognizes the artist’s genius and his complexities. By the time he meets Dr. Gachet, Armand questions whether Vincent’s death was a suicide, or an accident, or even murder.

What an extraordinary film about a creative and enigmatic man. Visually stunning, Loving Vincent is a work of art, literally, and also a work of the heart. It was thrilling to see familiar Van Gogh paintings come to life through animation.

As the story unfolded, the present was depicted in color while Vincent’s backstory was presented in black and white images. I learned about Vincent’s unhappy childhood. And I felt his loneliness as an adult as he struggled first to belong somewhere and second to be appreciated for his art.

A prolific artist, Vincent created more than 800 painting in eight years. Although he gave away many paintings, and sent most of his completed pieces to his brother, he only sold one painting in his lifetime. He died unrecognized as an artist, not knowing the value of work.

And that has always broken my heart. I love the colors and energy in Vincent’s paintings. His words inspire me. For he was not only a prolific painter, he wrote hundreds of letters to Theo, detailing his life and his thoughts and his torments.

I did not realize, until I saw this movie, that there were suspicions around Vincent’s death. There is no proving any of them, then or now. But is comforts me, thinking that perhaps this talented, earthy and sometimes unsettled man didn’t take his own life.

The Moxie Cinema, in downtown Springfield, was the perfect venue for this film. Known as an arthouse theater, The Moxie has two intimate theater rooms, occupancy 88 people each, that feel more like home theater rooms. The seats are ultra comfortable, and the ticket prices and concessions are very reasonably priced. They offer healthy snack options, such as bottled water and almonds, or you can even sip on a glass of wine during the movie.

The Moxie showcases independent, artsy, classical and documentary films. I am thrilled to discover them and appreciate what they have to offer. I am grateful as well that locally, Route 66 Theater in Webb City is bringing in more independent films. Loving Vincent played there Tuesday evening. I look forward to seeing what they present next.

Greg and I arrived an hour early. We were joined later by more movie goers, of all ages.

Loving Vincent…worth the drive and the time invested. Because I do love this artist, and his authentic heart and work. I had tears in my eyes as the film concluded, with one of my favorite Vincent quotes:

“I want to touch people with my art. I want them to say, ‘he feels deeply’, ‘he feels tenderly’.

You have, Vincent. I say, you did feel deeply and tenderly and you saw the world in fresh ways. I hope, oh I hope, that you know how much you have touched people with your art and your life. And you fit in, you belong and have a place, in the hearts of so many who appreciate your contributions to the world.

We are…I am…loving Vincent.

Bedside Reading

Today I felt drawn to spend time reading. Although getting lost in a good book is one of my favorite things to do, I don’t indulge in this past time as much as I used to. Nevertheless, I keep a stack of books next to my bed, and typically read in several concurrently. You can tell a lot about people, by peeking at the books on their bookshelves or bedside tables. What interests them? What troubles them? Where is curiosity leading?

I actually have 15 books on my bedside table at the moment, fiction and nonfiction, covering a variety of topics. This evening I read in five of those, jotting down a quote from each book, that grabbed my attention.

A Mind at Home with Itself by Byron Katie

This is the fourth book that I’ve read by Katie. She has done much to free me from stressing over reality. When I can clearly see and accept what is, without creating stories around it that are not true, fear and worry, anger and frustration fall away.

“But the mind can never be controlled; it can only be questioned, loved and met with understanding.”

By questioning a troubling thought with the words…is that true? and answering honestly, I can prevent my mind from getting caught in a loop of endless angst and turmoil. What a gift Byron Katie offers.

Ageless Soul by Thomas Moore

This new release by the author of The Re-Enchantment of Every Day Life, comes at a good time in my life.

“We fear growing old when from a more subtle point of view, we were old from the very beginning. We’re just discovering our age or putting it into practice. In this way of picturing it, aging is a fulfillment of who we are, not a wearing out.”

I am appreciating Thomas’ insights. He suggests aging is more about growing into the person we are rather than becoming less than ourselves because the body ages.

Thyroid Healing by Anthony William

I have shared briefly about this book already. As I read, I am more and more convinced that we are all becoming sicker and sicker. Sadly, the disorders and diseases that are plaguing us are showing up earlier, in youth and children. There is hope. We can heal.

“Stage Four Epstein Barr Virus is not a life sentence. When you learn the true cause of what’s keeping you ill, and when you learn to use the tools contained in this book about how to resurrect your health, you hold the power to rebuild your immune system and regain control. It is not solely about getting back your liver or your reproductive system or your thyroid or your nervous system…it’s about getting back your life.”

I love that. It’s about regaining control of your health and getting back your life. Everyone would benefit from reading this book and putting Anthony’s protocols into practice.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

I need something magical to read, amid all the life changing books! I’ve seen the Harry Potter movies many times. I am enjoying reading through the series of books for the first time. And there are life lessons to be learned from the boy wizard and his friends and teachers.

It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” Dumbledore

A great reminder that we grow into the person we are meant to be. Our life is a journey of becoming.

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

I confess this is the first Brené book I’ve read, although I am familiar with her teachings. It was the subtitle that drew me to this new release: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.

Brené: I’m doing that thing I do when I’m afraid. I’m floating above my life, watching it and studying it, rather than living it.

Murdoch: I know. But you need to find a way to stop and bring yourself back here. This is a big deal. I don’t want you to miss it. Don’t study this moment. Be in it.

The conversation above was between Brené and her manager, a Scotsman, on the eve before her first appearance on Oprah. I can so identify with Brené’s words about floating above her life. I learned to deal with fear by doing the same, taking myself out of the moment.

Brené realized the next morning that she needed to write herself a permission slip, as she would for a child going on a school trip, giving herself permission to have fun. That was the first of hundreds of permission slips she would write for herself. I like that idea and I will be playing with the concept.

I enjoyed my time of reading tonight. And although the books are very different, topic wise, there was a flow to my reading and a thread that ran through each one, connecting them and connecting to me. I vowed to do this more often, once a week at least, read a chapter in several books or several chapters in one book, with a steaming mug of hot tea in hand.

I’d love to know…what books are on your bedside table, or next to your favorite chair?

Vintage Ironing Board Makeover

When we emptied Greg’s parents’ house, after his father passed away, one of the items I carted home was a vintage ironing board. I could tell, without removing the cover, that the board was made of wood. I hated to throw the old ironing board away. I figured eventually I’d find a new use for it. That ironing board has been tucked away for more than two years. This week, it suddenly popped back into my awareness. Today, I repurposed it.

This is how inspiration works in my life. The ironing board has been in my house for almost 2 1/2 years. I don’t see it most days or think about it. Two days ago, without looking at it, the board suddenly came to mind. I’ve been wanting to do a creative project. Apparently, it was time to do something with this vintage piece.

As I thought about the ironing board, I got a visual “download”, images of how I could transform the board into a table, where to put it and even what items to place on and near it. This is the kind of information that I most often receive when a project, literally, comes to mind. My work, then, is to create in reality the idea I’ve been given.

Here is the fun process of making over the ironing board.

This is what I started with. I knew I wanted to set up the ironing board table in my creative studio.

I had to remove some modifications that Greg’s dad made years ago, to protect the floors or to prevent slipping. On the foot of the longest leg of the ironing board there were scraps of carpet secured with black electrical tape and wire!

I did find a wooden top after I removed the cover and an old foam pad, which had crumbled into dust. I was surprised to discover a huge paper label attached to the surface of the board. It is brittle with age and I considered removing it. I was able to look up the ironing board, though, thanks to the label. This model of ironing board was produced in the early 1940s. Greg speculated that his parents, who were married in 1941, received this practical necessity as a wedding gift. I left the label attached.

At one end of my repurposed table I placed a lamp, and a couple of rustic pieces. The minnow bucket turned candle holder normally lights my garden. It is the first item that I saw on the ironing board when I visualized this project. The concrete bird holds a tea light, and also moved indoors from the garden. I frequently use stacks of books to create height.

The framed quote by Elsie de Wolfe, “I’m going to make everything around me beautiful…that will be my life”, moved from a vignette in my bedroom to my creative studio.

At the other end of the ironing board table is a collection of books, with an old iron and a jar candle as bookends. I added a metal bowl with colorful fabric balls.

Beneath the table I’ve used a vintage metal olive bucket to hold an adorable scruffy looking tree, pulled out of my Christmas collection. Another stack of books is topped by my journee sign and another metal bucket with a tea light tucked inside.

And this is what the table looked like, after the repurposing process was completed.

I am quite pleased with the finished results! I enjoy using vintage pieces in fresh ways. I’d much rather use them and see them daily, than have these keepsakes packed away in a closet. The old ironing board reminds me of Greg’s mom and dad, who both shared in the chore of pressing clothes and linens.

I don’t need another ironing board. I rarely use the one I have. However, I can always use another table, another surface to create upon. I am very happy with this one.

Series Review: Stranger Things

I had to roll to Plan C today. I am a bit sad that I missed a one time showing of the film, Loving Vincent, about painter Vincent Van Gogh. I figured movie goers would not appreciate my coughing outbursts. I hope I can catch the movie later on Amazon Prime or Netflix. Plan B was a creative project, that I simply lacked the energy for today.

The truth is, I spent most of the day in bed, nursing myself through a nasty cold. That is what my body needed most today, rest. I’ve sipped on an antioxidant rich smoothie, thyme tea, ginger water, and hot water with a drop each of Young Living Thieves essential oil and lemon essential oil.

Plan C matched my day of self care. I tuned in to the extremely popular Netflix series Stranger Things. I’m a little late to the Stranger Things party. Season 2 released last month. The great thing about Netflix is, one can easily catch up on a show by watching the earlier seasons. I am now two thirds of the way through season 1.

Stranger Things stars Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Natalie Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Matthew Modine, and Noah Schnapp. This fantasy drama is written and director by brothers Matt and Ross Duffer. The episodes have a run time of 55 minutes each. This Netflix original series premiered in 2016.

Nothing much ever happens in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, until the night of November 16, 1983. That evening young Will Byers (Schnapp) disappears, after a day of playing Dungeons & Dragons with his best friends, Mike Wheeler (Wolfhard), Lucas Sinclair (McLaughlin) and Dustin Henderson (Matarazzo).

Sheriff Jim Hopper (Harbour) feels he must be under a curse, when a friend dies seemingly by a self inflicted gunshot shortly after the disappearance. There hasn’t been a missing person reported in Hawkins since 1921 and 1961 was the last suicide. As the sheriff begins the search for Will, the whole town starts to experience strange occurrences.

More people disappear. Will’s mother Joyce (Ryder) is sure her son is alive and in horrible danger. She is convinced Will is communicating with her via electrical lights and bizarre phone calls. At first everyone thinks Joyce is crazy. But gradually her elder son Jonathan (Heaton) begins to believe her. He recruits Mike’s older sister Nancy (Dyer) to track down a menacing faceless monster that seems to be behind the disappearances.

The trail Sheriff Hopper is following leads to a well guarded facility, Hawkins National Laboratory, run by Dr. Brenner (Modine). With a history of experimental and questionable practices, Hopper feels there is a connection between the lab and the chaos engulfing the town.

And only the three remaining friends know about the existence of the most mysterious person in Hawkins. She appeared the night Will disappeared. With closely cropped hair and clad in a hospital gown, the girl goes by the name Eleven. She has that number tattooed on her inner arm. Mike sneaks her into his family’s home, where she takes up residence in the basement. Eleven rarely speaks, but she has amazing psychokinetic abilities. The boys consider her gifts to be superpowers. She promises to help them find Will.

There is much going on in Hawkins, in the seen world and the unseen. Eleven seems to hold the key to the door between worlds. What will happen if that door is opened?

I have heard nothing but enthusiastic words about Stranger Things. I’ve deliberately not read detailed reviews about this series, so I could watch without a preconceived idea about the story.

I love this show!

Stranger Things is a campy cross between X Files and the 1986 movie Stand By Me. That’s deliberate. The creators wrote Stranger Things as a tribute to sci-fi, fantasy and horror movies and series of the 1980s. Several of the themes in this series were inspired by Steven Spielberg, Stephen King and John Carpenter. I enjoy the genres of fantasy and sci-fi, and a good horror flick if the focus is on the story and not blood and gore, so I found much to appreciate about Stranger Things.

The cast is phenomenal, especially the youth. Eleven’s portrayal by Millie is perfectly delivered. And my heart was pierced by Winona’s Joyce, the mom who refused to give up on her missing son. When evidence seemed to prove he was dead, Joyce stubbornly trusted her instincts that told her Will was alive. Her actions and beliefs appeared crazy to everyone else, and yet she was actually following the guidance she was being given.

I have three more episodes to watch in season 1, and then I am ready for season 2, which released in its entirety. This is easily a binge worthy show. I couldn’t stop after each episode, thinking Just one more…

I don’t know how this first season plays out. I haven’t looked ahead to season 2 at all. I’m watching the story of Stranger Things unfold one episode at a time. I am already hoping there will be a season 3.

Star Trek Discovery Fall Finale

I’ve already written about my excitement over the launch of this newest series in the Star Trek franchise. Tonight is the fall finale for Star Trek Discovery, as Episode 9 streams. Because I catch another show at 8:00 Sunday evenings, for one more week, I wait and watch Discovery after the hour long episode is over. The midway point in this year’s season provides the perfect opportunity to post an update about why I absolutely love this Star Trek.

Sunday evenings used to be my favorite night for television. For nine years, The X Files drew my viewing loyalty. Sunday night I was there, with Mulder and Scully. And while the original Star Trek and The Next Generation both aired on prime time television, the three series following TNG did not, at least not in Joplin. I watched Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise on Sunday nights at 10:30.

I didn’t mind the late hour. Everyone else would go to bed or to their rooms and the TV was mine. I am, and will always be, a Star Trek devotee. I watched it, whenever and wherever it was showing.

Which is why Sunday nights have become my favorite night for television again as Star Trek Discovery claimed that weekend spot. And why it was a no brainer for me to sign up for CBS All Access so that I could watch. That is the only way to catch episodes as they air. The cost for a year subscription was nominal. It is worth it to me.

It is SO worth it to me. I am loving Star Trek Discovery, with a passion that rivals my fondness for the original series. I am fully on board. The episodes are incredibly engaging, with movie quality cinematography, sets and special effects.

The crew is the most diverse yet, and that is high praise because all Star Trek series strive for that quality. The actors and actresses portraying those characters are just as diverse, extremely talented, and for being new at working together, have already developed strong connections with each other.

What I appreciate most about Discovery is that it is an edgier, darker Trek. I’ve only just figured out what it is that causes me to anticipate each episode, and set aside Sunday evenings to join the Discovery crew.

In the Star Trek timeline, Discovery’s events take place ten years before Captain Kirk steps onto the bridge of the Enterprise. By then, the starship functions as an exploratory vessel, charged with keeping peace in the universe and discovering strange new worlds as they boldly go.

Discovery is a war ship. The Federation is at war with the Klingon Houses. They aren’t boldly going on discovery missions so much as they are trying to survive and safeguard the universe. And here is what I am loving. This is a time of expansion and growth for the Federation. Captain Lorca doesn’t always take the moral high ground. He is a warrior more than a diplomat. He is a strategist, and he and his crew will do what it takes to win peace for the Federation.

Each crew member has his or her struggles. Michael Burnham, the series main character, is a mutineer who faces a life prison sentence. Tilly is full of doubts about her abilities. Lt Stamets wavers between snarkiness and self sacrifice. Saru is hardwired to feel fear every second of his life. These people…humans, non humans, androids…are in the process of becoming. It’s not always pretty. It’s messy and dark sometimes and gritty. But it has the ring of truth, of authenticity. That’s how lives…and organizations and Federations…transform. And that is what Discovery is all about, growth and transformation.

I can identify with that process, as can we all.

In Discovery’s time, we are seeing the huge shifts that take place in the universe that usher in the time of Kirk, Spock and Dr McCoy on Enterprise. For me, it is a journey worth taking. It gives me hope that fiction and fantasy aside, humanity is capable of making these same huge shifts that will ultimately bring about a different universe…or a different Earth at least. And like Discovery’s trek, ours can be just as gritty and edgy, and oft times it is fraught with perils.

We have to boldly go though, into that future, and we will figure it out as we go.

Star Trek Discovery returns for the spring season on January 7. I’ll be waiting…

Restaurant Review: MacCheesy

My grandson Dayan made a surprise trip home from college this weekend. He spent a fun day with his happy mom and step-dad, Josh. And we all made plans to meet for dinner tonight. Dayan suggested a new restaurant in Joplin, MacCheesy.

I love experiencing new places in town! It took my grandson, who lives in Columbia, Missouri now, to bring my attention to this recently opened diner. I am so glad that he did!

MacCheesy, featuring gourmet mac & cheese, is located at 116 North Range Line Road, Suite 101, Joplin, across the street from the Northpark Mall. Restaurant hours are 11:00 – 9:00 Monday through Saturday. They are closed on Sundays.

Although this restaurant offers many variations on the quintessential comfort food, mac & cheese, as one who adheres to a plant based lifestyle, and avoids dairy products and gluten, I was prepared to sip on water and visit with family while they dined. However, before meeting at MacCheesy, I checked out the online menu on their website. I was encouraged to see a “build your own” option. Dinner was on!

Greg and I met Elissa, Josh and Dayan at the restaurant. MacCheesy offers a couple of traditional mac & cheese options, and gourmet choices such as lobster mac, BBQ chicken mac, pesto chicken mac and taco mac…17 delectable selections in all. Plus, there is the build your own option, allowing for endless possibilities. The mac & cheese is available in a regular and large size, both served in cast iron skillets, and combo meals include a dessert.

Chicken bacon ranch mac

Pizza mac

Dayan sampled the chicken bacon ranch mac, while Elissa and Josh tried the pizza mac. These arrived piping hot in their skillets. The appreciative murmurs, and the speed at which these mac & cheeses disappeared indicated how good they were! There were discussions about trying the other options…and stopping by after work for carry outs.

Greg and I opted to share one of the small build your own skillets. At this time, MacCheesy does not offer gluten free pasta, however, owner Sharif Magd assured me that will soon be an option. My skillet included regular pasta, marinara sauce, mushrooms, broccoli, green peppers and onions. I omitted cheese and meat and any additional sauces or toppings.

Build your own skillet, without meat or cheese.

Our skillet arrived…and it was so good! We didn’t miss the cheese or meat at all and didn’t feel like we missed out on the experience. Sharif stopped by our table, checking to see that we were happy with what we had ordered. He offered to make us something else if we didn’t like our meal. What a generous offer. We not only loved our dinner, we appreciated his concern and personal follow up. It was with great pleasure that I turned to give Sharif a thumbs up after my first bite!

I highly recommend MacCheesy. The restaurant is clean, has ample seating, and a friendly and helpful wait staff. They are a reflection of the excellent owner. The menu offers a lot of variety, for being built around mac & cheese! And with more vegan and gluten free options coming, even plant based eaters can enjoy this specialty restaurant. Prices are extremely reasonable and the portions are perfectly sized.

I am so glad Dayan suggested MacCheesy tonight. Now that my other hand isn’t clutching a fork, I give it two thumbs up!

Windows of the Soul

I was excited this evening to return to the Manga Artist’s Workbook and practice sketching an important facial feature. Before I move to drawing expressions, the workbook provides opportunity to focus on the most expressive part of the face…the eyes.

I had missed this section of the book when I peeked ahead. I thought the next assignment was the drawing of expressions. I understand, though, the importance of spending time capturing the eyes. So much of what we are feeling and thinking is reflected here. The eyes are the first thing I notice about a person. I can tell whether the person I am looking at is open or guarded, happy or sad, fearful or confident, by studying the eyes.

As I prepare to create an upcoming cartoon project, I know that much of what I hope to convey will be made evident through the eyes.

Tonight’s exercise was to sketch in the eyes, on a teen girl and teen boy, using the manga style. The girl’s eyes are drawn overly large.

I lightly sketched in guidelines.

I tried darker irises and lighter ones. I definitely like the darker better, as they are more distinct.

For a boy, the eyes, while still oversized, are not as large as the girl’s eyes. There are less details too.

As with the girl, I prefer the darker eyes.

William Shakespeare wrote “The eyes are the windows to the soul.”

Not only are we given a peek into the soul through the eyes of another. Our souls gaze out through the eyes as well, in all its states of being, from joyful confidence to beseeching invitation to hardened defiance.

As I sketched this evening, I was grateful for a lesson in mindfulness about what story my eyes are telling.

My First Chia Pudding

Until recently, the only thing I knew about chia seeds was that you could grow them on clay figurines, creating the look of “hair”. As a kid, I never had a chia pet, so during my Year of Firsts in 2014 I bought one and had fun sprouting the chia seeds.

Because of that connection, I was a bit dubious about consuming chia seeds. However, during my healing journey, I’ve learned these little seeds are considered a super food, full of health boosting benefits. I routinely add a spoonful to my morning smoothies. I’ve seen recipes for chia pudding, made from the same little seeds, but I have not tried a recipe…until today. Anthony William shared a simple basic chia pudding recipe and I thought, I must try this.

The basic recipe couldn’t be more easy.

Chia Pudding

• 1 cup dairy free milk ( almond or coconut)

• 1/4 cup chia seeds

Combine ingredients and let chill overnight in refrigerator. Top with favorite fruits and nuts.

I purchase bags of chia seeds at the Walmart Market. They are found in the baking aisle. And I love the unsweetened almond coconut milk blend, available in the refrigerator section wherever milk is sold. Two brands I’ve tried and like are Almond Breeze and Silk.

Chia seeds are an excellent source of protein, vitamins E and B complex, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron. They are higher in Omega 3 fatty acids than any other food and they are particularly beneficial for chronic inflammation, heart disease, brain function, cancer and autoimmune diseases. Chia seeds also combat diabetes by helping to stabilize and control blood sugar levels.

I started chia pudding this afternoon, so I could sample it this evening. As it set up in the fridge, I searched on Pinterest for more recipes. There are many ways to create a variety of chia puddings, starting with the basic recipe and then adding fruits, nuts, unsweetened chocolate, maple syrup and other healthy foods.

Inspired, I headed back into the kitchen to create a blueberry chia pudding to have as a midmorning or afternoon treat tomorrow. For this pudding, I used a small wide mouth mason jar.

Blueberry Chia Pudding

• 1 cup unsweetened non dairy milk, such as almond or coconut

• 1/2 cup frozen wild blueberries

• 1/4 cup chia seeds

Combine milk and blueberries in a blender. Process until berries and milk are well mixed. Pour into a small mason jar. Add chia seeds. Screw on jar lid and shake to mix blueberry milk with seeds. Chill in refrigerator overnight to set. Top with additional blueberries and nuts before eating.

These puddings are so easy to make! I have ideas for a variety of chia puddings. Tomorrow I will be at the grocery store, stocking up on small mason jars, chia seeds and plenty of fruits, unsweetened coconut and nuts such as walnuts and pecans. I saved recipes for such delights as pumpkin pie chia pudding and chocolate raspberry chia pudding. I will be playing with these recipes and coming up with some of my own. (The blueberry chia pudding is one I created using the basic recipe as the foundation.)

Tonight I intended to dress up the basic recipe by topping it with sliced bananas, wild blueberries and walnuts. However, the pudding isn’t completely set up yet. I don’t want to rush it. I will let it chill overnight and add an update to this post in the morning. And I’m excited to sample the blueberry chia pudding tomorrow and create more fun variations.

No more chia pets. I have a much better, and more beneficial, use for these amazing little seeds.

Movie Review: Thor Ragnarok

I grew up reading Marvel comics. The heroics of Spiderman, Thor, Ironman, Hulk and Captain America inspired daydreams of adventure and confirmed that good always prevailed. As an adult, I have loved seeing these characters of the Marvel universe (and the DC universe as well) brought to life on the big screen.

Call me a nerd, but in both comic franchises, I have seen every movie that adds to the collective stories of the Justice League and the Avengers. This afternoon my sister Linda and I joined a theater packed with movie goers to see the latest installment in the Avengers series…Thor Ragnarok.

Thor Ragnarok stars Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Anthony Hopkins, Karl Urban, Benedict Cumberbatch and Taika Waititi. This action adventure was directed by Taika Waititi. The film carries a PG-13 rating, for intense action sequences and violence, and has a run time of 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Before he dies, Odin (Hopkins) king of Asgard, reveals a secret to his sons, Thor (Hemsworth) and Loki (Hiddleston). He tells them that they have an older sister, Odin’s first born, Hela (Blanchett). Hela was an ambitious warrior princess whose lust for war and destruction turned her to darkness. She has become the Goddess of Death.

Shortly after Odin passes into legend, Hela arrives, intent on claiming the throne of Asgard as the rightful heir. Asgard now faces two threats: Hela, who brings her wrath against the inhabitants, and the prophecy of Ragnarok which foresees Asgard destroyed in flames.

Thor calls on Heimdall (Elba) on Asgard to retrieve him and his brother through the Bifrost. However, the three siblings all travel together toward their home world. Hela knocks her brothers out of the stream. She travels on to Asgard, intent to rule, and immediately engages the help of Skurge (Urban), to serve as her executioner.

Meanwhile, Thor and Loki both end up on the junk scrap world of Sakaar, governed by an eccentric man known as the Grandmaster (Goldblum). The Grandmaster thrives on cast off treasures of all kinds, and gladiator style battles between his champion and new comers. Thor is captured by a woman (Thompson) bearing a tattoo that identifies her as an Asgardian, a member of a group of elite warrior women known as the Valkyrie. She sells Thor to the Grandmaster.

Thor, long hair cut off before his gladiator fight and his mighty hammer destroyed by his sister, faces the champion in the ring. To his surprise, the Grandmaster’s prize fighter is the Hulk (Ruffalo), who has been missing from the Avengers for two years. Living in a rage as the Hulk during this time, Banner is deeply submerged in his alter ego. When he finally emerges, to escape the planet with Thor, Loki and Valkyrie, he is fearful that if he becomes Hulk again, he will never be able to transform back into his human form.

The four become the “Revengers”, with the mission of returning to Asgard to save the people, and the planet, from the fiery prophecy and the destructive Hela.

This was an incredibly fun movie, full of action and humor. Although the film could stand alone, much more is gleaned from the story if all the other movies in the Avengers series have been seen. The theater was full, which created high energy for the movie, resulting in frequent cheers, shared laughter and applause.

I loved seeing Thor reunited with his trickster brother, Loki. Much of the movie’s humor is centered around this love/hate relationship. Although he plays a “bad boy”, and plays the role well, Loki is important to his brother. Watching Thor and Loki accept their differences and acknowledge their affection for each other is a huge part of this movie’s charm.

Although he only has a small part in this film, Doctor Strange (Cumberbatch) makes a delightful appearance. There are countless references to the other members of the Avengers, which is fun and ties this film firmly into the overarching story. Matt Damon has a hilarious cameo. And one of the new characters, a rock man named Korg, is voiced by the director, Waititi. I sincerely hope Korg shows up in the next Avenger movie. He is made of rock, but he has a sensitive and endearing heart.

I am positive I will see Valkryie in the next film. Thompson brings a freshness to the series and she definitely has the warrior skills. These heroes all discovered truths about themselves, as they journeyed toward home, including what, or who, Asgard truly is. As with all the Marvel films, it is worth while to sit through the credits for additional scenes.

Thor Ragnarok was an amazing movie, and an important installment in the ongoing story. I am ready for Avengers: Infinity War, due out next year. It is going to be awesome!