Thru Ellen’s Lens: San Miguel de Allende

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We travel a lot, as readers of this site no doubt know.

Even more now that both Ellen and I are retired.

Some of our trips are explorations of places we’ve never been (Myanmar, Cambodia, Antarctica, Iceland, Costa Rica), some are returns to favorite places (India, China, Spain, Europe in general), some are within the US, some are for family reasons, and some involve special interests (film festivals, baseball, friends). And sometimes the travel begins right in our house in our favorite reading spots where we can go anywhere in the world without going out our front door. (I’m currently deep ‘in’ the Himalayas with Robert Twigger’s wonderful White Mountain: Real and Imagined Journeys in the Hamalayas, a book identified as a ‘favorite read’ by a MillersTime reader in 2016.)

Over the past few years, we’ve made one addition to our travel: spending a week in one city, unpacking, and then leisurely exploring and getting to know a city (if we’ve never been there before) or revisiting some favorite sites and restaurants and exploring new places in that city that we ‘missed’ on a previous visit (if we are returning to a city we love — London, for example).

Recently, at the invitation of cousins from the Boston area (with whom we visited Central Europe a year or so ago), we spent a week in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. We were three couples, and we rented a house in the Centro, where we could walk most places. Known in part as a place where Americans (and other expats) have retired or choose to visit, it is a 500 year old city, and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site (2006). It also has the feel of a place that is what I call a ‘working city’ where the local population mixes easily with visitors, both foreigners and even more so families from throughout Mexico. Someone mentioned it is the most visited city by Mexicans of all places within the country (hopefully that was not “fake news”). It reminded us of Santa Fe, as it was when we first visited it some 45 years ago.

Each day during the the week we focused on just one or two activities. The afternoon of our arrival we wandered through the Jardin area and the cobblestone streets, poking our eyes and heads into one of a kind shops and doorways throughout the colorful town, just trying to soak in the city.

The next day we took a taxi to the Tuesday market (20 minutes away for 50 pesos – $2.50), where we again wandered, this time through three crowded ‘football fields’ worth of stalls selling fruits, vegetables, meats/seafood but mostly everyday household items. There were many small food stalls where shoppers, sellers, and Ellen and I sat on small stools to enjoy locally prepared foods.

One day we went to the town of Guanajuato, about an hour and a half away through countryside, reminiscent of another favorite place of ours — New Mexico. We took the cable car up to the El Papita Statue (independence hero) where we simply couldn’t get enough of looking at the hillside city of Guanajuato, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, (1987/88). Sometimes referred to as the most beautiful city in Mexico, it was initially a silver mining town before it became important in the independence of Mexico. It was built on a hillside, between mountains, and has a series of underground tunnels. We found it filled with students (it has an important University) and tourists from all over Mexico who come to see its splendor. We visited Casa Diego Rivera — Rivera’s home which has been turned into a museum. (It was largely disappointing if you want to see his art but interesting as the place where he lived and worked). Mostly, we wandered through the town and found the market area, where once again we joined other locals at one of the tiny eating stalls.

Another day we spent at a recently discovered (1998), excavated (2002) and reconstructed pyramid site, Canada de la Virgen, 25 kilometers outside of San Miguel. It has only recently been opened to the public (2011), as the access is only through privately owned land, though the actual archeological site is now under government control. We were treated to a particularly informative ‘tour’ by a guide who had worked as an archeologist on the site, followed by a luncheon at a nearby home and museum run by a woman who has done most of the astrological work on Canada de la Virgen.

Most of the remainder of our time we just walked and enjoyed melding into the largely local population of San Miguel and with those who had come into the city from around the country. The weekend was the most crowded time, where there seemed to be many families who were visiting San Miguel. The weekdays were less crowded.

We had a number of evening meals we would put in the category of memorable, either for the food or the scenery, or both, and a number of lunches in small places that were also delightful. Ellen Instagrammed many of those meals and so the places we ate can forever be found on her social media thread.

It was a leisurely time, enjoyable to be with our cousins and also to get to know another couple, for simply wandering about, and for having time to read and relax. And, once again, Ellen spent much of our strolling time looking through her camera lens and recording what she saw.

Very important to our trip was an introduction to a “new friend” — she has lived in San Miguel now for four years — who guided us in all things to do and places to eat. As always, knowing someone in a new city was invaluable. After corresponding with her prior to our arrival, we actually met her for the first time at dinner one evening and felt like we had met a fellow traveler. As one good turn deserves another, we are happy to pass along the details of what she passed onto us.

We are likely to return to San Miguel de Allende. The weather was perfect. It was easy to get to, inexpensive once there, and a great diversion from the cold February in Washington.

Here are 11 of Ellen’s favorite photos, followed by a link to a slide show with 73 photos for those of you who would like to see more of San Miguel de Allende and the surrounding areas. The first 50 photos in the slide show are of San Miguel, followed by ones from Guanajuato and Canada de la Virgen.

Enjoy.

Click on this slide show for more photos. For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show and see all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either).

Good News

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I know many readers of this site are deeply disturbed about what you see occurring since President Trump won the election and took office. Some of you are less disturbed and are encouraged by what you see as some relief for controls on business, potential tax changes, possible changes in trade agreements, the current increases in the stock market, and the possibility that Pres. Trump will in fact make positive changes in the country.

This post is not about Pres. Trump or our politics. It’s meant to highlight something that transcends the day to day political battles in our country. This letter written from Bill and Melinda Gates to Warren Buffett highlights good that is being done in the world as a result of strategic philanthropy and thoughtful analyses of the global crises we confront.

It won’t take more than 15 minutes of your time to read.

Background:

In June of 2006, the world’s second richest man, Warren Buffett, the Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., gave the bulk of his fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, run by the world’s richest man (and his wife). Buffett pledged $31 billion dollars to the Gates Foundation broadly to fight disease and to reduce inequity. (At the same time, Buffett also divided $6 billion among four charities started by his family members.)

Buffet’s total gifting was $37 billion. At that time, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had an endowment of $29.2 billion. Thus, Buffett’s gift to that foundation doubled the money they had to spend.

Recently, Buffett wrote to the Bill and Melinda Gates the following letter:

Yesterday, Feb. 14th, in their annual letter about their work, Bill and Melinda released their answer to Warren’s questions, saying:

What follows is our answer to him.

It’s a story about the stunning gains the poorest people in the world have made over the last 25 years. This incredible progress has been made possible not only by the generosity of Warren and other philanthropists, the charitable giving of individuals across the world, and the efforts of the poor on their own behalf—but also by the huge contributions made by donor nations, which account for the vast majority of global health and development funding.

Our letter is being released amid dramatic political transitions in these countries, including new leadership in the United States and the United Kingdom. We hope this story will remind everyone why foreign aid should remain a priority—because by lifting up the poorest, we express the highest values of our nations.

One of the greatest of those values is the belief that the best investment any of us can ever make is in the lives of others. As we explain to Warren in our letter, the returns are tremendous.

I hope you will find the 15 minutes to read their answer in this link:

Dear Warren

Truck Day, Spring Training, & The Contest

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Finally.

Life begins again.

Truck Day for the Red Sox is Feb. 6.

Sox Pitchers & Catchers report to Spring Training Feb. 14.

Sox first full-squad workout is Feb. 17.

(Sox are reporting a week earlier than last year, tho many, if not most, of the players go early to ‘Fenway South’ – JetBlue Park – anyway.)

Sox first Spring Training game is Feb. 23 against Northeastern. and their first Grapefruit League is against the Mets Feb. 24.

And I’ll see the Sox vs the Nats at The Ball Park of The Palm Beaches (the Nats new Spring Training facility) on Mar. 7, and then three games at Jet Blue Park (USA team, O’s, and the Rays) on Mar. 9, 10, & 11.

Opening Day for MLB is April 2 with the Yanks vs Rays and the Cubs vs the Cards. The Sox open at home against the Pirates on April 3, and the Nats also open at home April 3 vs Marlins.

Life takes a turn for the better.

MillersTime 2017 Baseball Contests:

Meanwhile, I’m starting to work on the annual MillersTime Baseball Contest questions for 2017, and I have a few questions I hope you’ll answer:

  1. Usually I have six contests with maybe an Extra Credit one. Is that too many?
  2. I’ve moved from a Sox vs Yunkee focus to questions about your favorite team and ones that require more knowledge of all of MLB. While I try to have a mixture of simple and more complicated contests, what kind of questions in general do you prefer?
  3. I’m open to specific suggestions on new questions. If you have an idea for one for 2017, please send it to me in the next couple of weeks.

I hope to have The Contest questions posted on this website by Mar. 1 with your predictions due by Opening Day, April 2 at 1:10 PM.

Feel free to have your baseball friends join in. If anyone you bring in wins (they need to mention your name), you too will win a prize.

To see last years winners, go to: Summary of 2016 Winners and to see last year’s questions, go to: 2016 MillersTime Baseball Contests.

And all winners will get the exclusive and highly coveted MillersTime Winner baseball t-shirt in addition to individual prizes for each contest.

Samantha’s Perfect Day

 

Samantha, age 11 months, was left in the care of her maternal grand parents (Nonna – Ellen and GrandPapa – Richard) for a three day weekend with the following ‘instructions.’

Samantha’s Perfect Day

7  AM  – Wake and six ounces (milk)

8  AM  – Breakfast (yogurt or oatmeal, 1/4 cup & 1/4 cup water)

9  AM  – Nap (sleep suit, noise machine, close curtain)

10:30  AM  – Snack (fruit, avocado, cheese, no sippy)

Noon  – 4 oz + lunch (veggies, toast with almond butter, baby pouch)

1  PM  – Nap (sleep suit, noise machines, close curtains)

3  PM  –  Snack (cheese, avocado, cherrios, no sippy)

5:15ish – Dinner (left overs from previous night’s adult dinner)

6:15  PM  – Bedtime

  6 ounces in sippy (in bedroom)

  Change into pajamas

  New Diaper & Cream

  Discuss What You’re Thankful For

  Leg Cream

  Into Sleep Suit

  Songs

  Read Books

  Noise Machines On

  Into Crib, Close Door

  “Goodnight Samantha. I Love You!”

  “GOOD GIRLS SLEEP ALL NIGHT!”

  6:45  PM  –  Asleep

When I read these instructions, I knew immediately that I had a MillersTime post in the making. All I had to do was to type in the instructions, and then add in what really happened, perhaps with an occasional exaggeration for a laugh.

But a funny thing happened.

Samantha followed the script exactly, at least for the first 48 hours. She got up on schedule after 12 or 13 hours sleeping at night, napped at the right times, ate when she was ‘supposed’ to, etc. I had nothing to write about.

(Disclosure: Actually, in the third and final evening there was a bit of a hiccup as Samantha was unhappy about going to bed a bit early. She had been fussy throughout the late afternoon, and we’d been told by her mother that it was OK to put her to bed a bit earlier than the schedule indicated if it seemed necessary. Hah. Thirty minutes of screaming in the only ‘meltdown’ of the weekend. But after a short ‘intervention’ on our part, she went to sleep, about her regular time, and slept another 12 hours.)

I guess she just has a good parental unit.

But then, of course, her parents had good parental units too. So I guess it’s not a surprise that she would ‘perform’ as intended.

Thus, instead of my snarky comments, all you get are photos from Ellen.

“The Data That Turned the World Upside Down”

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I’ve stumbled across an article that has given me a new insight into the reason for Donald Trump’s electoral victory. This one is different from everything else I’ve read, and while it is certainly not the sole reason for his victory, it is one that has not been much in the press. I urge you to read it as it has implications beyond understanding how DT was able to win and perhaps why no one (outside of the Trump campaign) saw it coming.

Quick background. I spent five days in 2012 in Columbus, Ohio on a get out the vote (GOTV) campaign for Pres. Obama and was astounded at the planning and sophistication of that GOTV effort. In November of 2016 went back to Ohio, Cleveland this time, for a week for a Hillary Clinton GOTV. While I felt that campaign was not quite as astounding as the one in 2012, I did feel it was useful. And everyone, myself included, thought Clinton and the Dems had a much superior ‘ground game’ than did Trump and the Repubs.

What I didn’t know, and what very few others knew, was that the Trump and a small group of his campaign staff had leapfrogged the Dems and had a much more sophisticated GOTV.

Check out this article: The Data That Turned the World Upside Down

Not only will it explain why DT was able to do what no one expected, it will also tell you much about the new world of Big Data. It’s not a short article, but it certainly was an eye opener for me.

See what you think.

Inspired by Your Favorite Books…

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“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never read”- A. Lincoln

Each year I identify at least 12 books to add to my ‘to read’ list from the annual Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers. I generally split them between fiction and nonfiction. Some I choose because several of you have suggested them, some because of the description a reader has written, and some because of the topic (often something I might never have chosen on my own).

The twelve for 2017 (plus two audible books for the treadmill)

Fiction:

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

2nd Person Singular by Sayed Kashua (suggested by the oldest contributor to the list – 95 years old).

Between Riverside & Crazy (a play) by Stephen Adly Giurgis

Nonfiction:

I Will Bear Witness by Victor Kemperer

Strangers in Their Own Land by Allie Russell Hochschild

The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward E. Baptist

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

White Mountain: Real & Imagined Journeys in the Himalayas by Robert Twigger

I Survived Series by Lauren Tarshis (suggested by the youngest contributor, now eight years old).

Audible Books:

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

PS:

To date I have kept my New Year’s resolution to put books I have read on Goodreads as soon as I’ve completed them. Also, as a backup, I am keeping a list of books read in “Notes” on my computer, along with a few sentences on each as I’m continuing to suffer from CRS.

So far in January, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and can highly recommend The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough, The North Water by Ian McGuire, War & Turpentine by Stefan Heretmans, Do Not Say That We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thiel, The Return: Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar, and Moonglow by Michael Chabon.

Finally, I’d love to know how various readers have used the annual favorites’ list. Have you chosen books from it, and if so, what makes you chose those particular ones? You can leave a note in the Comments’ section of this post or let me know in an email: Samesty84@gmail.com.

Obama’s 40 Promises: Kept, Broken, or Compromised

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The Washington Post in an article written by Kim Soffen has just posted an article about 40 Obama’s promises, which ones were kept, which ones were broken, and which ones were compromised.

A quick summary says:

Promises Broken – 17

Promises Kept – 11

Promises Compromised – 12

There is a good deal of information in the article, and it can be accessed by the three categories above and/or by subject category (economy, health care, energy, immigration, national security, government process, etc.).

No matter your view and feelings about Pres. Obama and also about the Washington Post, I think this article is a fair attempt at evaluating his promises and what happened with them by the end of his eight years in the White House. My wife Ellen, who followed Pres. Obama carefully on the issues of governmental process and often called him out on his failures to follow through on those specific promises, thinks the article is accurate in the areas she knows much about.

See: After Eight Years, Here Are the Promises Obama Kept – and the Ones He Didn’t.

President Trump’s 27 Promises

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I listened to President Trump’s Inaugural Address, in part to be able to have one marker by which it would be possible to judge his presidency: what he wanted to do with his time in office.

Below are 27 plans and promises he made in his speech just after he was sworn into office at noon, Jan. 20, 2017.

While some of these statements are quite general, it is good that Pres. Trump has also given the country some pretty specific commitments.

I will keep them in front of me and focus on those and not on tweets, fake news, or alternative truths.

 Trump’s Plans/Promises

  1. Great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people.
  2. We will determine the course of America and the world for years to come.
  3. We will get the job done.
  4. We are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.
  5. What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.
  6. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.
  7. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now. (Great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs).
  8. The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans: it’s going to be America First.
  9. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.
  10. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.
  11. We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.
  12. We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation.
  13. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work – rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.
  14. We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American.
  15. We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.
  16. We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones – and unite the civilized world against Radical Islamic Terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.
  17. At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.
  18. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.
  19. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement.
  20. Our country will thrive and prosper again.
  21. To All Americans: You will never be ignored again.
  22. Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way.
  23. Together, We will make America strong again.
  24. We will make America wealthy again.
  25. We will make America proud again.
  26. We will make America safe again.
  27. Together, we will make America great again.

Thru Ellen’s Lens: Costa Rica & Panama

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We recently spent 10 days in Costa Rica and along the coasts of Costa Rica and Panama, ending with a nine-hour crossing through the Panama Canal and one night in Panama city.

Although for the bulk of the time we were on a relatively small cruise ship for 200 people (they insisted on calling it a yacht), the most interesting parts of the 10 days involved trips into the interior of Costa Rica and small boat excursions along the coasts of both Costa Rica and Panama, where we saw native flora and fauna as you will see in Ellen’s 11 photos below. (Fortunately, Ellen carried her long lens with her enabling some close up shots.)

For me, the most memorable part of the trip (besides traveling with two affable and enjoyable other couples) was standing on one of the forward decks of our ship for the full nine hours it took us to cross from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea through the Panama Canal. Having recently been captivated by David McCullough’s wonderful descriptions of the process of its building in his The Path Between the Seas, I could have stayed another nine hours soaking in the wonder of what had been built over a hundred years ago.

If you are interested in more of Ellen’s photo’s of the two countries, click on this slide show to see all 41 photos.

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bird

 

dolphin

 

Owl.

Click on this slide show for more photos. For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show and see all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either).

Judging Barack Obama & Donald Trump

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I had a professor in college who continually taught that “It is not what you say but what you do that counts.” That standard, he believed, could be applied to judging how you treat your mother, how a leader leads his country, or to how a nation acts in the international world.

President Obama’s two terms as President ends tomorrow, and while it will take time to fairly judge how well or poorly he lead the nation, in his Farewell Address he has given his version of what he believes he has done and what he has learned in the process.

I had not listened to nor seen Pres. Obama’s Farewell Address until yesterday. If you have not seen nor heard it, it is worth the 51:25 minutes it takes to listen to and watch it:

President Obama’s Farewell Address

Now we have both his words and his deeds by which to begin to judge what kind of President he has been.

Tomorrow, President-elect Trump’s will be sworn into office. He has already surprised everyone with his victories over the other 16 Republican presidential candidates and with his electoral victory over Hillary Clinton. What he will do as President, not what he says, is now what will be most important.

In some ways he has already begun his Presidency with his choices of those who will help him run the country – his Vice President, his Cabinet officers, and his White House staff. Now his Inaugural Address will give us a further idea of what kind of President he plans to be, what he says he will do, and perhaps how he will do it.

Let’s listen to his Inaugural Address and then focus on what he does and not on what he says.

Obama: The Importance of Books

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President Obama in the Oval Office on Friday during an interview with Michiko Kakutani, the chief book critic for The New York Times. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Obama in the Oval Office on Friday during an interview with Michiko Kakutani, the chief book critic for The New York Times. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

While we await the ending of one Presidency and the beginning of the next, let me draw your attention to an article in the New York Times that describes the importance of books in President Obama’s life and in his presidency.

The article provides a unique (and I think) wonderful insight into the character, intelligence, intellectual curiosity, and thoughtfulness of Barack Obama. It’s an interview more revealing than that of any other president that I can recall in my lifetime. Whether or not you like him or his politics, this interview provides us a glimpse into a centered individual who has found a way to bring a balance to his life, to his family, and to one of the hardest jobs in the world.

First read the article:

Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books

And if you want to know even more, you can also read the ‘lightly edited’ transcript of the interview:

Transcript: President Obama on What Books Mean to Him

For those MillersTime readers who spend a portion of their lives with books, you’ll find much of interest in this article and no doubt a few books to add to your reading list for the coming year.

A New Year’s Resolution I Might Actually Keep

I long ago gave up on the (foolishness of) making any New Year’s resolutions.

But I think I’ve got one that I can actually do and that will make my life a tad easier by the end of 2017.

As many of you know, I have just posted the list of Books Most Enjoyed in 2016 by MillersTime Readers. When I was working on the post, I noticed many of you indicated you couldn’t remember everything you read over the past year. I too had the same problem.

The answer to that problem, of course, came from Ellen Miller who (repeatedly) ‘suggested’ I keep track of the books I read on the website www.goodreads.com. I used to do that but somehow stopped.

So I just reactivated my account and have resolved to use the Goodreads site to keep track of everything I read in 2017.

Once a member, it’s very easy (at least once you get use to the site) to keep track of everything you read. Plus, you can rate each book you read, and you can even write a short review so you can recall the book at a later date. And there are lots of other features to the site. Probably more than you’ll ever need. It’s “the world’s largest community of readers,” and you can participate in as much or as little as you want. It’s a wonderful resource, but it can also just be a way to record what you’ve read quickly and retrievably.

And it’s free.

You can sign up easily:

www.goodreads,com/user/sign_up

The one ‘catch’ is that once you’ve signed up, in order to keep track of what you’ve read, you actually have to enter the title of the book in your My Books account.

That’s where the New Year’s resolution comes in.

(PS – If you missed the email about the posting of the 2016 Favorite Reads list, check it out. It’s a terrific resource, in my humble opinion.)

The Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers in 2016

books1-539x303“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never read”- A. Lincoln

The MillersTime year-end “best books roundup” is my most visited post of the year. It’s a labor of love and is only possible because so many of you took the time to send in your favorite reads of the year. A sincere thanks to all of you

The funny thing is I didn’t read as much this year as in previous years, which was something a number of you said also. My major excuse was that I got ‘lost’ in baseball as my heroes the Red Sox were in the ‘hunt’ the entire 162 game season (not counting the disastrous playoffs). But I digress. Not sure about why others read less (though not my wife); some of you grumbled that you simply didn’t find as many memorable books or were having trouble remembering the titles you did read.

Nevertheless, 80 of you sent your lists and descriptions for a total of 380 books. Fiction lead the nonfiction 56% to 44%. Only a few books had much consensus (When Breathe Becomes Air, The Warmth of Other Suns, Hillbilly Elegy, Alexander Hamilton, The Nightingale, The Neapolitan Novels, The Sympathizer), and many of those were published prior to 2016.

Our youngest participant is almost 8 years old; the oldest is 95. (Maybe now that our children and grandchildren are reading we can have a special children’s subcategory next year?) The rest of you are mostly between the ages of 35- 75. Fifty-eight percent of you are women, 42% were men.

Continue reading »

Movie Roundup – 2016

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One of the (many) wonderful choices that being retired allows is the ability to see movies whenever you want — during the week, during the day, two in a row on the same day, or 15 over four days at a film festival.

And we’ve done all of the above.

Most of the end-of-the year lists of “Best” Films have been published already, and most come from critics who review films/books for a living.

I don’t have any special film knowledge and just tend to write about how much I liked various films for whatever reasons. Below is a list of many (tho not all) of the films Ellen and I saw in 2016, largely ones that I rated three stars or higher (out of a system of 1-5 stars). If Ellen had a different rating from mine, I have put her ratings in parentheses.

As I was constructing this post, I thought of adjusting a few of the ratings (up or down) but decided to leave the ratings the way I made them a day or two after seeing each film.

These starred categories are somewhat arbitrary, but generally the five and four and a half star films are pretty close, and I enjoyed those tremendously. The four star ones were all good, but I had some (minor) reservations. The three star ones were more problematic films for me but still may be worth checking out. Three starred ones were even more problematic. If a film did not make it into one of these categories, I did not write a review (The Lobster, for example).

If you click on the linked titles below, you will get to my mini-review of that film on MillersTime. For four of the more recent ones, however, I have not yet written about them.

I have also attached a link to a listing of these films that you can print out in the event you like to do that sort of thing.

Five Stars  *****

Manchester by the Sea

Loving

Jackie

The Eagle Huntress

Frantz

OJ: Made in America

I, Daniel Blake

Ixcanul  (Ellen ****)

Four and a Half ****1/2

Queen of Katwe (Ellen *****)

Embrace of the Serpent

Son of Saul

20th Century Woman (Ellen *****)

Lion (Ellen ****)

Human Figures (Ellen *****)

Four Stars ****

La La Land (Ellen *****)

The Unknown Girl

The Oath (Ellen ****1/2)

Graduation

The Salesman

A Man Called Ove (Ellen ***)

Moonlight (Ellen ****1/2)

Sully

Indignation

Hell or High Water

Eye in the Sky (Ellen *****)

Sing Street

The Innocents (Ellen *****)

Viva (Ellen ***)

Dheepan

A War

Three and a Half Stars ***1/2

The Edge of Seventeen (Ellen ***)

Things to Come ***1/2 (Ellen ***)

I Am Not Your Negro (Ellen ***)

Elle (Ellen *****)

Three Stars ***

Tampopo (Ellen ****)

Toni Erdmann (Ellen *****)

Fire at Sea

Do Not Resist (Ellen ****)

To see the above films in a spread sheet for printing, Click Here.

Four More Films – Two Are Terrific

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We’re just about at the end of our ‘to see’ films for 2016, tho we have two remaining on our list (Elle and Lion) and one this Sunday in our film club.  After we see those, I’ll list all we saw in 2016, along with our ‘ratings’ for those of you who may be interested in keeping track of films you might want to see.

In the meantime, here are four more we saw recently. Don’t miss the first two.

Manchester by the Sea *****

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We’ve been wanting to see this one ever since we missed it at the recent Philadelphia Film Festival. When I saw the previews, I wasn’t sure I had missed much. How wrong I was.

There are so many good things about this film. The story is one that is told with an honesty and a realism that seem missing in many American films. It is about a man, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), who has cut himself off from most of the world and reduced his life to the bare minimum. You eventually learn why as the film develops and as he is unexpectedly pulled into having to take care of his 16-year old nephew.

Both Affleck and Lucas Hodges (his nephew) don’t even seem as if they are acting. They simply have become the characters they portray. And the supporting cast, particularly Michelle Williams, is also wonderful.

The filmmaking is likewise terrific. Director Kenneth Lonergan lets the story develop in such a way that the audience is drawn in, not only by the story and the acting but also by the wonderful cinematography and his ability to capture a seaside town in Massachusetts.

In urging us to see it, SB wrote to say, “It’s a film about redemption and love, it’s subtle, it’s acted with restraint.  The camera loves the sense of place. Often the images of the characters interacting tell the message without words.  When you discuss it after it’s done, you see additional layers of meaning.”

It’s a good one, maybe one of the year’s best.

Loving *****

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This film also tells its story without attempting to pound the viewer or to be a polemic. It’s in some ways a small film about a big topic.

Based on a true story, Loving is about a quiet, unassuming rural Virginia couple (he is white, she is black) who are in love and marry in 1958. When the local authorities learn of the marriage, they arrest the couple and a judge gives them the choice of going to jail for violation of Virginia’s law against mixed race marriage or to leave the state for 25 years.

The couple (Richard and Mildred Loving) move to DC and try to continue their life there. Eventually, their rural roots bring them home, and a court battle ensues about their right to be married. It reaches the Supreme Court, and they prevail (1968) as Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law is struck down.

The Lovings’ struggle to live as they have chosen and to confront the racial prejudice and laws of Virginia is not told as a big civil rights battle but simply as a quiet story about two quite ordinary people who are in love. He is a quiet, shy person who can’t seem to understand what’s wrong with marrying the person he loves. She is more vocal and expressive and because of her quiet strength (and some outside help), they take on a law and a system that today may seem strange to people who have never known a time when it wasn’t possible for a mixed race couple to marry.

Ruth Negga is wonderful as Mildred, and Joel Edgerton captures who Richard must have been. Director Jeff Nichols has chosen to let the story of these two quiet, private people be told without hype or melodrama.

Quite unusual in this day and age.

Tampopo *** (Ellen – ****)

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I’d been wanting to see this film ever since I read its description in the Philly Film Festival catalogue: Learn the art of noodle-soup-making and much more in the brand new 4K restoration of Juro Itami’s classic ‘raman western’ comedy about two milk-truck drivers and a widowed restaurant owner’s quest to perfect the craft. (Ever since recent trips to Vietnam and Japan, Ellen and I have been ‘working’ at making the perfect Pho and a decent burnt miso soup.)

While there were insights to perfecting this kind of soup making and eating – “Savor the aroma. Poke the pork, Noodles first.” – I don’t think I can recommend this film. Despite whatever attempts were made to update it, it feels a bit old and moldy.

Tampopo is actually about the Japanese obsession with food and particularly with the making of noodle soup. It’s about two guys who take on the job of turning Tampopo (a widowed ‘restaurant’ owner) into the best raman noodle maker in the country. It’s a bit of a spaghetti western (sorry) mixed with slapstick, verbal and physical showdowns, and some tender relationships that build along the way.

Basically, my recommendation is to take a soup making course (we did just that in Vietnam) or find the best raman restaurant in your area rather than spend the two hours necessary to see this film.

And if anyone has a recipe or knows how to make a burnt miso soup, please get in touch with us immediately.

Toni Erdmann *** (Ellen – *****)

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This film has been highly praised by critics and audiences alike.

But not so much for me.

The premise, the distance between a father and his adult daughter and his/their attempt to bridge that distance, is intriguing. But the pranks and weirdness of the father and the coldness and personality of the daughter were too much of a hurdle for me.

Ellen, however, saw it differently (see ratings above). Her take: “An unusual mixture of hilarious interactions that portray a touching and difficult relationship between the two. Great acting, narrative, and direction. It might not appeal to everyone as it’s quirky, uncomfortable, and silly at times, but in the end, the more I think about it, the more I think about it.”

Update: 12/18 – From our our Sunday Cinema Club: 52% rated it Excellent or Good, a fairly low rating. However, 72% would recommend it to others.