Category Archives: What’s making me happy

What’s Making Me Happy: Our Tri-State Virtual Film Festival

Mugs designed by Clif. The kids have them, too.


As regular readers know, we are family of film buffs. We keep up with current movies, and we also like to go to film festivals. For many years we have been going to the Maine International Film Festival (MIFF), held in Waterville, Maine, about twenty-five miles away from where we live. Dee, from New York, usually joins us, and we have ten days of nonstop movies. When Mike and Shannon lived in Maine, they would also join us on the weekends.

This year, MIFF had to scale way back and hold the festival at a Drive-In that was fifty miles away from our home. Much as we like movies, a 100-mile round trip was too far for us. Also, the kids were not able to join us because of the traveling hazards associated with Covid-19.

Without MIFF and visits from the kids, our summer sure felt flat. What to do to perk things up at least a little? How about a virtual film festival, via Zoom? We would follow MIFF’s lead by starting on a Friday and ending ten days later on a Sunday.

Naturally, we couldn’t pack in the movies the way MIFF does. Shannon and Mike were still working, and so was I. (Books don’t write themselves). So here’s what we did: We each picked a movie, which we would watch one night and then discuss the next.

This worked like a charm. Or, as we in Maine might say, a chahm. What a fun week we had! We each chose five thought-provoking films, beginning with greed and ending with greed. (No, we did not plan it that way.) After watching each movie, I couldn’t wait to hear what the others thought.

Here was our line-up and a brief description about each movie:

Atlantics, 2019. Country of origin: Senegal. Directed by Mati Diop. Available on Netflix. English subtitles.

Atlantics is a moody exploration of love, gender, greed, and money.  A wealthy developer, who is constructing a giant, looming tower, refuses to pay his workers. This sets in motion a migration that separates two lovers, Soulieman and Ada and leads to a startling conclusion. Atlantics has a slow beginning, but it isn’t long before the story snaps into an unexpected place.

Hoop Dreams, 1994. Country of origin: USA. Directed by Steve James. Available to rent on Prime Video.

This extraordinary three-hour documentary came out in 1994 and follows two young men in inner city Chicago through four years of high school as they try to realize their dreams to play professional basketball. But Hoop Dreams goes beyond sports to cast a piercing gaze on poverty, racism, money, and the willingness of some coaches to use and then discard young men. A seminal movie even twenty-six years later.

Transit, 2018. Filmed in France. Directed by Christian Petzold. Available on Prime Video, included with Prime. English subtitles.

Transit is about persecuted minorities fleeing occupied France. I don’t want to reveal too much about this unsettling film. It is best watched without any spoilers. Transit examines the notion of Fascism and how easily societies can succumb to this terrible, repressive ideology. At the same time, it is a deeply humane film as it focuses on how the main characters grapple with the terror of fleeing capture and death and then the tedium of waiting for transport that will take them to countries not in the grip of fascism. Finally, it is a haunting, touching love story.

Silent Running, 1972. Country of origin: USA. Directed by Douglas Trumbull. Available to rent on Prime Video.

Silent Running is a 1972 science-fiction tale that takes a stern environmental stance. Earth’s green and growing spaces are gone, and the last biomes are being stored in space on huge freighters. When an order comes to destroy the biomes, Bruce Dern’s Freeman takes matters into his own hands to try to save the last forest. The special effects are astonishing, given the time and the budget. The acting is over-the-top, but the environmental story still resonates today.

Jean de Florette, 1986. Country of origin: France. Directed by Claude Berri. Available to rent on Prime Video. English subtitles.

Jean de Florette is the first movie in a two-part series that concludes with Manon of the Spring. Jean de Florette takes greed and personalizes it with the excellent Yves Montand as Cesar, who yearns to own the land that the hunchback Jean de Florette has inherited. Cesar plots and connives to get that land from the stubborn, unsuspecting Jean, and there is nothing Cesar will not do to get what he wants. All the acting is excellent, but as my son-in-law Mike pointed out, Yves Montand is outstanding, showing how evil can be both banal and ruthless.








What’s Making Me Happy: Late Summer Weather, Great Numbers, Norah Jones

When it comes to the weather, living in Maine requires a lot of flexibility and a certain amount of stoicism. One week it might be 90° F, and we need to use the AC to be comfortable. The next week it will dip down to 55° during the night, which calls for blankets at night and a wee bit of heat in the house.

After a spell of dripping hot weather, I woke up this morning to find this delightful temperature:

This afternoon, it is 74°F—dry, bright, sunny—and tonight it’s supposed to go down to the midfifties, which I am sure it did last night.

This is typical late summer weather in Maine, and how I love it. In truth, I could have 350 more days just like this, with some rain thrown in, of course.

In a couple of hours, Clif and I will head to the patio for drinks and some nibbles.  We’ll listen to the crickets sing and watch the hummingbirds zoom to their feeders. Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal will come, red against the green of the woods. What a wonderful time of year.

The second thing that is making me happy is by far the best. Clif went to see a nurse practitioner this week for a test to check his blood sugar. Good news, good news! After two months of a very low-carb diet, Clif’s blood sugar is down. Way down.  In February, his number (A1C)  was so high that the nurse practitioner wanted to increase Clif’s medication. Now, the number is so low that Clif is in the pre-diabetes range. We are hopeful that Clif will be able to bring his numbers down to the non-diabetic range and will be able to stop taking medication all together.

So happy day! I will admit that it has not been easy to shift our diet away from pasta, rice, and potatoes. It’s been very hard. But we have done it, at least in the short term, and we are determined to continue with this regimen.

Last, I will leave you with Norah Jones, a fine, fine singer. I especially like the first song—soulful and melancholy.



And here’s what’s making Thistles and Kiwis happy this week.

What’s Making Me Happy: Twigs in My Hair, Pita Bread, and a Finch on the Bird Bath

Once upon a time, I used to write real book reviews where I read with great care, marked passages of note, and labored on the actual review. Alas, those days are gone. With a book coming out every other year, all my energy is going into my own work. I feel bad about this as I really enjoy bringing attention to other people’s books.

So for the past few years, it’s been all or nothing for me: Because I didn’t have the time to write a proper review, I didn’t write anything. Then I had a belatedly brilliant flash—it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. When I come across books of interest, especially if they’re written by friends, blogging or otherwise, I can simply feature the book on my blog and write a few lines about it.

Therefore, here is a book I’d like to bring to your attention—Twigs in My Hair by Cynthia Reyes. Twigs in my Hair is for gardeners and would-be gardeners or for people who simply like looking at gardens. Also, for those who are interested in a memoir told through gardening stories past and present. And surely Twigs in my Hair must be one of the best titles ever. (Full disclosure: My husband did the page layout.)

Cynthia, a blogging friend, has a warm, vivid writing style that pulls a reader in. The book features gorgeous pictures taken by Cynthia’s husband, Hamlin. I am not ashamed to admit that I had an acute case of gardener’s envy as I read Twigs in My Hair.  Readers, put this book on your TBR list, and with the holidays just around the corner, it would make a lovely gift for friends or family.

From books we go to food, a subject that is ever on my mind. As I’ve written in previous posts, my husband, Clif, is on extremely low-carb diet. We are a carb-loving family, and cutting back on carbs has proven to be a great challenge. Fortunately, we have found ways to eat a low-carb diet and even enjoy it. Joseph’s flax, oat bran, and whole wheat pita bread is one reason why. This pita is a soft and tasty bread substitute. It can be folded in half, toasted, and used as a taco shell. Untoasted and folded, it makes a dandy roll for a burger. Or sausage. Or whatever.

How low carb is this pita bread? Take a look, and keep in mind that a whole wheat roll has about 20 grams of carbs. (Clif aims to keep his carb intake to around 70 grams a day.)

I do want to emphasize I’m not getting any kickbacks when I endorse a product. I am to Joseph’s as a flea is to an elephant.

Finally, what’s not to like about a finch taking a drink from a birdbath at dusk as you sit on the patio? Nothing at all. Pure happiness to watch that little beauty.

To read what small pleasures are making Thistles and Kiwis happy, click here.



What’s Making Me Happy: The Book Cover for Out of Time

This week’s happiness post is a humdinger. James Egan, the brilliant designer at Bookfly Design, has created a fabulous cover for my upcoming book, Out of Time, which will be released in November 2020.

This is Book Three in my Great Library Series, where the heroine, Maya Hammond, must find a way to defeat Cinnial, the fallen librarian, whose burning ambition is to control the Great Library, where all information in our universe flows.

The mission to defeat Cinnial has taken Maya across the universe. In Out of Time, Maya travels even farther. She goes to a dimension called Elferterre, which is ruled by Magic rather than by Time, the dominant force in our universe. With her new team—Will, Jay, and Lexie—Maya embarks on a quest to steal a lock from a powerful elf named Galli. The lock will help Maya trap Cinnial.

In Elferterre—green and mysterious with a touch of steampunk—Maya, Will, Jay, and Lexie encounter allies and foes, including a talking cat, a witch, sprites, ogres, imps, and a mechanical horse. All the while, Magic swirls around Elferterre, enhancing the good and bad in every creature that Maya and her team meet.

Maya falls in love, treks again across the universe, and encounters her biggest challenge yet.

Will Maya have the courage to face this challenge? Or will she falter?

Readers, I will be sure to let you know when Out of Time is published. My first two books—Maya and the Book of Everything and Library Lost—are available through our Hinterlands Press website.

And that’s it for this post, even though I usually include three things that are making me happy. After all, what can top a new cover?

To read what small pleasures are making Thistles and Kiwis happy, click here.

What’s Making Me Happy: July 31, 2020

Here we are as July tiptoes into August. The weather has rocked between hot and humid and nice summer days.  Even in my shady yard, flowers bloom. Then they go by, and more flowers bloom.

On the edge of blooming are the black-eyed Susans, that lovely flower of late summer.

As a bonus happy point, these flowers last a long time, providing a burst of yellow in gardens that might be past their best.

Regular readers of this blog know that my husband Clif has Type 2 diabetes and has gone on a low-carb diet. Not long ago we discovered these tortillas wraps that have 5 net carbs per tortilla.

The tortillas are tasty, and we use them for wraps for lunch nearly every day.

But a few weeks ago, I figured out that they can also be used to make low-fat, low-carb chips to go with salsa.

The process couldn’t be easier. Put the tortillas on a cookie sheet, and cut into a dipable size. A pizza cutter works really for this. Brush the tops with a little olive oil and sprinkle with some salt. Bake at 375°F for ten minutes.

Et voilá! Crunchy, low-carb, low-cal chips that, as my Yankee husband notes, are pretty darned good.

And last, another Tiny Desk Concert. This time Aimee Mann. Readers might remember her when she was in the group ‘Til Tuesday. Aimee Mann’s songs are rueful, sad, and beautifully written. She’s as much a poet as she is a musician.

To read what small pleasures are making Thistles and Kiwis happy, click here.

What’s Making Me Happy: July 24, 2020

Item #1: About three weeks ago, I wrote about how Clif and I had yet again changed our diets. Clif has type-2 diabetes, and he decided to go on a low-carb regimen. I am on a low-calorie diet to lose weight, and there is a lot of overlap between our diets. Because of the caloric and carb restrictions, baking is pretty much out for us, but every once in a while, we want pancakes or muffins. Unfortunately, wheat flour is high in carbs, and Clif can’t have very much of it.

Enter almond flour, low in carbs and delicious in its own right. As to be expected, almond flour doesn’t taste exactly like wheat flour, but that’s all right with Clif and me. We’re both open to different flavors, and as long as we like the taste, we are fine.

I am happy to report that almond flour passed the taste test. Clif made pancakes with the flour, and they were delicious. And because I am a pancake fiend, this made me devilishly happy.

As a bonus, they look exactly the way pancakes should look.

Item #2: You might be wondering why the picture below of the simple white flower made me happy this week. However, those who photograph flowers know how hard it is to get a good picture of white petals. White tends to blow out, and I hardly ever a get a decent shot of a white flower.

But, lo and behold, I finally succeeded. What I did was focus on the center, on the stamens and the pistil, and this really seemed to help. Yellow is another color that tends to blow out, and I will be testing my technique with yellow, too. Too bad the evening primroses are not in flower.

On to Item #3: Thanks to NPR, I recently came across Jacob Collier, yet another musician I was unfamiliar with. I was really taken with his light, funky style.

Before listening, do take a close look at the four musicians. A really close look. Pretty amazing.

Colin Marshall, from NPR, writes: “Polymath musician Jacob Collier has been championing this style of one-man-band music videos since 2012, singing every note and playing every instrument. His cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”earned him a devout YouTube following at the age of 19, and he hasn’t slowed down since. The London wunderkind owns four Grammy Awards already, including two at the age of 22 in 2017, and his evolution as a bandleader has been evident in his live performances ( like when he came to NPR for a Tiny Desk concert last year). Now 25, and with nearly a decade of experience producing every aspect of his own music from his home, Collier is uniquely positioned to crank out his best work from quarantine. ”

Where there is a will, there is a creative way!

What’s Making Me Happy: July 10

As I wrote on Monday’s post, because of his type 2 diabetes, Clif is embarking on a low-carb diet. And if Clif is eating low-carb, then so am I. While I might have toast for breakfast, and Clif might make an   an omelet, I am not going to cook two different meals for our supper. Too much work. And besides, it doesn’t do me a bit of harm to eat low carb and perhaps avoid future problems.

Therefore, we are venturing into new territory, and this week I made “fried rice” with riced cauliflower. I expected it to be good. After all, in the fried rice I usually make I often use either cabbage or broccoli, and cauliflower is in the same family. But, readers, making fried rice from riced cauliflower turned out even better than I expected. So tasty!

I love it when that happens. (Not always a given, that’s for sure.) We will probably be having this meal once a week or so. In fact, I could have some right now. I’ve also found other recipes for riced cauliflower, and the one I plan to to try next is a Mexican “rice” dish. I didn’t take pictures of the fried riced cauliflower, so all I can feature is the package. Next time!

The second thing that is making me happy is my bee balm. While it was a bad year for irises, it has been a glorious year for bee balm. My patch in the backyard is fuller and more vibrant than it ever has been. In the late afternoon, when I relax on the patio, I have that glorious spark of red to draw my eye. The flowers also draw hummingbirds. I will try to get a decent picture of one, but I make no promises. Those winged Will-o’-the-wisps are fast.

The third thing, as always, is music and another NPR Tiny Desk Concert. (Thank you, thank you, NPR, for bringing so much music into my life.) This week, for blogging friends who like country and bluegrass music, I’m featuring Mandolin Orange, a duo from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Their music has also been categorized as folk and Americana. Whatever it’s called, Mandolin Orange’s music is just plain good, and their songs certainly represent a strain of American music. If you like Mandolin Orange, be sure to listen to the last song, “Wildfire.” Released on the 2016 album Blindfaller, “Wildfire” is even more relevant today than it was four years ago.


What’s Making Me Happy: July 3, 2020

Actually, even during this time of the pandemic when I miss my family like crazy, many things are making me happy this week. Therefore, instead of one item, I am offering several.

First, with much fanfare, I present my two new hoses, each 100 feet long, which means I can reach all the beds in my front yard when they need watering. No more Jean de Florette hauling of water.  But can you guess what happened right after we got the hoses? Rain, rain, and more rain. Too funny! However, I am ready and well prepared for the next dry spell.

Second, Clif has come up with a graphic for my upcoming podcast of The Other Green Door. At some point, there will be a book, which will include several stories, and this graphic will be used for the cover as well.

And, third: More music. Ólafur Arnalds’s tiny desk concert is the polar opposite of the one I shared last week of Rodrigo y Gabriela. The latter’s music is sheer joy and energy. Arnalds’s music is soulful, gentle, and melancholy even. Both types of music reflect aspects of the human condition, and what a good thing it is that we have such a diversity of musicians who capture these moods and emotions.