Trading Up From Lesser Things

Anyone who knows me well is not surprised when I disappear from social media for long periods of time.  I am an introvert and there are times I simply can’t handle the input of what the world puts out.  At the beginning of this year, I made some intentional changes.  With those intentional changes came some unintentional ones.

More than twenty years ago, I read Richard Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity for the first time.  I reread it every few years as a reminder.  And at least twice a year, I reevaluate what’s on my schedule.  For a variety of reasons, it has gotten pared down significantly over the years.

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

– Gandalf – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

If you believe your life has a purpose (and I believe that all of ours do), then doing the most with what you have becomes a priority.  We all have the same number of hours in a day or week.

What am I doing with those hours?  What distractions eat away my time and energy?

I’ve asked myself those questions many times.  At the end of last year, I made a list of things I wanted to do in the coming year.  All those things require time and energy.  More to the point, if I really wanted to accomplish those things, then I would have to consciously choose to NOT spend my time on other things.  It might mean disappointing other people because I would not be living within their expectations for me.

And so my experiment began.  As I began to focus on the things I wanted to accomplish, other things naturally fell away.

I carefully choose how to spend my social time.  As an introvert, this is a natural survival instinct.  However, since the beginning of this year, I have guarded my time and energy so carefully that I find that I now leave my house approximately one day per week.  There was a time when my work took me away from my home office more frequently.  Circumstance and choice now allow more freedom in my schedule.

I rarely spend time on social media.  However, I do get notifications for posts of a few family members, close friends, and groups that are highly important to me.

I am intentional about the time I spend on sources of news or entertainment.  Some days that is more than others, but it is always with the knowledge that time spent there can not be spent on other things.

For decades now, this quote has come to mind when I am presented with a choice:

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Source: seafoam media

As we grow up, we learn that life is about choices – including what will get our time, money, and attention.

I’ve known this for a while, but here’s what I have learned to an even greater degree:  When I limit the number of sources and frequency of things asking for my attention, I physically feel better, I think more clearly, and I have a deeper sense of peace.

It’s not just the nonsense of life and the crazymakers of the world that drain my energy.  Sometimes, even good things drain me.  Sometimes, I have to abandon good in favor of better or excellent.  Sometimes, fabulous things (a.k.a. blessings) drop into our laps.  But generally, it results from an environment created by choices.

Trading up from lesser things does not happen by accident.  It comes from intentionally choosing to let go of the lesser and embrace the thing of higher value.  It comes from asking: Is its value worth what it costs you?

By giving myself permission to spend my time and energy on the things I am most passionate about at the moment (and permission to release the things that are of lesser value for me right now), I am more productive and happier with the quality of my work.  That is no small thing for a perfectionist.

I encourage you to find the balance in your life that works for you.  Many people will have an opinion about what your priorities should be.  But if you take some time to get quiet and you are honest with yourself about what you value, it will become clear which things in your life have little or no value for the journey ahead of you.  Why carry the extra weight just because everyone else is?  Or because someone else thinks that you should?

Travel light.  Trade up from lesser things.

Until next time.

~~EJ

Children are listening. What are they being taught?

I have remained silent for a while now.  Not for lack of, but rather

Too many thoughts; too many things to say.

Too many things happening inside me and in the world around me.

 

It is highly likely that I will have more to say at a later date.

But for now, just this:

 

Love your neighbor.  Love your enemies.  Love one another.

Do justice.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly with your God.

If you must hate something, hate injustice in all its forms.

 

Children will listen to our words and observe our actions.

Carefully consider what they may be learning.

 

 

medley of “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” (from South Pacific)

and “Children Will Listen” (from Into the Woods)

sung by Mandy Patinkin

 

Until next time.

~~ EJ

REVIEW: free Amazon Prime movie: “The Book and The Rose” (2001)

51X-6aRb0ML the book and the rose

“Tell me who you love and I will tell you who you are.”


To all the romantics out there: do you wish you had time to spend a lazy day binge-watching Hallmark Channel movies or your all-time favorite romcoms, but you just don’t have that kind of time?

I’ve got a solution for you: the short film The Book and the Rose (30 min)

As I was reading Pamela Redmond Satran’s book How Not to Act Old, I was reminded of the following quote from this movie, which I saw a few years ago (and watched again yesterday).


“I’m as old as everything I’ve ever done,

and as young as everything I still want to do.”

~~ Sarah’s reply when John asks about her age


Do you like a good “meet cute”?  Enjoy the pen pal aspect of You’ve Got Mail (or Shop Around the Corner)?  This film will make your heart happy.

Since this is a review of a short film, I will let my words be few (relatively few, anyway).

extraextra -- the book and the rose

Semi-finalist 2003 Academy Award for Best Short Film.

Winner of 27 awards; 56 film festivals.

Set in 1942.  Philadelphia, PA & Huntington, WV.

The screenplay is based on Max Lucado’s short story “The People with the Roses” (included in his book And the Angels Were Silent).  Or you can read it here (click on “Short Story”in the menu) — interesting to compare, particularly to see how Jeff Bemiss expanded on Lucado’s approximately forty sentences.

still03 -- the book and the rose

If you asked me for a plot summary, I would say something like:

A man spends $1.50 to buy a first edition of Anna Karenina, only to find its margins filled with the thoughts of the book’s previous owner.  After tracking down an address for the woman who scribbled and underlined Tolstoy’s masterpiece, he begins exchanging letters with her.


In Sarah’s reply to John’s first letter:

“That’s what reading a book is to me –

lingering over the parts I like, recording my thoughts and feelings.  

As long as I can remember, books have been my diary.”


Books are like that for me too – fiction and non-fiction alike.  In fact as a teen, I carried a paperback anthology of poetry with me everywhere I went.  I would write the date when I first read each poem and underline words or phrases that had significance for me, as well as writing my thoughts in the margin.  Sometimes, I would reread old favorites and add new thoughts.  I still have that book with my writing filling most of the pages.  It is interesting how my penmanship (and choice of ink color) has changed over time – although still recognizably mine, it is clearly penned with a less mature hand.  It is far more interesting to see where my thinking has remained the same and where it now differs.


John wrote to Sarah:

“Every time I write you, every time I read you, I feel a bit of my life happening.”


Getting to know someone through their handwritten comments is a romantically appealing notion to me.  I suppose that the modern day equivalent would be activating the popular highlighting of other readers on e-books … or live tweeting during a tv show or movie.

still06 -- the book and the rose

No matter the time period, the form of communication, or the method of transportation, it is our interaction with people and their ideas that shapes our lives – ourselves and our days.  Be present and view the life around you with soft, receiving eyes.  Take it all in.  Do not preemptively discard things, people, or ideas that may turn out to be life-changing and defining.


“A month doesn’t pass, that I don’t think about it.  How close I came …

I was looking for a beautiful woman, and almost missed the love of my life.”


I hope you enjoy the movie both for its love story and its philosophical reminders.  And that you find (or make) a little time to kick back, relax, laugh … do something nice for yourself and someone else.


“Tell me who you love and I will tell you who you are.”

Creole proverb; handwritten by Sarah in margin of book


Until next time.

~~EJ



P.S.   Things you may find interesting:

*     Interview with director and screenwriter Jeff Bemiss — print interview CLICK HERE

*    “Sarah’s Theme” by composer Gregg Conser — CLICK HERE

*     Screenplay  (click on “Shooting Script” in the menu) — HERE

*     Behind the scenes photos — CLICK HERE

REVIEW: free Amazon Prime movie: “Savior” (2014)

712bfcK4OaL._UY200_UY200_ -- Savior 2014

Happy Easter!

In the Christian tradition, this is Holy Week.  Even if we did not know this from looking at a calendar, it would become apparent when looking through the television listings – movies and documentaries about the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, plus “Biblical epics” both classic and new.

Most are familiar with the obvious seasonal choices, such as The Passion of the Christ (2004).  Recently, the airwaves have bombarded viewers with promos for The Dovekeepers on CBS and A.D. The Bible Continues on NBC.  Then there are the classic grand-scale epics like The Ten Commandments (1956).

For many years, my seasonal habit has been to read, listen to, and/or view The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in some form.  Although it is an allegory, I have enjoyed its telling of the Easter story since I was a child.

The book can be read as originally published in the UK or its slightly altered version released in the US.  There is an unabridged audiobook (narrated by Michael York), as well as two recordings of radio theatre adaptations.  There are three films: the 1979 animated version (Children’s Television Workshop), the 1988 BBC version (which was followed by Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Silver Chair) and the more recent version in 2005 by Disney/Walden Media (followed by Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader).  Additionally, I am aware of at least five stage adaptions (including a musical).

I would recommend the C.S. Lewis classic in any form.

 71iBTF7i8qL -- LWW narnia Lewis cover

REVIEW:

Switching track now to review a film I stumbled upon this week.  While looking through available seasonal viewing on Amazon Instant Video, I found the independent film Savior among those free for Prime members.

Click here:  Savior (2014)

To view a two-minute trailer:

Written and produced by local congregation members from Freedom Church in the U.K.  This 50 minute film sets the Christmas story against the backdrop of 21st century England.  The last few minutes (at 45:25 on the counter), it shifts to telling the Easter story with the use of a voiceover, which the film also employs in its introductory segment.  In my opinion, these portions are the best writing found here and worth viewing even if you fast forward through the middle.

For an independent film, it is quite well done.  Bringing the story into a modern context will at times make you chuckle, but the device is effective in causing the viewer to see that these events could truly happen.  You see the strain on the relationship of Mary and Joe, the representation of social strata, what pressure and power look like in a modern political climate, etc.  Setting it in Britain, where there is both elected government and a royal family, gave context to Herod’s concern of being overthrown by the King of Kings.

I watched this film twice in the past week for free on Amazon – and then ordered a dvd copy for my home collection.

Here is an excerpt from voiceover at end:

“The Savior of the world in the form of a baby.  Looking at His beauty and fragility, it was hard for them to believe that this was the one they had all been waiting for.  But they all knew it to be true.  They all knew that this child would grow to be the hope for all mankind.

To change the world, you don’t need to be the strongest or the wisest, the bravest or the most qualified.  All you need to change the world is to be willing – willing to accept the call.  God uses normal people to make a difference in this world.  He uses those with an ordinary present to make an extraordinary future.  …

That baby grew to be a man, a man who was assigned to rip mankind from the jaws of darkness, a man who was called to fight death in exchange for our freedom.   He came and lived a life of defiant faith, triumphant justice, and ferocious love.  But to free man from the power of sin, to save mankind once and for all, there was one more thing He had to do. …

Finally, a way has been made.  His name is Jesus Christ and He is the Savior to all mankind, now and forever.”

stained glass window in the Visitor Center of Blenko Glass Company (Milton WV)

stained glass window in the Visitor Center of     Blenko Glass Company (Milton WV)

Until next time.

~~ EJ

REVIEW: free Amazon Prime movie: “The Other End of the Line” (2008) PG-13

The Other End of the Line

I had not planned on doing a movie review right now.  I had planned to carefully choose an old favorite or a new release.  However, I watched this movie a couple days ago and then watched it again today with my spouse.  In my book, anything worth watching a second time is worth recommending.  Amazon tells me it is free for only 3 more days.  So the tyranny of the urgent wins out in this case.

Click here: The Other End of the Line.  FREE with Amazon Prime through 3/31.  After that, $2.99 for rental.

INTRO: Amazon Prime free movies – helping you find hidden gems

This will be the first of many reviews of this type – movies that (at the time of the post) are free with Amazon Prime … which I usually pick rather randomly.

I have been an Amazon Prime member from the beginning.  At first, it was just for the shipping benefits.  Over the years, the benefits have expanded and I have tried to make use of them.  I have watched many old favorites (from 1940s screwball comedies to 1960s beach romps to 1980s John Hughes classics).  I have binged watched several tv shows that I missed (or avoided) when they originally aired.

However, one of the most delightful things is to stumble upon a “hidden gem” and watch it on a hunch – could be the summary, trailer, reviews, an actor’s name I recognize, the poster art – but something will get me to take a chance and at least watch the first 10 minutes.  I will pass along recommendations to you here, on Twitter, and/or Facebook.

REVIEW:

As modern romantic comedies go, The Other End of the Line is better than average.  I am a fan of the genre, particularly when I am in the mood for something fluffy, something that requires little thought.  (Apropos, as amusement = without thought.)  If you appreciate an old-fashioned “meet cute” scenario, then you’ll delight in getting to see the leading man meet his love twice.  In real life, he might have overlooked her, as he was busy trying to land an account with a big client and was already involved with a woman who was perfect for him, at least “on paper.”  However, this is fiction – an unabashedly romantic comedy, at that – so it should not be surprising that he notices her.

One theme that has been already done, but well executed in this film, is the clash of two cultures.  If you enjoy seeing two people choose love over what is expected in their respective worlds (think: My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Bend It Like Beckham, Fools Rush In, etc.), then you are sure to enjoy this movie.   To say much more than that would be unnecessary and could be considered spoiler.

When watching a movie or tv show in the comfort of my home, I almost always have some device in my hand or on my lap so that I can investigate the credits on IMDB.  A professor of mine once pointed out that you find out the most interesting things in the footnotes, credits, liner notes, etc. – and I have repeatedly found her words to be true.  So rather than give you a rehashing of the plot, I will choose to point out some of the talent associated with this project.

The performances are solid, the acting (while not necessarily Oscar-worthy) is believable.  The roles were well cast, particularly for the genre.  There are recognizable faces for viewers of various ages: Anupam Kher (Jesminder’s father in Bend It Like Beckham), Austin Basis (J.T. on CW’s Beauty and the Beast), Larry Miller (Paolo the hairdresser in Princess Diaries), Jesse Metcalfe (John Rowland on Desperate Housewives), and Sara Foster (VH1’s new faux-reality show Barely Famous).   For more info: www.imdb.com/title/tt1049405/

As a musician, I always notice the use of music in film, whether it be the placement of popular songs or underscore written for the movie.  In both cases, this was accomplished well (I hate to sound like a broken record) for the genre.  As a result, the remainder of this review will deal with the music.  There are certain things that audiences have come to expect in romantic comedies – the appropriate sprinkling of fun songs during montages (a fun day together or a date night), with the occasional romantic song (a line or two heard prominently before fading into the background for us to hear dialogue), as well as the underscoring (particularly during travel, humorous moments, near kisses).   And if there is a gathering of some sort (party or wedding), then there will inevitably be dance music.  This film ticks all the musical boxes.

Some of the songs in this film have been used repeatedly, but the covers/arrangements found here are well-chosen and deserve a listen on their own merits.  One minor complaint: I feel that it should be noted that the use here of Marie Barnett’s “Breathe” (ASCAP 2002 most recorded song) is out of context.  I recall it was used similarly in a tv commercial – extracting one phrase of lyrics and primarily using it is an instrumental to set a mood.  In this film, it is used as if it were a song of romantic love.  For those familiar with the song, its use here feels a bit odd.  The song was in fact spontaneously sung during a church service in 1995 and subsequently became a popular contemporary worship anthem, recorded by many artists including Michael W. Smith. (More info: http://www.vineyardmusic.com/vm/content/marie-barnett)

The film score was composed by BC Smith.  I must admit that I did not recognize his name, but I was familiar with some of his other credits.  A cursory look at his website, including training mentioned in his bio, indicates that this will not be the last time I run across his name.  Not surprisingly from the score of this film and confirmed by a glance at his credits, he is comfortable in a wide array of musical genres.  He is among the ranks of the (largely) nameless, faceless composers in Hollywood who turn out a stream of quality work.  They do not necessarily have an identifiable “sound” because they are chameleons and thus quite adept at using a variety of dialects within the language of music.  If film music is of interest to you, give his work further consideration: www.bcsmithmusic.com

In conclusion, there are many reasons why it is worth spending 1 hour 45 minutes watching this movie.  It will make you laugh.  It will warm your heart.  You might even watch it a second time.

Until next time.

~~ EJ

Pause. Balance. Live.

2015 FL beach color correct crop

Well, I certainly did not intend on taking a month-long break after setting up this blog.  What is it they say about the best laid plans?

After my previous post, I went on vacation for 10 days.  Here’s the summary:

  • stayed in an amazing rental on a beach in Florida,
  • left the sliding door open to hear the waves as I fell asleep,
  • awoke to an ocean sunrise,
  • got a great natural pedicure every day from the sand and salt water,
  • and I reveled in spending every moment with the love of my life, who also happens to be my best friend.

2015 FL balcony view crop

In other words, the things of my daily life grew strangely dim.  It was lovely to put my life on pause for a short time.  I did not want to come home.  But home I trudged, with a wicked chest cold as a souvenir.  I think I have finally caught up on email, laundry, and other things that had piled up.

I’ve been reading lots of things lately – while on the beach and then at home, sick in bed.  I have been ruminating and meditating.  Thoughts have been percolating and germinating.  So many – strike that – too many things to say.  I’ll have to press pause and come back to those ideas after more time marinating.

That’s twice now that I have used the word “pause.”  Did you notice?  Or did you (like I am prone to do) fast forward, skimming past the middle to get to the end?  Whether you choose the term “mindfulness” or prefer to talk about “being present” – the concept is the same.

Please allow a brief interruption here.  My brain has cued up Paul Simon’s famous lyric (which is the classic recipe for “Feelin’ Groovy”): “Slow down.  You move too fast.”

Moving on … If we use the analogy of viewing television (not that I am advocating watching our lives go by as opposed to truly living – but for the sake of making a point…), there are several ways we go through this life.

WATCH LIVE:  To watch a broadcast live is to participate in a community event.  Even if you are alone on your couch, it is a simultaneous shared experience.  Connection and interaction with people is important, even if it is via technology.

WATCH ON-DEMAND:  It is sometimes necessary to do things when they are convenient – schedules just get too busy.  Sometimes, we need to take care of ourselves by slowing the pace of life and watch our favorite programming in a way that allows us even more control – such as pause, fast forward, rewind, and stop.

PAUSE allows us to control the pacing of things further – not that we don’t want to see/do/experience something, we just need to determine when.

FAST FORWARD allows us skip something that is either unnecessary or unpleasant.  Let’s be honest – sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes it’s our way of avoiding what makes us uncomfortable.

REWIND allows us to re-experience something.  This can also be either good (recalling happy memories) or bad (dwelling on painful or unhealthy memories).  Either way, it is an attempt to live in the past – which when you think about it, it is only possible to live in the present and move into the future (which then becomes the present and all too quickly becomes the past).

STOP allows us to bring something to a halt.  The upside is that some things need to end.  We are better off without them.  However, when we are fearful of change, we may hit stop when what we really should do is hit pause, take a deep breath, and then take the risky leap and hit play again.

RECORD allows us to take mental snapshots to file away in scrapbooks of memories.  At this point, do I even need to say that this can either be good or bad?

2015 blog pic -- pause play stop

The important thing is to actually live – participate in your own life.  I am reminded of the scene in the movie The Holiday when Eli Wallach leads Kate Winslet’s character to the following realization: “You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life.”

Sometimes active living means knowing when you need a vacation and giving yourself permission to take a break in order to refresh.  It also means challenging yourself to do new things.  It is vital to keep the balance between those two things: challenge and renewal.  In music, it is the balance between tension and release.  There are opposing forces everywhere: push and pull, lead and follow, sound and silence, light and shadow, the wind up and the pitch, the crest of the wave and the trough.

Tune in next time to hear me ramble about … whatever’s on my mind.  It could be women’s issues or neuroscience – since it is Women’s History Month and Brain Injury Awareness Month.  Or it might be something else entirely (like the movie review I am about to edit).

Mr Rogers closing theme

Until next time.

~~ EJ

Life = big canvas = blank page

My mind sees a page.   It’s lying blank and white.

~~ from the song  “Can’t Close My Eyes” by Jan Krist

fb cover photo -- Danny Kaye quote

We humans are creative beings.  It is in our very nature.  

Fill the silence with sound.

Fill the blank page with words.

Fill the blank canvas with shadow and light.

Allow the clay to take shape.  

Allow the sculpture emerge from the marble.

As we create, our lives will be filled with wonder and delight, joy and fulfillment.

Many wonderful things will take shape … and emerge before our eyes.

” … that you are here; that life exists, and identity;

that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.

What will your verse be?”

~~ Robin WIlliams as John Keating in Dead Poets Society