Too Close for Comfort: British Drama


I’ve been on a BBC drama/Masterpiece Theater kick lately, trying to get my fix of life on the other side of the pond between seasons of Downton Abbey. A friend recommended Doc Martin, a quirky series and lots of fun, though not a costume drama.

Definitely worth watching if you aren’t hooked on it already.

Browsing the DVD shelves at the library, I ran across Lark Rise to Candleford. It is a costume drama set in the late 1800s. Think Little House on the Prairie goes to England. A fun series the whole family can watch. The trailers at the beginning of Lark Rise featured Cranford, another costume drama set in a small town in 1840s England. It is so, so, so good. The downside? Masterpiece Theater made only one series.

Five beautiful episodes that left me wanting more, more, more.

These programs are wonderful, but the appearances of the same actors in various English drama feels too close for comfort…dare I say incestuous?

A strong word, I know, but here’s what I mean.

Eileen Atkins who does a bang up job as spinster sister Deborah Jenkyns in Cranford also plays Ruth Ellingham in Doc Martin. Jim Carter, who Dowton Abbey fans know as Mr. Carson the butler shows up in female-heavy Cranford as the retired Captain Brown.

But that’s just the beginning.

Actress Julia Sawalha is his Cranford daughter, Jessie Brown. But in Lark Rise to Candleford she’s postmistress Dorcas Lane, linchpin of the community who bodice heaves like a true damsel in distress.

Are you with me so far?

Another Cranford to Lark Rise in Candleford crossover is the actor Claudie Blakely. In Cranford she’s Martha the loyal maid, and in Larkrise she’s Emma Timmins, the wise and loving mother of the main character.

But wait. Here’s the real shocker.

The actor who plays Emma’s husband Robert Timmins on Lark Rise is Brendan Coyle. That’s right! Downton Abbey’s Mr. Bates really is married to another woman! What will Anna, his Downton wife and Lady Mary’s personal maid think when she finds out?

Now you understand why I chose such strong language.

The whole sordid situation almost makes me want to pull the plug on British dramas. But not quite. Because it’s my duty to watch Downton Abbey. And Doc Martin. And Lark Rise. To keep an eye on Mr. Bates. And Ruth Ellingham. And Dorcas Lane.

In case things get too close for comfort, and England calls on me to save the day.

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Three Aged Thoughts for Thursday


  1. Winnie the Pooh made his first appearance 90 years ago this month. You can hear his creator, A. A. Milne read the beginning of a Pooh tale at this NPR link.
  2. Florida resident Joe Newman is running for Congress at age 101. Why now? Because, Newman said, when he watched children get off the bus after school he worries about what kind of world we’re leaving for them.
  3. Maria, the last of the Von Trapp children, died at age 99. I wonder what her favorite Sound of Music song was. Mine’s “The Lonely Goatherd.” Yours?

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Monkey Business


Today’s post is devoted to monkey business, courtesy of the email marketing service, Mail Chimp. That’s the service I use for a quarterly newsletter at Different Dream, my special needs website. The company held a drawing and pulled our my name as the winner Freddie, their little mascot.

Freddie’s kinda cute, about four inches tall, and he’s made of plastic. He’s also quite versatile, with arms that can be positioned in the picture above and the one below.


And even like this:

Mail Chimp 1

The view from the back isn’t bad, either. Especially if you’re into back packs. And heart-shaped butt tattoos.


The problem with Freddie is that he doesn’t fit in with the Purgeal Vortex theme I’ve been pursuing with a vengeance for the past two months. The massive purge has continued unabated for 7 Saturdays in a row, and my clutter tolerance is at an all time low. So Freddie has to go.

And, since he came to this house via a drawing, I’d like to select his new home in the same way. To enter the drawing, go to Different Dream and sign up for the quarterly newsletter by March 1, 2014. (Scroll down to locate it on the right hand side of the page.) Those who already receive the newsletter can enter by leaving a comment below by March 1, 2014. I’ll email the winner about mailing information and send Freddie in his original box, so he’ll be worth oodles more as a collector’s item in 50 years.

Quite the deal, huh? Who can resist, huh? Don’t everyone head over there at once!

Winners, Every One

everybody wins

The armchair Olympics are in full swing on our little gravel road. We’ve been twirling in the air, slicing down the ski slopes, gliding across the ice, and sliding along the sled runs with nary a turned ankle or bruise. We are loving it.

Except for one teensy-weensy problem.

Every time the three winners mount the podium and receive their medals, while the world is focused on their laudatory accomplishments, my thoughts wander to the athletes who didn’t win. The fourth place bobsledder who was .04 tenths of a second too slow. The skater who fell hard at the beginning of his program, then got up and smiled through the rest of the program, though he had to be in pain. The skicross racer who broke her spine. Even Bob Costa who was felled by pink eye.

Winners, every one.

This mindset could be the product of twenty-five years as an elementary teacher. Twenty-five years of watching the student who got a C on a test work much harder than the one who aced it. Twenty-five years of cheering for third graders who didn’t know their math facts in the fall, but did in the spring, though they would never be the fastest on timed tests. Twenty-five years of marveling at those rare kids who cared more about being kind to their classmates than about being first.

Winners, every one.

Every time the three medal winners in any event mount the podium, I think about the athletes who aren’t there. Those with less natural talent or came from less affluent countries, yet worked harder than whoever won. Those who grew the most. Those who cared more about being kind to other participants instead of being first.

Winners, every one.

The school teacher in me wants them all to receive medals–the Olympic equivalent of an elementary school field day participation ribbon. To be given a momento to carry home and pass on to their children and grandchildren. Or better yet, to leave the festivities with a rock solid, internal assurance of the reality that escapes those who focus only on the podium. The understanding of an undeniable truth. By making it to Sochi, they are forever and for always

Winners, every one.

Photo courtesy of Vlado at

Shirley Temple Lives


When the radio announcer relayed the news of Shirley Temple Black’s death on Monday morning, I knew what the topic of conversation would be during my weekly visit with Mom.

Sure enough, Curly Top was on Mom’s mind on Tuesday. “Shirley Temple died,” she announced when I stepped through the door. “She was 85.”

“Same age as you,” I replied. “You kind of grew up together.”

Mom nodded. “My mother made Shirley Temple dresses for me and Ruth.”

The story is one Mom likes to tell, so I didn’t well bother to ask if the dresses were made out of feed sacks. I knew they were. “Did she fix your hair like hers, too?” I asked instead.

Ruth Dorothy

Ruth, about age 6, and Mom about age 4, a few years before Shirley Temple hit the silver screen.

Another nod. “Uh-huh. And sometimes, we went to Pipestone to see her movies.” Mom smiled at the thought of those long ago days.

Mom’s face brightened as she recounted old memories about the people who populated her early childhood–her parents, six brothers and sisters, and Shirley Temple.

All gone. They’re all gone, and my heart ached for her loneliness. But getting weepy wasn’t the way to honor Little Miss Broadway. “Where do you want to go for lunch?” I asked in my perkiest voice.

We finally settled on Chili’s, and halfway through the chips and salsa Mom said, “Shirley Temple died.”

“You kind of grew up together,” I said, and we were off and running again.

The Little Colonel’s passing came up several more times that afternoon, but Mom never displayed a hint of sadness. Only happy memories brought to life by the death of Bright Eyes: the dresses made from feed sacks, hours spent playing with her sister Ruth, eating meals with her parents and siblings at the crowded kitchen table, the excitement of going to the movies on a Saturday afternoon.

Not a mention of the imminence of death. Not a hint of fear. Just delight in the past, and I think, a readiness for one day in the future when she will follow The Littlest Rebel out of this world and into the next. A readiness to join her parents, her 6 siblings, their spouses and her husband in death.

Until that day comes, my brother will tease her. My sister will phone often. Her grandchildren, nieces, and nephews will send cards and pictures. Her baby sister, born when Mom and Susannah of the Mounties were 6, will call. And I will visit on Tuesdays, grateful for Mom’s delight in the long ago days when she is young, and Shirley Temple lives.

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Going for the Gold on our Gravel Road


Like many people around the world, the man of steel and I spent a good chunk of the weekend watching the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Like many people around the world, we are in the know about:

  • Bob Costa’s bout with pink eye eye infection that has him sporting glasses.
  • the Sochi wall where Maria Sharpova hit tennis ball summer and winter.
  • the skating palace designed to look like an ice berg.
  • every sport that contains the words “ice” or “snow.”
  • how to say Evgeni Plushenko without blinking an eye.

Unlike many people around the world, we feel like a couple eight-year-olds watching the games for the first time in their living memories. That’s because after years over a decade of no television due to the switch from analog to digital television that left us in the black hole of free television reception, we finally broke down and got Direct TV. Mainly to make Camp Dorothy‘s namesake happy come time for Wheel of Fortune. But as we’re discovering this weekend, our magnanimity combined with the coldest, snowiest Iowa winter in years, has the added benefit of allowing us to feel like we’re ringside at Sochi. Without the security checks or jet lag.

Worth every penny, I say.

And so does the man of steel. Inspired by the soaring heights achieved by slope styler Sage Kotsenburg and Evgeni Plushenko skating after back surgery, Hiram went cross-country skiing with a friend yesterday afternoon. Instead of a cute, body hugging skiing outfit, he wore old, insulated wind pants with a hole in the pocket that his cell phone slips through and gets caught in the hemline.

But that’s another story.

Watching the Olympics has inspired me, too. Though not enough to actually do anything physical. Instead, I’m watching the figure skating (team, men’s, women’s, pairs, and dancing–I’m an equal opportunity gawker) to become an expert about jumps, spins, footwork sequences, and all the other cool stuff whose names escape me. My plan is to become an expert in the field and replace Sarah Hughes as the female commentator, thus realizing a life long desire to meet Scotty Hamilton.

It could happen.

How do I know? Because even though I’m not a figure skater, I’ve eaten cereal from a box featuring the photograph of a figure skater. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to glue sequins on my kicky, flirty little figure skating commentator outfit. The 2018 Olympics are only four years away, and I have a lot to do before then.

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What My Friend Taught Me about Philip Seymour Hoffman


What to say about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death? I couldn’t answer that question yesterday while writing the week’s Three Thoughts for Thursday. I didn’t know how to put into words my sadness over the loss of this brilliant actor and my anger about heroin and the destruction it causes. So I wrote about other, lighter things.

Thankfully,  my friend and co-author Katie Wetherbee penned a post that beautifully articulates what so many are feeling in the wake of Hoffman’s death. Not only that, she shifts the focus from condemnation to compassion and from blame to blessing by revealing the truth of the matter as only she can.

Once you read her post, you’ll see how blessed I am to be writing a book about making every child welcome at church with her. You’ll see why I am certain that even when my focus sometimes shifts from tots to teaching tips and from students to strategies, Katie’s compassion and clear-eyed gaze will correct my course. Therefore, you’re invited to hop on over to Katie’s post, What Philip Seymour Hoffman Taught Me, and read her wise words. You’ll be glad you did.

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Top 10 Signs of a Downton Abbey Addiction


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM 5) recognizes the addictive nature of Downton Abbey. They warn fans to watch for the following signs of Downton Abbey Addiction (DAA):

10.  You or those you love no longer call their spouses by their first name. Instead, in a thick English accent, they use their surname. As in “Mr. Philo, could you pick up bread at the grocery store on the way home?” To which your loved one replies in kind. As in “Certainly, Mrs. Philo, I’d be delighted.”

9.   You or someone you love plans to wear a beaded flapper dress or black tails and white tie on a Valentine’s Day date.

8.    Your children or the children of someone you love get this Sesame Street skit the first time they see it.

7.   The first response you or someone you love as to the Harry Potter movies is, “Oh look, Professor McGonagall is played by the Dowager Countess of Grantham.

6.  You or someone you love wishes your local news channel would carry more stories like this one which aired on KCCI in Des Moines, Iowa. You or someone you else also TiVoed the clip and show it when company comes to your house.

5.   On Sunday evenings, you or someone you loves sets an alarm clock for 20 minutes earlier than Downton Abbey’s start time, so you can pop popcorn beforehand.

4.   You or someone you know snorts liquid out your nose every you see the Downton Arby’s spoof.YouTube Preview Image

3.   You or someone you love is circulating a petition to demand the Olympic Games be suspended when Downton Abbey is on television.

2.   Ditto for the Super Bowl and the Grammys.

1.   The list of potential baby names for your next child or grandchild consists of these names: Mary, Edith, Sibyl, Violet, Cora, Ivy, Anna, Daisy, Rose, Bates, Grantham, John, Matthew, Tom, Robert, Carson, and Alfred.

The DSM 5 recommends that if you or someone you love is displaying three or more of the above behaviors, they should begin attending Downton Abbey Addiction Anonymous (DAAA) immediately. Groups meet 24/7 except for Sunday evenings when the show airs.

What DAA symptoms are you or someone you love exhibiting. Begin your comment with, “Hi, my name is ______________________ and I’m a Downton Abbey Addict.

Staying Put

Winter moon

Staying put.

It’s what authors have to do if they really want to complete the novel, the memoir, or whatever staggering work of heart-breaking genius is buzzing around in their heads.

And it works.

For the past 2 1/2 weeks I’ve been staying put and working steadily. The manuscript for Every Child Welcome is almost complete. I’m conducting research for the web page that goes live when The Caregiver’s Notebook releases in the fall of 2014. And the plot of my mystery novel is moving forward, too. Yahoo!

But there’s a problem with staying put.

It doesn’t give a blogger much to write about on a daily basis. Unless readers want to hear about the state of a blogger’s sinuses, colon, and physical maladies that capture the attention of authors who are either madly writing or madly self-obsessed most of the time.

Don’t worry. I’m not going there.

Instead, I’ll point you to three favorite blogs written by moms parenting kids with special needs. First is Jo Ashline. She’s transparent, honest, and very funny about her struggles as the parent of a son with autism. Enjoy her post entitled Me, which explains why she’s having a hard time getting started on her memoir.

Second is Amy Julia Becker. She’s mom to three young kids. The oldest, Penny, lives with Down syndrome. Her post I Want to Be a Love, But I Also Want the Special Seat… made me smile. I hope it makes you smile, too.

And finally, from Ellen Seidman at Love That Max. Her love for Max, who has cerebral palsy, shines through her post, Hydroplaning Through Life and Grounding Myself. If you’re a softy, keep a tissue handy for this one.

Now it’s your turn to give a shout out to a favorite blog in the comment box. Think of it as traveling the world (wide web) while staying put!

Smart Pill? Maybe, Maybe Not


About a week ago, NPR ran a story about a study of a drug that “allows the brain to absorb new information as easily as it did before age 7.”


I was all enthusiastic about having a brain flexible enough to learn perfect pitch (the subject of the study), or a foreign language which, the report reminded, is much easier for children to learn than for adults. The whole idea being able to learn stuff missed during childhood, such as the language of mathematics (as the sad state of our checkbook attests I missed it) was highly enticing. So enticing I was compelled to read the online story to see if it was too good to be true.

Turns out, it was.

Too good to be true, that is. According to the comments made by listeners and readers–and there were plenty–the mood-stabilizing drug used in the study has lots of side effects. Also, as some who left comments snarkily and repeatedly pointed out, the name of the drug was misspelled in the transcript of the audio report. (Nothing in the report as to whether the misspelling was a side effect of the mood-stabilizing drug or if the person who did the transcribing missed the language of spelling before age 7.) Either way, the side effects mentioned in the comments make it doubtful that the smart pill will be on the market any time soon.

So this creeping-up-on 60 body is stuck with its creeping-up-on 60 brain.

Back to life before hearing the report of the smart pill and visions of speaking multiple languages began dancing in my head. And visions of dancing the tango. Along with visions of learning to figure skate, play chess, and put on mascara with my mouth shut. All skills missed before age 7. At least this way, I console myself, my body and brain remain a matched set.

Though I really had my heart set on wearing a flippy little figure skating skirt.

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