Commentary on The Secret Garden

secretgardenIsolation, abandonment, neglect and loneliness. All themes that one would not expect in a children’s book about a garden, yet those form the basis of the story about two 10-year-old children.

The first book that I tackled on my list was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, published in 1911. It begins with the story of Mary Lennox. Mary was born in India to wealthy British parents who essentially abandoned her, letting servants care for her until everyone in the household died from a cholera epidemic. Everyone except Mary. She was found by British soldiers and then sent to live with a wealthy uncle, Archibald Craven, who lived on the moors of Yorkshire, England.

A Redemption Story?

The second child, Colin Craven, is Mary’s cousin and son of Archibald Craven. This poor child lost his mother shortly after he was born. In Mr. Craven’s grief, he could not bear to look at Colin, who reminded him too much of his wife. Fearing that something horrible would happen to Colin, Mr. Craven kept him isolated and in bed, treated as if he were an invalid. Cared for by housemaids, nurses and doctors who felt that by giving in to the child’s every wish, he would get better (even though there was nothing really wrong with him in the first place).

Both of these children were described as unpleasant and disagreeable. Left to her own devices, Mary breaks out of the manor house first and learns of the secret garden, locked up after Colin’s dear mother died. She finds it and becomes transformed by nature with the help of her maid Martha’s brother, Dickon.

My mother always says people should be able to take care of themselves, even if they’re rich and important.

Martha, Dickon, their mother Mrs. Sowersby, and their 10 other siblings show what a loving family with happy well-adjusted children looks like. Mrs. Sowersby runs her household, and very little money. Dickon also possesses a talent for charming animals (and when he meets Colin, charming boys). Dickon’s robin, squirrel, rabbit and other animals are key metaphors to humanity.

Do I need to give a spoiler alert here? Hasn’t everyone in the western world read this tale, but me? Well, if you haven’t and think you might… spoiler alert. Jump to the bottom and you can find my score for The Secret Garden (based on a scale of 1-10).

Much more surprising things can happen to anyone who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable, determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place.

Mary and Colin get it together and turn out ok. Mary sees her disagreeable self in Colin and by helping transform Colin, she transforms herself. Colin becomes a strong believer in Magic and Positive Thinking, learns to walk again unaided, and wants to be a scientist. He also wants the approval of his father, who also turns out to be an ok guy, finally seeing Colin as a “real boy” and not an invalid. He was suffering from severe depression after his wife’s death and needed 10 years or so to complete his grieving.

The garden has been transformed back to its former glory as well, and no longer has to remain a secret.

Where you tend a rose, my lad, A thistle cannot grow.

In spite of their early exposure to, well, nothing positive, both Mary and Colin overcome this adversity with both the guidance of each other and Dickon.

It’s a happy ending!

I can’t decide if this story would have appealed to me as a child, but as an adult, having experienced some familial neglect myself, it did, honestly, kind of irritate me. It was a relief, however, to discover that formerly bratty children could find some resilience within themselves and become kind, pleasant people.

Conclusion

On a scale of 1 (the negative end) to 5 (it depends) to 10 (the positive end), my conclusion:

Readable: 10

Enjoyable: 6

Does it deserve to be on “must read” reading lists: 5

Am I glad I read it: 8

Would I read it again: 1

Would I recommend it for children: 5

Average Score: 5.9

Talk About Suicide

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I’ve just returned from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention‘s annual leadership conference. Having been a stay-at-home mom for most of my adult life, being asked to attend a conference is still something of a thrill, even if the conference was in Little Rock, Arkansas, in January. The Arkansas Chapter did a great job making us all feel welcome in spite of problems arising with the winter weather.

Congratulations to all the chapters that won awards at the conference, and special congratulations to the Georgia Chapter that was in the Top Ten Community Walks (the Atlanta walk was #5 in fundraising) and winning the Outstanding Social Media and Outstanding Advocacy awards.

I am the Survivor Outreach Program Coordinator in Georgia, and so what did the conference mean for me and the Outreach program? Most obvious is the name change of the department that oversees this program. Formerly the Loss and Bereavement Department, it is now the Loss and Healing Department. A simple change that indicates a desire to help survivors of suicide loss move forward with healing and positivity. As was pointed out during the conference, it is not that the weight of our grief becomes lighter, but that our backs become stronger and more able to carry that weight.

To Save Lives and Bring Hope to Those Affected by Suicide

That is AFSP’s mission, and Survivor Outreach focuses on both. There is an element of prevention in sharing personal survivor loss stories and sharing resources with the newly bereaved, as these individuals are at greater risk of suicide themselves. And they are sometimes desperately in need of hope that life will get better, even a life transformed by suicide.

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Another group affected by suicide is those with lived experience, or rather those who have had suicidal ideations (had thoughts about suicide) and may or may not have made an attempt to end their lives. Surprisingly, these individuals have not historically been included in the conversation abut suicide, yet they offer a very real look into the why question that plagues so many survivors of suicide loss.

AFSP has a brand new website, and in the “Find Support” Section there are resources for everyone: those who have lost someone, those who are afraid for someone, those who are having thoughts of suicide, and those who have attempted.

Talk Saves Lives

One of the newest programs offered by AFSP emphasizes talk. Their ambitious program to reduce the suicide rate 20% by 2025 needs everyone to talk, to not be afraid to use the word suicide, to ask someone if they need help. Yes, directly. You using the word “suicide” will not give them the idea because the odds may be strong that they are already contemplating that very thing.

Project2025

And share your story. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death with a rate that is rising, not falling. To eliminate the stigma and save lives, we have to be willing to use our words to understand and bring hope. Suicide is not a character flaw. Suicide is preventable.

It seems that I got away from talking about the conference, but it is really what happens after the conference that is important. Oh, and I just noticed that the above graphic has not been updated because AFSP now has 84 chapters, and at least 1 in every state in the United States. They hosted over 360 community walks across the country.

If you are moved to share your story on how suicide affected your life in any way, and want to share it here on my blog, please contact me at mentallydetoured @ gmail dot com

Thank you for reading, and Peace…

 

 

A Sweet Problem

 

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I need an intervention. Nothing as serious as an intervention for a drug or alcohol addiction, because those kinds of addictions are truly serious and nothing to joke about. But, someone stop me, I have an addiction to sugar. I’m helpless when confronted with anything sweet. I googled “sugar addiction” and there were over 5 million results. It’s a thing. There are even more results for the searches “why is sugar bad for you” and “sugar detox”. The addictive property of sugar is the release of dopamine into the brain, making a sugar eater feel good.

You know how scientists change their minds about what is good for you and what you should avoid like the plague? Caffeine, eggs, red wine and fat have all been on the eat it/don’t eat it list off and on for decades. I don’t know if sugar has ever been on the “eat it” list, but it wasn’t that long ago, i.e., when I was a kid, that sugar was at least no big deal. Perhaps one day they will decide that sugar is ok, beneficial even. Go ahead. Indulge.

Until that day, I’m going to blame my parents for this addiction. Breakfast might have been a sliced banana, sprinkled with sugar, or a sugary cereal, or a non-sugary cereal sprinkled with sugar. That sugary pink milk in the bottom of a just finished bowl of Cap’n Crunch with Crunchberries? That’s how I liked my milk. Yum! Then there was the afterschool snack that said I love you more than anything in the world, the brown sugar sandwich.

I can still taste the soft, doughy Mrs. Baird’s white bread; the smooth, creamy butter spread on both slices and the crunch of a generous layer of brown sugar that burst sweetness onto your tongue. And, apparently, gushed dopamine through my brain as I swallowed each delicious morsel.

I would eat one now if I didn’t think the entire world would judge me.

These days, my afternoon Butterfinger is an alcoholic’s cocktail for lunch. Isn’t the first step to recovery admitting you have a problem? Is the next step taking responsibility? I don’t think I’m there yet.

The reason I want to at least reduce my sugar consumption may not be what you think. Sure, I have gotten a bit chubby over the last year, so dropping a few pounds would be a bonus, but the primary reason to quit the sweet stuff is something I mentioned in my birthday post. Arthritis and the painful joints I am now dealing with that seem to be part and parcel of aging. According to the Arthritis Foundation, when experiencing arthritis symptoms, your body is in an inflammatory state and processed sugars aggravate inflammation. If I can be in less pain physically by eating less sugar, I am willing to give up the mental sugar rush and that feeling that says love. Last I checked, I’m reasonably certain that sugar does not have the human capacity to love.

This confession is not leading to the inevitable New Year’s Resolution of I will never eat sugar again. I’m not even going to try to give up sugar. The plan is to reduce my sugar consumption. There. It’s out in the universe. No more Butterfingers every afternoon. I’ll walk right by the bakery in each and every grocery store I visit. I won’t have those trigger foods in the house that tempt and entice me to eat way more than my share. Keep your potato chips. Homemade chocolate chip cookies, no one can eat just one.

If this experiment of sugar deprivation helps me knit faster and run like the wind, look out world, you’ll see me sprinting down the nearest beach in my handknit bikini, happy as can be.*

*That’s a lie. The truth: I might be seen walking briskly on the beach, attired in something that doesn’t unravel, and then sitting poolside, knitting baby things, not bikinis.

Am I being unrealistic? Should I just go cold turkey? And should I not just worry about my knuckles and knees and consider my waistline, too? So many questions with only one answer. We’ll have to wait and see. Thank you for intervening.

Oscar Challenge Review*: Braveheart

*Review = Random commentary

There is a good reason that I had not seen the last 12 Best Picture winners that are on my list. They are all (but 2) violent. I’m not certain about The Last Emperor, but I feel like the odds are good that there is a battle or 2. Swords are especially offensive to my delicate constitution.

braveheartSo I just finished watching Braveheart, the Best Picture winner in 1995, in which swords and other sharp devices are prominently feature. Their budget for fake blood must have been astronomical!

It was up against Apollo 13, Babe, Il Postino: The Postman, and Sense & Sensibility for Best Picture, and ultimately won 5 Academy Awards, as well as other awards. I would have chosen Apollo 13, but that’s just me. And Babe was too cute for words.

Was it any good? According to esteemed internet research site Wikipedia, Braveheart was one of the most historically inaccurate movies ever, and they proceed to list the inaccuracies. That was interesting, because when I was a kid, you might have seen such a movie in history if the teacher didn’t have anything else planned. OK, maybe not THIS one, as the gore factor is high, but you get my drift.

As a story (never mind the battles), for me, it was ok. Freedom and loyalty were predominant themes, with an affair with a princess thrown in. A princess that, in real history, was only 3 years old when William Wallace, the title character played by Mel Gibson, was doing his thing. Kings and noblemen were horrible to their children, and just about everyone else. Battle cries could stir the blood of men who were about to turn around and go home, sensible men that they were.

Bottom Line: I was knitting during most of the movie so I didn’t have to watch the slicing and dicing, stabbing and spearing. I had to fast forward through the final torture scene, which lasted way too long in my opinion. I don’t care if the real William Wallace was or was not drawn and quartered, I did not need to see the torture. I will not voluntarily watch it again. That’s all I have to say. Just remember, as proclaimed by William Wallace on the battlefield:

They may take away our lives, but they will never take our freedom.

 

 

 

Oscar Challenge Review: The Greatest Show on Earth

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Note: See this post for an explanation of my Oscar Challenge.

The 1952 winner of the Academy Awards’ Best Picture was The Greatest Show on EarthBut was it? Looking at the historical background of this circus movie, maybe not because the general consensus now is that it may have been one of the worst pictures to win Best Picture. Other 1952 movies that were nominated for Best Picture included High Noon, Ivanhoe, The Quiet Man and Singin’ in the Rain.

But why did it win? The political climate of 1952 featured Senator Joe McCarthy’s witchhunt for Communists, and many in Hollywood had been blacklisted, including many who worked in some of the other nominees. It is also speculated that those in the Academy saw it as one of Cecil B. DeMille’s last chances to win. He directed, produced and narrated TGSOE.

I’m no movie historian, so here is my 2 cents on this “Greatest Show”…

I’ve now seen all but 11 of the best picture winners, and I wouldn’t call it the worst, but certainly in the bottom 5 or 10. The acting was atrocious. Only Jimmy Stewart, who played the mysterious clown “Buttons” was really any good, and he had a small (though important) role in the movie.

What this movie was, to me, was a film version of the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus.  As a form of entertainment, the circus was losing popularity and gaining costs in the late 1940s-early 1950s. By 1956, the circus stopped traveling with its own venue (the “Big Top”) and began performing in fixed indoor venues. The movie was perhaps a 2-1/2 hour advertisement to get people out to the circus.

And it was a love story. Holly (Betty Hutton) was in love with Brad (Charlton Heston) who was in love with the circus. Holly was also in love with the Great Sebastian (Cornel Wilde) who was in love with himself. Angel (Gloria Grahame) was also in love with Brad. Klaus (Lyle Bettger), the elephant trainer, was in love with Angel, star elephant rider. Angel had once been a beau of Sebastian’s.

I’m not a circus fan, so the circus parts did not appeal to me. The love story and the characters in it were a bit over the top and ridiculous, although I suppose for circus performers over the top and dramatic may have been the norm.

The best (and hokiest) part of the movie was the train wreck. This is the famous movie train wreck that Stephen Spielberg credits as having inspired his film career. It was the first movie that Spielberg had ever seen as a child.

By today’s standards and amazing special effects, the train wreck was awful. Awful as in fake and unbelievable. It seemed like almost no one was killed, and just a handful were injured. Animals, including the lions and elephants, escaped by the dozens, but were amazingly rounded up without incident.

But it did seem right with what would most likely have been a PG rating. It was definitely intended for all audiences.

Bottom line: Did I like it? Eh, it was okay, but I doubt I would watch it again.

 

 

 

 

On Lists, Challenges, Books and Movies

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The secret is out. I love lists. It wasn’t really a secret so much as just a quirk of mine. The passion isn’t for to-do lists, though I will write one now and again if I want to stay focused or I have a bunch to do, and I don’t want to forget anything.

Last year, in late December, I discovered the website listchallenges.com. Basically, people submit lists, and other people who are drawn to time-wasting things like seeing how many things they have read, seen, done, or visited click on each thing they have read, seen, done or visited to earn a score, stars and a ranking. These lists aren’t challenges so much as to make you feel like you have just done more of something than most people. If you end up with a low score, feel free to declare the list “stupid”.

For example, on the Best Picture Academy Award Winners, I am #4 out of the 417 people that have taken this “challenge”. In the top 4%! I only have 12 to go (or 13 if I haven’t seen the 2015 winner–awarded this year). It’s time to finish this one on up. (I mentioned this is a previous post.)

Just to add to my trivial activities, I’ve chosen a book list to complete as well. I chose one that I had already read 64% of the books on the list (32 out of 50). There’s a chance that I’ve read more, but I can’t remember which Jane Austen books I’ve read. This list is called Top 50 Books That Everyone Should Read At Least Once from the Goodreads website.

I am fully aware that these kinds of lists are subjective, but I’m ok with that. And bonus from this list: 7 of the 18 I have left to read are children’s or young adult’s books. One quibble: The Chronicles of Narnia is on the list as 1 book when it is, in fact, a series of 7 books. And the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe made the list separately as well. Go figure.

As I complete a movie or book, I’ll do a quick review and put in my 2 cents on whether it should be on that list or not.