Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

I've been slowly reading the "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" books by Alexander McCall Smith. I'm reading them slowly because I like them, and I find that if I read a series too quickly, I tend not to enjoy the later books as much. I think I've read five books in the series over the last couple of years, and there are a few more to go.

Usually the more I love a book, the more I hate the movie. However, HBO has made a TV series based on these books, and it's wonderful. I knew Jill Scott was a great singer, but I hadn't realized that she could also act. She seems perfectly cast as the lead character, Precious Ramotswe. When I first saw Anika Noni Rose onscreen, the actress who plays the detective agency's secretary, I thought it was terrible casting. The character, Grace Makutsi, is plain and awkward, while the actress is beautiful. I've always hated the idea that if a beautiful woman wears glasses, she looks plain. But Ms. Rose is so funny and plays her part so well, that within a few minutes I couldn't imagine her as anyone but Grace Makutsi. My mom compared her to Lucille Ball, and it's not a bad comparison.

The TV series is filmed on location in Botswana, and the setting adds a lot to the stories. You can see for yourself the beauty that Precious Ramotswe is always describing in the books. The series also does a good job with the tone of the stories, which varies from comical to serious to eerily supernatural. Precious Ramotswe's cases deal with everything from cheating husbands to insurance fraud to witch doctors, and she approaches them all with determination, compassion, and a thirst for justice.

I highly recommend both the books and the series. If you don't get HBO, I'm sure it will be released on DVD in a few months.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Should I Feel Old?

Having children makes you feel old. My children insist on calling my childhood years "the old days" even though I am quite sure that the old days were when MY parents were growing up. Which is weird, because I remember my parents saying the same thing about their parents.

However, lately I have been feeling very young, because people keep sending me emails that ask me if I am old. Since these emails refer to things like party lines, milk delivery, and green stamps, I must not be old. The strange thing is that these emails come from friends who are just a few years older than me, but the quizzes sound like they are intended for people who grew up in the 1940's and 1950's. My friends must be almost as confused as my children, who think that the natural follow-up to finding out that there were no cell phones when I was a child is the question, "Did you have electricity?" That's right kids, we didn't have cell phones because we couldn't charge them.

Here's some memories of my old-fashioned childhood in the 1970's:

The first car I remember is not a Studebaker, but our Ford Pinto. My brother used to scare me by telling me it would blow up if anybody hit us from behind. At the time, I thought he was making this up to tease me.

My kids would probably be confused by the cranks on the inside of the car doors. We turned these cranks to open and close the car windows. You had to walk right up to your car and put the key in the keyhole, then pull a handle, to open the doors. The only thing that beeped was the horn.

We had only one phone in our house, but not on a party line. And my dad put a long, curly cord on it so you could walk about 4 feet away from the wall while you were talking. That's what we considered a portable phone.

My mom didn't use an RC Cola bottle with holes in the lid to sprinkle water on her ironing. My mom didn't iron at all if she could help it. She bought my dad permanent press shirts that went in the dryer. All the rest of the laundry was hung on the clothes line to dry. This wasn't because we were "green", it was because with no air conditioning, our dryer would heat up half the house if you turned it on in the summer.

Birthday parties were pretty simple when I was a kid. You played "Red Light, Green Light" or "Red Rover" and you stood on a stepstool and tried to drop clothespins into a jar. Once, a new family moved to town, and the birthday girl's mom gave us goodie bags. I was confused, because I wasn't sure why I was getting a gift on someone else's birthday.

My kids are living in a world that is pretty different than the one I grew up in. On the other hand, some things haven't changed so much. My kids love to go to the movies, read stories, ride their bikes, and play on a playground. The best part of a birthday party is still the cake. My kids get bored on an airplane, but think sledding is thrilling.

It's fun to think about how my kids will describe their childhood to the next generation. "You won't believe this, but we couldn't upload information into our cyberbrains. We had to turn on the computer and actually read the screen to learn things! It took minutes!"