Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Culture Week – Downton Abbey and Educated


First time author Tara Westover wrote a memoir in her late twenties titled, Educated. The New York Times named the book one of the Ten Best Books of 2018 and it’s received so many national awards you’d be bored to tears if I listed them all. Had I known her age when I started reading the book I would have presumed that someone so young couldn’t have lived enough life to be able to write a memoir worthy of such critical acclaim but I would have been wrong. Born in Idaho to a separatist Mormon father who didn’t trust the government, schools or doctors and mother who was a self-taught herbalist and midwife, Tara was the youngest of seven children and growing up her days were filled working alongside her brothers in her father’s junk yard and in the evenings she helped her mother stew herbs. Throw some physical abuse and doomsday prepping into the picture along with some screw-ball ways of viewing the outside world, Tara definitely has a story worth writing and reading about.

Tara was seventeen the first time she stepped inside a school, nor did she get a proper home schooling growing up, but she taught herself what she needed to know to pass the ACT test and scored high enough to get into college. Fast forward to her Wikipedia page: Tara “…graduated magna cum laude from Brigham Young University in 2008 and was subsequently awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. She earned an MPhil from Trinity College, Cambridge in 2009, and in 2010 was a visiting fellow at Harvard University. She returned to Cambridge, where she was awarded a PhD in history in 2014.” I stayed up into the wee hours of the night three nights in a row to read this book and when I was finished, I got on YouTube to watch five interviews. I couldn’t get enough. 

Two days after closing the last page I was in a group of ten---at a cousin’s luncheon---and was delighted to find out that two of us had read Educated, someone else was at a half way point and another had just finished the first chapter. What are the odds of that? Bottom line: I highly recommend this book but I am standing in line to do it behind people like Barack Obama who said, “It’s one of my favorite books of year” and Bill Gates who put it on his Holiday List and wrote, “Tara’s process of self-discovery is beautifully captured in Educated. It’s the kind of book that I think everyone will enjoy, no matter what genre you usually pick up.”

I’m calling this Culture Week because in addition to finding a haunting book, I also saw the movie Downton Abbey with four of my Gathering Girls pals even though I must be the only person on earth who couldn’t get into the TV series. I multitask when I watch TV but so much of the story-line is carried in the facial expressions and body language that I was missing more than I was getting. After a couple of tries, I gave up. I figured with the movie I’d have to keep my eyes on the screen.

“Lacking the nutritious story lines of the past, the movie is mainly empty calories,” the New York Times movie critic wrote about the film.  “For a few fleeting moments, they've returned us to a time of bygone glamor when class trumped crass and even treachery was sweetly done,” wrote Mr. Travers at Rolling Stone. Hummm….which one will turn out to be true for me I wondered before stepping foot inside the theater. 

We went on Cheap Tuesday and I expected the place would be packed with women all lined up and itching to get a ticket like the senior version of when the last Star Wars movie came out only without the costumed people in attendance. I was shocked that we were five of only fifteen people in the theater---much less than usually show up on Cheap Tuesdays. Someone said all the seats over the weekend at all the showings were filled so I can only surmise that elderly women don’t have as much patience as I gave us credit for having. My movie companions are all fans of the series and they were thrilled beyond containment to be there.  Me? I had to force myself to care about seeing Downton Abbey and after viewing the ten minute “tutorial” for those of us who hadn’t seen the series that played just before the movie began I was totally confused and realized why I couldn’t get into the series. It wasn't just my multitasking habits, it was also the fact that there are just too many characters for me to keep track of. 

My bottom line on Downton Abbey? The movie and lunch afterwards with my friends was fun. They loved, LOVED the movie and a couple of them wanted to see it again. I got my six bucks worth just seeing the costumes and antique cars, but I won’t be binge watching the series. ©

49 comments:

  1. Thank you for the two reviews! I will add them to my list of things to read and watch. :)

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    1. My great-niece teaches high school literature and writing and the book is one that is making its rounds in the schools. And I can see why.

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  2. I just finished Westover's "Educated" last night. It was a good read. I found it miraculous how an uneducated young woman was able to reach the academic heights that she did. The long struggle to overcome the abuse of her fundamentalist family was remarkable. Two questions: What is family and its inherent obligations? and What is truth?

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    1. It's hard enough to achieve the academic heights she reached when you have a supportive family. I'm blown away by her achievements. In one of the interviews I saw Tara was asked if there was anything positive that her family taught her that helped her in her studies and she said that her family taught her how to work hard and that you can teach yourself anything you want to learn. Great book that keeps you thinking.

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  3. I have never seen the show and everyone does rave on and on about it. One night I tried and I was bored in 5 minutes so I assumed it was because it was late at night and I just wasn't in the right frame of mind. And the accents made me turn on closed captions so I could understand what the hell they were saying. I'm so bad with that accent.
    I have the book and have yet to begin. Now I can't wait! Thx for the review.

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    1. I forgot about the accents! I'm not good with them either but I'm even worse reading closed captions.

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  4. Both my husband and I loved Downton Abbey when it was on PBS. It was great soap opera type tv, and the gorgeous set decoration and costumes were part of the draw. And I'm a sucker for all things British and "period." Having said all of that, I'll probably wait and see it on a streaming channel.

    The Westover book sounds very similar to The Glass Castle, which I enjoyed. I'll probably read it.

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    1. The costumes and decor was right up my alley. I even saw a few antiques that are similar to ones I've owned over the years.

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  5. I read Educated last spring and loved it. Hard to read in spots but so good. We were at a couples' gathering this summer with the hostess giving the ladies a tour of their new home. Educated was on her bedside table, and all of us had either read it or were reading it. Everyone thought it was great.

    As for DA, I am a fan from the get go and was really sad when it ended. In the dark of the W. MI winter, I was able to look forward to Sunday nights even while I was still working and Monday seemed to come too soon. But people either love it or don't. I haven't seen it yet, but I'm happy to hear the daytime shows weren't packed. It's on my list, but I can't fit it in this week.

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    1. I clearly need to pay closer attention to the books that are listed as the 10 best of whatever calendar year. I am missing great ones. I never would have read this one if my niece hadn't handed it to me in case I couldn't sleep when I stayed overnight at her cottage.

      There are lots of places in the movie and the tutorial where people laughed (me included). The nice part about a period film like that is it never gets dated.

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  6. I've got to ask...why would two people reading this particular blog post click on the "angry" reaction button after reading it? I didn't write anything critical or controversial. At least I didn't think I did. I'm not even sure I understand why two people also clicked on "sad".

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    1. They never crossed my mind. but the simplest answer is usually right.

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    2. Odd that I don't see any "reaction buttons" on your posts. I've looked and looked, and just don't see them. I wouldn't click them anyway, but it's strange. Every now and then I log out of WordPress to take a look at my own sites, just to see what curve ball they might have thrown!

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    3. The reactions are just below the last line of a post and just above the line about labels. Hardly anyone uses them and I've been thinking about deleting them.

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    4. Sure enough. There they are. It's funny that I've never seen them!

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  7. I didn't understand the attraction to Downton Abbey until I decided to watch it from the very beginning and see it through to the very last episode. I loved it and I will watch the movie when I can watch it on the firestick. The book sounds wonderful! I need to check it out.

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    1. I like to understand why so many people love/rave about something like Downton Abbey. Maybe one day when I have the time I'll do what you did.

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  8. I think Educated was one of the most amazing stories I’ve ever read. I don’t know how anyone could come out of the upbringing she did and be a normal adult!
    We went to senior Tuesday yesterday to see Downton Abbey and thoroughly enjoyed it (in a sold-out showing at 11:00 in the morning!). The house itself was so much more impressive on the big screen, as were the shots of the grounds. I was surprised they brought in a couple new characters, and definitely left open the possibility of a sequel.

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    1. That house really is something else, isn't it. I loved the contrast between the servant's quarters and the families.

      It will be interesting to see what Tara Westover does in the coming years. If you are curious about her singing she ended a couple of her interviews by singing a hymn. Beautiful voice and beautiful girl/woman.

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  9. You sold me on the book. I just placed a hold at my library. I am #81 on 19 copies. Might take a while but thanks for the cool review.
    I didn't see the Downton Abbey series either and don't think I can catch up with the characters at this late date.

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    1. That's what the tutorial at the start was for---to catch people up on the characters since the beginning of the series. It had quite a sense of humor about it but, boy, did it get me confused...while still laughing.

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  10. I loved the tv series of Downton Abbey. Sorry you couldn't get into it. Haven't seen the movie yet. Hopefully soon.

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    1. After the movie when many of us who saw it was in the bathroom the fans of the series couldn't stop talking about how good the movie was.

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  11. I'm sorry I just couldn't get into Downton Abbey the TV series and I don't plan on seeing the movie. It's just not for me. Have a great week Jean.

    Cruisin Paul

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    1. Fortunately for both of us it's not required that we get into Downton Abbey to advance forward in life. LOL

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  12. I watched Downton Abbey on Netflix or something ... no commercials and no waiting a week in between. Then I watched the OLD version (Upstairs/Downstairs I think) and loved that also. (I use closed captioning) Costumes, perfectly appointed sets, great character building and I loved the movie as well. I may rewatch the series and see the movie again!

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    1. In my next incarnation I'm going to get Netflix but it would be a waste now because I mostly just walk though the living room where the TV is.

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  13. I couldn't get into the series either and don't plan to watch the movie. Heard Tara Westover in an interview on the local NPR station and got on the list at the library, which took a while. It definitely was a page turner, more so because I live in Idaho. If anyone is looking for an engrossing Netflix series, try Unbelievable, which is based on a true story. I've never binge watched, but I sat there for six hours watching.

    Sheila

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    1. I just looked it up and that does look interesting. The only thing I've ever binge watched are the DVDs of 'Friends' and 'M*A*S*H.

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  14. I LOVED Downton Abbey!! Sorry you couldn't get into it. Haven't seen the movie yet but it's on my list for this week. The book sounds interesting, I'll have to check into it.

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  15. The book sounds interesting. When I was doing an internship in Salt Lake City, there was a support network for divorced Mormon women, who often were shunned and ostracized. It's not quite the same situation, but there are parallels. The strength of people who are able to move out of such constrictive environments really can be remarkable.

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    1. Tara could have used a support group to help her learn the ropes. She didn't even know it was important to wash your hands after peeing and simple things we all take for granted.

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  16. Downton Abbey is a fun soap, basically, in my mind. I loved watching it for the decor, in the beginning, as I was finally finishing renovations and ready to feather my nest. Tried not to get too involved in the story lines because you just know any characters you are rooting for are never going to find happiness, or only have it for 5 seconds before a major crisis happens.
    I did like Educated. Reminded me of Jeanette Walls' story (though Jeanette's upbringing was even harsher, I think). I'll have to look for those interviews.

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    1. I follow one daytime soap opera that I usually want On Demand at bedtime and that's enough for me. I got hooked on it in the 70s when I worked out of my home and was by myself most days. But you can go for weeks not seeing it and still get back into it. Downton Abbey, I'm not so sure. It seems more complicated because there is history mixed in but what do I know, I don't watch it.

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  17. I started out a big fan of the Downton Abbey series, but I lost interest midway through it. I thought it dragged on too long, getting nowhere other than to show us the evolution of fashion. Which I enjoyed. I'll see the movie, probably on TV. I'll enjoy it no doubt, but I don't need to see it to feel like the story is complete.

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    1. One of the super fans in the bathroom after the movies was going on and on about how they left the door open for the series to continue. Honestly, that 1910 time frame appeals to me more than the 1890s that I think it started out in. But it's popularity on TV in the theater might lead the way to better programing.

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  18. I agree with you completely on both. I really enjoyed the film. I might even see it again. But if I wasn't already a big Downton Abbey fan, I would have been confused. The plot is weak at best and if you don't know the characters, there is no frame of reference for relationships. But if you love the film, you don't give a hoot! And yes, it is gloriously beautiful!

    As for "Educated" -- wow. I remain in awe of Tara Westover. Definitely one of my best books of the year.

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    1. One of my favorite scenes in the movie was when they were in the general store and I spotted a sign on the wall that I actually owned at one time and sold. Period movies are fun for antique collectors, so I did get my money's worth even if I was lost regarding the characters. The thin plot didn't bother me because there were lots of laugh lines to make up for it.

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  19. I haven't had the $$ to go see the movie, but I am definitely going next month!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    1. I hope you can still find a theater that is showing it by then.

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  20. Dear Jean, I haven't read that book. given your review, I can see that I must get on the e-book list at the library so as to read it. As to "Downton Abbey," I followed the six seasons "religiously." The movie was only so-so. Still it was good to see the characters again. All good actors. You're a valiant woman to go and see it when you were fairly sure it wouldn't speak to you. Friendship accounts for a lot, doesn't it! Peace.

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    1. I think you'd find some things in common with Tara when she tried to fit into a world she didn't know much about. It's a haunting book that leaves you feeling good about how she was able to overcome so much and become a scholar.

      Oh, yes, I wouldn't have gone to the movie if not for my friends. In fact, I was the one who organized the outing for more bonding time.

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  21. This is timely. Educated is my book group's selection for this month, and I'm waiting for a copy from the library. Meanwhile, I've just finished binge-watching the entire six seasons of Downton Abbey, which I enjoyed much more the second time around than I did originally. Binge-watching allowed me to get through the episodes that focused on characters I wasn't particularly invested in (e.g., Anna and Bates) to get back to the characters I cared about most (Edith, Daisy, Mrs. Hughes). I'll see the movie eventually, and I'll likely be in the group that enjoys it.

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    1. No doubt fans of the series will LOVE movie. I wish you could have heard the chatter in the bathroom after I saw it. Total strangers all joyfully talking to each other.

      One of the interviews I saw of Tara's she was talking in a group of educators and it was clear she made a deep impression on them as her book did on my retired teacher niece and her daughter who teaches honors literature and writing. I hope you write about the book after you've read it. I feel confident your career experiences will give you an interesting take on the book. It's one that doesn't leave you quickly.

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  22. HUGE Downton fan here, so I'm sorry you didn't like the series. I bet you feel in the minority. LOL I haven't seen the movie yet....on my to do list soon! As is reading Educated.

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  23. Thanks for the referral to the book. I'll look for it. As you say, I might have dismissed the author as too young, but you've made it sound interesting. Likewise Downton Abbey. I loved the first couple of series, but stopped watching eventually. I'll go and see the movie now for nostalgia's sake.

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    1. I've never paid much attention to book recommendations from Gates or Obama but I think I will in the future.

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