In the spirit of Walden 

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WEST VIRGINIA Is Almost Heaven

WVA Stamp

West Virginia celebrates 150 years of statehood

To stand at the mountaintop in West Virginia it feels as if you could almost reach out your hand and touch the hand of God. It is truly Mother Nature at her finest. That is probably why John Denver declared West Virginia  “Almost Heaven”.

West Virginia is in all likelihood one of the most beautiful states you will ever visit with its majestic green mountaintops peeking above a shroud of fog like emerald gemstones around a lady’s silken white shoulders. Much of the state is still undeveloped leaving the mountains standing as a testament of beauty, strength, and power. The state lies entirely within the Appalachian Mountain range earning it the name “the mountain state”. In the spring the mountains are dotted with large purple blooms of the rhododendron, the state flower, and in the fall the hills turn a brilliant mix of reds and golds from the state tree the sugar maple.

The mountains, however, are both a blessing and a curse for its residents. They have provided their natural resources of timber and coal to fuel the state’s economy but have also served as a physical barrier which shields the residents and cuts them off from the rest of the world. In fact, the Appalachian Mountain Ridge is what created the divide between Virginia and the western part of the state resulting in political divisions during the nation’s Civil War. The mountains were a physical barrier making communications between the two parts of the state difficult in the days before modern conveniences relying instead on having to physically cross the mountainous range for news of happenings in the capital of Richmond.

The mountains also served as a socio economic barrier between two distinct types of people. The eastern and southern parts of Virginia were composed mostly of people born in Virginia who were descendants from merchants and the wealthy classes of England. The western part of Virginia’s population was settled by immigrants of German and Protestant Scotch-Irish heritage. Many also came from Pennsylvania and states farther north.

In the eastern and southern portions of Virginia many owned large plantations where they grew cotton and tobacco and were heavily dependent upon its slave population. However, in the rugged mountainous regions of western Virginia where most owned small farms and grew small crops for their families, slavery was unprofitable. The mountains served as a divide between the two parts of the state thus emphasizing the social, political, economic and cultural differences. These differences came to a clashing climax during the Civil War over the vote of whether or not to secede from the Union. When the vote to secede was taken in Richmond on April 17, 1861 the counties in the western part of the state almost immediately voted to secede from Virginia and not go along with the secession from the Union. The counties in northwestern Virginia sent delegates to a convention in Wheeling May 13, 1861 where forming a new state was discussed.

However, things did not go smoothly in creating the new state. If you think politics are bad today they pale in comparison to the days during the Civil War. The delegates to the Wheeling Convention were never actually elected by the public.  Many were chosen irregularly—some in mass meetings, others by county committee, and some just appointed themselves. When this haphazard group met they appointed only Unionists to hold state offices.

The actual popular vote for statehood is also questionable. The vote was 18,408 for and only 781 against. The Union army that occupied most of the area at the time stationed themselves at the polls and prevented Confederate sympathizers from voting. It was reported in one county that of the 195 votes cast only 39 were by citizens of the state and the rest were cast illegally by Union Soldiers.

In spite of everything the application for admission to the Union was made to Congress and President Abraham Lincoln signed it on December 31, 1862. The rogue western counties of Virginia were finally recognized as the 35th state of the Union on June 20, 1863 known as West Virginia. However, their troubles weren’t over yet. The Virginia General Assembly repealed their act of secession and in 1866 brought suit against West Virginia asking the court to declare the counties as part of Virginia and declaring West Virginia’s admission as a state unconstitutional. The Supreme Court decided in favor of West Virginia in 1870.

In addition, the returning Confederate soldiers threatened to overturn the new government. In order to retain control, the new government stripped the returning Confederates of their voting rights. The property of Confederates might also be confiscated and in 1866 a constitutional amendment disfranchising all who had given aid and comfort to the Confederacy was adopted.

In a war that thrust brother against brother it was most evident in the new state of West Virginia. It is estimated that approximately an equal number of Union and Confederate soldiers came from the state. Also, approximately an equal number fought on both sides at Gettysburg.

West Virginia is the only state to be created by the Civil War. Nevada was admitted to the union in October 1864 however it was first a US Territory.

West Virginia is a unique state in that people can’t decide whether it is a northern or southern state. It is situated right in the middle and in fact the Mason-Dixon Line goes right through it. It has been called the most southern of the northern states and the most northern of the southern states. The accent seems to reflect this. When I have traveled north people ask what part of the south I’m from and when I travel south I’m asked where in the north I’m from.

West Virginians are known to be warm, friendly, helpful, and sometimes clannish. I recently talked with someone who lived in West Virginia for a while and he said the first time someone spoke to him on the street he was so shocked he didn’t know how to respond.

If you are looking for a change of pace, want to reconnect with life and nature, pay a visit to God’s beautiful garden. Take a thrilling rafting trip down the New River Gorge or a leisurely ride to the top of a mountain on the Cass Scenic Railroad. Take time to listen to blue-grass mountain music which goes back to the Scotch-Irish roots or tour an abandoned coal mine. Camp along a mountain stream or go to the posh White Sulfur Springs where presidents have stayed.

Time in West Virginia is time well spent.


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Dream High


Dream #2

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Just Believe












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All I Need to Know I Learned in Music Class

Music #1

Those who know me know that I am passionate about the arts and have even worked as a lobbyist for the arts in the schools. Unfortunately, when school budgets are tight the first cuts are to the arts. Many schools no longer have art classes but have resorted to “art on a cart” which consists of a cart loaded with art projects and supplies which a traveling teacher wheels from class to class.

I hate to think what life will be like 100 years from now if the arts disappear completely from schools’ curriculum;  artist add beauty and meaning to our lives. Where would we be without paintings, music, architecture, books, plays, movies, TV shows, etc.? Art is a reflection of who we are, it tells where we have been, and where we are going. It would be a very dull life without art.

The article below, written by a music major turned businessman, is one of the best I have read to advance the argument for the need for arts and music in school. It seems one can learn practical lessons in the arts which can be applied to everyday life.

Save the Arts!

Please click on the link below to read Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Music Class.



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The Call Rings Busy



At the beginning of The Call Halle Berry is a confident, compassionate and cool 911 operator. She is someone you would want on the other end of the line in an emergency. However, she loses all that when one of her callers is viciously murderer by a home invader due to her blunder.

After this tragic mistake her confidence is shaken and six months later she is training new 911 operators. A newbie receives a frantic call from a kidnap victim and Berry’s character, Jordan, is forced to take over the call. She successfully calms down the victim and walks her through several maneuvers to try to attract attention to her plight and help the police track her. Because she is using a disposable phone she cannot be located by the built in GPS.

The tension continues to build during the cat and mouse chase and a couple of innocent people become victims of the ruthless killer. The tension builds at such a rapid speed I forgot to breath. Then, during the last few minutes of the call, they arrive at their destination, the kidnapper discovers her phone, destroys it and the connection is broken. At this point Jordan’s supervisor tells her to go home and get some rest.

This is when Jordan does some incredibly careless and stupid things, especially for someone knowledgeable of police procedures.

The Call is filled with tension, surprises, shockers, and gore. Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin (the victim) play two tough women and they play well off each other, even though throughout most of the movie they aren’t in the same room. It is too bad that the steady buildup of tension and believability is broken at the same time the phone connection is broken.

The Call is interesting in that it shows us what the life of a 911 operator is like and it gives us a front row seat of the hive which they call the room where the operators are located. It is named for the constant buzz and activity of the room. We see the enormous stress the operators are under and we also get some good tips on what to do if we are kidnapped.

For the most part the movie is entertaining and a wild ride but I give it a B- for the crazy turn it takes at the end.

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Kennedy Odede: A Love Story

Kennedy Odede

This story, written by our friend Linda Studer, is about a remarkable young man, Kennedy Odede, born among the poorest of the poor who overcame poverty, prejudice, and ignorance to enrich the community he loves. Here is a young man, born in the slums of Kibera who loved his family, friends and community so much he vowed at an early age to get an education so he could help others live in a safe and clean environment.

But, how could a young boy from the slums of Africa get a good education? This is where the loving hand of God enters the picture. A chance meeting of a young man on a church trip and a pen pal changed not only Kennedy’s life but also the lives of those so far away touched by his energy, enthusiasm, dedication, and determination.

Kennedy’s story is a love story in the truest sense of the word. It is everything from agape love to romantic love. Like his namesake, Kennedy is a remarkable young man destined for greatness.


The Pen Pal

Back in the late ’90’s, my daughter’s friend, Alex, went to Nairobi with some other young people affiliated with a Catholic Church organization in order to help out with the youth in the area and to sort of hang out with them, talk to them, try to give them a little hope.  While there, he briefly met a young boy named Kennedy Odede.  Alex was impressed with Kennedy’s friendliness, and he showed him my daughter, Maren’s, picture and asked if he would like to have her address so they could be pen pals.  Of course Kennedy accepted and one day Maren received a letter in the mail from Nairobi, Kenya.  Another world!

As we read this letter from this boy, we started forming a picture of another way of life, almost a parallel world, where the basics of our everyday lives are almost nonexistent.  Living in a tiny little shanty made of paper, mud and bits of metal, foil, anything lying around they could find?  Not having running water?  To go to the bathroom you use a plastic bag and fling it out your door into the street?

Men and fathers have no work so they hang out drinking “battery acid” type alcohol and return home to beat their families?  The life of girls is so bad that rape is very common in girls as young as four and they have almost no prospects of making a future for themselves.  The life described in this letter sounded so dismal, so void of any hope; yet the young man writing this letter was anything but hopeless.  Kennedy Odede was not about to lie down and take this, not by a long shot!  He was not going to accept this as an inevitable way of life, and he was going to do everything possible to help the young people around him to see that their fate did not have to be sealed by this status quo; he was determined that they could all make other choices — other paths to follow in life.

 A Fight for a Better Life

Kennedy had to take to the streets as a young boy in order to try to help feed his siblings.  He would go to school when he and his mom could scrape together the tuition, and he would also work odd jobs to make a little money.  At one time he had 25 cents in his pocket so he decided to buy a soccer ball.  He brought together the youth in the Kibera slum, where he lived, and they began hanging out and playing soccer.  A way better alternative than crime on the streets.

Over time, Kennedy not only worked with these kids but he organized women in his community and helped them to get computer training and to start learning how to make goods to sell in the markets.  Through this process he ended up founding SHOFCO (Shining Hope for Communities).  SHOFCO is a strong, growing, vibrant organization today, you can read about it on their website.  Today they operate the Kibera School for Girls, founded by Kennedy and his now wife Jessica Posner, a health clinic, a sustainable food garden and clean water to sell to the Kibera community.  This is a huge deal, as clean water has always been a major problem.


But as we read his letter, I became interested in Kennedy, just fascinated by this kid who, although he lives in the most horrid conditions, shows a spirit, an optimism almost unparalleled in people I see every day in our land of plenty.  I began to write to Kennedy too, and eventually he was able to obtain an email account and we started emailing back and forth.  My husband and I decided to assist him in getting through high school and after that, obtaining a degree in computer training.  It was still very difficult for Kennedy to find work; there is much prejudice against people from the slum, and unfortunately, those in a position to hire also have these prejudices.  However, Kennedy never, ever gave up.  He would sometimes find a small job so that he could make a little money.  He also continued to work very hard as a community activist.  He would help write plays and put on skits about life and making good choices.  Kennedy poured himself into working for his community – a community he loved.


So very much happened during these years, I can only give you a brief accounting of what I know and can remember.  But one thing I can tell you for certain:  the period after he finished school, when he had so much trouble finding work, I felt so helpless sitting over here in the U.S., not being able to do anything for him.  I think that was one of the worst periods in my life; I felt absolutely heartsick because I could not do anything helpful.

By the Grace of God

Well, by the grace of God, that heartsick feeling did not last forever – a young woman named Jessica Posner from Wesleyan University in Connecticut traveled to Nairobi one summer for work connected to her college.  She and Kennedy met up – and the rest is history!  One day I received an email from Kennedy saying, “Mom, I have some very big news for you, I will get back to you very soon and tell you what it is.”  I waited for a few days, not knowing what to expect, and then came the email:  Mom, I’m in love!!!   🙂

He and Jessica fell in love and although she had to return to her home in Denver and then on back to Wesleyan, Jessica wasted no time in working hard to get him an opportunity to apply for admission to Wesleyan.  The college finally did offer to read his application and consider him for admission.  Now in the meantime, when Kennedy was preparing to write his essays to submit to Wesleyan, Kenya had its presidential election.  Presidential elections in Kenya often are followed by tribal violence, and this election was no exception.  We all saw on the news how killings were taking place and we all saw pictures of the bodies piled up in makeshift morgues.  And during all this, Kennedy had to flee to a neighboring country for a few weeks, because some thugs were after him!  He was not safe in his own home so he had to lay low for a while before returning to Kenya.  Then he had to ask Wesleyan for an extension so he could finish up his essays!  Of course he was granted the extension, and was ultimately given a full scholarship to the school!

A miracle, in my books.  How in the world did this come to be?  How did the fates, or God, or karma, put these two people from two different worlds together?  And what a power team they became!  Together they founded the Kibera School for Girls.  Jessica appeared on VH1’s Do Something Awards and won $100,000 for the school.  They have won competitions from the Newman Foundation and many other foundations that award money to innovative enterprises that are doing great things in the world.  Kennedy has appeared with President Bill Clinton at his Clinton Global Initiative.

 Love Conquers All

This past June, our family attended Kennedy and Jessica’s wedding in Denver.  It was absolutely wonderful, a beautiful blending of Kenyan and Jewish traditions.  In May, Vogue magazine did a four-page article about Jessica and Kennedy’s love story.  I have such affection for them and for all the work they have done.  These two people are very unique – you just don’t run into young people like that every day – and again, I must ask, how in the world did they find each other?  How did it all come to be?  But find each other they did.  And I must add that I am to this day astonished at the spirit of Kennedy Odede.  He has a genuinely sweet soul.  I continue to be amazed at how this young boy overcame and never, ever lost his optimism, his love of life in spite of the daunting obstacles.


There is even so much more to his story.  I remember how, when he needed to obtain his visa to come to the U.S., he requested a meeting with Kenya’s prime minister and actually sat down and talked to him about what he wanted to accomplish while at Wesleyan so he could return and help his people, and the prime minister made sure he got his visa!  And I will always be mindful of a human spirit that soared when it should have been beaten down, and of a soul so determined to rise and prevail – and I will always – always – keep in my heart this unique and wonderful sprit and soul named Kennedy Odede.


Linda Studer      

Kennedy Odede #3


For more about this amazing young man please click on the links below:

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My Score Card on the Oscars


By Antoine Taveneaux (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Oscars are over and now everyone is talking about who was the best and worst dressed and their opinions of the host, Seth MacFarlane.

Of the six major categories, I correctly predicted four. I missed on Supporting Actor and Director. I predicted Robert DeNiro in Silver Linings Playbook would win for Supporting Actor and Steven Spielberg Best Director for Lincoln; however Christoph Waltz won Supporting Actor for Django Unchained and Ang Lee won Best Director for Life of Pi. I was not the only who did not foresee this as the Los Angeles Times ran a headline saying, “Oscars 2013: Ang Lee, Christoph Waltz among night’s surprises.”

I correctly predicted Argo would win Best Picture; Daniel Day-Lewis, Best Actor; Jennifer Lawrence, Best Actress; and Anne Hathaway Best Supporting Actress.

On a personal note, when I reviewed Argo last October I said then to expect a lot of award nominations to come out of this movie, including Best Picture. I think I should get extra credit for being ahead of the curve.

The only big controversy of this award season was that Ben Affleck was not nominated for Best Director for Argo, however the picture won a number of other awards including Best Picture which should make up for the snub. Also, some thought Kathryn Bigelow should have been nominated for Best Director but Zero Dark Thirty also won a number of awards including an Academy Award for Best Sound Directing and a Golden Globe for Jessica Chastain for Best Actress.

There has been a lot of buzz over the host, Seth MacFarlane, who was hired to appeal to the younger demographics. Some thought he went over the line and others thought he wasn’t edgy enough. But in the words of someone (I don’t remember who), “What do you expect when you hire the creator of Family Guy?” For those who don’t know, Family Guy is an off-color, irreverent, adult, cartoon show.

I am a little older than the targeted demographic and I don’t watch Family Guy; however, I thought he was laugh out loud funny in places. The show moved along at a snappy pace and he injected a little humor, song and dance to spice it up. Some thought he was crass, racist, and politically incorrect; but I say lighten up people and laugh. The producers wanted edgy and that is what they got. However, I do agree with the critics who criticized him for his jokes about women and sexual abuse. Abuse of any kind is not a laughing matter.

This show was ten times better than a few years ago when Anne Hathaway and James Franco hosted—again to appeal to the younger generation. Hathaway had to work overtime while Franco seemed to sleep-walk through the whole show. It was safe but not entertaining.

Now the award season is over and we can start a new score card anticipating next year’s movies and which will come out on top. Did any of you correctly predict all of the major categories?




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Here come the Oscars



If you are a movie fan then this coming Sunday is the night of all nights, the super bowl of talent, the parade of fashion, the Academy Awards!

There were many good movies this year but unfortunately most of them came at the end of the year. Those nominated for best picture are: Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty.

Although any of the nominated movies are good enough to win, I think Argo will win the prize. I think the Academy voters will award Argo to make up for the snub by the Academy of not nominating Ben Affleck for best director. In addition it has already won many of the other awards leading up to the Oscars.

For Best Actor I think Daniel Day-Lewis will win for Lincoln.  He doesn’t just portray Lincoln, he is Lincoln.  He is one of the most remarkable actors of our time and his portrayal of Lincoln is a jewel in his crown of achievements.

Jennifer Lawrence of Silver Linings Playbook seems to have the edge in the Best Actress category but I think Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty also has a very good chance. Also, Quvenzhane Wallis in The Beasts of the Southern Wild is the youngest actress to be nominated. She was six when she did the role and is very mature for her young years. I don’t think she will win but the movie is worth seeing just to witness her performance. However, I think Jennifer Lawrence will win for her great on-screen chemistry with Bradley Cooper and for her funny, quirky, touching, and sad portrayal of a young widowed psychiatric patient. She captures a range of emotions.

In the Supporting Actor category it is a toss-up between five excellent actors. Alan Arkin is snappy and funny in Argo, Robert DeNiro is tough and a little touched in the head struggling with his OCD son in Silver Linings Playbook, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is fiery and dynamic in The Master. I think DeNiro will win for the sensitive and vulnerable side he shows in Silver Linings Playbook.

We also have four outstanding actresses vying for Best Supporting Actress. Amy Adams is a steadying force in The Master and Sally Field holds her own against Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln; however, I think Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables will walk away with the honors. She gives a heart-wrenching portrayal of Fantine, a single mother working hard to provide for her daughter.

For Best Director I think it is between: Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) who coaxed amazing performances from two novices—a six year old girl and a baker; David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) who told a touching story about a taboo subject (mental illness) with dignity, pathos and humor; and Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) who managed to keep the audience intrigued with a subject that is not only controversial but also one that could be stuffy and academic and one which everyone already knows the outcome. My vote is for Spielberg because his attention to detail made the viewer feel as if he is sitting in Washington watching the events unfold in current time.


The Nominees Are:


Best Picture:
  • Amour,
  • Argo,
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild,
  • Django Unchained,
  •  Les Misérables,
  • Life of Pi,
  • Lincoln,
  • Silver Linings Playbook,
  • Zero Dark Thirty
Best Actor in a Leading Role:
  • Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
  • Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
  • Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
  • Denzel Washington, Flight
Best Actress in a Leading Role:
  • Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
  • Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Best Director:
  • Michael Haneke, Amour
  • Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Ang Lee, Life of Pi
  • David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

Actor in a Supporting Role


Actress in a Supporting Role


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Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook

This Playbook Produces a Winner



What happens when two mental patients get together? Sounds like the beginning of an old joke but Silver Linings Playbook is no joke.

Silver Linings Playbook is a sometimes disturbing and sometimes comical look into bi-polar, OCD, and other mental illnesses. Bradley Cooper’s character, Pat Solatano, Jr., has lost his wife, job, and house and is now living with his parents after spending 8 months in a mental institution because of a bi-polar outbreak. He nearly beat a man to death after finding him in the shower with his wife having sex to their wedding song.

His parents want him to settle into their living pattern and participate in their obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles which is accompanied with many OCD rituals. His father, played by Robert DeNiro, has lost everything betting on the Eagles and puts pressure on Pat to carry on the traditions of the game. Pat Sr. then parlays his bet and bets all he has in order to open a restaurant.

In the mean time Pat Jr. is trying to establish a new life for himself. He is invited to a friend’s house for dinner where he meets Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who has her own problems. She is a young widow and a recovering sex addict. Both are a bit unconventional and lack the normal screening process most people have that prevents them from blurting out some inappropriate comments. And, speaking of inappropriate, Pat spends much of the movie dressed in a sweat suit and a trash bag.

The movie climaxes at a dance competition in which the novice couple, Pat and Tiffany, must win at least 5 out of 10 points in order to satisfy part of Pat Sr.’s bet.

This is a story of family and accepting one’s self and others no matter what life throws at us. It may not always go as planned but it usually has a silver lining.

The movie also has some powerfully emotional scenes played by Cooper, Lawrence, DeNiro, and Jacki Weaver as his mother. Silver Linings Playbook has been nominated for 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, and nominations for all four of the major actors—Bradley Cooper (leading male actor), Jennifer Lawrence (leading actress), Robert DeNiro (supporting actor), Jacki Weaver (supporting actress).

After seeing the movie I can understand why it has received so many nominations. The chemistry developed between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, and Cooper and DeNiro is amazing.

Silver Linings Playbook is a good look at mental illness done with a touching and sometimes humorous hand. I give it a B+

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Movie Review: The Quartet Makes Sweet Music



If you think a retirement home is populated only with stodgy old biddy bodies just waiting to die, you haven’t seen the movie The Quartet.

The setting is Beecham House, a charity retirement home for musicians in England. It is a beautiful place and could easily be a neighbor of Downton Abbey. The mansion is alive with all kinds of music as the residents prepare for their annual fund raising event, the celebration of Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday.

We see enthusiastic rehearsals peppered with artistic differences, temperamental musicians, and the ever-present diva. Then the biggest diva of all arrives; the operatic soprano who never had less than 12 curtain calls, Jean Horton, played by the regal Maggie Smith. Smith has become an expert at displaying haughty disdain with a look and a few well-chosen words.

Ms. Horton’s arrival completes a long-time famous quartet who has been living contentedly at the home. Reginald or “Reg” is Ms. Horton’s ex-husband which automatically creates tension. Then we have “Cissy” who walks a fine line between reality and the other world and Wilfred or “Wilf” played by Scottish comedian Billy Connolly. Wilf is an aging playboy who says that, thankfully, he still has enough testosterone left to make life interesting.

Will the quartet get back together and reprise their roles? A lot more than the financial security of the home depends upon whether or not they will; they learn a lot about themselves along the way. You are never too old to live life and have a little fun.

This is actor Dustin Hoffman’s first directing effort and he nurtures his project into a flowering bouquet of colorful moments.

The Quartet is entertaining, beautiful, touching, poignant, and funny. It also has a few surprises at the end. I give it a B+


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© © Copyright 2012 Sheila Dobbie, Gahanna, Ohio