MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Free Writing 400+ Words — June 26, 2014

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Free Writing 400+ Words

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Free Writing, 400 Words Minimum

Today has been a good evening.  I have enjoyed watching World Cup so much, and today was another evening of watching 2 more world cup matches with friends over good food and drinks 🙂  What can be better? 😀

After this, I did a bunch of cleaning and did some dishes at home, and put on a CD of a “classic rock” band, Foreigner, which I hadn’t listened to in a LONG time.  I loved this Best of Foreigner CD, it’s one of the first CD’s I bought for myself, and it reminded me of how much fun I had listening to classic rock and 80’s music, especially in my past, and especially when I worked at the Winnipeg Zoo.  I remember I would have fun putting on this CD after close and mopping huge floors or scrubbing kitchen grills and I would just sing along at the top of my lungs, and not care that people teased me for not listening to more current music (lol).

Listening to this CD while I did the dishes and some cleaning, and while I type this blog entry, brings me back to those fun days at the zoo.  And I was toying with those concepts of memory and nostalgia last week in a blog entry, and this reminds me that these are good memories I can come back too.  Music is amazing for that, bringing us back to specific memories, even in our distant past.  It can evoke memory, thought, and feeling.  I love that about music.

But more than that, I can take elements of those fun days and those fun memories, such as the feelings music reminds me of, and use them as a spring board, to build different yet equally wonderful memories today!  So, for example, I can sit outside, enjoy the beautiful weather of a Manitoba summer, and write a blgo entry, or write in my novel, or read a book, and enjoy 🙂

As much as I do have various stressors in my life at the moment, I always like to remember that everyone has various  challenges and stresses, and many people in this world have it much worse off than I do in Canada.  I also have lots of resources, strengths, and blessings that can help me meet my challenges and tackle my stressors.

Listening to music tonight and thinking of fun memories, and pondering new plans and ideas for the future, makes me realize how lucky, fortunate, and overall how truly blessed I am 🙂

Hope everyone is doing well out there! 🙂

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Fear — June 24, 2014

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Fear

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Fear

In this blog assignment, we are tasked with writing about one of our personal fears, worries, or anxieties.

An interesting assignment indeed. Not something I often write about on a public blog, but I will take a crack at this, it is one of our assignments after all for this month’s challenge!  Also, it is important to acknowledge that we all have fears and worries, and sometimes the best way to address them is to acknowledge they exist and face them, head on.

Anyhow, the fear or worry I want to speak about here is sort of an extension to the post I wrote yesterday.  Carrying on from some of the themes I wrote about, I do have an innate fear that I am going to look back on my life later on, when I’m older, and think, wow I wasted time.  I am a big believer in getting things done, and making a difference.  I enjoy volunteering, giving back to the community, and a wide range of hobbies and friends/family.

However, I spend a large amount of time 40-45 hours per week these days on my “day job.”  And on the bright side, it is a great job, one I do enjoy (most days), where I enjoy the co-workers at my place of work, I have great opportunities for development and career advancement, and I am fortunate to have job security, pension, and am compensated fairly.

But all that being said, I still have a fear I am going to look back on my life, and think, wow did I waste time in that position / career field / profession / organization.  What were you thinking?  You weren’t truly happy!  And you didn’t make a true difference for the local or global world!

Like I said in my post yesterday, I know what true workplace happiness is.  I worked at the Winnipeg Zoo for 7 years and had a blast.  I know that in my current position, I am not as happy as I was there.  I am now in a more administrative / managerial position where I am in an office most of the day, in meetings, directing professional-level staff who are also in an office setting.  Although there are many good things about my job, as I listed above, there are also major detractions.  I do feel the weight of being “cooped up” in a large organization, and in an office environment.

I fear I sound like a whining person as well, bemoaning the fact I may not feel I am making a true difference and enjoying myself fully at work.  After all, I should be happy I have a job, many people are not so lucky!

But at the same time, I know it is important to be happy at work.  You spend 1/3 of your waking hours at work, and that’s assuming you work no overtime!  So work is important, and enjoying work is also important to your overall health.  I want to use my skills to better people around me, and I also want to be at a place where there is lots of action, excitement, fun, and where I am truly fulfilled in multiple respects.

Whether this will happen in my current situation, I am not sure yet.  But I guess my fear is I won’t have the courage to make changes if necessary, and I will end up being much older, and then look back and regret not taking risks or making changes in the area of my work.

I guess the challenge to me is to keep this in mind, think on it hard, and be prepared to make changes while I am young, mobile, and when right options present themselves, if this feeling is present.  I definitely need to puzzle this through.  I just don’t want to spend the next few decades puzzling through, and then realize it’s too late!

I have personal fears in addition to this more professional-based fear, but this is definitely one that’s been on my radar for awhile, and it felt good to right some thoughts down on it. 🙂

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Lost and Found — June 23, 2014

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Lost and Found

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Lost and Found

In this blog assignment, we are to write about something that we lost at some point in our lives, and it may or may not have been found again later.  This may be a material possession or something less tangible.

For me, I think back to my days working at Assiniboine Park Zoo, from 1999-2006.  I was age 18 – 25.  These were 7 special years in my life.  On the one hand, I was still in the closet, and struggling with how to come out of the closet in a religiously conservative family.  That aspect of my life made for some hard years in this time period.

However, at the same time, one of my saving graces that made these some awesome years despite the personal challenges was the fact I worked at the Zoo.  I worked with some special people who became close friends I cherish to this day. I got to work up close and personal with some amazing animals, and have some experiences I will cherish and smile and laugh at forever.  And I had a job where I was allowed to grow, learn, and flourish, working with co-workers and a manager who were more than that; they were good people, and my friends.

The loss came when a large wave of us resigned in 2006.  There was a shakeup of management, and many people left the Zoo.  Today, increased government investment of dollars has made the Zoo a much healthier place than it used to be. However, many of us left because it was not the same place it had been for so long. It was like a big family, and in 2006 that was changed.

Although I am happy the Zoo has undergone a positive transformation in Winnipeg, I am still often sad about the loss of such a fun and unique workplace that my friends and I got to work within for so many years. Although I have a good job today, it is not nearly the same level of enjoyment and closeness with others that I enjoyed at the Zoo.

I haven’t found a place where I connected with co-workers and developed lasting friendships since I left the Zoo in 2006. And I am not sure if I ever will. And although I haven’t found a place like that again, maybe that is okay. The memories and sometimes melancholy feelings will always hold a special place in my heart. And I can enjoy the ongoing friendships into the future, even though I don’t have the past physical location to work at 50+ hours a week.

The Zoo was a truly special place, and it helped me get through some hard years in my personal life, and even made those hard years some special and enjoyable years. Although I do miss that amazing place, at the same time why would I want those special memories to be replaced or repeated?  The truth is they can’t be “repeated,” all that can be done is to move forward and continue striving for more positivity, in different permutations.

After all, life is about moving forward, and continuing to build on positive memories, and learn from past challenges, to create a present and future that you can be happy and proud of.

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Real World Conversation — June 17, 2014

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Real World Conversation

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Real World Conversation

In this blog posting, we are supposed to be writing about a “real” conversation we participated or overheard.   I put the word “real” in quotation marks because to me, the concept of real is hard to define.

When it comes to conversation we heard or participated in, real is marked by our own perceptions and interpretations.  What is real for me in terms of what was said in a conversation may be very different from another person’s interpretations.  That is a good reason why we may participate in the same conversation or hear the same speech from someone, but have very different ideas and understanding of what was meant.  The word “real” is a loaded word.  What is real?  Perceptions are often everything, and understanding can be very fluid depending on who is hearing and interpreting.

Anyways, with all those thoughts leading the way, I am revisiting a conversation that happened between a friend and myself at work today.  We are colleagues, and we have very different work styles and functions at work, but we have a friendship as well, developed from working directly and indirectly together over the past 4 years.

In our conversation today, we actually ended up in an argument.  I was arguing that she needed to be careful and that she was having difficulty with change in our department, and she was arguing that I was getting involved in something that was not my business.  I noticed quite quickly that we were both speaking past each other!  Nothing I said seemed to impact her, even though I was trying to approach it as friendly advice being given.  And for her part, I am sure she felt that I did need to mind my own business, and I was just sticking my nose into an issue that wasn’t even an issue for her.

It ended with us basically agreeing to disagree.  I know we are still friends, that is never in jeopardy.  But it is always challenging when you get into work disagreements with friends in the workplace.  Nobody likes to be 100% wrong.  And usually nobody is 100% right or 100% wrong, it’s a blend of the two arguments or two points.

Language and conversation can be difficult when people all perceive things in different ways.  Today’s conversation with a friend really made this point come home clearly to me.    And if it can be this nuanced and complex with friends, no wonder there is not clarity and world peace! 😛

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Childhood Home — June 16, 2014

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Childhood Home

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Childhood Home

For most of my childhood, I grew up in a suburban middle-upper class home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  Winnipeg, for most of my childhood, was a city with a population of 750,000 people or so, which is a mid-large sized Canadian city.

Growing up in suburban Winnipeg, I had the good fortune of being in a neighbourhood with lots of opportunities, lots of activities for kids, and lots of outdoor playground spaces.  It was the days before the internet and large video game systems, so kids would play outside a lot, whether it be at the park or sports like soccer or street hockey.  I enjoyed playing outside, but I also liked my time indoors at home as well.

I remember my home as a fun place to play with my dog Misty, do my homework at the kitchen table, or read my books or write my short stories in my bedroom in the basement.  I also had the good fortune of having a closet in my room that also had a cupboard under the stairs (yes, Harry Potter style).  But for me and my sister Melissa, we used this as a place to play with our toys, often me playing My Little Ponies or Rainbow Brites with her in our hideout under the stairs.  (And yes, my gay self looks back now and laughs at how much I loved playing with those toys, lol.)

Overall, my home growing up was a good place to be.  Although it was suburbia, and definitely meant being slightly sheltered, I had a great sister to grow up with, and good neighbourhood friends and cousins close by.  There were always people around, and that made the place a warm and welcome one.  Although I am very happy today, living closer to downtown in a neighbourhood very far from suburbia, I still have fun memories of my childhood home.

Book Review – Winter of the World – Ken Follett — June 15, 2014

Book Review – Winter of the World – Ken Follett

Book Review – Winter of the World – Ken Follett


▪   Book: Winter of the World

▪   Author: Ken Follett

▪   Genre: Historical Fiction

▪   Year of Release: 2012

▪   Read 941-page hardcover edition in May 2014.

Book Description:

In this second book of the Century Trilogy, we pick up about a decade after the first book left off.  WWI is behind us, however the characters and their children from book one are now dealing with new European and world-wide crises, including the Spanish Civil War, Nazism in Germany, and WWII.  Several families and characters from the Soviet Union, Germany, Britain, and the USA are dealing with the fallout of these events, and are trying to live their lives in difficult and stressful conditions.

Book Review:

As with the first book of his Century Trilogy, author Ken Follett has done another masterful job at bringing a lot of historical fact and detail into a fictional story involving fascinating and interesting characters.

The characters continue to develop, mature and evolve throughout the story arcs, and weave in and out with each other and across the continents.  Follett does an exceptional job at balancing action and battle scenes with a lot of romance, sensuality, and character development, which is key.  One example is the character of Daisy, who has several personal observations about mid-way through the book, and the romance behind her thinking is written superbly by Follett.  We grow to really care about these diverse set of characters, or we grow to really despise a few of them as well.  Either way, our emotional reactions show that Follett has done his job in bringing these people to life in the storyline.

Furthermore, the fact that some characters change and evolve and have different thinking patterns that change with the historical times is a testament to the way things happen in real life.  Follett’s ability to keep things fresh and changing in this way is also impressive.

Although the scenes themselves are exciting, and we see our cast of characters interacting with each other across nations and with leaders and diplomats, one small issue from the first book persists, which is that there are a lot of flukes and conveniences which are written into the storyline to ensure the characters continue to meet each other again and again, and interact with the right people at the right time.

However, this is a small complaint, and overall, this is another exciting, fast-paced read, and when a book is the length that this one is, having it still be a fast-read is a compliment to the author!

Overall: 4 stars out of 5 stars.

Movie Review – Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) —

Movie Review – Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013)

Movie Review – Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013)

Movie Synopsis:

This documentary tells the story of the creative, and somewhat eccentric, artist Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt to bring the movie Dune to the theatre.  His huge dreams for the picture ultimately do not result in the movie being made, with movie studios backing out of the huge undertaking by Jodorowsky, but this documentary shows us the backstory behind all the pre-production work that went into this project, including interviews with the players themselves.

Movie Review:

This documentary was a truly fascinating look into the mind of a truly creative genius.  Jodorowsky is unique in terms of style, design, ideas, philosophy, spirituality, and outlook on why an artist makes his or her work, no matter what the medium.  These concepts all came across in a beautiful and humorous way in this documentary.

Jodorowsky and others involved in this project tell the story in all its fascinating glory, including the coincidences that brought the right people together at the right time, the bizarre history of Jodorowsky as a director, the funny illuminations into Jodorowsky’s many nuances and quirks, and the way the project received commendations from creative people but challenges and roadblocks from the more mainstream folks in Hollywood.

The “what-ifs” are explored nicely in this documentary, such as “what if” the Dune project had been fully realized.  We see a great glimpse into Jodorowsky’s humanity when he talks about his feelings when the project had to be canceled, and when he talks about his future outlook as an artist.

Jodorowsky is a unique artist and creator, with a unique philosophy and spiritual outlook, and the documentary did a great job of showcasing that.  The documentary did a great job at providing a large array of humour, while at the same time having some thoughtful, poignant moments and revelations that makes the audience think.  The documentary also had some great shots of the actual pre-production work, including artwork, paintings, and panel illustrations, although it would have been nice to see more of it throughout the documentary.

Leaving the film, many in the theatre were chatting thoughtfully, and I know myself I was wanting to read the book again, as it had been many years since I read the science fiction classic.  These observations to me show this was a successful documentary.

Overall, this was a fascinating look into a huge project for the movie Dune, and as one of the film critics said in their interview, it really makes you wonder how Hollywood might have been different if this film had been brought to the screen in 1975.

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars.

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Favourite Childhood Meal —

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Favourite Childhood Meal

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Favourite Childhood Meal

I actually found it a little challenging to think of my favourite childhood meal.  I am not sure why, perhaps because I have lots of memories of eating good food with family and friends, a variety of meals, many of them home-cooked.

But two meals that come to mind easily come from my two grandma’s.

Grandma #1:

My first grandma lived in Mexico for a long time, had her kids there, and then immigrated up to Canada.  She was part of a large group of Mexican Mennonites, many of whom have moved to Manitoba and the Prairie North, and many of whom still live in Mexico today.  (There are many Central American and South American Mennonites as well, but this blog isn’t for Mennonite geography lol.)

Anyways, many times my grandma would make traditional Mennonite food for us, like perogies, farmer sausage, rollkuchen, etc.  These were obviously great foods and great memories.

But the memory that made me really happy and stands out for me were the times my grandma would instead make Mexican food for us, which was not necessarily traditional Mennonite.  She knew I especially liked this food, and so she would often prepare her own salsa / hot sauce, and make burritos or tacos for us.  Or she would make her own spicy hot sauce and serve it with some kind of pasta, making a Mexican/Italian variety meal, lol.  She was a wonderful woman and lived alone in her apartment for many years, but her meals were always clearly made with love and were very much comfort food 🙂

Grandma #2:

My second grandma lived one block over from my house where I grew up, and so I was over at her house a lot growing up, almost every day in fact.

When I got to be around age 10 or 11, my grandma and my youngest aunt (who was about 6 years older than me), would often sit around the dining room table and play board games or card games.  Because my grandma wanted to “get on with the games”, she would often have my aunt throw chicken fingers and fries in the oven, season them with spices, and then we would eat that for dinner while playing cards or scrabble.

I credit them with the reason why I enjoy math (the cards) and reading/writing (the scrabble).  The food was kind of secondary, but when I have chicken and fries to this day, I often think of those fun times with my aunt and my grandma 🙂


Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Point of View — June 12, 2014

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Point of View

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge –Point of View

In this blog entry, our assignment is to write a scene where the point of view is changed, to show how writing from different points of view helps to nuance and describe a scene in different ways.

I thought, what perfect scene to describe, then today’s opening World Cup 2014 match between home team Brazil versus Croatia.

SPOILER ALERT: The score is revealed in this post!

NOTE: I love the World Cup, I am so excited it’s finally on again, and I’m looking forward to watching lots of games in the next four weeks!

OK: onwards to the scene, broken into the two halves of the match, told from two points of view:


Mateo screamed and cheered, voice hoarse already, as the Croatian anthem ended.  He knew he and his compatriots were in the minority in this Brazilian stadium, but it didn’t matter.  He was sitting among friends, and dressed in red and white, they were all ultimately proud of their team, their nation, and the need to face a very worthy rival in Brazil.  Mateo knew they were in for a tough match, but early on, he saw his team rising to the occasion quite nicely.  Mateo watched the 11th minute approach of the match, and Croatia came towards the Brazilian net, and he sat on the edge of his seat, poised with excitement.  A cross was passed to the front of the net, and in a shocking twist of events, the Brazilian defender deflected the ball into his own goal!  It was an own goal, scored by Brazil on their own net, and Croatia was shockingly up one to nil!  The noise of the stadium was deafening.  Brazilian fans and players screaming in shock.  And Mateo jumped out of his seat, positively screaming with delight, hugging and shouting with his friends!  This was an opening world cup game to remember, Croatia had faced a dominating home team and taken the early lead!


Luis wiped the sweat off his brow.  Even though the temperature had cooled off in the Sao Paulo evening, he was nervous.  Although Brazil had tied the game one-all in the first half, and although the first half was mainly dominated by the Brazilian side, the opening quarter of an hour had shown some jitters on the part of the home squad.  They needed to get focused if they hoped to win this game.  Seeing the Croatian fans so excited on the play of their team so far led to some nerves on the part of the Brazilian fans, including Luis.  As time went on, his nerves over the game continued.  At the same time, looking at the sea of green and yellow in the massive stadium, was a source of national pride for him.  He was feeling proud to be Brazilian, something he didn’t always feel given the government was always facing corruption charges and other scandals.  But this was football!  Nothing else mattered at the moment except the win for his country!  And on home soil!  As he watched, chatting with his friends beside him and drinking, he thought of the strength of his team, and how they truly did have a great chance to go all the way this World Cup.  What a victory celebration that would be at home!  Suddenly, he stood on his feet.  An amazing chance was moving towards the Croatian net.  And yes, a goal!!  Two to one for Brazil!  He screamed, dropping his mostly empty cup on the ground, roaring and yelling with friends and total strangers in the crowd!  Watching the goal replayed on the big screens was a true joy!  As the game went on, and Brazil continued to show dominance, Luis was able to calm down fron the early nerves.  His team was settling in and playing well.  And as he joined in with the chants of “Ole!” near the end of the match, he was proud to see another goal scored by his team!  The match was going to end with the impressive three-one score, Brazil on top, and truly opening the World Cup tournament in impressive style!  Luis knew this was something he would savour for a long time, and would be memories he would relive and treasure for years to come!

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Report from a Cafe — June 11, 2014

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Report from a Cafe

Writing 101 – June 2014 Challenge – Report from a Cafe

In this blog entry, our assignment is to report from a cafe on some observations we saw or witnessed.  Although I did not have a chance to stay long due to a busy day, I popped in to my local Second Cup Cafe (Canadian coffee shop chain) and I made the following observations:

– I chatted with one of the baristas who I haven’t seen for a long time, but we always have had a great rapport.  I have chatted with her on and off for years, and she is fantastic.  It was nice to see her again and quickly catch up!

– I noticed the crowd in the cafe had a lot more senior citizens in it than usual, although I felt that was a nice thing 🙂  Usually they seem to be at Tim Horton’s, lol, but today for some reason they were at Second Cup in greater numbers!  Nice to see more diversity of age today!

– A staff person had to get a bottle of vanilla syrup from the top shelf, and underneath was a table where two people were sitting.  She just calmly walked over, got a chair right from the table they were at, stood on it, took the syrup off the shelf above them, got down, replaced the chair, and walked away, all in one fluid motion, without even saying anything! It was something to see, lol. I don’t think she was trying to be rude or anything, she just didn’t want to interrupt the two people’s conversation.  It was something to behold, lol.

– I saw a diversity of cultures in the coffee shop too, very normal for Canada and Winnipeg.  But people were working together to break down language barriers and communicate effectively, even if first languages were different for various individuals (e.g.: customers and staff).  Again, very nice to see, makes me proud to be a Winnipegger and a Canadian 🙂

Overall, this was a busy day, but fun to make these observations and take some time in a busy day to just observe some human interactions.  So much of the time we forget to take the time to consider we live in a great, wide world, with our human cohort all around us!