Monthly Archives: April 2013

“Renoir” – a beautiful film



Last night I saw the French film Renoir, directed by Gilles Bourdos. It was lovely. I felt transported back to the days when I frequented art cinemas in New York City and Washington, D.C. and luxuriated in the dreamy tableaux of the French films of yesteryear. This movie is sweet and satisfying. Every frame is visual perfection. The story is set against a breathtaking backdrop of landscapes on the French Riviera, where Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir (played by Michel Bouquet) is living out his final years. Photographer Mark Ping Bing Lee has painted a masterpiece.

Renoir, age 75, has had a stroke and is suffering from crippling rheumatoid arthritis. He is attended by an entourage of adoring housekeepers and former models who virtually carry him around in his wheelchair. They soak his hands, wrap them in bandages to ease his pain, place the brush in his hand, and squeeze colors onto his easel. He sleeps under a wicker frame so that the sheets won’t hurt when they touch his body. Yet he continues to paint with the desperation of a genius who knows that his time is running out.

Andrée thumbnail

Theret as Andrée

The events take place in 1915, with war going on in the background, though we never actually see it. Focus shifts between the painter himself; the household, including 14-year-old son Claude, or “Coco” (Thomas Doret); son Jean, a cavalryman in the French army (Vincent Rottiers); and a new young model of Titian beauty, Andrée Heuschling (Christa Theret). Intrigue and the smoke of battle swirl around the old man, who yearns for nothing but beauty and simplicity. Andrée’s sensuous curves inspire the artist with a renewed sense of purpose. She is his latest and final muse.

We piece together the family history as the story unfolds. When it opens, we learn that Renior’s wife Aline has just died, leaving their sullen teenage son still at home. People whisper about Aline, their eldest son Pierre (who has become an actor), and the mysterious Gabrielle, who was banished from the household for unspoken reasons. We are led to assume that the painter has had many affairs and that Aline had tolerated them, but only up to a point.

The middle son, Jean, soon arrives from the battlefront on crutches. He is recovering from a shrapnel wound in his leg and is forced to stay around the house with little to do. Like his father, he is smitten by the young Andrée, who is headstrong and complicated. They are both fascinated by the cinema and feel that they share a bond. Romance ensues.

Bouquet as Renoir

Bouquet does an uncanny portrayal of the elderly Renoir, alternately tender and curmudgeonly impatient. As Jean, Rottiers captures the mix of love  and frustration that the son feels in his relationship with his father. Theret’s interpretation of Andrée is complex, aptly reflecting the tempestuousness and unpredictability of the immature young model.

I was confused at first that a man so elderly and  infirm could have children so young. However, at the end Renoir mentions that he married late and was considerably older than his wife. My research revealed that he was 60 years old when Coco was born. Had I known that from the beginning, I would have watched the film without the nagging sense that the facts didn’t add up.

As the story closes, Jean’s wound has healed and he is returning to the front. We are left with the feeling that Renoir senior will not be painting much longer and that Jean and Andrée will meet again. And indeed, the epilogue informs us that the couple married five years later and became involved in making movies. She took the stage name Catherine Hessling and acted in many of his early pictures. Jean Renoir, of course, is the well-known director, screenwriter, actor, producer, and author, who ended up making more than forty films.


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More reviews of my book

Cover - thumbnailThis post cites three more  reviews of my book, Finding My Invincible Summer, that have appeared on–all of them five stars. Today’s quotes have also been added to the cumulative collection under the “Review” tab on this site. A couple of the standout lines were:

“Reads like a thriller, yet is deep, raw and inspiring. This book is a gem.”

“The author knows how to capture the reader’s attention early and not let it go.”


A must read! Totally captivating story!

By Nashley

This book is exceptional! A must read! A deeply touching, bittersweet story, brilliantly written. This book reflects the depth of a soulful woman who has learned to live through deeply wounding experiences and has come to terms with her emotions and heal her pain. Reads like a thriller, yet is deep, raw and inspiring. This book is a gem. It is a gift to anyone who is in need of inspiration and hope, as well as to those who just wants an exceptionally good book to read. Pages come to life like in a movie, snapshots of history add meaning and relevance, and every chapter is filled with new surprises and give deeper meaning to the one before. Muriel’s story is an inspiration and heart opener. I found this book to be a thought provoking and enriching experience in my Universe. 


Gripping story and a helpful guide

By Jazzrascal

Finding My Invincible Summer is a story of tragedy and loss, fierce determination, patience, persistence, and triumph. Muriel’s story takes us through her experience with breast cancer and her search for alternative treatments. Along the way, she is faced with challenges and frustrations that would have made most of us give up, but with dogged determination she bucked the system, stood up for herself, and found solutions. Muriel tells her story with honesty and authenticity, and even at times with humor, although we never doubt for a moment that it must have taken great courage to tell it. Not only is the book a page-turner, it’s one that can be of great help and encouragement to people who are facing similar problems. Highly recommended! 


A compelling read 

By Peggy Dougherty

I bought this memoir knowing little about it or about the author. I was quite delighted to find it to be a compelling read. The writing is excellent. The author knows how to capture the reader’s attention early and not let it go. She tells her heartfelt story with insight and candor. The writing flows and draws you in.

Vasconcellos takes the reader on her remarkable journey. It’s impressive how she relates numerous events, some of them not only life-changing, but also life-saving, in a seamless, easy to follow manner. Like every good story, this one has many turning points. I found myself always wondering what would happen next, all the way to the uplifting ending. Hers is a thought-provoking story worthy of sharing with readers. I, for one, am grateful that she did so. 

(The book is available in softcover, hardcover, and eBook format through all online booksellers, including and my publisher’s site,

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My addiction to Pinterest

Succ Epiphyllum close Jun 2011 MV

My epiphyllum,
pinned on Pinterest

I’m addicted to Pinterest. There, I admitted it. I discovered this awesome medium a few weeks ago, and I can’t stop pinning!

For those of you who haven’t tried it, it’s a website where you collect cool photos and other images. You can upload your own, or Pinterest will get you started by showing pictures that others have posted. As you start selecting and “pinning” the ones you like, the offerings start to hone in on your preferences. In my case, I have chosen to focus on interesting, beautiful, and informative photos, but the site can also be used for how-to instructions, cartoons, charts, and the wise sayings that are the fodder of Facebook.

You then organize the images into different “boards,” which resemble neatly displayed real-life bulletin boards. People quickly start noticing your boards, and before you realize it, you have a following and you, in turn, are following a bunch of people you have never met but you feel as if you’ve known them all your life.

Pinterest, How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

•  To begin with, most of the photos are either magnificent or amazing or both. The eye candy feeds my soul. Many of the photos make me gasp out loud from the lighting, the angle, the detail, or the way the subject as been captured.

•  The process nurtures my creative spirit: I can play with the images as if they were my paints and the boards were my canvases–I can make art out of art with beautiful boards that I enjoy looking at and sharing with others.

•  It’s fun to organize the images into different categories—and to see how other people organize theirs. Some folks fill a single board with thousands of pins, while others set up 30 and 40 different boards that are highly classified (one of my buddies has 185 boards). I have opted for the latter approach, and I have made a mental list of rules for myself:

1. Don’t pin the same photo twice on the same board. I have noticed that I lose interest in other people’s boards when the same photos keep repeating.

2. It’s OK to pin the same photo on several different boards. The idea of pinning it in several places was a breakthrough for me in organizing my own photos. In the past, I have tended to lose track of where my photos are on my computer. Now I have set up a filing system that mirrors my Pinterest boards. As time allows, I will up upload the best of them onto Pinterest. I will also be posting photos about events that I refer to in my book, Finding My Invincible Summer.

3. Pin only the best images, photographically speaking, or else have a good reason for pinning them. If in doubt, don’t pin. In other words, don’t clutter up the boards; keep everything beautiful.

4. Try to be specific in the caption. Whenever possible, identify locations and plant and animal species, or point out the feature of interest.

5. Don’t gush. The image should speak for itself and be sufficiently powerful that it doesn’t need further comment, which feels like a distraction to me.

6. The boards should be attractive, cohesive, and meaningful. This makes them more fun to look at, both for me and for my followers.

7. Keep the boards small, up to, say, 250 pins; subdivide them when they get too big. The point is to see them, and really long boards with thousands of pins defeat the purpose.

•  It’s easy to make changes and correct mistakes. A hamster eating a tulip got pinned to the Architecture board? No problem. The switch can be made in an instant.

•  Pinterest is safe. No one is going to write weird things or use my data for nefarious purposes. The sole purpose is to share images that are interesting, informative, moving, and/or beautiful.

•  It builds community. I feel an immediate connection to the people who have “liked” my photos, and the images they have chosen become a window into their hearts. I am fascinated by how they name their boards, which tells me something about how their minds work. I quickly feel as if I know these people, and I start to care about them. The network builds like wildfire.

I still haven’t figured out whether I’m doing this to amuse myself or to share my view of the world. I definitely plan to use it to give ideas to my landscape clients. Whatever the motivation, I appreciate more than ever before the old adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

My link, by the way, is

Now if you will excuse me, I have to run. It’s been at least four hours since I last pinned and I’m starting to go into withdrawal.

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My mother’s bird

My mother was living with me when I first heard Arnold Patent speak about releasing attachment to the outcome (see my blog of April 1). The basic idea is that better things come to us if we trust the Universe than if we try to write the script ourselves, fill up a wish list with specifics, and start “efforting” and making affirmations about the future. We do best living each day as it comes and staying alert to opportunities. If we are meant to have what we wanted, once we release it, it will come back to us anyway. However, according to Arnold, it is crucial that first we have to fully release our attachment.

I told my mother about all this, not with the idea of proselytizing, but just to keep her up to date on what was going on in my life. I didn’t think she had paid much attention. Then one day I came home to find her beaming from ear to ear with a triumphant smile:

“I did what you told me to! I totally released my attachment to the outcome, and I got my bird!”

What bird?” I asked. I had no idea what she was talking about.

It turns out that she had been coveting a metal bird on a stake in the garden next door which the previous owners had left behind when they moved. The house was being remodeled. She told me that she had peeked over the fence and asked the workers if there was any chance she could have the bird. The man poked around a little and finally concluded:

“There ain’t no bird here, Ma’am! Sorry.”

Sad and disappointed, she resigned herself to not getting the bird. She figured she wasn’t meant to have it and forgot about it. Then several days later the doorbell rang, and the workman was standing at our front door with the bird in his hand.

“Is this what you wanted, Lady?”

She was overjoyed. To this day I keep the bird in a special place in my garden, a reminder of my mother and the power of releasing attachment.

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Reviews of my book

I have Cover - thumbnailopened up a new tab on this website which will show a cumulative collection of reviews and feedback on my book, Finding My Invincible Summer. As I update the Review tab, I will copy the new entries into my blog here. Today I posted the first three reviews that appeared on–all of them five stars. Two lines stood out and rang in my head for days:

“I found this to be one of the best memoirs I have ever read.”

“This book grabs you by the soul and doesn’t let you go.”

Here are the reviews.

Absolutely riveting! Just finished reading it five minutes ago

By J. Kaplan

In order for a memoir to capture my attention, I must love the voice of the writer and be made to care enough to travel the entire distance with them as they tell their life story. This happens when the writer is exposing their vulnerabilities honestly and the story itself is also utterly compelling. With Finding My Invincible Summer, not only did the author take you into her completely confidence but the story was so intense and relatable that I could not put it down. During a week of reading where there were many other distractions in my life and in the greater world, I kept yearning to return to this quiet, deeply involving and highly personal story, even as difficult and painful as that life was in parts. Ultimately, the reader is given their own sense of possibilities – that there are indeed attainable solutions to even the most difficult of life’s problems. I found this to be one of the best memoirs I have ever read – and I am a tough critic of memoirs. I recommend sitting in front of the fire and taking some quiet time with this book and you will indeed be rewarded.


Soon afterwards came the following review on Amazon by a colleague in the translation community:

Absolutely marvelous. Read this memoir!
By JuliaA
I bought this memoir by Muriel Vasconcellos (whose work I knew only as a translator) in mid-December and was unable to put it down until I finished reading it, literally pushing my Christmas shopping by a few days. This book grabs you by the soul and doesn’t let you go. The author describes the suffering inflicted by cancer, shares intimate details of the amazing love story with her Brazilian soul mate, and talks of love and loss and her endless attempts at finding physical and emotional balance and peace, which she finally achieves. As a reader, I was in awe of Muriel’s honesty and gained more and more respect for her as the pages progressed. I could sense that digging this deep inside herself must have been agonizing and yet what a liberating experience! You literally see her grow as a human being and you grow along with her. Highly recommended!


Another Amazon review from around the same time was by a translator I met online, who also published a longer write-up on her blog,

A compelling read about love, cancer and alternative therapies

By Emma Goldsmith

Muriel Vasconcellos’ memoir takes the reader on a journey through her life, focusing on how she came to terms with breast cancer, her encounters with conventional treatment in the late 1970s and her search for alternative therapies. She also gives vivid accounts of life-changing events and how she manages to study and work as a translator in seemingly impossible circumstances.

I avidly read “Finding My Invincible Summer” over the course of several evenings, and in the daytime my mind was full of her flashbacks and experiences. It’s definitely worth reading if you’re interested in alternative medicine, translation, medical practice in the 1970s and 80s, or cross-cultural relationships (Brazilian/American in this case).

(The book is available in softcover, hardcover, and eBook format through all online booksellers, including and my publisher’s site,

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Releasing attachment to the outcome

It’s April first, and spring is here in San Diego. Easter has happened, and today is the first day of the new quarter and opening day at the ballpark. After a considerable absence (for which I claim to have an excuse), I am resuming this blog in earnest. I will try to post stories, musings, and updates about my book at least once a week. Here is my first new entry.

Arnold croppedArnold M. Patent teaches us in his workshops and his book, You Can Have It All, that luck comes our way when we release attachment to the outcomes we yearn for. I have found this teaching to be very wise. If we obsess about the future, we are not living in the present. In fact, wishful thinking and affirmations about the future are a rejection of where we are; we are telling ourselves that our lives are incomplete and “if only” we had that certain special something that we desire, we would be whole, perfect, and content. In fact, yearning for what we don’t have fuels much of our economy as we continue to believe that acquiring that special something in our lives will bring us the happiness that eludes us.

The truth is that we are already whole and perfect in the present moment. If we are always looking to the future, we will never appreciate what we already have.

Affirmations about the future set up a repeating pattern, occasionally reinforced by actually getting what we yearned for. In a vicious cycle, no sooner do we get what we wanted than we start chasing after something even “better.” The wishing never ends. The present is never lived.

arnold-patent-bookNot only are we already whole and perfect, but Arnold reminds us that the Universe supports us at all times. If we learn to trust and be open to the Universe, it will give us better outcomes than we could possibly imagine from our limited perspective. We get in the way of our own success and reduce our options when we write a mental letter asking for a, b, or c. We close our minds to opportunities that could be right in front of us.

According to Arnold, we regain our power when we “release attachment to the outcome.” If we catch ourselves “efforting,” chances are, we’re traveling in the wrong direction. Accepting what we already have is the fastest route to self-realization. If we truly release our attachment, good things are likely to flow our way—perhaps even the very things that we wanted in the first place.

Writing my book, Finding My Invincible Summer, was a goal I had I had fretted over for decades. I started writing it around the time I attended my first workshop with Arnold Patent, back in 1985. For years I punished myself for not moving forward on my project, never realizing that my book was just another form of attachment that needed to be released. In the spring of 2011, I finally accepted that it would be okay not to finish it. Freeing up that stuck energy gave me the power to let the words flow. From that moment on, the book moved forward on its own momentum, as if the words were being channeled through my fingers–a perfect example of the lesson that I thought I had learned many years earlier.


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