I’ve always loved where I lived. From pretty much day 1, my parents exposed me to the museums, arts, sports and attractions that MSP has to offer. But I never truly appreciated it until I started working in publishing and got paid to write about our awesomeness. I learned things I never knew; and now I spout that knowledge to anyone who will listen. (Sorry to family and friends who have heard the same “fun” facts over and over.)
Two weeks ago I saw Pop Candy’s new blog feature called Pop Traveler, where she was asking readers to submit posts about why their cities were awesome places to visit. And I thought to myself, “Uh, piece of cake.” That’s my JOB, to tell visitors why they should come to Minneapolis-St. Paul, so 1.) I could easily whip up a post, 2.) What a great way to hype up our Twin Cities on another avenue besides the publications I work on and (selfishly) 3.) This could be some good exposure for me.
(Note: It was hard to narrow it down to 10! I could've easily included the Mall of America, Target Field and so many other places... I love my town.)
I contacted Whitney, she was game for a post and then yesterday she posted it: 10 Reasons to Visit Minneapolis-St. Paul. I have to admit, I was really excited. I’ve been reading Pop Candy for years and am envious of whom she gets to meet and the experiences she gets to have. But what pop culture junky isn’t envious of Whitney?
I have to say, the outcome has been pretty cool. This website got 75 hits yesterday (perspective: 25 hits is a very, very good day around here). In the past 24 hours, I’ve gotten nearly 20 more Twitter followers. My post was tweeted, RT’d or Facebooked several times, by organizations like Target, Hennepin Theatre Trust, Minneapolis CVB, The Local, First Avenue, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts—and those are only the ones I found on my own. Plus, several locals whom I’ve never even met tweeted my post and messaged me that they liked my list (not to mention all the love from my friends). I even got a personal email thank you from one of the organizations.
All in all, it’s been a lovely surprise to see the response. It strengthens my faith in humanity, increases my love for my city and state and gives me a little spring in my step. Minnesota Nice indeed! Thanks to Whitney for posting it, to everyone who read it and to those who reached out to me. I appreciate it so much.
I feel a bit sorry that Mindy Kaling’s book came out the same year as Tina Fey’s. Because the comparisons are going to be there, and one is definitely the stronger, funnier book (Bossypants). But then, Tina Fey has a longer, more varied career (plus a marriage and children) and much more material from which to draw. With that being said, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? was definitely a delightful, quick read.
I like how Kaling affirms that people think she’s just like Kelly Kapoor on The Office. I like the stories of a writer’s life and how she really worked to get where she is today. I like how she’s just more proof that kids who were on the fringe in high school can go on to make it big. I related to so many of her ideas: having best friends, wanting marriage and a family, not understanding one-night stands, the difference between boys and men. And while I’m not in the limelight like she is, her struggles with being a size 8 or 10 (and fluctuating) and being accepting of that, especially in Hollywood, were taken to heart.
Some of her other essays were just quick peeks into her creative and silly mind. While some were head-scratching and a bit of a miss, others were completely hilarious. Like I said with Bossypants (again with the comparisons), it’s refreshing to read a self-deprecating book about someone famous and realize they could be your friend in real life.
So, my request: Amy Poehler, you’re next. I want to read about you! Because both Tina and Mindy have the most wonderful things to say about Amy that I know I’d love to read essays by her too.
We read Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden for book club last year and it ended up being one of my top books of 2011. After falling in love with that story, I wanted to "Jodi-Picoult" Morton. What’s “Jodi-Picoult-ing”? When I read one book (i.e. My Sister’s Keeper) that I think is fabulous and proceed to read every other book by that author. Alas, I did get tired of Picoult’s formula after several novels and haven’t read her since.
Anyway, I grabbed up The Distant Hours almost immediately last fall, but once I got about halfway through, my library holds kept popping up and I had to put it down until the new year. Like Picoult, Morton has a formula. She tells stories that take place in different times/generations; there’s usually one main narrator, but her stories will jump away from that person frequently. And she always jumps away right when you don’t want her to. You’re constantly like, “No! I was just on the edge of my seat and now I’m back to 2006 again…” But it works. (I’ve heard the formula is similar for her other book, The House at Riverton.)
Morton has a way of telling haunting, mysterious stories. There’s usually even a creep factor involved, but not so creepy it turns you off completely (or the creepiness comes right at the end, so by that time you're done). The Distant Hours focuses around a young editor, Edie, Edie’s mother Meredith, and a castle in England, which houses three sisters who Meredith stayed with during WWII. The story bounces between all these characters, and centralizes around the mysteries that the castle, and the sisters, hold. Morton does a good job of throwing you off the scent, which is saying a lot, because I can usually figure out the mysteries of books, movies and TV shows well before the mid-point.
If I had to compare, The Forgotten Garden is better. I was invested a bit more in the characters and the mystery wasn’t quite as creepy. I was left thinking for days about the story, and not so much with this one. And while both have a sad note to them, The Distant Hours is far sadder. I expect that one could get tired of Morton’s formula if she had five or more novels to burn through. But she really does excel at jumping back and forth in time, and developing secondary story lines that are just as intriguing as the main story.
Warning: There may be spoilers.
After I got all caught up with Mad Men, I turned to Friday Night Lights. So many of my friends (in real life and Twitter life) have watched this show and claimed full-out love. I’ve even seen the phrase “best show on TV ever” thrown around quite a few times. I’m now in to season three. Is FNL the best show I’ve ever watched? No. But do I love it? Yes. Here are a few thoughts so far:
The Bits of Ridiculousness
Teenage Drama: My main concern with getting into this show was the teenage drama. I hate teenage drama. If that’s all FNL was going to be, no thanks. (It’s not, see below.) However, there’s still plenty of it and some of it drives me insane. The “I love him, I hate him” stuff with Lyla & Riggins and Lyla & Street and Tyra & Riggins and Tyra & Landry – it gets old. Julie Taylor’s whiny-ness also gets old. All the testosterone in that locker room when those football boys get together – enough already. The drinking, the sex, the more-mature behavior than seems natural… I didn’t grow up in that world, so maybe I just have a hard time understanding it, but it all seems over the top. (If high school is really that way, then I’m home schooling my kid.)
The Mexico storyline: Completely ridiculous, because juniors in high school just take taxis down to Mexico for a week without their parents worrying about them. It meant nothing to the story arc overall and definitely didn't need to last over four episdoes.
Tyra & Landry’s secret: If your dad’s a cop, you call him. You don’t dump a body. And then a couple episodes later, it’s all OK? Please.
Buddy Garrity: Why does Coach put up with him? I understand his place and his importance (he’s the money), but he’s so annoying!
What I love
The Taylors: Hands down, the marriage of Eric and Tami Taylor is my most favorite parts of the show. They’re so cute I could squeeze them to death. I love the sarcasm, I love the respect, I love Coach’s grumpiness, I love how Tami is (almost) always right. In a life where I can only imagine the stress – that town, that job – it would be hard to maintain such a great relationship, yet they do. Plus, I love the way they love those kids. They take them in, they teach them lessons, they offer tough love. They’re great. Love them.
The football: I’ve been a football fan for a long time, so I enjoy the football scenes. I also like the behind-the-scenes peek at the coaching meetings, the locker room and the coach-player relationships. And while it frustrates me to no end the pressure that’s placed on these teenagers – and then what they go on to become in college with the bling and the cars – it’s still so intriguing to get a peek into that life. These kids are put up on pedestals by an entire town and it gets even worse when they’re in college. No wonder they have a hard time when anyone tries to say no to them.
The different types of families: You have single moms (Smash’s mom is kick ass), rich families, down-and-out families, blue-collar families, Matt and his grandma, white, black and Hispanic families. It’s a nice mix they put together and while it may not be representative of every community out there, it would be hard not to find a family you could relate to in some way while watching.
The characters: Besides the Taylors, I like Riggins (it took me 30 episodes but I finally discovered why he’s a favorite character), Matt (he can be a bit of a sad sack, but he’s sweet), Landry (he’s an actor who says his lines just like they do on Parenthood; I really see the overlap between the two shows when I watch Jesse Plemons speak, plus he's funny) and Tyra (minus her wishy-washy love life, I like her spunk, her toughness and her hair).
FNL falls right up there with my other favorite dramas like The West Wing, Parenthood, Gilmore Girls, Mad Men, Six Feet Under and The Wire. So, another “bit of ridiculousness” is the fact that this show didn’t gain a following big enough to stay on NBC. Why is it that reality TV, procedurals and Two and a Half Men always beat out the truly great shows? That’s another post entirely.
While it’s not hard for everybody, high school can be a bitch. I wasn’t popular, but I also wasn’t picked on either. (I was bullied in elementary school, but that was one stupid boy, and not after fifth grade.) I think I just didn’t make enough waves with the way I acted or dressed, etc., to merit much attention from anyone who picked on people. (Basically, I was pretty boring.) But, high school wasn’t fun. My friends and I still got in fights. We still gave each other the silent treatment. I knew of sex, drugs, smoking and stealing happening, but I never felt pressured to participate – probably because I wasn’t in the groups that were doing it.
The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth takes a look at the “cafeteria fringe,” those kids who just don’t feel like they belong because one or two groups create a culture of conformity (or the school itself promotes conformity) and if you don’t conform, you’re weird, scary, creepy, nerdy… what have you. Alexandra Robbins, famous for her ability to relate to and write about teens (see The Overachievers and Pledged, both excellent), interviewed fringe students all over the country and focused on a few – the loner, the nerd, the new girl, the popular bitch, the gamer, the band geek, the weirdo – and followed them throughout a school year. The stories of these kids and their struggles are so engaging and interesting, plus Robbins intersperses all the stories with facts and studies that prove why the “fringe” have the qualities needed to be successful (think Spielberg, Taylor Swift) and why conformity and group dynamics can really mess things up.
I mean, the world is pretty much one big high school, isn’t it?
One theme of the book that I found really interesting is Robbins’ look into the school system in America and how it pretty much sets up “fringe” students for failure. Football is celebrated; the math team isn’t. Popular kids get away with everything; emo or goth kids get told to change their hair or their clothes. Plus, teachers have their own cliques, too, and leave out, and even bully, other teachers. At the end she gives parents, students and teachers several ideas to help change this behavior and they’re good ideas.
Again, while it may not be true for everybody, I believe once you get to college, everything is better. Everyone is back on an even playing field. When I was a freshman, the only few people I knew in my dorm were kids who were considered “nerds” at my high school. Fortunately, I related a bit to the nerds and when I needed one of them to help set up my computer, he did. But, think if I’d been a popular bitch, now all alone at college, why would he help me? All of a sudden, he could be the popular one and ::poof:: the tables are turned. If my child has any trouble in high school (or if he turns out to be a popular jerk), I’m going to remind him of this reality.
Anyway, once again, Robbins writes an engaging, fun, insightful book where I even learned a little something. (I also read that Jennifer Garner is working on producing a TV show based on the book for sometime in the future.)
My mother-in-law is always very generous on my birthday (all year round, actually), sweeping through my Amazon wish list. Here's what she bought me this year:
Blue Nights, by Joan Didion: While I know it won't be uplifting, I absolutely loved The Year of Magical Thinking. I'm intrigued to hear about the rest of the story. She's suffered so much loss and to just put it out there like that, well, that's inspiring.
The Zygote Chronicals, by Suzanne Finnamore: I know several people who have read and LOVED, so I'm anxious to read this short piece, and maybe try out one of her other books.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing & Life, by Anne Lamott: Ever since college, I've known this is a must-read book for writers. So, why haven't I read it yet? I have no excuses. My friend Katie recently read this (as well as the previous) and enjoyed it. I take all her recommendations very seriously.
The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth, by Alexandra Robbins: I read and loved Pledged and The Overachievers. Robbins has a great voice and writing style, throwing in experts and studies with real life conversations and situations. I love that this book gives a voice to high school students who find themselves on the "cafeteria fringe."
Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five, by John Medina: This book sounds good, but we'll see, almost two years into parenting, how much I nod my head at and how much I shake my head at. Because at 20 months, our kid seems super smart and happy already; it'll be interesting, nonetheless!
Safekeeping: Some True Stories from Life, by Abigail Thomas: I read A Three Dog Life by Thomas about her struggle after her husband gets in a horrible accident. It was quite moving, so I was intrigued by this book as well.
Is Everbody Hanging Out Without Me?, by Mindy Kaling: When I was going through a rough time in the spring, my husband bought me Bossypants. It was perfect - light and funny. Well, I had another rough experience a couple weeks ago and my best friends bought me this book. I can't wait to get started!
Every year I compile a post about the top 5 books I read that year. In 2010, with a new baby, I didn’t read as much as usual. And while I just missed my goal of reading 25 books this year, I’m happy with how much I was able to read. Being able to check out library books on my Kindle helped tremendously with this.
Here are the Top 5 Books I read in 2011.
The Book Thief: At first, death as the narrator was a little off-putting. But I quickly got into it and the book was just fabulous. Heart-wrenching, but full of love. I loved the father and I loved the girl. I enjoyed learning about the war from this perspective. It’s hard to imagine that this is considered a young adult book, because I thought the themes were quite mature.
Cutting for Stone: I don’t even know what made me first buy this book. I think Amazon just kept recommending it and it had such great reviews. And while it took me weeks to read, it was worth it for the in-depth family history, the beautiful prose and the complicated relationships. These children grew up in interesting times in Ethiopia, but they were fortunate to have wonderful adoptive parents. I think the family dynamic – and the love for one another – was my most favorite part.
Bossypants: I was in need of a light book and a good laugh this past spring and my husband knew just what to buy me. Sure, this isn’t Cutting for Stone-like prose, but it’s hilarious. Tina Fey is humble and self-deprecating and one funny woman. She tells her story chronologically but through vignettes instead of year by year. I loved learning about her dad, her SNL friends, her thoughts on women in comedy and her thoughts on motherhood. I borrowed this book to no less than seven other woman who also loved it.
Unbroken: I give five stars to very few books on Goodreads, but this one is most deserving of such high praise. Hillenbrand is gifted in telling true stories and making you feel like you’re right there; in this case, in a fighter jet, floating on an ocean or in a POW camp. Louie’s journey is remarkable and I feel fortunate for having the opportunity to read about him. Not very many books make you feel that way.
The Forgotten Garden: I have yet to post about this book, which is really absurd, because I adored it from page one. Maybe I just don’t think I can put into words how sweet and magical this book was for me. A story told throughout three different periods of time, all interconnecting within a mystery. Plus, not only does the author write this complicated tale, she also writes a smattering of original fairy tales within the book. It’s amazing. Kate Morton was new to me with this book, but I’m now halfway through The Distant Hours (almost as good) and I’ve heard House at Riverton is wonderful, too.
The Hunger Games series: I loved the first book but after that the books (Catching Fire & Mockingjay) went downhill for me. I was actually a bit disappointed in the ending. However, I’m very glad I read this series. It’s more mature than Twilight, which was a very nice perk for a young adult series. The trailer for the movie is phenomenal, so I’ll be seeing that for sure.
What are your top books for 2011?
When I first read about Amy Chua and her book in the Wall Street Journal, I jumped on the “this woman is ca-ra-zy” bandwagon. But then, the more and more I read about her, the more I wondered if she was just misunderstood? (Or was she just acting ca-ra-zy to sell more books?) Now that I’ve read the book, well, I’m still conflicted in my feelings.
When she says that accepting the best from your children is the only way a parent should behave, well, that makes sense. When she says that people don’t get good at things without practicing, that makes sense, too. She made me think that yes, maybe we Western parents do coddle our children a bit. Maybe we do make them feel entitled. Maybe they do become more disrespectful or rude. Or, by not making them practice, by not expecting the best grades through rigorous homework schedules, by instead letting them make their own choices, we’re in fact being lazy parents. Hmmm.
However, there are other times when I can’t believe the words she’s writing down. Sometimes they’re so out of this world, I laughed assuming she was joking (“Playing the drums will lead to drugs.”), but I’m not so sure she is. For example, this is what she says about her dogs, yes, her DOGS:
“My dogs can’t do anything—and what a relief. I don’t make any demands of them, and I don’t try to shape them or their future. For the most part, I trust them to make the right choices for themselves. I always look forward to seeing them and I love watching them sleep. What a great relationship.”
That’s how many Western parents feel about their children - trusting them to make choices and looking forward to seeing them.
And the fact that she spent the weekends driving her child two hours to and from New York City for a one-hour violin lesson? Um, no. What the heck was she doing for herself? But then, she doesn’t believe parents should do much for themselves, I don’t think. She’s not “getting pedicures or massages,” and seemed to judge those of us who do. But, she also seemed run a little ragged; I think she could use a good massage every now and then.
When it came to practicing piano, my own mom was a bit of a Tiger Mother. While I wouldn’t have to sit there and practice for five hours a day (and I could still go on sleepovers), there are many, many times during the first 5-6 years where I would sit at the bench for hours refusing to practice and she would yell and yell at me. She would slam doors. She would stomp around. For some reason, to her, piano was very important. However, one day she was so mad she slammed her hand against the wall. She sprained and bruised her thumb. That was the day, she told me later, when she realized it wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth it to our relationship or my wellbeing. She rarely yelled at me after that and she let me quit having to do the recitals (my stage fright was nearly immobilizing). She switched me to a more laid-back teacher. And I kept taking piano lessons for 5 more years. And then she let me quit. And to this day, even if I can’t play very well anymore, I don’t regret quitting (or taking lessons, for that matter). And later when I started band playing the flute, she never pushed me to practice – I practiced for me. And the flute was my choice. I stayed in band for six years and enjoyed nearly every minute.
I’m glad that Chua had her younger daughter Lulu to throw her for a bit of a loop. If both her children accepted their fate like her older daughter Sophia did, Chua would be singing the praises of Chinese parenting as loud as she could. I appreciated her struggles with her younger daughter. I still think she went too far, refusing meals and sleep until practice was done, but at least she learned different children respond to different parenting methods.
In the end, it was a good book. She’s humorous, sarcastic (I think) and a good storyteller. I got great insight into another way to parent. And while I don’t agree with very many of her methods, I do think both sides can learn a bit from each other.
(Disclosure: Tiny Prints has offered me 50 holiday cards for writing about their collection of cards.)
I first came across Tiny Prints right before Father’s Day. Another site I read, Money Saving Mom, alerted its readers to a free Father’s Day card from Tiny Prints. A Father’s Day card that could be personalized with a picture of his little boy? Um, yes, my husband would love that. And you know who else would, too? My dad. I perused the Tiny Prints website and the designs were darling. Nothing cheesy, nothing kitschy, just super cute. I created my cards and they were mailed to me within days. I was so excited to give them to my husband and my dad; and they loved them!
Well, here comes Christmas, and honestly, I’m not one to send out Christmas cards. Not at all. However, I got to perusing Tiny Prints again and fell in love with the Christmas card designs. Once again, they're unique yet classic feeling. I like those with multiple photos and ones that don’t overuse (or use at all) red and green. I've included a couple of my favorites.
Which do you like best? And, seriously, where do they find such adorable families to be on their cards? We're pretty cute over here, if you ever need more models!
Do you send out holiday cards? Do you like getting holiday cards in the mail? (I love getting them and put them up on the fridge!)
WARNING: This post may contain spoilers, because, frankly, I’m like FIVE years behind the rest of the world here. If you're even more behind than me, don't read.
I finally finished Mad Men, or at least I’m all caught up. It took about three months of watching three episodes on some nights and catching one during naptime here and there. I have some feelings about the show, but the feelings I had at the beginning definitely weakened by the end.
The Sexism: This was the most jarring issue when I first started watching the show. I seriously almost turned it off for good. I could not believe the disgusting behavior of these men. When one guy, during a company party, chases a secretary around the office to then tackle her and see the color of her underwear? Are you kidding? Puke. But, I became desensitized or something because by the end of season 4, that stuff rarely bothered me anymore. But thinking that’s what women went through in the workplace back then? How frightening.
Pete Campbell: I hate that guy. That’s all.
Joan Harris: Love. Her clothes, her hair, her voice, her personality. Love.
Betty Draper: She’s a special kind of psycho, isn’t she? At first I felt bad for her, stuck in that house with those kids all day while her husband gallivants around. Of course she’s lonely! Of course she’s depressed! But, now, I just think she’s psycho. I see a Don/Betty reunion of some form in the future, too, with the way Season 4 ended.
The kids: Should we look more closely at kids who were born in the 50s and 60s to these parents? How are they even normal today? With the smoking and drinking during pregnancy. Being completely ignored most of the time. Being smacked. Left alone in the house sleeping while their parents go next door. Wow.
Colin Hanks: He played a very small role in only a few episodes, but I really enjoyed him as the priest. It’s amazing how similar he is to his dad. The head tilts and the mannerisms are uncanny.
Peggy Olson: I have mixed feelings about Peggy, too. I like her for the most part, but I think she feels entitled to more than she really is. And seriously, how can she work with and even look at Pete? She seems to have more emotion over some things (a campaign, her job) than she does about others (a baby, her relationships). I guess she fits in with “the boys” that way.
Don Draper: Now to the star of the show. I have complex feelings about Don, but then, he’s a complex fellow, with his split life. Don is not a good husband. I’m still trying to figure out why he’s so unfaithful. Is it because of his past life? Because, when he first met Betty, as we saw through flashbacks with Anna, he was a different man then. I don’t think that Don would’ve been unfaithful. However, he constantly lives a lie, so maybe continuing to lie goes with the territory?
Also, I think the flashback of how Roger and Don met explains a bit, too. It shows Don had some of his same willfulness that he does now, but it also makes me think that by spending time with Roger in his toxic environment, it made Don who he is today: a drunk, unfaithful, heartless (at times), self-involved, engaged to his secretary. They’re taking a similar path, just 20 years apart.
My friend asked me if I wondered how Don even got all those women. Because, really, what’s so freakin’ special about him? I never even gave that thought until she said something, but now I agree. He broods and barely speaks. He’s charming for all of two minutes and they fall into bed with him. Anyone he wants. And I can’t figure out why.
Jon Hamm: However, Don Draper is making think Jon Hamm is awesome. Being late to Mad Men, I was introduced to Hamm via 30 Rock and SNL and he was hilarious. So, I’m impressed he can play well two completely different roles. You see some of that in early Dick Whitman/Don Draper days – or any scene where he doesn’t slick back his hair.
I think the show is a touch slow in places, but I enjoy it and will continue to watch when the new season returns.