Amanda Gates
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A Musings

What did I love this week?

HIMYM Season Finale: I loved the 20 mini stories Ted & Robin used to distract Lily during labor, the Lily's in Labor video, the Cloud Cult song that made me pause the show so I could download it instantly, and the ending. (Also I loved the Bones season finale!)

Trailer for The Mindy Project: Yes, this looks VERY Mindy and yes, they pretty much show you the entire season of storylines in this three minutes, but you know what? I'll take this show over what's become of The Office any day.

Girls Gone Child Mother's Day post: She writes, "Because I'm not supposed to admit I have moments of selfishness. I'm not supposed to feel envious when I love my life. I'm not supposed to feel overwhelmed when I'm handling this just fine, thankyouverymuch."

27 Ways to Be an (Even) Better Person: Tweeted out by my dear friend, I loved this post... particularly Nos. 1, 5, 12 (you know who you are), 19, 26 & 27.

Your turn. What did you love this week?

Posted: Fri, 05/18/2012 - 09:55 | Comments: 2

Here's this week's picks:

Minnesota Vikings get a Stadium: My dad taught me all about football when I was in junior high. He also taught me what it means to love a team that never wins the big game. Even if they never win a Super Bowl, I'm really happy the Vikings are here to stay.

Against Chairs: This article had me in stitches. "Chairs suck. All of them. No designer has ever made a good chair, because it is impossible."

But it also left me less than thrilled that I spend a majority of my day in the seated position. "... long times spent seated are a contributing cause of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, and practically innumerable orthopedic injuries. It does not matter if you are young, eat well and live an otherwise active life. Just being seated, in excess, will hurt you."

Maurice Sendak & Stephen Colbert: It was sad to hear about Sendak's death this week, but it was fun to revisit his interview on the Colbert Report. If you haven't watched it, it's so great. The New Yorker also unlocked a comic by Art Spiegelman (have you read Maus I & Maus II? You should) that the artist created after spending time with Sendak. It's awesome, though I'm guessing the magazine will put it back in the vault soon - so, apologies if the link doesn't work.

Felicity on Netflix: I watched Felicity from the day it first aired. But it's been 10 years (how is that possible?) and I'm having a blast watching this show again. I may be in the minority because I fall firmly on Team Noel, but also, it's been so many years, I don't remember how it ends. So, it's like a whole new show! (If you remember, don't spoil it for me.)

Mother's Day: I Miss My Mom: When grief and loss is experienced differently by everyone, sometimes it's hard to find things to read that are comforting. This essay hit home for me. She writes, "The Mother’s Days since have been tinged with bittersweet longing. While I’m crazy about my boys and appreciate however they want to celebrate the day, I miss having someone to honor."

And, "I miss her most are during the highs and lows of parenting—when one of my sons reaches a big milestone like walking or learning how to read, or at the end of a long day when I’ve lost my temper. It’s at those moments that I wish I could hear just how proud she would be, or be reminded that having a bad day doesn’t make you a mom failure. I miss her take on it all." Happy Mother's Day to all the moms, on earth and in heaven.

Your turn! What are you loving this week?

Posted: Fri, 05/11/2012 - 08:33 |

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

I read The Tiger’s Wife a couple of months ago. This book made all those Best of 2011 lists (New York Times), so I thought I’d give it a try. I was reluctant because oftentimes I don’t agree with the lists (I’m reading Swamplandia, another on the list and I just don’t get why of all the books from 2011, this one made it…). But, The Tiger’s Wife was a definite exception; I get it.

It’s a moving story that takes place in the past and present of a war-torn Balkan country. The story revolves around the beautiful relationship between a grandfather and his granddaughter. He passes on some legends, she searches for the truth—all at different points in time. Animals play a big role in the book, which is quite interesting. You learn of war and borders and death and mysticism.

The author leaves open a lot of loose ends. You close the book wondering just what actually happened. With some books, I hate that. Like, ‘I spent all this time reading and you didn’t wrap it up?’ But, this felt right. There was an author Q&A in the back of my copy and Tea Obreht addresses this issue—it was a difficult decision for her.

One of my book club friends read the book too, so we had a mini book club over email. I thought I’d include our discussion here.

AGAIN SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Me: I LOVED the Tiger's Wife, by the way. Even though I'm glad she didn't spell everything out, I still want to know if the Deathless Man knew who she was and if he did in fact come for her grandfather; but I guess that was left up to us to imagine.

Book Club Friend: Me too. I'm glad it was short because I kept thinking, wait did I miss something? and reread passages to see if the details were spelled out. And, no, they weren't. I still don't fully understand why the apothecary killed the Tiger's Wife.

Me: Yeah, I was wondering if it was because he knew as an outsider that she was in for a hard life in that town... Like he was actually saving her or something? A lot of loose ends left, but surprisingly, that didn't keep me from liking it like it might've with another book. The grandfather seemed amazing.

BCF: LOVED the grandfather. I loved the scenes between him and the narrator when she was a teen. So loving and so real.

I thought that, and perhaps as a way of aligning himself with the villagers who watched him die as an outsider anyway. "War makes us all outsiders" was a prevailing theme. So many loose ends ... which did suit the tone of the book.

Me: Can you imagine living that way? I know we've been at war for 10 years, but it's not on our soil. I can't imagine what it would be/will be like if someone was bombing us every day. For 10 years. Ugh. And to have a country divided, and to be "from" both sides of the border? Wow.

BCF: And to have ethnicity all of a sudden mean a lot more than cocktail party chatter ... weird.

I kept expecting the grandmother or even the mother to show up in the stories from the past because there were so many connections, like Luka's intended fiance, the tiger wife's sister, was also the girl that ran off with the deathless man. But the narrator's mother was so absent from everything. I suppose it just wasn't her story.

Me: I liked those past connections a lot. And she had no father? Did they ever mention him? I liked the monk and her friend and wish we knew more of what happened to them. And did she ever say if her grandfather paid his debt? Was The Jungle Book in with his belongings? It makes me want to read that book now! (I've only seen the Disney movie, which must've been way Disney-fied.)

If you read the book (and got to the end of this post), let me know your thoughts!

Posted: Wed, 05/09/2012 - 08:34 | Comments: 1

Here we are again! Some things I’ve loved this week.

50/50: Have you seen this movie? It’s (loosely) based on screenwriter Will Reiser’s experience with cancer at a young age. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the lead; Seth Rogen (Reiser’s friend in real life) plays the best buddy. For a cancer movie, this film is excellent. You see the stages of grief, the relationship struggles, the fear, the denial – all from a 20-something perspective. No feel-good anything. No schmaltz. Tons of humor. A fair share of sadness. All the actors were awesome. Anna Kendrick (who plays a therapist) continues to impress me in everything she does. We watched it on Vudu, but perhaps it’s available elsewhere too?

Mad Men: The season has been really good so far, but this last episode was the best yet. Juliette Binoche was a lovely and perfect surprise as Megan’s mom. I loved everything about her. Sometimes I get tired of seeing Don’s kids in the show, but Sally was in top form in this episode. (I think Megan does a very good job as a stepmom.) Roger continues to be one of my favorite characters. And Peggy’s fight with her mom was spot-on. She’s settling, and like her mom, I don’t like it.

Friends Oral History: When you’ve read every single piece written about your favorite show over nearly 20 years, it’s really hard to find anything you haven’t heard before. And that held true with this article. I’d heard these stories all before—Kauffman’s told the story about her rabbi asking about Ross & Rachel so many times—but I didn’t care. I love this show and I’ll read about it until they stop writing about it.

West Wing on Funny or Die: Great week for my old favorite shows! Loved this short West Wing reunion. Man, I miss C.J. and Charlie and the walking and the fast-paced dialogue and the way the President puts on his coat and the swelling music. It was a nice (if brief) return to my favorite White House.

Brandi Carlile’s That Wasn’t Me: I’m not one who’s up on the new music. But, I’ve loved Brandi Carlile since The Story started giving me chills 5 years ago. This is her new single off her upcoming album and I just love it. I love the cracks in her voice, the twang, the loud parts, the soft parts. She’s great.

What are you loving this week?

Posted: Fri, 05/04/2012 - 08:59 | Comments: 2

I’m going to start a new recurring post where I can list some of the things I’m loving right now. I hope to post once a week, but you know how it is.

All Work & No Pay: The Great Speed Up. This is an older article in Mother Jones, but I only discovered it this week. It highlights the frustrations of your average employee in today’s workplace and tries to offer some solutions to the problems. (The fact that we’re one of only like six countries without a mandatory, paid maternity leave will always rile me up.) Talking about multitasking, which apparently no one can actually do well: “We need to believe there's a personal workaround for what we're conditioned to see as a personal shortcoming. When, in fact, the problem is the absurd premise that our economy can produce ever more with ever less.”

Jennifer Weiner’s post on how to be a novelist. While No. 1 & 2 don’t apply, I liked the parts about getting a liberal arts degree (done!), a job in journalism (done!) and having kids (done!). I think it’s always nice when big-time authors remember where they came from (nowhere) and share the secrets with the little guys.

Teachers on Hulu. Did you ever watch the show Teachers on NBC? It had Justin Bartha (I love him in everything) and Sarah Shahi. It was short-lived, but cute. Well, it was based on a British comedy (of course it was!) starring Andrew Lincoln, who I love from Love Actually and Walking Dead. The British version is on Hulu right now. I’ve watched a few episodes and it’s pretty hilarious and highly inappropriate.

Sidenote: Speaking of Sarah Shahi, I just finished re-watching Life (on Hulu & Netflix streaming right now), starring Shahi and Damien Lewis (love him in everything too). That show was excellent and NBC cancelled it too soon. Story of my life.

Chicken Apple Sausage Daybreaker at Caribou. I’m addicted to this sandwich and it takes all my strength not to buy it every damn day (because, um, it's not that good for you). The croissant roll is buttery and the sausage is the perfect amount of sweet. It’s just delicious. Beats an Egg McMuffin and any breakfast sandwich from Starbucks by a landslide.

Tilt World. I just discovered this cute little game for the iPhone. It’s ridiculously simple, and even a little slow-moving at first, but it’s also cute and addicting. It’s 99 cents, but when I found it they were offering it for free – so keep an eye out!

What are you loving this week?

Posted: Fri, 04/27/2012 - 09:15 | Comments: 1

See Part I here.

Winners on Cable

Southland: Another excellent season. Lucy Liu was a great addition for this season’s run. Ben had some major issues, but hopefully he can turn them around. When my husband, who’s a cop, can say it’s a pretty true account of the job (as opposed to Blue Bloods, Law & Order et al), that means something. I hope it gets on Netflix soon so everyone can get onboard.

Walking Dead: When I was writing about TV last fall, I never expected to watch this show. But my husband convinced me (it was a days-long discussion) and so, because I love him, I did. After digesting the first season on Netflix in one weekend (I do not recommend this), I’ve discovered I can handle the zombie apocalypse better on a one-episode-per-week basis, and even then it still gives me nightmares sometimes. (My irrational train of thought: "How would I take care of a two-year-old while running from zombies?!" It’s too much.) The dialogue can be way cheesy, the editing can be poor, there are certain characters who need to die or reinvent (Lori) and the storyline for the first half of the season was way too slow, but it got much better and ended with a bang. It's like a trashy romance or young adult series. You're like, "OK, why am I watching this? Ohhh yeah, because it's pretty awesome."

Mad Men: I was excited that right after Walking Dead ended, I was able to start watching Mad Men. I had caught up in the fall, so it was fun to join the rest of the world and watch it in present day. I’m really enjoying the season so far. It’s a slow-burning show, but that’s OK in this case. Still love Joan, still hate Pete, still think Don is destined to become Roger if he isn’t careful. Good stuff.

On the Fence

Community: The show keeps getting weirder and weirder, and this season hasn’t even been about school. They’re a study group for a class they never go to. It happens with lots of shows (see Friends/ Joey, The Big Bang/Sheldon), but here again the characters are becoming caricatures of their former selves from season one: Troy is dumber, Abed is weirder, Jeff is more of a douche, Shirley is more annoying, if that’s possible—it’s getting old. The part that make me laugh are so few lately and it's really too bad. I was a champion for this show when it first started.

The Office: Wow, this season went downhill for me. And I’m bummed. But, I think they should’ve just ended it last year with Steve Carell leaving. There are still some funny moments, but they’re few and far between. They're recycling old story lines (Oh, Andy has rage? I didn't know that! Oh, Ryan wants Kelly when he can't have her? That's new!). I don’t even really like Pam’s character anymore and that makes me sad. And with Dwight’s new spin-off (which, what? How will that even be good?), another reboot of The Office just doesn’t seem worth it.

Stopped Watching

Suburgatory: I actually enjoyed this show. I think the main characters are fun and many of the storylines were funny, but it kept stacking up on the DVR without us really wanting to put in the time. So, we canned it.

30 Rock: Here’s another show that just kept getting weirder on us. And while it was still pretty funny, like Suburgatory it kept stacking up on the DVR because we never felt in the mood to watch such a weirdo show. In the end, I only really liked Liz and Jack, but even Alec Baldwin was starting to get on my nerves.

Two Broke Girls: We gave this a couple of tries because we really watch nothing else on Monday nights but HIMYM. But the laugh track, the stupid dirty jokes and the blonde girl’s annoying voice made me turn the channel for good.

Maybe Next Year

Happy Endings:
We did catch several episodes of Happy Endings, just by watching it after Modern Family and it was pretty hilarious. I could see myself making this a regular watch next fall.

Posted: Mon, 04/23/2012 - 08:48 | Comments: 4

Last summer I made some predictions about the new fall shows. I think I was 3 for 5, with The Playboy Club, Charlie’s Angels and Pan Am all getting the boot. Once Upon a Time and Last Man Standing stuck around. And I can’t believe Whitney did too.

Then last fall I wrote my two-part thoughts on both the new and old shows I watched during premiere week. As the shows wind down (or since some already have), here are some season-ending thoughts.

WINNERS

HIMYM: This show has remained awesome this season. The finding-the-mother storyline has never bothered me; I just enjoy the show one episode at a time. I love how these characters continue to change, yet I still love them all. That doesn’t always happen with a show (i.e. The Office). And this week’s episode threw us a bone! As long as it’s not some trick, we know the mother will be found sometime before 2015. I can deal with that.

New Girl: Best new show of the year, by far. I thought it was funny at the beginning, but it only got funnier. It’s an ensemble show now (Nick is my favorite) and the subtle jokes and quirky personalities just make the show. The last couple episodes have been so funny, they’re knocking some of my all-time favorite Office and Friends eps off the list.

Raising Hope: We still love this show, too. It’s not quite as off-the-wall as My Name is Earl, but the recurring characters and references to the former show are fun to pick up on. While they’re quite kooky, they still have Hope’s best interest at heart. Martha Plimpton is excellent, and after seeing him in both Life and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (as a dramatic actor), I think Garret Dillahunt is most definitely underrated.

Parenthood: I love the Bravermans. They make me cry every week. I know there’s rumors the show might not come back next year, but I refuse to believe such nonsense. The fact that I can see Peter Kruase and Lauren Graham on TV (on the same show!) just makes me happy. (Even if Graham is getting way too skinny.)

The Middle: This show is still great for all the reasons I said so last fall: It feels more real than say Modern Family, because it’s about a middle-class family in suburban nowhere just trying to make ends meet. The kids aren’t gorgeous, the parents work three jobs between them, their house is a mess… That’s life. And they get by.

Modern Family: We’re still loving this show, too. Though, Julie Bowen’s thinness is worrisome and I wish Sophia Vergara's character didn’t have to wear belly shirts all the time. It doesn't feel nearly as real as The Middle, but the writing is still pretty darn funny.

Parks & Rec: I have to say that even though I was sad when they pulled Community for several months, I kind of forgot about it because this show is just so good. I prefer this and Up All Night on Thursday nights, hands down. I love nearly every character on P&R, and the campaign for city council has been pretty hilarious. Walking across the ice to “Get On Your Feet”? I died.

Up All Night: After the first two episodes last fall, I was a fan of Chris and Reagan, but not of Ava. Well, I’ve changed my tune. Maya Rudolph’s Ava has really grown on me and I love the whole cast. This show is hilarious, it has heart, it feels true to life (relationships-wise, not income-wise) and Applegate and Arnett have really good chemistry.

The Big Bang Theory: My husband loves this show and it still makes me laugh a lot. Though I’m worried the gross-out, homophobic, sex humor is leaning more and more toward Two and a Half Men, and well, there was a reason I stopped watching that show. But, those are only bits so far and entire episodes don’t feel out of control yet, so I’m still watching and laughing; but it’s always better when Penny, Amy and Bernadette are around.

Bones: I was one who was very pleased with the way Bones ended last season, and watching Brennan and Booth through pregnancy and a relationship, all the while still solving the crimes—it’s been a great season. I would like to see a little more PDA between the two, though. They’re supposed to love each other, yet they stay very hands off, even in the home.

Since this is already getting too wordy, I'll post my Winners on Cable, plus the shows I'm On the Fence about and the Losers next week.

What shows fall on your winners list?

Posted: Fri, 04/13/2012 - 14:16 | Comments: 5

Last week I caught up on some of my book reviews. Here are four more I've read in the last several months.

The Zygote Chronicles: This was cute. It’s been hailed “best” by some and I know friends who loved it. I liked it, but love is a strong word. She’s hilarious at points and definitely spoke some usually unwritten truths about pregnancy that had me nodding my head. It also makes me wish I did even more writing about my pregnancy, talking to the baby like she does. In the end, 'cute' and 'good' would be my words. A quick, fun read for any mother or mother-to-be.

The Imperfectionists: I liked this book because it focused on so many of the different roles at a dying newspaper. I work in media and these issues are at the forefront of our industry. Reading about the stringer, the editors, the publishers and all the headaches they experience was very interesting and hit home quite a bit, even if this paper is housed abroad. However, some of the chapters – which each follow a different person at this paper – were a bit boring. I only felt a real connection to two or three and the rest I couldn’t care less about. I think this might be my problem with books of this structure (see Goon Squad). I need more for me to care. I love short stories, but writers of good short stories (Jhumpa Lahari) flesh out their characters and make them go places in a short amount of time. These chapters didn’t quite do that for me.

The Heretic’s Daughter: This was a book club pick. It’s about a family living during the Salem Witch Trials. That part of the story was quite interesting, especially when it threw out names from The Crucible, like John Proctor. The things we did to people, all based on the lies of stupid teenage girls! It was so frustrating to read about. And the conditions these people were detained in until their hanging was horrifying. However, the story moved slowly, and was a lot of “we’re starving, it’s cold, the plague, people are dying…etc., etc.” So, it was just OK for me.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: This was another book that got raves everywhere. It’s about an older gentleman who is a widow who finds a new love in the shop owner in his town. Because my dad is a widow, too, it brought me some sadness to read about. Also, I wasn’t too into reading about elderly romance. The Major was a touch annoying to me, as were several other characters in the book. But, I loved his new friend, Mrs. Ali, and all she stood for. I kind of wish she was the main character instead.

Thoughts? Have you read any of these?

Posted: Fri, 03/30/2012 - 08:17 | Comments: 1

I went and saw the Hunger Games on Friday. Pre-kid, I used to see movies on their opening weekends all the time. Now I’m lucky if I see two or three movies a year. So, it was a treat to take a day off from work and see it on opening day. I planned to go all by myself, but after a work thing fell through, my husband was happy to join me. He’s seen all the Harry Potter movies with me (but hasn’t read the books). And while I would never subject him to awful-deliciousness that is Twilight, I did think he’d like the Hunger Games. He’s a huge Running Man-Terminator-movie-type-of fan, so while for the younger set, this movies was up his alley.

And we liked it a lot. I always go into movies based on books without too high of expectations because you can’t possibly fit it all in a two-hour-twenty-minute movie. And that’s the truth in this case. While completely entertaining and fun, I wished a few of the characters (Haymitch, Cinna) were more fleshed out, like in the book. I found myself watching through the eyes of someone who hadn’t read the book and thinking, “He might not understand why Haymitch acts that way; they should expand that a bit” or “Does the movie really portray how much Katniss loves Cinna? And why?” (Kravitz’s part was too small for my liking). In the car on the way home, I ended up (over)explaining some things then, like “You realize, Haymitch had to mentor kids for years just to watch them die? That’s why he’s drunk and prickly.” The movie doesn’t go into Haymitch’s situation, but then the books are running together for me, so maybe that actually comes in the next one anyway?

Besides some of the parts where I felt the movie missed some character development—but again, I already knew this stuff—I really enjoyed it. The first half dragged just a bit, but then it did in the book too. I wish the actual Games part was a bit longer and more gritty. My husband thought the same thing. He thought they could’ve amped that part up just a bit. Though the first scene after they jump off their pedestals was pretty intense. And even though I knew what was coming—Rue will die here, those crazy dogs are coming—I still jumped at those moments.

I also really enjoyed the behind-the-scenes scenes with Seneka Crane and his helpers managing the game. (Help me out: does the book go into that as well as the movie, or not at all?) I never pictured what that room would look like, so seeing the technology, the maps and the thought-process of Crane was super cool. I actually liked him and President Snow better in the movie than in the book, maybe because I got more of a connection. (Obviously, “like” isn’t the right word, but you know what I mean.)

My husband thought it could’ve been even stronger in the propaganda department and he thought the studio should’ve created a more male-friendly trailer; guys will like this movie, but might not know it from the trailers that are out there.

Enough has been written about Peeta in the movie, and it’s true, he’s lost the depth of Peeta in the book. And Gale gets no love, but hopefully that amps up in the next two movies. But in the end, it’s Katniss’ journey and this was a great start.

For more: My thoughts on Hunger Games, Catching Fire & Mockingjay. While the story went downhill for me, I still plan to see all the movies.

 

Posted: Tue, 03/27/2012 - 13:11 | Comments: 2

I’ve been lacking in the book blogging a bit. I’ve read several books that I haven’t mentioned here yet. Maybe because some weren’t too fantastic, or because I review them on Goodreads and then feel that’s enough. Either way, I want them on the record here, too. So, in the next two posts, I’ll quickly highlight some of my latest reads.

Blue Nights: This one didn’t grab and hold on to me like The Year of Magical Thinking did (and still does). I don’t know, maybe it was the timing. Maybe Magical Thinking felt more about the journey of loss than this one? And that’s what I needed at the time? All the reviews say Blue Nights is about Didion discovering her own mortality. She’s getting older, she’s forgetting and feeling scared, she’s feeling alone, she realizes the end is coming. However, the true message I left with was something different. [Perhaps a spoiler.] While she’s studying her own mortality, she’s realizing that all these bits of knowledge and all these stories she holds about her late daughter Quintana, well, she’s the only one who has them. They will die with her and she doesn’t want that. Because if Quintana is already gone, then her mother is the only one to pass on her legacy, to pass on her unique stories. And once she dies, no one will know. I hope that she feels more at peace now that she’s shared Quintana with the rest of us.

Sisterhood Everlasting: I started the Traveling Pants series on a whim. I believe I picked up the mass-market paperback from Target before a trip. And I fell in love with these girls. The books are simple and somewhat silly, but as a girl who really appreciates her best friendships, I could relate to the four of them. Their differences, their relationships with each other singularly and as a whole group, their journeys.

[Spoiler.] I don’t know if it’s a spoiler, because I found out before I read the book pretty easily, but in Everlasting, four friends become three. And this is the only book in the series where all of the friends’ stories happen away from each other. They barely even talk to each other for most of the book. It’s them grieving for their fourth friend on their own. They each have their own ways to grieve, and they each hold true to their personalities while doing it. But, I have to say, sometimes I just wanted to shake them and say, “Call your friends! You need each other right now!”

The book wrapped up in kind of a (unrealistic) pretty bow, but I was OK with it. Because I love these girls and I just want to leave them knowing they’re happy together somewhere.

Bird by Bird: I will never take a writing class from Anne Lamott (that would be amazing!), but this book felt like I was. She’s humorous and wry and she gives great tips about being a real-life writer. I love that she ignores her students when all they want to learn about is how to get published, because that’s Not What It’s About. I also love that she’s so honest with how hard writing is, but how wonderful too. I love the peek into her childhood and grown-up life we get as she teaches us. This is a fairly quick read. I only wish I read it when I was in the throws of writing more for myself. I would’ve absorbed and taken in so much more then. I’ll have to read it again.

Did you read any of these? Thoughts?

I'll post about four more books next week.

Posted: Thu, 03/22/2012 - 11:35 | Comments: 1