Why Do We Mourn Celebrity Deaths?

This week we all had the unfortunate task of saying goodbye to two celebrated and beloved icons, David Bowie and Alan Rickman. With Bowie’s eccentric style and music and Rickman’s dry humor and villainess ways, they were two extremely different performers, but loved so much that the world is mourning their loss with heavy hearts. 
Celebrity deaths happen often, as it’s a natural part of life. And while the majority of us don’t know any of these celebrities personally, we still shed tears over the loss. Why is that? Why do we mourn the death of these celebrities like they’re a close friend or family member?

The answer is simple – when we’re a fan of a public figure, they become a part of our lives. Not a physical part like friends and family, but an accessory. They become something that means something special to us, and when that something is gone, it’s almost as if a part of us is gone, too. We mourn out of nostalgia rather than personal grief.

When someone like Alan Rickman dies, we’re sad because Rickman played characters that we treasure. Suddenly our Severus Snape really IS gone, and it makes us sad. We know from the people that were close to him that he really was one of the most loving, generous, loyal, and nice people around, which is great, but it’s not something that we know first-hand. Yet here we are, reading tributes to him on the internet, and crying.

I can think of a handful of celebrity deaths that made me cry – Heath Ledger, Robin Williams, River Phoenix, Cory Monteith, James Horner, Christopher Lee, Michael Jackson…people I never knew and never would know, yet people who had an impact on me at some point of my life. And because of that, I felt that loss.


Of course it’s a different kind of mourning we go through than when someone we personally know dies. When friends and family pass, the mourning seeps into your whole body, it becomes something physical that you can’t really shake. Sometimes it’s hard to cry because the sadness is too much…because it’s too real. And it’s something that stays with you for the rest of your life.

It’s not like that when a celebrity dies. Not to say that crying over a celebrity is something superficial or fake, because it’s not. But there’s that distance we can put between the death that makes it seem, well, not so bad. Yes, we were all sad when Robin Williams died. Many of us cried. We thought of those moments when he became a part of your life, like when you saw “Aladdin” for the first time, or when “Good Will Hunting” was your favorite movie for a few years. But that sadness wasn’t the same sadness his family and friends felt when he was suddenly gone from their lives.


I know lots of people who think it’s silly to mourn a celebrity’s death. “It’s not like you actually knew them”, they’ll say. And that’s fine if they want to think that way. But don’t let that stop you from mourning. And don’t let it stop you from celebrating what that celebrity brought to your life. Because when it comes down to it, that’s what we’re doing. Today, although we’re sad, we’re celebrating the joy that Alan Rickman brought us when he played the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham. We’re celebrating the life of David Bowie by listening to his music.

And that’s the silver lining in all of this: film, music, print…all the things that celebrities did are here forever. Sure, we can miss these people because they won’t be making more movies or performing music or writing books, but we’ll always have access to the stuff that made us love them. So in a way they’ll always be a part of us whether they’re alive or not.


And that’s a comforting thought.

So…What Happened to 2015?

Well, I made it through the entire year of 2015 without blogging once. Don’t worry, I’m not touting this as a good thing. In fact, I’m downright ashamed about it. Blogging was my thing, the one way I held on to my love of writing that spawned over 20 years ago…and I just let it disappear.

 

I could sit here and blame a list of things for my lack of writing: no ideas, no time, etc., but it wouldn’t justify anything. I had ideas. I had time. I just got lazy. It became easier to just post on the many pointless social networks I belong to. In fact, basically all I did in 2015 was post to social networks that I don’t even like because I kept changing my mind about which one I wanted to use and didn’t want to use and it was enough to drive me crazy.

In fact, it DID drive me crazy. Crazy to the point where I decided that in 2016 I need to get back into long-form blogging and ENOUGH WITH THE SHIT OF SOCIAL MEDIA.

But I’m not here to discuss all the things that are wrong with social media in 2016. I’m here to tell you that I’m back and that this year will be much different than last year. It HAS to be.

So before I officially make my blogging return, here’s a quick run-down of the things that happened in 2015 just so you know that it wasn’t ALL social media.

• I realized that I liked other genres of books more than young adult. That’s right! 2015 was the year where I sort of broke up with YA and embraced historical mysteries and middle grade. Of course middle grade isn’t exactly new to me, but some of the best books I read last year were from the middle grade genre. And I absolutely tore through the Maisie Dobbs and the Beatrix Potter mystery series’, thus giving the British Cozy Mystery genre a new fan.

• I saw some movies in 2015! Even some in the theater! See, I’m not getting old just yet. A couple of stand-outs were Pixar’s Inside Out (which made me cry like a 15-year-old me watching Little Women), Cinderella (which was just PERFECT), and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which is so freaking fabulous I may need to write a separate post about it).

• It’s no surprise that I listened to a ton of music this year, mostly film scores. Unlike YA books, film music will ALWAYS be my thing and I’ll never outgrow it. Highlights: Patrick Doyle’s Cinderella, Junkie XL’s Mad Max: Fury Road, Debbie Wiseman’s Wolf Hall, and DUH John Williams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

• Speaking of music, I finally got to see One Direction LIVE AND IN CONCERT in July. I went by myself, like all cool 36-year-old moms do, and had a freaking blast. Seriously, it was tons of fun. And hot as hell since it was like 95 degrees, but still tons of fun. After seeing New Kids on the Block in 1990, ‘NSYNC in 1999, I’ve finally come full circle. No more boy bands in my future.

• Oh, let’s not forget TV! Of course these days I usually only watch whatever my daughter watches (which isn’t bad at all), but last January brought the return of two of my favorite shows, Sherlock (Series 3) and Downton Abbey (Series 5). And then in May my other favorite show, Glee, finally came to an end after 6 seasons. Again, talking about that show and its ending will require a separate blog post.

• In terms of traveling, the only place we went this year was California to visit the in-laws. Despite the fact that my father-in-law’s health was fading during our summer visit, we managed to have some fun at Disneyland and my first trip to Universal Studios. We had to return to CA in October for my FIL’s funeral, which was sad, and doesn’t even count as a trip since it was literally for two days. This year, however, is a biggie when it comes to travel. In March we head to Japan for two weeks with my mother-in-law and brother-in-law in what will definitely be the most interesting and fascinating trip I’ve ever taken. You can bet there will be post about that!!

2015 was definitely an interesting year, with both the good and the bad. But it’s time to move on…time to remember the good, get past the bad, and welcome the new.

HERE’S TO BLOGGING IN 2016!!

10 Things I Learn Every Time the Christmas Music Season Comes Along

1. Out of the many many many different renditions of “White Christmas” I have, Bing Crosby’s is still the best.

2. I’m still not sick of “All I Want For Christmas Is You”.

3. “O Holy Night” is best when sung simply and without any crazy vocal runs.

4. I should never try to sing along to any version of “Ave Maria”.

5. How many versions of “Ave Maria” are there? Seriously, it sounds different every time I hear it.

6. The Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas, Darling” is not cheesy at all.

7. I’m very picky about what words are changed in “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.

8. I like “Do You Hear What I Hear” more with each passing year.

9. I could probably do without another rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”.

10. “Do They Know It’s Christmas” is just awful. Really.

Social Network Anxiety

So 2014 was a really interesting year when it came to social networking, at least for me. It began with a switch from Facebook to Google+, then back to Facebook because I missed seeing what my friends were up to, and missed showing them what I was up to (which I came to realize was a need for validation – more about that later). I sort of swapped between the two of them for the first half of the year, and then once summer came I felt the need to drop both of those and focus strictly on Twitter.

I posted a ton on Twitter this summer, gained a bunch of followers, and had an overall okay time. Not completely fulfilling, but whatever. It wasn’t Facebook, and that was important.

Let’s not forget about Instagram, which I felt was the cool thing to be on, but really is just another thing that everyone else is on, posting pics of food and cats.

Oh, and did I mention Tumblr? Yeah, we were friends for a few weeks, too, mainly because I enjoyed watching funny GIFs of One Direction. But that was merely a distraction.

Then suddenly once fall came around and school for my daughter started up again, I was like, “Why do I need to be on Twitter with all these people I don’t know? It’s time to get real and focus on the real people in my life, like the ones on Facebook!”

So back to Facebook I went.

But I still wasn’t happy.

Did I miss the fun of looking at Harry Styles on Tumblr? Did I miss the occasional interaction with someone “famous” (AKA an author of a YA book, most likely) on Twitter? Did I really need to use Instagram when all I was using it for was to take pictures of whatever book I was reading at the moment?

Well, no. I thought I did miss those things, but after a few days I realized that I didn’t miss them. What all this was causing was simply SOCIAL OVERLOAD. I wasn’t happy on Facebook, but having too many outlets wasn’t making me happy, either.

I even tried to go at it one at a time. I started with Twitter. “I’m ONLY going to use Twitter from now on,” I said. But not only is Twitter a lonely place if you’re not famous, it can be a very negative place. In between rants about GamerGate and Ebola and feminism and anti-feminism, I found no fun left in Twitterland.

So then I said, “I’m only going to use Tumblr from now on!” And you know what? It was pretty fun for a couple days. Not only did I get my One Direction fix, but most of the artists I followed on Instagram were on Tumblr as well, so I could still see what they were all up to. But you know what? Tumblr is even a more lonelier place than Twitter. You want quality interaction? Good luck trying to find it amongst all those GIFs and reblogs.

During this time, I was always sort of using Google+ in the background. I use G+ as my photo backup, so it was never really not being used. But again, no one else was using it, even if they had accounts. So, again, LONELY.
At this point I decided to give Facebook another try. These people were real people in my life – friends, family, people who I actually cared about! And yes, so I sort of hated Facebook as a social network, but I figured I could just deal with it and stick it out.

Well, I did. For a while. But I just didn’t feel good about it.

What Facebook has so expertly done these past ten years is give people a “If it’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen” kind of attitude, which ultimately led people to develop “FOMO” – Fear of Missing Out. We share SO MUCH these days, whether it’s what we made for breakfast or how much our kid has thrown up that day or how much we hate bad drivers and politics. And studies have shown that Facebook actually makes people feel depressed and convinced that other people are living better lives and are happier.

It’s amazing, actually, how easily Facebook can control your mood. I get angry and annoyed when I read posts from people who are angry and annoyed. And you would think that I should feel happy when other people are, right? Well, sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. Most of the time I just think, “Wow, my life is kind of boring!”

And no matter how hard I try, I can’t get past how much I hate the Facebook news feed. I need my things in chronological order. I don’t want to see the same stuff people have liked appearing at the top of my news feed every hour. Stop telling me to friend complete strangers. Stop inviting me to play games. And their whole thing about only posting things that are popular? If no one will see my post, how will it get popular so people can start seeing it?

To sum it up: I don’t like who I am when I’m on Facebook.

So this is when the transition to Google+ began. I knew that I loved both their desktop and mobile app. It’s clean and not cluttered with ads (no ads, actually), and it’s laid out well in chronological order, and it was easy to use. But could I stick with it even if I was all alone on it?

But then I discovered one of its best features, Google+ Communities, which are like chatrooms based on people’s interests. You like to bake? There are a bunch of baking communities to share your thoughts and ideas. You like Doctor Who? Why not talk to other people who love it as well (as opposed to the two friends I have on FB who watch it while no one else would understand). I currently belong to four communities: Soundtracks, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, and Lord of the Rings. And I’ve had great interactions within all those communities, much more than I could have gathered from Facebook.

And while people still sit and complain about Facebook’s weird privacy policies that keep changing, I love the fact that Google’s is easy to understand and much more straight-forward and just plain BETTER than anyone else’s. By using the “Circles” you’ve created, you control who sees what. For instance, I currently have four circles: Family, Friends, Acquaintances, and Following. I can either share my things publicly (where anyone who has me in their circle can see it), or I can share it to just my family circle, my friend circle…you get the picture. And sometimes I don’t share it with anyone – only I can see it, which sort of makes G+ like a personal journal. Which I LOVE. I don’t ever have to worry about who saw something or who didn’t – something I always seem to think about when I was on FB.

There are so many awesome features of G+ that I would get into now, but this would turn into a much longer post and, well, maybe I’ll let you discover those features yourself!

But don’t worry, I’m not here to try to convince everyone to make the switch to Google+, because I know that will never happen. People expect Google+ to be like Facebook or Twitter, and when they realize that it’s not, they give up. I don’t expect anyone to switch over, and that’s fine. I’m completely satisfied with what I’m getting out of Google+ just how it is. Even if they’re not on G+, I know who my friends are and I can email them to stay in contact. I’m going on three weeks now and I don’t feel the need to check Facebook at all. And now that I know I can be happy with just one social media platform, it’s such a great feeling. Less noise, less stress, more living. I can do that all with Google+.

Summertime Summertime Sum-Sum Summertime

WELL. As you may have noticed, it has been QUITE a while since I last posted anything. Seriously, the last time I blogged it there was snow on the ground and the temp was probably 80 degrees colder than it is now (and yes, I know that this is Minnesota and that probably could have been last month, but no, it was March).

So yes, it’s been a long time, but honestly I feel like I’ve had nothing interesting to say. I haven’t really done anything exciting during the past six months because it’s just work and taking the kiddo to school and eating dinner and watching cartoons and reading – A WHOLE TON OF READING.

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Yes, reading is pretty much all I’ve been doing this first half of the year. In fact, I’m only about 20 books away from my Goodreads reading goal of 120 books. AND IT’S ONLY JULY. I’ve been a crazy book-a-day reader…who’s suddenly realized she needs to take a break.

I’m still reading, obviously, but ever since summer began I’ve slowed down quite a bit. Which is totally fine. I deserve a nice break to watch TV and movies and play on my iPhone and stalk people on Twitter. I’ve read 95 books in six months. I DESERVE THIS.

So what have I been doing since then?  Well, I’ve been very active on Twitter the past few weeks, conversing with authors and artists, which pretty much the only types of people I follow on Twitter, with the exclusion of a tiny handful of my real friends (who, save one, are never on it anyway). But what I love about Twitter is that I can tweet something to an author or an illustrator or animator and 9 times out of 10 they’ll tweet back. Of course if you were to follow really “famous” people who have millions of followers, that’s not likely to happen. But if you follow realistic, attainable, and interesting people like I do, it’s a great opportunity to have that interaction. I know a lot of people who don’t like Twitter because it can be a lonely place (i.e. “none of my friends are on Twitter!”), but you just have to know the right people to interact with, I guess.

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In other news, our annual trip to California is coming up in a couple of weeks, which I’m very much looking forward to. It’s going to a little different this year – because of the crazy new San Diego Comic Con registration process, we’re only able to go to SDCC for ONE DAY, which is Sunday. So we’ll actually be in San Diego on that Saturday and attending the annual SDCC Nerdist Podcast that night, and then hitting the exhibition floor at SDCC on Sunday. Depending on what panels are happening that day (that are NOT Hall H or Ballroom 20), we may try to go to a couple small panels in between exhibition floor time. But there are so many artists I want to see on the floor that it will most likely be a pretty full day.

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Also, BEFORE we go to San Diego, we’ll be in San Francisco for three days. I’ve never been to San Francisco and I’M SO EXCITED! And what I’m most excited about is the fact that we’re planning on making a stop at the Walt Disney Family Museum to see the Mary Blair Exhibition, which is currently on display through September. I am a HUGE Mary Blair fan and this is such a great opportunity to see her art and animation work on display.

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We also plan on stopping by Lucasfilm, which is just down the road from the Disney museum, and even though we won’t be able to go inside (apparently we’re not important enough), we can still get our picture taken next to the giant Yoda statue outside of it. And honestly, I just want to be able to check-in to Lucasfilm on Four Square just to prove that I was there.

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It’ll be a quick, jam-packed week, and when we get back it’ll be time to binge-watch whatever show we want to on Netflix because the kiddo will be staying with Grandma in CA for an additional three weeks. The first year we did this we watched “Supernatural”, and last year it was “Teen Wolf”. What will it be this year? Or maybe I’ll binge-watch a bunch of movies I haven’t seen yet? Or will I end up just watching old reruns of “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” (which I found myself doing the other night)? ONLY TIME WILL TELL.

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By the time the kiddo gets back from CA, school will be starting in two weeks. And summer will be over. Seriously, remember how when you were a kid and summer seemed to go on forever? And now that I’m grown and have “responsibilities”, it whips by so freaking fast. I guess that’s why you just have to enjoy it while it’s here.

So, there’s still not really any interesting going on in my life, but I felt like I had to at least get SOMETHING down, even if it’s just a lame update. Topics are sparse these days, but I hope to get inspired again while in California. And who knows…maybe I’ll blog again before the year ends! J

Reading Rut

Unlike last year, 2014 went off to a great start in terms of reading.  I was reading a lot, and I was reading really good books.  Books like Marie Lu’s “Legend” trilogy, and two books from one of my new favorite authors, Rainbow Rowell: “Fangirl” and “Eleanor and Park”, both of which will probably end up on my Best of 2014 list at the end of the year.

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And then I hit a rut.

Once February came it seemed that my luck had run out when it came to amazing young adult books.  So for a week or so I turned my attention to Lois Lenski’s Regional America books and burned through seven of them, basically reading one a day.  Those books will never get old for me because for some reason I see them as a source of comfort.  But I still wasn’t being dazzled the way Rainbow Rowell had dazzled me with her books.

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I tried a couple more young adult books, got about ¾ of the way through, and then gave up.  I just wasn’t feeling it.  Nothing was connecting with me.  I would go to the library and walk the aisles only realize that nothing even sounded good.

What was WRONG??

Again I went back to some middle grade books, this time picking another newly discovered author, Hilary McKay, who’s British and writes adorably British books about a ridiculously fun British family.  I started with “Binny for Short”, made my way to the “Saffy’s Angel” series, read three of those books, and then felt I needed a break from that, too.

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I found another middle grade series that I actually adored, Grace Lin’s mostly autobiographical books about her childhood growing up in America from Taiwanese/Chinese descent.  These books were a DELIGHT, and they felt so familiar to me, like I was reading a “Baby-sitters Club” book.  The only bad thing?  There were only three books to read!  Once again I felt lost.

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That’s when I knew that something had to be done.  So I did the only thing that really gets me out of my reading funks.

Harry Potter.

All this time Harry Potter had been sort of hanging out in the back of my mind, sort of whispering to me to pick up one of his books, but I tried to ignore it because a) I need to read NEW things, and b) I save Harry Potter for the fall season.  But suddenly there he was, right in front of me screaming OH JUST READ ME FOR GOODNESS SAKES.

So I returned all the library books I had collected over the past few weeks and picked up “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” since I never got to that one or “Deathly Hallows” when I did my annual HP read last fall.

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And it was glorious.

I’m serious when I saw that Harry Potter is the cure for practically anything.  I read the book with my usual glee and wonder, and once I finished I knew I was ready to get back to new books and young adult and all that good stuff.

Luckily a book I had requested was available to pick up from the library, Rosamund Hodge’s “Cruel Beauty”, which is a take on the classic tale “Beauty and the Beast”.  It was the perfect book to kick-start my YA reading again, just as HBP was the perfect book to take me away for a few days.

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Right now I have a mix of middle grade and young adult books at home from the library.  I just finished a MG “The Crowfield Curse”, which was fun and kind of creepy, and now I’m currently reading Kasie West’s “The Distance Between Us”, an adorable YA contemporary that completely fits my mood right now.

I’m hopeful that I get on another good streak when it comes to books, especially since I’ve come to realize that I can’t focus on Goodreads reviews and ratings, because I honestly think that had something to do with the funk I got myself in.  I’m not being so judgmental when it comes to picking out books to read, and that in itself is pretty freeing.

So here’s to a remaining nine months of reading for 2014 – I have a feeling it’ll be my best reading year yet.

Separation Anxiety

There comes a time in your life you simply have to throw your arms up and exclaim, “Enough is Enough!”  Seriously.  All clichés aside, that “enough is enough” time has come.  I’ve finally reached the point (admittedly not for the first time, but hopefully the last) where I have to separate myself from social networking.  More specifically, Facebook.

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I’ve written about this before, during a time when I was annoyed with Facebook and wished that my FB friends were on other social networking sites like Google+ and Path and Twitter.  Well, I still sort of wish that – but at the same time I don’t wish it.  Because then there really wouldn’t be any sort of separation from the addiction of social networking.

And addicted to Facebook I was.  I’m not saying I was posting something every ten minutes (that’s a whole other kind of addiction).  But what I was doing was checking the damn thing every ten minutes.  A “Hmm, let’s see what people are up to right now” type of thing, when in fact no one was really up to anything except for maybe posting an inspirational quote or a link or sharing another site’s picture.

Because in all honesty, that’s what Facebook has become.  Link link share share link share link share cats link share politics link share link share religion link.  I continued to check FB to see if maybe a friend was actually doing something interesting, but usually nothing was happening.

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I don’t think that’s why we all joined Facebook six or so years ago, is it?  To see postings about why you’re a right-wing conservative?  Or to trick people into thinking they’re bad people just because they won’t share a picture about a person dying of cancer?  No, we joined Facebook to connect to the people we care about.  And it has strayed soooo far from that in 2014.

There was an article published yesterday about how it’s a proven fact that Facebook can cause depression simply based on comparing yourself to other people on FB.  You start feeling bad because their dinner (because of course they took a picture of it) looks way better than your leftovers.  You feel bad because they’re posting pictures of their vacation in Florida while you’ve just finished shoveling for the 27th time this winter.  I’m sure “Facebook Depression” doesn’t happen to everyone, but it’s easy to see why it does.

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We’ve become a society of people who’ve developed a knee-jerk reaction to post every single thing that happens to them, whether it’s bad or good.  We look forward to seeing how many “likes” we get from that cute picture of our kid or that snarky remark we made on FB earlier.  And if we don’t get the likes we imaged we would, we start to feel bad about ourselves.

Of course not everyone feels this way.  But I’m guilty of falling into that trap.  Which is silly, because why should how many “likes” I get on something define who I am?  Why should I feel bad when my friends are posting about going out on Friday and Saturday nights when I’m perfectly happy staying at home in my pajamas (especially when I PREFER to stay at home!!)?  Seriously.  Ridiculous, right?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not shunning all social media out there.  I’m sticking with Google+, which I love, and mainly use for myself.  I use it almost as a journal, posting pictures and thoughts and links that I don’t feel the need to share with anyone but can pull up at any time.  I have people in my Google “circles”, but no one uses G+ except for my mother-in-law, with whom I share pictures of my daughter instead of using email.

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I’m still on Twitter, but rarely post anything.  In fact, in the past few weeks I’ve managed to cut down the number of people I follow from almost 600 (I KNOW) to under 200.  Keeping up with 600 people was quite the daunting task, and I realized that I could still be in the know by only following the people I find interesting.  So I’m now down to 193 people, which include some authors, artists, and a handful of Hollywood-type people.  I knew I couldn’t escape Twitter for good because let’s face it:  Twitter is the most up-to-date news ticker out there, and it’s pretty essential in today’s world.  You just don’t have to follow 600 people to stay on it.

I’m even cutting down my time on Goodreads, the site where you read and review books.  It’s a very helpful site when finding new things to read, but I found myself focusing way too much on people’s reviews that it was keeping me from forming my own opinions.  I started four books and didn’t finish any of them because I kept thinking “So-and-so didn’t like this book” or “Is this why so-and-so gave it only three stars?”  I was judging books by the number of stars they got, and that, my friends, is totally wrong.

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So now I’m forgoing the reviews and just reading books that sound interesting to me.  Now it’s completely up to me whether I like a book or not, which is a completely freeing thought.  No more stressing about whether to read a book or not just because it got under four stars.  Whoohoo!!

Today is my first “official” day off of Facebook, and let me tell you it was totally weird to NOT check FB when I woke up this morning.  I took the app off of my iPad and iPhone, which is helpful, but the hard part is going to be not going to the App Store and putting it right back.  Or going to the website when I’m on my laptop.  Because even though I’m not “on Facebook” anymore, my account still exists because I don’t want to completely lose contact with people.  In fact, I put Facebook Messenger on my phone because it still lets me send messages to my FB friends.  Which, if you think of it, was the sole purpose of FB to begin with.  Communicating with your friends!

Anyway, that’s what’s been going on in my head over the past month.  My struggle and hopefully my release from Facebook.  I foresee slight separation anxiety, of course, at least at the beginning, but I also foresee less frustration and stress when it comes what I was actually seeing on my FB newsfeed.  And that is a good thing.

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Christmas Just Isn’t Christmas Without Christmas Music

With just one more day remaining until Christmas, I’m sure you have heard a Christmas song or 500 since you finished eating that Thanksgiving turkey.  In fact, you probably started hearing holiday music once everyone put their Jack-o-Lanterns away almost two months ago.  Each year it seems that the holiday season gets pushed up earlier and earlier.  Before we know it we’ll be getting ready for Christmas on the 4th of July.

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But that’s not the point of this post.  Today we’re talking about CHRISTMAS MUSIC, people, and all the wonderful things about it.  More specifically, the best albums you all should be listening to during the season.

So get ready for…13 AWESOME HOLIDAY ALBUMS YA’LL NEED!

(in no particular order because I can’t commit)

13.  The Carpenters:  Christmas Portrait / An Old Fashioned Christmas (1978/1984)

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70s easy-listening superstars The Carpenters released two Christmas albums during their short reign, and you can buy them today as one big SUPER-ALBUM (or super-download, whatever).  When I was younger my parents listened to a LOT of The Carpenters, which, of course, made me think they were lame once I hit that age where everything your parents like is lame.  But once I grew up and realized that The Carpenters are, you know, kind of BOMB, it’s easy to appreciate the awesomeness of their super relaxing and comfy-cozy Christmas albums.  And their biggest original holiday hit, “Merry Christmas, Darling”, is freaking gorgeous.  CHRISTMAS JUST ISN’T CHRISTMAS WITHOUT THE CARPENTERS.

12.  Michael Buble:  Christmas (2011)

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For some reason it took this super suave Canadian, like, EIGHT YEARS to make a whole Christmas album (he released a Christmas EP back in 2007, but it only had six songs on it, which totally doesn’t count).  But apparently it was worth the wait because his 2011 album Christmas is everything a Christmas album needs to be.  It has all the songs you love, sung by that voice you love, PLUS an swoon-worthy (YES I SAID SWOON-WORTHY) version of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You”, second only to the original.  CHRISTMAS JUST ISN’T CHRISTMAS WITHOUT MICHAEL BUBLE.

11.  She & Him:  A Very She & Him Christmas (2011)

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Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward are about as close to a Very Hipster Christmas you can get right now, at least until Mumford & Sons or The Lumineers release a Christmas album.  But until that day comes, you have the pleasure of enjoying one of the most sweet and chill holiday albums out there.  Seriously, this album just makes me want to sit in a really cozy (but still modern) coffee shop with my iPhone and some coffee and a cute hat on my head and have quirky conversations with people on Twitter.  It’s coziness without all the old-timeyness, if that makes sense.  CHRISTMAS JUST ISN’T CHRISTMAS WITHOUT SHE & HIM.

10.   A Christmas Gift to You from Phil Spector (1963)

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Let’s forget for a moment that Phil Spector is a creepster and remember all of the amazing musical acts he produced back in the 60s.  Now let’s appreciate that musicality on one Christmas album, A Christmas Gift to You.  The album mainly consists of The Ronettes and Darlene Love, and some of the most memorable versions of famous holiday songs were created for this album, like “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” and “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).  The album was originally a total FLOP, mainly because it was released on November 22, 1963 – the same day JFK was assassinated.  But 50 years later it continues to be enjoyed and cherished and just completely awesome.  CHRISTMAS JUST ISN’T CHRISTMAS WITHOUT PHIL SPECTOR.*

*Well, not really anymore, because, you know, he’s a murderer.  But still.  Good music.

9.  Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite (1892)

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Truth:  I actually listen to this album all year round.  But more so during the month of December because, you know, it’s about Christmas and all that.  And seriously, who doesn’t love The Nutcracker music?  It’s some of the most recognizable classical music out there, so much so that my husband, who wouldn’t know a piece of classical music if it hit him in the face, even recognizes it.  Initially the ballet itself wasn’t popular, and Tchaikovsky himself didn’t even like it that much, though I think he changed his mind afterwards.  He must have got the feels during the Pas de Deux the same way I do.  Today The Nutcracker is another part of many people’s traditions, and will remain so for a very long time.  CHRISTMAS JUST ISN’T CHRISTMAS WITHOUT THE NUTCRACKER.

8.  Glee:  The Christmas Album, Volume 1 (2010)

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During Glee’s second season they released a Christmas album, which at the time was like the world’s best Christmas present to me.  And say all you want about Glee, but that first holiday album they released (they’ve released two more since) was actually very awesome.  It includes a holiday single they had released during their first season, Wham’s “Last Christmas”, which is my favorite modern Christmas song, and other classics that have yet to be overdone.  Their version of “Welcome Christmas” from How the Grinch Stole Christmas makes me cry.  They even do The Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas, Darling” which, if you’ve been reading this, you know makes me happy.  And even though they do the ever-popular “O Holy Night”, a song that really good singers love to sing to show off their skills, Lea Michele’s rendition is one of the best I’ve heard.  Which is saying a lot.  CHRISTMAS JUST ISN’T CHRISTMAS WITHOUT GLEE.*

*But just their first Christmas album.

7.  The Hotel Café Presents…Winter Songs (2008)

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The Hotel Café opened in 2000 and became the stomping ground for many now-famous female singer-songwriters like Sara Bareilles, Priscilla Ahn, Ingrid Michaelson, and Meiko.  And THANK GOODNESS ladies like those and others came together and put out an ensemble holiday album because it is probably my favorite modern ensemble holiday album of all time.  Some songs are original, some are not, ALL ARE AWESOME.  And seriously, you can’t beat Fiona Apple singing “Frosty the Snowman” because it’s just so odd and perfect in every way.  This is the perfect album to change things up this holiday without getting too crazy and left-field.  CHRISTMAS JUST ISN’T CHRISTMAS WITHOUT THE HOTEL CAFÉ.

6.  Straight No Chaser:  Christmas Cheers (2009)

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There’s just something about an all-male a cappella group that is so soothing to the ears, am I right?  I mean, people using their voice not only to sing words, but to create music is pretty amazing.  And when they sing Christmas songs?  WIN WIN!  This particular album comes after their first holiday album in 2008, and I like it better because it’s a bit more fun than the traditional songs of the first one.  With songs like “Who Spiked the Egg Nog” and their hilarious version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, this album will make you want to go to a bunch of holiday parties and be social.  And perhaps join an a cappella group.  CHRISTMAS JUST ISN’T CHRISTMAS WITHOUT STRAIGHT NO CHASER.

5.  Kelly Clarkson:  Wrapped in Red (2013)

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This is the newest album that appears on this list, and because of that it’s the most unfamiliar to me, as I’ve hadn’t had much time to listen to it.  But it’s Kelly Clarkson, and you just can’t go wrong with this girl.  And like Michael Buble, why did it take her ten years to release a holiday album???  It only took Mariah five years.  Hell, it took The Biebs only two years.  Whatever, I’m just glad she did.  Because it’s pretty great.  She’s got some fun original songs like “Underneath the Tree”, which is reminiscent to when the 15-year-old me heard Mariah’s “AIWFCIY” (I’ve turned her song into an acronym now) for the first time (re: FUN), and even though I still don’t consider “My Favorite Things” to be a Christmas song , her version is fun because she just belts the crap out of it, as she should.  CHRISTMAS JUST ISN’T CHRISTMAS WITHOUT KELLY CLARKSON.*

*And it’s about time, too.

4.  Enya:  And Winter Came… (2008)

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And now for something completely different!  One thing I love about the holiday season is incorporating Celtic and Pagan music into the mix of things, and Enya’s New Age holiday album is perfect for doing just that.  Because sometimes you need a break from all the white Christmases and holy nights, am I right?  Enya wrote and composed ten of the twelve tracks on this album – the only two she didn’t are an Irish version on “Silent Night” (“Oiche Chiuin”) and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”.  While listening to her calming music it’s easy to picture snow-covered rolling hills and other wintery images that will make you long for a walk in the snowy forest or want to have a hot toddy.  Or anything Irish.  CHRISTMAS JUST ISN’T CHRISTMAS WITHOUT ENYA.

3.  A Leroy Anderson Christmas (1940s-50s)

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For those days when you want to listen to Christmas music but just want some nice, background music with no singing, Leroy Anderson is your way to go.  Leroy Anderson was a composer who wrote many, many, many songs back in the day, his most famous being “Sleigh Ride”, a song which pretty much anyone who’s made a Christmas album has recorded.  This album is the perfect companion for when you’re working or reading or just relaxing while getting ready for the holidays.  CHRISTMAS ISN’T CHRISTMAS WITHOUT LEROY ANDERSON.

2.  Bing Crosby:  White Christmas (1945)

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Okay, so it would be a bit sacrilegious if I didn’t include this album on this list.  And it definitely belongs here – it’s one of those albums you can listen to over and over and not get sick of because every song is just plain awesome.  Not only does it include the one song for which Bing will forever be immortalized, but it also has three of my favorite holiday songs: “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”, “Silver Bells”, and “Mele Kalikimaka” (which is double awesome thanks to his collaboration with The Andrews Sisters”.  However, if you’re looking for the song “Sisters”, which was featured in the film White Christmas, you will not find it here.  Because it’s not a Christmas song.  So there.  CHRISTMAS JUST ISN’T CHRISTMAS WITHOUT BING.

1.  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (soundtrack, 1964)

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It’s hard to believe that next year will mark the 50th anniversary of this TV special, because this thing just does not get old.  Ever.  I’ll be 90 years old and they’ll still be showing it on TV and I’ll still watch it (probably on my Google goggles, or whatever technology will be around in 60 years).  And one of the things that keeps this thing going is the music!  Sure, there are the couple famous songs like the title song and “Holly Jolly Christmas”, and there’s even the somewhat depressing “There’s Always Tomorrow” (seriously, I used to leave the room when I was younger when that song came on because it made me sad), but then there’s the awesome “Jingle Jingle Jingle”, “We’re a Couple of Misfits” (“I WANT TO BE…A DENTIST!”), and “Silver and Gold”.  And of course, who can forget “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year” from the Island of Misfit Toys…a song that is also kind of sad because, you know, no one wants a choo-choo with square wheels on your caboose…but also a song that is hopeful and joyous and beautiful?  Seriously, people.  CHRISTMAS JUST ISN’T CHRISTMAS WITHOUT RUDOLPH.

So there you have it…my Christmas music picks for 2013.  What are some of your favorite Christmas albums?  Christmas songs?  Traditions involving music?  Anything?  I’d love hear it!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!  Happy listening!

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November, We Meet Again

It’s hard to believe that we’re almost halfway through November.  Like…really?  How did we get from September to the middle of November in what seems like a matter of days?  Is this what getting old is like?

Okay, so I blinked and October disappeared into bits of school activities and Halloween parties and weddings and sicknesses.  I’m serious – my daughter will sniffle one day, and the next day my husband and I feel like we’re dying of the plague.  Ah, parenthood.  It’s lovely, it really is.  And so are weddings!

1383689_10151793778912713_1999946997_nThe lovely bride and me.

On the plus side, Thanksgiving is only 16 days away!  Thanksgiving is super fun because of food, and that’s about it.  It’s also the unofficial start of the holiday season (though some retailers use Halloween as the unofficial start…crazy town, if you ask me…), which means I’ll start listening to Christmas music and decorating the Christmas tree the day after I eat turkey and watching holiday-ish movies with the fam.

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And okay, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t sneaked a few Christmas songs into my daily listening already.  But it’s been really cold (it was 12 degrees this morning!!), and I made myself better by playing some Manheim Steamroller.  So there.

51iJ3T7qgfLNamely this…

In between all that stuff, all I’ve been doing is reading.  Honestly, it’s, like, all I do these days.  And I couldn’t be happier.  As usual I started my annual Harry Potter Read-a-thon.  And this time around I checked out the new paperback editions from the library just because they’re brand new and I’m totally in love with the covers.

Harry Potter SeriesDrool…slobber…love…

Of course I only got through four books before some new young adult stuff beckoned me over to their side.  But I fully intend of finishing up the Harry Potter series before the end of the year…after I get through some more YA stuff.  Seriously, I just checked out the new edition of Order of the Phoenix and it’s in line, just waiting to be read.  Promise.

newsImg1101Fancy pants Potter…

But I’ve been hitting the YA jackpot lately when it comes to really good books.  To write about them all would take up another ten pages, so I’ll just make a list of the ones I recommend for some excellent stay-home-because-it’s-too-cold-outside reading:

  • The Fire and Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson (one of the best high fantasy series I’ve read since the Graceling trilogy)

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  • The Benny Imura series by Jonathan Maberry (perfect for Walking Dead fans with excellent writing)
  • The False Prince and The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielson (so much fun, that’s all I can say.  Can’t wait to read the third and final…)

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  • Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano (a new series from one of my fave authors that will leave you begging for the second book
  • Just One Year by Gayle Forman (finally we know what happened after Just One Day!!)

So those were some highlights over the past month.  I’m currently reading Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series, which is perfect since I’ve been on this high fantasy kick lately.  Like how last year it seemed that all the good books were historical fiction, this year it’s high fantasy.  Love it.

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Am I watching TV?  Not really, unless you consider spending endless hours watching THE SCARIEST SHOW ON EARTH, “Lazy Town”, with my daughter watching TV.  I’m serious, that show is horrifying.  I’d tell you to watch it just so you know, but I don’t want to subject you to that horror.  Just take my word for it.

54846298_1382468994I…just…can’t…

I have been keeping up with Glee, though, because even though it’s not like it used to be, I still feel rather devoted to it.  And yes, like how last season was different, this season is even differenter (made up words are fun), mainly because NO FINN (cue sadness).  When critics say that “there’s a cloud hanging over the Glee cast this season”, they’re not just making up silly stuff like they usually do.  They’re actually kind of right.  Everyone on the show seems…off.  But that’s to be expected.  And I’m okay with that, considering things.

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One bright spot this season is the addition of Demi Lovato, bless her awesome little heart.  I’m totally not ashamed to say that I have been a Demi fan ever since Camp Rock, people.  She’s got a flipping amazing singing voice, and she’s a strong supporter of eating disorder education (sadly close to home for me) and she’s just plain awesome.  My favorite song so far on this season of Glee has been her Beatles duet with Santana when they sang “Here Comes the Sun” and Demi sounded…hmm…I don’t know…kinda perfect.  Please, Glee Peeps, have Demi sing more.

glee-season-5-demi-lovatoFinally…some sun

I HAVEN’T SEEN ANY MOVIES SO DON’T ASK.

The rest of the year looks to go just as quickly but be just as fun.  Here’s a run-down on some things to look forward to:

  • An exciting list of books on request from the library, including Vicious by Victoria Schwab and These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman.
  • The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special on November 23!
  • The new One Direction album released on November 25!  Because admit it…you secretly kinda sorta love the song “Story of My Life” just a teeny little bit maybe yes.

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  • After being on the library wait list since September 17, Season 3 of Downton Abbey is finally almost available! (I’m patron 8 out of 221).
  • And speaking of Downton Abbey…and Sherlock…new seasons to premiere in January!!!!!
  • The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug in theaters December 13!!
  • My office holiday party on December 14!  Okay, not exciting.  Sorry.

That’s about it as far as my goings-on goes.  What’s new with the rest of the world?

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My National Film Registry Nominations

A while back I wrote about the National Film Registry and all the wonderful movies that had been inducted, particularly thirteen awesome ones.  After learning all about the NFR, I fully intended on submitted my own nominations for 2013.  However, that deadline has unfortunately passed as of September 13, 2013, which means I’ll have to wait until next year to submit my list.

My list of 25 films may change from now until then, but here’s what I have as of today.  Remember, the nominated film must be at least ten years old and be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important”.  Obviously those factors are determined differently by everyone, but here’s what I think is a pretty awesome list (in alphabetical order).

before_sunriseNominee:  Before Sunrise

Year:  1995

Why:   “Loving someone, and being loved means so much to me.  We always make fun of it and stuff.  But isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?”

blair_witch_project_ver3Nominee:  The Blair Witch Project

Year:  1999

Why:  “We walked for 15 hours today, we ended up in the same place!  There’s no one here to help you, THAT’S your motivation!  THAT’S YOUR MOTIVATION!”

the-breakfast-club-1985-hughesNominee:  The Breakfast Club

Year:  1985

Why:  “What we found out is that each of us is a brain…and an athlete…and a basket case…a princess…and a criminal.  Does that answer your question?”

600full-a-charlie-brown-christmas-posterNominee:  A Charlie Brown Christmas

Year:  1965

Why:  “Nobody sent me a Christmas card today.  I almost wish there weren’t a holiday season.  I know nobody likes me.  Why do we have a holiday season to emphasize it?”

cinderellaNominee:  Cinderella

Year:  1950

Why:  “And yet through it all Cinderella remained ever gentle and kind, for with each dawn she found new hope that someday her dreams of happiness would come true.”

clerksNominee:  Clerks

Year:  1994

Why:  “Empire had the better ending.  I mean, Luke gets his hand cut off, finds out Vader’s his father, Han gets frozen and taken away by Boba Fett.  It ends on such a down note.  I mean, that’s what life is, a series of down endings.  All Jedi had was a bunch of Muppets.”

936full-clueless-posterNominee:  Clueless

Year:  1995

Why:  “Miss Stoeger, I would just like to say that physical education in this school is a disgrace.  I mean, standing in line for forty minutes is hardly aerobically effective.  I doubt I’ve worked off the calories in a stick of Carefree gum.”

evildead1Nominee:  The Evil Dead

Year:  1981

Why:  “Soon all of you will be like me…And then who will lock you up in a cellar?”

ferris_buellers_day_offNominee:  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Year:  1986

Why:  “What do you mean nothing good?  We’ve seen everything good.  We’ve seen the whole city!  We went to a museum, we saw priceless works of art!  We ate pancreas!”

MPW-18720Nominee:  Field of Dreams

Year:  1989

Why:  “This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray.  It reminds us of all that was once good and it could be again.  Oh…people will come, Ray.  People will most definitely come.”

A70-11370Nominee:  Gladiator

Year:  2000

Why:  “My name is Maximus Decimas Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius.  Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife.  And I will have my vengeance, in this life or next.”

grease_xlgNominee:  Grease

Year:  1978

Why:  “Why, this car is Auto-matic.  It’s System-matic.  It’s Hyyyydro-matic.  Why, it’s Greased Lightning!”

jerry-maguire-movie-poster-1996-1020199178Nominee:  Jerry Maguire

Year:  1996

Why:  “I lost the number one draft pick the night before the draft!  Why?  Let’s recap: Because a hockey player’s kid made me feel like a superficial jerk. I ate two slices of bad pizza, went to bed and grew a conscience!”

1993-jurassic-park-poster1Nominee:  Jurassic Park

Year:  1993

Why:  “God creates dinosaurs.  God destroys dinosaurs.  God creates man.  Man destroys God.  Man creates dinosaurs…Dinosaurs eat man.  Woman inherits the earth.”

The-Little-Mermaid-Movie-Poster-the-little-mermaid-18617517-1172-1790Nominee:  The Little Mermaid

Year:  1989

Why:  “If he does kiss you before the sun sets on the third day, you’ll remain human permanently, but if he doesn’t, you turn back into a mermaid and…you belong to me.”

lord_of_the_rings_the_fellowship_of_the_ring_ver4_xlgNominee:  The Lord of the Rings:  Fellowship of the Ring

Year:  2001

Why:  “Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.  Even the very wise cannot see all ends.  My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over.  The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.”

Poster_-_Mary_PoppinsNominee:  Mary Poppins

Year:  1964

Why:  “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.  You find the fun, and – SNAP – the job’s a game!”

moulin_rougeNominee:  Moulin Rouge

Year:  2001

Why:  “You may see me only as a drunken, vice-ridden gnome whose friends are just pimps and girls from the brothels.  But I know about art and love, if only because I long for it with every fiber of my being.”

nightmare_before_christmas_ver1Nominee:  The Nightmare Before Christmas

Year:  1993

Why:  “There’s children throwing snowballs instead of throwing heads, they’re busy building toys and absolutely no one’s dead!”

gpxjoE0yvRwIhFEJgNArtKtaN7SNominee:  The Princess Bride

Year:  1987

Why:  “You can’t hurt me.  Westley and I are joined by the bonds of love.  And you cannot track that, not with a thousand bloodhounds, and you cannot break it, not with a thousand swords.”

Saving-Private-Ryan-movie-posterNominee:  Saving Private Ryan

Year:  1998

Why:  “Someday we might look back on this and decide that saving Private Ryan was the one decent thing we were able to pull out of this whole, godawful, shitty mess.”

Shakespeare_In_Love-PosterNominee:  Shakespeare in Love

Year:  1998

Why:  “My story starts at sea…a perilous voyage to an unknown land…a shipwreck…the wild waters roar and heave…the brave vessel is dashed all to pieces, and all the helpless souls within her drown…all save one…it will be a love story, for she will be my heroine for all time.  And her name will be Viola.”

20110513040054!Terminator_2_posterNominee:  Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Year:  1991

Why:  “Of all the would-be fathers that came over the years, this thing, this machine, was the only thing that measured up.  In an insane world, it was the sanest choice.”

when-harry-met-sally-posterNominee:  When Harry Met Sally

Year:  1989

Why:  “I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out.  I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich…and I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night.”

willy_wonka_and_the_chocolate_factory_xlgNominee:  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Year:  1971

Why:  “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.”

So there you have it.  I don’t know when the nominations are announced or the inductees are chosen, but expect it to me sometime early next year.  And then we’ll see how many of my nominations (if any) are chosen!  Until then, what movies would you want to see be inducted?

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The Awesome 13 – Disney Songs

I’ve been on a Disney kick lately.  Not sure why…but Disney music has been getting a lot of action on my Pandora app as of late.  I’ve always loved Disney music – it’s sort of inevitable when I was practically raised on Disney movies – and I’m lucky that I have a daughter who shares the same enthusiasm, even if she’s not as familiar with much of the music as I am.

So I decided to see if I could narrow down the extensive Disney music library into a list of 13 songs, aka 13 AWESOME DISNEY SONGS as determined by yours truly.  And here is the result.*

*These songs are from animated movies only.  Disney live action is a whole other topic to be visited at another time, and would probably only consist of songs from Newsies anyway.

13.  “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” – Mulan

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For some reason it seems that people aren’t as aware of this movie as they should be.  Granted it came out towards the end of Disney’s golden 90s decade of awesomeness, but it’s still a great movie with beautiful animated and good songs.  Like this song in particular.  Sung by the war hero Shang (well, technically it’s sung by Donnie Osmond, which just adds to its awesomeness), Mulan’s sort-of crush who still thinks she’s a boy, it’s a fun song with a fun montage of boys becoming soldiers.  And every good Disney song deserves a good Disney montage.

12.  “Belle” – Beauty and the Beast

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This movie already has one of the best prologues of all the Disney movies (gaah…all the stained glass windows!), so why not let it have the best opening song of all the movies!  Beautifully sung by Paige O’Hara, who is also one of the few during the 90s who was able to do both the speaking and singing parts, it gives us a great introduction to who I think is the best Disney heroine EVER.  I mean, come on…she sings about BOOKS.  Not much can compete with that.

11.  “Poor, Unfortunate Souls” – The Little Mermaid

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Ah, yes.  The One That Started It All.  For many of us in my generation (late 70s to early 80s), this was indeed the movie that got us hooked on Disney animation.  This movie is filled with what are probably my favorite Disney songs (and many of my favorite Disney EVERYTHINGS), but it’s Ursula’s song/lament/proposal for Ariel that always stands out.  Every Disney villain deserves a good song, but this one still gives me the chills because “it’s she who holds her tongue who gets a man”.  Damn, Ursula.

10.  “Some Day My Prince Will Come” – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

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What I consider to be Disney’s first hit song, it’s hard to believe that this song is over 75 years old.  And yet it still speaks to millions of girls (and boys, I’m sure) all over the world.  I’m sure there are some women out there who hate this song, who think that women should want more than just some man to save them, but come on, peeps.  That’s not what this song is about.  Snow White is just a young girl wishing for a better life, and that life just happens to include a great guy to share it with.  After 75 years it’s still a beautiful song of hope that also happens to be pretty awesome, too.

9.  “All in the Golden Afternoon” – Alice in Wonderland

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Poor Alice.  It always seems that just because she’s not a princess, she always gets forgotten.  It’s true that the songs in the movie aren’t that memorable.  To most people, that is.  But I’ve personally always loved the song sung by all the flowers after Alice has been shrunk down to the size of a caterpillar.  Yeah, so the flowers aren’t exactly the nicest plants in the world.  A lot of them are actually kind of, well, evil.  But no matter.  I just think the song is fun and a great way to learn about bread-and-butterflies.

8.  “Sing, Sweet Nightingale” – Cinderella

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Ilene Woods, the voice of Cinderella, had a beautiful voice.  It wasn’t the high soprano of Adriana Caselotti’s Snow White – in fact, it seem almost the opposite.  It was lower and richer in tone, but still sounded completely relatable, like Cinderella was a real person.  She sings more than one song in the movie, but her voice sounds best while singing this short melody while cleaning the floor.  There aren’t many words in the song, but she had the kind of voice that didn’t need words to sound great.  Her sound was enough.

7.  “Be Prepared” – The Lion King

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The Lion King’s soundtrack was definitely Disney’s biggest endeavor and most popular, thanks to Elton John and all his skillz.  His two songs “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and “Circle of Life” were huge pop radio hits, but my favorite once again goes to the villain.  Scar, the evil Uncle of Simba and voiced by Jeremy Irons, sings a song that’s so haunting and terrifying that it still kind of scares the crap out of me.  It’s filled with evil lyrics and evil chanting, and with allusions of Hitler weaving themselves throughout, you end up with one hell of a song.

6.  “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)” – Hercules

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Hercules is another one of those Disney movies that gets forgotten because it’s not about a princess.  It’s strong point is its comedy and stylized animation, but it does have one song that I think is brilliant, and it’s the only song that the character Megara (“my friends call me Meg – that is, they would if I had any friends”, another one of my faves) gets to sing.  Meg tries to deny that she has any kinds of feelings for Hercules, but duh, she totally does.  But she tries to sing her way out of it, and the outcome is a song so freaking catchy and groovy that you’ll find yourself hitting repeat on your car stereo more than once.  Or maybe that’s just me.

5.  “Reflection” – Mulan

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Behind every Disney heroine solo lies a cry for help and a secret wish, and “Reflection” is a perfect example of that.  Mulan pretty much sings what every girl – animated or not – feels at least once in her life.  Who am I?  Why am I pretending to be someone I’m not?  Will I ever be able to see my reflection?  Oh wait, that’s what vampires sing about (haha, sorry).  But seriously, this is a beautiful song about confusion and hope that’s beautifully sung by Lea Salonga, but that should come as no surprise because, duh, Lea Salonga.  She’s kind of the unofficial singing voice of everything in my head.

4.  “Once Upon a Dream” – Sleeping Beauty

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I’ve already admitted that Sleeping Beauty is my favorite Disney animated movie of all time in this post, and one of the contributing factors to that is the music.  The smartest thing Disney did with this movie was take the original ballet music that Tchaikovsky wrote and turn it into their film score.  And when they added lyrics to one of its main theme, you get Aurora’s own song of hope, that her dreams are all she has to go by.  Which, if you think about it, sounds an awful lot like what Cinderella was singing about in this next song…

3.  “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” – Cinderella

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As I said, dreams and wishes and hope are big amongst all the Disney girls.  And it’s no surprise that Cinderella probably had it worse of all of them.  At least the other girls had, you know, actual people that loved them.  Cinderella?  Not so much.  So the fact that she can be so positive while singing about her dreams is not only the sign of a great person, but a great song as well.  Even if you live with evil people who make you clean the curtains and do the laundry four times a day, it’ll be okay as long as you hold on to your dreams.  And hey, look where Cinderella ended up.  It worked for her, it may work for you, too.

2.  “A Whole New World” – Aladdin

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I just freaking love this song, I really do.  Seriously, I love every single thing about it.  I love Lea Salonga’s and Brad Kane’s voices.  I love the melody.  I love the lyrics.  I love the magic carpet ride they take us all on.  I just…honesty, I don’t know if words can really describe my feelings for this song.  It also brings back wonderful memories of being 13 years old in the midst of my Disney phase and thinking that Aladdin was the greatest movie ever.  But really, this song is a great example of Disney songwriting at its best.  Also, MAGIC CARPET.

1.  “Part of Your World” – The Little Mermaid

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Okay, here we are.  Numero uno.  And no surprise, really.  This song proved just how important songs are to Disney films, and how one song can be the best part of a whole movie.  And back in 1989, this song was the most important thing Disney could have done to restart their dominance in film animation.  But all business aside, this song is absolutely perfect.  And it’s still the only Disney song that can bring tears to my eyes.  How many times have I seen this movie?  How many times have I heard this song?  No matter.  When Ariel bravely sings that she’s sick of swimming and ready to stand, I don’t even bother trying to stop the tears.  You don’t have to be a mermaid to want to be part of a human world.  You just have to be a person who wants to be a part of something to understand how Ariel feels, and I think that’s something that we’ve all felt.  Oh, and Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel?  Ah, man.  It’s just…the feels.  The feels.

Runners-Up Who Didn’t Make It Into the Top 13 But Still Undeniably Awesome:

  • “Just Around the Riverbend” – Pocahontas
  • “Just Can’t Wait to be King” – The Lion King
  • “Kiss the Girl” – The Little Mermaid
  • “When Will My Life Begin” – Tangled
  • “Something There” – Beauty and the Beast
  • “You’ll Be in My Heart” – Tarzan
  • “So This is Love” – Cinderella
  • “My Own Home” – The Jungle Book
  • “You Can Fly, You Can Fly, You Can Fly” – Peter Pan

I should just stop before I end up listing every single Disney song ever written.

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YA Lit…In the Year 2000!

As I lay in bed during the early hours of the morning, unable to sleep because of a really annoying stuffy nose, my mind somehow randomly wandered to this memory I have of this Young Adult literature class I took many moons ago during the first semester of my senior year of college.  It was actually a library science class, one of the few 4th year classes that didn’t require a prerequisite, and one that actually sounded really interesting.

To be honest, at the time I was registering for classes, I really wanted to take the children’s lit class because a) that’s mostly what I was reading at the time, and b) I had no interest in young adult lit.

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I know, I know.  It sounds crazy now, right?  Because, hello, young adult lit is pretty much MY LIFE now.  But back in the year 2000?

No way.

Unfortunately, the children’s lit class was full, and I was stuck with YA.  I was kind of bummed, especially when I found out the children’s lit class was going to be reading this new series about a boy named HARRY POTTER (which I hadn’t read yet at the time), but I figured the class was still probably going to be better than 95% of the rest of my classes that semester, so what the hell.

The class was mainly just reading YA books and writing about them – not from a literary point of view, but from a “how does this benefit the young adult” point of view.  You know, like a librarian of sorts.  At the beginning of the semester the professor handed out a list of YA books to choose from, which was helpful, because the only YA author I was really familiar with at the time was Judy Blume.

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Painful.

And here’s where I struggled.  As a 21-year-old female in college, the last thing I wanted to read about was uber-depressing topics.  That’s still not really my style today, but luckily I have a plethora of YA books to choose from.  But back in 2000, it seemed that the only YA books out there were ones about drugs and rape and abuse and eating disorders and other such things that some teens tend to identify with.

That was not what I wanted to spend my semester reading about!

Another thing about the year 2000 was that the internet was still fairly new, and there was definitely no such thing as Goodreads to guide me on my way.  It wasn’t exactly easy to look up all these books on the internet to see what they were about.  So I would take the list to the library and find as many as I could so I could read the description on the inside cover.  I decided I was safe with a) humorous YA, or b) sci-fi/fantasy.  I wouldn’t even consider anything else.

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This, of course, is BOTH.

Of course I couldn’t avoid it completely – there was some required reading in the class by certain authors.  I don’t remember every single thing I had to read, but I do remember having to choose a Chris Crutcher book (don’t remember which one I chose), and I remember reading “The Chocolate War”, but I don’t remember what I thought of it.  I think I ended up liking it better than I thought I would.  But still.  Depressing stuff.

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No. Thank. You.

Some of the books I picked on my own was Joan Bauer’s “Squashed” because it was funny, Ellen Raskin’s “The Westing Game” because it was a mystery (which I LOVED, by the way), and Francesca Lia Block’s “Weetzie Bat” because I thought it was a fantasy but it turned out to be a HORRIBLY DEPRESSING book about drugs and I didn’t like it at all.

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Read at your own risk.

We had to do two verbal book reports but make them more interesting than just telling the class about the plot of the book.  I chose to do “The Shakespeare Stealer” by Gary Blackwood, in which I turned it into a Mission: Impossible plot (“your mission, should you choose to accept it”, and all that stuff), and “The Girl in the Box” by Ouida Sebestyen, in which I pretended to be the kidnapped girl reading her own letter.

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Actually pretty terrifying.

At the end of the semester our big project was to write a sort of thesis paper on a young adult author.  If I got that assignment today, I would be all over it.  But 13 years ago?  I HAD NO IDEA.  I love Judy Blume now, but back then I had no interest in reading about all the deep stuff that she excels at writing about.  Because a huge part of the project was actually reading a bunch of their books.

In the end I chose Robin McKinley, mainly because one of my roommates raved about her, and she was a fantasy writer.  My only real experience in fantasy books was Cynthia Voigt’s “On Fortune’s Wheel”, which I read in high school and LOVED, so I figured this was a good way to go.

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Perfect!

Luckily I ended up really enjoying my Robin McKinley project.  I read “The Blue Sword”, “The Hero and the Crown”, “Spindle’s End”, and “Beauty”.  I loved that she wrote fairy-tale retellings, something that not many authors were doing at the time (but are all over the place now!).  I wrote a pretty kick-ass 15-page paper on her, one that my professor suggested I submit to a library journal (I didn’t because I had no idea how to do something like that, which I kind of regret), and was pretty thrilled with the A grade I received in the class.

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Well since it’s such a pretty cover…

Which brings me back to the thoughts I was having this morning, and I how different that class would be today.  In the late 90s-00s, young adult lit’s reading stats were probably the lowest they’d ever been.  Yes, the Harry Potter books definitely kick-started a whole new generation of readers, but at that time those books were still considered to be children’s books and not necessarily intended for an older audience (of course that would all change in a very short amount of time).  But YA books, while somewhat popular in the 1980s, were pretty much a dead thing in the late 90s.

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Um…no pun intended?

But today?  My God, the choices of what books to read would be ENDLESS!!  Today YA lit is actually outselling adult fiction, and 55% of people who are buying YA lit are actually over the age of 18.  It’s obvious that YA lit is HUGE today, and I have a feeling more people would be interested in the YA lit library class than it’s children’s counterpart.

So here’s the real question:  If I were to take that class today, who would be the subject of my thesis paper?  Would it be Meg Cabot, of whose books I probably own the most?  Would it be Stephenie Meyer, who single-handedly changed the course of YA lit in the late 2000s?  Or would it be Cassandra Clare, who at this moment is probably the hottest YA author out there?

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Yes, please!

Well, if I had to choose now, my author would be Shannon Hale, whose Books of Bayern made me love the historical fantasy genre, which drew me to such authors as Kristin Cashore, Leigh Bardugo, and Rae Carson.  I have all of Shannon Hale’s books, and they’re actually the few that I would read again.

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But of course that could easily change on a daily basis, depending on my mood.  So actually, maybe it was a good thing that I took this class when I had few options.  It probably made the whole thing easier!

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Fallin’ for Fall

Ah, fall in the Midwest.  Is there anything else that even comes close to that awesomeness?  Well, a lot of things, I’m sure.  But right now let’s just focus on the season of Fall and why qualifies as the Best Season of All.  Anyone who says differently is selling something.

Why, yes, I do love to quote The Princess Bride.  Wait till I get going!  In fact, let’s see how many times I can quote the movie in this post alone.  Just a side challenge for me on this otherwise boring day.

Fall Clothes

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Let’s face it:  Summer clothes are hella boring.  Shorts?  Yuck.  T-shirts?  Yawn.  Flip-flops?  Over it.  Fall is all about layers.  Scarves, jackets, sweaters, hoodies, boots…and not the winter kind.  No, we don’t want the winter kind yet.  We want the necessary-but-still-stylish kind that looks cute as we take walks in the woods while looking at all the pretty fall leaves.  And cute beanies!  They’re terribly comfortable.  I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.  And we want to wear colors that actually match the changing leaves:  oranges and greens and reds and cranberries and golds.  And speaking of the changing leaves…

Leaves

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One of the big reasons why people love fall so much, especially in areas that actually get this season (sorry, SoCal…it does put a damper on our relationship), is because the leaves look so purdy.  We’ve been stuck with boring green ever since May, and we want to see some change, dammit!  Enter Fall in all its colorful glory.  The tress are actually quite lovely.  Leaf perfection.  And even better?  Raking the crap out of those leaves.  What better way to spend a crisp Saturday afternoon than raking piles of leaves in your backyard and then jumping in the pile just to mess it all up again?  FUN.  All it can do is delay it for a while.

Hot Tea

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After you’ve spent the last two hours raking your yard, a nice way to warm up is with a hot cup of tea.  Obviously I have a bit of a thing for tea, but fall is a great time to get into it if you haven’t already.  The air is chillier, and you don’t have that need of quenching your thirst like you did during the horrid summer months.  Instead you just want to hold something warm in your hands and sip on a steaming mug of deliciousness.  Some great teas this time of year are anything with chai, cinnamon, apple, vanilla, and chamomile.  It is odorless, tasteless, dissolves instantly in liquid, and is among the more deadlier poisons known to man.  Ha!  I’m kidding.  Chamomile is great.  And you can never go wrong with straight green or black, which is awesome and healthy all year round.  And if you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything.

Apples

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It seems that once September hits, people start to go apple crazy.  Like as soon as they flip their calendar from August to September, they’re like, “I MUST GET ALL THE APPLES.”  Why?  Well, because apples are a classic symbol of fall and most sane people are super anxious to get fall going once August ends.  You could not ask for a more noble cause than that.  Also, September is apples month to shine.  Apple orchards (in the Midwest, at least) start packing the people in from the middle to end of the month and throughout much of October until apple-picking season is over.  And then pretty much all you consume during that time is apple pie and apple cider.  Which is totally okay.  That is all you ever need know.

Movies

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There are certain movies that I love to watch during this time of the year.  The Nightmare Before Christmas is an obvious choice because it involves two holidays that people start to anticipate.  You’ve Got Mail is also a good one because it takes place during fall in New York, which people are obsessed with, and it also leads up to Christmas, which people start thinking about around this time.  One movie I always try to watch during fall is Return to Oz because a) there are pumpkins in it, and b) it’s kind of horrifying.  And fall is a great time to watch scary movies (except for the Friday the 13th movies, which are only fun to watch in the summer).

Music

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For some reason I start getting the urge to listen to Christmas music in October.  Which is totally horrible, I know.  Inconceivable!  And which is why I will not allow myself to listen to Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving.  I’m actually really strict about that rule.  But some other music that seems super fallish to me is jazz music  – jazz music of any kind, really, but the gloomy, mellow stuff is great to listen to on a cold and rainy fall day.  Harry Connick, Jr. and Michael Buble also sound great during this time of year.  I’m not really sure why that is…I wonder if more people feel that way.  And lastly, I love to put on “Autumn” and “Winter” from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” at really loud decibels while I’m driving amongst all the autumny goodness.  Seriously, try it.  You will lose yourself in the music, the moment.  Eminem.  Word.

Books

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Finally, there are certain books that make perfect companions during fall.  I love reading ghost stories on stormy fall nights, like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, or a Nancy Drew book, or couple of old Fear Street books.  Basically any book that seems kinda scary is a good fall read.  Fall is also the time of year when I tend to turn toward comfort reading, because when I was your age television was called books.  Those include the Harry Potter series, Laura Ingalls Wilder series, and the Betsy-Tacy series.  Is that a kissing book?  Nay!  Those are perfect books to cozy up with next to a fire with a mug of hot tea in your hand.  While wearing a cute scarf.  And eating some apple pie.  With some soft jazz music playing in the background.  After you’ve raked a bunch of leaves.

You’ve made your decision then?  It’s obvious.  FALL IS AWESOME.

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Puzzle Art

As some of you may be familiar with, I am a huge fan of jigsaw puzzles.  I’ve been putting them together ever since I can remember, and even though it’s been a while since I’ve finished one (I blame the hubby and kid, who never give me any space on the table to do one), I’m still a puzzle lover and still have a minor obsession with collecting them.

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I’ve written about puzzles before, but today I want to talk about some of my favorite puzzle art.  Basically any picture or painting or drawing can be turned into a puzzle (especially on the computer and in apps, where you can also do puzzles but they’re nowhere near as fun), but certain pictures are more fun to put together than some, at least for me.

I’m actually not a fan of real-life pictures as puzzles.  These are mostly nature scenes, like lighthouses or big fields of grass and trees and flowers, which are actually a pain to try put together BECAUSE IT ALL LOOKS THE SAME.  And, to be honest, the real-life photos are just kind of…boring.  Sorry.

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When looking for a puzzle, I usually look for the pictures that contain the words “folk art” or “Americana” and cheesy stuff like that.  It’s funny, because if you were to look at the art we have around our home, it’s all cutting-edge pop art.  But one look at my “puzzle closet”, you’ll see that I’m as apple pie as can be.  I’m the same way with my calendars.  It’s kinda weird.

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My favorite artists that are most well-known for doing puzzles are Charles Wysocki and his brother Heronim Wysocki.  Both are known as Americana folk artists, and both are pretty awesome.  Charles’ art has a more realistic look to it, and Heronim’s looks more animated.  But they both capture that innocent time around the turn of the century when people sold lemonade on street corners for a penny and grew pumpkins in their front lawns and ate ice cream at 4th of July parades and went on sleigh rides through the woods and OH MY GOD I WANT TO DO A PUZZLE RIGHT NOW.

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The one thing I love about Heronim’s puzzles besides the actual artwork is the fact that in every picture he hides a tiny black cat amongst the scene.  So the fun is trying to find the black cat, either while you’re actually doing the puzzle or looking at the box.  Either way, it’s oddly fun.

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Jane Wooster Scott is another Americana artist who struck it big as a puzzle artist, and to me is known for making awesome trees that are easier to put together than Wysocki’s, but she usually puts more of them in her pictures.  Just a weird, random observation.

wooster-scott_the_long_road_homeGlorious, wintery trees

To get even more specific regarding puzzle art, I tend to veer towards fall and winter art, because to me the fall season is the start of Jigsaw Puzzle season.  I think I associate puzzles with the fall and winter seasons because growing up in Minnesota, it gets, you know, COLD in during those seasons, and sometimes you needed something else to do inside besides read and watch TV and all that jazz.  And because of that, I only wanted to do fall and winter scenes when I did a puzzle.

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Of course that doesn’t mean that I don’t have any spring and summer related puzzles, but I think my fall and winter ones generally outweigh the other seasons.

There are some artists out there who I don’t see enough on puzzles, and I think they would be even more successful if they did more puzzle work (I’m of course assuming that I’m not the only one still doing jigsaw puzzles, though sometimes it does feel that I am).  For instance, Debbie Mumm is a very successful artist that probably caters to middle-aged white women who have country homes, but I never see any Debbie Mumm puzzles (and trust me, I’ve looked).  Again, not someone you’d see on my walls (except in calendar form), but who would totally get along with my other puzzles in the puzzle closet.

201400000409Although I did manage to find one online…

And while I’m not a fan of nature scenes due to the abundance of grass and leaves and trees and sky, I will make an exception for birds.  Not real birds, but hand-drawn or painted birds.  And not just any birds, but cardinals.  That’s my only exception.  NOTE:  Cardinals = winter, so it makes sense.

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When was the last time you did a puzzle?  Have you ever even done a puzzle?  Do people still do puzzles?  Am I the only one?

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Crushable, Swoon-Worthy, and…Animated?

A couple of years ago I wrote a post called “Crushing on Fictional Characters”, in which I wrote about…well…fictional characters in books I was crushing on.  Duh.  There have been many literary books that come to life on the pages and make me fall in love with them, and that all comes with excellent writing.  If I like a boy in a book, the author has done their job.

But what about the boys (or girls, whatever) that are in TV or movies but aren’t…real?  As in, not real people?  As in…ANIMATED??  (Please don’t say cartoons.  PLEASE.)

That’s right, I have totally developed crushes on animated characters.  Whether it’s a Disney prince or an evil anime boy, it’s happened.  And that’s all thanks to the brilliant animators and writers behind some of these shows and movies.

So what animated boys leave me crushing?  Here’s a handful of swoon-worthy hand-drawn or computer animated characters that have stolen my real, beating heart.

Prince Phillip (Sleeping Beauty)

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To this day, Phillip is the only Disney Prince who has made me swoon (though Flynn Rider comes close).  Why is that?  Is it the Gothic-style animation?  Is the color of his glorious golden brown hair?  Is it his personality?  Is it the way he climbs up the stairs to find a sleeping princess and looks at her like she’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen?

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Well, I suppose it’s a little bit of all of that.  And plus, there’s the fact that he can dance.  Remember that scene in Gilmore Girls when Rory and Lorelei are making Dean watching Sleeping Beauty and they say that Phillip is the best Prince, and Dean says, “Because he can dance.”  He claims it’s because he has a little sister that he knows this, but we all know it because it’s totally true.  Prince Phillip can awake me from a 100-year sleep any damn day.

Lion-O (Thundercats)

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If I’m honest, I’m not really talking about the original 80s version of Lion-O.  I mean, he was okay, I guess, but nowhere near the 2011 reboot Lion-O.  Damn, that man-lion thing is sexy.  One thing that changed from the original, and in term helped out Lion-O’s sexiness immensely is instead of being a boy trapped inside a man’s body (because that’s just annoying), now Lion-O is a misunderstood teenager.  Which means lots of brooding looks and stuff.  Which people like.

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Not to mention he’s got waaaaay better hair now.  Or mane.  He is a lion, right?  Whatever.  I would probably date him, were I also an animated cat-like humanoid android.  If he wasn’t so hung up on Cheetara.  Even though she’s totally hung up on Tygra.  Oh, the drama!

Tuxedo Mask / Darien Shields (Sailor Moon)

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Ah, Darien Shields.  AKA Tuxedo Mask.  AKA Mamoru Chiba / Tuxedo Kamen, if you’re staying true to the original Japanese version.  Whatever you want to call him, you have to at least call him sexy.  Because basically Darien Shields / Tuxedo Mask is like the anime version of Bruce Wayne and Batman.  And that, my friends, is glorious.

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I used to watch Sailor Moon every morning before school (we’re talking high school, people), and my favorite episodes were always the ones with Tuxedo Mask.  After losing his parents when he was a child (like Bruce Wayne), he eventually develops a dual-identity, unknowingly turning into Tuxedo Mask whenever Serena Tsukino (Sailor Moon) is in trouble.  So he’s always saving the day in his mysterious way, and I eventually developed a teeny little crush on him, even though I wouldn’t have admitted that to anyone back in high school.

Now I really don’t care what people think, and I’m proud to belong to the Tuxedo Mask fandom.  Because you never know when he might come and save you!

Prince Zuko and Jet (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

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The only reason I’m lumping these two guys together is because they’re from the same show.  Other than that, they’re totally different.  But both sexy.

Prince Zuko is the misunderstood (there’s that word again) teenage Prince who’s been banned from the Fire Kingdom by his own father, which means Zuko has a TON of issues.  Mostly regarding his family – his mean dad, his missing mom, his crazy evil sister, and his wonderful uncle – but still.  He’s got every right to be angry and pissed off and depressed and upset.  And it’s all those things that make Zuko so lovable.  Seriously, I just want to punch him in the face, tell him it’s all going to be okay, and then hug him.  Forever.

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Oh, but then there’s Jet.  Jet only appeared in two or three episodes throughout the whole series, but he made such an impact that he’s got fangirls up the wahzoo.  First of all, he plays a rebel.  And every girl likes a rebel.  He has a total grudge against the Fire Nation, and rightly so.  The Fire Nation is evil.  Jet does some pseudo-crappy stuff, but it’s all in the name of fighting against the Fire Nation.  Kind of like Robin Hood.  And he’s so suave and charismatic about everything that it’s impossible not to think that everything he’s doing is right.

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Luckily for Zuko, he has a happy ending.  Jet?  Not so much.

Mako (The Legend of Korra)

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From the same world as Avatar: The Last Airbender but 70 years later, we have Mako, a firebender (but not the evil kind like there was before) who’s described as “dark and brooding”.  And there, my friends, are the magic ingredients for crush-worthy animated characters.

Mako also happens to have great hair (as did Zuko and Jet), which is hard to achieve when it’s animated.  Which just goes to show you that these Airbender animators are HAIR MASTERS.

Mako may be dark and brooding, but he’s also a really good guy, and so far has been a pretty good boyfriend to Korra (oops, was that a spoiler?)  He’s the kind of boyfriend you want to take home to your parents AND have a little fun with.  If you know what I mean.

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YES I KNOW HE’S ANIMATED.  I’M NOT TOTALLY CRAZY.

What also helps Mako, as well as Jet and Zuko, is their voice.  And that all comes down to the voice actor.  Mako has a sexy voice (thank you, David Faustino).  And just listening to him talk – whether he’s arguing with Korra or telling her he loves her (SWOON), it just works for him.

Ah.  I love Mako.  And his silly scarf.

Prince Shining Armor (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic)

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Okay, I know he’s not even a person.  Like, at least Lion-O was humanISH, right?  But I don’t care.  I love Twilight Sparkle’s older brother, Shining Armor.  Why?  I don’t really know.  Is he cute?  Hard to say, as he’s a pony.  Can ponies be attractive?  Well, let’s see.

Um, yes.  I think he qualifies as attractive.  For a pony.  And he’s in uniform!  A Royal Guard!  Every girl likes a man – er, pony – in uniform, right?  And he’s in love with Princess Cadance.  Which automatically makes him pony hot.

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So it’s okay to think he’s attractive.  Don’t worry.  You won’t be the only one.

Marshall Lee (Adventure Time)

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I can’t talk about animated crushes without mentioning at least one person from Adventure Time, since I pretty much have a crush on the whole damn show.  I’ll always have a soft spot for Finn, but when I first saw Marshall Lee…oh damn.

In the amazing episode “Fionna and Cake”, all of the characters switch genders.  Finn becomes Fionna, Jake becomes Cake, Princess Bubblegum becomes Prince Bubblegum, and so on.  But my favorite gender switch came from my favorite character, Marceline the Vampire Queen, who became Marshall Lee the Vampire King.

Marshall Lee, like Marceline, can sing and play the guitar (sexy).  He’s 18, slim, has black hair, and dresses like a hipster.  And he’s just a little bit evil.

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He’s only been onscreen for about seven minutes, and he’s got more fangirls than Edward Cullen.  I think this vampire has a pretty good future ahead of him.  Even though he’s dead.

So there you have it, my crushes on animated boys with really good hair.  Have you ever found yourself crushing on an animated character?  Or am I the only crazy one?

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Where Have I Been???

Instead of making up excuses as to why I haven’t written a blog post in OVER A MONTH, let’s just jump right into the middle of September and talk about things that I’ve actually accomplished over the past five weeks!

And yes, I get that in doing that is also kind of giving excuses as to why I haven’t blogged in so long.  But hey, it’s not like I’ve just been sitting on my ass looking at Adventure Time Tumblr GIFS.*

marcelinelol_zps89f93ecfOkay, so maybe I have.  A little.  Maybe a lot.

Writing!

So just because I haven’t blogged in a millennia doesn’t mean that I haven’t been writing.  No, siree.  I’ve actually dug up a couple of good ol’ stories I’ve started in the past and have never been able to finish.  And guess what?  I still haven’t finished them.  But that’s okay!  I managed to completely change the plot of both of them and delete a bunch of stuff and write a bunch more that I probably will end of deleting as well.  But all that takes time, yo.

tumblr_ls7095kkiU1qhqibno1_500I’ve also been pretty committed to my other blog, which I have to do every day or else I get behind and then the whole thing is screwed up.  But it’s so much fun to write, and embarrassing and scary and hilarious to read these old journal entries from twenty years ago, especially when all of it is still so vivid in my mind.  So go read it!

Reading!

Oh my goodness, I’ve read books!  And despite the two week period where I barely read a thing (writing, people!), I’ve done a very decent amount of reading since the beginning of September.  Eight books in two and a half weeks, actually.  Feel free to be impressed.  And what’s even better?  Most of those are probably some of the best books I’ve read so far this year.  Seriously, I’ve been on a good streak when it comes to young adult fiction these days.

Le Highlights:

Shadow and Bone / Siege and Storm (Books 1&2 from the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo)

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The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

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Unravel Me (Book 2 in the Shatter Me series by Tarereh Mafi)

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All of these books got 5 stars on my Goodreads page, a rating I usually only reserve for JK Rowling books and Betsy-Tacy books.  And the occasional young adult contemporary that managed to knock me onto my ass.*

I’m referring, of course, to Gayle Forman’s Just One Day which is so incredibly divine that I want to have it for dessert every night.

Watching!

I told myself this year that when my daughter was spending four weeks at Camp Grandma, I would find a new TV show to get into and WATCH ALL THE EPISODES.  Last year it was Supernatural, and it was well worth the time.

My-baby-s-supernatural-15201351-1152-864DUUUUUH.

To be honest, I didn’t think it was going to happen this year.  My husband and I found ourselves obsessively watching every episode of The Amazing Race on Hulu (seriously, there are 20 seasons streaming on it right now), which does not qualify as a new show in my world.

Finding a new show didn’t happen until the weekend my husband flew to CA to pick up our daughter and I had the place – and the TV – to myself.  I decided to watch the first episode of Teen Wolf – a show I had been mildly against since its inception – and…WHOOPS I ACCIDENTLY WATCHED THE ENTIRE FIRST SEASON IN ONE NIGHT.

teen-wolfWhoopsies?

So yeah, I ended up kind of liking it.  Loving it.  Oh,hell.  LURVING IT.  It’s easily comparable to The Vampire Diaries, but you know what?  I like it better.  Even if you try to shove Damon and Stefan in my face, with all their prettiness and sexiness and whatnot, THEY ARE NOT STILES STILINKSI.

Dylan-OBrien-teen-wolfMarry me.

Seriously.  I watch Teen Wolf for Stiles.  And maybe a little bit for Derek’s chest.  Okay, and for Jackson’s freckled nose.  Fine…and Alison’s clothes.  Whatever.  I just really enjoy the show.

I’m also a teeny bit pissed I didn’t stick around for the Teen Wolf panel at Comic Con this year.

Because Stiles.

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Listening!

Okay, so near the end of August I somehow developed this weird, kind of obsessive “thing” for One Direction.  I know, I KNOW…sounds totally weird.  But seriously, I COULD NOT stop listening to their music, it was so addictive.  And Harry Styles?  HOLY MARY I thought he was the end-all be-all of my world.  Gorgeous, funny, and a sexy, gravely voice to boot!  Never mind the fact that he’s, erm, 15 years younger than me.  I dare – nay, CHALLENGE you to find a woman my age who wouldn’t admit that, yeah, okay, she MIGHT want to do things to him.

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I even went and saw the ID movie in 3D.  By myself.  AND IT WAS FUN.  So what.

Luckily (for me and my poor husband who had to endure this two week obsession of mine) the obsession has faded a bit.  I’m listening to all things on my iPod now instead of just the 31 One Direction songs that currently reside there.  I’m not checking Harry Styles’ twitter feed every hour to see if he’s said something quirky.  And I’m not watching ID videos on You Tube with my daughter every night.  Things are back to normal.

one-direction-introIt’s alllll good.

I’m still kinda excited for their new album coming out in November, though.  Suck it.

Parenting!

In between all this nonsense, I am still first and foremost a parent.  Yes, really!  I spent the last part of August getting said child ready for Kindergarten, which has proved to be both stressful and weird and fun and stuff.  I don’t remember bringing home this much paperwork when I was  five years old – seriously, all I brought home from kindergarten when I was a kid was sticky glue fingers – but I guess that’s just what’s up with kindergarten these days.  Paperwork and pseudo homework.

But it’s all good.  My daughter gets out of the house for a full day, which makes everyone happy.  And that’s another thing I don’t get.  These moms who cry and get all depressed because their kid is leaving the house for a few hours.  Like, really?  How can this be a sad thing?  Don’t they remember how annoying summer is when your kid complains about how bored they are and both of you get annoyed with each other because it’s just you and her and she wants to go play somewhere and you want to stay home and read in silence but you can’t because you have this thing in your face begging you to take her to the park even though it’s 100 degrees outside with 99% humidity??

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Sorry.  I love my daughter, I really do.  But she needs time away from us, just like we need time away from her.  I shed no tears when she has to leave for school.  Because school is awesome.

STAY IN SCHOOL, KIDS.  Your parents want you there.

So that’s about all that’s been going on in my world.  A lot, but not a whole lot.  I promise to try keep up again with this blog and give you all the odds and thens from the pop culture world via MY BRAIN.

So get ready, world.

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The Awesome 13 – SDCC 2013

It’s been over two weeks since San Diego Comic-Con 2013 ended, and I’m just now finally getting around to writing about it.  Blame it on the annual SDCC hangover that follows the convention, or the fact that I’ve been busy at work, or the fact that I’ve been oddly addicted to The Amazing Race, which the hubby and I have been watching pretty much non-stop since we got back (thanks to Hulu, where you can find all 20 seasons).  Whatever, take your pick.

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But here I am, ready to tell you all about the craziness that ensued at SDCC this year.  Again, we had a blast, and I’ll even go so far to say…I think it was the best year yet.  Of course every year is different, but this year was, well, pretty damn awesome.  Here are 13 AWESOME moments that happened at SDCC 2013!

13.  Jennifer Lawrence Makes Me Laugh (Again)

Okay, so…confession:  I have a tendency to look up J Law interviews on You Tube just so I can laugh because she always says hilariously awesome things.  So I was pretty damn excited to see her at the The Hunger Games: Catching Fire panel this year.

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The three main peeps were there – Katniss, Peeta, Gale – plus Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, which was pretty cool, but J Law was an obvious favorite of everyone – boys and girls – in the room.  Why?  Because she says funny shiz.  And she’s strangely normal, which is one of the reasons why people love her.  Liam Hemsworth, yes, he’s Thor’s brother.  Josh Hutcherson, yes, he’s pretty funny, too, and I guess he’s OK as Peeta.  But it’s always gonna be J Law who steals the show.

12.  Tom Cruise Proves He’s a Pretty Awesome Guy

If you take a step back and look at my life timeline in terms of who my major crushes have been, Tom Cruise would be way on the left side, closer to the word “BORN, 1979” part of the timeline.  Tom Cruise was my first big crush EVER, way back in the late 1980s, and I got to see him in person for the first time at the panel for his upcoming movie The Edge of Tomorrow.

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Okay, say all you want about Tom Cruise’s personal life.  Whatever.  It’s kinda weird.  But all that aside, he’s Tom Cruise.  He’s a freaking movie star.  Like, the real kind.  And at 51 years old, he’s still a pretty damn good looking guy.  But what I like best about Tom Cruise is that even though he’s Tom Cruise, he’s generous and unselfish and totally modest when it comes to his movies.  He makes sure he gives credit to everyone that deserves it, from the DP to the caterer to the extras in back of him.  And I noticed that at the panel.  People can be all, “TOM CRUISE TOM CRUISE TOM CRUISE” and he will totally turn it around and credit someone else for his successes.  It’s actually pretty awesome.

11.  In Which I Get to Meet Some of My Favorite Artists

Over the past few years, my husband and I have come to know some really great artists that bring their work to SDCC, and this year was no exception.  Chris Yates is a really cool guy, not to mention a brilliant wooden puzzler maker, and every year we bring him a different kind of beer to show our appreciation (plus these artists really need beer at the end of the day at SDCC).  We purchased a new puzzle to add to our collection, and he hooked me up with some more “ghosties” to add to my collection.

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Jeremiah Ketner is one of the most amazing painters in today’s art scene, and my dream is to own everything he’s ever done.  I had never met him, but this year while we were at another booth, I noticed that he was standing right next to us talking to the artist at that particular booth.  Of course I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tell him how much I love his paintings, so I did (while probably sounding like a crazy person, but whatever), and also got a picture taken with him.  Go me!

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Martin Hsu is a vinyl artist that I follow on Twitter and Instagram, and I just happened to run into him on the exhibition floor.  I was like, “Martin!” like I actually knew the guy (again, crazy person), but he was really cool and was like, “Hey!”  I told him I loved his stuff and that I would be down at his booth whenever I could make it there.  No picture, but still a pretty cool moment for this self-proclaimed introvert.

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Unfortunately I didn’t get to talk to my other fave artist Katie Cook because the line for her booth was like 500 miles long because she was doing commissions.  So we just bought a couple of prints and went on our way, and then I tweeted her afterwards to tell her how awesome she was.  Good enough.

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10.  A Panel Full of Hot Guys

Okay, so that sounds a little shallow…but that’s exactly what this panel was.  The panel was officially called “The Heroes of Tomorrow”, highlighting today’s up-and-coming male actors, but frankly it was just a panel full of hot guys.

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The panel consisted of Matt Smith from Doctor Who, Kit Harrington from Game of Thrones, Tyler Posey from Teen Wolf, Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead, and David Giuntoli from Grimm.  They all talked about their shows, how their lives have changed, crazy fans, blah blah blah, but honestly all I was thinking about how I was going to choose between Steven Yeun and Kit Harrington when they ultimately proposed to me (duh).

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But in all seriousness (sort of), it was a hilarious panel.  Not only are they nice to look at, but they’re all really funny and tell really good stories.  Even Orlando Bloom imposter Tyler Posey.  And especially the guy from Grimm, whom I knew nothing about.  I like these heroes of tomorrow.

9.  Mulder and Scully Together Once More

The big highlight of the first day of SDCC was the 20th Anniversary of The X-Files Panel.  Once I got past the fact that this show premiered twenty years ago (I was 14, quite the impressionable age), it was totally cool to see my favorite TV couple together again.

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The panel doesn’t really compare to last year’s 10th Anniversary of Firefly panel (but then again, nothing does), but it was still pretty awesome.  Gillian Anderson looked AMAZEBALLS (seriously, like way better than she ever did on the show), and David Duchovny proved that he has an awesome memory when it comes to the episodes, which was impressive.  And it was Fox “Spooky” Mulder.  YAAAAAAAAAAY.

8.  I Got to See the First Episode of The Legend of Korra Book 2 Before You!

Yep, that’s me bragging.  Neaner neaner neaner.  But that was the definite highlight of the Legend of Korra panel, especially since the last episode of Book 1 aired almost a year and a half ago.  So yeah, we’ve been waiting a long time.  We were hungry for footage, and we got the whole freaking episode.  Feast, baby.

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Of course it looks awesome because it’s Korra and it’s Avatar and it’s awesome.  Of course we (and the rest of the world) will have to wait until September for Book 2 to actually start, but it was nice to get a head start.  Book 2 looks to be even better than the first one, and personally I’m VERY excited about the fact that future pretend husband Steven Yeun will be voicing a new character, the very first Avatar to have ever existed.  Yes, I’m beyond excited.  Thank you.

7.  AMY POND IS BALD

No, you didn’t read that wrong.  Our favorite companion, the Girl Who Waited, is freaking BALD.  Why?  Why is all her beautiful, long, red hair GONE?

Well, there’s a good reason, one being that Karen Gillan is SUPER DEVOTED to her work.  Seriously, all the people who ever thought she was just another model who got lucky with a good role had better think again.  So let me explain.

It’s Saturday night and we’re sitting through the always awesome Marvel panel.  The movie they’re talking about is James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and the entire cast is onstage, including one Karen Gillan.

As you can see, she has hair in this picture.  Shorter than usual, but red and awesome.  Chris Hardwick, everyone’s favorite panel moderator, is asking her about her character in the movie who, he notes, is bald in the comic books.  Karen responds with a “yes, she is” and then…PROCEEDS TO TAKE OFF HER HAIR.

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OH MY GOD SHE WAS WEARING A WIG AND ALL HER HAIR IS GONE AND SHE’S TOTALLY BALD I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS I LOVE HER HAIR BUT YOU KNOW WHAT I LOVE KAREN GILLAN AND NOW I LOVE HER EVEN MORE.

So yeah.  She’s awesome.  And despite the fact that she thinks she looks like an “overgrown fetus”, I think she looks great.

6.  Batman VS. Superman

At the end of the Warner Brothers panel on Saturday, it seemed that Chris Hardwick was about to wrap up when he suddenly said that he was just notified that Zack Snyder (director of lots o’ stuff, but more recently Man of Steel) needed to talk to us.  So he comes out on stage, starts talking about Superman, and then invites some guy (sorry, I had no idea who he was…think he was in Man of Steel) on stage to tell us something else.

So this actor starts reading something, something I later came to learn is from the Batman: The Dark Knight Returns comic book, and ends with this very important quote:

“I want you to remember, Clark…in all the years to come…in your most private moments…I want you to remember…my hand…at your throat…I want…you to remember…the one man who beat you.”

And then the place goes dark, and on the huge screens (three of them side by side) appears the Superman insignia…and then the Batman one right on top of it.

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That’s right, my friends.  BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN.  Coming soon.

THE PLACE GOES NUTS.

5.  Just Another Awesome Night at the Nerdist Podcast Live

We knew last year’s podcast with John Barrowman was going to be hard to top, but as usual The Nerdist never disappoints.  This year their special guest was Matt Smith, aka The Doctor, aka MY Doctor, whom I absolutely love.  Of course it’s bittersweet when it’s the last time he’ll be at SDCC for Doctor Who, since he’ll be leaving the show after the Christmas special (pardon the tears), but luckily The Nerdist – Chris Hardwick, Matt Mira, and Jonah Ray – always keep things interesting and hilarious.

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I love listening to these guys, and I especially loved listening to them and Matt Smith interacting with the audience.  From a guy telling us about his Twitter account @hotel_pens (in which he collects hotel pens and tweets about them) to an actual marriage proposal, it was the audience participation that made it great.  I hope these guys podcast (is that a verb?) forevers.

4.  Sherlock Makes Me Squeeeeeee

Even though the stars of Sherlock Benedick Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman weren’t at this panel, it was still awesome.  We got to listen to Steven Moffat talk, and frankly that’s good enough for me.  Especially when he shows us a clip from the upcoming (as in 2014, which is TOTALLY not upcoming, but whatever) third series.

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So, the last time we left Sherlock, he had just fallen off the roof of the hospital, and John Watson thinks his best friend is dead.  We all know he’s not, so it’s not exactly a spoiler when we see Sherlock and John together in this clip.  What it is, however, is PURE MAGIC.  In the clip John is asking Sherlock to be his best man in his wedding.  I’m not gonna give out anything else – you just have to see the brilliance for yourself – but if you know Sherlock, you can only imagine how he responds to this question.  BRILLIANT, I tell you.

3.  Ten and Eleven TOGETHER

2013 marks the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, so I was pretty excited for the panel because I was really hoping to see some footage from the 50th anniversary special airing this November, which brings back the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and his companion (Rose, played by Billie Piper).

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I knew all this, of course, but I don’t think I was quite prepared to see them all on screen together with the current Eleventh Doctor.  Ten and Eleven are both so iconic themselves, that to suddenly see them both at the same time in the same scene talking to each other….holy crap, it was just so awesome that it’s all kind of blurrish right now.  The whole room went nutso whenever the two of them were seen together, which made the whole thing even more awesome.  Needless to say, I CAN’T WAIT UNTIL NOVEMBER 23.

2.  Loki Yells at Us

At the start of the Marvel panel, none of us really knew what was going to happen first.  We knew they were going to be talking about the new Thor and Captain America movies, but that’s about it.  And then the lights went out.  And Loki spoke.

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Of course the lights were still out, so we didn’t know where the voice was coming from.  Hell, for a second I thought it was just a recorded voice – that is until the lights came on….and there was Loki.  Okay, so it was really Tom Hiddleston, who of course plays Loki in the movies, but he was fully dressed in costume and in character, basically telling us to join his army.  The hall was about as loud as I ever heard it, and you could tell Hiddleston was having the time of his life up there, especially when he demanded “SAY MY NAME!” from 6500 people and got it ten-fold.  Awesome.

1.  The X-Men are Truly United

This year Fox Studios decided not to tell anyone what movies they were bringing to SDCC, which of course caused a bunch of speculation, mainly speculation about the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Hugh Jackman was already going to be there for The Wolverine, so it only made sense that they would talk about the BIGGIE.  Which they did, and we were all, YAY!  But I don’t think any of us were really expecting for THE ENTIRE CAST to come out on stage.  Seriously, it was like when the Avengers first all assembled at SDCC back in 2010 TIMES TEN.  This is all the people from the X-Men movies plus the ones from X-Men: First Class.  Here’s who came out on stage:

  • Jennifer Lawrence
  • Hugh Jackman
  • Anna Paquin
  • Ian McKellan
  • Patrick Stewart
  • James McAvoy
  • Nicholas Hoult
  • Peter Dinklage
  • Ellen Page
  • Michael Fassbender
  • Halle Berry
  • Evan Peters
  • Shawn Ashmore
  • Omar Sy

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So yes, the panel was HUGE.  And I got to see James McAvoy, who is, like, you know, MR. TUMNUS.  We all went a little insane during that panel, let me tell you that.

Many more exciting things happened this year at SDCC, but alas I only have room for so much.  Now to start planning for next year….

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Little Houses in Abridged Books

When I was a kid I loved the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  They were first read to me by my parents and then when I was a little older I tackled the whole series myself.  And 25 years later, I still totally love these books.  Along with Harry Potter and Betsy-Tacy, they’re the ultimate in comfort reading.

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But although many people are familiar with Laura’s adventures, they may not know about the other books related to that series.  In the mid-90s to early 2000s books about Laura’s ancestors, namely her daughter, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, were written.  Of course this was during a time when I wasn’t reading much – I was in college and apparently had better things to do with my time (like read crappy assigned reading by Russian authors).

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It wasn’t until recently when I was reminded of these books after seeing a couple in the library.  I checked out Little House on Rocky Ridge, which is the first book in a series about Laura’s only daughter Rose, written by Roger Lea MacBride (who was Rose’s adopted son).  And honestly, I wasn’t expecting much.  Because how could they compare to the original Laura books??

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But you know what?  I really enjoyed it.  It had the same tone as the originals, and even though it was difficult at first to read about Laura as the mother instead of Caroline, the story kept me interested.  As did the task of suddenly having to read the seven other books in the series!

So now I’m currently in the middle of the Rose Years, and just a few days ago started reading the first book of the Martha Years, which are about Laura’s great-grandmother living in Scotland in the late 1700s.  Of course I’m loving it, and last night I actively started looking on the library’s website for not only the rest of the Rose and Martha books, but also the Charlotte books (Laura’s grandmother in Boston) and the Caroline books (Laura’s mom in Wisconsin).

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However, in searching for all these I discovered something that didn’t quite settle well with me.  I noticed that my library was only carrying abridged versions of some of these books.  For those who don’t know (hey, there might be some), “abridged” means “shortened” or “edited” or, in this case, “dumbed-down”.  Basically the publishing company decided that to keep up with trends, these 300 or so page books needed to be shorter for young readers.  Which means up to around 100 pages cut out of the story.  WHICH IS CRAP.

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If you want to know the whole horrible story, check out the author Melissa Wiley’s blog, or go to this Amazon page where I first read about it.  Wiley wrote about the Martha and Charlotte Years, and she’s obviously totally pissed about this, so much so that she decided not to write about any more adventures and actually walked away from the series.  And that’s too bad because a) I love these series and I want more adventures, and b) young readers are totally capable of reading larger books – look how quickly they all poured through 800 pages of Harry Potter!

But as usual, the people at the top have money in their interest rather than the readers.  Fortunately my county’s library system still has some of the original, full releases available, but good luck finding all of the them.  You can find them on eBay, but make sure your wallet is full.  Some are selling for hundreds of dollars.

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On the bright side, the fun is ALWAYS in the search, and I will continue looking for these full versions because I REFUSE to read anything that’s abridged.  Seriously, I don’t even know why abridged versions of books were even invented.  They’re even worse than Cliff’s Notes.   Let’s not assume that kids can’t handle bigger books any longer.  And hello, there’s at least one 34-year-old out there who wants to read the COMPLETE adventures of Martha, Charlotte, Caroline, and Rose.

This ends here!

If you’re interested in these books, here’s a handy list for you…

The Martha Years

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Stories about Laura’s great-grandmother, Martha Morse Tucker, written by Melissa Wiley

  1. Little House in the Highlands (1999)
  2. The Far Side of the Loch (2000)
  3. Down to the Bonny Glen (2001)
  4. Beyond the Heather Hills (2003)

The Charlotte Years

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Stories about Laura’s grandmother, Charlotte Tucker Quiner written by Melissa Wiley

  1. Little House by Boston Bay (1999)
  2. On Tide Mill Lane (2001)
  3. The Road from Roxbury (2002)
  4. Across the Puddingstone Dam (2004)

The Caroline Years

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Stories about Laura’s mother, Caroline Quiner Ingalls written by Maria D.Wilkes (1-4) and Celia Wilkins (5-7).

  1. Little House in Brookfield (1996)
  2. Little Town at the Crossroads (1997)
  3. Little Clearing in the Woods (1998)
  4. On Top of Concord Hill (2000)
  5. Across the Rolling River (2001)
  6. Little City by the Lake (2003)
  7. Little House of Their Own (2005)

The Rose Years

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Stories about Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, written by Roger Lea MacBride

  1. Little House on Rocky Ridge (1993)
  2. Little Farm in the Ozarks (1994)
  3. In the Land of the Big Red Apple (1995)
  4. On the Other Side of the Hill (1995)
  5. Little Town in the Ozarks (1996)
  6. New Dawn on Rocky Ridge (1997)
  7. On the Banks of the Bayou (1998)
  8. Bachelor Girl (1999)

Happy reading!

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The Awesome 13 – The Baby-Sitter’s Club

The Awesome 13 – The Baby-Sitter’s Club

For some reason I’ve totally been in Baby-Sitter’s Club mood lately.  It’s probably because the short-lived television series from 1990 is now on Netflix and I’ve been secretly watching it in the mornings as I get ready for work, but I’ve totally had BSC on my mind.

I’ve written about how important this series is to me before in this wonderful post, but now it’s time to pick my favorites.  I thought it was going to be easy, but it totally wasn’t.  The fact is I love every single one of these books.  But since I know the first 20 or so books of this 200+ book series backwards and forwards, I pretty much narrowed it down to those, which made things a little easier.

So here it is…my top 13 BSC books!

13.  Stacey’s Mistake (#18)

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In this book, Stacey is back living in New York City and invites Claudia to visit her for the weekend.  But she doesn’t expect her best friend from NYC Laine (total B, by the way) and best friend from Stoneybrook to totally hate each other!  There’s so much middle school nastiness in this book that I just can’t help but love it.

12.  The Baby-Sitters’ Winter Vacation (Super Special #3)

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I love stories that take place during the winter, and because this one was a Super Special, it makes it extra awesome.  Their class takes a ski trip to Vermont, and as you’d expect, all sorts of crazy stuff happens, like the Winter War, busses over-turning, and Mary Anne missing Logan (as always).

11.  The Truth About Stacey (#3)

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In this book we find out all about Stacey’s diabetes, which was pretty groundbreaking at the time because it showed us that anyone can get diabetes, but that it’s something that could be managed on a day-to-day basis.  The fact that Stacey could deal with it made the whole thing less scary, at least for me, and taught me a lot.  Great book.

10.  Mary Anne Saves the Day (#4)

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This is the first time we really get to know Mary Anne, the person with whom I identified the most – shy, quiet, timid, etc.  But even though she’s all those things, and even though the book starts off with a horrible fight between the four girls and none of them are speaking to each other, Mary Anne is able to overcome all of that when put in a crisis situation.  I loved this book because it made me believe that I could overcome scary situations, too.  Oh, and Mary Anne gets to take her braids out for the first time.  Pretty sweet.

9.  Little Miss Stoneybrook and Dawn (#15)

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I always found myself re-reading this book again and again because it was so much fun reading about the kids getting ready for the Little Miss Stoneybrook pageant.  I usually only loved the stories that focused on the baby-sitters, but this one focused on the kids and made them sound like so much fun.  You could tell Ann M. Martin had a good time writing this one and trying to think of all sorts of different talents for those kids.  So much fun.  Also, pageants!

8.  The Baby-Sitters’ Summer Vacation (Super Special #2)

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If there’s one thing I love more than winter stories, it’s summer camp stories.  And that’s what happens in this super special.  The BSC girls are CITs (Counselor-in-Training) at Camp Mohawk and, as usual, hijinks ensue.  Dawn gets lost in the wilderness overnight (!), Kristy learns how to use mascara (!!), and Mary Anne gets caught sneaking over to the boys’ side of the camp (!!!).  Also Stacey spends the two weeks in the infirmary with poison ivy…and Claudia develops a crush on a boy CIT.  Good times.

7.  Mary Anne’s Bad-Luck Mystery (#17)

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I always loved the books about “scary” topics, and this one never disappointed.  Mary Anne thinks she’s cursed because all this bad stuff starts happening to her after she starts getting mysterious letters saying that she’ll have bad luck – a letter that she IGNORED.  Of course it turns out that mega-B Cokie Mason was behind the whole thing because she wanted to get her claws on Mary Anne’s boyfriend, Logan.  Still, the whole thing was always spooky to me.

6.  Baby-Sitters on Board! (Super Special #1)

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This was the first super special of the series, and at the time it was a pretty big deal because a) it had more pages than the normal books, b) it was from all the girls’ points of view, rather than just one, and c) it was awesome.  The girls go on a cruise to the Bahamas and Disney World and lots of fun stuff happens, like Claudia getting a secret admirer and Kristy playing matchmaker.  Oh, and the Pike triplets find buried treasure.  I’m pretty sure I had a crush on the Pike triplets.

5.  Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls (#2)

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If Mary Anne was the only with whom I identified, then Claudia was the one I wanted to BE.  Because, admit it, she was the coolest one.  This was Claudia’s first book, and I loved that it was a spooky one.  Claudia starts getting weird phone calls where the person just breathes and then hangs up.  There’s also a burglar hanging around Stoneybrook, which makes this whole situation even scarier.  Turns out it’s just a boy who likes Claudia who’s just afraid to talk to her (duh).  Still.  Spooky.

4.  Kristy’s Big Day (#6)

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For as long as I can remember, this was always my very favorite BSC book.  Why?  Well, let’s see.  Kristy is not too thrilled with her mom deciding to remarry, and a pissed-off Kristy is always kind of fun.  But it’s probably because the whole book is about planning a wedding, and what girl doesn’t love that?  Also, trying to coordinate all those kids into the wedding spelled chaos, which spelled fun for me.  And Kristy ends up all happy in the end.  Yay.

3.  Boy-Crazy Stacey (#8)

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Um, a summer spent on the Jersey Shore with a bunch of cute boys running around?  Yes, please!  But seriously, what made this book so great was that Ann M. Martin put Stacey and Mary Anne together to take the trip to Sea City, NJ – two totally different people that didn’t really know much about each other – and made them get over the whole awkwardness to because actual close friends at the end.  This book wouldn’t have been the same had Stacey gone to Sea City with Claudia, or Mary Anne with Kristy.  It was the dynamic that made it great.  And cute boys.

2.  The Ghost at Dawn’s House (#9)

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This book had the ultimate creep factor going for it when Dawn discovers a secret passage in her ancient house.  Combine creepy storms outside and creepy noises coming from the passageway at night and you have the perfect summer read.  Also, I’m pretty sure I also had a crush on Dawn’s brother, Jeff.  But whatever.  I love this book.

1.  Kristy’s Great Idea(#1)

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Well I couldn’t exactly make any other book my number one pick, right?  This was the one that started it all!  We get to meet all four original members at the club’s inception and how they were on the brink of going their separate ways, as people do in middle school, only to be brought back together by The Baby-Sitter’s Club.  It was a great foundation for a great series, and holds up to this day even though it was written 27 years ago.  Some things never get old!

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SDCC ’13: Let the Madness Begin

Over the weekend the full San Diego Comic-Con 2013 schedule was released to the public, and once again it’s going to be a doozy of a convention.  That’s right, I said DOOZY.  And “doozy” in SDCC terms is code for “will be getting absolutely no sleep whatsoever”.  But honestly, the people who think they’re actually going to get a decent night’s sleep at SDCC are either fooling themselves, or they’re not doing SDCC right.

So in exactly 10 days, SDCC will be open.  And assuming all goes according to plan, here’s my schedule:

Thursday, 7/18/13

10:00 am – Intelligence – Ballroom 20

11:00 am – Star-Crossed – Ballroom 20

12:00 pm – Beauty and the Beast – Ballroom 20

1:00 pm – Psych – Ballroom 20

2:15 pm – Sherlock – Ballroom 20

3:30 pm – The X-Files 20th Anniversary – Ballroom 20

4:45 pm – Entertainment Weekly’s Brave New Warriors (feat. Matt Smith from Doctor Who, Kit Harrington from Game of Thrones, and Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead, among others) – Ballroom 20

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So yes, I will be camped out in Ballroom 20 all day on Thursday, mostly because I want to see the Sherlock panel (no Freeman or Cumberbatch, but still excited), and the X-Files anniversary panel with David Duchcovny and Gillian Anderson.  Because of that, I’ll have to sit through panels that I don’t have much interest in – the first four that day – but if I want to see Sherlock and The X-Files, I have to get there really early.

Friday, 7/19/13

10:00 am – Inside The Big Bang Theory Writer’s Room – Ballroom 20

11:15 am – The Legend of Korra – Ballroom 20

12:30 pm – Bones – Ballroom 20

1:45 pm – Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Ballroom 20

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Luckily Friday is a bit of a lighter day for us, which *might* give us a chance to catch a couple hours of sleep.  The main panel for me that day is The Legend of Korra, which means I have to sit through a Big Bang Theory panel that won’t even have any of the actors present (which is fine, since I don’t even watch the show).  We’ll stay through Bones, which we haven’t watched in about four years, because we want to see Joss Whedon and his Avengers spin-off TV show.  After that panel we’ll probably head to the Exhibition floor to check out all the booths since we’ll be tied up in Hall H for the next two days…

Saturday, 7/20/13

10:45 am – Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, feat. Godzilla, Seventh Son, 300: Rise of an Empire, Gravity, and The LEGO Movie – Hall H

1:35 pm – Lionsgate, feat. I, Frankenstein and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Hall H

2:55 pm – Entertainment Weekly’s Women Who Kick Ass, feat. Michelle Rodriguez, Tatiana Maslany, and Danai Gurira – Hall H

4:15 pm – 20th Century Fox – The schedule says “TBD”, but I’m really hoping they’ll have X-Men: Days of Future Past – Hall H

6:00 pm – Marvel Studios, feat. Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Hall H

9:30 pm – The Nerdist Podcast Live, feat. special guest Matt Smith – Balboa Theater

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I’m kind of bummed that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug had to pull out of SDCC, but I’m actually really excited for all of these panels (well, except for maybe the EW one, which I’m kind of meh about).  Of course as usual the Marvel panel will be the big one – they haven’t announced any actors yet, but Marvel has yet to disappoint at SDCC.  Also, I’m SUPER excited for the Nerdist Podcast – not just because Matt Smith is their guest, but because I just love the three Nerdist guys, Chris Hardwick, Matt Mira, and Jonah Ray.  Last year’s live podcast was probably my favorite part of the entire con, so I can’t wait for this year’s.

Sunday, 7/21/13

10:00 am – Supernatural – Hall H

11:15 am – Breaking Bad – Hall H

12:30 pm – Doctor Who 50th Anniversary – Hall H

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It’s going to be a very long wait for a pretty short day, but I’d do it for Doctor Who.  I’m excited to see Supernatural, I don’t watch Breaking Bad (but my husband does, so he’s happy), and, well, duh.  Doctor Who.  Matt Smith will be there, obviously, as will his current companion and the creators of the show.  But deep down I’m wishing praying hoping that David Tennant will show up.  He’ll be in the anniversary special, and well, you just never know.  Heads may explode.

See you in ten days!!!!

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The Awesome 13 – Putumayo World Music

The only way to truly branch out when to listening to music is to listen to music from other parts of the world.  Many of us are so sheltered when it comes to music, whether it’s listening to only one radio station or one genre or, in this case, only one language.  How can one truly appreciate music when that person is only listening to 10% of the music out there?

That’s where Putumayo World Music comes into play.  Putumayo is basically a record label that puts out hundreds of different compilation albums based on different regions of the world.  It started in 1993 and continues to introduce us to amazing artists to this day, both for adults (Putumayo World) and for kids (Putumayo Kids).

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I first discovered Putumayo about four years ago when I checked out one of their Putumayo Kids CDs called Hawaiian Playground.  The cover is what caught my eye at first, and I thought the songs would be fun for my then 6-month-old daughter to hear in the car.

Well, the album was awesome, and I was hooked.  I decided I was going to start collecting as many Putumayo albums as I could (project!!), and thanks to the wonderful libraries to which I belonged, I found many.

To date, Putumayo has churned out 213 albums.  213!  That’s many, many hours of music.  I’m nowhere near that, but I’m getting there.  All the albums are pretty awesome, but here are 13 of my personal faves that I highly recommend you go listen to if given the opportunity.

IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER:

Acoustic France (2008)

l94316-1Highlights:

  • “Sombre Con” by Rose
  • “Quotidien” by Sandrine Kiberlain
  • “Clash Dans Le Tempo” by Constance Amiot

Africa (1999)

putumayo africa frontHighlights:

  • “Doly” by 4 Etoiles
  • “Anoma” by OOM
  • “Wassiye” by Habib Koite & Bamada

Brazilian Beat (2012)

brazilian-beat-putumayoHighlights:

  • “Samba Na Mao, Eu Tenho” by Tamy
  • “A Coisa Mais Linda Do Mundo” by Monica Da Silva
  • “Feriado Pessoal” by Bruna Caram

Celtic Dreamland (2007)

p-16411Highlights:

  •  “Cagaran Gaolach” by Mary Jane Lamond
  • “A Phluirin Mhillis” Susan McKeown
  • “Ye Banks and Braes” by The Cast

Celtic Tides (1998)

19d4c060ada0e61de4abf110.LHighlights:

  • “Caledonia” by Dougie MacLean
  • “An Gabhar Ban” by Clannad
  • “The Maid on the Shore” by Solas

Gypsy Groove (2007)

1000x500px-LL-786b38bf_PutumayoPresentsGypsyGrooveHighlights:

  • “Zsa Manca” by Deladap
  • “Yor Uzga” by Karen Gafurdjanov
  • “Amari Szi, Amari” by Luminescent Orchestril

Hawaiian Playground (2008)

90753-Hawaiian-Playground-tHighlights:

  • “Right On” by The Moonlighters
  • “Po La’iIa’i” by Raiatea
  • “Holoholo Ka’a” by Willie K

Italia (2009)

1069824Highlights:

  • “Il Mare Mi Salva” by Rossomalpelo
  • “Gina” by Lu Colombo
  • “L’Americano” by Marco Calliari

Jazz Around the World (2009)

Jazz-Around-WorldHighlights:

  • “La Mer” by Chantal Chamberland
  • “Young and Naive” by Heather Rigdon
  • “Te Reo o Papatuanuku” by Kataraina Pipi

Music from the Wine Lands (2006)

Wine-LandsHighlights:

  • “Tita” by Pauline Croze
  • “Puerto Claridad” by Amparanoia
  • “Liebe” by 2raumwohnung

Quebec (2008)

91401_quebecHighlights:

  • “Cette Ville” by Mathieu Mathieu
  • “Un Homme” by Annie Villenueve
  • “Brulots” by Chloe Sainte-Marie

Salsa Around the World (2007)

Salsa-Around-WorldHighlights:

  • “Flores y Tambores” by Orquesta de la Luz
  • “Havana Mambo” by Malanina
  • “Haris Catsimichas” by Forest Flower

Turkish Groove (2006)

Turkish-GrooveHighlights:

  • “Kimizi Biber” by Bendeniz
  • “Sinanay” by Gulseren
  • “Dudu” by Tarkan

Besides the awesome music these albums contain, I can’t help but swoon over the album covers.  The artwork is done by Nicola Heindl, and if I could have actual prints based on all these albums, I would totally cover my walls with them.  Or maybe a Page-a-Day Calendar that has one album cover a day.  Maybe I could make that myself!  Anyway, LOVE THEM.

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Of course because I’m a collector, half the fun in all this is the actual search for all these albums.  I’ve purchased some, but only because I hadn’t been able to find them at libraries.  I currently have five albums on request from the Hennepin County library, meaning they’re being sent to my local library two minutes from my house so I can pick them up there instead of driving all over the place to find them.  Don’t get me wrong, I love going to new libraries and discovering new Putumayo CDs, but sometimes this way is just easier.

Of course all the libraries aren’t going to have all 213 albums, which means there are some that I may never find.  Some albums on my wish list that I have yet to find are as follows:

  • Islands (1997)
  • Romantica (1998)
  • Women of Spirit (1998)
  • Italian Musical Odyssey (1999)

I’ve never seen those albums at any library or any store, but time will tell.  I may get lucky.

Romantica

Up until last year, Putumayo albums were only available for purchase at music stores like Barnes and Noble and at Whole Foods.  But thankfully you can now buy them on iTunes (for a lot cheaper, too).  The only downside is that you can only download the albums from 2012 and later.  Anything older than that you can only get the actual CD.  But Amazon carries a bunch, and finding a used CD for cheap isn’t too difficult.

But the search aside, it all comes back to discovering new music and opening your eyes to all the different cultures in this world.  There’s more to music than just what you hear on the radio or see on MTV (well, USED to see when they actually played videos) or purchase on iTunes.  There’s a whole world out there just waiting for you to hear it.

So open your ears.  You won’t regret it.

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The “Do”s and “Don’t”s of Comic-Con

Because San Diego Comic-Con 2013 opens three weeks from today, my countdown has officially begun.  Okay, well, it actually began when we got home from Comic-Con last year (“it’s only 51 weeks away!!”), but now that we’re down to less than a month, I’m officially TOTALLY EXCITED.

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And because it’s our sixth year attending, I can consider myself somewhat of an expert of all things SDCC.  Sort of.  I mean, I know there are people who have been attending since the 70s, but the SDCC of the 2010s is a lot different than the 70s-90s.  And my husband and I have pretty much have the whole SDCC thing down, at least enough for me to write my own Do and Don’t list for some of you newbies to go by.  So if you want to know how to survive SDCC, read on.

DON’T bring a car.

The first few years we attended the con, we drove in to San Diego from LA, always either parking at a hotel or some other parking structure that charges mucho dinero to leave your car there.  The solution?  Well, if you’re traveling a long distance and flying direct to San Diego, there are many shuttle services operating within the area during SDCC that can easily take you to your hotel, and also can shuttle you to and from the convention center.  Or if you’re coming in from a place like LA (like us), you can take the train.  We did this for the first time last year, and we will never do it any other way.  IT WAS SO MUCH FUN.  Seriously, you don’t have the stress of driving down the 405 freeway for three hours, and instead can sit back and relax with some free refreshments and free wifi while the train takes you past ocean-side cities and beautiful cliffs.  Yes, it takes longer, but really…if you probably can’t check into your hotel until 3:00 in the afternoon anyway, so if you leave in the morning you have plenty of time.  Plus a train ticket from LA to SD is only around $30, which is cheaper than filling up your car.

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DO have a planned schedule.

There’s a reason why SDCC releases their complete schedule before the convention begins.  You need to plan ahead.  Find the panels you want to see, write down the time and location, and make sure they don’t conflict with anything else.  Of course there’s ALWAYS going to be something that conflicts, so you’ll most likely have to make some Sophie’s Choices.  Is the panel on Women Comic Book Artists more important to you than that panel on the upcoming season of Supernatural?  Do you think you can make it in time to get from one panel to another when they’re 15 minutes apart…assuming there’s no line?  Which of course brings me to my next tip…

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DO get in line early.

I cannot stress this fact enough, especially if you want to see the panels that are in Ballroom 20 and Hall H, which are always reserved for the big TV and movie panels.  Getting in line an hour early at SDCC is 8 hours too late.  I’m totally serious.  When there’s a panel that everyone wants to see, like last year’s Firefly 10th Anniversary panel, we got in line at 2:00 in the morning.  The panel wasn’t until noon the next day.  And we weren’t in the front, if you’re wondering.  The panel was in Ballroom 20, which holds 4250 people, and we got a spot towards the middle of the room.  One of the reasons for having to get in early even if the panel you want to see isn’t until later that day is because they don’t clear out the rooms between panels.  So you can end up camping out in the same hall all day in order to see your panel.  I know, it sounds insane.  At least to outsiders, it does.  To seasoned SDCC people, it’s just another day in Hall H or B20.  I always feel kind of bad for the people who show up late (in SDCC terms) and say, “Is this the line for such-and-such panel?” with confused and worried looks on their faces, after you’ve been sitting there for literally six hours, as you nod and point towards the end of the line, which is now about 5000 people-deep (Hall H holds 6500 people).  But that just goes to show you, you need to be prepared.

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DO dress comfortably.

Since you’ll probably be doing a lot of waiting/sitting/sleeping on the ground, you’re gonna want to be as comfortable as you can get.  This is whether you dress up in costume or just regular clothes (like me).  Don’t bring those cute jeans that make your butt look great but are just a smidge too tight in the waist, because after about 30 minutes of sitting you’re going to wish you had a pair on of sweatpants.  Also, wear layers.  Just because it’s 80 degrees doesn’t mean it’s going to be 80s inside (it’s more like 50 degrees inside).  And when you’re not sitting, you’ll be walking, so don’t wear freaking stilettos (which I’ve seen girls do).  Unless it’s part of your costume, no one will be looking at your feet anyway.  Comfort is KEY at SDCC, trust me.

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DON’T expect to get much sleep.

This is more so directed at the whole “get in line at 2:00am” business, but sleep should definitely not be a priority at SDCC.  If it is, then you’re going it wrong.  Last year, for example, I averaged about 3 hours of sleep per night.  And honestly, I didn’t feel tired the whole time I was at the convention.  You’re having so much fun and your adrenaline is going the whole time because there’s just so much excitement, that it’s just something you’re not thinking of.  Of course when we got back to LA when the convention was over it all caught up to me and hit me in the face like Thor’s hammer (haha), but it’s usually worth it (for me, at least).

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DO stay hydrated and fed by more than junk food.

Since I’m older now I can say this with more confidence.  Junk food is not your friend when you’re running on 2 hours sleep and caffeine.  Of course since it’s a convention, there’s junk food everywhere, which is probably no big deal to the people in their early 20s who could probably go all day on a bag of Skittles, greasy pizza, and Mountain Dew.  But if your body doesn’t work like that, it’ll probably benefit you to bring some healthier options with you to keep in your bag or backpack just to keep your body from falling apart.  Trust me, you’ll thank me at the end of the day.

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DON’T expect to get autographs.

Unless you’re going to specific signings, there are no autographs at the big panels.  Once the panel is over, the actors and creative team get up, wave to the crowd, stand there for pictures, and then leave.  They don’t usually hang around, and some even have limos waiting for them out the exit doors to take them to the airport (like Harrison Ford in 2011).  Of course you may see someone out on the exhibition floor just walking around and being a fan themselves, like the time I saw Grant Imahara from Mythbusters on the floor, in which I blurted out, “Hi!  I love your show!” and he said, “Thanks!”  Or there was the time last year when Joss Whedon came to the line for the Firefly panel and signed pretty much every autograph he could, but that was totally out of the blue (and it was Joss and Joss is Boss).  But honestly, that exhibition floor is so crowded that there is no time or space for autographs.  So if you want an autograph, get in line at the designated areas and WAIT.

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DO get out of the convention center.

It’s easy to stay at the convention center all day, what with all the excitement going on, but you need to get out every now and then and hang out in San Diego’s Gaslamp District.  The Gaslamp District is one of my favorite places in all of Southern CA.  It’s filled to the brim with restaurants, pubs, coffeehouses, and shops, and during SDCC the whole area gets into the spirit of the convention.  And because SDCC gets bigger every year, lots of events now happen offsite at places in the Gaslamp District.  So get out and get some fresh air and relax a little – before you have to get back in line!

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DON’T take everything that is free.

In the exhibition hall where all the vendors are promoting their art or book or whatever, you can find yourself being handed everything from business cards to free comics to huge bags to hold even more crap.  It’s okay to take some, but keep in mind that you probably have to carry around this stuff ALL DAY.  And that can get pretty heavy on your back.  So a free button here and there, maybe a few business cards, but know where to draw the line.  It’s okay to decline – there are 130,000 other people there to take them for you.

Comic Con SwagCourtesy of Nerdegade.com

DO bring extra batteries.

Whether you bring a regular camera or your phone, you’re going to need some back-up.  The last thing you want is to finally make it into that panel for which you’ve been waiting eight hours, only to realize that your phone or camera is now dead and you can’t take any pictures of Robert Downey, Jr.  My husband and I both have iPhones but know that they definitely won’t last an entire day, given how much we use them, so we invested in back-up iPhone battery packs that last about ten hours (give or take).  So when you need to charge your phone, you just plug it into the battery pack and it charges it up.  If you’re completely out of juice and aren’t stuck outside waiting in line, there are plenty of places within the convention center to recharge – you just have to be able to find an available one.

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DON’T stress out.

Yes, there are a lot of people.  Yes, you may be waiting in line for hours on end.  Yes, you might not get into a panel you wanted to see.  Yes, you may be forced to talk to complete strangers.  But you know what?  Enjoy it.  Comic-Con is an awesome experience that you’ll never forget, whether you go just once or every year, and you don’t want to have the whole thing ruined by stressing about something you have no control of that will only bring on a headache.  So the official SDCC mantra to live by?  JUST GO WITH IT.  It’s crazy, fun, and frustrating at times, but JUST GO WITH IT.

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See you in three weeks!

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The Awesome 13 – National Film Registry

I love watching documentaries about movies.  Seriously, I could sit and watch film documentaries all damn day long and still want more.  And last night was no exception.   I watched a documentary on Netflix called These Amazing Shadows from 2011 and is about the National Film Registry.  Don’t know what the NFR is?  Well, let me educate you.

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Back in 1986, millionaire and business mogul Ted Turner realized he had no idea what the hell to do with all his money, so he decided to buy all the rights to MGM’s movies.  That meant he could pretty much do what he wanted to them, so he got the bright (re: stupid) idea to start colorizing all the black and white movies.  That meant that classics like Casablanca and It’s a Wonderful Life were now IN COLOR instead of their iconic black and white.  Which looked totally weird.

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Obviously people were completely pissed off about this, and rightly so.  What made Ted Turner think he could do this to these works of art?  QUOTE: “Well, they’re my movies now.  I can do what I want.”  END QUOTE.

Luckily Congress realized they were dealing with a madman, so in 1988 they established the National Film Preservation Act, which does the following:

Prohibits any person from knowingly distributing or exhibiting to the public a film that has been materially altered, or a black and white film that has been colorized and is included in the Registry, unless such films are labeled disclosing specified information.” (Wikipedia)

Ted-Turner

THEY’RE TALKING TO YOU, MR. TURNER.

So starting in 1989, the NFR started choosing 25 movies a year for the registry, “films that are culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”  As long as the film is ten years old or older, it’s eligible for the registry.  Then the National Film Preservation Board decides amongst all the nominated films and picks the 25 inductees of that year.  I’m sure it’s a long, grueling progress that has spawned many arguments and fights and hair-pulling, but ohmygod that sounds like a fun job.

Anyway, since its inaugural year in 1989, 600 films have been registered with the NFR.  I’ve seen 81 of them, roughly about 14% of them.  That’s not very many.  However, I’m positive that I know people who probably haven’t even seen 5% of those movies, so I’m looking pretty good.

Of course as soon as I figured all this out I quickly decided that I need to see ALL THE MOVIES.  Well, obviously I’d be stupid to think that would happen any time soon.  So let’s just focus on the movies that I HAVE seen.  And while we’re at it, let’s pick the AWESOME 13 OF THE NATIONAL FILM REGISTRY!

(In chronological order because I can’t narrow anything else down because my brain hurts from looking at 600 movies).

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

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Why It’s Important: It was Walt Disney’s very first full-length animated feature film.

Why It’s Awesome:  It’s over 75 years old and it still looks and sounds amazing.  Also, the Evil Queen.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

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Why It’s Important:  It turned Judy Garland into a star and became a cultural phenomenon.

Why It’s Awesome:  The music is timeless, the effects are amazing, and the end makes me cry every time.  Also, Ruby Slippers.

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

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Why It’s Important:  It gave Technicolor the chance to show off like never before, and it depicts American life in the Midwest at the turn of the century.

Why It’s Awesome:  Judy Garland has never been better, the songs are fantastic, and the costumes are gorgeous.  Also, all those damn parties.

The Sound of Music (1965)

MPW-6725Why It’s Important:  It’s cinematography at its best, plus classic music and a political message.

Why It’s Awesome:  Because it takes place in Austria where kids sing in the mountains and put on puppet shows.  Also, the gazebo.

The Godfather (1972)

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Why It’s Important:  Most critics agree it’s one of the greatest movies ever made.

Why It’s Awesome:  It’s about gangsters and families and weddings and horse heads and cannoli.  Also, SICILY.

The Exorcist (1973)

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Why It’s Important:  At the time, it was one of the scariest movies anyone had ever seen.

Why It’s Awesome:  It’s still one of the scariest movies people have seen.  Also, that horrifying still-haunts-me-today backwards spider crawl.

Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

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Why They’re Important:  They had the most significant impact on film than any other movie in history, and still impacting it today.

Why They’re Awesome:  Do I even have to say?  It’s freaking Star Wars.  Also, Yoda.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

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Why It’s Important:  It married two influential filmmakers (Lucas and Spielberg) to create a perfect action film and a cultural icon.

Why It’s Awesome:  John Williams’ score soars, Harrison Ford is HOT (literally and figuratively), and it’s super fun to watch.  Also, snakes.

Halloween (1978)

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Why It’s Important:  It was one of the first “slasher films” ever made, spawning a whole decade of copycats.

Why It’s Awesome:  Michael Myers scares the poo out of me.  Also, DON’T ASSUME HE’S DEAD BECAUSE HE’S NOT.

Back to the Future (1985)

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Why It’s Important:  It remains of the best and most original written movies ever, plus has a huge fan base that continues to this day.

Why It’s Awesome:  After 30+ years I still laugh at almost every line because Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, and Crispin Glover are SPOT-ON.  Also, 1.21 Gigawatts.

Silence of the Lambs (1991)

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Why It’s Important:  It broke all sorts of rules when it came to women’s roles, not only in film but in the police force, and Anthony Hopkins delivers an amazing performance.

Why It’s Awesome:  You can’t help but like Hannibal Lector even though he’s a serial killer, and the climax of the film is unlike no other.  Also, fava beans.

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

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Why It’s Important:  It was the first animated feature film to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award.

Why It’s Awesome:  Belle is the Best Disney Princess Ever because she’s a book nerd who doesn’t like jocks, and Beast is kinda sexy.  Also, Enchanted Castle.

The Matrix (1999)

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Why It’s Important:  It’s visual effects changed filmmaking forever.

Why It’s Awesome:  It’s mind-blowing to watch and philosophically challenging, and the fight scenes are amazeballs.  Also, Keanu Reeves.

Obviously I’m leaving out a bunch:  Gone With the Wind, West Side Story, Jaws, The Philadelphia Story to name a few, but I’d be writing forever if I included them all.  So go do yourself a favor and SEE THESE MOVIES, if not all 600 of them if you got the time.  It’s just as educational as going to a museum to see priceless works of art…that you can do in your pajamas on your couch.

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Going Out for Tea

It should come as no surprise that one of my favorite places to be in the world is a coffee shop.  The atmosphere is always pretty calm and relaxed, and I’m always surrounded by one of the things I love the most –tea!

I’ve lived in many places throughout Southern California and Minnesota, and I’ve grown to love many coffee shops that I frequented.  Of course because there seems to be fewer and fewer independent shops around these days, the majority of my favorite places are corporate-owned.  And that’s fine.  Honestly, I should be thankful that even these are around and seem to financially secure for now.  But what matters to me isn’t what the shop is called, but how I feel when I’m there.  When it comes to the location, the workers, and the atmosphere, these are the places that have made an impact on me.

Starbucks

Well, duh.  Starbucks is easily the most accessible coffee shop to find these days, especially in Southern California where you can probably find one on every corner.  Luckily I really like their teas, so it makes having to go there worth it.  Also, I like having a Gold Card, which works exactly like a gift card, except after 12 drinks you get a free drink (any drink, any size), plus a freebie on your birthday.  But not all Starbucks are the same – in fact, there are a couple that I know I usually avoided – but there are definitely some standouts.

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My fave location:

Promenade on the Peninsula in Rolling Hills, CA – The mall itself is meh (trust me, I used to work there), but the Starbucks is great.  It’s big, has plenty of seating indoors and out, and the baristas are still the best I’ve encountered.  The only downside is that even when it’s 100 degrees outside, it’s freezing inside, which makes it hard to stay for long periods of time unless you have a sweater to throw on.

The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf

My very first job when I moved out to California 12 years ago was a barista at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.  At that time, the only thing I ever drank was Diet Coke, so tea wasn’t even on my radar.  It wasn’t until years later when I became an iced tea drinker that I learned to love their teas.  They have a great variety of teas, a good pastry/snack selection, and a cheery atmosphere.  Unfortunately there are no Coffee Beans in MN, but it’s always a place I like to stop into when I’m back visiting CA.

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My fave location:

Manhattan Beach, Manhattan Beach, CA – While the one at which I worked in Studio City was pretty awesome, I prefer beach views as opposed to views of The Valley.  Located just a block from Starbucks, but has about half the crowd and double the seating.  Plus, it’s just up the street from the Pacific Ocean, so the views from the outside seating are pretty fabulous.

Caribou Coffee

Caribou Coffee might be the only coffee shop to outnumber Starbucks in the state of MN, due to the fact that its headquarters is right here in the Twin Cities.  The reasons why I love Caribou Coffee is mostly due to atmosphere, which is a lot more welcoming than most Starbucks.  I love the décor of the shops, which make them all look like you’re sitting in a comfy cabin in the woods, and I love their mantra of living life to the fullest and all that philosophical stuff.  When it comes to their tea, I thought the plain iced tea was pretty good until they accidently made me their Mango Black iced tea, which fortunately I ended up loving.  Now that’s my tea of choice.

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My fave location:

Highway 55 & Vicksburg – Plymouth, MN – My favorite thing about this Caribou Coffee is the atmosphere.  It had lots of seating, lots of windows, and a friendly staff.  If I ever want to go somewhere to sit and write, this is the one I always pick over any other coffee shop.  I could spend hours at this location and not feel stir crazy or cooped up because the layout is so open.  Plus it’s right across the street from the Plymouth library, so that’s always a plus!

Those are the big three in terms of where I get my tea, though I guess now it would be two since I don’t live in California anymore and don’t have access to The Coffee Bean.  I wish there were more local independently owned coffee places near me, but in my day-to-day routine, I always choose between the ‘Bucks and the ‘Bou.

What are some of your favorite places to get tea or coffee?

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More Board Books to Drool Over (Not On)

A while back I wrote about this adorable series of board books for kids that I totally want on my bookshelf because they’re so beautiful and awesome.  Well, that time has come again…this time in the form of FAIRYTALES!!!

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Authors extraordinaire Trixie Belle and Melissa Caruso-Scott and illustrator Oliver Lake are the ones to blame for my new obsession.  The books are called Les Petits Fairytales, and while they are written in the simplest form of storytelling – one descriptive word per page – I CAN’T STOP LOOKING AT THEM.

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I love illustrated books, and right now these take the cake.  Why?  Because THEY ARE SO DARN CUTE.  I mean, really.  I want to curl up in bed with these books and just stare at them because I simply cannot get enough of the cuteness.  I want to make a blanket out of these books just so I can wrap myself up in cuddly cuteness.  Despite the fact that they’re made of rather hard material.

I originally discovered these at the library (DUH) when I noticed an adorable Cinderella staring up at me.  I opened it up and suddenly fell in love with Oliver Lake’s illustrations.  Because, really.  THIS.

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I kept Cinderella for as long as I could until I returned it.  And then checked it out again.  Just seeing it on my pile of books made me happy.  But knowing that there was more than just Cinderella available, I needed more.

Luckily during a trip to the library a couple of days ago with my daughter I was able to find not only Cinderella (AGAIN), but also Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast.  The library didn’t have Snow White or Rapunzel (DAMN DAMN), but I was happy with the four I found.

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My daughter and I quickly devoured the books when we got home.  She thinks that she “made” me read them all to her five times, but there was no “making” me do anything.  Nay, I was totally willing to read these as many times as she wanted.  BECAUSE THEY’RE FREAKING AWESOME.  Well.  And they take about ten seconds to read.  Whatever.

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Another thing I love besides the illustrations are the fact that the words they use in the books aren’t silly words like “CAT” or “CHAIR” or boring stuff that smart kids already know.  In these books the authors would rather use words like “FRIENDSHIP” and “WALTZ”.  Just to, you know, make your kid way more intellectual than the other kids at the park.

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I know you’re probably thinking, “Wow, dude, they’re BOARD BOOKS.  Why so insane?”  Well, because when I see good illustration that makes me drool, I want to shout about it to the world.  Which is why there are so many all-caps words in this post.  I’m not sorry.

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They all get their man, of course.

Seriously, guys.  You don’t need to have tots or babies or whatever to get these books.  So get ‘em before I hoard them all…’cause I will.

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Mid-Year Report

Did June come early this year?  Seriously, did we skip a couple of months and decide we needed it to be June?  Because I swear to God I was just celebrating New Year’s Day, like, last week.  Honestly.  June?

Anyway, yes.  It’s June now.  June is a great month because it’s half spring and half summer, and it holds the promise that it’s going to be a great summer.  Remember when we were kids and June not only meant “SUMMER!” but it also meant “WE STILL HAVE TWO MORE MONTHS AFTER THIS!!!”?  Well, now that we’re adults now and have these things called “full-time jobs” there really isn’t such a thing as “summer” anymore, but June is still lovely.  Especially if you like flowers.

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June is bustin’ out all over.

I really have nothing topical to write about today, but since I have the time to write and really do want to write every day, I’ll just update you all on what’s been going on in my world.  You know, now that’s June and all.  Consider it to be a mid-year report on all the Odds & Thens that happen around me.  Also, prepared to be a little bored because my life isn’t exciting at all.  Sorry.

So, remember how I was going to challenge myself to watch at least five new movies a month because last year’s movie-viewing was so lame?  Well, I’m going to be honest with you.  I haven’t seen a new movie since February.  Well, with the exception of one, and that’s Wreck-It Ralph, and that’s only because my daughter thinks it’s awesome.  But apart from that, I haven’t been interested in watching any new movies.  As usual, I find comfort in my favorite go-tos:  Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc.  Also, it tends to be that when I’m home alone and have the time to watch a movie, I also want to clean the house (sorry, I love to clean.  I really do.), and so I usually put in a movie that makes good background noise.  Hence, a movie that I’ve seen a kajillion times.

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Time to clean!

I haven’t really watched any new TV, either.  I finally got all caught up with Glee which, unfortunately, never really won me back at the end of the season.  It’s sad, really, when I think of how much I loved the show two years ago, to now when I actually have to force myself to watch it.  Methinks I probably won’t see much of it next year, but who knows.

Ever since discovering that all the seasons of The Twilight Zone is streaming on Netflix, I’ve been watching about three episodes at a time when I’m able to.  Man, talk about a great show.  The stories, the writing, the way it plays on people’s fears…it’s all so great.  And it’s fun to see old actors in what was probably the very first thing they did.  If for some odd reason you’ve never watched the show before, I suggest doing that right now.  This second.

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That’s not fair!  There was time now!

To be honest, the shows I’ve seen the most these past couple of months are Justin Time and Adventure Time which, I’ll be honest with you, I LOVE.  I’m serious.  I love these shows.  They’re shows my daughter loves, too, which is why it’s so awesome that I like them as well.  Justin Time is about a kid who travels to different parts of the world with his imaginary friends Squidgy and Olive (at least I think they’re imaginary….), and Adventure Time is about…well, I can’t describe.  Seriously, I’m not even gonna try because I’ll end up sounding totally insane.  But it’s so much fun to watch.

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So much awesomeness.

I’m also in the process of mentally preparing for the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, which takes place on November 23, 2013, and also leads up to the departure of my first and favorite Doctor, Matt Smith.  It was just announced this past Saturday that he’ll be leaving the show after the Christmas episode, and while Doctors leaving is the nature of the show (duh, they regenerate…that’s why there have been 11 so far…), watching Matt Smith leave is going to be really difficult to do.  I may have watched the first series reboot with Christopher Eccleston back in 2005, but my heart was never in it.  I decided to give it another chance when Matt Smith came on back in 2010, and I’ve loved every single second of it.  I’ve since gone back and re-watched Eccleston, and also came to love David Tennant as the tenth doctor, but Matt Smith will always be my first and my favorite, and I will be truly sad to see him go.

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Trust me.

That being said, I’m VERY excited to see the 50th anniversary episode, mainly because Smith will be joined by David Tennant and the once companion Rose, and it’ll be interesting to see how their characters will collide.  And obviously I’m curious as to who will be the Twelfth Doctor.  Everyone’s got their speculations, but we’re all going to have to wait a while before that answer comes.

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I hope he’s ginger!

And speaking of mentally preparing, we’re only 44 days away from San Diego Comic-Con which, of course, my hubby and I will be attending this year.  It’ll be our sixth year attending, and it’s going to be just as insane and crazy as it always is.  Last year’s con took so much out of me, physically and mentally (no sleep, Firefly reunion), and I told my husband that we should “take it easy” this year.  Of course I say that every year, and of course we always find ourselves getting into line for Hall H panels at 2:00 in the morning.  And this year I know there are going to be some big panels that I won’t want to miss:  The Hobbit (part 2), Doctor Who, Supernatural, Thor 2, and X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Ugh, just thinking about all of it makes my stomach get all flippy.  But I can’t wait.

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Gaaaahhhh….

In between all that, I’m also learning how to “garden” (in pots out on my balcony), I’m getting my daughter situated for kindergarten next year (no, that’s not stressful at all), and I’m trying to understand why my cats insist on doing my hair while I try to sleep.  Either that or they’re giving me the worst head massage ever.  Seriously, cats are effing weird.

I have a feeling this summer is going to totally fly by, so enjoy the weather and the opportunities while they’re hot.  And don’t forget to have fun!  Because summer – whether you’re in school or have a full-time job – will always be “SUMMER!!!!”

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The Awesome 13 – Summer Reading!

Today is May 31, which in my world is the unofficial start of the Summer Reading Season.  The season lasts exactly three months and ends on August 31…because if you’ve read my past blog posts you should know that September 1 is the unofficial start of the Harry Potter Reading Season! (duh…because that’s when the Hogwarts Express takes off!)

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All aboard!

Since I like to make goals (whether I reach them or not is still debatable), I set a goal of 13 books to read this summer.  Why 13?  Well, it’s my favorite number.  I obviously like to make lists of 13.  And also…three months equal exactly 13 weeks, and I figure I’ll be nice and give myself one week per book.  Of course if I happen to read more than one book per week, that’s totally okay.  I’m still way behind on my Goodreads goal, so anyway to catch up is awesome.  But for the purpose of this post, let’s just leave it at 13 books for the summer so I can have something to shoot for.

I’ve also made a pretty bold decision regarding what books I’m going to read.  Since I have about three shelves of books that I own that haven’t been read, I’ve decided to forego anything I see at the library and just read the Unread Books I Own (UBIO).  Otherwise, if I keep checking out books from the library, those UBIOs are just going to keep sitting there looking totally sad and unwanted, and I just can’t have that (unless it’s Anna Karenina which, unfortunately, will continue to sit there looking totally sad and unwanted until ALL OTHER BOOKS ARE READ).

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Never gonna happen.

So now is the time to pick out what I’ll be reading this summer.  Of course a lot of the time I’m motivated by my mood, but for now I’ll make out a rough draft, if you will, of my reading schedule starting with today.

103459271.  A Million Suns by Beth Revis (May 31-June 8)

2.  Bunheads by Sophie Flack (June 9-June 15)

3.  Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (June 16-June 22)

102618124.  The Space Between by Breanna Yovanoff (June 23-29)

5.  Hourglass by Myra McIntyre (June 30-July 6)

6.  The Eternal Ones by Kristen Miller (July 7-July 13)

93009607.  All You Desire by Kirsten Miller (July 14-July 20)*

8.  These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer (July 21-July 27)

9.  Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan (July 28-August 3)

797703710.  Darkness Falls by Cate Tiernan (August 4-August 10)

11.  Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher (August 11-August 17)

12.  A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce (August 18-August 24)

13.  Ruined by Paula Morris (August 24-August 31)

There’s probably a 99% chance that this list will change, but at least it gives me something to go by.  Also, I will make an exception for FOUR books that I have been looking for if I find them at the library, and those are Lauren DeStefano’s Sever, Lauren Oliver’s Requiem, Kiera Cass’s The Elite, and Cynthia Hand’s Bounded.  I’ve been looking for these books for quite a long time, and if I do see them at the library, you can bet that I’ll snatch them up right away.

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I will find you!

So that’s pretty much my summer in a bookshell (hehe).  Have you made any summer reading goals?

*The week I’ll be at Comic-Con!

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TV Worth Crying About

Guess what, folks?  There’s nothing wrong with crying.  In fact, studies have shown that crying once in a while (just not all the time) is a healthy way to release emotion.  And what better way to release that built-up emotion than in front of a good TV show?

A couple of years ago I wrote about certain moments in TV that have made me cry, but I barely touched upon what is out there.  So I’m back to share with you some more moments that will probably make you shed some tears as well, given you’re not a some kind of cyborg who feels NOTHING.*

*You know who you are.

The TV show:  Doctor Who

The Episode:  “Vincent and the Doctor”

The Moment:  The Curator’s Speech

Of all the weepy moments that Doctor Who has thrown at my face, this one probably produces the most tears.  In this episode The Doctor and Amy have gone back in time to the age of Vincent Van Gogh who, at that time, was just a struggling artist who no one knew or appreciated.  Knowing that Van Gogh later ends up committing suicide, Amy thinks that they can change Vincent’s fate by take him back to the future to visit an art institute where his works are prominent.

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While there, Van Gogh overhears the curator (played beautifully by Bill Nighy) talk about Van Gogh’s impact on the world, which brings tears to Van Gogh’s eyes (and mine…like now…as I’m typing this).  In that moment you think – as does Amy – that because now that he knows this, he won’t end up killing himself.  He knows his worth, and that’s worth saving.  But despite that, nothing changes.  Van Gogh still ends up committing suicide, and we’re all left in a pool full of tears.

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“He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty.  Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world…no one had ever done it before.  Perhaps no one ever will again.  To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world’s greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.”

The TV show:  Supernatural

The Episode:  “All Hell Breaks Loose Part 1”

The Moment:  Sam Dies (For the first time)

News flash, everyone.  We don’t watch Supernatural for the demons and ghosts.  We don’t even watch it for the music which, admittedly, is awesome.  No, we watch Supernatural because of Sam and Dean.  It’s their relationship that has made us laugh and – duh – cry, and it’s their relationship that keeps us going.  And because this show is only second to Gilmore Girls in terms of amount of tears shed, I had plenty of sad moments to choose from.  In this particular one, part one of the two-part season two finale, brothers Sam and Dean are in what is rumored to be the most haunted place in America.  A bunch of stuff happens – a bunch of stuff that will take way too long to explain (just watch the episode, people), but in the end Sam ends up dying.  Of course I use that term loosely, because if you know that this show has been on for 8 seasons so far you know that Sam doesn’t die, but still…this is the first time he dies and it’s one of the hardest to take.  Mainly because of Dean.

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Dean isn’t what you’d call “emotional”, but he sure nails it during this scene.  He’s holding his dying brother in his arms and basically telling him everything he’s been meaning to say ever since they were kids.  It’s touching and depressing and totally real, which is why this show makes me frickin’ cry all the damn time.

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“You know when we were little, you couldn’t have been more than five, you just started asking questions. ‘How come we didn’t have Mom?’; ‘Why do we always have to move around?’; ‘Where’d Dad go?’. He’d take off for days at a time.  “I remember I begged you to stop asking. Man, you don’t want to know. I just wanted you to be a kid, for just a little while longer. I was trying to protect you. Keep you safe. Dad didn’t even have to tell me. It was just always my responsibility, you know? It’s like I had one job. That one job. And I screwed it up. “I blew it. And for that I’m sorry. I guess that’s what I do, I let down the people I love. I let Dad down…and now I guess I’m just supposed to let you down too.  How can I? How am I supposed to live with that? What am I supposed to do? Sammy…what am I supposed to do?  WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?”

 The TV show:  Sherlock

The Episode:  “The Reichenbach Fall”

The Moment:  Sherlock’s “Death”

As with Supernatural, the main focus of this show is the relationship between Sherlock and John Watson.  We love these two guys together, and we’d hate for anything to break up what they have.  Which is why the end of The Reichenbach Fall is so hard to watch.  Just after we’ve eaten up every word the wonderfully evil Moriarty has said to Sherlock on the rooftop of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, ending with Moriarty’s shot to his own head, our thoughts turn to Sherlock and what he’s going to do next.  Deep down we know, and deep down it makes us want to throw up.  He calls Watson, the only person in his life he probably truly loves, and says his goodbye.  Watson says no, we’re saying no, no no no no no no no no no.  And then Sherlock looks down.

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The next thing we know Sherlock’s bloody body is on the ground and John is kneeling next to him and we’re balling our eyes out.  By the time we see John at Sherlock’s grave telling him “don’t be dead” we’re such a mess that we almost miss the fact that SHERLOCK IS STANDING RIGHT THERE BEHIND THAT TREE.

WTF??????

To be continued whenever the hell Series Three is going to bloody air.

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“Um. Hm. You… you told me once that you weren’t a hero. Um. There were times that I didn’t even think you were human. But let me tell you this, you were the best man and the most human…. human being that I have ever known, and no one will ever convince me that you told me a lie. And so… there. I was so alone and I owe you so much. Please, there’s just one more thing. One more thing. One more miracle, Sherlock, for me. Don’t be… dead. Would you do that, just for me? Just stop it, stop this.”

The TV show:  The Walking Dead

The Episode:  “Pretty Much Dead Already”

The Moment:  Sophia Is Found

The first half of season Two of The Walking Dead was pretty much devoted to finding Sophia, the little girl in their small group of survivors that had disappeared in the first episode of that season.  And like the survivors, we viewers sort of lost faith that Sophia was ever going to be found because, well, you know, because of the WALKERS and all.  And then one afternoon on the farm where they had found refuge they discover that the barn is filled with hundreds of walkers.  Scary, right?  And Shane, who is totally insane to begin with, goes nutso and shoots the lock off the barn door because WALKERS AREN’T PEOPLE and he needs to get rid of them all.

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But what do you suppose is the first thing that comes out of that unlocked barn door?  That’s right.  Little Sophia.  But it’s not Sophia anymore.  She’s a walker now.  We should have expected that, but honestly we didn’t AT ALL, and we’re like, “Oh, crap, they’ve been looking for her for months and it’s SOPHIA and you just can’t kill her…”  But we all might as well have shut up then because with barely even a thought Rick pulls out his gun and shoots Sophia in the head.

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This scene – as fast as it actually happened – was so hard to watch, and so hard to listen to because all you really hear is the sobbing of Sophia’s mom when everything else is silent.  And then it’s just pure shock.  It’s…just…ugh.  Tears.

The TV show:  Gilmore Girls

The Episode:  They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They

The Moment:  Rory and Dean Break Up

I wrote about a sad Gilmore moment before, but since it’s my favorite show of ALL TIME, I have to write about it again.  This time we go back to when Rory and Dean were my favorite couple in the world and I never wanted them to break up.  Seriously!  I thought they were ADORBS.  And then JESS had to go f*** everything up.  Jess with his crappy attitude and his books with the notes written in the margins.  UGH.

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Rory and Lorelei are participating in the annual Stars Hallow Dance Marathon when all of this nonsense occurs.  Rory has tried not to fall for Jess, but clearly she’s failed and she can’t deny it anymore.  Dean ultimately knows this but doesn’t want to admit it, either, until it’s obvious he just can’t be second best anymore.  So Dean snaps and announces to the whole dance crowd that Rory and Jess like each other and that he’s D-O-N-E with being Rory’s boyfriend.  And that’s when I start shedding the tears.  Rory starts crying and runs to her mom, and of course whenever I see Rory cry, I have to cry.  I know, I shouldn’t get attached to these characters, but I’m attached to Rory Gilmore and that girl can make me cry like no other, like she’s my own daughter.  I’m kind of a mess as the episode ends and the credits roll.  Damn you, Jess.

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“Everyone can see, Rory! Everyone. And I’m tired, but I’m over it, so go ahead, go. Be together. There’s nothing standing in your way now, ’cause I’m out.”

The TV show:  Avatar: The Last Airbender

The Episode:  “Tales of Bai Sing Se”

The Moment:  The Tale of Iroh

Oh, you didn’t think animated shows (or cartoons to some of you people) could make you cry?  Well, you’d be wrong.  Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the greatest shows, like, EVER, and while it was fun and adventurous and funny, it was also really heart-wrenching at times.  In Book Two (season two) there is an episode of mini-episodes, or vignettes.  And one of those vignettes is called “The Tale of Iroh”, which is about everyone’s favorite Uncle.  It’s all nice and sweet until the final scene when Iroh builds a shrine for his son’s tenth birthday – Lu Ten, his only son who died in the Siege of Ba Sing Se.  Iroh confesses that he wished he could have helped Lu Ten but that his death helped him become a better person. Iroh then starts singing a horribly depressing song called “Leaves from the Vine”, but he can’t finish it because he starts crying.

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Um, yes.  It’s totally sad.  Iroh is such an awesome character, and to see him at his weakest moment is absolutely heart-breaking.  Oh, and the kicker?  The tale was dedicated to Mako, the Japanese actor who provided the voice of Iroh, who had passed away two months prior to the episode airing.  Snot and tears all over my face.

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“Leaves from the vine/ falling so slow/ like fragile, tiny shells/ drifting in the foam/ Little soldier boy/ come marching home/ Brave soldier boy/ comes marching home.”

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These Are a Few of My Favorite Teas

It’s probably safe to say that I love all teas.  Tea is tea, and I love everything about it.  I do, however, have some I can consider to be favorites of mine, the ones I tend to go back to after venturing out and trying others.  So if you’re new to tea, or want to try something different, then here’s the list for you!  And here’s an added plus – they’re not expensive!  Well, except for one, which is also really hard to find in it’s pure form unless you happen to be in China.  But all the others can be found at your local grocery stores.

Tazo Rest (Herbal)

51Zl1zMlE7LThe great thing about herbal teas is that you can drink them at night without worrying about the caffeine keeping you up for hours (something you start thinking about the older you get, trust me).  I first noticed this tea at Whole Foods because the packaging was pink due to the rose petals in it.  But also contains Lemon balm, honeybush, orange peel, lemon myrtle, lemon verbena, licorice root, lavender, valerian root, natural flavors, ginger, orange essence oil and Chinese geranium oil.  And all those work together to help people rest at the end of a busy day and fall asleep easier.  Oh, and it tastes super good, too.

Kirkland Green Tea Matcha Blend (Green)

itoen2I’ve tried many many green teas in my day, and while I usually love them all, one of my favorites is the kind you can buy in bulk at Costco, which is the last place I expected to find a good green tea.  But the flavor is really good – not too bitter, but not too weak, either – and it comes with the matcha powder (which is typical of Japanese green teas but not usually found in green teas sold at stores) that enhances the flavor a bit.  The bags are made of nylon which allows easy flow even if they’re not as environmentally friendly as other tea bags.  But still a pretty excellent choice of green tea.

Bigalow Earl Grey (Black)

Bigelow-Tea-Earl-Grey-Tea-072310001237All you have to do is tear open the package and inhale to know that this is a really good tea.  I usually drink my black tea iced, but lately I’ve been making it hot because of the Bigalow sample pack I got from my mother-in-law.  The Earl Grey tea is super fragrant due to the bergamot in it, and that carries over to the taste once water is added.  It tastes really good, and you can’t help but feel a little dignified as you sip a tea that the royals tend to sip during their afternoon tea.

Chinese Pu-erh Tea (Dark Tea)

Chinese_Raw_Puerh_Tea_CakeOkay, so this is the hard-to-get tea that I mentioned before.  You can probably find it in specialty stores, but the kind I have actually came from China.  My MIL went to China a few months ago and came back raving about this miracle tea that’s supposed to be the healthiest tea out there, and also one of the most expensive.  It comes packed into a hockey puck-like shape, and while the size of it varies, the ones I got are about an inch across.  You treat it like loose tea by putting it into an infuser in a pot and then pouring hot water over it to let it steep.  The disc comes apart and becomes a loose tea, slowly infusing into the water and becoming tea.  The taste was really weird at first because it’s not a black or green or herbal tea – it doesn’t taste like any of those.  It’s considered to a be a dark tea, and at first it tasted a little like grass and hay.  But I quickly got used to it, and now I love it.  For all the health benefits, read here.

Celestial Seasonings Honey Vanilla Chamomile (Herbal)

58573Chamomile has long been known to help with calming down and sleep, and I’ve always enjoyed the comforting, floral, cake-battery taste of it.  But when you add in bits of honey and vanilla, the taste just takes off.  It’s the perfect thing to have at the end of your day when you’re curled up in bed with a book, especially during the cold winter months or a chilly rainy day.

Tazo Zen (Green)

s0716908_sc7I usually drink just straight green tea, but sometimes I want a little extra flavor in it just to change things up.  There are a lot of different flavored green teas on the market (Lipton, for example, has a ton, including its “Superfruit” green teas), but the one I tend to enjoy the most is Tazo’s Zen Green Tea.  Besides your local grocery store, this is one of the two green teas that Starbucks serves at their shops (China Green Tips being the other, which I also enjoy).  Zen contains lemon grass, lemon verbena, and spearmint (so it’s not so lemony), and is just the right combo to boost your energy while still making you feel relaxed, if that makes sense.  And unlike some other minty teas, it doesn’t leave you feeling thirsty.

If you’re a fan of tea like me, I highly recommend branching out and trying new teas.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money doing it, and you may discover a new tea that might even become your new favorite.

Does anyone else have any good tea suggestions?

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My Awesome Library Book Sale Haul

The one thing I love about the Hennepin County Library System is that you’re guaranteed a book sale at a different library every weekend.  And my favorite sale is the one at the Eden Prairie library, which happens a few times a year.  They have a huge selection of books, and I’ve had the best luck there so far.  So when I saw that they were having a sale this past weekend, I contacted my library sale friend and told her we were going.

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The usual schedule for a library sale is to open on a Thursday or Friday, and then end on Sunday with a bag sale where you pay $5 to fill your bag.  I usually never go to the bag sales because by Sunday most of the good stuff is gone and I can’t really find anything to fill my bag with.  So when my friend and I went last Saturday, I was just expected to pay the $1.00 per book like I usually do, hoping to find a few books that I want to add to my collection.  But that wasn’t going to be the case…

When we got there at 11:30, we were informed that the library was shutting down for a half hour and reopening at noon to begin a bag sale, limit two bags per person.  A bag sale!  On a Saturday!  I was thrilled!  And pretty confident that I’d be able to fill up one bag.

Well, I didn’t fill up one bag.  I filled up two bags.  These things were PACKED.  Finally after being in there for almost an hour the lady running the sale told me that I had to LEAVE because apparently other people needed to have a chance at getting in and filling their bags.  My friend and I giggled at each other, thinking “Oh my God, we just got kicked out of a library sale for LOVING BOOKS TOO MUCH”, but it was cool.  I was done with my shopping anyway, since nothing else would fit in my bags.

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So, obviously I scored.  I grabbed some books that I’ve already read but wouldn’t mind owning, some that I’ve heard of and have wanted to read, and some that I’ve never heard of that I’d like to read someday.  If it fit, it was mine.  Here’s the run-down of my book haul:

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The group of books that I’ve already read but liked so much that they’re worth owning.

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The books I’ve heard of that I’ve wanted to read / own.

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The books I’ve never heard of but sound interesting.

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And one for my daughter.  Because Eloise is awesome.

I don’t know if I’ll get that lucky at a book sale again, but there’s definitely nothing wrong with trying!  Seriously, if you want to beef up your book collection without spending tons of money, find out when your local library is having a book sale.  It supports both your library AND your crazy habit.  Win-win!!

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This May Make Me Sound Totally Shallow…

…But I just spent half my day trying to figure out if my new Burberry handbag is authentic or fake.

God, I know.  It sounds horrible.  Because why does it matter?  It doesn’t.  It totally doesn’t matter.  Yet I’ve become rather obsessed with finding out the truth.  Which I can handle.

Let’s back up a bit.  I’m a person who loves purses.  Loves to the point of lurves.  Any shape, size, color, texture, whatever.  I love purses.  The more I have, the better.  But I’m definitely not a designer purse kind of purse.  I’ve never felt a desire to shell out $500 for a purse that I’ll probably get bored with after a month and want to change out.  And as I see it, if I want a lot of purses, I have to put a price cap on them.  I tend not to spend over $30 for a purse.  And you’d be surprised at how much you can find for under $30 in the purse department.

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$10 from Target

I find most of my purses at Target, TJ Maxx/Marshalls (they’re the same place, right?) and thrift stores.  And none of them are designer brand.  Now, when I say “designer brand”, I’m referring to Coach, Louis Vuitton, Kate Spade, Prada, etc.  The ones that start at $300 and up.  In the past I have purchased a Fossil bag for around $60 (with birthday money) and a LeSportsac bag for $80 from Hawaii, which I bought as my only souvenir from the trip.  But according to my mother-in-law, Fossil and LeSportsac aren’t really “designer brands” per se.  So whatever.

Anyway, that’s what you need to know about me and my purse-buying habits.  I’m pretty thrifty.  One of my favorite bags I own is a $12 Franco Sarto bag I got from Arc’s Value Thrift Store because the colors are awesome and it holds everything.  And the most expensive bag I own is a black leather purse from Ann Taylor which retailed at $228 but I got for $35 because I worked there and totally used my discount.

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$12 Franco Sarto from thrift store

Enter yesterday.  I spent part of my Mother’s Day with my mom at a huge thrift store seeing if we could find any aweome deals, mostly on clothes for my daughter.  Side note:  If you have something against thrift stores, you’re just silly.  You can find some really great things for super cheap and not feel an ounce of guilt over them.  So there.

So yesterday I was looking at the purses (of course) and I spotted one that clearly looked like a Burberry handbag.  If you’re not familiar with Burberry, go here.  They’re very classy and very British, and if I had millions of dollars I’d probably buy all my bags and coats and scarves from them.

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Anyway, I grabbed the bag and noticed right away how thick and sturdy the bag was.  Not in a cardboardy way, but in a “wow, this feels like really good quality and really well-made” sort of way.  I checked the hardware and tags on the purse (not that I knew anything about the hardware, but whatever) and thought that whoever made this bag did a pretty damn good job of doing it.

The bag was listed for $40 which, by thrift store standards, is a pretty high price tag.  But name aside, I really like the bag.  It was the perfect size (meaning it held my iPad, current 500-page book I’m reading, wallet, phone, iPod, and tube of lotion), it was in really good condition, and it…um…kind of made me feel like Emma Watson (because she does the ads for Burberry.  Shut up.)

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Now, if my mom hadn’t offered to buy it for me, I probably would have passed.  There were other things I should get instead of a $40 knock-off purse.  But since she offered, I couldn’t say no.  I would have thought about that damn purse all night long.  So five seconds later, it was mine.

Leaving the store, I was pretty confident that the purse was a knock-off.  Because why would a $600 purse be in a thrift store to begin with?  And I really didn’t care.  I have a knock-off Kate Spade purse that my mom got at a purse party that’s totally adorable, and I couldn’t care less that I can take the black “Kate Spade” tag off the front because it’s just glued on.

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Half-peeled Kate Spade

But the more I started to study my new “Burberry” purse, the more I got to thinking.  What if this really was an authentic Burberry bag?  What if someone really didn’t want it and decide to just give it away, not caring that they were giving away hundreds of dollars?  What if I totally scored the DEAL OF THE CENTURY???

So I started doing research on the interwebs.  I Googled such things as “How do I know if my Burberry bag is real?” and “How to spot a fake Burberry bag”.  And let me tell you, I sort of feel like an expert at the Burberry brand right now.

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According to the site on Ebay that educates the buyer on real vs. fake, Burberry bags will have even lines that meet up exactly (or pretty damn close to exactly) at the seams.  The hardware will look the same throughout the whole bag, interior and exterior.  The interior label will say “BURBERRY LONDON” on the front and most – MOST – will say “MADE IN ITALY” on the bag.

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Now, my label says “BURBERRY LONDON” on the front, but nothing on the back.  It doesn’t say made in China like many fakes do, it’s just blank.  Now, is it blank because it’s a fake, or does it fall into the “most” category of the authentic ones?

Then there’s the zipper situation, which is one thing I’m worried about.  And, okay, I’m not really worried.  Seriously.  I don’t care if this is authentic or not.  I just kind of want to know for my own knowledge.  And DEAL OF THE CENTURY bragging rights.  But on the authentic Burberry bags they use a particular kind of zipper that will have the zipper brand on the back.  The zipper pulls will say “BURBERRY” on both sides, which mine do, but the actual back of the zipper thing is blank.  Does that mean it’s a fake?

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Also, the interior lining.  Authentic Burberry bags have three different types of lining:  black canvas, beige pigskin suede, or Burberry signature fabric, which is a jacquard type fabric with “BURBERRY” woven through out.  Well, I don’t have that, and I don’t have beige pigskin suede.  I have black lining with a Burberry pattern on it.  Does that mean it’s a fake?

And do the seams line up?  While not perfect, they’re not horrible either.  So that one could go either way, I guess.

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The stitching overall seems really good, except for maybe at the end of the exterior zipper.  I guess if I had to find a flaw, it would be this.  The stitching here could probably be a little better.  But what do I know?

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So in this research that I’ve done, I haven’t really figured out if the bag is real or fake.  I guess you could say that I’m about 99% sure that it’s a fake.  I’ll leave the remaining 1% for “well, you never know!”  And even if it’s fake, like I said, I don’t care.  I love the purse.  It’s the perfect purse for me, and whether or not that “BURBERRY” is real or not makes no difference to me.

Though it would be the DEAL OF THE CENTURY, am I right?

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Books For Every Mood – When “The Walking Dead” Is On Hiatus

So The Walking Dead is done for a while and you need something to fulfill your zombie needs?  Well, I’ve got the book for you.  Now, there are many types of zombie books out there to read these days, some good, some kind of meh.  But last week I stumbled upon one that totally won me over and made me realize that a book about zombies can be more than just a book about zombies.

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I had seen Jonathan Mayberry’s Rot and Ruin at the library many times before last week, but to be honest I never picked it up to even see what it was about.  Why?  Well, this is where I make myself sound like a total idiot:  I saw that it was written by a male author and decided I didn’t want to read it.  I KNOW, I KNOW…stupid.  But for some reason – and maybe it’s just the few books by male authors that I’ve read – I’ve never been blown away by a book written by a male.  I’m not saying they weren’t good, they just didn’t give me the feels the way a lot of books written by females have.  Up until now, the best book I had read from a male point of view (Beautiful Creatures) was written by a female (actually two – Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl).

So what made me change my mind?  Well, I was looking at books at Barnes and Noble and saw it faced out in their “Best-selling Teen Series” section.  And you know how books sometimes look so much more appealing in bookstores than in libraries?  Well, that’s what happened here.  I looked at the cover, then read the back, realized it was about zombies, became a little skeptical, but took note and decided to pursue this series a little further.

The first book in the series, Rot and Ruin, was at the library later that week.  I checked it out, but was still a little rot-and-ruinskeptical.  Not only was it written by a male author, but the bar was pretty high when it came to zombie books.  Before last week, the best zombie book I had read was Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth which, if you hadn’t read it, I also recommend.  But guess what:  this young adult written by a male author I had never even heard of until now knocked Hands and Teeth out of first place.

You guys, Rot and Ruin is AWESOME.  Seriously.  I really can’t think of another word to best describe it.  There are very few books that make me think “I HAVE TO TELL PEOPLE ABOUT THIS BOOK” while I’m actually reading it.  But that’s what I kept thinking.  I wanted everyone who reads to run and pick up this book.  It was that good.

rot_ruin.jpgThe premise is one we’ve heard before:  One night (they call it First Night) the dead suddenly started to come back and, in typical zombie fashion, go after the living.  Anyone who dies, whether they’ve been bitten or simply dies in their sleep, comes back.  But all of that is just so much more in this book.  Mayberry has created characters that you find yourself caring about after just a couple of chapters.  These people are just so real and their situation is so crappy that you’re rooting for them to figure something out to make things better.  Chapter after chapter, I found myself getting more and more hooked, still amazed that a zombie story could have this much heart and soul within it.

It has lots of action, a little bit of romance (but not the overdone, annoying kind), humor, family issues, and, yes, heartbreaking moments.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I’m just going to warn you about the Epilogue.  Tears were shed, my friends.

I was so excited to start the second book, Dust and Decay, which I picked up while I was still reading Rot and Ruin9917998 A lot of times if I check out the first couple books of a series at the same time I’m not in the mood to read the second one right away.  But I think I was still setting down Rot and Ruin when I grabbed Dust and Decay from my bedside table.  And it wasn’t because the first book ends on a cliffhanger, because it doesn’t, at least not one that makes you go, “WHAT??”  No, I just wanted to read the second one as soon as possible because I just loved the characters and story that much.  I’m halfway through Dust and Decay and, no surprise here, I’m loving it.

Honestly the best part of this book is that it’s a rich story.  I’ve read some books like this that have lots of action but lose so much of the story.  Too much dialogue, not enough meat.  But that’s not the case with this book. It’s not just a coming-of-age story with zombies.  It’s just something that you have to read and experience for yourself.

And you probably have enough time before The Walking Dead comes back on to squeeze in the whole Rot and Ruin series!  So go read it.  Like, now.  Before the zombies come and get you.

Here’s a list of the whole series if you want to jump right in:

  • Rot and Ruin (#1)
  • Dust and Decay (#2)
  • Flesh and Bone (#3)
  • Fire and Ash (#4, to be published this year)

There are also three novellas I have yet to see at any library, but here ya go:

  • First Night Memories (#0.5)
  • In the Land of the Dead (#1.5)
  • Dead and Gone (#2.5)

“There are moments that define a person’s whole life. Moments in which everything they are and everything they may possibly become balance on a single decision. Life and death, hope and despair, victory and failure teeter precariously on the decision made at that moment. These are moments ungoverned by happenstance, untroubled by luck. These are the moments in which a person earns the right to live, or not.”

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My Thoughts About the Weather

As I type this, thousands of Minnesotans are complaining about the weather.  I guess they have every right to do so – I mean, it’s May 3 and it’s SNOWING outside.  Granted it’s a wet snow that is melting as soon as it hits the ground, but it’s still snow, and it’s still May.  It shouldn’t be snowing in May.

The sun should be shining and the flowers should be blooming, rain should be falling and thunder should be booming.

I just totally wrote that poem myself.  Jealous?  Of course you are.

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Anyway, I should let you know right now that I’m a total weather geek.  Seriously, I GEEK OUT when it comes to anything involving atmospheric activity.  When I was a kid and everyone else wanted to be ballerinas and veterinarians, I wanted to study the weather.  I used to read books about tornados and hurricanes and snow and thought they were the most interesting books ever.  I loved winter because it because it brought us snow – sometimes lots of it – and I loved summer because it brought us thunderstorms – sometimes crazy ones.  And of course I thought fall and spring were perfect because they were both gorgeous and amazing in their own ways.

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Then after college I moved to California and all that disappeared.  When I told people that I had moved to CA, one of the first things they would always say was “Oh, you must have great weather all the time.”  And you know what?  It’s true.  I had great weather pretty much all of the time.  But you know what “all the time” also means?  It means it becomes BORING.

Now, some people may disagree with me.  I know people who are happy with 300 days of sunshine a year and get upset when it’s cloudy the other 65 days.  And that’s fine.  But for me, having good weather all the time gets so old and boring that I tend to develop the opposite of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and get depressing when there’s no change in the weather.

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Oh sure, at first it was great having 80 degree days in December and January.  It was nice to know that I could plan outdoor activities without having to worry about whether it would rain or not.  But believe me, that got old really quickly.  Suddenly the holidays felt weird because there wasn’t any snow on the ground and the coldest it got was 50 degrees.  I started to forget what it was like when the leaves start to change and when the grass grows back.  I found myself longing for a loup clap of thunder on a warm summer night, or hell, even a snow day or two.

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I MISSED WHAT REAL WEATHER WAS.

What I love so much about the change in seasons is that it always gives you something to look forward to.  After those long winter months, just when you’ve “had it up to here with winter”, spring arrives.  And after you can barely stand one more hot summer day, fall suddenly arrives and cools everything down.  It really is a constant cycle that always keeps you on your toes, always keeps you looking ahead.

You can’t do that in California, at least not really.  What they call “winter” is still mostly sunny days (depending on where you live), sprinkled every now and then with “STORM WATCH”, which happens when a couple of raindrops fall from the sky.  Seriously, the most excited I ever got about “weather” is when I lived near the ocean and the heavy fog would roll in.  That was pretty much as close to interesting atmospheric phenomena that I got.  And despite what people tell you, there’s no such thing as “earthquake weather”.  And wildfires, while triggered by hot Santa Winds, don’t count as weather, at least not in my book.  Wildfires are FIRE and they suck.

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Luckily I after eleven long years I was reunited with the good ol’ Midwest weather system, which meant I got to enjoy stifling hot, humid summer nights and cool, crisp autumn afternoons and cold, snowy winter days…and hopefully soon I’ll see spring once again pop up underneath all this weird May snow we’re getting today.

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So even though the weather does kind of suck right now, you won’t hear me complaining too much.  Do I want to slip on a t-shirt and shorts and go for a walk outside while I sip on cold iced tea?  Of course I do.  And I know I will be able to do that soon.  But I’d rather wait for it to come at the right time rather than do it on Christmas morning with the sun beating down on me.

So bring it on, Mother Nature.  You know I don’t mind.  Just, you know, get it out of the way quickly before it’s suddenly November again and we all missed out on summer completely.

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Books For Every Mood – When You Want to Be Freaked Out

Maybe I just haven’t been reading enough Stephen King novels, but not too many books have actually scared me to the point of where I think, “Oh my God, I actually feel frightened as I read this.”  Movies scare easily because they’re so visual, and it’s the things that we see that scare us.  But to read something that makes us feel scared is a difficult feat for the author to achieve.

There is one book, however, that totally has the ‘creep factor’ going for it, and that’s Lois Duncan’s Down a Dark Hall.  In the 1970s and 80s, Lois Duncan pretty much ruled YA horror and suspense lit, at least until Christopher Pike and RL Stine came along.  She wrote freaky books like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Killing Mr. Griffin, Don’t Look Behind You, and Summer of Fear, but Down a Dark Hall takes the crown as the creepiest, probably because it involves a boarding school, which we all know are creepy enough to begin with.

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Written in 1972, Down a Dark Hall is about a girl (Kit) who is forced to attend Madame Duret’s Blackwood Boarding School, and from the second she arrives at the school she knows there’s something weird about it.  Um, especially because the rooms only lock from the outside.  Creepy?  Hell yes.

Another creepy thing about the place?  Well, for one thing, there are only three other students, none of which had any sort of talent for anything before coming to Blackwood, but who suddenly excel at painting, math, and poetry since starting the school.  Even Kit suddenly discovers that she’s really good at playing the piano.  Where do these weird talents come from?  Who the hell knows!!

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And probably the creepiest thing of all is that Kit eventually learns that all the former students of Blackwood ended up dying.  So, yeah…her prospects don’t look too good, do they?

Well, I’m not going to give you any answers to any of these questions – you’re just going to have to get totally freaked out yourself when you read this book!  And you’d better read it quick – I read somewhere that Stephenie Meyer is developing a movie out of it…so…let’s not even go there.  Read the book!!

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“The moment Kit lays eyes on the great, brooding mansion looming about her, she can feel it – a strange, penetrating chill that later she would describe in a single word:  evil.”

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The First Book I Ever Read

Even though the Betsy-Tacy books are some of my very favorites, Betsy Ray wasn’t the first literary “Betsy” I came across in my readings.  When I was in second grade and began reading chapter books, the first ones I remember reading was a series a books by author Carolyn Haywood known simply as the “Betsy” and “Eddie” books.

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The one that stands out in my mind as “the first chapter book I ever read” was Snowbound with Betsy, written in 1962, and is just one of the many books Haywood wrote about a little girl named Betsy and the things she does with her friends.  The first book in the series is called B is For Betsy, which was written way back in 1939, which I actually found a few years ago at a library book sale (with a slightly disappointing revised cover, but whatever).

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I absolutely loved the Betsy books when I was in grade school, devouring them up whenever I could from my school and public library.  My favorites were always ones that took place in the winter:  Snowbound with Betsy, Betsy’s Winterhouse, Merry Christmas from Betsy, and Betsy’s Little Star.  And then when I wasn’t missing winter (I seriously loved winter when I was a kid), I would enjoy reading Betsy’s Busy Summer, and I vividly remember checking it out from the public library every single time it was available.

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Carolyn Haywood also wrote books about Betsy’s friend Eddie, and even though I read a handful of those as well, I never liked them as much and would usually only read them when the Betsy books were checked out.  I guess I considered them to be “boy” books, even though I know we shouldn’t label books as genders, but I was seven years old, so…that’s my excuse.

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I have no idea what other kinds of kids’ books were out in the mid-80s (I wouldn’t discover The Baby-sitter’s Club for another two years), but I’m so thankful that these books were available at the library.  I truly believe it was these books that began my lifetime love of reading.  If I hadn’t found books that I loved right at the beginning of my reading adventures, then who knows if I would have grown to love reading as much as I did.  And if I hadn’t decided that I loved reading, I may not have ever discovered books like The Baby-sitter’s Club or the Little House books or VC Andrews or – gasp – Harry Potter.

So even though Carolyn Haywood left us over twenty years ago, her legacy stays with me because she shaped the reader I am today.  So a huge thank you thank you thank you thank you to her, and I hope my daughter finds books like the “Betsy” books that help her develop into a reader as well.

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And now I ask you:  What was the book that turned you into a reader?

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Books For Every Mood – When You Want to Escape

Sometimes when the reality of life is just too much to handle, we search for a means of escape.  And what better way to escape than by opening a book?  Books can be pure escapism when they need to be, whether we have the travel bug and want to read about traveling to real places, or whether we want to really escape into worlds that don’t even exist in this world.

Since I want to include the real and the non-real, I have two books that provide that escapism you may be looking for.  Obviously there are many books out there that you can read, but these two are a couple of my favorites.

Betsy and the Great World – Maud Hart Lovelace

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I’ve talked before about how much I love the Betsy-Tacy books, especially the later ones when Betsy is in high school and older.  The penultimate book in the series, Betsy and the Great World, takes place in 1914 after Betsy finishes high school and decides to travel the “great world” before setting off to college and marriage and all that fun stuff.  It’s what every student wants to do before entering the real world, and Betsy does it with her usual flair and fancy, making this a totally fun book to escape into.

Among the many places in Europe to which Betsy travels is Sonneberg, Germany; regions of Bavaria in Germany; Lucerne, Switzerland; Paris, France; and extended stays in Venice and London.  Her stay in London was quite exciting, given it was the outbreak of World War I, and Betsy didn’t even know if she was going to make it back home to Minnesota.  But of course Betsy being Betsy, she was positive and joyful about the whole thing.  Because she’s awesome.

Topping the trip around the Great World with boat excursions to The Azores, Madeira, Gibraltar, Algiers, and Genoa, Betsy’s adventures in travel are a great way of going on a little trip yourself, while at the same time feeling kinda jealous because you didn’t get to do the same thing when you were 21 years old.

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“Guided tours are all right for some people, but not for a writer.  I ought to stay in just two or three places.  Really live in them, learn them.  Then if I want to mention London, for example, in a story, I would know the names of the streets and how they run and the buildings and the atmosphere of the city.  I could move a character around in London just as though it were Minneapolis.  I don’t want to hurry from place to place with a party the way Julia did.”

The Neverending Story – Michael Ende

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I had seen this movie years and years ago (and had nightmares because of it), but it wasn’t until I was in my 20s when I finally read the book…and realized that the book was totally better!  Don’t get me wrong, the movie is pretty awesome, but it only covers the first half of what happens in the book.  So much more adventure is had in the book, making it a perfect read for those times you want to get away from reality (and you don’t want to trudge through 1000+ pages of Lord of the Rings again).

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, the story starts off in reality with a boy – Bastian – who lives a pretty crappy life…at least until he discovers a book called The Neverending Story which magically sucks him right into the book.  Like, literally.  Like Tom-Riddle’s-Diary-style.  Bastian actually becomes part of the story.

What follows is one hell of an adventure story that includes lots of travel.  Through the eyes of our new hero Bastian (and the hottie Atreyu), we get to visit places like Fantastica, Amarganth, Spook City, The Desert of Colors, The Fog Sea, The Grassy Ocean, The Silver Mountains, the Swamps of Sadness, The Howling Forest, and many other crazy places that can only exist in our imaginations.  The Neverending Story is a beautifully written book that many people overlook, but I promise you it’ll be a great adventure.

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‘I wonder,’ he said to himself, ‘what’s in a book while it’s closed. Oh, I know it’s full of letters printed on paper, but all the same, something must be happening, because as soon as I open it, there’s a whole story with people I don’t know yet and all kinds of adventures, deeds and battles. And sometimes there are storms at sea, or it takes you to strange cities and countries. All those things are somehow shut in a book. Of course you have to read it to find out. But it’s already there, that’s the funny thing. I just wish I knew how it could be.’

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Books for Every Mood – For a Good Cry

I’m not really one to read sad books.  Like, I’m not going to pick up a book version of Old Yeller or E.T. and decide that I really want to read it.  I typically try to avoid all sad books whenever I can, the same way I try to avoid sad movies.

However, sometimes the sadness is impossible to escape.  There are some extremely depressing parts in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but I’m certainly not going to avoid those books.  And sometimes the sadness just kind of creeps up without even telling me.  Which is how I came to today’s book choice for those times you just need to cry.

Before I Fall – Lauren Oliver

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Before I Fall is a story about a girl (Samantha) who dies in a car accident…only to wake up and relive the same day over and over again.  Seriously, it’s like the worst case of Groundhog Day ever.  At the beginning of the book, Samantha is living a pretty good life:  she’s pretty, popular, and has lots of friends.  But then when she “dies”, she realizes that she has the chance to change things.  At first she tries to change the fact that she gets into the car accident in the first place.  But that doesn’t happen.  And when she gets the chance to live the same day again…and again…she starts noticing and changing things about her life in general.

Each day she wakes thinking that she’ll be awake for good, that whatever is happening is just a dream, and that she’ll be able to wake up and go to school with her friends, thinking that now she can live the life she truly wants to live now that she’s seen the error of her ways.  And we as readers keep hoping for her chance to live.  She’s made things right.  She deserves the right to live, right?

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Well, I’m not going to spoil things for you, so you’ll have to read it to find out what happens in the end.  But seriously, this book had me crying.  Real tears, people.  My heart hurt so much for her every time she was forced to “die” again, knowing that she was doing all she could to change things.  And there’s a scene in the book she shares with her sister – someone she had never really paid much attention to her whole life – that is so achingly sad that I should have just skipped it altogether (well, not really, but you know what I mean).

A lot of times when I finish a book I don’t even think about it.  I mean, I might think about it for a couple of seconds, but I often just close it and grab the next book in line.  But this one- THIS ONE – had me thinking for a least a couple of days.  I had to wait a bit before I started my next book because Before I Fall was still lingering around in my head.  And that, my friends, is a sign of a pretty damn powerful book.

Just make sure you’re not reading it on your lunch hour for everyone to see your tears.

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“Maybe you can afford to wait. Maybe for you there’s a tomorrow. Maybe for you there’s one thousand tomorrows, or three thousand, or ten, so much time you can bathe in it, roll around it, let it slide like coins through you fingers. So much time you can waste it.
But for some of us there’s only today. And the truth is, you never really know.”

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Books for Every Mood – For a Good Laugh

Back in the days when Borders was still open, I bought a book from their bargain book section called 1001 Books for Every Mood.  It was only $3.99, and it’s exactly what it sounds like.  Every mood you could ever be in?  Well, there’s a book for that!  Of course I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the 1001 books mentioned, and of course there were some I felt were missing.  So I’ve decided to create my own Books for Every Mood – not 1001 of them, but how ever many I can think of based on what I’ve read.

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I’ll be writing about one mood/one book per post so I don’t overload you with information, and then I can focus more on the book.  So if you like to laugh, this is the post for you.  I’m not who has read a lot of funny books – probably because I read a lot of young adult lit, and funny stuff isn’t usually a focus – but one definitely stands out as holy-crap-this-shiz-is-funny.

Bridget Jones’ Diary – Helen Fielding

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I remember when I read this book for the first time I had just moved into my first apartment in Los Angeles and I was feeling really stressed out and homesick.  I desperately needed something to cheer me up, so my roommate lent me her copy of Bridget Jones’ Diary.  I had seen the movie, which I enjoyed, and figured the book would be pretty much the same.  But you know what?  It was 100 times better…and FUNNIER.  Seriously, I don’t think a book has made me laugh as much as that one did.  The diary entries were written so brilliantly and realistically, yet funnier than anything else I had read before.  Of course it’s a feel-good book, too, and a book about the journey of improving oneself, but no one had ever written it as humorously as this.

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Bridget Jones is a woman in her 30s living in London who struggles with things that many women do:  love life, weight, family, and bad habits she’s trying to break, like smoking and drinking less.  She records her progress (or lack of) in her diary, and even though she fails at many things, you can’t help but love her because she’s so hopelessly real.  The book was based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with the heroine struggling to find her place in this world, particularly finding someone to share it with, and even though Lizzie Bennett was nowhere near as funny as Bridget Jones, they both end up happy and with the man they truly love.

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And if you’re referring to the movie versions of each, they both end up with Colin Firth.

So if you’re ever feeling down in the dumps or stressed out or just feel the need to laugh at someone else’s life other than your own, run on over to the library and check this book out.  I promise you will laugh out loud, and hopefully will feel better, at least during the time it takes you to read 271 pages.

“Resolution number one: Obviously will lose twenty pounds. Number two: Always put last night’s panties in the laundry basket. Equally important, will find sensible boyfriend to go out with and not continue to form romantic attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobic’s, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional fuckwits or perverts. And especially will not fantasize about a particular person who embodies all these things.”

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“You’re 15 Books Behind Schedule”

This is what I’m greeted to when I visit my what used to be awesome Goodreads home page.  Each year I give myself a goal of 100 books to read, and because I came up short last year, reading 97 books (I blame the flu at the end of the year), I thought for sure 2013 would be my year.  But so far it’s proved to be, for lack of a better word, TOTALLY LAME.

I actually started off the year fairly well, reading five books in January, but I was still behind my pace, and things just got worse as time went on.  I read for in February, three in March, and so far just one this month.  So as Goodreads loves to tell me, I’m 15 books behind schedule.  Which means by now I should have already read 28 books as opposed to the 13 I so pathetically managed to finish.

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Numbers don’t lie…

What’s worse is that three books I sat on the waiting list for at the library – Requiem by Lauren Oliver, Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale, and Boundless by Cynthia Hand – all became available, got sent to my Kindle, and then got left to expire after three weeks without me even glancing at them.

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Guess we’re going back on the waiting list…

There are a couple of reasons for this lack of reading.  One is that I have been trying to dabble in different genres, as stated in this previous post, and I haven’t exactly been too interested in the stuff I’ve found.  Another reason is that I’ve been awfully distracted with catching up on TV and playing silly games on my iPhone – a horrible excuse, I know, but the truth.  I just haven’t been in the “must read this in two days” frame of mind.

But despite all that, I have read a few books so far this year that I’ve absolutely gobbled up, so it hasn’t been a total loss.  And after today’s trip to the library, I hope to get back into the swing of things and become the reader I once was.  Some bright moments:

The Evolution of Mara Dyer – Michelle Hodkin

12950372More often than not, sequels never really live up to their predecessors, but that wasn’t the case with this book.  I loved the first book in this series, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, and I may have liked this one even more.  It deals with hauntings and psych hospitals and of course romance, and I was heartbroken when I finished it, only because I have to wait until October to read the final book.  And of course it ended on that kind of note.  You know the kind I’m talking about.  The “oh God, don’t end there” variety.  But oh-so good.

Across the Universe – Beth Revis

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To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to like this book as much as I did.  It’s more sci-fi than fantasy, and I don’t have much experience in sci-fi (except when I’m watching Battlestar Galactica).  But I really loved this book.  I loved the mix of sci-fi and romance and dystopia, and I thought the characters were interesting.  And of course I developed a teeny crush on the main boy character, which hasn’t really happened since Peeta.  So, yay.

Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys

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Let’s start off by getting one thing straight:  this book is NOT about dominatrix.  In fact, it’s pretty much about the exact opposite of the other shades of gray book that other people may be reading.  This one takes place during WWII when thousands of Lithuanians were being forced in to labor camps in Russia, all from the point of view of a young teenage girl.  It’s not a light and easy book to read, given the subject matter, and nothing is sugar-coated.  But it’s an extremely well-written story about a part of history that’s rarely spoken of.  Which of course means ya’ll need to read it.  Like, now.

So those are the three books that have stood out so far this year.  I hope to be adding a lot more to that list starting TODAY.  Because there’s still time to hit that 100-book mark…I just have to pretend that technology doesn’t exist.

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What good stuff have you read so far this year?

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Facebook’s Inevitable Backlash

As I write this, most of you will have probably already checked your Facebook page at least five times today.  I know I have – hell, I’ve probably checked in five times in the past hour.  And I’ll probably check it many, many more times before this day is over.

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It’s funny when you think back five years when Facebook just started showing its face (haha, PUNS) it was something that a lot of us weren’t on, let alone something we had even heard of.  Some of us were just starting to wean ourselves off of MySpace, some of us were still sending actual emails to our friends and family.  One thing for sure is that we probably didn’t expect Facebook to become as big a part of our lives as it has become today.

Of course there are the few people in our lives who aren’t on Facebook, but for most of us it’s just part of our daily routine:  wake up, grab iPad, check Facebook, eat breakfast, get ready for work, check Facebook one more time, go to work.  That’s pretty much my Monday-Friday.  Hell, probably my weekends, too, minus the “go to work” part.  Yet as I go through the motions of my day, checking FB whenever I get the chance, there’s something nagging at the back of my “I-made-it-29-years-without-FB” mind.  Why am I so dependent on it????

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I have tried more than once to break up with Facebook.  I tell myself that it’s a waste of time, that I don’t really care about what so-and-so had for dinner, or how often so-and-so goes to the gym, or that so-and-so is suddenly in a relationship with “It’s complicated”.  And I tell myself that most people don’t care about the random movie quotes that float around in my head, or the funny quip my daughter spouted out, or that I’m once again checking into Starbucks.

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And lately I feel that Facebook is getting loaded down with ads, links, and shares that don’t hold any interest to me.  Yes, I understand that you think that meme is hilarious and that you want to share it with the world, but that’s what Pinterest is for (don’t worry, I’m totally guilty of that, too).  I understand that you think this article about why the government is secretly trying to destroy the world is interesting, but a lot of people don’t.  Remember when Facebook was just status updates?  Yeah, they may have been boring, but at least they didn’t make our entire news feed look like spam.  Or a farm.

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Lately I’ve come across lots of articles about people starting to leave Facebook because it was taking over their lives, and I’ve noticed some FB friends of mine appear less and less in my news feed, making me think that maybe they’ve died, but of course they’re just out having an actual life.  But it just goes to show you that although FB may rule the world, it’s starting to prove that it shouldn’t rule our lives.

I think all these things on a regular basis, and yet I also remind myself why I actually like Facebook at the end of the day.  I’m a total introvert, which means I’m not someone who’s just going to pick up the phone and call someone to talk.  I’m not one who loves to go out with big groups of people and get my social on.  I’m a writer for a reason – I communicate best through writing.  I feel more comfortable when I can write to someone rather than meet them face to face, save most of my small group of friends.

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So in a way, Facebook is a bit of a god-send for me.  I’m able to talk to people I normally wouldn’t whenever I want.  I can post something on someone’s wall without feeling like I’m going to have a total anxiety attack.  And not a day goes by when I’m not thankful for this.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has a love/hate relationship with social networking in general.  We’re dependent on it because it keeps us connected to pretty much everything:  friends, family, celebrities, news, etc, yet it can alienate us from the things we used to enjoy back before “social networking” became an actual term.

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So where do you stand on all this?  Are there ways to cut down on social network without completely losing touch on reality?  And can an introvert socially survive on just emails?

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Teenage Obsession: Swing Music

I’ve gone through many different music phases, but one that stands out in particular would have to be my slightly hipster Swing Music phase about 20 years ago (and yes, it’s weird that when I say “20 years ago” I’m referring to the 1990s, which seems like just yesterday).  And I say “hipster” because at the time no one my age (14) was listening to swing.  At a time when kids were listening to Pearl Jam and Nirvana, I was listening to Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller.

Benny_GoodmanThe Eddie Vedder of his day, I’m sure.

So, what was with the sudden interest in swing music?  Well, I blame that entirely on the movie Swing Kids, which came out in theaters in March of 1993.  I went and saw the movie mainly because of Christian Bale (and a little bit because of Robert Sean Leonard), not really knowing what the hell swing music was, and came out thinking that swing music was the greatest genre of all time.

The movie takes place in 1939 Nazi Germany and centers around three teenage boys forced to join the Hitler Youth (HJ), as all boys were doing at that time.  But they loved swing music and dubbed themselves “Swing Kids by day, HJ’s by night”.  It featured music from Benny Goodman and Django Reinhardt, among other, and included several scenes of them swing dancing at nightclubs (which was, of course, VERBOTEN among Nazis, as many swing and jazz musicians were “Jews” and “negros”).

swing-kids-21Don’t think Hitler was fond of The Jitterbug.

And like those Swing Kids, I was hooked.

I thought the music was awesome.  The dancing was even awesomer (yep, it’s a word).  And it wasn’t just because it was Christian Bale and Robert Sean Leonard.  I felt this music.  It became a part of me.  It made me happy.  And it made me discover new things about music that I had ever thought about before.  And yes, it probably turned me into a bit of a 14-year-old hipster, especially when swing music suddenly took off a few years later.  I’ll get to that in a bit.

In 1993, swing music was still unknown to a lot of people, even after the movie came out, probably due to the fact that not very many people saw it.  And because iTunes didn’t exist 20 years ago, I couldn’t just go and download swing songs I wanted.  All I had was the Swing Kids soundtrack (which to this day is still awesome), along with the extremely random AM radio station 1400 which sometimes played really old jazz music at different times of the day.  There was also a TV show on some cable channel that was called “The Big Bands” that was on at 10:00 on Saturday nights that I would watch (and yes, I would make sure I was home) which showed 30 minutes of old big band performances.

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Okay, so I was a little different from most 14-year-olds.  But whatever.

You could, however, see a small 1940s influence on other things at the time.  Dresses I liked to call “Swing Kids Dresses) began appearing in Seventeen magazine, knee-length, short-sleeved dresses that usually had some kind of floral pattern that looked similar to the dresses the girls were wearing in 1940s swing clubs.  My friend and I even got ones to wear to our 8th grade graduation at the time (even though she had way more cool “swing kids shoes” than I did).  And then there was the short-lived but oh-so-good TV show Homefront, which took place during WWII and featured big band music and gorgeous clothes and Kyle Chandler.  So it seemed my love for swing and all things 40s was also affecting other people, even if it hadn’t reached the people of my small Midwestern high school.

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Fast forward five years.  By this time I’ve sort of gotten over the swing obsession, even though it was still something I loved.  I just wasn’t actively seeking it like I used to.  But then people began to take notice of Ska music (which, I’m sorry, I HATE, but it does have ties to swing music), and from there grew an appreciation for big band and swing.

And then came the Gap commercial.

In 1998 The Gap released a commercial to promote their new khakis which featured a bunch of people swing dancing to “Jump, Jive ‘n’ Wail” while wearing khaki pants.  And OH MY GOD swing music just exploded.  Suddenly everyone thought this music was amazing and fun and awesome and the people who used to listen to Pearl Jam and Nirvana were now buying CDs of new bands like Squirrel Nut Zippers and The Brian Setzer Orchestra (formally of Stray Cats) and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.  My college (and I’m sure many others) were suddenly having Swing Music Dance Nights.  Suddenly swing music was the cool thing to listen to, and of course the hipster in me was all, “Um, whatever, I listened to swing music before khakis made it cool.”

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But I was more happy than jaded, because I had that much more access to music that I still really loved.  And of course it was only a matter of time before people stopped listening to swing music and started listening to Ricky Martin and ‘NSYNC, and swing just became another forgotten genre to many but still special to some.  Swing music was a big part of my teenage years, even if it came in spurts.  And it’s still fun to listen to today, whether you’re stuck in traffic and need something fun and relaxing, or having a dance party at home with your four-year-old.

And who knows…another khaki and swing invasion may once again be on the horizon.  And then Glee will do swing music and everyone will hate it.

It all goes full circle, doesn’t it?

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If you’re interested in becoming obsessed with swing music, here are some good songs to start with:

“Sing, Sing, Sing” – Benny Goodman

“One O’Clock Jump” – Count Basie

“In the Mood” – Glenn Miller

“Bugle Call Rag” – Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman (they both did it)

“Jumpin’ at the Woodside” – Count Basie

Happy listening!!

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Get the Funk Out

Reader, I’m in a funk.  You know that feeling where you want to do stuff but you just don’t want to?  Yeah, that’s kind of what I’m going through right now.  Granted things have been a little more stressful than normal, between my daughter’s kindergarten screenings (she’s a supershy introvert, so you can imagine how well those are going) and just everyday life, but I haven’t found the inspiration to do anything that I feel like I need to do, like blogging and reading.

lazy2This is more like it.

I’m currently reading L.M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon, which I chose because it falls under the “I’m slightly stressed and need comfort reading” books.  But I’m not getting very far into it – not because it’s not good, but because my mind keeps saying things like, “You should check Pinterest” or “Go see if your Ruzzle opponent has taken their turn yet” or “I wonder if Nathan Fillion has tweeted any words of wisdom lately.”  Distracted by useless technology?  You betcha.

212091463671018158_jiANUQiO_fHappens to the best of us.

I tell myself that I’m going to read that list of YA books I’ve been wanting to get to, but let me tell you, those Betsy-Tacy, Harry Potter, and Laura Ingalls Wilder books have been looking awfully tempting lately.  Comfort reading at its finest.

And you know how I’m trying to watch at least five new movies a month?  Well, it’s March 22 and I have yet to watch a new movie this month.  However, my reason isn’t as lame as you think it might be.  I’ve actually been cruising through a bunch of TV I’ve been wanting to watch, mainly because I haven’t wanted to commit myself to a two-hour movie.

Of course I have no problem with watching six straight hours of Downton Abbey, but whatever.

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In addition to catching up on season two of Downton Abbey (although I’m still a season behind), I caught up on Supernatural, Glee, Doctor Who and watched the first two seasons of Sherlock.

Side note:  I fracking love Sherlock.  Seriously.  Probably my favorite show of the year.  And I’m including the rest of the year in that statement, because I know I won’t see anything better (save maybe Doctor Who).  I have a “thing” for Benedict Cumberbatch, and when I say “thing” I mean HE JUST MAY BE THE BEST THING EVER.  And I just want to hug Martin Freeman and never let go.

b018ttwsI am _ _ _ _ locked.

Downton Abbey was my go-to when I was feeling super stressed out.  Why?  Maybe because it’s so far removed from my life that I was able to escape with no problem.  Or maybe it was just because I love hating Mary Crawley.  Seriously, when does that chick NOT have a stick up her skinny English bum?  She’s awesome in such a horrible way.  I must find a way to watch season 3 even though it’s no longer available on PBS.  Any suggestions?

downton-abbey-maryAll I do is sigh.

And even though things are starting to fall back into place life-wise, I still don’t have an urge to watch a movie.  Maybe it’s because our TV is broken (my lovely daughter innocently cracked the screen with a necklace, and now it’s dead) and watching a movie on the laptop isn’t the same.  Or maybe it’s because it’s been so long that I’ve been caught up on my TV watching that I’ve come to realize that I can start a brand new show, which is just as exciting as starting a new relationship.  So many shows to pick from!  Do I choose Mad MenRoswellAmerican Horror Story?

Well, since I’m not sure I want to commit myself to a show that already has five or more seasons under their belt, last night I started watching Twin Peaks, a show I’ve been wanting to watch for about 15 years now but never got around to it.  But since it’s on Netflix and only has two seasons, it’s the perfect show to get into.

David-Lynch-is-Said-to-Have-Met-With-NBC-to-Discuss-Reviving-‘Twin-Peaks’-01The Douglas Firs smell amazing.

And guess what?  After just two episodes, I’m kind of addicted.  Actually I was addicted after about two minutes, but whatever.  It’s one of those shows that would never work in this day of television.  The premise would, but the style of filming is so different and odd and slow that people wouldn’t be able to wrap their brain around it.  Oh, and it’s David Lynch.  Lots of people are afraid of David Lynch.  Which is why it’s such an awesome show.  Can’t wait to go home and watch the rest.

twin_peaksMainly because of Kyle MacLachlan

As for my writing funk, well, I’m writing now, so I consider that to be an improvement.  I look for inspiration in everything, and it seems that whenever I go on the site Hello Giggles, I get inspired to blog my ass off.  Not only do I want to be one of their contributers – because let’s be honest, I WOULD FIT RIGHT IN – but I want to start my own site that’s just like theirs.

Unfortunately I’m not best friends with Zooey Deschanel, so it might be a tad bit more difficult for that to happen.

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Another place I find inspiration is Felicia Day’s The Flog (Felicia + blog = FLOG), which is her five minute (give or take) long YouTube show.  It’s basically just her talking about her top five random things.  Whenever I watch it I always think, “Now, that’s something I could totally do.  I want my own Flog.”  Of course I wouldn’t call it my Flog, and I wouldn’t even try to combine my name with the word “blog” (dlog?).  But I could come up with something loosely based on her model.

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So last week I came up with a concept for a YouTube show called “Odds and Thens” which would focus on 80s and 90s nostalgia.  Find something relevant to a random year, like Rainbow Brite, or the banana clip, and introduce it to a brand new generation.  Each show would be a different topic:  movies, music, TV, toys, etc.  And then I thought I could do special section where I read random passages from my middle school and high school journals.  Because that’s some funny shiz.

Of course this is all just in the brainstorming phase, and of course I’m terrified to actually be on camera (do I have to do my hair?  Make-up?  Do I have to wear cute clothes?), so who knows if it’s actually going to happen.  I like to think that someday it will.

In the meantime, though, I’ll continue to find inspiration whether it’s from Hello Giggles, Pinterest, Twitter, WordPress, Instagram and on the rare occasion, Facebook, though I’ve been feeling quite uninspired from the ‘book as of late.  To be honest, peeps, the future of social networking is on the Path app, but since everyone I know is on FB, I pretty much just talk to myself the whole time.  Which is sometimes okay.

unnamedStill a better social network than FB.

By the way, another thing that really helps is a good support network of real people, not just the ones on the interwebs.  Bottom line?  I have some pretty awesome friends.  You peeps know who you are.

How do you get through your funks?  What inspires you to keep calm and carry on?

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Cover Love

When was the last time you really paid attention to an album cover?  In this digital day and age, album cover artwork gets sort of lost in the shuffle of streaming and digital music, and a lot of times we’re not even aware of the album cover looks like when we’re downloading random individual songs here and there.  But back in the day (like the days of actual physical albums and CDs you could hold in your hand), it was the album cover that caught your eye first.

If you Google “Best Album Covers of All-Time” you’ll get lists of mostly classic rock albums from the 60s and 70s that have sort of become canon.  You’re not going to see that list here.  I have my own set of album covers that I absolutely love and wish I could put on my wall.  In fact, if I ever find the vinyl versions of any of these at a thrift store or library sale (seriously the best places to find them), I may buy them just so I can frame them.  Because they’re awesome.  And pretty.

Under the Iron Sea – Keane (2006)

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Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley (1956)

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Blue Light, Red Light – Harry Connick, Jr (1991)

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Life in Cartoon Motion – Mika (2007)

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Sweetheart of the Sun – The Bangles (2011)

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The Midsummer Station – Owl City (2012)

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Language. Sex. Violence. Other? – Stereophonics (2005)

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Take Me Home – One Direction (2012)

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Italia – Nicola Benedetti – 2011

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Shadow of the Moon – Blackmore’s Night (1997)

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Theatre Is Evil – Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra (2012)

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Waves and the Both of Us – Charlotte Sometimes (2008)

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Taller Children – Elizabeth & the Catapult (2009)

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My December – Kelly Clarkson (2007)

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Lenka – Lenka (2008)

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Elephant – The White Stripes (2003)

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So obviously there are a lot of albums not included in this list – besides ones that I could think of I also left off Christmas albums and soundtracks.  Christmas albums deserve a whole post of their own (at a different time of year), and soundtracks are basically movie posters, which is also different topic.  What are some album covers you’ve always loved or have caught your attention recently?

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52 Weeks, 52 Movies – FEBRUARY

Another month is drawing to a close, and that means another chance for me to share with you the new movies I’ve watched over the past four weeks.  It was a mixed bag this month, though nothing truly knocked my socks off the way Les Miserables did last month.  In fact, I don’t think I saw anything remotely great…just sort of good…and sort of bad.

Footloose (2011)

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I started the month off with a movie I once swore I would never see solely based on the fact that it was a remake of an already awesome movie, especially one that looked exactly the same as the original.  So I had reeeeeally low expectations going into this one.  But guess what.  I didn’t hate it!  In fact, I think I may have actually liked it a little.  And you wanna know the weird reason why I liked it?  Because it looked exactly the same as the first one.  I’m talking same shots, same dialogue, even some same dance moves.  I think it was because it was so familiar to me already that I enjoyed watching it.  The main guy who plays Ren, Kenny Wormald, whom I had never heard of until this, is a fantastic dancer (much better than Kevin Bacon), and Julianne Hough, while not my favorite person in the world, isn’t completely horrible.  All in all it was rather enjoyable, dance scenes were fun to watch, and I still got to hear the line “Jump back”, which is kinda worth it.

Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam (2010)

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I’m a fan of the first Camp Rock movie, and while I was excited to see its sequel, it took me quite a while to actually sit down and watch it.  I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as the first, and I was right.  It wasn’t horrible – it had its moments, usually when Demi Lovato was singing, but I liked the story of the first one better.  And to be honest, I was rather distracted by the relationship between Demi and Joe Jonas.  Not their relationship on screen, but OFF screen, and knowing what I know now.  All I could think about was how he dumped her and then she started cutting herself and became bulimic.  Of course I don’t know if that was a direct cause, but I kept looking at her wrists for cut marks and would think things like, “I wonder if she made herself throw up after this scene.”  That makes me sound horrible.  I really like Demi Lovato, and I’m sad that she went through such a hard time.  And I don’t like Joe Jonas.  So that whole thing mayhave ruined the viewing of the movie.  But, you know, it was okay.

Abduction (2011)

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I admit, I was slightly curious to see how Taylor Lautner would do in a role that WASN’T Jacob Black.  That’s pretty much the only reason why I watched the movie.  It’s about a high school kid who finds out that he was kidnapped as a little kid, kind of like Stephen Dorff in that awesome Lifetime movie from 1990 Always Remember I Love You, but kind of totally different.  And apparently him knowing that he was abducted is REALLY bad.  So Jacob Black hooks up with Lily “My Eyebrows are Insane” Collins and the two go on the run because the people who kill his fake parents (Lucious Malfoy and the scary Coyote Ugly bar owner) are now after him.  So basically it’s just Jacob Black running with Eyebrows and making out on trains and going to Pirates’ baseball games.  It was entertaining, I guess, if you aren’t distracted by eyebrows and the thought that Jacob Black might turn into a werewolf at any given second.

Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers / Return to Horror High (1988/1987)

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So, I was in the mood to watch really bad horror movies a few weeks ago, and since Netflix is filled with them I had many to choose from.  The first one I watched is a sequel to one I’m pretty sure I saw back in high school, but like the Friday the 13th movies they’re all kind of the same so it’s hard to tell.  Basically the plot is that one of the camp counselors (who is actually the killer from the first movie – they just went through electroshock therapy and got a sex change – FOR REALS) starts killing all of the campers who are “bad”.  It’s pretty obvious from the first few minutes which ones will literally get the ax and which one will be the sole survior.  It was totally horrible, from the dialogue to the acting – painful, even – but I guess that’s what makes them so much to watch.  You can’t take any of it seriously.  Not even when the main character (the Killer) is played by Bruce Springsteen’s sister (I’m serious.  Her name is Pamela Springsteen).

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While the makers of Sleepaway Camp 2 probably knew that they were making a piece of crap, I honestly think the makers of Return to Horror High thought they were making something good.  Which it wasn’t.  The premise:  a group of filmmakers film a horror on set of a high school where a bunch of real-life murders happened.  And of course crazy stuff starts happening on set.  People get killed in all sorts of silly ways.  The end.  You can tell they thought their dialogue was witty (it wasn’t).  You can tell they thought the acting was good (it wasn’t – except for George Clooney, who’s in it for about five minutes and then gets killed off).  It was just bad, but not in the good bad that Sleepaway Camp 2 was…just bad.  But you can tell that Clooney was headed for stardom after that role.  Seriously.  Should have won an Oscar.

Bel Ami (2012)

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This movie may as well have been titled Robert Pattinson Has Sex with Everyone.  I honestly don’t know why I watched this movie – I just happened to come across it on Netflix, and I thought, “Well, I like period pieces”.  So I watched it.  And oh-my-god-it-was-crap.  I don’t even know what it’s about anymore.  All I remember is that Robert Pattinson plays a poor Frenchman (at least I think he’s French) who works his way up to the top of the social hierarchy via his penis.  Yeah, he just has sex with a bunch of women.  And the women keep getting older the further he gets along, from Nymphadora Tonks to Christina Ricci and all the way up to Kristin Scott Thomas, he does them all.  I read somewhere that someone thought this was Robert Pattinson’s best acting to date.  Um…what movie were they watching?  If they were watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, then okay, yeah, I get it.  But…now I’m just confused.  Maybe they were just joking.

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Oh, that’s hilarious.

So here’s hoping that March brings on a much better set of movies.  You know it’s not a good month when a remake of Footloose is the best thing you saw.

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The Awesome 13 – Figure Skating!!

This may sound like completely uninteresting news to, well, MOST of you, but 25 years ago today, Brian Boitano won the gold medal in Mens’ Figure Skating at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Ontario.  ALSO…15 years ago today Tara Lipinski won the gold medal in Ladies’ Figure Skating at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, making her the youngest (15 yrs) to accomplish that feat.*

*Side note:  It’s actually 25 and 15 years ago yesterday, February 20.  It’s just taken me two days to write this damn thing.

Ladies Skate

So, why are those moments so significant?  Why, in a blog filled with posts about books and movies and music and TV shows and sometimes tea, do I even care about these events?  Well, ladies and gentlemen, the truth must come out.  I LOVE FIGURE SKATING.  There, I said it.  LOVE IT.

It’s no secret that I sort of loathe sports in general.  Which is actually kind of funny, considering I entered college as a sports journalism major (quickly realizing after a year that it was definitely not for me).  I enjoyed sports in high school, but only because my friends enjoyed sports.  And to be honest, I only watched sports for the cute guys.

But figure skating is the one sport (and yes, it is a sport even if it doesn’t involve a ball or running around) that I have truly loved ever since age 8 when I saw Brian Boitano win his gold medal at those ’88 Games.  I saw him do those triple jumps with his arm straight up in the air, and I was hooked.

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So to celebrate this sport and the fact that the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, are only ONE YEAR AWAY, I give you 13 Awesome Things I Love About Figure Skating.

13.  Surya Bonaly’s Backflips

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 If you followed skating in the 1990s like I did, then you know Surya Bonaly.  She was the one who did all those crazy backflips out on the ice.  And not only did she land those backflips, but she landed them on one freaking foot.  Bonaly was known for her jumping ability (obviously, what with those backflips, but she never won a gold medal at the Worlds or the Olympics.  In fact, in 1994 when certain team members sat out the Worlds in China right after the Olympics, Bonaly was certain she would take home the gold.  But the gold went to Yuka Sato instead, and even though Bonaly got the silver, she was totally pissed and refused to stand on the podium or wear her medal.  Maybe she should just stick to doing backflips in exhibition shows.

12.  Stefane Lambiel’s Spins

Vancouver Olympics Figure Skating

Sometime around the mid-2000s a skater from Switzerland emerged during a time when quad jumps in men’s skating were just starting to become all the rage.  If you weren’t doing the quad, then you just weren’t good enough.  Well, guess what.  Lambiel said “Tu m’emmerdes!” to all that and showed the world his crazy-ass spins on the ice.  Seriously, this boy could spin like a freaking top and not show signs of slowing down until suddenly he did.  It really says something when you can go on to win gold medals at the Worlds two years in a row because you can literally spin circles around all the other skaters.  I doubt we’ll see another spinner like Lambiel in our lifetime again (unless he has kids and forces them to spin like he did).

11.  Yu-Na Kim’s Perfection

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Now, whether her name is Yu-Na Kim or Kim Yu-Na (everybody says it differently), I’ll probably never know.  But what I do know is that at the 2009 World Championships in Los Angeles (which I totally attended!!!) she skated what was probably the most perfect skate of anyone ever.  Yes, it’s a bold statement.  But when you realize that she put up a score of 207.71 (under the crazy ISU scoring system), making her the first woman to surpass 200 and shattering all sorts of records all over the place, you have to give her mad props.  AND THEN…at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver she did the whole I’M AWESOME thing all over again and completely crushed her own record, scoring an insane score of 226.56 overall.  WHAT?  I know.  She’s amazeballs.

10.  Alexei Yagudin’s Fancy Footwork

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It’s one thing to incorporate intricate footwork into your choreography during a skating routine.  But to suddenly become freaking LORD OF THE DANCE ON ICE is something completely different.  That’s what Russian skater Alexei Yagudin did when he started getting everyone’s attention in the late 1990s.  Suddenly skaters began to realize that their choreography paled in comparison to what Yadugin was doing with his feet on the ice.  To quote Chandler Bing “His feet flail about as though independent from his body!”  Seriously.  Why did Yagudin win the gold medal at the 2002 Winter Games?  HIS FEET (and probably some awesome jumping skills as well).  Other skaters took notice and quickly tried to imitate, usually totally tripping up their footwork and falling on their faces (I’m looking right at your curly mop-head, Timothy Goebel).  To this day, no one comes close to his fancy footwork.

9.  Jamie Sale and David Pelletier’s “Love Story”

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Every now and then a pairs skating team comes along that makes you think, “Oh, gee, they’re cute together”.  But then there’s the Canadian pair of Sale and Pelletier who makes you think, “Oh god, they’re ADORABLE.”  Seriously, these guys are perfect together out on the ice (and apparently off the ice as well) and will have you feeling the love after just a few seconds into the routine.  Their free skate to “Love Story” at the Grand Prix final and the 2002 Olympics will bring out the feels in anyone with a soul.  Even the scandal at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, in which they placed second behind the Russians until a silly French judge admitted she was pressured to vote for the Russians no matter how they skated, didn’t break these Canadians up (they eventually received the gold medal after the Games ended).  If anything it made them stronger.  I saw these two lovebirds skate at Stars on Ice to Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me” and it was probably the most intimate routine I have ever seen a pair skate.  Swoooooooon.*

*Side note:  While searching for pictures for these two I found out that they DIVORCED back in 2010.  SO SAD.  But still a better love story than Twilight.

8.  Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto’s Energy

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I never used to enjoy watching ice-dancing.  To me it was lame pairs skating without the jumps.  And the US admittedly sucked in the ice-dancing department.  That is until Belbin and Agosto came shimmying their way onto the ice and sort of exploded all over it.  Finally, an American team (well, technically Tanith Belbin is Canadian but she totally converted to Americanism to compete in the Olympics) that actually has a chance to win something!!  Not only that, but they were so much fun to watch.  I’m pretty sure these guys got hopped up on pop rocks and Mountain Dew before they stepped onto the ice because they seriously radiated energy in every spin and twizzle they did.  Unfortunately they never got the Olympic or World’s gold – silver in 2006 was the closet they came – but they still managed to US ice-dancing on the map again after many, many years of NOTHING.

7.  Brian Boitano’s Jumps

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Yes, folks, this is what started it all 25 years ago.  I was only 8 years old, but I remember watching him skate, and I remember feeling so proud and excited and emotional when he jumped with one hand straight up in the air – something that no one else was doing at the time.  And even now when someone does a jump like that, it’s a nod to Boitano and how hard he fought for that gold medal in 1988.  He competed in the games along with hometown fave Brian Orser of Canada, in what would eventually be dubbed “The Battle of the Brians”.  They both went into the free program tied after the short, so it literally was a battle for that gold.  But it was Boitano and his awesome jumps who took that gold back to America.  Battle won indeed.

6.  Evan Lycacek’s Deserving Win

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The year was 2010, and the American men hadn’t won a gold medal in figure skating since the aforementioned Brian Boitano 22 years ago.  It had been a sport dominated by Russian men (every year since 1992!!), and it was high time that the US take that shiz back.  So American skater Evan Lycacek did just that.  HE TOOK IT BACK.  In what was probably his best skate ever (complete with real tears at the end because he knew he did so awesome), Evan did about 50 billion jumps and everyone knew before he even finished that this gold was HIS and his alone.  So take that, Russia.  Another miracle on ice.

5.  Michelle Kwan’s Consistency

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Because of the news ISU scoring system (which after ten years no one still understands), there will never be another skater like Michelle Kwan.  Back in the days of the 6.0 scoring system, she DOMINATED ladies’ figure skating (except when it came to the Olympics).  She’s a five-time World Champion (1996, 1998, 2000, 2001 and 2003) and a nine-time U.S. Champion (1996, and then every year from 1998-2005).  She’s more known for her artistry on the ice rather than her jumps, which probably cost her the gold medal to Tara Lipinski at the 1998 games.  But Michelle had what Lipinski and other rival Sasha Cohen lacked, and that was her insane consistency.  Seriously, this girl was so good every time she got out on the ice.  Who else can say they got 8 perfect 6.0s in one routine the way Kwan did at the 1998 U.S. Championships?  Well, no one now, thanks to the new scoring system.  Thanks, French judge at the 2002 Games.  It’s all your fault.

4.  Johnny Weir’s Confidence

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Despite all the crap that people talk about him, I love Johnny Weir.  I first saw him skate at the 2002 Games and thought, “Wow, this guy skates differently from all the other guys.”  The guy can jump with the rest of them, but it obvious that he puts his blood, sweat, and tears into the artistry of skating.  He’s a beautiful skater on the ice, while sometimes flamboyant, which causes some people to criticize his skating, even calling it “too feminine”.  But that Johnny Weir, he doesn’t even care!  He loves to skate, he loves to wear feathers and sparkles, and you can see that he’s happiest on the ice when he can be himself.  And when he’s happy, he’s an awesome skater.  Who likes to wear feathers and sparkles.

3.  Tonya and Nancy’s Feud

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Oh, come on, you loved it, too.  And all it took was one swift whack to the knee to make the world recognize figure skating for what it is:  a blood-thirsty, violent sport!  But seriously, this was by far the most interesting and entertaining thing to come out of the 1994 skating season and the Winter Games in Lillehammer.  To quickly summarize if you were born yesterday:  After a practice session during the 1994 U.S. Championships, Nancy Kerrigan was leaving the rink when somebody suddenly came up to her and clubbed her on the knee, making her cry out “Whyyyyyyy” over and over again.  The suspects were quickly identified as Tonya Harding’s husband and his cronies.  Tonya denied involvement, but who the hell knows.  All we wanted to know was if Nancy would be able to compete at the Olympics, and what will happen if she could?  Well, she did, and ended up getting silver behind unknown Ukrainian Oksana Baiul, while Tonya performed understandably horribly.  It wasn’t U.S. Figure Skating’s most proud moment, but it was its most popular, and no one who watched will ever forget it.

2.  Sasha Cohen’s Ballet

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She was called The Ballerina on Ice, and it was easy to see why when you watched her skate.  Sasha Cohen is still my favorite skater of all time, despite the fact that she was painfully inconsistent and never won gold at the World’s or the Olympics.  I didn’t care about any of that, though, because I just loved to watch her skate.  She was pretty, she wore pretty costumes, she skated to pretty music, and she skated pretty.  Oh, and her I-spins and Biellmann spins were INSANE because she was so flexible and could pull her leg straight up into the air like a crazy person.  It’s unfortunate that she didn’t achieve status the way Michelle Kwan did because I think she’s a much more artistic skater and – when she’s on – a very good technical skater, but she will always be remembered for holding everyone’s attention for 4 minutes like no other.

1.  Gordeeva and Grinkov’s “Moonlight Sonata”

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Oh, geez.  This is going to give me the tears and feels even before I start to write it.  Back in the 80s and 90s, the Soviets/Unified Team/Russians sort of ran the whole Pairs Skating scene.  And none were greater than the child partners-turned-couple-turned-husband-and-wife team of Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov.  Omigosh this couple was gorgeous.  And their skating?  Absolutely flawless.  They won the gold at the 1998 Games, and then stopped competing until their return in 1994.  And it was there where they proved to be one of the best pairs of all-time.  For their long program they skated to “Moonlight Sonata”, which pretty much left everyone speechless and teary-eyed.  I taped that performance and used to watch it every morning before school because it was so awesome (and he was so gorgeous).  On an extremely sad note, Grinkov died not even two years later of a massive heart attack, which makes this particular performance even more haunting and beautiful.  Seriously, I have nothing snarky to say about this.  It’s just awesome.

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From London, With Love

Whenever I can’t think of anything super interesting to write about, I tend to turn to Wikipedia to see if anything super interesting happened on that particular day, be it someone’s birthday or some kind of historical event that could warrant interesting blog post.  Unfortunately nothing has come up this week that makes me want to write about it.  There was, however, something that did catch my eye.

Apparently back in the day – at least in London, England – beheadings were quite popular during this second week of February.  On February 13, 1542, Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, was executed at the Tower of London on the grounds of adultery, and then on February 12, 1554 Lady Jane Grey, who ruled England for nine whole days, was beheaded at the Tower of London on suspicion of treason.

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Worst. Day. Ever.

And then all this made me realize – I was there!

Okay, obviously I wasn’t there at the time of the executions.  I’m not Doctor Who, and I don’t have a telephone booth or a Delorean that can transport me back 500 years.  But I was in London – and at the Tower of London – on those days exactly ten years ago.

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Actual ravens on the Tower green!

My husband (well, boyfriend at the time) and I decided on a whim to take a trip to London for Valentine’s Day back in 2003 because we were young and free and had the money to do such wonderful things (this was obviously before kids).  I had been obsessed with London and England in general for as long as I could remember, and the decision to take advantage of a good airfare deal took about two seconds to make.

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Courtesy of these guys.  And yes, I took the glass.

After a ten-hour flight from Los Angeles to London (which included a kosher meal but absolutely no sleep), we arrived at Heathrow airport on February 11th with just one thing on our minds: FOOOOOOOOD.  Seriously, we were so hungry that we decided to go to the first restaurant we saw after getting off the Tube in Notting Hill:  Pizza Hut.  Yes, I know we can get Pizza Hut anywhere, why would we want to go to it when we’re supposed to be off trying new things?

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Actual receipt!

Um, because we were starving, ya’ll.  We didn’t care.  And you know what?  That pizza tasted HEAVENLY.  I’m pretty sure it tasted British, too, for the record.  Which you can’t get in the U.S.

We stayed at a hostel (not a youth hostel, and REALLY not like the kind in the horror movies) in the Notting Hill area called Hotel Tria, and it was lovely.  In which lovely = tiny and affordable.  But it was actually perfect for us.  It had two twinish-sized beds, a bathroom, and a small TV hanging from the top corner of the room, which is all we needed, since we weren’t going to spend much time in the room.

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Breakfast was included at the hostel, which was made up of mostly toast and corn flakes, and shared with other people staying there, which was made up of mostly German tourists who had a habit of talking really loud in the morning but who were also equally entertaining to be around.

Since it’s been ten years, I don’t remember every single thing we did or saw while in London, but I can definitely speak to the highlights.  First off, we walked everywhere.  We had one-week passes for the Tube, but it seemed that despite the cold February weather, we wanted to walk everywhere because that’s how you truly experience things, am I right?  By quickly walking by them while you freeze your ass off.

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This was before GPS.

British food is nothing to celebrate, but we did stumble upon a couple of awesome pubs, one in particular close to The City (as in downtown) called The Hung, Drawn, and Quartered where I had – I kid you not – the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich of all time.  What made it so awesome?  I don’t know.  I was drinking beer at the same time, though…that might have had something to do with it.

FYI London Travel Tip:  If you’re looking for a place to have dinner and you go to a pub, make sure you ask if they’re serving food or not.  We went to a particular pub on a Thursday night to have dinner, and it wasn’t until we ordered our drinks when they told us that they didn’t serve food on Thursday nights.  So after my husband downed his Guinness in record time, we went to the next closest restaurant, which was TGI Fridays.  Don’t judge us on our very American restaurant choices.  And for the record, I ordered chips instead of fries, which made it TOTALLY BRITISH.

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CHIPS, not fries.

Funny but true and somewhat embarrassing because I’m so ridiculous story:  Even though Starbucks is everywhere in the U.S., I first started going there while we were in London.  There was one near our hostel in Notting Hill, and because I wanted my green tea in the mornings, it was an easy and somewhat familiar place to get it.  I quickly started up a sort of “Starbucks in London” routine, getting the Tazo Zen Green Tea and different times of the day – mostly just to hold to keep my hands warm.  After a couple of days of this, I decided to be ballsy and started ordering my tea with an English accent and using terms like “pounds” and “pence”.  I’m sure they saw right through it, but I felt sort of awesome and ridiculous at the same time.  He he.

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Doubles as a hand-warmer.

My husband had already been to London a year prior and had told me about a pizza chain called Pizza Express that he swore was better than California Pizza Kitchen.  So I tried it, loved it (mainly the doughballs, which are exactly what they sound like, and dipped in buttery garlic), and we managed to go to three different Pizza Expresses during our week in London.  The most memorable Pizza Express was located in Oxford (where we spent one rainy day) in an 800-year-old building.  It’s stuff like that that makes you realize how young the U.S. is in comparison.

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We bought the cookbook.  You’re welcome.

And although it was cold and rainy, Oxford was pretty awesome.  The university pretty much takes up the whole town, and those academic buildings are CRAZY.  Like, this-can’t-be-an-actual-college-campus crazy.  Seriously, it made my alma mater in Wisconsin look like the slums.

2057_61093367712_3200_nAn old Oxford building and some bikes.

In Oxford you can also find Alice’s Tea Shop which, if you’re a fan of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland like me, you’ll thoroughly enjoy.  I got a magnet and a button and other various odds and ends to bring home with me, but I had to be careful of how much I could buy.  Not necessarily because of money, but because of space.  That’s because there were no suitcases on this trip.  Nay, my husband and I decided to keep it simple stupid and just bring a backpack each.  That meant just bringing one pair of jeans, two different tops, and before you get grossed out, seven pairs of underwear.  I guess at the time it was convenient, but looking back I wished I could have brought home more souvenirs.  I didn’t even take that many pictures because this was a time before iPhones and even digital cameras, and I was using a camera with FILM in it.  And apparently I get lazy when I know I have to develop a bunch of film.  So the pictures you see in this post are pretty much it.

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I apologize for the poor quality as well.  It was 2003, you know.

Anyway, we saw most of the sights around London that most people tend to see when they’re visiting:  Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Millennium Bridge, the London Eye, Hyde Park, St. Paul’s Cathedral (I used their bathroom in the basement!), and Buckingham Palace.  We also spent a good part of the day at Harrod’s, which if you don’t know is a HUGE department store – so big that we definitely didn’t get to every section of the place.  Of course we made it to the important parts – the candy and sweets department, a somewhat out-of-place 50s diner near the women’s clothing department that served the fattest pancakes ever, and a pretty awesome all-children’s bookstore where I picked up a strange-looking British edition of a The Baby-sitter’s Club book.

1947_56108437712_4500_nThere are only two pancakes on this plate.

And of course I couldn’t visit London without at least one semi-stalking adventure.  I had a bit of a thing for Orlando Bloom back in the day (my husband was very tolerant) and after learning that he attended Guildhall School of Drama, I just had to scope the place out.  That chapter can be appropriately titled “In Which I Pretend I’m a Prospective Student, Steal a Class List Containing the name of Orlando’s sister Samantha, and Leave My Gloves in the Bathroom”.

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Why, yes, I am very interested in studying here.

We spent actual Valentine’s Day at the same place Lady Jane Grey, Catherine Howard, and about 110 others literally lost their heads.  Because apparently the Tower of London is the most romantic place on earth.  Seriously, though, it’s a very cool place that’s absolutely riddled with history.  I addition to seeing Tower Hill (the actual site of the executions), we got to see the Crown Jewels, rooms filled with actual suits of armor, and rooms recreated to look as they did 500 years ago.  It’s cool even when it’s staged.

photo-2Actual admission ticket!

We spent our last Saturday there in Notting Hill at the Portobello Road street market, which I only really knew from the movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks (and proceeded to sing the song “Portobello Road” ALL DAY) where we were stopped at one booth after another looking at the various antiques and kitschy odds-and-ends that were being sold.  The one exciting thing I remember happening there was when we were walking through the street and someone else bumped into me as she passed by, and I quickly realized that it was Minnie Driver.  Yes, Matt Damon’s ex-girlfriend totally ran me over.  It was pretty awesome.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI didn’t take this picture, Wikipedia did.  But imagine me in that crowd and Minnie Driver running me over.

By our last day it was evident we were completely wiped out – walking around London in the cold and rain will do that to you, and even spending one of those nights back at the hostel eating crackers and watching “Ant and Dec” (a variety show of sorts) didn’t do much to rejuvenate us.  So while I absolutely loved every moment we spent in London town, I was very much ready to go back home.

Of course I desperately want to get back there – specifically up to the more northern areas like Liverpool and Carlisle and Newcastle upon Tyne – and this time I’d pack a suitcase, bring home more souvenirs, and definitely take more pictures.

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Oh, I would be checking into every single place we walked by via Four Square and location tagging all my Instagram photos.  Because that’s how we roll in 2013.

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Didn’t Even Last a Month

Oooooohhhhh, I’m pathetic.  Remember that whole “I’m going to read different in 2013!” mantra I “committed” myself to a couple of weeks back?  My whole, “I’m going to read mysteries and historical fiction and biographies blah blah blah blah”….?  Yeah, you can just pretend that never happened.

I was doing pretty well at first.  I read two mystery books, Royal Flush and Royal Blood from the Her Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen, and I enjoyed them.  I was having fun finding new books in sections of the library that I had never ventured in before (romance, mystery, etc.).  I was excited when I checked out a book about Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor called The Shadow Queen.  I thought, “I’m going to be entertained because it’s fiction, but I’ll also learn something!”

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Yeah…that’s a bunch of crap.

I read about four chapters of the book, and I was bored.  I’m not saying that the book was totally boring, because it wasn’t.  But reading it felt like a chore.  I would see it sitting on the table and I would think, “Oh, I should really spend some time getting through that thing…it’s going to be due back at the library soon…”

That never happens when I read young adult fiction.

FE_PR_0518books415x276This is what happens!!

I’m serious.  When I check out YA books at the library, I get those things read as fast as I can.  I get that shiz done, people.  Not because it’s a chore and that I feel almost obligated to read them because I checked them out, but because I really really want to read them.

But even though I decided to give up on The Shadow Queen, I wasn’t going to give up on reading different just yet.  I had checked out the first two books of a fun-looking mystery series about two sister witches, and I was excited to get started on them.

At least that’s what I was telling myself.  What I was really thinking was, “I wonder if there are any new YA books at the library.”  Sigh.

I shook those thoughts out of my head and proceeded to read the first page of It Takes a Witch by Heather Blake.  And the first page was all I read.

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Why didn’t I go any further?  Was it really that bad?

Well no, it wasn’t bad.  Honestly, I don’t even remember what I read.  I just know I wasn’t interested in reading at that moment, and I never looked back.  After that I returned all my books to the library, and that’s when the inevitable happened.

I saw YA books on the shelf that I’ve never been able to find until now!!!

Well, obviously one has to take that as a sign.  These books don’t just pop up at the library every day.  When you see them, you check them out.  No questions asked.

And if I needed another sign to go back to my beloved YA books, it was that two books I’ve been sitting on the waiting list for at the eLibrary just became available yesterday as well.  And there’s no way I’m waiting another two months for those books to become available again.

So here’s what I’ve got on my plate for the next three weeks:

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

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I bought the sequel to this popular YA book way back in April of last year, and all this time I’ve never been able to find the first one.  Of course until yesterday.  So duh, I grabbed it.  I don’t even know what the story is about (I wasn’t about to read the sequel before the first one), but the waiting list is hella long on the library’s website, so it’s probably pretty good.  And it’ll probably hold my interest longer than Wallis Simpson.

The Evolution of Maya Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

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I read the first book of this series last year, The Unbecoming of Maya Dyer, and I loved it.  Of course it took a while for the second one to come out, and then even longer for it to hit the library shelves.  But guess what?  I was at the library on a good day and happened to spot it before anyone else.  The first one left off with a ton of questions, which I’m sure won’t be completely answered in this sequel, but I’m excited anyway.  A lot more excited than I was for Wallis Simpson.

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

The Scorch Trials

Yet another highly anticipated sequel that I’ve been waiting for since I finished the first book The Maze Runner a couple of months ago.  When I finished that first sci-fi dystopian eBook, I put my name on the long waiting list for The Scorch Trials right away because I knew it would be a long time before it would come to me.  But the email notification came yesterday, and I’m ready to get back into that frightening world.  A lot more frightening than Wallis Simpson.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianne Wynne Jones

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This book came out years ago – 1986 – and it’s apparently one of the best fantasy books ever written.  Or so people say.  A few months ago I decided that I wanted to read it, thinking I could easily find it at the library.  Well, I couldn’t.  It was always checked out, and there was a long waiting list for it on the website.  But I put my name down anyway and then sort of forgot about it until I got the email yesterday that it was available.  So now I get to see what the fuss is all about.  More fuss than Wallis Simpson, that’s for sure.

So just let me get through these four books, and then maybe I’ll rethink my whole “Read Different” slogan.  I still want to read Pride & Prejudice – I’m really committing myself to that one – and I’ll still check out other sections of the library just in case something interesting pops up.  But I simply cannot ignore YA books.  YA flows through my veins, and there’s no cutting off the supply.

YA 4 EVAH.  Word.

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52 Weeks, 52 Movies – JANUARY

So my first month of watching new movies wasn’t totally exciting, but hey…I saw five new (to me) movies, which means I’m that much closer to my goal.  And even more importantly – they were all good!  Of course I rarely see movies that I hate, so chances are all the movies I watch this year will be good.  Maybe not all great, but at least good.  Enough.

With no further ado, I bring you my five movies of January!

Super 8 (2011)

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Since I’ve been a geeky fan of J.J. Abrams ever since Felicity – yes, FELICITY, people – and even more so after I went to his panel with Joss Whedon at Comic-Con a couple of years ago (name droppin’), I was really excited to see his sci-fi homage to Steven Spielberg (who also produced the movie).  Of course it took me two years to finally see it, but I did.  And I really liked it!  I didn’t love it, as I tend to reserve that word for movies that give me the feels, but it was really fun to watch.  Fun, as in the crazy train wreck that happens in the beginning of the movie.  Also the zombie make-up.  Zombie make-up is cool.

elle-zombie-filmspongeShe’s just playin’.  It’s cool.

Les Miserables (2012)

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Speaking of love, this one kicked me right in the feels.  I knew I was going to like this movie ever since this post, but I didn’t think it was going to turn me into a blubbering mess the way it did.  Good God, I cried like a baby during this movie.  Not just because it’s a depressing movie (it is), but because that’s what some of those songs do to me.  CRY CRY CRY CRY.  That’s what the name of this movie should be called.  That or “Everybody Dies”.  Oh, and Marius?  I know we’ve never had a good relationship, me hating your character and all, and not understanding why exactly Eponine loves you so much, but now I’m pretty sure I want to marry you.  The end.

Les-Miserables-Samantha-Eddie_510x317Yerp….I get it.

Secret of the Wings (2012)

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I know you’re probably thinking, “What?  A kid’s movie?  About Tinker Bell?”  Why yes, it is.  Thanks for noticing.  And since you don’t know it already, Tinker Bell is the SHIZ.  She’s hilarious, for one thing, and she gets mad easily.  Which is something all the Disney princesses are lacking:  temper.  You seriously think Cinderella put up with all that crap without wanting to yell and throw things?  That’s why Tinker Bell is awesome.  And this newest installment in the Tinker Bell series is my favorite (yes, I’ve seen them all).  Why?  Well, it takes place during winter, which we all know is the best month.  And it introduces us to winter fairies (or are they pixies?), Periwinkle and Spike.  It’s all great fun, the animation rocks, and I can watch it with my daughter.  Win win win win win situation.

secret-of-the-wings-winter-fairiesThe New Gang.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2012)

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Tom Cruise is one of those actors who I will always enjoy watching despite whatever is going on in their personal life.  He gets lots of crap for his Scientology background and his tendency to jump on couches, but I honestly don’t care about that stuff.  Why?  Because Tom Cruise is the ultimate MOVIE STAR.  Seriously, look that word up in the dictionary and it’ll probably have a picture of him.  All the Mission Impossible movies are great, but I especially loved this one.  Tom Cruise does what he does best, which is run and hang from precarious heights.  Jeremy Renner (my husband’s not-so-secret man-crush) is also in this movie, and I really hope they make more MI movies with his character because he was kinda awesome, as is Simon Pegg, of course.  And the girl…well honestly I have no idea who the girl is, but she was pretty cool, too…a lot better than what’s-her-face from the first movie.  It’s a perfect Saturday night popcorn movie, and I highly suggest you watch it.  Or Tom Cruise will run all over your face.

Mission_Impossible-Ghost-ProtocolHe likes to climb ridiculously high buildings.

First Position (2012)

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So technically this “movie” is actually a “documentary”, but I’m still totally counting it because it had just as much drama as any other movie out there.  And it was released at Sundance.  It’s about ballet dancers competing in this huge competition that will A) get them noticed, B) get them a scholarship to a prestigious dance school or C) get them a contract to a prestigious dance company.  The documentary focuses on five very different dancers and their journey in preparing for this competition.  It’s stressful and dramatic and emotional, but it’s BALLET DANCING, which means it’s awesome.  Seriously, the crap these dancers put their bodies through on the very slim chance that they’ll actually do this as their career is inspiration for us all.*

*May make you feel like a failure in comparison.

tumblr_mfb4b8j1ZR1qfq4wmo1_500Not sure if leg is even attached to body…

That’s it for the month of January.  What’s in store for February?  Well, there are a couple of past Best Picture winners on Netflix that I have yet to see, plus a certain remake of a classic (of which I’m a little weary, but I’ll probably end up liking anyway).

Happy watching!!

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52 Weeks, 52 Movies (Give or Take a Few)

Because last year was such a lame year in terms of me seeing new movies, I’ve decided that this year is going to be different.  It has to be different.  Movies are a huge part of who I am, and by not seeing them I am simply losing little pieces of myself and turning into someone who’s not very interesting.

So I’ve decided to take on another task this year:  To watch at least one new movie a week.  That’s it.  Just one.  If I happen to see two, then that’s awesome.  If I see three, that’s freaking extraordinary.  But all I’m asking for is ONE.  It sounds so easy – to someone who probably doesn’t have kids, that is.  Seriously, my kid freaks out if I attempt to watch anything that’s not related to Nickelodeon or Disney.  But Netflix is filled to the brim with movies that I want to see, and if I just make the effort, whether it’s watching them on my iPad or laptop with headphones, I know it can be done.

imagesAnd apparently it’s awesome…?

So my goal for this blog is to right about the new movies I’ve seen at the end of each month, which should be roughly around five movies per post.  Unless of course I become super determined and start watching a new movie every night.  But I won’t get ahead of myself.  I have a kid.  And books to read.  And Doctor Who and Sherlock to watch.  I’ve got priorities, people.

who-series-7-part-2Important priorities.

Of course there will be the days when I find the time to watch a movie and all I want to do is curl up on the couch and watch me some Harry Potter, which is totally acceptable.  Sometimes my mood overrides my brain, thus resulting in “comfort watching” (like “comfort reading” but, you know, with movies).  But I promise I will do my best to explore the unknown.

So what movies did the month of January bring me?  Stay tuned…