Saturday, January 14, 2017

Inauguration Apprehension

Sometime this past summer - probably during or directly following the Democratic National Convention - I flipped my calendar forward to January to check what day of the week January 20th fell on. I had missed both of President Obama's inaugurations because of annual travel I do for work, and I did not want to miss the inauguration of the first female president.

I noted with relief that January 20th fell on a Friday, when I was assured to be back in the office. I put a reminder on the date in all caps: "INAUGURATION DAY."

Of course, things didn't work out the way that I had thought they would. Now that date looms like a specter, my calendar reminder acting as a cruel joke: "Hey, you thought that you'd get to see a woman become the leader of the free world! Yeah, right."

Like so many people, I've been emotionally raw since the election. This has displayed itself most clearly through the way I have been consuming media that usually bring me comfort - books and tv and movies are hitting me in an emotional way I have never experienced before. (And I am a known crier.) I was in the middle of a rewatch of The West Wing in early November; it took me a full month before I felt like I could watch an episode again and then I sobbed through the entire thing. Moana, a Disney movie about a teenager finding her purpose (in which nothing sad actually really happens) left me with one of those crying-hangover headaches. I'm a mess, all the time.

I also feel like I'm constantly teetering on the edge of some invisible cliff, trying to find the balance between being informed and engaged and activated but not boiling over into rage. And fear. I'm scared and stressed and feel like I'm going to vomit every time I read the news. And I'm ashamed, too, because I know that had the election swung a different way I would have relaxed. I would have exhaled. I would have thought that we had somehow dealt the misogyny and racism and hatred that so much of America demonstrated throughout this bruising campaign a fatal blow. When of course, none of that would have vanished even if Hillary had won the election. People in less privileged positions than mine know this and feel this way all the time and have for centuries. Yet it took me 31 years to truly understand that, and I'm so embarrassed that it took so long.

Saying goodbye to the Obama Administration this week has been hard for all the obvious reasons. I'll be forever thankful that I was able to spend my twenties with a president who respects women, who believes in inclusion, who is smart and eloquent and funny and most importantly is a truly good person. I'm grateful that I spent the formative years of my career with powerful women like Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton to look up to. I'm terrified about the future but when I think of the generation of children who were raised with the Obama family in the White House demonstrating love and hope, I feel a little better. A little.

I have no idea where we're going to go from here as a country. I'm terrified about what the future holds. And I know that the naive optimism I've held for most of my life is never coming back. But I also know that I have found a power and activism in me that I didn't know existed before, and I'm going to use that going forward as a force for good.

I kept that reminder on my calendar instead of deleting it, even though every time I look at it I feel queasy. It reminds me that there is so much work to be done, and that I have a voice. I'm going to use it.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 in Review

Guess it's that time again! Happy New Year, everyone. Here's my 2016 in review.

1. What did you do in 2016 that you'd never done before?
Voted for a woman to be President of the United States - a moment that, though the election did not turn out the way I had wished, I will cherish for the rest of my life. I hope that this was not the last time I'll be able to vote for a woman at the top of the ballot.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions and will you make any for next year? 
Last year my resolutions were:
  1. Be honest with myself. 
  2. Treat my body well. 
  3. Never apologize for my feelings.
I did okay on those - I certainly became better at points 1 and 3, though there is definitely still room for improvement. I think these are guiding life principles that I'll continue to strive toward for the rest of my life.

For 2017, my resolutions are a little more measurable:
  1. Read 35 books
  2. Continue to practice and study Spanish
  3. Take a class at the Loft Literary Center
  4. Stay engaged in the causes that I am passionate about
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Two dear friends and members of my book club - yay Katie and Hannah! - and enough others that if I tried to list them all I'd forget someone, so I'll just say "congratulations" to everyone!

4. Did anyone close to you die? 
No one close to me personally, though several of my loved ones lost people in their lives. And I don't think I'm alone in saying that there were numerous celebrity deaths this year that felt quite personal.

5. What countries did you visit?
No foreign travel this year, but I did a small amount of travel locally: my whole family spent a weekend in Lutsen, my mom and sister and I spent a weekend in Red Wing. Also Joe and I celebrated the marriage of a good friend in Houston this fall.

6. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?
Oh geez, well, where to start? I guess I'd like to have my optimism and faith in people restored because 2016 basically smashed that to smithereens. And also, carryover from last year - wouldn't be a bad thing to have a clean cubicle.

7. What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory and why? 
November 8 - for better or for worse, it will be hard to forget Election Day 2016.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I took on a leadership position with the Corporate Volunteer Council of the Twin Cities, and also recently received a promotion at work.

9. What was your biggest failure?
I had a goal to stick to a budget in 2016, and I failed miserably at that - I don't think I made it through a single month on budget. Sigh.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nothing serious.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Dixie Chicks concert tickets, and I also invested in newspaper subscriptions to some publications I admire. (If I value the free press as the Fourth Estate, I damn well better put my money where my mouth is and support it.)

12. Where did most of your money go?
The house, eating out at too many restaurants, and buying too much coffee.

13. What did you get really excited about?
I'm pretty excited about my little brother getting engaged to the love of his life! I look forward to welcoming a new sister into the family next spring.

14. Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder? Thinner or fatter? Richer or poorer?
Sadder, fatter, poorer. Whee!

15. What do you wish you'd done more of? 
Reading. I'm happier when I read, and I neglected that passion of mine this year.

16. What do you wish you'd done less of?
As usual, I wish I had worried less about things that I can't change.

17. How did you spend Christmas?
Joe and I spent Christmas Eve at my parents' house with my family, and Christmas Day at home watching The Empire Strikes Back and relaxing.

18. What were your favorite TV programs?
I watched far too much TV, but ran down my favorites right here. I did realize after publishing that post that I forgotten to mention the ESPN doc OJ: Made in America, which was an incredible production on so many levels.

19. What were your favorite books you read this year?
Oh, hey, I wrote a blog post about that, too!
  
20. What was your favorite music from this year?
The Dixie Chicks album Taking the Long Way has long been a favorite of mine, but took on an importance relevance again this year - especially post election, where it served as a form of comfort and catharsis (some days you just have to listen to Not Ready to Make Nice on repeat).

21. What were your favorite films of the year?
With a note that I've yet to see most of the awards-season front runners, I've listed my favorites here.

22. What did you do on your birthday and how old were you?
I turned 31 and Joe and I celebrated with a nice dinner at The Bachelor Farmer. Joe and I also had a nice brunch the following day with my parents at WA Frost.

23. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Is it too obvious if I bring up the election results again? Probably, huh?

24. What kept you sane? 
Joe, Henry, my family, and my amazing friends.

25. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.
To quote a pretty amazing woman: "Never stop believing that fighting for what is right is worth it."

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Favorite Things 2016: TV Shows

So I watch a lot of TV. (We all know this, it is not new information, I have a problem.) I forced myself to narrow this list to ten shows and somehow succeeded. These are shows I watched in this calendar year, so there might be a few whose original air dates were last year or the year before that I have just now finally got around to watching.

The reminder I'm running all week: favorite is different than best. This is my list of my favorite TV I watched this year - not necessarily the best shows that were on the air.

So I'm cheating with this one because no new episodes aired in 2016, but I watched it all for the first time in 2016, so I am counting it. This show is a pure delight, and when I couldn't sleep on Election Night season 2 kept me company and made things feel a little less terrible.
The Premise: When pregnant Maggie discovers that her husband is having an affair, her best friend Emma moves back to their hometown and in with Maggie to help her raise the baby. (Lady friendships for the win!) Hilarious and sweet, and featuring Keegan-Michael Key as Emma's swoon-worthy ex-boyfriend.
New Episodes: Tuesdays on USA - if season 3 ever is scheduled
Where to Stream: Seasons 1 and 2 available on USA.com
2016 Favorite Episode: Season 1 Episode 8, "37 Weeks" (originally aired in 2014 but I told you, I'm cheating): Maggie is just two weeks from her due date and is in a spiral over everything still left to be done before the baby comes, so Emma and the town pitch in to get the house ready in time. Mark and Emma finally discuss their history.

Perhaps my greatest accomplishment of 2016 was getting my coworker and his wife to watch this show and have them fall in love with it as deeply as I have. Smart, funny, moving, and clever - don't be put off by the name or the kooky premise. It's outstanding, and Gina Rodriguez deserves every single bit of acclaim that she has received.
The Premise: When Jane Villanueva is accidentally artificially inseminated during what was supposed to be a routine OBGYN check up, her life is turned upside down. Based on a Venezuelan telenovela, the show is rooted in the humanity of its characters, which keeps it from losing itself in some of the more crazy plotlines.
New Episodes: Mondays on the CW (currently airing season 3)
Where to Stream: Seasons 1 and 2 available on Netflix, Season 3 on The CW app
2016 Favorite Episode: Season 2 Episode 22, "Chapter Forty-Four": The season 2 finale had everything that makes Jane so special - I laughed and cried and the cliffhanger had me yelling at the television. Jane and Michael's wedding day finally arrives but of course their special day runs anything but smoothly.

A frothy, fun romp through New York City's publishing world - it can be over the top, but Sutton Foster's performance really makes you root for Liza, and it's great to see Hilary Duff again as Liza's best friend. A great escapism show.
The Premise: After a divorce, 40 year-old Liza struggles to re-enter the workforce - until she fibs about her age. Now she's single and pretending to be 26, navigating work and love and life in New York City.
New Episodes: Wednesdays on TVLand (just finished season 3)
Where to Stream: Seasons 1-3 available at TVLand.com
2016 Favorite Episode: Season 3 Episode 8, "What's Up, Dock?": Liza finally finalizes her divorce, and her worlds collide when she ends up in the hospital after a biking accident.

I always struggle to describe what makes this show so special - on the face of it, it's just another food show. But it is not just another food show. It is sweet and soothing and everyone is so nice to each other and the hosts are full of puns and it's just lovely. We have one season left to go in the US before Mel and Sue and Mary Berry leave the show, and I plan to savor it.
The Premise: Bakers compete to become the top baker in Britain.
New Episodes: Currently in-between seasons, but typically Sunday nights on PBS
Where to Stream: They took the season that was on Netflix down, and nothing is currently streaming on PBS.com. It's a travesty! (But I've heard that you can find a lot of it on youtube.)
2016 Favorite Episode: Season 6 Episode 10, "The Finals": Tamal, Nadiya, and Ian face off in the season finale, and Joe and I both cry because everyone is so wonderful.

There is no better example of "favorite" being different than "best" than Timeless. Look, this show has a lot of problems. (Like, a lot.) But I am having SO MUCH FUN watching. It appeals to the history nerd in me and I like the characters. I'm a little concerned about this Rambaldi-esque master conspiracy that has formed in the past few episodes, but I'm along for this ride and enjoying the heck out of it.
The Premise: When a criminal steals a top-secret time machine and sets out to change history, a team of three vastly different people must chase him through time in an attempt to stop him.
New Episodes: Mondays on NBC (currently airing season 1)
Where to Stream: Season 1 so far is available on Hulu and NBC.com
2016 Favorite Episode: Season 1 Episode 4, "Party at Castle Varlar": The team chases Flynn and an atomic weapon back to World War II Germany, where they come face to face with the one and only Ian Fleming.


Stranger Things
The surprise summer phenom that you've probably seen already. Plays on your 1980s nostalgia while also creating a truly engrossing tale full of spookiness, memorable characters, shady conspiracies, and a delightful synth-based score.
The Premise: A young boy goes missing at the same time a strange girl with mysterious powers arrives in a sleepy Indiana town. As the boy's mother and friends search for him, the local sheriff begins to suspect that a larger conspiracy is at play.
New Episodes: Season 1 dropped on Netflix this summer
Where to Stream: Netflix
2016 Favorite Episode: Season 1 Episode 1, "The Vanishing of Will Byers": An effective and exciting pilot - if you aren't hooked by the end of this episode, then this show is not for you.

The Grinder
I feel personally victimized by the fact that this show was cancelled after its first season. It was the funniest comedy to debut in the 2015-2016 season, and I'm sad no one watched it but me. The first season is definitely worth watching, so if you missed it, get thee to Netflix and check it out. You won't regret it, I promise.
The Premise: After the cancellation of his long-running law procedural, actor Dean Sanderson returns home to Idaho and attempts to work at the family law firm - even though he is not a real lawyer (as his actual-lawyer brother Stewart tries to point out).
New Episodes: None, it has been cancelled. Damn you, FOX!
Where to Stream: You can find it's one and only wonderful season on Netflix
2016 Favorite Episode: Season 1 Episode 13, "Grinder vs. Grinder": Dean becomes jealous when Stewart considers legal advice from Timothy Olyphant, and a mock trial is arranged for the two actors to face off.

This zany group of detectives make up my favorite group of TV co-workers. Andre Braugher's Captain Raymond Holt might be the best character on television right now.
The Premise: A zany group of detectives solve crimes in the NYPD's 99th precinct under the leadership of Captain Holt.
New Episodes: Sundays on FOX (currently airing season 4)
Where to Stream: Seasons 1-4 available on Hulu
2016 Favorite Episode: Season 3 Episode 12, "9 Days": Holt and Peralta contract the mumps during an investigation and must be quarantined together.

Do you love musicals? Do you love satire? Do you love smart commentary on the state of the world and frank discussion of topics like mental illness and women's rights? Do you like to laugh? Then boy do I have the show for you!
The Premise: On a whim, Rebecca leaves her high-paying job as a lawyer in New York City to follow her summer camp ex-boyfriend back to his hometown in California, where she inserts herself into his life. Also it's a musical.
New Episodes: Fridays on The CW (currently airing season 2)
Where to Stream: Season 1 available on Netflix, current season on The CW app
2016 Favorite Episode: Season 1 Episode 17, "Why is Josh in a Bad Mood?": Rebecca hides her new relationship with Greg from Paula

ABC is home to several strong family sitcoms, but this is the best of the bunch. I am always laughing, but Black-ish is not afraid to tackle real cultural issues. Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross shine in an outstanding ensemble.
The Premise: Dre and Bow Johnson are raising their four kids in a upper-class suburban neighborhood in California - a very different world from the inner-city where Dre grew up.
New Episodes: Wednesdays on ABC (currently airing season 3)
Where to Stream: Seasons 1-3 available on Hulu
2016 Favorite Episode: Season 2 Episode 16, "Hope": The Johnsons wait for the results of a grand jury investigation following a police shooting of a young black man. The single best half an hour of TV in 2016 - powerful, resonant, and yet still funny, it's a must-watch for every American.

This concludes my lists of favorite things in 2016 - in case you missed them, here are the others:
Favorite Podcasts of 2016
Favorite Movies of 2016
Favorite Books of 2016

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Favorite Things 2016: Books

I have to be honest: I was underwhelmed by most of the things I read this year. Many of the super-hyped books left me cold, and I have yet to get to a large stack of books that have a good chance of making this list next year. Below, though, are five books read in 2016 that I have enjoyed and am excited to recommend.

(Once again, the reminder: favorite is different than best! One of the best books I read this year that you will not find on the list of favorites below: Missoula by John Krakauer. A vital read.)

I've read this book once before, but I revisited it this fall in anticipation of my attempt at National Novel Month (which I was doing quite well at until the election happened and threw me into a mix of depression and anger and grief that made it impossible to write). It's a mix of advice and memoir, and I think it contains some of King's very best writing. A great read even for those who don't have dreams of writing a book someday.


Okay, so I listened to the audiobook, but it still counts. Sara Bareilles has been one of my favorite artists for the better part of a decade, and I adored this account of her early life, her first record deal, finding her voice in the industry, and her journey to becoming a Tony-nominated Broadway composer. Sara narrates the audiobook herself and even sings a little, so I'd definitely recommend that version.

An aching, melancholy look at a mixed-race family in 1970s Ohio and how the dreams of parents can be projected onto their children - for better and for worse. This book made my heart hurt but it is exquisitely written and kept me turning the pages until the very end. The book opens with the words, "Lydia is dead. But they don't know it yet." What follows is a mystery and a portrait of a family as we move back and forth in time, following the Lee family leading up to and following Lydia's death.


Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
A rollicking ride through a dystopian future and 1980s nostalgia. Probably the most fun I've had reading this year. It's 2044, and most people spend their days disconnecting from the wasteland of the real world by connecting to the OASIS, the virtual reality utopia. When the creator of the OASIS dies and his estate announces that he has hidden his massive fortune inside the OASIS, teenager Wade Watts is plunged into the adventure of his life - with consequences that extend far beyond the virtual world. Cline does a great job immersing us in this new world - I didn't want this one to end. (And while getting the 80s references probably help, you definitely don't need to know them all in order to appreciate the adventure. I certainly had no context for Joust, for instance.)


Every once and awhile, I need to read some straight brain candy, so I turn to my trusty "take a break" genre: historical romance. This book, part of the Castles Ever After series by Tessa Dare, is pretty silly: Maddie is more interested in her work illustrating scientific journals than in finding a suitor, so she makes up a Scottish warrior who she is betrothed to, and then tells her family that he has been killed in battle and that she will never love again. Now she is able to work in solitude without the pressure of finding a proper husband - until one day there is a knock at her door and standing there is her "beloved" Captain MacKenzie, definitely real and absolutely alive. It's silly, it's sweet, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. One thing about Tessa Dare's books is that she gives her female protagonists hopes and dreams outside of finding love - Maddie's goals of getting her illustrations published are given just as much care and attention as the romance.

ICYMI: My favorite podcasts and favorite movies of 2016

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Favorite Things 2016: Movies

Continuing the recap I started yesterday of my favorite things of 2016. Today: movies! I still have not seen most of this year's Award Season movies - no La La Land yet, or Moonlight. I'll get to them, I promise! Until then, here are my favorites of the movies I did make it to see.

Standard reminder this week: favorite is different than best! This is not a list of the best films of the year (though I could make a case for several of them), but the films I enjoyed the most.

Arrival
This is not your typical aliens-on-earth story. Instead, it's a story about the importance of language and how we communicate; a story about love and pain and how a full life encompasses them both . . . it's beautiful and awe-inspiring. Joe and I saw it the weekend after the election which made its themes seem at once more vital and also seem as if the movie had been made in a more innocent time. Amy Adams is captivating in it, the score is lovely, and the I thought the depiction of the aliens were like nothing I had seen in movies before.

Moana
No one will be surprised to learn that I sobbed my way through this film, from its first scene of baby Moana interacting with the ocean to its finale. Some of that reaction can be attributed to my post-election emotional rawness, but also to the beauty of the story about a young girl finding her strength. The animation is absolutely gorgeous and the songs are infectious and fun and yes, the climactic "I Am Moana" made me cry (in the theater and on the way home). One of Disney's recent best and one I'm anxious to revisit.

Hell or High Water
Joe and I saw this one on a whim, and I'm really glad we did. This movie flew a bit under the radar, but the performances are uniformly great and it packs quite the punch. Ben Foster and Chris Pine play two brothers who are robbing banks to get money to pay off the mortgage on the family farm, and Jeff Bridges is one of the Texas Rangers on their trail. It's the type of film that sticks with you.

10 Cloverfield Lane
Oh, this is a good one! Suspenseful and twisty and John Goodman is AMAZING in it. As the name suggests it does tie in with 2008's monster flick Cloverfield, but for most of its run time it's a Hitchcockian-locker room thriller. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a young woman who wakes up after a car ride in an underground bunker owned by John Goodman, who tells her that there's been a chemical weapon attack and she must stay in the bunker to stay alive. But soon she realizes that being inside the bunker may be even more dangerous than whatever is happening out in the world . . . It's creepy, thrilling, and I adored it.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I just still can't believe we're lucky enough to be getting new Star Wars films - much less ones that are actually good! The story of the rebel victory referenced in A New Hope's opening crawl, Rogue One features what I would argue are the best action sequences in any Star Wars film to date. Not to mention it makes Darth Vader scary again - that final scene? You know what I'm talking about. I think I speak for most Star Wars fans when I say, "!!!!!"

Captain America: Civil War
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building to this film, which, despite its entry as a Captain America film is really more of an Avengers flick. You know the plot, you saw it. Civil War is far from perfect but I enjoyed the heck out of it. And let's face it, it would have made this list for the scene where Steve Rogers stops a helicopter from taking off with his biceps alone.