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Posts Tagged ‘TV’

 

still book stack table ranunculus flower

So far this month, I’ve been flipping through old favorites and diving deep into new books. Here’s the latest roundup:

I’ll Be There For You: The One About Friends, Kelsey Miller
I’m a longtime Friends fan, though I came to it late. I blew through this smart, well-researched, loving look at the origin, history and cultural impact of one of my favorite shows. Miller adores the show, but she’s not afraid to question its more difficult parts. Fascinating and so much fun.

Four Gifts: Seeking Self-Care for Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength, April Yamasaki
Sarah Bessey chose this book to kick off a yearlong challenge to read spiritual formation books by people of color. My go-tos in this genre are all white women, so I appreciated the nudge. Yamasaki is wise and thoughtful. Lots of her advice is common sense – but we all need a reminder sometimes.

What Now?, Ann Patchett
I love Patchett’s essays and some of her novels (and Parnassus, the Nashville bookstore she founded). This quick read is based on her commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College. Warmhearted, wise advice for college grads and anyone who’s ever wondered about their winding path (which I bet is most of us).

Wishtree, Katherine Applegate
I picked up this slim middle-grade novel at Porter Square Books. It’s narrated by Red, a red oak tree who serves as the neighborhood “wishtree” – people tie wishes to its branches. When a young, lonely girl moves in next door, Red becomes determined to help her find a friend. A sweet story with gorgeous illustrations (and I loved Bongo the crow).

Belong to Me, Marisa de los Santos
After rereading Love Walked In last month, I turned back to this sequel-of-sorts, which finds Cornelia in the suburbs, struggling with new challenges. This book is full of warmth and vivid detail and characters I want to be friends with – even Piper, Cornelia’s neighbor, who is hard to like at first, but I’ve come to adore her. So many good and true lines.

Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith, Sarah Bessey
Reading Four Gifts (see above) spurred me to (finally) pick up Sarah’s second book, on her struggles with church and faith and how she found her way back. I love the sorting metaphor, and it feels particularly apt right now as I am between churches. Her words on community and grief and calling are so good.

The Golden Tresses of the Dead, Alan Bradley
Flavia de Luce is back for a 10th adventure, involving a human finger found in her sister’s wedding cake and a couple of mysterious deaths (naturally). I like this series, though I think it’s struggling a bit lately. Really fun escapist British mystery.

Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace, Christie Purifoy
Christie is a gardener, a writer and an Internet friend of mine. This, her second book, examines the places she’s lived and loved (each chapter has a different tree motif) and her efforts to care for them. So much here about loss, grief, joy, transition, community and how we shape and are shaped by our places. I loved it. To review for Shelf Awareness(out March 12).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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In memory of Mary

mary tyler moore hat

A few years ago, soon after I moved to Boston, I fell completely in love with The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I’d watched it occasionally in reruns as a child, but this time I checked the DVDs out from our library and savored every single episode. I love Lou Grant, Rhoda, Murray and the whole cast, but Mary Richards – sweet, spunky, hardworking, brave Mary – is my favorite.

I loved her chic wardrobe and cozy studio apartment. I laughed aloud at her eloquent facial expressions and quick wit. I cheered as she made her own way in a big city, forging a new career (as I was doing much the same thing). And I related in a deep and visceral way to the struggle between being a “nice girl,” staying true to yourself and your values, and standing up to sexism or other prejudices.

Mary belongs to my grandparents’ generation, and her show was popular in my parents’ youth. But much of what we’re fighting for, as women and as human beings, has not changed. (In the current political climate, this truth is coming home to me every single day.)

Mary Tyler Moore died this week, and I’ve been thinking about her – both the character I love and the actress who pushed television forward with her bold, funny, utterly real performance. She may have “turned the world on with her smile,” as the show’s theme song has it, but she also lit up the world with her courage, wit and grace.

Thank you, Mary. You made us laugh, you made us think and you made us brave. I think you made it after all.

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rick castle kate beckett

Recently, the hubs and I watched the series finale of Castle, which has dominated our Monday nights for several years now. The show has suffered over the last couple of seasons, amid writer/producer turnover and a few casting changes. But we love Rick Castle and Kate Beckett and their ensemble cast, and we wanted to watch the end of their story.

In case you’re not familiar with it: Castle features Rick Castle, bestselling mystery writer, and Kate Beckett, NYPD homicide detective, who are thrown together when Castle begins shadowing Beckett as inspiration for his novels. Nathan Fillion plays Castle to cheeky, charming, boyish perfection, and Stana Katic is Kate Beckett: sharp, intense, brilliant, good with a gun. The supporting cast is equally beloved at our house, especially Beckett’s fellow detectives Kevin Ryan (Seamus Dever) and Javier Esposito (Jon Huertas).

We fell in love with Castle after our friend Nate practically shoved the DVD of Season 1 into my hands, telling me, “You’ll love it. He’s a writer!” And it’s true: one of Castle’s unique pleasures is its focus on, and delight in, good stories.

Especially in the early seasons, Castle is often able to help solve a homicide by thinking of it as one of his mystery plots. At least a dozen episodes include the line “If I were writing this story…” and feature Castle pacing around the 12th precinct or his apartment, trying to fit the clues into a narrative arc. Beckett – ever the practical cop – sometimes gets impatient with this line of thinking, but Castle’s narrative framework often leads them to a solution. Sometimes it provides the episode’s final twist, when the case seems to be neatly wrapped up, but the story is missing something.

As the show continued, its narrative arc expanded beyond each episode’s murder and solution: Beckett recommenced her longtime quest to track down her mother’s killer, and Castle wrestled with a few of his own demons, writing-related and otherwise. The show has traced his relationships with his whip-smart daughter Alexis, his ebullient actress mother Martha, and Beckett herself: what was at first a grudging partnership (on her end) became a dramatic love story. Meanwhile, the wisecracks from Ryan and Esposito made me laugh every week, and their quiet, steadfast loyalty to Beckett and each other has often made me cry.

After sticking with these characters through some serious highs and lows (and a mind-boggling number of homicides), I was hoping for a satisfying finale. We did get some resolution of a few major plot threads, but the ending was…not great. As the final credits rolled, the hubs and I looked at each other and said (almost in unison), “If I were writing this story…”

Maybe we didn’t get (exactly) the ending we wanted. I know that Hollywood studio politics, and the last-minute decisions of producers, had a great deal to do with that. It didn’t feel smooth or coherent or clean, and I’m also sad that I won’t be spending Monday nights with these characters any more. We’ll still quote episodes and watch reruns occasionally (and Esposito’s trademark “Yo!” is now a staple at our house). But it won’t be the same.

I love shows that make me laugh and make me think, and Castle has done both, in spades. I’m going to miss the folks at the 12th precinct. But I’m grateful for the hours of enjoyment, and the insights into what makes a good (heart-pounding, witty, compelling, highly entertaining) story.

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brookline backyard snow blue sky

I feel like winter is all I’m talking about here lately. (Well, winter and books. Because I’m always talking about books.)

I forget, every year, how winter takes over my life. It affects my commute, my diet (everything warm and spicy, please), my wardrobe (what goes with fleece-lined tights)?, my mental state. And although we escaped the recent blizzard with just a few inches of snow, it’s still cold, dark and sometimes icy out there.

Since winter is hard for a lot of us, my friend Anne put out a call for answers to this question: what is saving your life right now?

She didn’t make up the question, and neither did I – we both got it from Barbara Brown Taylor. But it’s too good a question not to revisit once in a while. Especially when things are tough.

So, in the midst of short days and long nights, constant subway delays and unpredictable weather, family illness and work stress and frustrating news from all over the world, it strikes me as not only good but necessary to list the things that are saving my life now. (I’m linking up with Anne and others – feel free to join us!)

lonesome dove breakfast

  • A few pages of Lonesome Dove every morning over breakfast. I am loving the epic story of Augustus McCrae, Woodrow F. Call, and their journey from Texas to Montana. (My dad adores it, but I’ve never read it before.)
  • My snazzy red journal, a gift from my sister.
  • Chitchat with my favorite sandwich-maker at Darwin’s, who has dreads halfway down his back, a fondness for tie-dye and a warm, wide smile.
  • Sea salt and vinegar chips (a new addiction).
  • Molly’s scones, which I cannot stop making (and eating).
  • Chai lattes from Darwin’s (also known, on some days, as the elixir of life).
  • Weekly group emails from the Great New Books ladies.
  • Related: stacks of good books. And my favorite bookish podcasts.
  • Blue skies, which can turn an entire day around.

blue sky orange building cambridge ma

  • Twinkle lights in my living and dining room.
  • Tea in my favorite blue mug (above).
  • Scarves and boots and fleece-lined tights.
  • The display of local art in the hallway at work. So cheery and colorful.
  • Tulips on my dining-room table.
  • The final season of Downton Abbey, which (so far) is so good.
  • Texts from a couple of stalwart friends.
  • The staycation my husband and I were able to take this weekend (of which more soon).
  • Sunday nights around the table at Ryan and Amy’s.

It’s your turn. What is saving your life right now?

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home fires masthead

It’s no secret I love a good British period drama, especially Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife and Lark Rise to Candleford. This fall, I’ve been swept up in the latest series showing on Masterpiece PBS: Home Fires.

Home Fires follows a group of women in the fictional village of Great Paxford, most of them involved with the local Women’s Institute, at the outset of World War II. The show’s marketing has centered around the ongoing feud between traditionalist Joyce Cameron and new WI leader Frances Barden, but the plotlines delve deeply into the lives of several more women: quiet bookkeeper Alison Scotlock, schoolteacher Teresa Fenchurch, stoic farm wife Steph Farrow.

Most of the women are committed to “doing their bit” and to the work of the WI: making jam from local produce that would otherwise go to waste, building an air-raid shelter for the village, raising funds for ambulances. The WI gives Frances (in particular) a purpose to fill her days. But all the characters are also grappling with other challenges: family illness, raising teenagers, financial difficulties, deep marital rifts. Several of them have husbands or sons who end up going off to fight. All of them find their lives irrevocably changed by the war, and each of them has to make hard choices over and over again.

Home Fires is a quiet show: it lacks the tense life-or-death scenes of Call the Midwife or the soapy drama of Downton. So far (the first season ranges from 1939-40), there are few massive military battles being fought. But the quietness is what I love about it. It is a show about ordinary people living small but valuable lives, who are called upon to do things they never thought they would have to do.

I am not (obviously) living in a war zone or facing the same challenges as the women of Home Fires. But I am fighting my own battles every day, and I am also mourning with the world after Paris and Beirut, wondering where it will all end. I’ve enjoyed the period detail and witty dialogue of Home Fires, but most of all I have loved watching these women as they face what comes.

Sometimes they fail. (They are human, after all.) Sometimes personal tragedy shakes them to their cores. But most often, they rise to the occasion – usually with quiet humility, sometimes with all flags flying. They adapt and make do; they find new ways to solve thorny problems. They hear bad news, and mourn, and then get back up and move forward. Together.

Courage has been variously defined as grace under pressure, the judgment that something else is more important than fear, or the simple act of seeing something through. The women of Home Fires embody all these definitions, and I’m looking forward to watching them face new challenges in season 2.

Have you watched Home Fires? What did you think?

(Image from pbs.org)

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charles river light boston summer

This is the summer of yoga in the morning, unrolling my green mat in the dining room and going through my stretches and sun salutations as the sunshine slants across the wood floors.

This is the summer of tall daylilies and pale pink peonies, of vivid multicolored hydrangeas, of cheerful, leggy yellow sunflowers wrapped in burlap at the market or in a blue Mexican vase on my kitchen table.

sunflowers

This is the summer of warm evenings on the Charles River, sitting in the front of a bright pink kayak while my friend Adam sits in the back, finding our synchronized paddling rhythm and stopping to watch the geese and ducklings.

katie adam kayak

This is the summer of writing it all down – on the blog, in the journals splashed with my messy handwriting, in daily texts and occasional emails to friends.

This is the summer of mornings at Darwin’s, drinking chai or ginger peach tea amid the sunset-colored walls, nibbling on a scone or a breakfast sandwich, typing away on my laptop amid fellow solitary workers and groups of chattering friends.

darwins cafe cup

This is the summer of so many mysteries: Lady Georgie, Bess Crawford and Daisy Dalrymple. It is the summer of smart, engaging nonfiction, a little chick lit, a couple of powerful novels.

This is the summer of evenings on the front porch, sitting in a battered lawn chair with a book, sipping lemonade and admiring my red geraniums as the sunset sky changes from blue to pink to gold.

ana of california book geraniums front porch

This is the summer of Harper Lee: rereading To Kill a Mockingbird (again) before picking up Go Set a Watchman, tracing the evolution of the characters I thought I knew.

This is the summer of small adventures: trying a new restaurant in our neighborhood, driving up to Maine for a long weekend, seeing the sandcastles at Revere Beach (north of Boston) and tossing a Frisbee by the water afterward.

revere beach sandcastle

This is the summer of easy cooking: tossed salads, bruschetta, chicken burritos, shredded zucchini quesadillas, soft pitas filled with chicken and tomatoes, eaten with strips of bell pepper dipped in hummus.

This is the summer of Modern Family, sitting beside J on the couch under the window, howling with laughter at Cam’s antics and Phil’s corny jokes, me imitating Gloria’s thick Colombian accent while I sympathize with type-A Claire.

This is the summer of all the stripes: dresses, skirts, T-shirts, sandal tan lines on my feet.

stripes silver flats

This is the summer of lunch at the farmers’ market, piping hot tamales made by a fellow Texan from Corpus Christi, topped with fiery salsa and eaten off a sheet of tinfoil at a table in the shade.

This is the summer of all the berries: red and blue, crimson and black, tart and sweet and juicy, eaten straight from the blue cardboard pints bought at the same farmers’ market.

strawberries

This is the summer of lots of ice cream: tart fro-yo from Berryline, mint-chip gelato from the freezer at home, a batch of Ryan’s homemade vanilla ice cream in the backyard a few weeks ago.

berryline froyo sprinkles strawberries

This is the summer that marks five years in Boston – an adventure I could not have predicted, which is still in full glorious swing.

This is the summer of being awake, trying (always trying) to pay attention. To notice these hot, humid, lovely days, to be grateful for their gifts and challenges. To be brave and gentle at the same time, and to be here now.

brave stripes

What does life look like for you this summer?

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modern family promo poster season 1

Recently, the hubs and I tried Modern Family, on the recommendation of several friends. We’re not big TV watchers, but we like to have a show (preferably a comedy) to watch together, if we need a laugh in the evenings. As much as we love our Friends DVDs, we were hankering for something new.

After blowing through the first season of Modern Family in less than a month, I’d say we’re hooked.

In case you’re a little behind on your TV shows (like us), Modern Family is a comedy featuring three branches of the Pritchett clan: patriarch Jay and his second wife Gloria; Jay’s daughter Claire and her husband Phil; and Jay’s son Mitchell and his partner, Cameron (along with their assorted children). They all live near one another in California, and they manage to get themselves into an astonishing number of absurd situations in every single episode. (I haven’t heard my husband laugh so hard in months.)

The show centers on the everyday dramas of family life: juggling everyone’s schedules and needs, communicating honestly with your partner, navigating the dynamics of various relationships. There are misunderstandings and fights and a few tears, especially from dramatic teenager Haley. There’s also lots of hilarity: Claire and Mitchell recreating an old ice-dancing routine in a parking lot; Phil constantly trying to be a “cool” dad.

All the characters are great, but we each have our favorites. My husband loves flamboyant, oversensitive Cameron; I’m partial to big-hearted Gloria, with her hilarious linguistic gaffes and Colombian accent (which I love to imitate). But the character to whom I relate most is Claire.

Claire is a stay-at-home mom to three kids, a hyper-organized wife to scatterbrained Phil, a classic Type A oldest child who’s always trying to keep everyone (and everything) around her from going off the rails. She expends an enormous amount of energy holding it together, but sometimes she does break down – either because one of the kids pushes her buttons or because she’s just too exhausted.

In the first episode of Season 2, after a series of crises, Phil says to a teary-eyed Claire, “Don’t apologize. I love you when you’re human.”

That line stopped me in my tracks for two reasons. First, as a person who spends so much time trying to be perfect, I suspect it was what I – and Claire – most needed to hear. And second, I think that line holds the key to the whole show. Family is about loving each other when you’re human.

The Pritchett-Dunphy-Tucker clan – like any family – doesn’t always get along. Everyone’s got rough edges and hang-ups, and they know how to drive each other crazy. Sometimes the mistakes are small, inconsequential – and sometimes they’re a much bigger deal. But over and over again, they pull together and keep on loving each other. Their humanity makes them so relatable – even though, on the surface, my family doesn’t look much like theirs.

Modern Family is a comedy – and I plan to keep cracking up at the crazy scenarios in every episode. But I’ll also keep looking for the nuggets of truth hidden amid the hilarity. Being part of a family is seldom easy – but it is a beautiful thing to love one another when you’re human.

Have you watched Modern Family? (If so, are you a fan, like me?)

(Image from Wikipedia)

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