Sunday, January 3, 2016

2015 Favorites

My Three Favorite Books of 2015

3. Mr. Kiss and Tell, Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
Rob Thomas is a master at spinning clever and compelling mysteries, and his second Veronica Mars novel is no exception. Despite the fact that I liked this one a bit less than the first, Mr. Kiss and Tell still captivated me and kept me guessing. The authors have done a remarkable job transplanting the jaded, film noir quality of the show from the screen to the page, and I was so engrossed listening to the story that at times it was as if I'd been watching Kristen Bell herself. Veronica is a fascinating narrator, and the balance between the case she's working and the tumult of her personal life makes for a very compelling book.

“Not that I like having my direst preconceptions about humanity confirmed or anything. But I was right.”

2. For the Right Reasons: America's Favorite Bachelor on Faith, Love, Marriage, and Why Nice Guys Finish First, Sean Lowe
There's never been any shame in my love of The Bachelor, so it should come as no surprise that I immensely enjoyed Sean Lowe's first foray into writing, For the Right Reasons. This was just an incredibly fun, engrossing, and informative book, detailing Sean's personal background as well as his time on The Bachelorette and The Bachelor. I ate up every detail about both shows, how he and Catherine fell in love, and most importantly, how they wove the Gospel into their wedding knowing it would be televised to millions of people.

"Soon, word spread that I had daily devotionals, and guys started showing up. I really liked the guys, and being in such a strange situation bonded us together. Even though most of our time was spent lounging around waiting for datesor recovering from themthe mornings were dedicated to our little devotionals. Without ever meaning to, I found myself leading this Bible study on the set of The Bachelorette."

1. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie
I adore Agatha Christie, and I have a particular fondness for her highly intelligent character Hercule Poirot. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd did not disappoint, and Poirot is still my favorite little Belgian detective. To say much of anything about the plot of this book will be to say too much, because half of the fun is the dawning realization of what Christie has pulled off (its ending was virtually the first of its kind when this book debuted in 1926). The Murder of Roger Ackroyd ranks quite high on many lists of best mysteries, and while it's not my favorite Agatha Christie novel of all time, it was still a very engrossing read.

“It is completely unimportant. That is why it is so interesting.”

Honorable Mention:
Paper Towns, John Green
As If: The Oral History of Clueless as told by Amy Heckerling and the Cast and Crew, Jen Chaney
A Murder is Announced, Agatha Christie
Evil Under the Sun, Agatha Christie

Thumbs Down:
Dante's Inferno. Alright, I'll say it: I enjoy Dan Brown novels (particularly Deception Point). But this one was doo doo.

Also, there are two main reasons that I read fewer books than usual this year, and their names are Kevin and Demi. Once I discovered the Gilmore Guys podcast, my usual audio book listening took a serious nose dive. So instead of listening to literary classics (like my number two favorite), I was listening to segments like Pop Goes the Culture and Where You Tweet I Will Follow.

(It was awesome.)


My Three Favorite Movies of 2015

3. Brooklyn
I was so surprised by this sweet and unexpected little movie. The story of Eilis and her immigration to America from Ireland was in turn heartbreaking, suspenseful, and ultimately hopeful. And "pleasant" sounds like such a boring, vanilla word to describe a movie you loved, but it fits this one so well. So if you're looking for a nice, pleasant movie, be sure to check out the effervescent Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn.


2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I stayed away from most trailers, articles, and reviews of The Force Awakens before I saw it, and I'm so glad I did! Going in dark, not knowing any theories or opinions ahead of time, helped me manage my expectations and end up being so thrilled with the entire experience. I thought the characters were so well-drawn, and I loved that Rey and Finn were played by virtual newcomers so that we could really focus on the characters and the story. The music was fantastic, the practical effects were outstanding, I laughed a ton, and the whole thing was FUN but still packed an emotional punch. Plus, I think I have a crush on Adam Driver now? Maybe. Is that weird?


1. The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Every time I tell someone that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was my favorite movie of the year, I get a blank stare, and usually a puzzled, "Wait, what's it called again?" It's a shame that most people seem to have missed this one, because it's just SO. MUCH. FUN. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer are an incredibly entertaining pair (not to mention easy on the eyes), and the entire movie is a sleek and playful ride from beginning to end. The 1960's wardrobe, music, and technology are truly immersive and make for a super fun atmosphere. I could watch this one again and again (and now I can, since I got it for Christmas!), and I find myself quoting it more than I ever thought I would ("He's trying. To stop. The car."). Plus I had the hardest time not using the word "fun" about five dozen more times in this paragraph than I did. Don't miss this one!


Honorable Mention: The Duff (both Jimmy Fallon and I loved this movie, so you can trust the pair of us), The Martian, and Aloha (I know it wasn't popular but I just liked it!)

My Three Favorite TV Shows of 2015

Favorite shows I started watching this year:

3. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
I think I may have been the very last person to discover the brilliance of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. But just in case there's anyone out there reading this who hasn't yet seen it: you've got to check this show out. Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher, Chelsea Peretti and the rest of the police precinct make for a hilarious team. One of the things I love most, however, is that it's not just joke-joke-joke-joke (although it IS just about the only show to make me laugh out loud on a regular basis), but all of the detectives are actually incredibly capable officers, and it's just awesome to see Jake, Amy, and the rest take down bad guys again and again.

 2. iZombie
Another title met with blank stares almost every time I mention it! I'm so glad I finally sat down and caught up with Rob Thomas' newest show, one I've wanted to watch ever since it debuted on The CW last year. A high-concept cousin to Veronica Mars, iZombie is a brilliant mash-up of a simple case-of-the-week mystery with a dash of the undead: our protagonist Liv Moore is a zombie. As an assistant medical examiner, each episode finds her eating the brains of a murder victim and using the visions those ingested brains provide her to help solve the mystery of their death. I hope that sounds more intriguing than confusing, because it really is a supremely enjoyable hour of television. Come for the clever story-telling, stay for Rahul Kohli's charming, incredibly endearing forensic pathologist Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti.

1. Awkward.
This is the first show in quite a while that I've been so invested in that I had to watch the next episode right away. Next episode. Next episode. Next episode. This show makes me feel like I'm a teenager again, reliving high school and completely engrossed in the world of Jenna and Matty, the guy that makes my inner 15-year-old blush. But that's not the only reason I love it. It's incredibly clever and witty with words like flirtationship and carefrontation, Tamara's "slanguage" deserves its own blog entry. The characters are all so well-developed and endearing (by the end even "Darth Hater" Sadie had carved herself a spot in my heart), the story lines are always unpredictable, and it just feels DIFFERENT. It's incredibly original, and doesn't feel like any other show I've watched. I can't tell you if YOU would personally like it after all, it is an MTV show, and all that comes along with that. If you're not a teenage girl... or me... this one might not be for you. BUT if a hilarious and heartfelt teen dramedy with whip-smart dialogue sounds appealing to you, definitely check this one out!


Honorable Mention: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Great British Baking Show

My Three Favorite Events of 2015

3. Family Birthday Bash in Galveston
There's nothing in the world more fun to me than to have all seven (soon to be eight! #cimibaby) members of my family all together in one place. Add in an amusement park, daily trips to the beach, games, and MY BIRTHDAY, and you've got the makings of an amazing dream vacation. It was pure bliss, and I wish I could relive it again and again.


2. Sweet, Sweet Adoptions
2015 saw the addition of three precious babies into their forever families. I've watched the long, long road the Nicholses and Redfearns have had to travel down to bring their children home, and it's been frustrating at times to witness just how long this entire process can take. But now that we're on the other side, it's such a thrill to get to see the joy that Adelay, Micah, and Cade bring their respective families. Welcome home, kiddos. You are SO loved.


1. Broadway Baby
I feel like I need to pinch myself when I look back and realize that in one year I got to see:
  1. My all-time FAVORITE musical not once, not twice, but THREE times.
  2. My beloved "Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" with its original, Tony-nominated stars one last time before it closes later this month.
    (2b: Bryce Pinkham Skyping my roommate's fifth grade classroom out of the kindness of his heart! From his dressing room on Broadway! And I got to witness it all. Still pinching myself.) 
  3. The greatest musical I've ever seen on stage: "Hamilton." Five months later and I still have no words for what I saw.

Bonus: REMEMBER WHEN LIN-MANUEL RETWEETED ME?

And because I'm a fool for Twitter, I also got super excited when my tweets were favorited liked by Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn, former Jack Kelly Corey Cott, Hamilton actors Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom Jr., Gentleman's Guide star Bryce Pinkham, Veronica Mars and iZombie show runner Rob Thomas, Hamilton composer/conductor Alex Lacamoire, author Tim Federle, and Newsie Chaz Wolcott.

Party. Rock.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Movie Marathon

Last January, I decided to embark on a quest. It would take a lot of time, and it would take a LONG time.

I would watch all of my movies in alphabetical order.

Okay, so it wasn't learning a new language or anything. But I own over 200 movies, and I've never before attempted something like this. Sure, I'll decide to watch a movie here or there, but I realized I'd left some languishing on the shelf for years. It's not because I don't like them, but because I just don't often say, "I think I'll watch 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' today!" I don't think I've ever gone, "You know what my day needs? A little 'Curious Case of Benjamin Button.'" Both good movies, but not go-tos for me.

So it was decided. One at a time, from A to Z. Or rather, from '2 Days in Paris' to 'Zombieland.' 

Some of my movies.
A little background on my watching patterns: I have a television in my room, and I always have something playing on it (usually a TV show) while I get ready for work, fold clothes, get ready for bed, etc. I decided to instead use this time to chip away at my movie collection, and really take stock of the DVDs that I own.

I ended up getting rid of the very first movie that I watched: '2 Days in Paris.' I couldn't see myself watching it again, and I also couldn't imagine anyone wanting to borrow it. So congratulations, Goodwill! Another DVD for your illustrious collection.

From then on I kept plugging away, going through roughly one movie every two days. Sometimes I was away on vacation and didn't take any movies with me, other times I worked on a project in my room and watched more than one movie in a sitting.

One of the most entertaining aspects of this venture was that every so often my co-workers would want to play "Guess What Movie Valerie is Watching," and I'd give them different clues, leaving them to try to come up with what movie might come between.


Fourteen months and 227 movies later, I'm finally done! It was a sad moment when the credits for 'Zombieland' finally rolled – so much so that I immediately watched the entire movie again with commentary. 

In not-so-shocking news, I made several lists as I watched. Sometimes I forgot to write things down, so it's not as comprehensive as I'd like, but c'est la vie. ("La vie." –Woodchuck Todd, 'Easy A')

Standout Scenes (Or: Scenes to Make Your Soul Soar)

Almost Famous: Tiny Dancer
Big Fish: Daffodils
Casablanca: Marseilles
Finding Neverland: "That is Neverland"
Gone with the Wind: The End: Scarlett at Tara
Little Miss Sunshine: Olive puts her head on Duane's shoulder*
Return of the King: "You bow to no one"
Moulin Rouge: 'Come What May' Finale*
That Thing You Do: Good and kissed*
Up: House on Paradise Falls
Waitress: Dr. Pomatter Hugs Jenna
The Way Way Back: Owen shields Duncan from Trent**

*Terrible video quality, but it's all I could find, sadly. Still-- SO GOOD.
**I can't even find even a PICTURE of this moment, so here's a trailer instead.

Movies Better Than I Remembered 

Australia
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
First Knight
Gone With the Wind
Notting Hill

Movies Less Awesome Than I Remembered

Grease
The Phantom of the Opera

Movies I Own That Take Place in 1899

Moulin Rouge
Newsies
The Prestige

Funniest Movies I Own

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Hot Fuzz
Waiting for Guffman
Zombieland

Favorite Teen Comedies

10 Things I Hate About You
Easy A
Clueless
Mean Girls
Never Been Kissed
Can't Hardly Wait

Actors That Are In More Than Five Of My Movies

Tom Hanks
Kate Winslet
Joseph Gordon-Levitt

ZOMG This Is My Childhood

3 Ninjas
Charlotte's Web
The Chipmunk Adventure
Gulliver's Travels
The Last Unicorn
The Rescuers Down Under

I Just Really Want You To Watch These Movies

Blast from the Past
Return to Me
Waitress
The Way, Way Back
Zombieland

My Top Five Favorites

Almost Famous
A League of Their Own
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Moulin Rouge
That Thing You Do

So there it is. The movie marathon that took over a year.

Roll credits.

Final note: Five is a lot of 'Twilight' movies to watch in a row.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

8th Annual Oscar Picks

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Oscar weekend! Let's predict some winners, shall we? And remember-- I am NEVER wrong. Ever.*

(Previously: 20142013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008.)



Best Picture: A few weeks ago, I would have said that "Boyhood" was a lock. Now I'm not quite so sure. "Birdman" has been climbing up the prediction charts, and they are a serious threat to Richard Linklater et al. However, I don't think you can ignore the scope of filming the same film over the course of TWELVE YEARS, plus the emotional punch it packs at the end. That's why I think that "Boyhood" will be the one to ultimately walk away with the gold.

Best Director: If "Boyhood" does indeed take home the big prize, Academy voters are going to need another way to honor "Birdman," and I believe it will be in the form of Best Director going to Alejandro González Iñárritu. However, I certainly wouldn't be mad if Richard Linklater won.

Best Actor: Man, this is a tough one. Even as I'm typing I just don't know how this paragraph is going to end. Either you give it to Michael Keaton, thereby rewarding a long career and a Hollywood veteran (not to mention a remarkable speech-maker), or you go with Eddie Redmayne, the rising star with a masterful turn in a critically lauded biopic. They've each won their share of awards this season, but the thing I keep coming back to is the fact that Eddie Redmayne is still so young, and probably has plenty of chances to win this award in the future. In the end I think voters will want to honor Michael Keaton and his go-for-broke performance in "Birdman."

The one thing that makes me nervous about that pick is the fact that Redmayne won the SAG Award, and for the last 10 years the winner of the SAG has gone on to win the Oscar. I may live to regret ignoring this indicator...

Best Actress: This category has basically been a lock for the past couple of years, and this year looks to be no different. Julianne Moore all but has this one in the bag, and it's about time! Her nomination for "Still Alice" is her FIFTH, so this one is a long time coming! Treat yo'self, Julianne Moore!

Best Supporting Actor: We're all thinking J.K. Simmons, right? J.K. Simmons? Cool, let's do it. J.K. Simmons!

Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette has been picking up every single award from the Golden Globe to the Critic's Choice, so come Sunday she'll have another one to throw on top of her pile!

Animated Feature: It's completely insane that "The Lego Movie" wasn't nominated, and it kills me that we don't know WHY it was passed over. However, that doesn't mean that "How to Train Your Dragon 2" or "Big Hero 6" are completely undeserving of the honor. I would be surprised if anything in this category wins over those two, and in the end I'm going with "How to Train Your Dragon 2."

Production Design: Wes Anderson does a lot of things very well, chief among them the creation of beautiful and meticulously created cinematic worlds. I can't imaging anything winning in this category over "The Grand Budapest Hotel."

Cinematography: They filmed Birdman in a style to look like it was all one continuous shot (much like Hitchcock's "Rope"). That creativity should be enough to allow Birdman's Emmanuel Lubezki to win this award for the second year in a row (he also won last year for "Gravity").

Costume Design: It's usually a safe bet to go with the movie that has the most corsets and giant historical dresses. This year we also have a lot of fantasy thrown in, with their own capes and giant dresses and horns to deal with. That makes this category a bit of a head-scratcher for me, and I'm down to either "The Grand Budapest Hotel" or "Into the Woods." Gosh I'm bad at this category. Okay, I'm going bellhop. Let's say "The Grand Budapest Hotel."

Film Editing: My go-to method for predicting this one is typically to choose the best picture winner, so why mess with something that's been working for me? I'll go with "Boyhood" here, not only because I think it will win best picture, but also because–can you IMAGINE how much footage they had to go through? Unreal.

Makeup and Hairstyling: Why do these things have to share a category? They are done by totally different people! This is dumb. Anyway, when I saw "Grand Budapest Hotel" on the ballot, I was only thinking about Saoirse Ronan's facial birth mark, and kept moving on to "Foxcatcher" and "Guardians of the Galaxy." Then I remembered TILDA SWINTON, HELLO. So this one also belongs to "The Grand Budapest Hotel."

Original Score: Gosh I loved Hans Zimmer's music for "Interstellar." Unfortunately all of the buzz in this category seems to be surrounding "The Theory of Everything," so I'm predicting a win for Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Original Song: This will probably be the only award of the night for "Selma."

Original Screenplay: On the other hand, it looks like this will end up being a pretty BIG night for "The Grand Budapest Hotel!"

Adapted Screenplay: There's a pretty interesting story on why "Whiplash" is listed in this category rather than Original Screenplay, which it is–even the Writer's Guild had it listed in their Original Screenplay category. Either way, I think it will still come out on top of its biggest competition, "The Imitation Game."

Sound Mixing: I think it's probably either "American Sniper" or "Interstellar," with "Whiplash" thrown in as a dark horse. Let's go with "American Sniper."

Sound Editing: Let's just say "American Sniper" again.

Visual Effects: What a packed category! All of these films have a tremendous amount of computer graphics, and it's hard to pick the best among the best. I think it will almost definitely be either "Interstellar" or "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," with "Interstellar" just eeking out a win.

Documentary Feature: It looks like "Citizenfour" is the front-runner here, and who I am to argue with popular knowledge?

Documentary Short: I first read this one as "Chris Hotline," rather than "Crisis Hotline." I don't know what a Chris Hotline would do. Maybe connect you with famous guys named Chris, like Evans, Pratt, and Pine? (Note to self: look into setting up a Chris Hotline.) ANYWAY. Winner: "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1."

Foreign Language Film: Poland's "Ida" is not only nominated in this category, but also in cinematography. Along with being a well-reviewed picture, this double nomination for a foreign film is a good indicator that "Ida" will take this win.

Animated Short: "Feast" was so creative and adorable. I hope it wins. If it doesn't, look for "The Dam Keeper" to be the one to stage an upset.

Live-Action Short: Obviously I am an expert in this category. Despite the fact that that is absolutely not true, I think "The Phone Call" will win.

*Upon further review, it seems that I am, in fact, wrong quite a lot of the time.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Stitch Fix #3

Why post about trying on some clothes and shopping over the Interwebs?

So glad you asked.

This is my 3rd foray into utilizing an online personal stylist through Stitch Fix. When I first discovered Stitch Fix through social media, I was intrigued. I've never really liked shopping. I'm an impulsive shopper - as long as something marginally fits, I buy it, sometimes in three colors. The idea that someone else might do the hard work for me and stick it in the mail for me to discover on my doorstep sounded like Christmas. Mail on my doorstep always makes me smile!

For those of you who aren't familiar, here's the scoop on how to schedule a Fix.



1. Create your style profile.
2. Pay $20 styling fee toward your box. (You can use toward your final order – any of the 5 products you keep!)
3. Schedule your box.
4. Open you box and try on the clothes. Take awkward photos in the backyard (trying not to freeze in January) and send to your friends and family members. (Each item also comes with styling tips on how to best wear the products.)
5. Once the box arrives you have 3 days to decide what you are keeping and what you are returning. The returns are all free and super easy: drop the prepaid envelope in any USPS box.

I blogged about my first box over on my other website. Check out this link to see how my first box was a win and this one to read about fix number two.


I was pretty pleased with my box this go around. I scheduled my fix to come the week of my birthday. I had a credit that covered my styling fee and still left room for a little discount if I ended up keeping something. I was very careful to be detailed in my notes to my stylist this time. My husband and I are planning a beach trip to celebrate our 5th anniversary this year, so I was looking for a few fun items to take with us. My husband reassures me that I don't have to dress like a nun ALL of the time.

I opened my box and here's what I found.




1. The LINE BACKER SHIRT. In theory, this could have been a great selection. I also hinted to my stylist that I wanted some casual tops to wear with skinnies and ankle boots. The front is interesting enough on this shirt, but everyone agreed: this does nothing for my shoulders. RETURN.






2. The COLOR BLOCK TOP. I liked this one as soon as I put it on. My husband wasn't convinced, but everyone else in my life reassured me it was a keeper. So... I KEPT IT.

3. The SASSY SWEATER. When I opened the box my first thought was, "I am not going to like this shirt." But then I put it on. Although I would not ordinarily try on a pattern like this, I was glad to have a new perspective shopping in the future... if I ever do that again. (Tell me why I want to leave the house?) I was on the fence with this one but some angles in pictures made me look like I was pregnant. (That could have actually been my stomach but we are going to choose to blame the shirt.) RETURN.

4. The SECTIONAL DRESS. This one is cute and confusing. I liked the fabric of the skirt, but the material on the top just felt so cheap. This dress was NOT CHEAP, so why buy something that feels cheap? Although cute, I didn't think it did much for my coloring. RETURN.



5. THE RED DRESS. I think David was initially surprised when I wanted to keep it. (Surprised and thrilled.) I'm ordinarily so conservative with clothing, and I"m not about to go crazy here, but I just really liked this dress. I felt great it in it and I'm looking forward to celebrating a night out on our anniversary trip. I KEPT IT.

So why post about trying on some clothes and shopping over the Interwebs? 

Every time I post I share my referral number. If anyone uses my number to set up their first fix, I get a credit. So far I have been able to cover all of my styling fees through said credit. AWESOME. So pull through for me, Internet. I know that you, like me, wonder what a stylist might send in that little white box. You long for a little box of happy to show up on your doorstep, I know you do. ;)

Here's my referral code, make me proud.

xo,
Ginger

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2014 Favorites

My Three Favorite Books of 2014

3. Better Nate Than Ever and 5, 6, 7, Nate, Tim Federle

Thirteen-year-old Nate Foster and I don't have a lot in common, save one very important thing: a love (LOVE) of Broadway musicals. The fact that these two books are classified as "junior fiction" does not mean that they aren't incredibly well-told, or that they aren't laugh-out-loud funny. Tim Federle (my favorite person to follow on Twitter) has spun such a clever, original, and hilarious story about Nate and his scheme to travel to New York City to audition for a new Broadway show. When Emily and I went to New York this summer, everywhere we looked there were real-life reminders of the books and it made the trip so much more fun! I just cannot stress how funny these books are. I kept wanting to highlight or underline huge chunks because I could not get over the creativity and hilarity. Read these books and maybe you too can laugh quietly aloud to yourself on a plane surrounded by strangers!

Imagine: pretzels sold on the street! It’s as if anything is possible. Do they also sell hopes on the street? Do they sell hugs and dreams and height-boosting vitamins? Or hot dogs? I bet you they do.”

2. Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, Rob Thomas

If you like Veronica Mars the TV series, there's absolutely no reason you wouldn't love Veronica Mars the book. Rob Thomas, the creator and showrunner of VM, actually started out as an author, so this really is a return to form for him. The entire novel reads like an extra-long bonus episode of the show! The mystery is engrossing and compelling, the characters are as witty and charming as you remember them to be, and there are more than a few  twists and surprises that you won't see coming. Perhaps the best part of the experience for me was listening to the audiobook, as it was narrated by Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell. Bonus points to Bell for doing spot-on imitations of her cast-mates when she read their dialogue. Hilarious.

“She suddenly realized that this was Bri Lafond’s first lesson that people sucked. Veronica remembered that letdown, the way the world suddenly seemed stripped of bright colors, your beliefs toppled like dominoes.”

1. The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Eva Rice

My friend (and the most voracious reader I know!) Katie counts this book among her favorites, so I've always intended to read it. Now I'm so glad I finally got around to it! It really is such a special book. Full of joy, sorrow, and champagne, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets tells the story of Penelope, an 18-year-old girl living in a post-World War II England, in a grand house that is crumbling around her and her small family due to lack of money. Enter the effervescent Charlotte, her hilarious Aunt Clare, and Clare's witty son Harry. (Full disclosure: I adore Harry. I found myself missing him when he wasn't on the page, and constantly grinning at his quips.) This remarkable trio of characters bring about a great deal of change to Penelope's life, in the best possible way. Check it out and get a chance to attend glamorous parties, spend a snowy New Year's at Milton Magna Hall, and maybe even fall for the strange and mysterious Harry Delancy.

"He looked at us almost pityingly, with a hint of a smirk on his face, his chaotic hair almost hiding his extraordinary eyes. Newfound knowledge of his skills as a magician seemed entirely appropriate; never before had I met someone who looked capable of turning men into frogs and frogs into princes."

Honorable Mention:

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, B.J. Novak
Super creative, very fun, and totally un-put-downable.
“If you love something, let it go. If you don't love something, definitely let it go. Basically, just drop everything, who cares.”  

I read several Agatha Christie mysteries this year (five in all), as I'm a big fan of hers and frequently say that she can do no wrong. But when I read Endless Night, I began doubting that opinion, because I just thought Christie was completely missing the mark. You should have seen my face when I got to the end of the book and realized that SHE TOTALLY GOT ME. For the entire duration of the book I was looking the wrong direction, and I never saw the twist coming. It was completely genius. You win again, Christie...

I also read some really good non-fiction as well, including Creativity Inc. (about Pixar) and Superfreakonomics/Think Like a Freak. I'd recommend checking any of those out if any of that sounds interesting to you! And if you're looking for a good memoir, Cary Elwes's As You Wish and Amy Poehler's Yes Please were both were quick and entertaining reads.

My Three Favorite Movies of 2014

3. The One I Love 
I watched this one on a whim the other day (it's streaming on Netflix) and I really, really enjoyed it. I had read only a little bit about this moviemostly about how no one could talk about the plot because saying anything would spoil it. So of course I was intrigued! The movie itself was fascinating; it was small and strange and incredibly compelling. It's just kind of weird and Twilight Zone-y, and if you like things that are weird and Twilight Zone-y, I think there's a good chance you'll like this.



2. Veronica Mars
The entire experience of seeing this movie was just SO MUCH FUN. First of all, I backed the movie on Kickstarter, so I got tons of insider information while they were making the movie and then leading up to the release. Second, I made the release of the movie an EVENT. I wore Veronica Mars t-shirts every day to work that week, and when the big day finally arrived, I drove to Dallas with my roommate (to the closest theater showing the movie) to see the midnight showing. We got a hotel so we could stay the night, and I took the following day off from work so we could sleep in. All of that awesomeness, plus the fact that the movie itself was amazing! It was like having a reunion with old friends, and Emily and I laughed, gasped, and squealed our way through the whole thing. A great mystery, all of our favorite characters, an IRA GLASS CAMEO, and Logan in a Navy uniform. I mean, what more could a VM fan want?

1. Guardians of the Galaxy
Did you ever have more fun in a movie theater? From the rockin' throwback soundtrack to the action and the non-stop humor, this movie was just golden. I saw it three times in the theater, again on the cruise ship, and I just got the DVD for Christmas. It's fantastic, and if you haven't seen it yet, I just don't even know what you're doing with your life. Also, let's please not forget that before he was Star Lord and even before he was Andy Dwyer, Chris Pratt was Che on "The OC."


Honorable Mention: Interstellar, Into the Woods, Chef, Captain America 2

My Three Favorite Events of 2014

3. Oh Hey, I'm Like a Speaker Now I Guess?
Theoretically, public speaking doesn't bother me. However, once I'm in front of a crowd, somehow I forget to breathe and my hands start shaking and WHAT IS HAPPENING. So when I was asked to speak at a Christian camping conference in February, I was obviously a bit hesitant to accept. The topic, social media, is something that I'm passionate about, but again: the shaking and not breathing thing. But I finally just decided that I wanted to say YES to more new things, and before I knew it I was giving a talk to a packed room of people in the camping industry actually there to hear ME talk about what I do! In addition, I was asked to give a talk on social media this summer to a group of our 8th and 9th grade campers. I spoke every other week about how awesome I think social media is, but about how we shouldn't give it too much power, and how our validation should come from Christ and not how many likes you get on Instagram. It was almost more unnerving to talk to 13-year-olds than it had been to talk to adults, but again, I'm glad (and kind of proud of myself!) that I decided to say yes.

2. Can't Stop Won't Stop Cruising
When my dad called me to ask if I'd like to go on a cruise in November, I said, "Are you crazy? A man in a really nice camper wants to put our song on the radio! Give me a pen, I'm signing, you're signing, we're all signing." Not really, but you get the sentiment! I had SUCH a blast aboard the Emerald Princess with my mom, dad, and brother, I can't even tell you. It was so relaxing, all of our ports were so packed full of fun things and warm sun, we ate amazing food (goat cheese souffle, I still dream about you!!), watched movies ON DECK, played games, went to cheesy trivia nights... It was just so, so great. I didn't want to leave the ship!

1. Broadway Times Four
Sometimes I still can't believe that when I went to New York this summer, I got to see "Newsies." And "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder." And "Matilda." AND "Les Miserables." Four shows in three days. It was so amazing, so magical, so unbelievable. You can check out the full story here. They were all fantastic, and I frequently look back on that trip with such wonder, asking myself "How did we get here, Skitch?"

Honorable Mention: Morby/Ciminello Family vacation in Galveston/Houston. Stand up paddle boarding, Top Golf, games, shuffleboard, Schlitterbahn, and LOTS of Norah time. (We just won't talk about that whole "everybody got sick and threw up all over the place" part.)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Four Broadway Shows: How We Did It

I recently returned home from my third ever trip to New York City, and it was out-of-this-world amazing.

My roommate Emily and I got cheap flights and a (relatively) cheap hotel and spent four and a half days trekking all over the city and having a wonderful time. We ate a ton of good food and desserts, went boating in Central Park, visited Brooklyn, walked the High Line, enjoyed live music at the South Street Seaport (with excellent views of the Brooklyn Bridge!), sat in on a singalong in Bryant Park, saw Grand Central Terminal and the 9/11 Memorial and the New York Public Library, wandered the Upper West Side, shopped at a flea market, and basically just never stopped walking.

We also managed to see four Broadway shows.

Four.
For a musical fan like me, this was just... unbelievable. Beyond imagination. Because while New York City is amazing and I absolutely LOVE being a tourist there, the whole point of this trip was to see shows. And those shows? Were AMAZING. The other stuff was just an added bonus.

So here's the short version (believe it or not) of how it happened.

Emily and I purchased tickets for Newsies and Les Miserables prior to our arrival in NYC. These two shows were basically the reason for the entire trip. We absolutely HAD to see our pal Ramin Karimloo perform the role of Jean Val Jean in Les Mis, and had been looking forward to that for months and months. Then when we heard that Newsies would be closing at the end of August (I'm still not ready to talk about it), that put even MORE of a fire in us to get up there as soon as possible. So those tickets were more expensive on the front end, but there was no way we were going to risk a trip to NYC without Les Mis/Newsies tickets in hand. No. Way.

We arrived in the city on Thursday, and after several hours of sight seeing, we went to meet some friends outside of Kinky Boots, the 2013 Tony winner for best original musical. While we waited, I pressed my ear to the stage door and was in heaven listening to the crowd cheer on Tony-winner Billy Porter sing the final number, and I thought I was going to die. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to be inside that theater. Well, my wish was very nearly granted when the door suddenly swung open and I was so caught by surprise that I had to back up quickly to avoid a face full of door and lost my shoe in the process. People began pouring out of the theater and I had to fight my way forward to rescue my poor flip flop. And then I somehow ended up holding the door open for half of the theater but THAT'S BESIDE THE POINT.

Wait, what is the point? The point is that moment was when I knew I was going to do whatever it took to see a third Broadway show while we were there. I even sent up (what felt like) a silly and lame prayer... Lord PLEASE let me see another show! I just wanted it. So badly. And I knew it was probably ridiculous. Probably...


Friday night rolls around, and I want to pinch myself, because we are actually about to see Newsies. Nearly two years and THOUSANDS of times listening to the soundtrack later, I have returned. I was absolutely giddy sitting in my seat and thumbing through the program. Then the overture started and the curtain began to rise. I was so OVERJOYED and I just... I don't know, I really don't have the words to describe how excited/thrilled/ecstatic I was in that moment. I was practically glowing.

That right there. That was the best moment of the trip.

The show itself was even better than I'd remembered. So funny, such an amazing cast, the BEST dancing on Broadway (or anywhere, really), and I was on the verge of happy tears the entire time.

Put it this way: imagine that there's a movie you've loved for nearly your entire life. Then they go and make a musical of that movie. And the musical is even better than the movie. That's Newsies for me.



After the show, we fought our way to the stage door so that I could get autographs and photos with the cast. I have a very understanding roommate who stuck with me and took pictures of me and stood her ground in a sea of INSANE "fansies," despite the fact that the entire situation is basically her worst nightmare. What a pal!

So then we turn to leave, and guess who we see across the street coming out of Aladdin? Adam Jacobs (Aladdin himself! Emily gets the credit for spotting him.) and Tony-winner James Monroe Iglehart! Wow, what a moment!

The only way to describe how I felt after all that was "on a high." I don't know that life will ever approach the feeling of sheer ELATION of that Friday night in New York City.

When we got back to the hotel, we talked strategy for the next day. We had done a ton of research into the other shows currently playing on Broadway, trying to figure out our best bet for picking up a third show. Some shows do a lottery for cheaper tickets, some offer rush tickets the day of the show, some offer standing room only tickets... You really just have to figure out what is your priority and what you want to try for!

Armed with invaluable information from Playbill.com and Broadway Spotted, we decided to try for tickets to this year's Tony winner for best original musical, A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder.

The GGLAM box office opens at 10am, so we got in line at 8:30 with about 20 people in front of us.

please oh please oh please oh please

The wait was really not that bad-- we had coffee and sat on our Starbucks wrappers (super classy) to protect our shorts from the New York street, enjoyed powdered donuts offered to us by fellow line waiters, and only had to move twice for cars once we realized we were sitting in front of a driveway...

At the last minute we had to make a decision: do we try for matinee tickets or evening tickets? They were in two separate lines, and what if the line we got in SOLD OUT? Well, we took a chance, rolled the dice, and got in line for the matinee. And two $37 dollar tickets later, we were two VERY happy girls holding matinee tickets to a TONY AWARD-WINNING show! So happy that we just had to reward ourselves with gourmet cookies from Broadway bakery/hot spot Schmakary's.

Going into Gentleman's Guide, I was excited to see it in a kind of general way. I had seen them perform "I've Decided to Marry You" on the Tony's, and was... looking forward to it! With like... regular anticipation. Not eager anticipation or anything.

Then the show started, and Bryce Pinkham came out. And any illusions I was under that this was your average ordinary show went out the window. Bryce and his co-star Jefferson Mays (both nominated for Tonys for their roles) were absolutely FANTASTIC. Wonderful singers, incredibly gifted comedians, and very engaging performers all around. Bryce in particular could make us laugh with the simplest eyebrow arch or sly grin aimed at the audience. It is safe to say that he is our newest Broadway crush, and he can do no wrong.

But really, I can't say enough about how much WE LOVED THIS SHOW. It was funny, the music outstanding, and the casting obviously top-notch. If you are planning a trip to New York anytime soon, GO SEE THIS.



We hadn't intended to spend time at the stage door, but the actors started coming out very soon after we exited the theater, so we felt like we couldn't NOT see them. And that turned out to be absolutely the right decision! Despite being boisterous and over-the-top on stage, Jefferson and Bryce were both so soft-spoken, kind, and intentional with every single fan that waited for them at the stage door. They each made eye contact with everyone, asked questions, genuinely thanked each and every person... It was just amazing, and such a special time for both Emily and I. When we walked away we felt like we were floating. That was due in large part to the sheer brilliance of the show as a whole, but also because of how we were treated at the stage door by the actors. I think it is safe to say that we will both have a soft spot for both Jefferson Mays and Bryce Pinkham for years to come because of this wonderful interaction.


After GGLAM, we decided to make a quick stop at Schnipper's (where we saw one of the ORIGINAL stars of Newsies, Evan Kasprzak!) to split some fries. Now earlier that day we had discussed the fact that since we had tickets to a matinee, we would have our evening free... so why not try to see another show? Why not? So once again, we did some prep work, figured out which shows held a ticket lottery and when, and ranked which shows we wanted to see most.


Emily headed to Aladdin to enter the lottery there, and I went two blocks up to try for Matilda. We were both SO NERVOUS and hoping against hope that one of our names would be called. We texted back and forth while we waited, anxious to hear the results.

Emily: I can't handle the suspense. My stomach is in knots. 

Well, neither of us won. HOWEVER. The ticket guy at Matilda said that if anyone wanted to line up and try their chances for Standing Room Only tickets, then just wait over here. Well since I was standing right there, I slid into line, text messaged Emily, and that's how we ended up right at the front! We thought we would wait for maybe 20 or 30 minutes, go eat dinner, then come back in time for the show. But 30 minutes came and went, and we were still standing in the lobby waiting... for a chance to stand for three more hours.

I could tell Emily was fading fast, but I knew we couldn't give up these spots in line now that it felt like we were SO CLOSE to seeing a show that I KNEW would be absolutely amazing. We found out that the reason the wait was so long was that they wouldn't sell any SRO tickets until they'd sold out the entire house. Henceforth every time the door to the theater opened, I was always hopeful that it was someone with the urge to buy last-minute full-price tickets (as in like $150 each) to Matilda. No such luck.

Fast forward another hour. It's 10 minutes to curtain, people are finding their seats, and we're STILL IN LINE. Finally, something happens. The two people in front of us get called forward to the box office. "This is it!" we think. "Standing room here we come!" But instead of buying tickets and entering the theater, the pair returns to the line, saying they were offered obstructed view tickets, and that they just weren't interested. Before we could really process this information, they're waving Emily and I forward, and here we are standing at the box office!

Box Office Guy: I have two obstructed view tickets available.
Me: How "obstructed" are we talking? Like, behind a pole or something?
BOG: No, they're just on the far side so you have partial view of the stage.
Me: Umm... How much?
BOG: $42 each.
Me: We will take two.

I mean, are you kidding me??? $42? That's less than a third of the price for a normal ticket! And do you know where our seats were? The first row of the first balcony. Not the second balcony. The FIRST balcony. WHAT. Yes, our seats were all the way over on the left side, but we so did not mind. Plus there was the fact that WE GOT TO SIT DOWN. IN ACTUAL SEATS. I just couldn't believe our good fortune. Before I knew it the overture was starting and the kids were performing and here we go: I'm on a high again.



If you've heard anything about Matilda, you've heard that it's a brilliant, clever, hilarious, FUN show. It is absolutely all of those things. It certainly has its dark parts (the original book is by Roald Dahl, after all), but we just loved everything about it. Amazing dancing, insanely clever song lyrics, incredible staging, and the cast made FULL use of the theater, running up and down the aisles, singing in the box seats (SUPER close to us by the way), and a few other fun bits that I don't want to give away. I felt like I was grinning the whole time-- that is, when tears weren't filling my eyes from the sweet wistfulness of certain songs.

I had looked forward to seeing Matilda for ages, without really believing I'd get a chance to, and I just couldn't believe it was really happening. If you haven't checked out the soundtrack yet: get on it. It's spectacular.

Sunday afternoon rolls around and it's time for our fourth and final Broadway show, the big one: Les Miserables. I knew we had floor seats for this one, but I wasn't expecting the SEVENTH ROW. Thanks to one of Emily's connections, we'd managed to score some seriously legit seats! Being that close was just... a dream. It was so, so wonderful. And what can you say about Les Mis? Of course it was outstanding. Ramin Karimloo has unequivocally the best voice I've ever heard, so getting a chance to hear him perform live was just unreal.

I expected to love Ramin as Val Jean. I was not expecting to ALSO love Will Swenson as Javert, another powerhouse singer whose sheer authority and command of the stage, not to mention his OUTSTANDING voice ("M'sieur le Maire you'll wear a different chaaaain" -- chills on chills on chills), made him the BEST Javert I've ever seen.



The rest of the cast was also very talented, although we ended up seeing understudies for Enjolras, Fantine, AND Cosette. C'est la vie, I suppose! At least we got to see Ramin and Will. I really just can't overstate how good both of them were. Just wow.



And that's how it happened! I'm sorry I seem to have gotten carried away in my own effusiveness, but it really was that wonderful. I've obviously run out of positive adjectives, but what can I say?

It was perfect.



P.S. After Les Mis we went back to Schnipper's and saw TWO MORE NEWSIES! Life made.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Stich Fix #2

Howdy strangers. I'm writing a quick post to:

1) Reassure you that I'm not dead and still capable of producing content on this blog. (Sorry, Val!)
2) Share my latest fun find on the interwebs.

Sometime last fall I noticed several friends on Facebook posting about their Stitch Fix. I was intrigued so I googled, read, and decided that perhaps I might give this whole personal shopper idea a whirl. I don't have the energy to shop. This is not a "new mom" lament. Even before I had kids, I was not one to thrill at the idea of spending a day looking for or trying on clothing. I get bored in about 2 hours. That's my limit. So when I discovered Stitch Fix I was sold. Here's my interpretation of the Stitch Fix Basics:



1. Create your style profile.

2. Pay $20 styling fee toward your box. (You can use toward your final order – any of the 5 products you keep!)

3. Schedule your box.

4. Open you box and try on the clothes. Take awkward selfies in mirrors and send the pic to your friends and family members. (Each item also comes with styling tips on how to best wear the products.)

5. Once the box arrives you have 3 days to decide what you are keeping and what you are returning. The returns are all free and super easy: drop the prepaid envelope in any USPS box.

I blogged about my first box over on my other website. Check out this link to see how my first box was a win.


One of the perks about sharing your Stitch Fix experience is that other just might click on that referral link. Three kind souls ordered their boxes through my link and in turn, gifted me a nice little credit. Since I kept a dress during my first fix, I was determined to find some bright spring tops in this second box.





I really liked everything in my box. I received 5 items ranging in price from $42 up to $78. If I had kept everything in the box I would have received a nice bonus discount off the grand total. But at the end of the day (after sending pics of myself to friends/family and getting feedback) I only kept one item. I do not consider this a failure at all! I kept the top that was the #1 pick. My styling fee and the shirt were both covered by the credit and I still have enough left over to try out another box. I call that a big win, folks.

Here's what came in box #2.



Everything but the coral top had mixed reviews. Some loved the chevron puffed sleeve number. A few actually hated it. Since I was on the fence, I let it go. I would have ranked the items in the following way: Coral top, pink skirt, chevron top, blue skinnies, printed top. The rankings included fit, how often I could/would wear, how I felt, and then the opinions of my peeps. Had I really loved the chevron I would have kept it.



(Don't worry, I wouldn't have actually paired the pink skirt with either of the top combos, I was just grabbing stuff and taking pics as quickly as I could.)



So there you go. Yet another fun experience and a fabulous coral top as my prize. Thumbs up from this gal.

For box #3 I will
1. Not take awkward selfies in the bathroom.
2. Update my sizes again.
3. Ask for one item totally outside of my comfort zone.

Cool beans.


The credit I mentioned? You were thinking of trying Stitch Fix? Why don't you sign up for Stitch Fix using this link? Awesome.  (OR use this referral code: 3310293). Lovely, right? That’s what I thought.


-Ginger