12.12.2017

What I Read In November

I didn't realize it at the time, but most of my books last month were light and celebrity heavy. I must have needed a brain break. That said, my three heavy picks were written by a psychologist at Bellevue Hospital in NYC, a climber on Mt. Everest, and a reporter on the Trump campaign, so not everything was mind-numbing. Take a look at what I read in November.


Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks I'm not super into short stories, but when it's Tom Hank's first book, you gotta check it out! I really liked the first few and then I just didn't feel as invested. He's a fine writer, and it was fun listening to the audiobook (he narrates it), but it didn't do much for me. 


We're Going to Need More Wine: Stories by Gabrielle Union Gabrielle is smart, strong and honest and these essays reflect that. They're also pretty funny. She discusses everything from her childhood, insecurities, and relationships, to race issues in Hollywood and her community, and sexual assault. I like her more than ever after reading it. 

Sometimes Amazing Things Happen: Heartbreak and Hope on the Bellevue Hospital Psychiatric Prison Ward by Elizabeth Ford Dr. Ford's book recounts her time as a psychiatrist working with mentally ill NYC inmates. It's tough content, which will piss you off and break your heart, but it's a compelling read. I have so much respect and admiration for people who do this for a living. 


There's Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins Easy, breezy slasher read. It wasn't amazing by any means and it didn't actually scare me, but it was fun enough. It reminded me a lot of the movie Scream, in a good way. 


Without Merit by Colleen Hoover Dysfunctional family, secrets, sexuality, abuse, mental illness. I like that this wasn't a typical, cheesy Hoover romance, and I'm a big fan of family dramas, but this was TOO MANY topics. It just wasn't executed well and the end came too fast, tied up with a nice little bow, which bothered me. 


Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin Quick and fun. I loved the writing style and multiple narrators. Great characters and entertaining from beginning to end. 

 

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips Ever since that mass shooting in a Nairobi mall, where a mother and her two young children played dead for hours in order to survive the ordeal, I've been terrified of having my kids with me in a tragedy like that. This book played on those fears. It started out really strong and totally creeped me out, but Jane annoyed me after a while, there were parts of the story that didn't need to be there, and there were a few questions left unanswered. I could not put it down though. 


Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner Dark, quick, engrossing. I enjoyed the writing style, but felt like it could have been so much better if it was longer. 


Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer  I will never understand why people do this! Of course the 1996 incident was a horrible tragedy, but beside the blizzard, the trek is totally bonkers and so horrible for you, yet people keep going up. This book is an expansion to his article in Outsider Magazine, and details his first hand account. It also goes into the commercialization, skill, drive, toll on the environment, health issues, death, bravery, guilt... I was riveted and sickened. 



Unqualified by Anna Faris I've always loved her. She's so relatable and funny, never takes herself too seriously, and always wants to learn. In this book, she weaves personal stories with relationship advice. I wish it was a straight memoir about her life and career, but I appreciate her complete honesty about her family, friends, and men in her life. It's a quick, breezy read. 



Girl Logic: The Genius and the Absurdity by Iliza Shlesinger  She's funny and smart and great and I've been a fan for a long time. I love that her comedy has progressed and I agreed with just about everything she says in this book. I just wish it was more memoir, less dating advice. It was still a quick, easy, witty read. 


Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur It was hard to relive the insanity of the election and "unbelievable" doesn't seem like a strong enough work for all of Trump's shenanigans, but this a good read! I love Katy and don't know how she stayed rational or stable while working on the election. There's no doubt I would have had a breakdown on live TV. Katy's account is from her POV only (don't expect an investigation into the campaign itself). She's honest and kind of funny and I loved learning more about her and even a little bit about her parents. 


Life According to Steph

12.11.2017

Ten Albums - The Teen Years

I saw this thing floating around Facebook a few months ago and saved it as a blog idea. The prompt was to list ten albums that made a lasting impression on you as a teenager. You can only use one album per band or artist. You're also supposed to do it quickly, just off the top of your head. In order to narrow it down, I didn't include the soundtracks I adored (Romeo + Juliet, Forest Gump, Rent - Original Broadway Cast Recording) or albums that I got into as a teenager that were released way beforehand (Licensed to Ill, Abbey Road, The Doors). Here goes...


In Pieces by Garth Brooks (1993)
In my pre-teen years my family somehow got into country music. Maybe because we got cable, which included the now-defunct country music network TNN? I don't know, but wasn't that era of country music the  absolute best? I still remember memorizing every word to Ain't Goin' Down and Callin' Baton Rouge with my sister and cousin by rewinding the tape over and over. Garth Brooks will forever be my favorite country star.  

Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt (1995)
I was a junior in high school when I saw the video for Just A Girl and it kind of annoyed me. Gwen was so peppy compared to my faves at the time (Hole, Garbage, The Cranberries). My dad bought the tape (yes, tape, because we didn't have CD players in our cars yet) and once I heard Don't Speak, I borrowed it and never gave it back. Excuse Me Mr. is probably my favorite song ever to sing. They are my all-time favorite band. Sadly, they're probably over. 

Sublime by Sublime (1996)
I liked previous songs like Boss DJ, Date Rape, and Smoke Two Joints because I hung out with a bunch of stoners and this is what they were into, but didn't really get into Sublime until What I Got and Santeria. My guy friends listened to this album on repeat all summer in '96. It still reminds me of shenanigans with them. RIP, Bradley.

(What's the Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis (1995)
The moment I heard Wonderwall, I was in love. I had a babysitting job that paid $15 every weekend and bought this CD the very next day. My boyfriend was a HUGE Beatles fan and initially thought the Gallagher brothers were rip-offs, but after getting him to listen to it a few times on long drives, he agreed that it was pretty great. Wonderwall is still one of my favorite songs ever. A flood of nostalgia rushes over me when I hear the first few strums of Noel's guitar. 

Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette (1995) This album reminds me so much of my first love. I played Head Over Feet on repeat for weeks when I realized I was in actual love with him. Not The Doctor was when I was feeling smothered. You Oughta Know when we broke up, obviously. And You Learn when I was finally over him and could look back with a clear head. And then there's the rest of the album, which I may not relate to as much, but is still so damn good. 

Garbage by Garbage (1995) I still can't believe this was their debut. It's so great! Shirley's deep, calm voice was so different than other female singers I had liked up until at that point and I could identify so much with their amazing lyrics. Milk, Vow, Stupid Girl, and Queer are all perfect, but Only Happy When It Rains will always be my favorite from this album. 

Dude Ranch by Blink-182 (1997) This album came out the summer after high school and I was the first of my friends to discover it. I also had a new boyfriend and this was something we could listen to that didn't remind us of our exes. It just reminds me of being young and free and hanging out every single day. I still really like Mark and Tom's unpolished punk voices and sophomoric humor. I've seen them in concert eleven times, more than any other band!

Pieces of You by Jewel (1995) Jewel has never done anything better than her debut, in my opinion. This album has such great songs! I first bought the CD single of You Were Meant For Me and listened to it on my Discman on repeat, while lying in bed, mending my first broken heart. So dramatic! But I soon bought the entire thing and fell in love every simple, but beautiful song. Near You Always is still one of my favorites.

Razorblade Suitcase by Bush (1996) I liked Bush the second I saw the video for their first single, Everything Zen, even though I still have no idea what their lyrics mean. Gavin was (and still is) so hot and I put a poster of him on my wall immediately. Glycerine is my favorite Bush song, I'd have to say their second album had more impact on me. Greedy Fly, Mouth, Insect Kin, and Cold Contagious are fantastic, but I have vivid memories of driving around at 1:00 am with my boyfriend and his friends, looking for the last party of the night, while singing Swallowed at the top of our lungs.

...Baby One More Time by Britney Spears (1999) And then I took a turn for pop music. What? How? Well, I worked at a daycare through college and the school age kids were allowed to listen to music on the playground, but only Radio Disney. So it was a lot of very early BSB, NSYNC, Christina, and none other than Miss Britney Spears. It was fun and happy and I was hooked on all of it, but especially Godney. I bought all the pop CDs and brought them in for the kids to listen to commercial (and AM radio static) free and never looked back.

12.06.2017

Currently

Current Books
Refugee is three stories, told from the child's point of view, as they seek refuge from Germany, Cuba, and Syria with their families. It's really good and even though it's a middle grade book, I think EVERYONE should read it. One of Us is Lying is a YA contemporary murder mystery. Five kids have detention and one of them dies, so who's the one that killed him? I figured out the ending pretty early on, but that didn't stop me from wanting to keep going. It was a fun, addictive read. I just started The Best Kind of People, which is about a beloved teacher arrested for sexual abuse of high school students, told through his wife and two children. I like it so far.


Current Playlist
Trouble in the Streets - BC Unidos feat. Carly Rae Jepsen
Wolves - Selena Gomez x Marshmello
Visions of Gideon - Sufjan Stevens
Bedroom Floor - Liam Payne
1000 - N.E.R.D. feat. Future
Miss You - Louis Tomlinson
Love So Soft - Kelly Clarkson



Current Food
Ellenos is a family-run Greek yogurt place that makes small batches from locally and seasonally sourced ingredients and IT IS AMAZING. It's more like a dessert and I indulge way too often. I normally buy it at the grocery store, but when I can make it to an actual yogurt bar I'm in heaven. It's only available in Washington, Oregon, and the Bay Area, so if you can get your hands on some, do it!




Current Shows
We're four episodes into Ozark and Jacob likes it a lot more than I do. I don't know why I can't get into it, but I told him he could go on without me and maybe I'd revisit it later. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a new series on Amazon, brought to you by the Palladinos (Gilmore Girls) and I gobbled it up in two days! It's just flat out charming. I've missed that fast-paced dialogue Amy is famous for and love the cast, especially Alex Borstein.


Current Celeb Crush
Remember Dick Casablancas from Veronica Mars? He was played by Ryan Hansen, who has a new cop show on YouTube with Samira Wiley. I've only watched the first episode, but plan on tuning in because I love Ryan SO much. He's cute, so funny, and is my favorite Instagram follow because he literally makes me LOL every day. He's still BFFs with Kristen Bell, so she pops up in his stories quite a bit. I love him.



Current Excitement
Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn. I love the movie and can't wait to finally see it on stage! I've been listening to the soundtrack all week. Plus, I'm going with my mom and we're going to have a little Christmas evening in Seattle, so it'll be a nice night. 


Current Movies
Lots of movies to review! Murder on the Orient Express was fun. I'm not into murder mysteries, but this had such a great cast, it kept my interest the whole way through. I was pleasantly surprised by Justice League. Although I didn't read any reviews, I sort of went in thinking I was supposed to hate it, so maybe my expectations were low. It wasn't great by any means, but I enjoyed the watch. Lady Bird was fantastic!! I laughed, I cried, I cringes, I nodded along, I reminisced. All of the relationships touched my heart, but I especially loved the mother-daughter scenes. You never know how a book, adored by everyone, is going to work out as a movie, but Wonder was really well done! The cast was great, I loved that it was still told from different perspectives, and I teared up constantly. Coco was magical! The animation is wonderful, the family dynamic is so refreshing, and the themes are rather complex. During the movie, I didn't really think my kids were getting it, but my dad and I were definitely emotional. We talked about it the whole way home and turns out, they did understand it all and really liked it. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri was great. The cast was incredible, especially Frances McDormand! I was expecting a slow, sad movie, but it was a lot more than that. I was surprised by how many times I laughed.



Current Mood
Tired. Just plain tired. I'm happy and well, I just can't seem to get a good night sleep lately, which is very unlike me. I'm tossing and turning and uncomfortable and too hot, then too cold. My body feels it and my face clearly shows how tired I am. Ugh. 

Current Podcast
People were raving about Dirty John a few months ago and I finally got around to listening to all six episodes of this true crime series. I finished in two days, so I was definitely interested in the story about how Debra Newell met and wed sociopath John Meehan. It's told through interviews with people who knew both of them and the ending is bonkers!



What's New With You

12.01.2017

2017 Christmas Albums

It's December first and officially acceptable to listen to Christmas music. I'm not going to pretend I adhere to social norms when it comes to holiday tunes though. I've been listening since the beginning of November. I just get so excited for new holiday albums and can't wait to listen! These are the ones I added to my collection this year.


You Make It Feel Like Christmas - Gwen Stefani
Oh, Gwen. At first glance (and listen) I had secondhand embarrassment. Don't get me wrong, I love her, but she has a unique voice that's not suited for slow songs and I didn't know how it would translate to holiday classics. I was pleasantly surprised...by half of it. She sounds best on Jingle Bells, Let It Snow, Last Christmas, Santa Baby, and White Christmas. They've got this upbeat throwback sound that really works for her. Then there are her original tunes which are all about Blake and they make me gag. I love the music in My Gift Is You and Under The Christmas Lights, but the lyrics are so cheesy and terrible.


Simply Christmas (Deluxe Edition) - Leslie Odom, Jr.
I bought the standard edition last year and my only complaint was that it's only eight songs long! This year he added four more to round out the album and again, it's perfection. He has the absolute best voice and his jazz band makes the classics so chill and gorgeous. I'll never understand why My Favorite Things (from The Sound of Music) is a Christmas song, but his rendition is SO good. He kills the most quintessential songs (Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, I'll Be Home for Christmas, The Christmas Song) but my favorites are Please Come Home For Christmas and The Christmas Waltz. Honestly though, there's not one bad thing to say about the entire album. He is so swoon-worthy.



Christmas With Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra - Elvis Presley
Elvis's holiday albums have always been favorites of mine, right behind Bing Crosby and Andy Williams. This re-imagining of his previous Christmas songs sounds so good. Santa Claus is Back in Town is my favorite song, but Blue Christmas, Merry Christmas Baby, and I'll Be Home for Christmas are right up there. My kids want to hear Here Comes Santa Claus and Winter Wonderland on repeat. If you like Elvis, you'll love these new arrangements. 



Everyday is Christmas - Sia
This was the most surprising holiday album release! Who knew Sia had it in her? It's very different and 100% original (no covers here), so nothing stood out to me immediately. I like Sunshine and Everyday is Christmas and think Underneath the Christmas Lights is haunting and beautiful. My kids and I really like Ho Ho Ho. I think it's catchy and they like the sound effects. They also like Puppies Are Forever, because, well, it's about puppies and there's barking in the song. I think it's super annoying, but I appreciate her message about not getting pets as gifts because they are a lifelong commitment. Ha!



A Pentatonix Christmas Deluxe - Pentatonix
I also already owned the standard version of this album, which came out last year, but was happy to see five new songs tacked onto the end for the deluxe edition. Deck The Halls, Let It Snow, and Hallelujah (with strings) were great additions. People are losing their minds over Away In A Manger (in my Facebook feed, at least) and it's fine, but I'm not blown away. How Great Thou Art, featuring Jennifer Hudson, is good too, but not my preference. 


Let It Snow - 98º
I guess they're back? They released this album and a short supporting tour to celebrate their 20th anniversary. Honestly, I'm cool with it. They have great voices and their harmonies are tight. The album starts out fun and peppy and ends with slower, traditional Christmas carols. My favorite tracks are the upbeat songs: Run Rudolph Run, Please Come Home For Christmas, What Christmas Means To Me, and the a cappella Let It Snow. 



Warmer In The Winter - Lindsey Stirling
She's an amazingly talented violinist and not all the songs have guest vocalists, so I like to put this one when I'm cooking or cleaning. I LOVE Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy, Carol Of The Bells, and What Child Is This. (That was always my favorite song to play during the holiday season in concert band. Nerd alert!) Silent Night is really magical and You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch featuring Sabrina Carpenter is so fun. Honestly, it's all really, really good. We're gonna listen to this album while we drive around and look at Christmas lights. 


Finally It's Christmas - Hanson
Hanson's back too? Upon further investigation, it looks like they never really left. They've released new music every few years since they started 25 years ago. I had no idea! This album mixes classics and originals and is a blast from beginning to end. I'm obsessed with Please Come Home, Blue Christmas and All I Want For Christmas. Happy Christmas (featuring all their kids!) and Finally It's Christmas are great new tunes. Who knew?!

What are you listening to this holiday season?

11.24.2017

Holiday Specials

I'm a sucker for cheesy holiday specials! Sure they're commercial and sometimes annoying, but I basically TiVo every single one of them and fast forward the terrible parts. It all starts tonight with Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, and Frosty Returns at 8:00. Take a look at all the other specials and classics I'll be watching this holiday season! 


November 24 - DreamWorks Trolls Holiday
I can't wait to watch this one with the kids!

November 24 - Great Performances: Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn
I'm going to see this musical next month, so I'll have to watch it afterward to compare notes.

November 27 - A Very Pentatonix Christmas
Who can say no to a cappella holiday songs?

November 28 - Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show
Harry Styles and Leslie Odom Jr will be performing.

November 29 - Christmas in Rockefeller Center
Performances by Jennifer Nettles, Leslie Odom Jr, Pentatonix, Gwen Stefani, and The Tenors.

November 29 - Bruno Mars: 24k Magic Live at the Apollo
I saw him in concert this summer, but won't mind revisiting it!

November 29 - Home Alone
We're going to try to see this in the theater this year, but I'll record it just in case we can't make it.

November 30 - A Charlie Brown Christmas
A must-see.

November 30 - The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration
Julianne Hough and Nick Lachey host a magical night from Disney parks.

December 1 - Masters of Illusion: Christmas Magic
It's all about magicians. Nolan's excited for this one.

December 1 - Elf
It's a modern classic Christmas movie that my kids are just started to enjoy.

December 5 - The Polar Express
We've watched this every year since Nolan was three. I love it!

December 7 - Shrek The Halls
This special has been around for a decade, but we've never seen it before.

December 9 - It's a Wonderful Life
One of my favorites! I love watching this movie while wrapping presents.

December 10 - Encore!
Kristen Bell reunites a high school musical cast for a 20th anniversary redo. I'm in!

December 12 - Gwen Stefani’s You Make it Feel Like Christmas
It's gonna be pretty bad, but I love her and can't help but watch. Plus, Seth MacFarlane will be there.

December 14 - Taraji’s White Hot Holidays
Guests include Fergie, Ciara, Chaka Khan, Faith Evans, Salt-N-Peppa, and Leslie Odom Jr.

December 14 - Jingle Ball Tour
Performances by Demi Lovato, Taylor Swift, Kesha, Sam Smith, and Liam Payne, among others.

December 16 - I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown
I've never seen this!

December 17 - A Christmas Story Live!
Matthew Broderick, Maya Rudolph, and newcomer Andy Walken take on this holiday musical.

December 25 - The Disney Parks: Magical Christmas Celebration
Julianne and Nick are back to kick off your Christmas morning the right way.

December 26 - Happy New Year, Charlie Brown
Another one I haven't seen!

December 26 - Rudolph’s Shiny New Year
This came out in 1976, but it's the first I've heard of it! We'll be watching.

As you can see, my TV viewing schedule is quite full. This is why I'm so grateful for fall finales! I'm usually too busy to watch regular TV shows and it's more fun to throw on one of these mindless holiday specials instead. I'll also be sure to break out my DVDs of White Christmas, The Family Stone, and Love, Actually

What are you watching this holiday season?