Amanda Gates
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A Musings

10 years ago today, my life changed. My favorite show of all time - all time! - ended. No more new FRIENDS. Fortunately, the show's in syndication until 2088 or something (plus I own all the seasons), so I can rewatch it any time I want. So, in honor of this anniversary (also, how fast did 10 years go?!)....

I’ve been meaning to write this forever, but when you love a show so much and you try to pick just a few of some 200 episodes… well, it’s like picking favorite children (OK, not really). Each one has at least a nugget or two that means something to me. I can watch nearly any episode for the 20th time and love it just as much as the first time. Maybe more.

(Important to note, I consider the Thanksgiving episodes their own category. I love many of those equally, so I didn’t list them here.)

On with the list. The best episodes, in my mind, are the ones when all the Friends are in one room together… or are all involved in the same storyline. Another reason why T-Day episodes are standouts.

The One Where No One’s Ready: I can recite this episode word for word. It’s a classic. The Joey/Chandler fight, the Monica freak out, anal Ross, Phoebe’s political statement, Rachel “catching up on her correspondence.” I can’t even pick a favorite part because I love it all so much.

Best Line: There are too many. “The cushions are the essence of the chair!” “I’m Chandler. Could I BE wearing any more clothes?” “Monica, I think you’ve gone over to the BAD PLACE.” “Donald Duck never wore pants…” “I’m breezy!” “You can’t say you’re breezy! That totally negates the breezy!” (The fact that Joey knows how to properly use the word ‘negates’ is questionable, yet enjoyable.)

The One With the Embryos: This is a CLOSE second. The quiz game is unreal in its hilarity. I love how well they know each other – it’s really a special quality to find in friends. I also love Phoebe’s sweet side story line, with her petri dish pep talk and funny lines, “OK, where am I giving birth, in a hospital or a big box under the stairs?”

Best Line: Too many! But probably, “His legs flail about as if independent from his body!”

The One Where Everyone Finds Out: I still remember watching this episode live and laughing so hysterically in our basement my mom came down to see what the heck was going on. The opening when Phoebe sees through the window (“My eyes! MY EYES!”) is probably the best part. But I also love the cat and mouse game they play to get Chandler to crack.

Best Line: “What about my pinchable butt and my bulging biceps? SHE KNOWS!”

The One with the Prom Video: Some of the flashback episodes are hit or miss; they can get a little carried away. But this was our first peek at the past and it was really sweet. I love that it’s the other Friends’ first peek at the past, too, and the fact the Ross uncomfortably knows what’s coming and Rachel doesn’t. And the end is the best.

Best Line: Insert anything about lobsters here.

Posted: Tue, 05/06/2014 - 12:58 |

This was a better year for books than last year. I made my goal of 20 books, even with having a baby thrown in there. Here are my favorite books of the year (books I read, not books published, in 2013).

Divergent Trilogy: Once again (as with Hunger Games and Twilight), I did this right by not realizing this trilogy even existed until about a month before the last book came out. I really liked it, too! It was an interesting concept all the way through the end, almost to the point where I could see our real world imploding on itself like that (in a way). I was fine with the ending, too, even though other fans were threatening Roth with death (COME. ON.) because of it. A fun, fast read all around.

Eleanor & Park: People all over Twitter were reading this so I picked it up to see what the fuss was about. It’s such a sweet, endearing and heartbreaking story. Teenagers in love. It brings you back. I loved nearly every word.

Tiny Beautiful Things: This was a nice change of pace from my usual novel. I really enjoyed Strayed’s advice columns and how she presented her advice as well. I liked this much more over Wild, even though you can’t really compare the two.

Winter Sea: I found a historical novel that rivals The Forgotten Garden in loveliness. I hope to read more of her books.

Fault in Our Stars: Another book people just rave about and I was a little late in the game to. But I loved this book and how truthful and raw it felt. Green speaks from the teenage (much less a teenage girl) perspective really well. I loved the joking and sarcasm. I loved the parents, especially since now when I read it, I read it more from that perspective than from the child’s, like if I read it in high school or something. Wonderful.

Waiting for Birdy: I read this at the perfect time, with a toddler boy at home waiting for a baby girl, just like the author. Nearly everything she wrote struck me, and I was recently alerted to another article she wrote awhile back, and once again, she reads my freakin’ mind.

End of Your Life Book Club: I already wrote a complex post about this book, but it touched me on several levels. Great read, for both readers but also those struggling with a parent’s death.

You might also like my previous end of the year roundups: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007

What books did you love in 2013?

Posted: Fri, 12/06/2013 - 19:29 |

Wait it Out Bingo: My good friend Katie alerted me to this piece and I think it’s so clever. I always want to think I can be the mom who will let my child CIO, but let’s face it, I’m spent after 5 minutes. So, at least this Bingo card on why my baby is awake adds some humor to the literally exhausting situation.

My additions: fireworks (someday I’ll like those again), tired mama bumping rocking horse into crib, doorbell, mama having a coughing fit while laying on nursery floor, etc.

I’m Not Sorry and You Shouldn’t Be Either by Denise Schipani: I’ve always been a big proponent of saying no to keep your sanity. When it comes right down to it, my family and my time comes before everything else. But sometimes I look at the messy house or the fact that I skip many events and feel bad (...but not really). I’m thankful Schipani tells me I don’t have to feel sorry.

Zombie Story: This is old, but I only just discovered it. Toy Story and Walking Dead (two things I love) have very similar themes. It’s hilarious.

Now We Are Five by David Sedaris: Besides the fact that I will consume anything he writes, I appreciated this piece for how well Sedaris writes about the death of a loved one who you might not actually be that close to. But it still matters. Great piece.

Bravery As Defined By an Accidental Housewife: I love the sentiment that we’re all brave and courageous just doing what we’re doing every day – wiping butts, cleaning house, going to work, being parents. Her last graph says it all:

“In reality I am someone who has never stopped feeling frustrated and uneasy with a messy house, who cringes when people wipe snot on her shoulder, and who still dry heaves herself when anyone around her throws up.  I wish I were more naturally tolerant of these things, but I’m not, and so for me the challenge I must rise to lately is the daily endurance of these discomforts.  It’s not quite as exciting or special feeling as having a baby, true, and it might not look brave to the outside world, but some days it takes all the grit I’ve got.  This is my current adventure, my life affirming challenge: not to endure pain or push myself to any physical limits, not to earn a new certificate or find a new career, but to help a kid wipe milk off the floor for the twentieth time in a week without resenting it.  To know that to the child who spilled the milk, my attitude does matter.”

What are you loving this week?

Posted: Fri, 11/08/2013 - 20:57 |

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Two of my favorite shows from the last decade are The Office and Parks & Rec, so it really shouldn’t have been a surprise that I would dig Brooklyn Nine-Nine since it was created by Office/P&R writers/creators. It’s my favorite new fall show. It took an episode or two to really like the characters (it took that for P&R, too), but Andy Samberg is really good at sitcom acting, Andre Braugher plays a hilarious, ahem, straight man, and the supporting players quickly grew on me. Good show.

Toy Story of Terror: I love Toy Story. All of them. A lot. And that’s a good thing, because in the last year or so, I’ve watched A LOT of Toy Story. (My kid cracks me up by quoting Spanish Buzz, “Senorita? Dondé esta?!”) The husband and I checked out Toy Story of Terror, which premiered the other night. The cleverness just doesn’t go away with this brand. On a road trip with Bonnie, the toys find themselves in a run-down, roadside motel and get in a bit of a pickle when they explore during the night. While I think it might be a tad frightening for my preschooler, it’s still remarkable for a 30-minute special.

Promised Land by the Milk Carton Kids: I always find new songs to love in the ending montages of TV shows and this one was on last week’s episode of Bones. After looking them up, looks like the Milk Carton Kids are group that’s just starting to make a big name for itself. I’m never in the know about breakout stars, but I think this group has a big future. (Other songs from TV shows I've instantly downloaded: Cloud Cult’s You Were Born from HIMYM, Joshua Radin’s My My Love from Parenthood (I get many songs from this show), Rilo Kiley’s Arms Outstretched from Weeds, etc.)

Take Your Licks by Amy Poehler: Just when you think you can’t love her more, she writes a sweet essay like this one. My favorite line, “It’s important to know when it’s time to turn in your kazoo.”

Mike Derheim’s TEDx Talk: He talks about engaging your workforce and how Millennials aren’t entitled, they just want to be empowered… and employers aren’t doing this. At his company, The Nerdery (always named a top place to work in Minnesota), everyone is co-president. It’s not about rules and regulations; it’s about less of those things. “Why not let people pick their own hours? Why not show people the picture of success and get out of their way while they try to achieve it?” Bravo, man. There’s a reason he’s grown his company to 450 extremely happy employees in just 10 years.

Posted: Fri, 10/18/2013 - 15:19 |

When I was in college there was a boy (of course there was). I really liked this boy and we hung out a lot. However, while he wanted to hang with me all the time, he would tell me he didn’t want a relationship, even though he really liked me, that it was fun to just hang with me, blah blah blah. Because I liked him so much and he was fun to be around, and because he just kept calling me to hang out, I kept it up for several months. One day I was talking to a very wise coworker about the situation. I told her that it hurt that he didn’t want to be more than friends (well, sometimes more), I still held out hope and wanted to keep seeing him because I missed him and was sad when we didn’t see each other.

She told me, “Go right ahead. But there will come a time when it will hurt more to be with him than to be without him, and that’s when you’ll stop.”

And she was right. That time came, I stopped hanging out with him, and while it hurt, it didn’t hurt as much as giving my feelings over to someone who didn’t reciprocate. I never forgot her advice.

Reading Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things reminded me of this moment in my life. Strayed is the voice behind an advice column called Dear Sugar and Tiny Beautiful Things is a compilation of some of her best advice. She gives advice on sex, love, finances, abuse and much more. Her advice is wise and spot on, plus just beautifully written. She can take bits from her own messed up life and turn those stories around and dole out sage advice. Some of the letters and her following advice can make you laugh, cry or just shake your head.

The interesting thing? With every letter, I would give the exact same advice (not as eloquently, but exactly the same in theme). Because with every problem, there really, truly is a best path; a best perspective. But when you’re in the situation? When you’re continuing to hang with the boy who doesn’t return your affections? You can’t see it. Your situation seems impossible, like there is no answer. But from the outside, either as Strayed or as the reader, the solution seems so easy: leave, stay, buck up, shut up, get help, etc.

This doesn’t make the book less interesting by any means. It’s completely interesting and touching and so many of her stories and advice struck home with me. When a mid-20s college graduate complained that her parents weren’t helping her with her student loans (how can I possibly get out from under these without their help, they’re being selfish, etc.), Strayed told her to “grow up, people do it all the time.” Love that. When a fiancé didn’t know if he was responding well to his partner’s grief over losing her mother, Strayed said all he needed to do (for the rest of their lives) was listen and say I’m sorry, over and over, even if it felt like the most lame, unhelpful response. Yes. When a mother whose six-month-old was having surgery to remove a tumor and she was questioning a God who would do such a thing, Strayed (who doesn’t believe in God) gave the most eloquent response, asking why we only question God when something goes bad in OUR lives. Bad things happen all the time to everyone. In fact, Jesus, a human man, died on a cross and suffered quite a bit but also endured. She reminds us to find God within our hard times – friends who help you, strangers who reach out – rather than wondering where the hell he went.

It’s like throughout the book she offers the most obvious advice, but it’s advice that we tend to forget. It’s like when bad things happen to us, we lose all sight of common sense. Some situations in the book I’ve been in, some I’m in right now, some I hope to never be in. But, I would love (though it’s pretty impossible) to remember every piece of advice she offers and then keep remembering it the next time I find myself lost within a problem or situation. The answer is there, always, we just have to let ourselves find it and then trust it.

Posted: Wed, 09/18/2013 - 15:20 |

Sunday

Walking Dead: When it ended in March, I didn’t have a new baby yet and it seemed like October was very, very far away. But, here we are, and come October 13 we’ll be watching Season 4. The previews I’ve seen only make this season look even more intense than 3, which was pretty freakin’ intense. I’m excited.

We don’t really have any other Sunday night shows, so we’ll round it out with either football or DVR’d shows from the week before.

Monday

HIMYM: It’s bittersweet because I’m so, so excited to see how this show wraps up (and find out when Slap #5 will happen!), but I also hate to see it go. I maintain that this show is one of the cleverest comedies on TV. Sure, it’s about a group of friends (not original), but the time jumps, long-running jokes, great acting and great storytelling has kept it going strong for 9 seasons. ::cry::

Bones: I can’t pinpoint why I enjoy Bones so much, but I do. I love Booth and Bones together, and I love when the series brings in a bad guy who sticks around for a while. It’s nothing groundbreaking, of course, but it’s a less serious CSI/NCIS/L&O and I like that. (Don’t like that it moves to Friday in late fall….)

Mom: After HIMYM we usually just switch to The Voice, which we like better than any other singing/talent competition on the air (I really hope to see Shakira and Usher back again in another season). However, I might have to check out Mom for one reason and one reason only: Allison Janney. I can take or leave Anna Faris, though.

Tuesday

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: This looks funny and has been getting some good reviews early on. My husband really wants to watch it and it comes right before our other favorite comedy. I hope it’s good, and if it’s good, I hope it stays on. (Though Fox doesn’t cancel shows as fast as other networks, so that’s a good thing.)

New Girl: Love. Anxious to see what happens with Nick and Jess – I’m so glad they got together. I think this could be a good Monica/Chandler relationship that just works for the length of the sitcom.

Trophy Wife: I don’t think we’ll watch it, but if I did, again it would be for one (WW) reason only: Bradley Whitford.

About A Boy (midseason): Love the book and the movie, so maybe I’ll like the TV show?

Top Gear: When it’s new, we watch this on History. It’s more for my husband, but the three guys are really funny so even if you don’t dig cars all that much, they make it easy to watch.

Wednesday

The Middle: This show just continues to get better. Last year was especially good with Frankie’s career change and Axl’s new love interest/heartbreak. Like I say every year, this is one of the only shows on right now that shows a real middle-class family that’s struggling like so many of the rest of us.

Back in the Game: I don’t know? Maybe because it’s on between our two Wednesday night shows?

Modern Family: Don’t have to say too much about why we’ll continue to watch this show. It’s a good time.

Thursday

The biggest overhaul of a TV night in a long time, on every channel.

Parks and Rec: Love everything about this show. Sad to see Rob Lowe and Rashida Jones go, though.

The Big Bang Theory: No explanation necessary. I hope Mayim wins the Emmy on Sunday.

The Millers: Probably not, though might check it out just for Will Arnett.

Welcome to the Family: Eh. But it’s after P&R, so…

The Crazy Ones: Kind of want to see what it’s like to have Robin Williams back on TV. I worry with such a superstar cast (i.e. big salaries), if it doesn’t get Huge Ratings quickly enough it could be considered a flop.

Sean Saves the World: This is one of those comedies where I feel NBC is promoting the hell out of it and it’s only going to be just OK. Is he just playing Jack in a different role? Sean Hayes can do other things; he’s had some good guest arcs on other sitcoms, so I hope we see some of that acting come through.

Michael J Fox Show: Of course we’ll watch. Who doesn’t love MJF? I watched Family Ties and Spin City, so I’ll tune in to this one too. I hope the Parkinson’s jokes simmer down after the initial episodes and it just becomes a funny show about a good guy. We’ll see.

Parenthood: My most anticipated. Love everything about it. Cry every week. So glad it got picked up, moved to Thursdays and we get 22 whole episodes. (The Emmys can suck it though.)

Friday

Ghost Adventures: When it’s new, we watch this.

Shark Tank: We get a kick out of this show, too.

Leftover thoughts from last season: I couldn’t keep up with Go On, and then it got cancelled anyway. But I liked it. And all the shenanigans with Up All Night? Ridiculous. I wish they’d kept it similar to season 1, but they messed with it too much and then it failed. Nice work, again, NBC. Never got back into Community. Also, TNT cancelled Southland in the biggest TV disappointment of 2013. Just lame, TNT.

What are you watching?

Posted: Tue, 09/17/2013 - 16:23 |

I don’t remember why I put The Winter Sea on my Amazon wish list to begin with. It had been on there awhile and then I got it for Christmas last year. It sat on my shelf for half the year, probably because I just couldn’t remember why I wanted to read it in the first place. But, it was time for another book and I felt adventurous and ready to give it a try. And I was sucked in.

I never wrote fully about The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton, but I felt like many others out there felt: it was pure magic. It had history, multiple story lines, love, death, sadness, mystery, beautiful writing—it was a completely mind(and heart)-capturing fairy tale.

I never thought another book would even come close to The Forgotten Garden. Sure, I love other books like Harry Potter and Cutting for Stone and Bossypants and The Book Thief, but they don’t really fall within the same genre, so apples and oranges… But then came The Winter Sea and I found another story of pure magic, one that can hold it’s own against The Forgotten Garden, but is just different enough that I can love them both and not feel I need to pick one over the other.

But with confidence I can say, if you loved The Forgotten Garden, you will enjoy The Winter Sea. So read it.

Carrie is a writer of historic fiction and she’s working on her latest book about early 1700s Scottish independence. However, as she’s writing down her story, the things she writes down from her head end up being true in the history books. The book goes back and forth between Carrie writing in a small town on the Scottish coast (a town with an excellent cast of characters) and her account of her heroine Sophia, living at a castle during these tumultuous years of Scottish history.

The Scottish history part—Jacobites, fleets of ships, banished kings, overthrowing queens—was a bit hard to follow and I found myself lost a bit, especially since this part of the world’s history is completely foreign to me. However, I was able to follow well enough that it didn’t take away from the story, and in turn, makes me want to learn more about it.

But I loved Sophia. I loved how Sophia’s moves and love triangle mirrored Carrie’s present-day life. I loved how we as readers were learning what would happen to Sophia right along with Carrie because as the facts came to her she then wrote them down for us. It added an element of suspense. Each time the book would shift time periods, I didn’t want to leave who we were with (Sophia/Carrie), but I also couldn’t wait to get back to who I’d been missing.

I also loved that the present-day story was about an author writing a novel, because I have fantasies of living that life. I loved Carrie’s relationship with her editor, her freedom to spend days and nights writing and also her investigative spirit to learn the truth. The story was engaging, heartbreaking, intriguing, page turning and just perfectly lovely. Total winner.

Posted: Thu, 09/12/2013 - 14:50 |

Someday Someday Maybe

I love Lauren Graham and Lorelei Gilmore and Sarah Braverman, so if she’s going to write a book, then I’m going to read it. Quick, easy and sweet. Nothing groundbreaking but fun to read nonetheless. My favorite part though is in the acknowledgements (I always read acknowledgements) when Lauren Graham thanks Peter Krause and writes, "I love you so." I love them both.

The Art of Fielding

Another great character-driven novel. You don’t even have to like sports to enjoy it (I like baseball, but fellow book clubbers don’t and they still enjoyed). It’s interesting to see how one mistake can mentally affect someone, and how people in general take into account everyone around them when they make decisions. As the book went on, I was afraid I wouldn’t like the ending (that something really, really unhappy was going to happen to leave a bad taste in my mouth), but while it wasn't wrapped up fairy-tale-ending-style, it did wrap up to my satisfaction.

Husband & Wife

A book about infidelity. Hmmm. But, I thought it was good. It read super fast, and I loved the main character’s humor and thought process. The things she says about being a mother, about becoming a mother, about how priorities change and how You change… they were all the thoughts I have in my own head. I nodded along many times, and for a novel, that’s not always the case. As for how she handles her husband’s infidelity, well, it would make for a good book club discussion. Would that be what you would do? It’s really hard to put yourself in that place, but I can’t fault her for her ultimate decision; but I don’t think I would’ve faulted her for choosing the alternative either.

Posted: Wed, 09/04/2013 - 13:01 |

Wild: Everybody raved (raved) about this book. And it was fine. It’s an entertaining and thoughtful account of the years that followed her mother’s death and her lonesome trek on the Pacific Crest Trail. However, she's very detailed, which set the scene well, but I didn't have the patience to read about the trees and the paths all the time, so I did skim over parts. She's also quite extreme in her personality and I had hard time relating to her promiscuity and addiction issues in the face of her grief. Because, hey, I’ve lost a mom too but I didn’t go out and screw people and get addicted to heroin. Everyone handles grief differently, of course, but there were times when I wanted to shake her and say, “You don’t have to behave this way.” But, following her journey was interesting and learning about the PCT was really cool. It definitely makes me want to travel West, though never camping (I'm not a camper). In the end, I'm glad she came out on the other side. She deserved to.  

The Fault in our Stars: It's pretty impressive to me how someone writing heartbreakingly about kids with cancer can make you bust a gut at the same time. The two main characters are pretty inspiring and hilarious. I admire their moxie and disdain, yet acceptance, of their disease, as well as their perspective—a perspective much greater than many adults in their life. The story, of course, is heartbreaking too. A good mix of both, I suppose. A very fast read and definitely worth the time. I really liked it.

Broken Harbor: I’ve read all of Tana French and I read this faster than I've read a book in a long time, but French has that way. I liked it and was swept up in it. I enjoyed the main character (though makes me want to re-read Faithful Place just to remember Scorcher's role in that book; is that the case they kept alluding back to?). The ending wasn’t quite as surprising or as satisfying as her others, but I also like that none of her characters/stories wrap up in a pretty bow. They’re still screw ups or imperfect, even when their story ends. Order of enjoyment still puts The Likeness at No. 1 & In the Woods at No. 2 for me. But these last two are neck and neck. Can't wait for the next one, whenever that is (and who will the main character be? The Super, maybe? Or maybe Larry the tech... hmmm.)

Posted: Wed, 08/21/2013 - 18:38 |

OK! ::claps hands:: It's been awhile! But now that we're done having babies, time to get back into the swing of updating my website. Things I haven't been loving? Baby reflux, our long dreary spring, and sleep deprivation. But there are plenty of things to love, too!

+ Mossimo tanks: During the summer, I live in tank tops. It's what I put on when I get home from work and wear all weekend long. Usually I stock up on Old Navy layering tanks, but the last few years those have gone downhill, stretching out and losing any shape before the first day is done. So, this year I picked up a couple at Target and they're capital-A Awesome. I now have four. They keep their shape, even if I wear the same one all week before washing it, and just fit great.

+ Old Navy yoga pants: My go-to store redeemed itself from the tank nightmare with these pants. So comfy, cute and cool for summer. I now have two pair. It looks like the size options are slowly diminishing. I hope they restock.

+ Why I Just Said No to my Kids [and social media]...: With an infant and a three-year-old, this dilemma is still years off, but it's nice to read an article about a real mom acting in a real way, and pretty much exactly how I would want to act. Her kids aren't on Facebook and they're not outcasts or losing friends. I love all of her reasons; they make sense for the welfare of all kids.

+ West Wing on Netflix: I had a goal to watch Alias while on maternity leave (done and thumbs up!) and when I still had a few days left, I started re-watching West Wing. My love for WW has never faltered, but it's been awhile since I've watched several eps all the way through. My love is rejuvenated! I love every gosh darn thing about that show, it's ridiculous. It's a bit disconcerting that while re-watching it 14 years after it started, all the issues are Still The Same Issues, but such fun nonetheless.

+ Rilo Kiley's With Arms Outstretched: I know I'm late to the Rilo game. And this song isn't new. But, I also finished Weeds while on leave and this song plays in the final scene (not too spoiler-y if you haven't finished it). I now can't listen to it enough. "Now some days, they last longer than others. But this day by the lake went too fast. If you want me, you better speak up. I won't wait." Plus, this final scene was actually pretty perfect for the show that I oftentimes found completely ridiculous. Good closure, good song, and MLP's great hair.

Posted: Fri, 06/28/2013 - 14:52 |