Amanda Gates
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A Musings - March 2012

Last week I caught up on some of my book reviews. Here are four more I've read in the last several months.

The Zygote Chronicles: This was cute. It’s been hailed “best” by some and I know friends who loved it. I liked it, but love is a strong word. She’s hilarious at points and definitely spoke some usually unwritten truths about pregnancy that had me nodding my head. It also makes me wish I did even more writing about my pregnancy, talking to the baby like she does. In the end, 'cute' and 'good' would be my words. A quick, fun read for any mother or mother-to-be.

The Imperfectionists: I liked this book because it focused on so many of the different roles at a dying newspaper. I work in media and these issues are at the forefront of our industry. Reading about the stringer, the editors, the publishers and all the headaches they experience was very interesting and hit home quite a bit, even if this paper is housed abroad. However, some of the chapters – which each follow a different person at this paper – were a bit boring. I only felt a real connection to two or three and the rest I couldn’t care less about. I think this might be my problem with books of this structure (see Goon Squad). I need more for me to care. I love short stories, but writers of good short stories (Jhumpa Lahari) flesh out their characters and make them go places in a short amount of time. These chapters didn’t quite do that for me.

The Heretic’s Daughter: This was a book club pick. It’s about a family living during the Salem Witch Trials. That part of the story was quite interesting, especially when it threw out names from The Crucible, like John Proctor. The things we did to people, all based on the lies of stupid teenage girls! It was so frustrating to read about. And the conditions these people were detained in until their hanging was horrifying. However, the story moved slowly, and was a lot of “we’re starving, it’s cold, the plague, people are dying…etc., etc.” So, it was just OK for me.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: This was another book that got raves everywhere. It’s about an older gentleman who is a widow who finds a new love in the shop owner in his town. Because my dad is a widow, too, it brought me some sadness to read about. Also, I wasn’t too into reading about elderly romance. The Major was a touch annoying to me, as were several other characters in the book. But, I loved his new friend, Mrs. Ali, and all she stood for. I kind of wish she was the main character instead.

Thoughts? Have you read any of these?

Posted: Fri, 03/30/2012 - 08:17 | Comments: 1

I went and saw the Hunger Games on Friday. Pre-kid, I used to see movies on their opening weekends all the time. Now I’m lucky if I see two or three movies a year. So, it was a treat to take a day off from work and see it on opening day. I planned to go all by myself, but after a work thing fell through, my husband was happy to join me. He’s seen all the Harry Potter movies with me (but hasn’t read the books). And while I would never subject him to awful-deliciousness that is Twilight, I did think he’d like the Hunger Games. He’s a huge Running Man-Terminator-movie-type-of fan, so while for the younger set, this movies was up his alley.

And we liked it a lot. I always go into movies based on books without too high of expectations because you can’t possibly fit it all in a two-hour-twenty-minute movie. And that’s the truth in this case. While completely entertaining and fun, I wished a few of the characters (Haymitch, Cinna) were more fleshed out, like in the book. I found myself watching through the eyes of someone who hadn’t read the book and thinking, “He might not understand why Haymitch acts that way; they should expand that a bit” or “Does the movie really portray how much Katniss loves Cinna? And why?” (Kravitz’s part was too small for my liking). In the car on the way home, I ended up (over)explaining some things then, like “You realize, Haymitch had to mentor kids for years just to watch them die? That’s why he’s drunk and prickly.” The movie doesn’t go into Haymitch’s situation, but then the books are running together for me, so maybe that actually comes in the next one anyway?

Besides some of the parts where I felt the movie missed some character development—but again, I already knew this stuff—I really enjoyed it. The first half dragged just a bit, but then it did in the book too. I wish the actual Games part was a bit longer and more gritty. My husband thought the same thing. He thought they could’ve amped that part up just a bit. Though the first scene after they jump off their pedestals was pretty intense. And even though I knew what was coming—Rue will die here, those crazy dogs are coming—I still jumped at those moments.

I also really enjoyed the behind-the-scenes scenes with Seneka Crane and his helpers managing the game. (Help me out: does the book go into that as well as the movie, or not at all?) I never pictured what that room would look like, so seeing the technology, the maps and the thought-process of Crane was super cool. I actually liked him and President Snow better in the movie than in the book, maybe because I got more of a connection. (Obviously, “like” isn’t the right word, but you know what I mean.)

My husband thought it could’ve been even stronger in the propaganda department and he thought the studio should’ve created a more male-friendly trailer; guys will like this movie, but might not know it from the trailers that are out there.

Enough has been written about Peeta in the movie, and it’s true, he’s lost the depth of Peeta in the book. And Gale gets no love, but hopefully that amps up in the next two movies. But in the end, it’s Katniss’ journey and this was a great start.

For more: My thoughts on Hunger Games, Catching Fire & Mockingjay. While the story went downhill for me, I still plan to see all the movies.


Posted: Tue, 03/27/2012 - 13:11 | Comments: 2

I’ve been lacking in the book blogging a bit. I’ve read several books that I haven’t mentioned here yet. Maybe because some weren’t too fantastic, or because I review them on Goodreads and then feel that’s enough. Either way, I want them on the record here, too. So, in the next two posts, I’ll quickly highlight some of my latest reads.

Blue Nights: This one didn’t grab and hold on to me like The Year of Magical Thinking did (and still does). I don’t know, maybe it was the timing. Maybe Magical Thinking felt more about the journey of loss than this one? And that’s what I needed at the time? All the reviews say Blue Nights is about Didion discovering her own mortality. She’s getting older, she’s forgetting and feeling scared, she’s feeling alone, she realizes the end is coming. However, the true message I left with was something different. [Perhaps a spoiler.] While she’s studying her own mortality, she’s realizing that all these bits of knowledge and all these stories she holds about her late daughter Quintana, well, she’s the only one who has them. They will die with her and she doesn’t want that. Because if Quintana is already gone, then her mother is the only one to pass on her legacy, to pass on her unique stories. And once she dies, no one will know. I hope that she feels more at peace now that she’s shared Quintana with the rest of us.

Sisterhood Everlasting: I started the Traveling Pants series on a whim. I believe I picked up the mass-market paperback from Target before a trip. And I fell in love with these girls. The books are simple and somewhat silly, but as a girl who really appreciates her best friendships, I could relate to the four of them. Their differences, their relationships with each other singularly and as a whole group, their journeys.

[Spoiler.] I don’t know if it’s a spoiler, because I found out before I read the book pretty easily, but in Everlasting, four friends become three. And this is the only book in the series where all of the friends’ stories happen away from each other. They barely even talk to each other for most of the book. It’s them grieving for their fourth friend on their own. They each have their own ways to grieve, and they each hold true to their personalities while doing it. But, I have to say, sometimes I just wanted to shake them and say, “Call your friends! You need each other right now!”

The book wrapped up in kind of a (unrealistic) pretty bow, but I was OK with it. Because I love these girls and I just want to leave them knowing they’re happy together somewhere.

Bird by Bird: I will never take a writing class from Anne Lamott (that would be amazing!), but this book felt like I was. She’s humorous and wry and she gives great tips about being a real-life writer. I love that she ignores her students when all they want to learn about is how to get published, because that’s Not What It’s About. I also love that she’s so honest with how hard writing is, but how wonderful too. I love the peek into her childhood and grown-up life we get as she teaches us. This is a fairly quick read. I only wish I read it when I was in the throws of writing more for myself. I would’ve absorbed and taken in so much more then. I’ll have to read it again.

Did you read any of these? Thoughts?

I'll post about four more books next week.

Posted: Thu, 03/22/2012 - 11:35 | Comments: 1

My mom passed away last April 21, after a nearly six-year battle with Multiple Myeloma and kidney failure. She endured dialysis, chemo, a stem cell transplant, weight loss, hair loss and a heart attack in those six years, and those were just the physical strains. Watching her go through all of that was it’s own special pain. Watching her choose to let go, another. The fight within myself of wanting her to be at peace and not wanting to let her go was nearly unmanageable.

Nothing, not one single thing, prepared me for this loss. A year earlier, I thought birthing a baby and taking care of a newborn was the hardest thing in the world. In retrospect, for me, that was easy as pie compared to losing my mom. Grieving for her, and managing that grief, has been a continuous dance for the last 11 months. It ebbs and flows; there are good days and bad days. But have I ever felt mentally unwell? No.

Which is why I found the idea that prolonged grief could be categorized as a mental illness a bit worrisome. I firmly believe in mental health and the need to take care of one’s mind just as much as one’s body. And I have no doubt that for some, the loss of a parent or a child or anyone important could bridge to depression. But as Leeat Granek & Meghan O’Rourke* put it in a recent Slate article, grief happens to everyone.

“Unlike most disorders in the [Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders], it is a condition we will all experience. It is not a disease and it has no place in a book dedicated to listing mental disorders. In a culture that has largely turned grief into a private experience rather than a communal one, the decision to include grief in the DSM risks doing more harm than good, making it easier than ever to view those who are simply experiencing a painful rite of passage as abnormal.”

Because, honestly, I feel/felt completely alone in my grief, especially in those first few months. Even if you’ve lost a mother, too, your experience is different than mine. Even my own brother’s experience is different than mine. So, to feel alone in grief, and then God forbid that grief goes on “too long” according to medical standards, I would’ve felt even worse to be labeled mentally ill. I would’ve felt like even more of an outcast.

I already cried in my cube at work on a daily basis (I still sometimes do, if something I read or hear reminds me of her) and worried people would see me and think, “Oh, she’s not over it yet.” I hated how simple conversations could bring tears to my eyes and a hushed tone to the room. Leeat & O’Rourke nailed that, too:

“The problem with [the potential designation] is that more people’s grief will be diagnosed as abnormal or extreme, in a culture that already leads mourners to feel they need to just “get over it” and “heal.””

I worried I was being too sensitive when comments like, “How was your Mother’s Day?” made me want to curl up in a ball. I hated that some people completely ignored what happened to me, never asking me how I was doing; but then also, there were certain people I didn’t want to talk to about it anyway. So, maybe that was for the best? I was insulted (and then felt bad about it), when people mentioned grief counseling to me, some three weeks after her passing. Are you kidding? Give me some time to work through this on my own first; I don’t think I’m handling this any different than anyone else would, I thought. While I think therapy and counseling can help in many situations, I didn’t think in this case I was in any way out of the ordinary with my grieving. (However, if I saw no progress in my grieving, or inability in life, that's another story. Case by case.) Again, Slate article to the rescue:

“To date, the research has consistently shown that grief counseling and medications do not alleviate grief; they seem most helpful in the cases of people who had pre-existing mental health issues.”

The best advice I latched on to came from a variety of sources; so many people said this next idea in one way or another. Grief never goes away. You just learn to fit it into your life and live with it. It changes you and becomes a part of you. While I no longer cry every single day (I would say I had three to four months of that), I still think of her every single day—sometimes with tears, sometimes with a smile. I’ve discovered, too, that more tears come lately as the one-year anniversary creeps up on me. I get sad that she’s missed her grandson learning his ABCs and all his future milestones. I get sad that she doesn’t call me at work anymore. I get sad that I can’t share great books with her, like The Forgotten Garden. She would’ve loved that book.

I will always be sad; I will always miss her. But that’s just one part of me. That doesn’t define me. Because I’m happy, too.

* Meghan O’Rourke has written extensively on grief and the loss of her mother. While they hit very close to home and were hard to read, her essays definitely hit on feelings I was experiencing last spring.

Posted: Tue, 03/13/2012 - 13:20 | Comments: 9

Ever since we got an iPad in the household, we've been perusing YouTube for short videos to watch before bedtime. Our 2-year-old loves watching "vee-dos" and I thought I'd share some of his favorites. His tastes ebb and flow, somedays he wants nothing to do with Elmo and other days Elmo's all he wants. But here are several of his favorites of the last couple months.

Caspar Babypants

We bought one of this band's CDs for Christmas (he's the former lead singer of The Presidents of the United States). I love the songs, so I started looking up videos and they sure have some cute ones, and very creative executions.

Mister Rabbit

Baby's Getting Up

Light it Up (my personal favorite)

Sesame Street

There's obviously 1 million Sesame Street videos, but we like ones with numbers and letters and Elmo and Ernie, particularly.

20 & Y - these are the cleverest, quickest little spots, we wish there were more.

Sing After Me

9 Pigeons

12 - I remember these little ladybugs from when I was watching Sesame Street

Adam Sandler sings About Elmo

Choo Choo Soul

He's always loved these shorts on the Disney Channel.

Animals on the Farm


Bullet Train

Blue Zoo Train (my favorite)

Random shorts

Twinkle Twinkle - seriously the cutest thing

Old MacDonald

ABC Song

How about you? Does your family have favorite videos?

Posted: Thu, 03/08/2012 - 20:31 | Comments: 4