Friday, December 05, 2014

Don't tell anyone I said this, but...

Our engagement photos in the
National Arboretum, October 2010
Here's a funny thing about DC: I HATED living there for six. long. years.  Then, as soon as we found out we were leaving... it magically became a lovely and even enjoyable place to live. A place that I grew increasing nostalgic about over the past year.

That's the magic of perspective.

Now that we're gone, there are things that I already really, really miss. So, in the spirit of giving DC some credit where credit is due, these are the things I wish I could have taken with me:

1. Public transit.  
When I asked Tim what he would miss most about DC, this was also his number one answer. People bitch about the DC metro a LOT. It's not pretty. It's a great place to go if you want to watch people vomit or urinate publicly. It can be crowded and sweaty and frustrating and sometimes a little horrifying, and it often completely breaks down and destroys whatever you were trying to do. BUT - it's there. Thanks to the DC Metro, I'm 31 years old and still don't have a drivers' license. I loved being able to get on the metro and have access to anything in the city I could possibly have wanted. I really loved being able to people-watch and read my book while commuting to work. (Even when the people I was watching were urinating publicly.)
Me being 4 months pregnant in the National Arboretum, 2014
2. Trees
DC is a really, really beautiful city. There are trees EVERYWHERE. Trees, parks, fountains, pools, gardens... Meaning that there are joggers, dogs, and strollers everywhere too, which is a great sign of a happy city.

Me being 8 months pregnant in Eastern Market
3. Distinct Neighborhoods
Georgetown. Capitol Hill. NOMA. Penn Quarter. U Street/Adams Morgan. Chinatown. H Street/Atlas District. Navy Yard. Dupont Circle. DC is full of these great, unique little enclaves that are almost like cities of their own within the city itself. A lot of people get to know the neighborhood they live in and not much else, but I was extremely lucky to get to know a HUGE portion of the city. I worked on K Street and know every inch of downtown/Metro Center like the back of my hand. I went to school and worked in Georgetown. I lived in Chinatown and on Capitol Hill, mere blocks from H Street. I worked on Barracks Row. I spent hours just wandering around, looking for bookstores, good coffee, and Greek food. Drop me just about anywhere in DC and I could walk home without a map.

4. Never being bored
If you get bored in DC, you're a terrible person.  All the museums are free. There are events literally every day. You're minutes away from hiking and a short drive away from the beach, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Shenandoah, etc. etc. If you look even just a little bit, you can discover something awesome and new with basically zero effort.

Every day, folks.
5. Being Famous
We're on TV. I literally saw the street I lived on in a movie two days ago. I never get tired of seeing places I've been in real life on my television screen. Here's a list of things we drove past on the way to work: the Library of Congress, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the U.S. Capitol Building, the Supreme Court, the entire Smithsonian on the National Mall, the Washington Monument, the Federal Reserve, the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Kennedy Center, and the Watergate Hotel. EVERY DAY. Look at all those words that are capitalized! My favorite frozen yogurt place was a block away from Ford's Theater. Are you impressed? Because I was super impressed.

(Drawback: Most of our celebrities are people everyone hates. Whoops.)

Bonus: NPR
NPR is headquartered in DC, so morning NPR here is the A Team. Plus, I got to take classes at Georgetown from actual Georgetown personalities. I won't apologize for how nerdy this is.

There are lots of things I won't miss (why is the Mexican food there SO terrible? Mexican food has FIVE ingredients!!). But with a little distance between us, I will bow my head and admit that, if my family and friends lived closer to DC, I could have stayed there a lot longer and been perfectly happy. Ben was born there. Tim and I got engaged there. I've had two jobs I really loved there (and one I really hated). I made a lot of beloved friends there. It wasn't all bad.

Double Bonus: this is what the Discovery Channel building
 - just outside of DC -
looks like during Shark Week

Saturday, November 08, 2014

7 lbs 14 ozs, 21 inches long

**This is exactly the kind of blog post I would not have cared about/had the patience for before I had a baby myself. Consider yourself forewarned. Spoiler alert: it ends with a baby being born.

About half way into my pregnancy, when it became really obvious that I was pregnant and not just gaining weight for a part in a TV movie, people started to ask if I was nervous about labor.

At that point, my general feeling about it was that it was inevitable and not worth stressing over. I knew the baby had to come out somehow, eventually, whether I liked it or not. There but for the grace of God, go I, as they say.

And the thing is, for most of my pregnancy, I genuinely was not at all stressed or concerned about what labor would be like.

Then, about three weeks before my due date, I started to read and think about it a little more. This included taking an 8-hour long labor and delivery class at the hospital, which was extremely tedious, extremely helpful, and extremely discomfiting all at once.

At that point, I began to slowly admit to myself that yes, in fact, I was a little (a lot) terrified by the actual labor process, and maybe it would be better if I could just be knocked unconscious at home, transported to the hospital, have the baby removed by magic, and be woken up when the whole ordeal was over. Unfortunately, however, that is not a menu option on my OB's list of services.

I also spent most of my pregnancy in relative comfort, and was generally pretty pleased with myself for being so good at carrying a baby. I considered listing "pregnancy" as one of my skills on my resume, or at least on my LinkedIn profile.

But about the same time that I realized labor was not going to be fun, I also became increasingly cranky and uncomfortable with being pregnant.  Ben spent a lot of time bracing his feet on my ribs and forcefully pushing his head into my bladder, sometimes kicking so suddenly and forcefully that it knocked me off balance.

Even my shadow is pregnant.
Somewhere around October 1, I began trying to persuade the baby to come on out. Both by taking obscenely long walks and by having serious conversations with my stomach, extolling the virtues of the outside world.

October 3, the Friday before my due date, I tied up all my lose ends at work, set up my out of office message, and took another long walk. Saturday was uneventful. Sunday I was due.  Tim and I spent the day indulging my nesting instinct with a long, satisfying trip to the Container Store. We took a two-hour long walk. I baked three quiches and a pumpkin cheesecake. By the time I went to bed I was exhausted and had had absolutely zero signs of labor.

At about 3:00 in the morning, I got up to pee (for the 700th time) and realized I was having my bloody show, which is one of those labor-related things I wish there was a nicer term for, but which is really only the first of many disgusting things related to having a baby. Pretty much simultaneously, I started to have brief contractions, random but frequent, that were painful and distinctly different from the Braxton Hicks "practice" contractions I'd been having for months.

I got back in bed and told Tim what was going on. Despite his being deep asleep, he hugged me so tightly I couldn't breath and then immediately went into "THIS IS HAPPENING" mode until I told him it could still be days or even weeks (god forbid) before the baby came.

Monday was fairly awful. The contractions were strong enough and frequent enough to make things miserable, but not even close to being hospital-worthy. Like having someone randomly and sadistically tighten a vice grip on your lower back. We decided to go see a movie as a distraction, and ended up seeing The Box Trolls, which was frankly not a great last movie to see before having a baby for lots of reasons I won't go into here. By the end of the movie, my contractions had gotten bad enough that I had no desire to sit through the credits, which is, Tim said, how he knew things had gotten serious.

Monday night, I made a valiant attempt to sleep through my contractions, and Tim tried to time them for me but kept falling asleep. By 3:00 a.m., 24 hours after the first sign of labor, they were bad enough that I gave up sleeping, got up, closed the bedroom door, and went into the living room to be alone with my misery. I figured that if Tim was awake, he would not only want to help and have no real way of doing so, but he would be exhausted when the time came to go to the hospital. Better to let him sleep while I rolled around on the living room floor in agony by myself.

At about 6:00 a.m., my contractions had gotten so strong and close together that I decided to wake Tim up (by politely yelling at him from the other room). I called the on-call Doctor and told them my contractions were 3 minutes apart and strong enough that I had difficulty talking and was crying, at which point they said, "Yes, please come to the hospital!!" and I realized that I'd waited way too long and had a very miserable 45-minute drive during morning rush hour ahead of me.

I also fixed myself a bottle of water and completely forgot it on the kitchen counter. Words of wisdom: contractions make you very thirsty (at least that's how it was for me). Put water bottles in your car ahead of time so you don't suffer from both dry mouth AND contractions for 45 minutes in the car on the way to the hospital.

When we finally arrived at the hospital, about 7:45, the first person to see my face immediately grabbed a wheelchair. At that point, I was still in denial enough to think I could walk to the L&D floor, but I'm thankful for well-trained hospital staff who knew better. And thankful that because I'd already called ahead, the room was ready and waiting for me when I got there.

I changed into a gown and a nurse checked to see how far along I was. She looked at me like I was crazy, said I was only 1 cm dilated (exactly where I'd been for a week already), and left the room. To which my immediate response was, "you have to be effing kidding me" before gritting my teeth through another contraction.  After a few minutes, Dr. Johnson came in with the nurse and said, "what I'm seeing does not match what you just told me." She checked again, shot the nurse a very dirty look, and told me I was at 3 cm.

At that point, I met Rachel, the nurse who would stick with me through the whole delivery (for the record, she was very good. All instances of nurses behaving badly in this story are other nurses who stepped in while she was busy). She asked if I wanted drugs, and I said, "YES ALL THE DRUGS."  I commend those brave souls who are able to have babies without drugs, but I was already to the point where I had begged Tim to tell the doctor that I would like to be made unconscious and have a C-section immediately. Anything to make it stop.

The problem with having waited so long to come to the hospital is it takes time for them to get everything in order before you can get the sweet, sweet drugs.  From the time you walk in until you're actually able to have the epidural is at least 45 minutes. 45 of the longest minutes of your entire life.

During this time, the nurse asked 700 questions, hooked up the IV, the contraction monitor, the fetal heart rate monitor, and what seemed like 35 other cords that all had to be unhooked every time I had to pee, which for me was every single time I had a contraction, so once every few minutes.

After all the initial hooking up and after receiving an entire bag of IV fluids, a beautiful, miraculous angel came into the room wheeling a cart full of magical drugs. He made Tim put on a face mask and cover his hair, then sit in front of me and hold my hands while I hunched over and tried to sit perfectly still so he could stick a needle into my spine. The nurse repositioned Tim's grip and said, "Pregnant women are very strong, and I don't want you to get your fingers broken," which is a little terrifying, but absolutely believable.

I'm 100% certain that the anesthesiologist who does epidurals in a hospital gets a disproportionate amount of thank you cards, fruit baskets, and love letters. It's not at all fair, because the nurses do 99.999% of the work and deserve all of the credit, but it's impossible NOT to fall a little bit in love with someone who makes the pain of labor go away so quickly.

About 10 minutes after receiving the epidural, I looked at Tim and told him my outlook on life had greatly improved. So much in fact, that after receiving my catheter (TMI - but you can't walk with an epidural, and you really have no way of knowing if you need to pee or not anyway. After nine months of having to pee constantly, the catheter was my second favorite thing in the world right behind the epidural itself.), and having my water broken, I promptly fell asleep.

**This is where things get a little weird.  Let me say up front that I would still describe my hospital experience as five-star, top-notch, and generally fantastic, especially when put in perspective. Labor is UNBELIEVABLY PAINFUL and I didn't even have to feel the actual delivery, so I can't imagine what it must be like to go through that in a non-sterile, non-medicated environment.**

After I received my epidural, the nurses told Tim to go grab something to eat, so that he wouldn't pass out, then turned down the lights and essentially disappeared for four hours. They came in intermittently to refresh my IV fluids or reposition my monitors, and I was told to press the call button if I ever felt the urge to push, but at no point did anyone actually say, "this is the part where you just sleep until the baby gets here."

This is not so bad in and of itself, but Tim and I were both a little confused and no one really explained what was happening (or really, not happening). At no point did I ever feel the desire to push, but I did notice that I would feel particularly powerful contractions that were strong enough to push the baby so far down into my pelvis that his heart rate actually faded off of the monitor. The contraction would end and his heart beat would slide back into focus, coming through loud and clear once again.

I rang the call button and told the nurse about the deep contractions and she said, "that's great! Let the baby do all the work!" and then left without checking my progress at all.  This happened twice. I'm convinced that Ben would have been born much earlier if the nurse had actually checked my progress.

About an hour later, around 3:45, the Doctor herself came in to check on me.  "I thought we'd have a baby by now," she said. "I was sure you'd be the first one to deliver today."

I told her about the contractions and that I could tell the baby was very low, and she got visibly angry with the nurses, though she was clearly trying to hide it. She checked my progress and immediately said, "his head is right there."  The baby had also progressed so far down that he had pushed the catheter out with his head, and it was clear that it had been that way for some time. "You're going to have a baby before 5:00," she said.

Early on, Tim and I had the naive notion that he would help me without really getting involved, that he would keep his eyes on my eyes and hold my hand, and tell me how to breathe. That is not remotely how it happened.

As soon as everything was set up, about 4:00, the nurse had me try a "practice" push. She told Tim to hold on to my left leg while she held my right, and said "When I say, 'now,' Daddy is going to count to ten. When he does, you're going to hold on to your legs, put your chin to your chest and push as hard as you can. We'll do this three times with each contraction and then rest."

After the first practice push, something changed on Tim's face and he was totally focused. The nurse asked if I wanted a mirror to see my progress and I said no. I relied on Tim to tell me what to do. After the first practice push, I pushed through about four more contractions before the doctor came in to take over.

I pushed through one more contraction and the doctor asked me to reach down and touch Ben's head. Up until then, I had been very focused and intent on just getting the baby out. Frankly, with the epidural, I didn't feel like my pushing could possibly be accomplishing anything. I couldn't feel much of anything, so I was mostly just following orders and pretending, so that everyone would feel like they were accomplishing something (I'm accommodating like that).

However, the second I reached down and felt his head, I totally lost my mind. It took everything I had to not starting bawling uncontrollably. From that point on, I think I only pushed through one or two more contractions.... and then I saw his arm and shoulder, and the doctor began to suction out his nose and mouth, and he wailed, and she held him up and Tim said, "it's a boy!" He didn't shout it, but sort of just told me with this look of total awe and incredulity on his face.

LOOK AT THAT DIMPLE.
At 4:59, the nurse put Ben on my chest for a few minutes before taking him to be cleaned and measured and he was just... perfect. Sticky and puffy and perfect.

I regained my composure while I got my stitches (later, I asked the Doctor how many stitches I had, and she said, "let's not worry about that." So think about that before you consider having a baby.)  I could hear Ben crying as he was poked and prodded and it was wonderful. At that point, one of the nurses exclaimed over the dimple in his chin, which I hadn't actually seen yet, and I started crying all over again, because I really, really, really wanted this baby to have Tim's dimple.

When he was all clean, dry, measured, weighed, and suctioned, they wrapped him up like a burrito and handed him back to me. He nursed a little bit, then fell asleep, and I couldn't take my eyes off of him. I still can't.

In the end, I really didn't have anything to be nervous about with labor. Yes, it was the single most painful thing I've ever experienced in my life (and the day after wasn't a lot of fun either), but I was lucky that my delivery was so easy and fast, and that Ben was born perfectly healthy and happy. I'm lucky to have such an amazing, supportive husband, who did literally everything right on the day our baby was born. It was the hardest thing I've ever done and it was so, so totally worth it.



Saturday, September 20, 2014

Moving Fast is Easy. Standing Still is Hard.

There are feet down there somewhere.
Puffy ones.
So, we meet again.

You'll have to forgive me for not posting much in the past eight and a half months, because, to me, it feels like I found out I was pregnant literally yesterday. As in, I still wake up in the morning (and in the middle of night, to pee, ten times) and forget that I have a watermelon for a torso. Where did this come from??

It's gone by in a blur.

I have two weeks left until my due date, and this may be hard to believe, but there is enough other stuff going on that I've been too preoccupied to really stress about it very much.

At work, it's the end of the fiscal year. Which is the Super Bowl for people who work in government budget teams, only with more money at stake and more violent tackles. Last Friday I busted my hump to rescue about $7 million in tax payer dollars for important programs. (That sounds like a lot of money, but it's actually peanuts.) And there's still more work to be done.

Yesterday, Tim graduated from his training to become a consular officer. This week, he has to pass his Spanish test. After that, he's got a list of things to do, both baby-related and Mexico-related, that would give a normal person hives just looking at it.

Together, we've got the classes (birthing class, breastfeeding class, baby care class), and the preparation for Mexico (getting fancy passports and TSA numbers and scheduling our flights and the move), and making arrangements for our family to visit, etc., etc., etc.

With all of this stuff going on at once, there's no time to panic and freak out about any one thing. I have an odd, zen-like feeling of happiness, thanks in no small part to the following:


We got the nursery set up so Mugi could enjoy it.
1. Tim is going to be an incredible dad. 
Sometimes it blows my mind how supportive, patient, kind, and wonderful he's been this whole time. Not that I expected him to be awful or something, just that he has a superhuman ability to take care of me, for which he asks nothing in return, and which gives me faith that, no matter what, this baby will be fine.

2. Nothing is ever what you expect.  I knew this already, but it's been on my mind a lot. It's actually sort of nice to realize how silly it is to try to predict and control things. I had a hard time getting pregnant, and was worried that my body would totally betray me once I finally did. But (don't hate me) this has been the EASIEST pregnancy ever. Everything good and simple and healthy and straight down the middle. I wouldn't want to be pregnant forever or anything, but I have zero horror stories. Maybe it won't be like that two weeks from now. I can prepare myself, but can't control it and will only be thwarted if I try.

3. Nesting is awesome. I want to clean and organize everything. And even completing the smallest task (picking up the socks! cleaning the bathroom mirror! throwing away the expired yogurt!) gives me a completely pathological sense of accomplishment. This is all thanks to hormones and it's great. (Also, picking up socks - or anything else at ground level - is a real feat at this point.)

4. We have an amazing support net. Our friends, family, and coworkers are seriously incredible people. Again, I'm not worried about this baby at all. It hasn't even gotten here yet, and it's already so well loved and taken care of.

5. A pregnant belly is like cat crack. I'm not kidding.









SO PROUD.
(He's going to be a great influence on this baby.)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Knocked Up.

I'm seventeen weeks pregnant and I realized I haven't said a word about it on here yet. 

For the first thirteen weeks, that was definitely intentional. First of all, it seemed too good to be true and I didn't want to jinx myself. Second, it was kind of nice to have a secret just between me and Tim. We wanted to wait to tell both because it's recommended and because we're selfish and realized it was the only time we'd get the baby all to ourselves.

You can chalk up my radio silence for the last four weeks to more straightforward causes: (1) It's gone by really fast and (2) pregnancy brain.

So here's a short list of observations about my particular pregnancy so far.

1. It is both exactly how I expected it to be and nothing like I expected.
In pretty much every book, movie, or TV show where someone finds out they're pregnant, they find out because they're throwing up (I'm looking at you, Leslie Knope). That is not at all what it was like for me. In fact, I didn't throw up one. single. time. (Sorry, sorry, I know. It's not fair.) Instead, I had lots of other weird symptoms that made it obvious I was definitely pregnant: like not being able to eat anything but pickles, macaroni and cheese, and baby corn; having to pee literally every 20 minutes (if you know me, you know that is NOT normal); getting a migraine every time it rains (literally, every time); and the smell of our (perfectly clean) kitchen making me want to hide under the bed. Basically, until I become pregnant, and become curious enough to google "early pregnancy symptoms," we had no idea what we were really in for.

2. Pregnancy. Dreams.
I've always had pretty vivid dreams, but now my dreams are next-level, hardcore, turned up to 11. They're sagas with plots and reoccurring characters and epic battles. Last night I dreamed that my grandparent's ranch was Kings' Landing, but that instead of Lannisters, it was overrun by a family of evil corporate scientists doing sleep experiments on people, with Paris Hilton playing the role of evil-corporate-scientist King Joffrey. I had to defeat her by stealing her Cadillac, driving into Crawford, and getting a haircut (which is super-stressful because uh, I don't drive and also, the only hair stylist in Crawford was out to lunch). Shit like this goes on in my head all night, every night.

3. Everyone's a Doctor/Expert.
I was explicitly warned about this (thanks, Amber!) and knew it was coming, but it's still hard to deal with gracefully. I'm already the kind of person who likes to puzzle things out for myself and does not take advice easily. (In case you wondered, Tim is the same. Worse than me, actually.)  Something about being pregnant, though... man. It brings out the "resident expert" voice in people. Not just other moms, but people who have never been pregnant and sometimes who don't have children at all. Advice about everything from what to eat and drink (or not), how to sit, where to go (sorry if you don't like that I'm moving to Juarez, but your criticism isn't helping), etc. etc. I don't at all mind people's questions because people LOVE a pregnant person and can't resist asking about it. But when questions tip over into advice/medical speculation/thou shalts, I have a hard time containing my hormonal outbursts. Here's why:

4. Many people (books, apps, websites, doctors, etc.) treat pregnant women like they're idiots.
Just because I put the milk in cupboard and hid my keys from myself in a drawer in the bathroom doesn't mean I'm not still moderately intelligent. The first thing I noticed about sources like What to Expect When You're Expecting, speaking to my doctors, and advice given by other people is that it's girded by the basic principle that pregnant women are not very smart and need to be talked down to. I'm painfully aware that this is my first rodeo, and that there are a LOT of things I don't know about pregnancy, but I'm also an adult. Even the dumbest, most inexperienced woman out there deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt. The problem with a lot of the advice I've been given is not the advice itself; it's the tone that implies first that all women and their pregnancies are the same (they're not), and second that I'm not smart enough to do research, ask questions, or know what's right for me.

5. Ok, some advice really is priceless.
Despite all that ranting, some people are great at giving helpful advice and reassurance. Amber's most helpful piece of advice? Watch out for your toothbrush. These five little words definitely helped in my successful quest to NOT throw up. Jessica's advice? Her cloth diapering manifesto, which I obviously haven't been able to put to use yet, but which actually made me EXCITED about diapers (and which may well prove to be the salvation of our cross country road trip). When I was busy not throwing up, I had a few weeks where I worried (to the point of insanity) that this was a bad sign, and that it meant that something was really wrong. My mother and grandmother stepped in to reassure me that it's a genetic blessing, and that neither of them ever got particularly sick.

6. Pregnancy is awesome (so far).
Ok, I know there are lots of people who don't feel this way at all for various, completely legit reasons, so take this with a grain of salt. However, my experience has been that I love getting all round and squishy (also, new clothes!). I love all the daydreaming and speculation about what this baby will be like (perfect, obviously). I love arguing with Tim about names and talking about the different things we're both excited about sharing (books, baseball). I love that we both agree that we want to dress this baby up in fuzzy animal costumes as long as it doesn't know any better. I love looking at diapers and sheets and "jammies with Yodas and shit all over them," and picking out cribs and car seats (even though it's also super stressful) and how freaking cute everything is. When I went to the OB this week for my regular weigh-in/check up he ended the exam by saying "good job," like I'd just kicked a field goal and he would have patted me on the butt if that was appropriate. And I realized, even though I was pretty bad at getting pregnant, I'm good at being pregnant (so far).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Go to the Movies Already!

After a couple of long months of nothing in the theaters but the shittiest imaginable movies, in that yearly no-man's land between Oscar season and Summer blockbuster season, there are finally, finally movies worth seeing again. (Seriously Hollywood, get it together.)  And instead of saving them up and making them last, we went and saw all of them at once this weekend. You should see them too, and here's why:

Muppets Most Wanted
Dir. James Bobin (107 mins.)

I feel the exact opposite way about muppet movies that I do about Charlie Brown/Peanuts movies. That is, I wish they had stopped making Peanuts movies/TV specials 30 years go (sorry, not sorry). Do we really need anything more than A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown? NO. We do not. Those two are great, and they're plenty enough. Everyone can live without the other stupid specials where the voices are all wrong and every character but Snoopy seems to be suffering from sever depression.

The Muppets, on the other hand, are. always. perfect. There is nothing not to like about the Muppets. The songs are yes. The celebrity cameos are yes. The jokes are yes. They're silly enough for kids and sarcastic enough for adults. And most sane humans have not one, but at least two or three favorite muppet characters. My favorites are Fozzy Bear, Rolf, the Swedish Chef's chicken back up dancers, and Pepe the shrimp.

The newest Muppet movie is better than the last one, which was good but not muppety enough. It spent a lot of time on Walter and on Jason Segel (though the Jim Parsons cameo was pretty much amazing). This new movie is extremely muppety and, on top of it, has Tina Fey in it and makes fun of Europeans a lot. What's not to love? Bonus: I sort of wish Ty Burrell and Sam the Eagle would have their own "True Detective" style HBO series. I would watch the hell out of that.

Divergent 
Dir. Neil Burger (139 mins.)

The past few years have been amazing for people who love YA fiction and also movies. Apparently there are a lot of us, because the genre of "movies based on YA novels" gets bigger and bigger every year.  And, if you can believe it, not all of those movies have been about dystopias or vampires. (But this one is though. Dystopias. Not vampires.)

Cheater review: If you liked the book, you will almost certainly like the movie. Some things are changed (of course) but it's pretty faithful and fun to watch translated from page to screen.

Real review: Some of the dialogue is cheeeeeeesy and some of the "meaningful pauses" are overdone, but given the genre, that's not really a surprise.  Anyway, you can ignore that because the action is fast paced, the actors are good looking, and there's nothing in the movie that will make you groan in pain (I'm looking at you, Twilight and Beautiful Creatures). Also, the most unexpectedly awesome person in the movie? Ashley Judd. Hands down. Also, Miles Teller, who has sort of a crap part in this movie, but whom I sincerely hope becomes hugely famous soon.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Dir. Wes Anderson (100 mins.)

I highly recommend listening to this interview from NPR before going to see this movie.  I also recommend seeing this movie in the theater rather than waiting for it to hit Netflix. I feel like this is true of most Wes Anderson movies: they're still good on TV, but they lose a lot of their ambiance and charm.  They deserve to be big. This movie in particular has a handful of scenes that should absolutely been seen on the big screen.

This is, actually, my favorite Wes Anderson movie since The Royal Tenenbaums (in case you're keeping track, I hated The Darjeeling Limited so much I never finished watching it).  It's funny from beginning to end, but also very touching. Every single person in the movie seems like they were absolutely made for the part they play (including some of the cameo spots) and, as is standard for a Wes Anderson movie, the sets, costumes, colors, music, and lighting create a totally unusual and fantastical world. This movies reminds me of one of those books you read that you can't really explain to anyone: you love all of the characters and everything is so fantastically weird that it just fits.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Bathtub Books

I've been way too busy taking naps and playing Candy Crush on every mobile device I own to update my blog. I just realized Tim's flag day ceremony was over three weeks ago. So, in case you missed the news, Surprise! We're going to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico!

In the meantime, I've read about 4000 books. Or three. Whatever.  Anyway, for about two years (coincidentally, about as long as I've been out of grad school), my attention span has been wrecked. I haven't been able to sit through any book more than 350 pages long unless the main character is a teenage girl living in some sort of dystopian future. But I did it, y'all! I actually read The Goldfinch from beginning to end without putting it down to read a shorter book in the middle! That's 771 pages of straight up literary fiction.

Anyway, without further ado:

Things Fall Apart
by Chinua Achebe

The fact that this is one of those books you see at every used bookstore (my copy was $2 in a library sale) anywhere you go speaks for itself. It's hugely and enduringly popular.  It's one of those short, easy reads like Of Mice and Men or The Lord of the Flies, that just begs to be put on a syllabus because it has an easy lesson in it while being a little punchy and more than a little ironic. I get the impression that a lot of people where probably forced to read this book in class and ended up really enjoying it despite themselves.

The story is about a very gruff and manly man who lives in a village in Nigeria at the end of the 19th century, for whom, as you might have guessed from the title, things are falling apart.  The chapters are sometimes more like snapshots than a narrative stream and it works to give you an idea of life for the main characters and the culture they live in. Achebe's style of writing is easy without being simple and moving without being heavy handed. This is the perfect book to read if you want to feel like you're reading something really smart and literary without having to commit to something really intense like Sophie's Choice or Les Miserables.

The Goldfinch
By Donna Tartt

I have a lot of friends who rated this book very highly, and Tartt's The Secret History is one of my all-time favorites. If that were not the case, I would not have picked up this monster book, which took me nearly a month to finish.

Tartt enjoys writing about artistic people who are somehow both deeply entrenched in high society, and totally alienated from it, as though it's a party they've walked into on accident, just before the doors were sealed shut, trapping them inside. Her characters are often lonely and out of their depth, usually because they have one type of smarts but not the other. They're book smart but not street savvy, or they know everything about being alone and nothing about how to deal with other people. They like poetry and art and music and know things like who Aeschylus is and what a sheridan chair looks like. They're charming and infuriating at the same time.

There were many points in this book where I wanted to shake and/or slap the main character, who can be almost insufferably mopey and overly philosophical for many dozens of pages at a time. I think the best description of the book that I can give is this: I felt that is was about 200 pages too long, but I still couldn't put it down. Even when I wanted to give up, I couldn't. It was good, and if it was just a little bit tighter and cleaner, it would have been great.

Cinder
By Marissa Meyer

Yup, this is one of those teenage-girl-in-a-dystopia books. I will admit that I absolutely and 100% only bought this book because of the cover. It's a re-telling of Cinderella in the future, in China ("New Beijing"), and the main character is a cyborg. Done. Sold. Sign me up.

I folded over the corner of the page where I figured out how the book was going to end. It was page 41. STILL, this is a decent milkshake book. The premise is pretty original even if the plot isn't, but you know that going in BECAUSE LOOK AT THE COVER. (There are no zombies or vampires in the entire book! What?)  You know that since it's a fairy tale there's going to be a prince and an evil step mother; and since it's teen fantasy, there's going to be a battle to save the world that hinges entirely on the success of one quirky teenage girl who doesn't know she's attractive (even though she obviously is). Basically, if your expectations are reasonably tempered, you won't be disappointed. Read it in the bathtub or on an airplane.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Duckfucious Say

People keep asking me when we find out where we're going on our first tour, which is always followed by a speculation that I must be anxious and/or freaking out about it. I've caught myself saying things like, "Yeah, it's driving me nuts!" and "I'm so ready to find out!" But that's actually not the truth. I keep saying it because it seems, conversationally, like the right thing to say.

In reality, I feel very serene and calm about the whole situation and would go so far as to say I don't really think about it all until someone else brings it up. We can't do anything to change or influence where we're going, now or after the decision is made. Right now, since we don't know where we're going, there's nothing we can really do to prepare. What kind of clothes will we need? What kind of car? How will we transport the cat? Will the new country have peanut butter, or no peanut butter?

There are just too many variables to even consider, which makes stressing (or really even thinking too hard) about it totally pointless. It's fun to daydream, of course (the Caribbean!), but it's not worth the energy to speculate and stress out.

I'm not sure where this zen-like feeling of detachment and acceptance has come from, but I'm very glad to feel this way. There's something liberating about knowing that, in a very real and not at all figurative way, our fate is totally out of our hands. Is this what religious people feel like? Or what religious people try to feel like?

I also remember feeling this way about going to college. I like to tell that old chestnut of a story about how I applied to college by taking a quiz on the internet. I took a quiz. It gave me two suggestions, one in Washington and one in Louisiana. I applied to both. I got into both. I went to the one where they seemed to want me the most (and they were like, "hey, money! For you!"). And I don't remember ever thinking, "oh god! What if I made the wrong choice?" I kind of just felt like everywhere you go there are people and trees and cars and problems and ice cream and who cares? I got lucky with Centenary, but even if I had hated it (impossible), it still would not have been worth agonizing over beforehand.

Based on my conversations with everyone in the world, I'm gathering that my lack of anxiety on this front is unusual. Probably so. It's probably a lot more normal to stress out in a situation like this, where seemingly everything is about to change and there's so much uncertainty (thanks again, Centenary, for the heads up on that one!). It sounds really stupid on paper, but when I was planning the wedding and having a bit of a freakout, one of my best friends told me that she relies on the mantra "I am a duck. This is water rolling off my back." It's not a very exotic mantra, and when, in stressful situations, I have said out loud, "I am a duck" (deep breath), people have looked at me like a might be a little bit drunk and possibly my insanity is going to make things worse. However, for me, it's extremely effective. Sometimes I'm naturally a duck. Sometimes not so much. Either way the truth is, that we'll go wherever we go. Some things about it will suck. Some will be awesome. We have no control over it. And for now that's fine.