An Ode to ‘For Better or For Worse’

School is a steady constant in most suburban children’s lives, but my experience was particularly steady for my first ten years of education. I went to a Catholic grammar school from preschool to eighth grade, seeing several new students arrive each year but essentially growing up alongside the same 40-ish faces for a decade. My entire world was within those brick walls, and now with a whole other decade of life under my belt, it’s mind-blowing to remember how confined everything was.

My morning routines before school were almost as predictable as the way I knew my mother would always pack my latest lunch craving (consistently a turkey sandwich by middle school) and how we could expect the rare father or two volunteering on Pizza Day to stack empty boxes as high as they could (“More, more, more!” the student mobs would chant). Each morning, I’d wake, dress in my uniform, and pick at a breakfast bar, frozen mini pancakes, or cereal as I flipped through our local paper. It didn’t occur to me until I was much older that waking to the sounds of your parents listening to the news on the kitchen radio and subsequently reading the paper as a kid sounded a little strange to others.

As with anything print nowadays, the paper’s current state pales in comparison to my favorite section back then: the comics. Like clockwork, I’d skip stories of Long Island political battles and car accidents to skim the celebrity section, packed with Lohan family news and tracking which local reality star was cut from their TV competition that week (JP Rosenbaum, an eventual Bachelorette husband, is still our crowning glory in my eyes). Then, the piece de resistance: the familiar, simple stories the comics told. As I pored over the quickly resolved, otherworldly strips — Stone Soup, Baby Blues, Blondie — one comic always stuck out as proudly different.

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December 2018 Reads

Happy New Year! This marks the final monthly post tracking 2018’s reading, and I’m actually proud that I “reviewed” every book I read in regular posts. This will definitely continue into 2019, which I kicked off by finishing such an enjoyable YA book (I know, a little off brand for me!).

You’ll hear about that read next month, but for now, here is what I managed to read amidst the holiday craze in December!

Marilla of Green Gables, by Sarah McCoy (★★★☆☆) 

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I would rate this a 3.5 star read. McCoy took on the challenge of writing about what exactly happened to Marilla Cuthbert and her romance with John Blythe long before Anne Shirley came to Green Gables. I didn’t manage my annual reread of Anne of the Island in 2018, and thanks to its impressively similar tone to L.M. Montgomery’s work, Marilla of Green Gables made me want to pick up the original series again ASAP. The book begins when Marilla is quite young, continues throughout her teens, and then jumps to a little more than a decade before the start of Anne of Green Gables. In addition to Marilla’s romance, it focuses on Canadian politics, abolitionism, and Marilla’s intensely loyal bond with her family, particularly her brother Matthew.

While this was such a sweet story that definitely melded well with Montgomery’s canon, it felt a little rushed the older Marilla got, and the ending felt particularly speedy. Marilla basically disappears from the original books after Anne gets married, and it would’ve been nice to see McCoy present her version of Marilla later in life. I think being in such a familiar world with different or much younger characters might’ve thrown me off, but I would still recommend this to any Anne fans!

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The Movie Moments That Always Delight Me

Movies are the memories of our lifetime. We need to keep them alive.

~ Martin Scorsese

1) Any moment Hugh Bonneville has in Notting Hill, from his brief, drunken rendition of “Blue Moon” to him giddily searching for Anna while wearing a rugby shirt.

2) The background music in the 1985 Anne of Green Gables mini-series, my absolute favorite book-to-movie adaptation, and its whimsically sad but hopeful tones.

3) Lilly chasing down Michael and Mia in The Princess Diaries, undoubtedly clunking along in the private school curse of penny loafers and screaming, “Not you, I don’t even know you!” to other students.

4) Seeing the two old men that my sisters and I always said resembled our grandfathers during “The Soldiers of the Old Home Guard” in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

5) The booming opening beat of “Tradition” that plays just as Tevye rides his cart off-camera in Fiddler on the Roof and the quick shots of Jewish symbols that follow.

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My Favorite Movies of 2018

It’s crazy to believe that this is the fifth year I’ve talked about my favorite movies of the year. While my picks in the past have been vastly different from each other, the movies that stuck out to me in 2018 were eerily similar in certain aspects. They come from the same two years, three of them can be interpreted as rom-coms, and two of the movies are Netflix originals. A little weird, right?

I read through 2017’s favorite movies post in preparation for this (check out 2014, 2015, and 2016), and back then, I wrote that the year’s favorites weren’t actually personal standouts. Basically, they’re not very likely to make my list of all-time favorite movies, and I still agree with that statement today. I haven’t watched any of those movies since last year, but looking over the list, I understand why they meant so much to me at the time. A favorite movie doesn’t necessarily have to remain a tried and true love affair your whole life. As long as it means something to you at a certain point, it’s worth remembering and valuing.

Last year, I also talked about reading more books than movies. That happened again this year, but for the first time, I watched screeners of movies for work quite frequently. At the time of writing this, the last three movies I’ve seen were all screeners I watched ahead of their actual premiere dates. I always feel delightfully sneaky getting to watch these before most people, but on the other hand, keeping up with TV and movies for work also means I’m less likely to watch a film in my free time.

In the end, I think I’ve become pickier with movies, but I did genuinely adore the ones listed below (as always, these are movies I watched for the first time in 2018, not necessarily ones released this year). Will they become lifelong favorites? I can’t say for sure, but treat yourself and try one of them out if you think they’ll suit you!

1) Moonstruck (1987) – Seen January 13, 2018

As I said in my post about Moonstruck earlier this year, the romance involving Nicolas Cage was the only thing I didn’t get about this movie, but the rest of its world and storyline totally made up for it. Brooklyn widow Loretta casually accepts a slightly loveless marriage proposal from her beau, but when her fiancé sends her to visit his estranged little brother, her feelings for the younger man grow complicated.

Old New York feels very familiar to me because three of my grandparents were born and raised in city boroughs. I’m also from Long Island, where the older generations are packed with people who grew up in Moonstruck‘s generation of Brooklyn. This movie’s characters felt like home to me, and the romance of its cozy Italian restaurants (and admittedly John Mahoney’s slightly sleazy professor) definitely surpassed its romantic relationship. At the end of the day, I’d much rather have tiramisu and an old-school maître d’ at my side than Nicolas Cage.

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10 Favorite Pop Culture Moments of 2018

Happy Christmas Eve! I really loved making a list of my favorite pop culture moments last year, and putting together the same post for 2018 was no exception. Part of the reason why I love the entertainment industry is because it soothes our bad days and distracts us from our individual troubles and the world’s issues. Obviously, there are moments when the field overlaps with politics and international concerns (see: #MeToo), but I love recapping what put a smile on my face throughout the year.

What are some of your favorite pop culture memories from 2018?

1) Prince Harry and Meghan Markle get married, Prince Louis is born, Princess Eugenie gets her moment in the sun, Meghan is pregnant…

…and essentially any positive thing to do with the royal family this year. I’m so over all the reports of drama within the family (brothers are allowed to go through tough times and sisters-in-law never have to be BFFs) and would rather focus on their brighter moments. What other year had two royal weddings, a birth of a prince, and the announcement of a beloved couple’s first baby? While watching Harry and Meghan’s wedding, I even grew more emotional than I anticipated, tearing up at Harry’s reaction to his bride, as well as Doria Ragland watching the two of them together. I cried over some of the New York Times’ more personal event coverage and just spent that whole morning marveling over this amazing addition to the British monarchy. Plus, all of the year’s weddings and babies just meant that we all had more chances to see my favorite royal, Princess Charlotte, be the mini-boss lady she totally is.

2) Timeless returns for Season 2 and gets a two-hour finale movie

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My Favorite Books of 2018

News flash: reading when you’re no longer a student is the best. When I was in college, I always had my Kindle with me, but I felt guilty whenever I tried to read for pleasure. There was homework to do! Applications to fill! People to see! Now that I’m more than a year into my “adult” routine, I still manage to get a lot of reading done even when I think I’m devoting little time to it. Plus, I just get to read what I want to, and I’ve become totally comfortable with deserting books if I’m not loving them.

I feel so passionately about my favorite reads of the year (check out the posts for my picks in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017). Honestly, if I had to pick a few books that sum up my interests and personality at this time of my life, the six titles below are probably the most accurate representatives. It’s just the best feeling ever when you find books that feel so specifically catered to you, and I feel lucky to have found these along the way in 2018!

Disclaimer: these are books I read for the first time in 2018, not necessarily ones published this year (although, I believe the majority of them actually were!).

1) Until the Last Star Fades, by Jacquelyn Middleton

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“Big dreams are never silly. They help soothe a bad day and give us something to reach for.”

Jacquelyn Middleton won my eternal love when she wrote two amazing contemporary books set in London and featuring an American’s perspective. Her standalone third book, taking place in New York City, was just as wonderful. If you’re looking for books about characters in their early 20s as opposed to being teenagers or older adults, Until the Last Star Fades is a perfect new adult mix of independent people who are still trying to figure it all out. Middleton’s first two books excelled in pop culture references and creating a world that already felt so familiar to me, and and she pulled off the same in Until the Last Star Fades. Someone tell me where I can find boys like her Ben and Mark, okay?

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5 of My Favorite Podcasts

I first talked about some of my favorite podcasts in July 2017, but since then, I’ve become such a podcast fan that I organize all of the ones I follow by the day new episodes are posted. I work from home and really rely on podcasts to keep me engaged in my work. I know some people can’t focus on tasks with unrelated audio playing, but I’ve found I’m usually fine with some background noise.

The following are podcasts I’ve really grown to love in the past year. I used to only listen to podcasts during work, but I’ve started playing some of these while cooking or doing any other menial task. I prefer interview series and pop culture discussions over true crime or political podcasts, so if you like lighter fare in your podcast lineup, I’d highly recommend any of the picks below!

1) Desert Island Discs

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This is actually a long-running radio show on the UK’s BBC Radio 4, having first aired in 1942. I either listen to it in full form on the BBC’s website, where more recent episodes usually stream easily, or in shortened podcast form on Stitcher or Mixcloud, which both have older interviews that won’t play for me on the BBC site. Featuring both British and foreign guests from various professional industries, each episode asks for its subject to select eight songs they’d wish to have access to as a castaway on a desert island. In between each musical snippet, they discuss their lives, careers, and why these songs stand out to them. For starters, I recommend trying out Tom Hanks and James Corden‘s episodes, and if you’re open to listening to an interview with someone you may not know, Miranda Hart’s is great. I usually veer toward the interviews with film and TV figures, but the podcast’s endless archive includes episodes with politicians, authors, musicians, and more.

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November 2018 Reads

My holiday plans never require me to go too far from home. Our extended family is both minimal and local, so on days like Thanksgiving, my family and I are usually back in our PJs by 8 p.m. and delving into movies or books for the rest of the night. My low-key holiday break last month meant I had plenty of reading time, and after a stint of feeling very meh about the books I finished, November finally delivered with some fantastic reads!

I had some of the books below pre-ordered or on hold for what felt like forever, but they were well worth the wait. You can expect to see one of these appear in an upcoming post on my favorite books of the year!

Kate: The Future Queen, by Katie Nicholl (★★★★☆)

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I downloaded this in a moment of impatience when my library holds seemed perpetually stuck on the #1 spot. I’ve read another Kate Middleton biography in the past, but this one is by Katie Nicholl, a very reputable royals reporter. Following Kate’s life right up to after she gave birth to Prince George, the book is definitely the most comprehensive take on her that I’ve read. It included details about her family and her relationship with Prince William that I never heard before, and you’d be hard-pressed to find some royal dirt that I haven’t come across.

I finished this before all of the recent stories about Kate and Meghan Markle feuding emerged (I think the reports are exaggerated and come from a slightly misogynistic media perspective). Given that news, thinking about the royals has stressed me out lately, but Kate: The Future Queen was the perfect definition of easy, breezy reading. Yes, I know what’s going to happen, but it’s nice to just jump into a non-fiction story that has a happy ending.

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Even More ‘If These Books Were Movies’

I can never go too long without making one of these posts! For me, actors that encapsulate characters usually come to mind moments after a book introduces someone new. I’m then unable to really separate the story from these faces, and playing casting director always feel like a secret reading bonus. Below are some of my recent dream-casting choices for if these books ever became movies!

1) Leighton Meester and Michael Zegen as Ruby and Andrew (Girls on the Line, by Aimie K. Runyan)

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“I refuse to marry a man who spends his life in a dark room, longing for the sun but lacking the backbone to stand and open a window.”

I’m that weird 20-something who has never seen Gossip Girl and doesn’t really have any desire to, but I’m loving Leighton Meester in Single Parents. She appeared quite quickly as the resilient, determined Ruby, a Philadelphia society woman who answers the Army Signal Corps’ call for female phone operators during World War I. As a working-class son of Irish and Italian immigrants, Andrew immediately reminded me of Michael Zegen from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. While his character is a bit of a dope, Zegen strikes me as an old New York type who will always step in to help you at a dire time, which fits Andrew perfectly.

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