Saturday, January 31, 2015

Best of 2014: Music

It’s the last day of January so I have got to pack up this Best of series and get focused on the new year!

It was not a great year for new music in our house. Everything else in our life seemed new and unpredictable; perhaps that’s why we mostly stuck to old favorites and soundtracks. Lots of “Get Out the Map” by Indigo Girls, “Late for the Sky” by Jackson Browne and “The Most’' by Lori McKenna. 2014 was also the year of soundtracks in our house. Mostly these four:

web best music of 2014

As we left “Guardians of the Galaxy,” my 12 year old said, “We have GOT to get that soundtrack” and I replied, “Actually, we already own most of those songs.” Of the four pictured, it was the best overall soundtrack.

One of our favorite books of 2014, Wonder by R. J. Palacio, led us to this video of “Major Tom,” which led us to “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” our favorite movie of the year.

Top Songs of 2014…in our house, regardless of when they were released:

  • Stay Alive by Jose Gonzalez
  • Hooked on a Feeling by Blue Swede
  • Come and Get Your Love by Redbone
  • Skyfall by Adele
  • Home by Phillip Phillips
  • Stay With Me from “Into the Woods”, as well as Agony, The Last Midnight and more.
  • No More by Mandy Patinkin
  • So Now What by The Shins
  • Broke Window by Gary Jules
  • Let It Go from the movie “Frozen” (hard to believe that was this year…but it was)
  • The Air That I Breathe by The Hollies
  • Pompeii by Bastille
  • Boulder to Birmingham by Emmylou Harris
  • Brave by Sara Bareilles
  • Tuesday by Sarah Masen
  • I Wanna Get Better by Bleachers
  • Budapest by George Ezra

Songs the boys loved (and destroyed by overplaying):

  • Best Day of My Life by American Authors
  • Believer by American Authors
  • Weird Al’s Word Crimes, Tacky, Handy, & First World Problems
  • Happy by Pharrell Williams
  • Everything is Awesome! by Teagan and Sara
  • Immortals by Fall Out Boy
  • Pompeii, So What Now, and the first four from my list above were favorites of theirs as well.

and how could I leave out: “It’s Raining Tacos

I’m not sure why I’m compulsive about tracking our favorites from each year. I know I’d love to hear what my mom read or listened to when I was ten years old, but I’m not sure my sons will care. Really, it is another form of memory keeping for me.

Literal memory keeping, since I can’t remember titles of anything any more, and figurative, because I hope reading this list in the future brings back memories.

Memories of the boys singing “Let It Go” in the car as a quid pro quo for frozen yogurt. Our Jimmy-Fallon-esque lip sync contest on the beach in Inverness to “Hooked on  Feeling.” How that annoying taco video led our boys to hard shells. James Taylor’s “Mexico” in February. The best misheard lyrics from Bastille’s Pompeii. The Colorado playlist that accompanied us over the Rockies, and Nolan’s request that we play “Home” as we made the final drive up to our new home in October.

I hope 2015 will introduce us to more new artists and new songs, but I’m grateful to the old favorites that accompanied us through 2014.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Best of 2014: Movies

best movies of 2014 DOKedition

Here are my favorites that we saw in 2014, regardless of when they were released. I’ve broken them into random categories, though it’s still hard/ silly to compare works of art to each other.

Oscar Contenders


Okay, only three of the above are nominated for Best Picture, but I think “Into the Woods” and “Wild” should have been. They are in order of my preference from Left to Right.

Maybe it was due to extreme high expectations, but I found “Boyhood” a disappointment. I enjoyed some scenes and the music (a bit heavy-handed at times). “Grand Budapest Hotel” was great fun, but like “American Hustle” last year, not much more to it. The two best songs of “Into the Woods” were ignored by the movie (“Children Will Listen” got thrown to the credits and “No More” was made an instrumental), and still I loved it. “Birdman”---in my opinion---was brilliant. Entertaining and original---about the struggle to matter, to make something true, and the terrible temptation to listen to your ego.

Sci-Fi/Action/Brian Movies

action movies

I wish these five were the only action movies I saw, but there were more: “Rush”, “Fury”, “Elysium”. For record, Brian did see “Fault in Our Stars” with me.

I did not enjoy “Interstellar”, which seemed to last f o r e v e r, and lose its way during the last hour. “Edge of Tomorrow” felt like a violent video game, but had just enough “Groundhog Day” thought behind it to make it interesting. And Emily Blunt who can do no wrong.

And the truth is, I LOVED “X-men: Days of Future Past.” Great casting helps when a movie requires such a great suspension of disbelief. We then watched all the other ones in May and June (yes, I saw the last one first, but it still worked), so between the movies and Aidan reading all the graphic novels, it was the summer of X-Men around here.

We went to see “Guardians of the Galaxy” during our house-hunting trip in July. We were all desperate to escape our own worries and fears at the time, so we loved it even though we felt a little horrified that Nolan saw it. Definitely aimed at teens not littles. It also became the soundtrack of our summer/year.

Quirky/Independent/Deirdre Movies

web indie movies_edited-1

All year I was hoping for something as sweet, imperfect and original as my favorite in 2012. “Short Term 12” was excellent; we rented it last January, and it has stayed with me. But…it wasn’t call-all-your-friends-and-insist-they-watch-it-now-amazing.

“Begin Again” was delightful, though the music was forgettable (for me).  “In A World” was hilarious, especially her relationship with her dad. “Enough Said” was quirky and crazy and so good, but I had one small hang up. The same small hang up with “Chef,” which seemed to have the potential to be great but was edited so oddly and ended so abruptly.

Here’s my issue: can you imagine Molly McCarthy as the chef with Hugh Jackman as her ex and Jake Gyllenhaal as her maĆ®tre d'/lover, and not one review saying that was unrealistic casting? Obviously the double-standard exists outside of Hollywood too, but come on? (To his credit, I heard Jon Favreau interviewed about his casting and he justified it with the line, “That tells you just how good his cooking must be.”)

All that said, I’d love a movie with Julia Lewis-Dreyfus and Jon Favreau as the leads because I so enjoy them. They seem like Hollywood anomalies---both married to their respective spouses since forever, and both seem to really enjoy their work. I like that in a person.

Movies You Saw Last Year that I Saw This Year

web moviesearly2014

There were others. Despite the crazy length of this post, I’m not including everything. I loved “Nebraska,” enjoyed “Inside Llewyn Davis,” thought “Her” was the most depressing, beautifully shot movie, and, because I had extremely low expectations and watched it all by myself, adored “August: Osage County.”


anim movies

My sweet boys took me to see “Frozen” and I loved it. My sister Mimi gave me the soundtrack and it was another theme for the whole year. The boys insisted that Brian and I had to see Big Hero 6 after their grandmother took them to it. I loved it because they loved it, but come on, do all animated movies have to be so sad? “How I Trained my Dragon 2” was excellent, but also crazy sad and intense.

I don’t care what wins the Oscar because “The Lego Movie” was one of the best movies, animated or life-action, of 2014. Our expectations were high and it didn’t disappoint. The piece of resistance? The Kragle? Brilliant. And Batman. And our beloved Chris Pratt. Maybe because we have our own “man upstairs” who is tempted to keep the Star Wars ships up on a shelf (though he has never threatened to use Krazy Glue), we laughed and loved this movie as a family.



We watched “Jaws” with Aidan this summer, and it is just perfect. The script, the casting, even the silly shark. Aidan campaigned hard for “Terminator”---for two years. I can’t even remember now what were the final terms of our bargain, but we gave in, with lots of fast-forwarding and skipping much of the violent opening. I remember the first time I saw it and being terrified, but there were key scenes I had never seen. My brother filled me in that the video we watched in high school had been heavily edited. A-ha!

Aidan loved the 2nd one even more and went as T-800 for Halloween.

Brian and I saw “To Have and Have Not” on the big screen shortly after Lauren Bacall died. It’s not my favorite Bogie, but it was still fascinated to watch the man I adored as a kid. A quirky kid for sure.

Bri also watched “Ordinary People” with me late one night, and afterward he turned to me and asked, “This is the movie you were obsessed with in high school?” Yes. It too is perfect in so many ways. Granted, there are a dozen movies I obsessed over during those years, but “Ordinary People” was on a LOT in our house. It deserves a blog post of it own, but suffice to say, watching it all these years later, I now understood just why I loved it so much way back then---and can see how much all those viewings influenced me.

Movies the Critics Hated (and maybe you did too?) but I LOVED:


We finally saw it this year right after our trip to Mexico. Funniest thing ever. Bizarre and crazy and either you will love it or hate it. I so love it. Also---the most quotable movie ever.

secret life of walter mitty

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is my favorite movie of 2014.

Again, not everyone’s cup of tea. There is a non sequitur riff on “Benjamin Button” that is ridiculous, unessential, and completely hilarious. Plus, I live with Walter-like day-dreaming boys, and we were on the floor watching it. We rented it again on my birthday, and it is now a revered classic in our home.

Would I have loved it if I had paid full price and saw it in a theater? If I had watched it without my sons? Don’t know. But I do know that the timing, the company, all of that is a huge part of why I love what I love.

Also---the best soundtrack of the year.

Also---it has the line that became a theme for our year and our move: walter mity

If you’ve read this whole crazy-long post, you deserve an Oscar or some kind of trophy. If you saw a great movie that didn’t make my list, please mention it in the comments. Especially if you have that elusive imperfect-but-sweet-&-original indie to recommend!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday Poem or Prayer

web 2014 02 11_Mexico_0113_waves on feet


Late Fragment

by Raymond Carver

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.


Photo from our trip to Puerto Morelos, February 2014. Poem from Carver’s last anthology, A New Path to the Waterfall

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Best of 2014: Books

Books in August

Like everything else in 2014, my reading was influenced by all the upheaval in our life. We learned about the possibility of moving in February, and didn’t have the final offer until June.  It feels like we spent a year preparing a house to sell, packing, finding a rental, unpacking, searching for a house, packing, unpacking again. And painting. Lots of painting.

My precious reading time was mostly spent on and researching. I also reread some old favorites, as I have a tendency to do during times of stress. Thanks to my Moab book club, Lara’s Book Bingo, and GoodReads, I still discovered some new favorites.

Favorite  Nonfiction Reads of 2014:

1. Paradise in Plain Sight by Karen Maezen Miller

Miller’s books have topped my list in the past, but this book still managed to exceed my expectations. She's funny. What a rare gift, especially in writing about personal responsibility, Buddhism, freedom, death and letting go. She writes about all of those and more, in the context of looking at what is right in front of you---in her case, the 100+ year old Zen garden that happens to be her backyard.

"The nature of life is impermanence. One day it'll get your attention. Reality might dawn in a single blow or accumulate in a thousand cuts, but one way or another you'll see that things change. Nothing is solid. Everything disappears. In a million, billion ways the world will fail you. How can you bear it?"

and almost in answer to that very question, several chapters later, there's this:

"Nothing is beneath or beyond you. You can do the smallest things. You carry peace wherever you go and share it with everyone, mindful that we're all doing our best, and headed in the same direction."

2. The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful by Myquillyn Smith

I love Myquillyn's style, but I love her voice and encouraging spirit even more. I felt guilty buying this book for myself in August, while we were in temporary housing and after the movers had made more than a few comments about all our boxes of books. Best indulgence ever. Until writing up this list, I hadn’t realized that, while their faith and spiritual practices are different, Miller and Smith have so much in common. Both encourage us to see the beauty in the imperfect, the gifts right in front of us.

“I’ve finally figured out that almost no one is living in their dream house. And I don’t know anyone whose life has gone exactly like they would have planned. You make the best choices you can at the time with the information you have, and then you deal with the consequences, and that’s the part where your life happens.”

3. Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist

I’ve been reading Karen Maezen Miller and Myquillyn Smith for years, and love that their books were as good or better than their online writing. Shauna Niequist was 2014 discovery for me, even though her earlier books, Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet, have been on my To Read list for years.

Bread & Wine is my favorite kind of book, a mash-up of cookbook and memoir. I devoured this book in one weekend, while struggling with a novel that had taken me all summer to read. I was cooking daily in our rental, but not entertaining, not experimenting beyond our tried & true. So Niequist’s words brought what I was missing most---that sense of community that is best celebrated around a table.

Other nonfiction reads I highly recommend: Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider; Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, my perennial favorite,  A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander and others, and The Diet Fix by Yoni Freedhoff, which is the type of book I’d normally be too embarrassed to share but I’m compelled to because the last half of it is brilliant.

Oh, and I almost forgot---two humor books that I loved: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh and Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. The chapter titled “Sorry, Sorry, Sorry” was one of the best things I’ve read in a long time.

Favorite Fiction of 2014:

1. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple


Read on the beach in Mexico last February, it will always remind me of that magical time.

Even well-aimed satire can get old fast. While the emails were funny, I loved the heart and soul I found in Bernadette, who reminded me of Brene Brown's warning that unused creativity is not benign---"It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, shame." That was certainly true of Bernadette. As I was reading this, Nolan's sandcastle, which he had spent all day building, was washed away by the incoming tide and he was devastated. I told him the story of the 12-Mile house and he was more than empathetic to the idea that could send one over the edge.

2. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

So many of my favorite topics woven into this narrative: language, siblings, childhood secrets, the power/dilemma of retelling, and the question, “am I my brother’s keeper?”

“The happening and telling are very different things. This doesn’t mean that the story isn’t true, only that I honestly don’t know anymore if I really remember it or only remember how to tell it. Language does this to our memories, simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies. An off-told story is like a photograph in a family album. Eventually it replaces the moment it was meant to capture.”


3. Another Marvelous Thing by Laurie Colwin

My friend Lori introduced me to Colwin a few years back, and I’ve been slowly making my way through all her work. I started this and was put off, though now I can’t remember why. The adultery? The fashioning of related short stories rather than a full novel? Don’t know, but I’m glad I picked it up again. I loved Frank and Billy, and especially Billy’s sense of humor and her way with words. Frank had his moments too:

One day he said, looking at her brother's old sweater and a skirt that might once have been olive green: "You're the one girl, Billy, whom you dread to hear say: I'm going to slip into something more comfortable."


Other notables: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Favorite books I read with our boys:

1. Wonder by P. J. Palacio

Tied with Paradise in Plain Sight for the book I loved most last year. Sean and I read this together, laughed and cried together. I'm in awe of what Palacio accomplished here, especially as the book could easily have turned sentimental or too clever or too didactic. There were some close calls, but what saved the story every time was the authentic voice of Auggie, and the other narrators. The perspective of his sister Via was my favorite part.



2. Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling

Nolan had been impatiently waiting to read the Harry Potter series since he was oh…two? Gotta love having older brothers.  On his sixth birthday in March, we gave him his own copy of the first book and dove in. We raced through the first four books, even though we took breaks and read other books in between each. I’m imposing a longer break now because the last two are so much darker.  It was my third reading, and I find myself more in awe of, and more grateful to, J.K. Rowling with each reading. Her work has been the backdrop to so many of the best conversations I’ve had with my sons, and provided us with a common language and narrative that runs through their entire childhood now.

3. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Obviously my affection for YA and JV fiction is influenced by the conversations it leads to in our home. I finished TFIOS on an airplane (do NOT attempt this unless you are more comfortable with public weeping than I am!), and Aidan ran out of reading material on the same trip.I ended up handing him TFIOS. He loved the sardonic wit of these teens, and I loved the conversations it led us to have about life, death, sex, and books. I recommend that any parent read John Green’s work before handing it to their tween---they are definitely intended for an older teen.

We also love his video series, Crash Course at:



I joined in the summer of 2007, so it looks like a little more than 30 books a year is my running post-kids average. I’m hoping for 40 in 2014, with at least 15 of them being novels.

Here’s to a new year filled with great reads!

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