Saturday, December 21, 2013

Best Books I Read in 2013

My favorite, life-changing books I read this year.

1.      Best Fiction: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I don’t think anyone will argue with me on this pick. Gone Girl was one of the best-selling fiction books of the year, spending 8 weeks at #1 on the NY Times List. It has all the makings of a great movie too, which Reese Witherspoon is currently producing, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. I probably read the whole book in one weekend, and it was the most attended meet up of my book club. You won’t be able to put this one down.

2.      Best Non-fiction: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO) took a lot of hits for this book encouraging women to “lean in” to their careers, sit at the table, don’t leave before you leave, and make your partner a partner. She’s been criticized as only being relevant to white, upper middle class women with nannies and six-figure salaries like herself (although I’m guessing hers is more seven figures), but I took away this main point: that our businesses, our lives, and our world is more complete when women are equally represented in the workplace. The Amazon #2 bestselling book of the year.

3.      Best Spiritual: What We Talk About When We Talk About God by Rob Bell

I’m a Rob Bell fan. His book Sex God, is probably one of my top 10 life-changing books. He lost me a little bit with Love Wins, but this one brought me back. Rob writes about how God is for us, with us, and ahead of us. I always find Rob’s ideas fresh, thought-provoking, and inspiring. You’ll have to read it yourself and see what you think.

4.      Best Self-help/Psychology: I Thought it Was Just Me (but it wasn’t) by Brene Brown

If you read my best books last year, you know I’m a huge Brene Brown fan. I love her Ted Talks, all 3 of her books, and her blog. While this isn’t Brene’s newest book, it is my close second favorite (after The Gifts of Imperfection) and the one that delves most into her research on shame. It’s still readable and relatable, in typical Brene fashion, with plenty of stories of women and the way shame shows up in their lives. It’s so good, I’ve used material with clients before and frequently quote her “shame categories” and “universal shame trigger” (body image) to my female clients, to normalize their experiences. I recommend this read for any woman.

5.      Best Daily Read: Jesus Calling by Sarah Young

I started reading this daily devotional over the summer and it has changed my personal time with God. I must not be the only one who thinks so, because Jesus Calling was Amazon’s #5 best-selling book of the year. Sarah gives you short daily readings written in the first person, as if God is talking directly to you, using Biblical passages. Read this daily and you’ll find more “peace in His presence” as well. 

What other books did you read this year that changed your life?

Best TV Shows of 2013

My favorite TV shows of the year.

1. Best New TV Show: Orange is the New Black

This show, that isn't even on TV (it's a Netflix original series), had a lot of buzz back in the summer when I started binge-watching it. Now I can say I can't wait for season 2! While Piper is soppy, spoiled, and flaky, the rest of the cast is a diversity of complex, multifaceted characters. On the surface, every prison stereotype seems to be represented (the lesbians, the prison lesbian, the junkie, the former track star with so much promise), but OITNB flips those stereotypes on its head by showing the back-stories of the women, the history that brought them to their prison sentences. The show is very edgy and liberal (pro-LGBT and anti-Christian), but what you’ll enjoy is the rich character development.

2.      Best old favorite that keeps getting better: The Voice

I’ve kept up with watching The Voice every season, but for a while it bored me. This season, with the original judges back (and goat-singer Shakira gone), it’s been better than ever!

3.      Best Comeback season: Revenge

Revenge’s second season was a mess: I couldn’t follow the story lines, random characters kept popping up (Emily’s foster brother) and then going away, and too many people died (Amanda, Declan). Now in its third season, Revenge has definitely made a triumphant comeback. By paring down the story lines and focusing on the one that matters most--Emily’s search for revenge against the Grayson family and hidden identity—the show is back to its soapy, juicy glory days. And Victoria’s snooty put downs, sheath dresses, and lustrous hair never disappoint.

4.      Best binge-worthy show: Breaking Bad

I had never seen this show before (so little time, so many TV shows), but started binge-watching it over Thanksgiving break on Netflix. Now I’m already on season 4 and totally hooked! If you haven’t seen it yet, the show’s nail-biting cliff-hangers and the characters’ descent into evil will have you addicted. You know what I'll be watching over Christmas break!

5.      Best cult favorite: Scandal

I started watching this show in its first season (I’m a Shonda Rhimes fan), but didn’t start becoming addicted until it became such a cult favorite. Boosted by their social network following and the many twists and turns, this show is can’t-miss if you want to have anything to talk about at the water cooler on Friday.

What are your favorite TV shows of the year? Others I've seen mentioned, but haven't watched myself include American Horror Story, Walking Dead, The Good Wife, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and House of Cards.

Have you seen any of these? And are they better than the ones on my list?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Best TV Shows of the Year

My Favorite TV Shows of 2012

1. Best new TV show: Mindy Project

I looooove this show. It has quickly moved to the top of my "Must See" list and is one of only 2 shows each week that I actually sit down to watch (also, see #2). Mindy Kaling is hilarious and speaks to my life. I could be Mindy Lahiri, M.D., without the one-night-stands. The supporting cast is not as strong as I think they could be, which drags down the comedy a bit, but Mindy and supporting lead Chris Messina have great chemistry and witty banter. Mindy's lines are so funny that my friend Sarah and I post our favorite quotes from the episodes each week on each other's Facebook. Some of our favorites:
Mindy: "To paraphrase another great woman of color, Mariah Carey, 'All I want for you'."

Mindy to a patient: "Please do not give me print outs of Wed MD. This is like bringing recipes to a restaurant and saying, here cook this."

Teen: "Henry says we're going to be together forever. It's even his signature at the bottom of all his emails."
Mindy's boyfriend: "Well my law firm forbids tampering with the standard confidentiality notice at the bottom of all our emails."

2. Best old favorite that keeps getting better: Grey's Anatomy

After 9 seasons, this show just keeps getting better and better.  How could it be that these 6 are the only original cast members still left?? Because Shonda Rhimes keeps killing off every good character! Sloane is gone, Lexi's dead, and Teddy left the hospital. Instead, we've got a batch of new surgical interns to follow and as usual, juicy drama between Cristina and Owen (will they work it out?), Meredith and Derek (what will happen with Derek's hand? Meredith's pregnancy?), and several other great story lines (Callie and Arizona adjusting to Arizona's disability, Richard's ailing wife Adele, and Miranda's impending wedding). They've all signed on for 1 more season, giving me a decade of my favorite show, through my 4 years of college and 5 years of grad school. I'm hooked.

3. Best farewell season: 30 Rock

This show is a witty, campy delight. It shot out big in the first few seasons, sweeping the Emmy's and Golden Globes, and then simmered for a few years. But I love the writing and the characters, and I'm especially happy to see Liz Lemon get what she has been wanting for years: a husband (love her feminist refusal to have a big wedding) and fingers-crossed, a baby.

4. Best guilty pleasure I try to resist: The Bachelorette

After the Jason-Melissa-Molly debacle of Bachelor, I vowed never to watch again (unless Jillian, who I loved, was the Bachelorette). Then I watched Jillian. Then Jake. Then Aly, who I don't care for. Then Brad Womack's second try, since I followed his first. Then Ashley because she was cute. Then Ben, who I hated, because I was sucked in. Then came Emily, the best season of the Bachelorette since the original, Trista. Sure, she ended up not working out with Jef (did she cheat? is it because he's Mormon? what went wrong???), but she made smart choices along the way. In the end, I watched 10 seasons of the Bach franchise, at 2 hours per week, at about 8 episodes per season, I've spent 160 hours on this franchise. I keep trying to pull myself away, but I'll keep watching. I'll see you in January when Sean tries to find his wife on the Bachelor.

5. Best new cult favorite: Downton Abbey

O.M.G. This show is AMAZING. I love British period pieces, so this show was made for me. I love romance, I love drama, I love scandal. It's a perfect fit. Season 3 is about to air in the United States, but shhh...I've already seen it all online! It's out of this world... Some spoilers that can be revealed: Mary and Matthew do marry, Downton may be in peril, and there will be at least one wedding, one baby, and one death in the new season. Enjoy!

Do you agree with my choices? What would yours be? Any runner-ups? Share your thoughts below!

Life-changing books I read this year

My Best Books of 2012

1. Addiction and Grace by Gerald May
This book was truly life changing for me. I read it at the beginning of the year, and finished it by the end of January. At the time I read it, I was working in a rehab facility for teen boys, and wanted to better understand the spiritual nature of drug and alcohol addiction, since I have never personally experienced that issue. But Addiction and Grace is about so much more than "addictions." Addiction is anything that we are attached to that takes the place of God. This book helped me see that I use many objects of attachment, whether it is work, achievements, relationships, or approval to numb my need for God. I shared some of this book in class devotions, and also in group therapy sessions with my clients. One client and I even wrote letters to our "addictions" in session, him to drugs and myself to approval and achievement, shared them with each other, and then tore up our letters to symbolize detaching ourselves from these life-controlling attachments. It was a powerful moment in therapy for me and for him, but the lessons of Addiction and Grace continue to impact my life every day, in how I view addiction and how spirituality can heal.

2. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
My dad first introduced me to Brene Brown through her amazing TEDTalks. She's a professor and researcher at UT Houston with a PhD in social work, but as she'll tell you, she's really more of a storyteller. I first read this book, then her new one Daring Greatly, and was most impressed with The Gifts of Imperfection. In it, Dr. Brown's research on vulnerability, authenticity, courage, shame, and living what she calls a "wholehearted life" come alive through stories from her own life and the participants in her research. As a grad student, I appreciated her qualitative research, but also found her book very practical, readable, and applicable to a broad audience. Each chapter focuses on a key to wholehearted living, all with the goal of "letting go of who you think you're supposed to be and embracing who you are." Not a day goes by where I don't think of what I learned in Brene's book, and try to live it out in my life.

3. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
This is a little bit older book (2003), having been an Oprah's book club selection back in 2005, and then surrounded by controversy when it came out that this "memoir" was part fiction. Oprah withdrew her book club endorsement and publicly flogged James Frey for the embellishments in his story. Nevertheless, I wanted to read it to, again, help me understand the mind of an addict and life in drug rehab. Frey was candid, gritty, and his stream of consciousness style really portrayed the confabulated mind of a hard-core drug addict. I also shared pieces of this book with a teen client (see #1) and even gifted him with a copy of the book when I left my job at the rehab. There's a lot of explicit language and gory details, but in the end it's a story of hope and the power of the human will to overcome.
4. Hunger Games 1-2 by Suzanne Collins
I'm not usually a fan of young adult fiction. I refused to read the Twilight series or Harry Potter. I also don't like fantasy fiction. So why is the Hunger Games on my list of the best books? After seeing the movie, I borrowed the books from my little sister and read books 1, 2, and 3 all in one week during school break. It's engaged, attention-grabbing and the blend of romance, suspense, and action speak to the violent nature of the world we live in now. The second book was probably my favorite, while the third doesn't make my list. Now I am eagerly awaiting the release of Catching Fire in theaters November 2013.

5. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
This was the best fiction book I read this year, beating out one of my favorite author's Emily Giffin's Where We Belong. In The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh flawlessly blends together the stories of Victoria's childhood growing up in foster care, her present life trying to escape her reality, and her gift of communicating through flowers. A heartfelt story with beautiful, deep character development.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Love Lessons Learned from The Bachelor

Bachelor is back tonight!!! In honor of our new premiere with bachelor Ben, I thought I'd compile some love lessons I've learned from watching 10 seasons of the Bachelor (seasons 2-5 which was Aaron through Bob, and 10-15 which was Andy through Brad 2) and 5 seasons of the Bachelorette (Trista of season 1, seasons 4-7 of DeaAnna through Ashley).

1. Let the ladies do the picking. Trista and Ryan worked. ... OK, no one else has worked since then (I refuse to count Jason and Molly). But Jillian and Ed lasted longer than Jake and Vienna (and we all know that was immature Ed's fault). Aly and Roberto made it 18 months (Emily and Brad--7). And as of this writing, Ashley and JP are still going strong. I think the women are much smarter about their choices, and are the ones more willing to make the sacrifices after the rose.

2. Age is not just a number. See: Brad and Emily (38 and 24). Jake and Vienna (33 and 23). I don't think anyone under 25 should be a contestant on the show, and I'm honestly hesitant to take any males under 30. I just don't think they're ready to "settle down" and if the franchise wants successful marriages, they need to select older contestants. People who know what they want and are ready to commit.

3. If everyone in the house hates him/her, they're probably right. Case in point: Vienna. Everyone told Jake she was awful, but he refused to listen because what he saw in her was something "special." Also, Wes. Everyone told Jillian he had a girlfriend back home and was just on the show to promote his music (love, it don't come easy), but she didn't listen! Even Justin, aka Rated R. All these bachelor/ettes think they have such a great judge of character, but they're blind to who the person really is.

4. Don't cry and whine to the bachelor/bachelorette about how hard it is to be away from your family, compete with all these other girls/guys, and date him/her without knowing how he/she feels about you. THAT IS WHAT YOU SIGNED UP FOR! Having seen the show for 13 seasons, you should have figured out that that's the name of the game. You will not know how he/she feels about you, you will have to deal with seeing him/her kiss, date, and potentially fall in love with many other suitors, and you will have to live in a house with said suitors. Deal with it, or leave.

5. Open up. The ones who take the chance to open up about their tragic past/divorce/children/family issues usually impress the bachelor/ette a lot and end up staying longer because of it. The ones who don't take the opportunity to open up seem to always regret it when they get sent home. I don't know how many times I've seen a great girl or guy (Reid from Jillian's season and Corrie from Jake's season come to mind) go home because they didn't take a risk and put it all out there with how they were feeling. Better to open up and take the chance, then to regret it in the limo ride home.

6. Family can make it or break it. Weird, quirky families (Naomi from Jason's season and Kirk from Ali's season are top contenders) can set the date back a lot, especially when the lady/man was already in last place. The bachelor/ette often walks into hometown dates looking for answers, and sometimes parents can confirm the worst fears (remember hottie Graham from DeaAnna's season, whose mom told DeaAnna that Graham wasn't ready for a relationship?)

7. A sob story can really be an "in." I don't know how many times we heard about Tenley's ex-husband, how she saved herself for marriage, how she was never able to "dance the dance in her heart" for him, and how she's ready to "open herself up to love again." Past exes (Bentley, West from Ashley's season) and children (Michelle Money, Ella, old Stephanie from Jason's season, Jason himself) are great back-stories. So are dead parents (Chris from Ali's season, Ella from Jake's season and Bachelor Pad 2) or mysterious illnesses (Kurt's mold problem).

8. If you sign up for a reality TV show, there's no such thing as "private." We will watch every kiss. Every awkward conversation. Every break-up tear. Every make-out session in the fantasy suite (until the man closes the curtain and the lights ominously turn off). So why do you then expect us "to respect your privacy at this time" when you break up? We watched you meet, date, kiss, get engaged, and now we're supposed to turn a blind eye to your pain?

9. Don't go for the "wild card." Did anyone think DeaAnna should have picked Jesse the snowboarder over single dad Jason? Was it wise for Jake to pick party girl Vienna over dancing divorcee Tenley? NO. The wild card is never a good choice. Research shows (don't fall alseep on me) that similarity attracts similarity. So these contestants should go for the safer choice, the one they have the best chances with.

10. Meeting in an "unconventional way" DOES NOT WORK OUT. Let's be is not a hot tub. Or a rose ceremony. Or a helicopter ride. Or an overnight fantasy date. Bachelor is a fantasy world, it is not the real world. This is why Bachelor/ette couples don't work! They have 6 weeks of fantasy world with each other, and then when the cameras leave, the roses wither, and the hot tub dries out, they look at who they're waking up beside and they say, "who are you?" They don't know more about each other than possibly what bra size she is and how many tattoos he has. I never hear bachelor/ette couples talk about their careers, their religious beliefs, their lifestyles, all the stuff that makes a real relationship. Then they act surprised, saying, "We didn't meet in the most traditional way. We had a very short courtship and we only knew each other nine weeks before we got engaged. We are still figuring out our lives as individuals" (Ali). Two weeks later, she and Roberto broke up.