March 24, 2017

friday favorites #33: week of march 24, 2017

Well, it's been forever since I participated in a Friday Favorites ... or even posted anything on this blog! I'm coming to you on my third—yes, third—sick day in a row. Influenza has been going around, but I'm pretty sure I just have a really (really, really) nasty cold. I spent the first two days flat on the couch, but today has been a bit better. I actually feel like reading and blogging, whereas during the first two days, I watched a lot of TV and Netflix. Let me save you some time if you find yourself home with a cold that makes your head fuzzy and you want to watch something. Say yes to Hallmark's Home & Family (I'm as surprised as you are!), Monk, Diagnosis Murder, Fuller House, and Army Wives. Say no to ... every single movie I started watching: Your Sister's Sister (did not finish), The Brothers (did not finish), October Gale (finished and wish I hadn't), and Blind Date (did not finish). (To be fair, Blind Date may be wonderful ... but it's a French film, and no way was my brain capable of following subtitles while in the throes of a cold!)

Anyway, on to the favorites!

1. March Madness

I love, love, this time of year! As I type this, I'm watching UCLA and Kentucky battle it out in the Sweet Sixteen. I wrote about the roots of my March Madness love a few years ago:
 I was bit by the MM bug in 1995, when I watched the UCLA Bruins win the National Championship. The fact that I still remember (a) the names Ed O'Bannon and Tyus Edney and (b) that the TV coverage of the event began with a montage of tournament moments set to "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" from the Lion King is perhaps pathetic, but it shows how much that game impacted me. 
I've really been enjoying this tournament, especially since Kansas is still in it! If they play like they played in the last 12 minutes of last night's game against Purdue, I think they're unstoppable. The problem is that it takes them a while to really get rolling!
In this tournament, it's always about KU!
Besides the basketball, my favorite aspect is the Capital One commercials with Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson, and Spike Lee. This year's are all pretty good, but my favorite by far is this one:

Cracks me up every time! (I do love "Snack Hoodie" and "Clapper," too.)

I'd be remiss if I didn't show you my favorite one they've ever done. This is from 2015. A classic:

2. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

 I started watching these when I was packing to move in 2013. I watched the first 20 or so, and then I just kind of forgot about it. I rediscovered them today, and I powered through about 40 before stopping for basketball. (It's not as bad as it sounds--each episode is only four or five minutes long.) I wish I would have thought to stream these two days ago ... I could have saved myself from some terrible Netflix movies :-)

3. Lentil chips

I recently began eating lentils. They're a great source of fiber, and they don't have much taste—so they mix into things well. At first, I was just eating lentils, but then I found lentil pasta at Trader Joe's, and then ... lentil chips! I bought these from Amazon. They totally remind me of Bugles (remember those?)! They make a great semi-healthy, low-guilt snack.

4. Time after Time

I mean, it's like this show was tailor made for me. H.G. Wells. Time travel. Romance. Of course I'm gonna love it!

It's based on the 1979 film of the same name (which I never saw). After H.G. Wells invents a time machine, he discovers his friend John is Jack the Ripper. Conveniently, H.G. has just explained the time machine to John, so when the police come looking for him, John hijacks the time machine. Because of some science thing I can't remember, the time machine returns to H.G., who then follows John ... to 2017 New York City. 

One thing about this show—it's violent, which you would expect from a show where one of the main characters is Jack the Ripper. So I do close my eyes and mute the TV at times, but I'm really enjoying the story.

5. For Love and Honor

If you like medieval fiction or YA romance, then you need to check out Jody Hedlund's An Uncertain Choice trilogy! For Love and Honor is the final book (maybe ... Hedlund has hinted that there may be another story about a minor character in the works), and it's definitely my favorite. Sir Bennet, one of the three knights featured in the series, finally gets his love story, and it's a great one! (See my review.)

So that's what's been making me happy recently. What have you been enjoying lately? Are you as crazy for March Madness as I am? Let me know!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the book mentioned in this post free for review. The opinions expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

January 23, 2017

movie mondays: pixl movie channel

Do you love clean romance movies, like what Hallmark puts out? You know I do ... I'm such a sucker for a good Hallmark movie. Recently, one of my blogging buddies wrote about a movie she watched on PixL. I'd never heard of the channel before, so I did some investigating.

PixL is a movie channel that you might be able to find through your cable or satellite provider, but it also has a YouTube channel, and that's how I've checked it out.

For a small fee (currently $1.99/month or $14.99/year), you can get access to a whole slew of movies. Some are PixL originals (I think—it's kind of hard to tell), but the majority aired on the Hallmark Channel, sometimes under different names.

One of my favorite Hallmark Christmas movies, Matchmaker Santa, which has never released on DVD, is on PixL. So are all of the Love Comes Softly movies (not my cup of tea, but I know many people loved them).

I decided to sign up for a 14-day free trial, and I selected the yearly plan for if I choose to stay. (That's my one complaint—when you sign up for the trial period, you have to choose which plan you want.)

Last night, I watched Twist of Fate (aka Rescue Me—see what I mean about the multiple titles?). I know for a fact it's not a Hallmark movie, as I am totally on top of Hallmark's releases, but it might as well have been. The production values and acting were good, and it was full of faces you'll recognize if you've watched much Hallmark.

Twist of Fate was fairly predictable, though there was one twist (ha, ha) at the end that I didn't anticipate. Still, we don't watch romance movies to be surprised, do we? I look forward to checking out more of PixL's offerings soon.

I can't tell you if I'll power through the PixL movies I've not seen in the next two weeks and then cancel or if I'll stick with it for the year. But I'm certainly glad to know about it.

Have you heard of PixL before? What's your favorite Hallmark-ish movie?

December 23, 2016

friday favorites #32: top 5 tv shows of 2016

Today's Friday Favorites is a little different—I'm talking about my five favorite shows of 2016. With all the TV watching I do, I can't believe I've never done a "best of TV" post before! These shows were all airing new episodes in 2016 (which is why One Tree Hill isn't on the list 😁).

1. Pitch

Pitch is one of two new dramas created by Dan Fogelman this season. It's the less famous, less critically acclaimed of the two, but it's my favorite. The only reason it never made it into my Friday Favorites until this special edition is because I've become such a slacker about posting, but trust me, it's a favorite.

Pitch stars Kylie Bunbury as pitcher Ginny Baker, the first female to play in the Major Leagues. It also stars a nearly-unrecognizable (until you know it's him) Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Mike Lawson, Ginny's catcher. It took me about one episode to be all in on this show.

It's only 10 episodes long, and all 10 have already aired and are available on Hulu. Remember how I said that Pitch isn't nearly as famous or acclaimed as Fogelman's other show? Well, it's apparently a bubble show, meaning it could go either way as far as cancellation or renewal. Here's hoping FOX doesn't pull the trigger and gives us a second season of "Bawson"! (Terrible name, I know. But what other option was there? Gike? Minny? Laker? All awful.)

2. This Is Us

I have actually written about This Is Us before. This Is Us is the other new show from Dan Fogelman. 

If you haven't watched and plan to, stop reading now and skip to #3. If you don't, you might feel the same anger for me that I felt for EW's social media handler when I came across a post on Facebook that said, "Now that Rory is _______, what's next?" (I left that blank in case you don't know what happens on the Gilmore Girls reboot.)
This Is Us follows the Pearson siblings, beginning on their 36th birthday. Kevin is a moderately successful yet deeply unhappy actor, Kate is morbidly obese and lets her weight completely define her, and Randall is a successful businessman with a beautiful family who just reconnected with his dying birth father. The present story is interspersed with stories from the past, from when the siblings' parents Jack and Rebecca were raising them. It is simply fascinating—especially the stories surrounding Randall (the 36-year-old Randall is played by the magnificent Sterling K. Brown). 

Side note: In my opinion, the biggest snub from this year's Golden Globes nominations was the exclusion of Brown for his portrayal of Randall (he was nominated for his portrayal of Chris Darden in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, a role he won an Emmy for earlier this year). The Screen Actor's Guild got it right, though, nominating Brown for both This Is Us and People v. O.J.

3. The Flash

Apparently I talk about The Flash a lot. While I enjoy all of the DC shows on the CW (well, I have a love/hate relationship with Arrow), The Flash is by far my favorite. It's so much fun! This season, I've enjoyed that a) "Flashpoint" (when Barry went back and changed the timeline to save his mother) didn't last forever and b) there are major repercussions for his actions. I also love that Tom Cavanagh is portraying a third version of Harrison Wells. This season's version, H.R., just might be my favorite yet.  

4. Fuller House

Critics hate Fuller House. In fact, I just saw it on a list of worst shows of 2016. But I really enjoy it! Season one pushed all the right nostalgia buttons, and, while I've only seen the first two episodes of season two so far, I assume I'll like it just as much. And I'm still 100% Team Steve.

5. The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story

When I heard that Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story) was making a series about the O.J. Simpson trial, I was skeptical. But I was curious enough to tune in for the first episode, and I was immediately hooked. This series is done so well! I watched every episode, and I can't stop telling people how good it is. Seriously. If you haven't watched it, do it as soon as it hits Netflix!

I do have two complaints: I think John Travolta as Robert Shapiro and Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. Simpson were a bit miscast. But everything else was absolutely spot on!

There's my list ... but why no Gilmore Girls? Because I haven't watched it yet. (And I also hear that people hated the 2nd and 3rd installments.) I think I'm one of two Gilmore fans in the world who hasn't watched yet...the other being my sister. But we're going to remedy that this weekend!

What are your favorite shows of 2016?

December 2, 2016

friday favorites #31: week of dec. 2, 2016 + giveaway

I haven't done a Friday Favorites in forever (OK, it was really September 23, but that's like forever in blog time), so this Friday Favorites will encompass my world over the last two months. So don't be mad that my #1 happened a month ago, OK?

1. The Cubbies!!!

Though the Chicago Cubs have always had a special place in my heart, I never really paid attention to baseball until this postseason. In fact, I thought baseball was one of the most boring sports on the planet. But in the midst of the Cubs' postseason run and World Series victory, I became a raving fan. We'll see if that carries through to next season, but for now, I'm still loving all things Cubs. In fact, the World Series movie (is that what you call it?) is on FS1 tonight, and I can't wait to watch and relive the greatness! (I've talked about the Cubbies a lot on Christian Chick's Thoughts recently, so here it is if you're interested.)

Also, I'll just leave this here ...

2. The CW's DC Crossover Extravaganza

I haven't actually watched the whole crossover yet—I had choir practice last night so missed Legends of Tomorrow. But I greatly enjoyed The Flash and Arrow this week. (Supergirl was good, too, but it wasn't much of a crossover—Barry and Cisco just showed up at the very end.) I loved seeing the characters interact, and it got me to watch Arrow, a show I checked out of a long time ago. (So dark, that Arrow. I prefer the lightness of the other three shows.) I hope the CW keeps doing these crossover events, 'cause they're so fun!

Speaking of fun, if you're a fan of The Flash, check out this Honest Trailer.

3. Austentatious

The other day, I stumbled across Austentatious on Amazon Prime. As a sucker for all things Austen, I couldn't help but start watching.

Emma Woodhouse, Lizzie Bennett, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, and Grant Knightly are all friends living in the same city. Will Darcy works at the same law firm as Emma, and he gets realtor Lizzie to help him find a house (which, of course, ends up being for his sister Georgiana). Nurse Brandon falls for Marianne, who is oblivious, and accountant Elinor has a flirtation with IRS agent Edward Ferrars. The real Austen-like plots kick into gear around episode seven, and nothing is resolved by the end of the final episode. So far, there's only one season of ten episodes, but I hope that more will come!

The production value is ... not very good, and the acting is just serviceable. (The notable exceptions here are Elise Groves as Lizzie and Kristen Marie Jensen as Elinor.) But I still really enjoyed it!

Also of note is that this show is one of the cleanest made-for-adults series I've ever seen. No swearing, no innuendo, nothing. Totally G-rated, which is nice for a change. While your kids would probably be bored out of their minds, you could watch this without fear of what content may pop up.

If you have Prime, you can watch for free here. It's also available on DVD.

4. Christmas Music

I love, love, love Christmas music! With the advent of Spotify and Amazon Prime music, I'm able to listen to almost any Christmas music I want ... and I can pick and choose songs, rather than listening to whole albums. One of my favorite songs to play is *NSYNC's "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays"—it never fails to brighten my mood! (If you've never seen the video before, do yourself a favor and watch it now. It pretty much screams 90's!)

In between my Michael W. Smith-athons (seriously, the man makes amazing Christmas albums!) and repeated playings of "All I Want for Christmas Is You" (both the original and Bieber versions. Yes, Bieber.), I've also been enjoying Amy Grant's new album, Tennessee Christmas. It's more mellow and melancholy than I anticipated, but it's also very good. I reviewed it here, and I have a copy to give away! Enter below:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

(Rules: Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win. Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification. Contest is open in the US only. Winner will be selected at random using and will have 48 hours to respond to email notification, or another winner will be chosen.)

5. The Thirteenth Chance

I debated whether I should really make this a favorite today, but then I found out about a crazy-good sale on Amazon, and I knew I needed to do it! The Thirteenth Chance is going to make my best of list for 2016, no question. It's engaging, romantic, and funny ... and, for a limited time, really cheap! The Kindle version is currently 99¢, and the paperback is just $4.99! (See my full review.)

So that's what's been making me happy over the last couple months. As usual, I'm linking up with Erika, Christina, and Karli. What are some things you've been enjoying lately?


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received some of the products mentioned in this post free for review. The opinions expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

November 15, 2016

top ten tuesday: made for tv christmas movies

I've been doing my Top Ten Tuesday posts over on Christian Chick's Thoughts for a while now, but I thought you might be interested in today's post, which is all about Christmas movies (something I've talked about here on Coffee & Conversation at length). So head on over and check out what I think are the best made for TV Christmas movies: Christian Chick's Thoughts: top ten tuesday: made for tv christmas movies

October 12, 2016

stranded: halloween candy edition

I haven't done a "Stranded With" post since June ... oops! But I actually remembered today's post in time to get something posted, so here you go!

Today's topic, in honor of the month, is Halloween candy. Because of my rather restrictive diet, I can't eat much candy anymore, but I'm going to say that in this scenario, I would magically no longer need to avoid gluten!

1. Twix
Twix has been my favorite candy for as long as I can remember. That crispy shortbread cookie and gooey caramel wrapped in milk chocolate ... well, the thought of it is making my mouth water! A gigantic supply of Twix would definitely make any deserted island stay a lot happier.

2. M&M's
Here's the thing—I don't crave M&M's. I don't even like them that much. But once I start eating them, I. Cannot. Stop. Especially when I'm driving. I should never have M&M's when I travel, but they always seem to find their way into my cart when I'm shopping for a trip. So, if I ever became stranded, chances are good I actually would have some M&M's on me!

3. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
It would be a sad day indeed if I ever had to stop eating peanut butter. Peanut Butter Cups—especially frozen ones—are so good! Plus, peanut butter has protein, so Peanut Butter Cups could maybe pass for a meal on a deserted island ...

Speaking of Peanut Butter Cups...
I've had to change my diet drastically over the past few years as I fight Hashimoto's and reclaim my health. I still eat M&M's sometimes (even though I shouldn't), and I haven't yet found a good replacement for Twix, but I found the best peanut butter cup recipe! I make it far too often, and the flavor is pretty close to the real thing.

What Halloween candy would you want to have on a deserted island? Let me know in the comments, or leave a link to your own post so I can visit your blog!

October 3, 2016

read with us: a book that has been banned

Our September topic for Modern Mrs. Darcy's 2016 Reading Challenge was a book that has been banned. We had slightly more success with this book than we had in August, and this post will certainly be longer, mainly because brother Andrew decided to join in the fun! This is good, as Susan and Stephanie didn't even attempt a book this month, and Becky only got 1/3 of the way through hers. (You can see are thoughts on all of the books we've read for the challenge here.)

Becky says: My approach to this topic was, as you'll soon see, very different than Andrew's. I didn't care where or why the book had been banned—I just wanted to find a book that I already owned that would fit into the category! I've been meaning to read The Fault in Our Stars for several years now—I bought it around the time the movie released (no, I haven't seen the movie, either), but I just never cracked it open—so I decided to see if it had ever been banned. Sure enough, it had! In 2014, it was banned from the Riverside (California) Unified School District's middle schools. (It has since been reinstated.)

As I began reading the book, I could see why it was so popular. And if I'd followed Val's advice and knocked it out in one afternoon, I probably would have loved it. As it was, I read in bits and pieces, and I never felt fully immersed in the story. I also never finished it.

The protagonist of the book is Hazel Grace, a girl with Stage IV cancer who has survived far longer than anyone thought she would. She meets Augustus Waters at a cancer support group, and they become fast friends ... and I assume more, but that's about as far into the novel as I've gotten! (I did get far enough to learn where the title comes from.)

I won't even attempt to give this a star rating—I haven't read enough of it to really judge it. But if I ever do finish it, I'll let you know!

Val says: This month, I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. According to the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog post I read listing this as a frequently-banned book, it is the book’s language that often ends it up on the “banned” list. There were a few instances of the “f” word used throughout, but they were infrequent and were always used by adults.

The protagonist and narrator of the book is a 15-year-old boy with autism.  This is the is the first book I’ve ever read that had a character with autism, and I SO appreciated that he was the one narrating the story because it really gave the reader such an excellent glimpse into what life is like for someone with Christopher’s particular type and severity of autism.  I knew (vaguely) that sensory sensitivity can be an effect of autism, but the book really showed what the world is like through Christopher’s eyes and how he deals with his particular triggers.  (There’s one very memorable scene where Christopher is in the train station by himself, and there’s a picture of what all the signs really say, and then there’s a picture of what Christopher sees as his senses are overloaded.)

As much as I’ve made this sound like it’s just a completely educational book, it’s actually a story with an interesting plot and believable characters.  The book opens with Christopher setting out to solve the mystery of what happened to his neighbor’s dog, and he ends up solving some bigger mysteries along the way.  I would highly recommend this book, especially to someone who wants to learn more about autism or just to glimpse what life can be like for individuals with autism. 4.5 stars

Andrew says: I went looking for a list of banned books, and quickly found that basically every book of any value has been banned or “challenged” in one place or another.  I decided to use the American Library Association’s Banned and Challenged Classics list.  I wanted to use a US-based list because we have a largely robust anti-censorship legal system and this is the culture that I inhabit.  It felt a little like cheating to pick a book that has only been banned/challenged in some much more restrictive culture or political climate.  I chose to go off the classics list because it seemed more interesting.  As I looked at the lists of most challenged books for the 1990s and 2000s, it became clear that people will challenge books that involve any of the following: 1) nonwhite people, 2) non cis-gendered people, 3) ”Magic” outside a fantasy setting, or 4) puberty and the female body.

 I chose to read Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin, and you should too.  I had heard very good things about Baldwin’s writing from people whose opinion I trust, and I was not at all disappointed.  Baldwin’s prose is incredible, and his insight into the human condition is precise.  Go Tell It On The Mountain tracks the salvation experience of 14-year-old John in Harlem. In the process, it jumps back in time to visit his father as a young man and his mother as a young woman.  We see both how they relate to each other in the present and formational experiences of John’s parents affect the family dynamic and are shaping John in his spiritual journey.  Baldwin is incisive in his critique of the shame of sin and the human tendency to secrecy as an effort to avoid shame both public and private.  Baldwin’s characters and narrative are real in a way that everyone who reads him will identify truth that resonates with them. For me, one of the most moving themes was John’s experience with a strictly legalistic religious tradition and the perfectionist tendencies that engenders, along with the self-doubt and feelings of secret shame that come with a failure to live up to those standards.  Growing up in a fundamentalist tradition, I felt a resonance with Baldwin’s description of these phenomena that transcend the distance between Harlem in the 1930s and Nebraska in the 1990s.

Go read Go Tell It On The Mountain.  It will challenge you.  You won’t regret it. 5 stars

If you've read any of these books, we'd love to know your thoughts! (Also, Becky would love to know if The Fault in Our Stars is worth finishing.) Be sure to join us again next month, when we'll be talking about books we should have read in school.

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