Last Weekend When I Turned Fourteen Watching Pitch Perfect

Last weekend, I babysat my sweet niece. She was asleep within 20 minutes of my getting there, so I spent the next four hours with premium movie channels and frozen cookie dough. You teenagers have a really sweet deal. 

I turned on the TV half an hour into the movie Pitch Perfect. I've never seen it because I'm emotionally allergic to a cappella, but my movie-savvy sister said it was great. So I gave it a try. 

I watched it three times in 24 hours, not including the clips on YouTube every second a child wasn't needing me to slice apples or clean pee off the floor. I have a new obsession, and I want to be a Barden Bella now MAKE IT HAPPEN.

Sometimes when you see a movie trailer, you've basically seen the movie. (See: Gravity.) Not this movie. The trailer captures it perfectly, so if you like this, you'll love the actual movie. It just scratches the a cappella surface.

When you're a teenager, you're supposed to be obsessed with unimportant things; it's part of growing up and being awkward and weird. But when you're in your 30s? I'm not supposed to think of the funny thing I can say on Anna Kendrick's Instagram photo to get her to notice me or how I might mash up my kids' Sesame Street songs with Beyonce and Mumford & Sons or how cookie dough just needs to be a food group (this is actually a real thing always).

In shameful addition, I still crush on celebrities and have homework to do and get acne, so if we're playing Are You Really a Teenager? then I win life forever. 

Three things I've learned in my very teenage weekend:

  1. Being a teenager is fun, and junk food is everywhere. 
  2. Pitch Perfect is fantastic, and I will wear a homemade fangirly shirt to the premiere of the sequel.
  3. You guys are special to me. Why? You like me like this. I can make you laugh because I'm dumb and fourteen, and you guys are delightful as you show me your fourteen year-old selves, too. We engage in our mutual silliness, and my days - and I hope yours - are better for it.

Enjoy being silly this weekend, friends. I hope it's filled with movie channels and cookie dough, and if you're going to a riff-off fortheLOVE let me come.

What I Read This Summer When Nothing Was On TV

Because reading is only an option when TV isn't. 

I kid I kid. I actually read while I'm watching TV. 

I adore books. Sometimes they intersect with my life in ways that change me. TV shows and movies rarely affect me as deeply as books can. 

I thought I'd share with you what I read this summer because I'm all about book recommendations and thought you might be, too. 

1. THE MEMOIR PROJECT by Marion Roach Smith

I asked my girl, Emily, who is a brilliant writer and published author, what book she'd recommend to help improve the craft of writing. She immediately recommended this book even though it's focused on memoir writing. 

A lot of bloggers are writing memoir in some form, and this book is sharp, specific, and doesn't waste a word. I first read it from the library and then ordered it before I was even finished reading, knowing it would be a reference book for years. 

If you write, read The Memoir Project

 

2. THE ACCIDENTAL CREATIVE by Todd Henry

Sometimes we need a new perspective on productivity, and we always need encouragement to take time to be creative. This book brings those two ideas together, helping creative people develop and grow ideas that are always at the ready. 

It's written for folks in creative professions and for those who need to call upon creativity in a standardized workplace. The subtitle is "how to be brilliant at a moment's notice," and I've found relevant systems and ideas here that have enabled me to do that.

If your job requires ideas, read The Accidental Creative.

 

3. THE SCORCH TRIALS by James Dashner

This is the second book in The Maze Runner trilogy, and it has cemented my love for the Young Adult genre. (Because we all know I'm really fourteen.)

A lot of dystopian series depend on each other to create a sense of place. "Our readers have probably read Hunger Games, so let's just go with that." Not so with this series. The world is bizarre, unexpected, and totally unpredictable. Not a Panem crutch to be seen.

The writing is less engaging from a relationship standpoint than, say, Hunger Games or Legend, but the action is insanely fun. A page turner all the way. The first book, The Maze Runner, will be released as a movie next month, and I'm looking forward to seeing this bizarre world as a physical reality. Sadly, so is everyone else because I'm having to wait FOREVER to read the final book. Library waiting lists are no joke. 

If you like YA dystopian novels, read The Maze Runner trilogy.

 

4. THE WARDEN AND THE WOLF KING by Andrew Peterson

This book wins the awards for Kendra's Favorite Book Ever (unseating C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces by a narrow margin) and Most Likely to Make Kendra Weep Beyond Recognition. 

The fourth and final book in the series The Wingfeather SagaThe Warden and the Wolf King brings this epic story of childhood adventure and wonder to a close. Frankly, I don't want to tell you anything about it because the act of discovery is vital. It's written by the singer-songwriter, Andrew Peterson, so if you have any love for his music, you'll lose your face over his books.

If you like Narnia, Harry Potter, or simply are a decent human being, read all four books in The Wingfeather SagaAaaaand I'm crying again just thinking about it.

 

5. THE NESTING PLACE by Myquillin Smith

The Nester is beloved and lovely and a real-life friend, so it was fun to enjoy this book as much as I did. Yes, she's a brilliant decorator and ridiculously creative, but more than that, she gives you a new way to see your home. She gives you a fish and teaches you to fish and also puts the fish on your wall and laughs with you when it falls off. Easy, lighthearted, but purposeful in a way only The Nester can be, this book will make you brave in your home.

Packed with photos, tips, and stories to encourage and entertain, The Nesting Place is, in my opinion, the one decorating book you should have to the exclusion of all others. Don't library wait list this one because a) you'll have to wait four years and b) you'll look through it again and again. 

If you want to love your home, read The Nesting Place.

 

What about you? Any good book recommendations from your summer reading?

The Battle Wages: Cupcakes vs. James McAvoy

Let's talk about obsession for a sec.

When something busts your brain open, you can't stop, right? You'll take it however, whenever, wherever. If you've ever played Candy Crush, you get it. 

If you are unfamiliar with my obsession for James McAvoy, you obviously are new here. Welcome, friend. 

Ummmm, he's kind of a big deal around these parts. 

The Year of James McAvoy happened in 2007. After he SLAYED ME in Becoming Jane, I binged on every movie he'd made up to that point, manipulating my way into three free Netflix trials to access them all. Don't judge. I didn't say I was proud of it. 

I DIE A THOUSAND DEATHS. 

The brooding. His heart in torment. And those EYES. They hold so many secrets. 

I watched every movie, every interview, bought every magazine that contained his face. I secretly hoped he'd get a gig as a spokesmen for detergent or something just so I could see him on TV while I watched football. 

I never thought I'd fall down that obsessive rabbit hole again. But oh man have I ever. Except this time not with a person.

I've always been fundamentally against cupcakes. Eating one with a fork seems superfluous, but literally sinking your teeth into The Icing Mountain is unacceptable. The whole icing under the lip thing? Don't shake your head at me; you know exactly what I'm talking about. A slice of cake, please, amen. 

But cupcakes are beloved and everywhere, kind of like Channing Tatum, and despite my personal feelings for them, it's time to grow up and give them a real try. (We'll see if that ever happens with Channing.)

You guys, I've baked probably eight dozen cupcakes in the last two weeks, and I CAN'T STOP. It's like James McAvoy all over again, and I'm exhilaratingly tired. 

The cake, the frosting, the decoration... you can make hundreds of cupcakes and never make the same one twice. Basic options, infinite combinations. And my Icing Mountains are Icing Hills. Sometimes Icing Pastures. 

Is it possible to be in love with a food? Because cupcakes have kicked up their flirting game with me, and I'm about ready to propose. Sorry, James. Star in the movie adaptation of Me Before You, and maybe you can get your top spot back.

It hurts my heart to say this, but in Kendra's Obsession Diary, cupcakes are beating James. WHAT IS HAPPENING SOMEONE TAKE MY SUGAR AWAY RIGHT NOW THIS WILL NOT STAND.

Also Nutella buttercream will bring world peace if we let it.

Aaaahhhh, there we go.

So let's hear it. What are you obsessed with? 

How to Throw a Princess Bride Party

Today is The Princess Bride Sugar Box Day! I've been making Princess Buttercup(cakes) and Man In Black brownies for my local Sugar Boxers and feeling the wuv all around me. 

As always, I want those of you who don't live in the Sugar Box kingdom to have a chance to party like a fangirl, this time Princess Bride style. 

 

Fangirl Level One

Just you and the dude, maybe your kids, some girlfriends... small and simple with minimal effort.

FOOD

  • Something in a goblet seems necessary. A real one might be a stretch for those of us not living in a medieval castle, but wine glasses can easily be at the ready. Fill them with wine, champagne, ginger ale, whatever... it just seems right.
  • Bread, cheese, and fruit. A crusty loaf of bread, a wedge of fun cheese (manchego, havarti, gouda, and smoked cheddar taste great alone and are easy on every palette), and apples and grapes. It's what's on Vizzini's table during his battle of wits with Westley, so you're basically on set.
  • Girly cupcakes. Make them or buy them; just give them a little princess shimmer with sprinkles or coarse sugar.

ENTERTAINMENT

Watch the movie. Done. 

MOOD

Assuming you'll eat on the coffee table in front of the TV, cover the table with a richly colored tablecloth, blanket, sheet, whatever - reds, golds - and put some wood and glam on the table. Serve the bread in a wooden bowl. Pull out that tiara from your kid's princess costume and place it around the wine bottle. Think elaborate fairy tale but in the woods, and transfer that feeling onto your table. 

 

Fangirl Level Two

A good handful of friends over for an on-purpose movie night.

FOOD

In addition to what's above, splurge on a bit of sushi and call it Shrieking Eel Sushi. A California roll or two per person won't break the bank, and it'll be a fun addition to the very inexpensive bread and apples. 

You can also make Miracle Max's Miracle Pills (which were in this month's Sugar Box). Combine 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs and 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar in a bowl. Stir in one stick of melted butter until it's well combined. Then stir in about 1/2 cup of shredded coconut, 3/4 cup of peanut butter, and 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, or peanuts. Use your hands to bring it all together. Form it into pretty big balls (golfball sized or so) and dip them in melted chocolate. They look exactly like Miracle Max's Miracle Pills, and this recipe makes about 20 of them to share. They keep for several days, so feel free to make them the day before if your party has that kind of lead time. Fridge and room temp are both great. If your chocolate changes color, don't fret. It won't change the flavor a bit. It just means that the chocolate went under some temperature fluctuations that altered the color a bit. Still eat them with pleasure.

ENTERTAINMENT

Since this movie is one of the most quotable of all time, play Who Said It. Have one person in charge of keeping score and time since it'll move quickly. One person starts by saying a quote, and the first person to shout out who said it gets a point. Go around the circle offering up quotes until you can't think of anymore. If no one knows the quote after ten seconds or so, the person who offered up the quote gets a point for stumping everyone. The person with the highest score (duh) wins. Or just make your own rules, y'all. Have fun.

MOOD

Think of ways to incorporate icons from the movie - swords, masks, elements from the Fire Swamp, etc. The key to making a theme party feel intentional without a lot of legwork is to reference the icons. Everyone knows what they are, but you can be creative in how you implement them. 

Let's use the sword as an example.

  • Do you have a life-size sword lying around? Prop it up against the bathroom door with a sign that says "I don't suppose you could speed things up?" which is something Inigo says when Westley is climbing The Cliffs of Insanity. 
  • Hang the sword over your front door with a sign that says something corny about a home where you fight for true love. 
  • Go to the dollar store and find play swords in whatever size and have duels while you wait for everyone to arrive or as the tiebreaker to a game. 
  • Buy a pack of those tiny swords they use in cocktails at restaurants (I found a bag of 100 for three dollars) and stick them in the food, string them on a necklace you wear around your neck as the host, use them in actual cocktails, or use them as ways to keep track of points when you're playing games rather than tokens or a score card. 

The point is icons are obvious to everyone, but you can create a thoughtful party by simply using them in unexpected ways. 

Buttercup and Westley, 25 years apart.

Buttercup and Westley, 25 years apart.

 

Fangirl Level Three

The all out, you plan for weeks, let's all geek out party. 

FOOD

Set out your spread on a red tablecloth with as many shiny platters and wooden bowls as you can find. Serve the things mentioned above along with...

  • ROUS's - ribs of unusual size. There are countless ways to prepare ribs, but go with racks that are cut into larger portions or Texas style ribs with, like, one bone in a pound of meat. Texas doesn't mess around. Call up a friend who you trust when it comes to barbecue, or spend a little time Googling "best ribs recipe." 
  • Chipotle honey roasted peanuts. You can get the recipe here, or just make any kind of spiced peanut you like. And of course you have to serve them with a sign that says, "Anybody want a peanut?" which is a classic Fezzik line in the movie. 
  • Most people have pretty great bakeries close by, so if you want to skip the cupcakes and go for an actual cake, ask your local baker for a layer cake big enough to feed your crowd but one that kind of looks like a wedding cake. Most cake decorators (myself included) love to be creative on a cake, so if you share with them that you want Princess Buttercup's wedding cake, I guarantee you'll get something beautifully fun without having to pay a huge amount. 

ENTERTAINMENT

This movie truly is all the entertainment you need, but if you're looking for another possibility or two...

  • Have a competition of who can perform the "mawage" monologue the best.
  • Make it a costume party. The possibilities will astound. Offer prizes for the best if you can. 
  •  Play a game of Round Robin. List out other TV shows and movies The Princess Bride actors have been in. The movie came out 25 years ago, so there are quite a few options if you can get your brain going. If a person can't think of one, they're out. Keep going until one person is left. 

MOOD

Create a sense of place. Choose the castle, Buttercup's farm, the Pit of Despair, a ship, or the Fire Swamp and make your house feel like that place. Or make individual rooms individual settings. The bathroom could easily be the Pit of Despair or the Fire Swamp and now I'm laughing. Your front door/porch could be Vizzini's ship or the Dread Pirate Roberts' ship - a mode of transport to your party. The main living/party area could be the castle set up for Buttercup's wedding. Have fun with a sense of place however literal or abstract you want to be. The point is to be bold and have fun.

Save me, Farm Boy. Whew.

Do you have any Princess Bride party ideas? Share them in the comments for others to enjoy!

The Sugar Box Reviews Luther

We all have a problem. 
There's far too much to watch on TV.

But I believe we can power through and find the shows that are worth our time. Because, my friends, watching TV is a noble endeavor, one that I do not take lightly. 

I like to occasionally give you my take on a series and let you decide if it's right for you. Consider this your TV cheat sheet, Sugar Box style. 

Next up for review, 
Luther. 

WHAT IT'S ABOUT

It's about John Luther, a detective with a Sherlock-like ability to solve crimes, but he does it with smarts and recklessness, fueled by a good deal of demons like any good protagonist is. It's set in London with lots of awesome accents, but if you're like my husband who has no idea what they're saying, consider yourself warned. They talk fast. 

THE CHARACTERS

John Luther
Brilliant, feisty, sexy, reckless John Luther. He's loyal to a fault, can't let anything go, and looks spectacular in a wool blazer. 

Justin Ripley
An up-and-coming detective, he requests Luther as his partner and mentor. Sweet, savvy, and a bit green, Justin struggles with how Luther solves cases. Do you do things by the book, or do you catch the bad guys as quickly as you can?

Zoe Luther
John's estranged wife who is the ever-present loving thorn in his side. He doesn't want to let her go, and she fights him on it... mostly. It's those moments of wavering that encourage him to keep trying, even though his definition of "trying" is a bit misguided. 

There are a few other important characters as well as a smattering of supporting detectives, but sharing some of them with you here would be a bit of a spoiler. Let's just let everything unfold, shall we?

WHY IT'S WORTH WATCHING

This is one of my favorite shows ever. Possibly top five in the drama category. The cases are gritty and crazy. The criminals are insane and brilliant and super creepy. John Luther is charismatic and highly entertaining. The writing doesn't boast any extra words; it's down to business all the way. Each episode is an hour long, but they feel cinematic with great character arcs and engaging storytelling. It's a nail biter all the way, and you'll certainly let out a few gasps, both of the scared and wow-that-was-awesome varieties. 

Idris Elba (Luther) has also been nominated or won both Golden Globes and Emmys for his acting for all three seasons. It's excellent television. 

WHY YOU MIGHT NOT LIKE IT

It's dark, y'all. Some of these crimes are heartwrenching - violence against children, sexual crimes, serial killers with deep psychological problems. The characters are written in such a way that you could almost imagine knowing someone this dark and broken and evil; that's how normal they seem. It's also violent, at least where the crimes are concerned. Nothing gratuitous, just accurate. But it's SO. GOOD.  

YOU MIGHT LIKE LUTHER IF YOU LIKE...

  • The Wire
  • Breaking Bad
  • Sherlock
  • The Following

WHERE TO WATCH IT NOW

Netflix. The complete series. Fourteen episodes total. Easily handled in one rainy weekend binge. 

Have you already seen Luther? What did you think?

Check out my 30 ROCK review here.