Thursday, June 23, 2016

"The Good Wife" is not just your parents' show

Yes, Gilmore Girls. That is "Logan" in the background there.

There once was a show that my parents and their friends loved, and I thought that because it was marketed towards the parental crowds, it couldn't possibly be of interest to me. Then, out of new shows to watch and skimming through the Amazon Prime offerings, I decided to give "The Good Wife" a try. My intention was for it to be a show I'd watch when Nathan was at work - but he happened to be around when I was watching the first episode and all it took was 45 minutes and we were both irretrievably hooked.

In fact, we were so hooked that we watched it to the exclusion of almost everything else, which lost us a few pivotal episodes of "Arrow" - one of our very favorite shows! Talk about addictive! But WHY? Why is this show so great? And why are none of my friends talking about it?

First, a synopsis.

Alicia Florrick is a stay-at-home mom of two - but her life is turned upside down when her politician husband is caught in a sex scandal and sent to prison. Now Alicia heads back to practice law at a prestigious law firm headed up by none other than her former college flame.

Now this might sound like the beginnings of a sleezy soap opera - but trust me folks, it's anything but. "The Good Wife" is one of the most intelligent, superbly executed shows I've ever seen. The writing, camera work, direction, acting and pacing is all top notch. I could seriously use this show as a 'textbook' for a film class, because it contains so many examples of quality filmmaking (even though it is 'just tv.')

"But politics and law - doesn't that make it divisive?" Sure. But it's a balanced divisive. Although the main characters are mostly liberal democrats, I swear there is someone high up on the production who knows and understands conservative values because both sides are always considered no matter what the case or issue. Indeed, the show contains some of the very best portrayals of Christian and conservative characters I've ever seen on television! One series long plotline is the (mild spoiler) the faith journey of Alicia's daughter Grace, who starts the show as a plucky eleven-year-old and grows into a graceful, intelligent young woman with a strong moral compass.

On the other side of the age spectrum is law partner Diane Lockhart, played by Christine Baranski. Although I've never enjoyed Baranski previously, I absolutely adored the grace and conviction she brought to the character here. Although I personally would disagree with many of Diane's views, I admire the deep integrity she has. In a profession where everyone eventually compromises, Diane shows a moral compass that most of the other characters lack.*

Indeed, Alicia herself morphs as the show continues (more about that in the spoiler section), and that bothered many longtime watchers. She was never my favorite character, so I was content to wax philosophical as she changed. People don't stay the same through life, particularly not when going through everything Alicia endures, so I was fascinated just to watch. No idols were destroyed for me.

In addition to the wonderful women on the show,  there are strong male characters as well (so rarely do you get BOTH in a production). Perhaps my favorite is the conniving Eli Gold, a publicity strategist played by the delightful Alan Cumming. He's great fun to watch, especially when his own young daughter matures into her role and plays a quirky foil to his character.

I also greatly enjoyed the reoccurring role of a sneaky, underhand lawyer as played by Michael J. Fox. Fox, of course, is himself disabled, and he plays a disabled character here. I LOVED that his character uses his disability to manipulate others! As a disabled person myself, I so appreciated that he was given a part to play that utilized his disability within the story in a negative way! He wasn't thrown in as a 'token disabled character' but rather given a complicated part that (usually) casts him as a villain!

(Indeed, I have never seen a show that so completely diversifies itself in all ways - religion, race, abilities, etc. It's brilliant.)

Then there is Peter Florrick, Alicia's wayward and repentant husband. Dynamic, powerful, and deeply flawed, he is fascinating to watch. Truly, I believe, the right partner for Alicia, but...

,,, but, well, spoilers. Because nothing is simple in this show. And while good characters are enough to keep many a show going (I only scratched the surface of the amazing cast), this production also carries a strong plot. Each episode contains both a stand-alone story (although with many wonderful repeating characters) and ties into the greater ongoing plot. Never repetitive, they manage to bring a new twist to each new court case, exploring the world of politics and law from angles I never previously considered. I found myself leaving the show with a much greater appreciation for and understanding of our court system.

(Side note - my husband grew up in Chicago where the show takes place - and his best friend's father is a Chicago area judge! Gave a fun personal note to watching it).

Now I have a few spoilers, BUT first let's talk content. It is a CBS network show, but aired late at night. So yes, there is sex. And yes, there is lesbian sex which I know will be uncomfortable for some of my readers so I'm laying it out there. I personally considered the show worth watching despite these elements, but that won't be everyone's cup of tea. Just an FYI.

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Now. SPOILER talk. SKIP this section until you finish all 7 seasons!!! Then come back and discuss!

The show is called "The Good Wife" and it's a good name. Alicia struggles throughout the show with remaining in her marriage to Peter. She took a vow and she takes it seriously... but then she doesn't. She stays nominally in the marriage, but seeks love elsewhere. As a viewer, we understand why she does, but as the show progresses we lose more and more sympathy for her. At first we, like the public, laud her decision of faithfulness. "St. Alicia" the newspapers call her, and she is her husband's biggest asset as he runs for various political offices. But behind the scenes, her halo tarnishes. Eventually there is no reason not to divorce Peter - indeed, Alicia becomes more and more a hypocrite as the show progresses. "The Good Wife" is, by grammatical policy, included in quotes because it is the title. But it should also be in quotes because it is an ideal that fades and twists as Alicia wrestles with it, the truth and the questions growing ever darker. Is she a good wife? Should she continue to be one? Should she continue to appear the good wife?

In the end, she finally accepts that to reclaim her integrity, she must finally relinquish that title and proceed with the long postponed divorce. But not before she makes one last 'good wife' gesture, and in doing so possibly destroys the marriage of the show's true character of integrity, Diane Lockhart. Remember that * I put after my Lockhart paragraph? That's because I believe, at the end of the show, the true "Good Wife" has become not Alicia, but Diane. 
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END SPOILERS

I loved this show. I doubt it would have appealed to me in the same way when I was in my early 20's, but certainly as I approach the later end of that decade, there was a lot to relate to. If you love good storytelling with complex characters and a lot of deep issues to contemplate while the suspense always keeps you on the edge of your seat... than this is a drama for you to try. I'll warn you that seasons 3 and 4 bog down a little, but after that it picks back up again, so stick with it!


Seasons 1-6 are currently on Amazon Prime (with 7, I'm sure, soon to follow) and all 7 seasons are on CBS's monthly paid streaming service.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Introvert's Date Night

I love going out, enjoying a nice meal at a restaurant, and enjoying a play or film.

But guys,  movie theaters give me migraines. My food allergies make eating out nearly impossible - even before taking budget into account. And then between my deafness, my aspergers and my fibromyalgia, over-simulation is a real barrier to leaving the house for extended periods of time, even when I'm having a good day!

And then I married an introvert. After working all day, the last thing he wants to do is leave the house.

So for us, keeping the romance in our marriage alive is more about connecting over the small things than fancy date nights. Being intentional about the relationship pays off, even in the smallest of ways. However, you don't see many lists for "how to have an introverted/allergen friendly/fibromyalgia appropriate date" so I thought I'd write one of my own.

Here are some ways Nathan and I intentionally create special moments to connect and grow our marriage:

Out and About

- Going grocery shopping together. I can't drive right now, so either Nathan shops alone or a friend shops for us. When we DO make it to the store together, it's a BIG DEAL. We really love Trader Joe's because it's budget friendly, and being so small it is a) predictable (not so overstimulating) and b) short!

- Going to Home Depot together. Since we bought a house, Home Depot has been a really fun excursion for us. We have to spend the money anyhow, so we might as well have fun doing it. Figuring out how to spruce up our home together is pretty exciting!

- Going used book shopping together. We live pretty close to a used bookstore and we love popping over there for an hour or so - especially when they're having a sale!

- Going to a community production together. We have a lot of friends that do theater, so it's not about options, it's about taking in a show at a time when a) I'm well, b) we can afford it, and c) there isn't anything else going on!

- Value car time together. When we're in the car, we talk. Sometimes we're quiet, of course, but some of our most interesting philosophical conversations have happened when we're on the road!

At Home

- Watching stuff together. Like most couples, we have our shows that we watch together, and we make a point to connect over them and discuss them together. Because I can't do movie theaters, Nathan always waits to watch everything with me when it comes out on DVD, and we will often try to make some special food for something really big (like Star Wars!).

- Playing games together. Hobby games have exploded this decade, so that there's something for everyone! Nathan tends to like more complicated games than I do, so we often compromise on just what game we are playing (i.e. I pick the game and he is happy to have someone playing with him). We are both pretty into Catan, although we also love Pathfinder: Skulls and Shakles, Ticket to Ride, and Pandemic.

- Writing together. We've done short stories where I'll start and pass to him, and he'll start another one at the same time and pass back to me, and we do this until we're tired of writing. OR we both work on our own projects, but in the same room.

- Relax together. This works especially well when you have a hammock and it takes a little planning to take it outside and take a break from everything else!

- Enjoying take-out together. Because of dietary and budget restrictions, we make about 99% of our food from scratch (except noodles, chips and condiments). However, every now and then my sensitivities fluctuate enough for us to enjoy a chipolte together - even if we have to enjoy it at home! I tell you any meal I don't have to cook is a treat indeed!!!

- Join a small group together. For us, this is our weekly RPG game that we host. Planning it and discussing characters together is a regular point of connection and fun for us - especially RPing scenes with just our characters in between group sessions!

- Make music together. We both love music, and, rather magically, our vocal range and tone complement each other perfectly. I prefer to lead the music, and Nathan prefers to follow, so we make a good team and neither of us are shy about singing together. (Indeed, I make up random songs all the time and Nathan either teases me about it, or provides impromtu percussion in the background...)

- Pray together. If you are religious, I must say that praying together (and FOR one another) is one of the biggest things you can do to grow your marriage. It's not just about connecting with each other - but it's about connecting to the source of LIFE together.

There are other things I dream about doing, but we just don't have the time for. I think of watching Tai Chi or ballroom dancing videos together and learning those moves. I hope someday we will actually write a book together. If my health gets to a better point, we'd probably enjoy going to a Farmer's Market together, or game nights hosted by our friends.

What are your stay-at-home date night favorites?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Puppy's First Week & Basement Water

"Many waters cannot quench love" says "Song of Songs", and some adorable puppy love is just what we needed to get through this last week when our basement flooded. (None of our stuff was ruined, but the floor and part of the wall need to be replaced). Actually, we caught the flood earlier than expected because Nathan had to take Mateo outside, and our neighbor just happened to be out and told Nathan how much rain we'd gotten the previous night... which led Nathan to go check the basement.

Remember our lovely bookshelf we built in? that all had to come out. Every single book. They're all dry - but we needed to get at the floor beneath it. UGH UGH UGH.


Happily, we did get Mateo five days early, and so last week was full of puppy adventures - from the delightful cuddles to the sleep-depriving crate training. (he's in pretty good shape now but Nathan and I are SO TIRED from taking him out 2-3 times every night. AMAZING how just a few minutes of messed up sleep cycles can throw off your whole day.)


But oh, he loves us and we love him!



And sometimes, when the camera is pressed at the exact right moment, you get really funny photos!




He loves his crate.


Mateo is 3/4ths Shih Tzu, and 1/4th Chihuahua. Shih Tzu's range between 9-15 lbs, and Chihuahua's between 4-6lbs. Considering that at 9 weeks, Mateo weighed in at 4lbs 12oz, I think he's going to lean towards the bigger end of the scale! He's putting on about an ounce a day - we can almost see him grow!


He sits at my feet. Of course, now that I've started letting him up on my writing chair, he will not be happy until he can be up there with me.


He wasn't so big on the hammock...


...but he thinks belly rubs are the BEST!


Nathan is not only dealing with puppy and basement water - he is also proofing my book! Late, late nights.


The garden continues to grow beautifully. I love going out first thing every morning and seeing how much it has grown overnight.


We took Mateo to my parent's for Father's Day yesterday, and that went much better than I was expecting.


"I'm glad we got Mateo," my cat-preferring husband admitted to me last night.


Me too, honey. Me too.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

It Takes a Village to Edit a Book

Writing is a solitary profession... to an extent. As I get into the final editing stages of "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" I find myself overwhelmed by the generosity of so many people over the course of this project. Not just my friends and family (some of whom have read parts or the entire manuscript multiple times), but also friends of friends and complete strangers who have lent me their expertise to read and critique various areas of the book. They have all given generously, with no thought of gain or glory, and I am humbled and encouraged by this. I will never be able to thank any of them enough, although I have done my best to keep track of all the names and include them in the acknowledgements.

To those of you who know I'm speaking of you... THANK YOU!

To everyone else - know that if you ever give your time to me or another author, we don't (or at least, shouldn't!) take a moment of it for granted, and your help is a tremendous boost of confidence and encouragement.

Friday, June 10, 2016

"The Mermaid and the Unicorn" Release Date!

Dear Friends,
I am so excited to announce the establishment of my publishing company – Geek Haus Press – and the release date for my first novel, “The Mermaid and the Unicorn.” After four long years of waiting, you will finally be able to purchase both print and ebook copies on August 15th, 2016! 
muted 3
Cover Art by Carolyn Hausladen
 Daphne Woodhouse jumps at the chance to join her college’s study abroad program at a Parisian convent. Although thrilled to immerse herself in French Art and History, she soon finds herself drawn into a hidden world of myths and legends come to life. There’s a mysterious nun guarding the convent’s secret garden, a glamorous nightclub owner soliciting Daphne’s musical skills, something sinister stalking her in the shadows… and of course, the handsome and chivalrous Derek Moon, who is determined to win Daphne’s heart. When the fate of a magical species is laid in Daphne’s hands, she must make a choice that will change her future forever.

Some of you may recall that I was originally slotted to release this book as part of a multi-author YA series for Chesterton Press. As matters progressed, it became clear that it would make the most financial sense for both parties if I were to edit out the series tie-in details and self-publish. I am grateful to CP for getting me started on the amazing adventure of telling this story, and I can’t wait to share it with all of you!
Check out the new Geek Haus Press website and Facebook page, and sign up for our mailing list to be the first to learn ordering details!
Thank you for your support!
Elizabeth Amy Hajek

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Jullian Fellowes presents "Doctor Thorne"

Upon finishing "Downton Abbey" this winter, the same question was on many minds: "What do we watch next?" Amazon, being the nifty business mind that it is, anticipated this and swiftly contracted "Downton Abbey" writer Julian Fellowes to write and oversee a 4-part adaptation of Anthony Trollope's "Doctor Thorne."

"Doctor Thorne" is deliberately filmed to envoke the "Good Old BBC Costume Drama" feel, while maintaining rather better quality. It is a delightful summer story, with conflict but no plot twists that could be deemed too distressing. Although a key plot point is the illegitimate birth of a central character, and although Amazon gave it a TV-14 rating, there really is nothing in the least objectionable about any part of this drama.

Indeed, it is great fun, with delicious eye candy in the form of costumes, setting and actors. And the actors do the piece justice, with Tom Hollander carrying the film's emotional center in the part of Doctor Thorne himself. Although most of us will remember Hollander as Mr. Collins from "Pride and Prejudice" or his villainous turn in "Pirates of the Caribbean", there is no doubt that he is superbly cast here (no surprise, as it is a fairly common truth that the actors who often play villains are typically extremely kind and lovely people IRL).

The talented Ian McShane plays a pivotal role reminiscent of Dickens, and Alison Brie ("Community") is charming in the supporting role of a highly sought after American Heiress. But equally delightful are the relative unknowns cast as the young people in this drama, and roles which could have taken an overly-dramatic stock character route are consistently lent gravitas and depth.

Although the end of the story is most predictable, the execution is done so well that the viewer is not likely to mind. I finished the four installments FAR too quickly, ending with great laughter and wishing that Amazon and Fellowes will reuinite in the near future to adapt another Trollope work. In the meantime I may just have to investigate the original works of this prolific author myself!

"Doctor Thorne" is an Amazon exclusive, free for Prime Members. If you don't have Prime, this may be a good incentive to take advantage of their free monthly trial for their video-only streaming service

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

While Beauty Slept - A Historical Sleeping Beauty

I love fairy tale retellings. And while "Beauty and the Beast" and "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" might be my favorites, I also have a certain personal connection to "Sleeping Beauty." Between my childhood illustrated version of the tale in sign language, the interest in spinning wheels it sparked in me, and connecting to Beauty herself in several ways (long awaited child, my health causing me to sleep so much, etc), it is the tale I perhaps most identify with. Not to mention that Regina Doman's "Waking Rose" is my all time favorite book, and Orson Scott Card's "Enchantment" is quite possibly in my top twenty.

I have previously wondered how any fairy tale might have origins in history (something that I discuss in "The Mermaid and the Unicorn") but until now, I have not found a version of Sleeping Beauty that took this premise seriously. "While Beauty Slept" may not be set in real history, but it functions as such. There is no magic confirmed in the tale, and historical Christianity is real. You can mentally choose to set the story in France, England, Germany, or any Northern European country of your choice.

For "While Beauty Slept" by Elizabeth Blackwell is the tale of the Sleeping Beauty as told by her mother's waiting-maid, a smart young woman of modesty and integrity named Elise. Elise is connected to the royal palace by blood and by history, but she makes her own mark on the royal family through her own virtues.

Disney's Maleficent is here transformed to Millicent - a woman with ties to witchcraft (although no magic is ever confirmed. You can choose whether to believe science or dark spiritual forces, in true historical faction).

I will caution younger readers against this book. Although Elise is conservative and virtuous, there are scenes of sensuality and a couple with married sex. I thought they were well written, but they're definitely in there, so if you're not comfortable with such, pass this book by.

Anyhow, if you're looking for a good adult fairy tale retelling, I'd recommend this one as a good read. It's longer than it looks - the pages are VERY thin.