July 2009: In Brief, Part 1

Highlights:

Writing Project Gets Attacked By Wagner-Loving Grass Pollen– Grass season was supposed to end in June.  Then I was going to finish the fourth draft of my kid novel.  Grass pollen– my #1 allergen — didn’t get the memo.  Instead it rose up in the air to the tune of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, flew straight in my direction at the library, and totally destroyed my allergy shot miracle.  I was back to downing Benadryl, hiding inside my house, and getting little writing done.  Curse that Wagner and his influence on pollen!  (Okay, I admit there was no Wager playing, but if my life had a soundtrack — uh, one other than what my music player had — that Wagner piece would have been playing in the library each day.)

Before the onslaught I did get through 16 of 36 rough chapters.  I’m told the shots will work even better after another year though.  Yes please.

SCBWI Conference In Westminster–  The MD/WV/DE conference in Westminster is my favorite. They have good speakers, the nicest group of volunteers, and a wonderful set-up at Mc Daniel College. (It’s the last year for this location though.  *Sniff*)  The best part of conferences, for me, is getting to see all my writing friends and talk books and TV.

New Allergy Mystery– The first half of the July it was grass allergies that tormented me. In the second half I couldn’t figure out what was bothering me.  The grass pollen was gone and we don’t have much weed pollen in Bethesda.  I tried staying only inside, then only outside, and still, my allergies were unrelenting.  What was I allergic to this time?  Martin decided it was dust.  So he and the daughterling took on the gigantic task of removing the ancient carpet from our room.  They also replaced the mattress I bought from my parents back in the 80s.  I loved the look of the clean wooden floor and the new mattress was quite comfortable, but my head was still swamped in mucus.  Curses!  The mystery continued….

Fiction Books Finished:
The Spellman Files
(***), by Lisa Lutz- 28-year-old Izzie Spellman has decided that she’s never going to have a normal life until she moves away from her family. That’s going to be tricky since she rents an apartment in their house and works for their private detective agency.  Her quest for independence is an enjoyable journey into both the world of a private investigators and the world of caring but eccentric families.

Ivy & Bean (***), by Annie Barrows- Seven-year-old Bean is looking for a friend.  She rejects her mother’s suggestion to introduce herself to that "nice girl" Ivy across the street.  Active Bean is sure Ivy — in pretty dresses with her hair neatly held back in a headband– will be perfectly boring.  Then Bean plays a joke on her older sister and is forced to flee over by Ivy’s house to hide.  It turns out girls in pretty dresses aren’t always as "nice" or as boring as they look.

The story is simple, fun, and illustrated.  It’s broken up into short chapters that are just the right size for an advanced-beginning reader who wants to try her first chapter book.  It’s a popular series with the early first and second grade readers at my school. (For ages 6-10)

July 2009: In Brief, Part 2

Movies:
Charm School (***1/2 ) – A cute Mexican foreign film about an adventurous college student who is sent to charm school by her politician dad to help his chances of being endorsed by a key local businessman.  Yes, the movie is cliched and a bit sexist — despite supposedly being against sexism.  Still, it’s a fun girl-power, pop-culture kind of movie that made practicing Spanish enjoyable.  As a bonus, it introduced me to several Mexican pop singers that were fairly easy to understand. (Saw this on Netflix Instant Viewing.)

TV:
Doctor Who (series 2,3) This show saved me from summer allergy boredom.  If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out.  It’s very fun and something you can watch with everyone in the family.

The basics: In 2005, the BBC retooled its classic show with better sets and special effects. The Doctor, the last of the Time Lords of Gallifrey, seeks out new experiences across time, in any part of the universe he wants. To keep from getting lonely, he invites a human companion (occasionally a couple of them) to ride with him in his spaceship, the Tardis — a big blue box that looks like a British 1950’s police box. You don’t need to have seen the older shows to understand it and don’t really even have to watch it in order either.  I watched the first 3 series (British seasons) on Netflix Instant Viewing.

Doctor Who in a Nutshell–  Basically each episode goes something like this:
1) Wow! Look at this cool planet/point-in-time. 
2) Hmmm… something is not right.
3) Let’s try to figure out what’s going on. 
4) Oh no!  We’re in terrible trouble!  Run!
5) Ack!  We can’t.  Fight!
6) Oh my God!  We’re going to die in seconds if we don’t do the thing that seems impossible to do. 
7) Yay!  We figured out a way to do the impossible. 
8) Whew!  That was close.
9) What a fantastic adventure.  Where should we go next?  
10) Lather, rinse, and repeat over 4 seasons with 2 different doctors, 3 different companions, and numerous different planets, periods in time, and interesting details.

Weirdly, my life often follows this pattern too– just in a more mundane way. It’s quite comforting to see someone else go through problem-solving steps in a way more fun and adventurous way.

Added Notes: A number of the stories play out over two or three episodes, especially near the end of each season.  While the tone is often fun and adventurous, there are some thoughtful and sad episodes too. 

June 2009: In Brief, Part 2

Non-Fiction Books Finished:
The Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, (***1/2) – Gladwell’s books are like chatting with some entertaining professor in a bar.  They’re quick reads, each on a different fascinating topic.  This time the topic is what makes someone an outlier (a stand-out) in their field.  The answer contains both expected and surprising elements.

TV– Top 5 Favorites of the Month (In A,B,C Order)
Buffy: seasons 2,3 (*****) – I watched in French and Spanish without subtitles this time. Plenty of action and playful dialog makes rewatching Buffy in French and Spanish interesting.  Sometimes the dialog is translated literally, sometimes figuratively, and sometimes they just rewrite it to something bland but more straightforward.

Doctor Who: series 1 (***) – Review coming in my July Inbrief

Firefly (*****) – I watched in Spanish without subtitles.  Like Buffy, Firefly has plenty of action and clever dialog that makes it fun for rewatching in Spanish (or French).

Pushing Daisies (***1/2) – I’m glad they aired the last 3 episodes and wrapped up the plot in a satisfying way.

Slings & Arrows: season 1,2,3 (****) – If you love theater, check out this Canadian comedy on DVD starring Paul Gross (formerly in Due South and currently in Eastwick).  After their artistic director dies, the New Brubbage Theater asks Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross) to come back and help the theater recover.  Geoffrey left six years ago when he had a nervous breakdown in the middle of Hamlet and isn’t sure he can keep his sanity working there again.  This show is funny, inspiring, and chock full of quirky actors, Shakespearean scenes, and wonderful behind the scenes theater moments.  Each 6-episode season focuses on one main play: one season it’s Hamlet, of course, season two is MacBeth, and season three they do King Lear.

June 2009: In Brief, Part 1

Highlights:
Sub Job – My last sub job for the school year was on field day as the computer teacher. In the morning, I herded a first grade class around the field day activities. In the afternoon, I taught two computer lessons, then spent the rest of the afternoon reading shelves in the media center. What’s reading a shelf? Apparently, it means looking at each and every non-fiction book on a shelf and making sure they’re in the correct Dewy Decimal order.  I love sub jobs with so much variety: a little running around, a little teaching, a little quiet work.  It makes the time fly by.

Vacation– We took 7 kids (2 of them ours) camping at Assateague Island and had a great time as usual.

Fiction Books Finished:

(The) London Eye Mystery, by Siobhan Dowd (****) – An excellent middle grade mystery about a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome trying to figure out how his cousin simply disappeared on the London Eye (that big ferris wheel on the Thames.) I liked that the mystery was both a tense situation that held my attention, but also a case that older children could realistically solve in real life. (For ages 9 and up)

Sloppy Firsts, by Megan McCafferty (**** 1/2) – This is one of the best young adult chick-lit type books I’ve read. Jessica Darling’s best friend Hope moved away and now Jessica is forced to endure high school without the one person in the world who understands her. Instead she’s left with the friendship of "the clueless crew", a set of girls she’s out grown but can’t seem to part with either. Jessica’s wit and sensitivity make this story of high school truthful, funny, and especially insightful. (For ages 14 and up)
[Parent note: There is cursing, sexual innuendo, and drinking — though with consequences. Also, parents should know this is the first book in a series of five. I’ve only read this first book, but I hear the last three books take place after high school and are more mature in nature.]

Three to Get Deadly and Four to Score, both by Janet Evanovich (***) – The Stephanie Plum bounty hunter series is like a bag of potato chips for me. Sure, it’s not the best ever, but it satisfies my craving for something fun, and I can’t seem to stop at just one, or three, or…