Kids’ Music, A Romance Novel, and New TV

Quote of the Week (From The Big Bang Theory):
Leonard: You know, some people might say that it's great that we're trying to make things work long distance.  They'd say, "Love is stronger than the miles between you."

Sheldon: When I rise to power, those people will be sterilized.

They Might Be Giants, Here Comes Science (***) [2009], Here Come the 123's [2007] – When my kids were younger, we listened to a lot this group's grown up stuff. Now they have actual kid albums with their usual cheerful tunes and clever lyrics, plus an added educational twist.  Favorite songs: "Photosynthesis", "Meet the Elements", "Triops Has Three Eyes", "Pirate Girls Nine".

My Life:
My new fall schedule is wonderful!  I like subbing just on Fridays. I have time to meet my writing goals, bike to the grocery, and organize my house.   Last week I had my bi-annual allergy appointment and got approved to decrease my allergy shots from every other week to every three weeks. Yay progress!

In cooking news, I learned how to roast peppers. It's pretty easy. They taste great as a topping on gluten-free pizza.

Anyone But You, by Jennifer Crusie [2006] (*** 1/2) – Recently divorced Nina loves her new independent life.  Instead of being the lonely helpmate of her work-alcoholic ex-husband, Nina is now an independent woman with her own editing job, her own cozy apartment, and even her own dog.   Her doddering rescue dog Fred helps Nina "cute-meet" the good-looking thirtysomething neighbor downstairs.  Forty-year-old Nina is sure she's way too old for Alex, even though he keeps coming over to watch old movies with her.  The story is like reading an appealing romantic comedy movie, but with better sex scenes. [Read the this ebook romance novel on Kindle for Droid.]  

Two Broke Girls (***) – This was probably my favorite of the new sitcom pilots.  There are some cringe-worthy ethnic stereotypes in the pilot and a number of easy jokes, but there were quite a few funny, surprising jokes. The pilot worked because both women were portrayed as smart, interesting people who use their talents to collaborate on a plan to lift themselve up together. Sadly, the second episode seemed way too much like a mediocre 70's sitcom. Here's hoping the show starts to have more faith in its characters and original jokes and stops relying on the clichéd bits.

Revenge (*** 1/2) – The fall 2011 TV season is turning out to be the year of the soap opera.  Revenge is probably my favorite of the new ones so far.  The show is set in the Hamptons and tells the story of a young woman who assumes a new identity and comes back to her childhood vacation home to get revenge on all the employees of a corporation that set her father up and had him falsely jailed. It's pretty engaging so far.

Person of Interest (**1/2) –  This pilot was more like a dull procedural than the action-adventure show I'd hoped it would be.

The Magnificient Twelve, Titanic, and New TV

TV Quote of the Week: "Just because I tell you things doesn't mean you're allowed to know them," Caroline on The Vampire Diaries.

My Life:
 I like having one of my kids at college.  The daughterling gets to enjoy the benefits of being an only child (something my son got when he was young), and I love texting with my son and reading about his new adventures in college.  I've successfully kept to my writing schedule and already had my first sub job. I had subbed for many of the same kids last year so I was called, "Mrs. Evil Octopus," all day by a bunch of happy second graders. Teaching is a lot more fun with a heaping dose of silliness.

Book Review:
The Magnificent Twelve: The Call, by Michael Grant [2010] (*** 1/2) – The Magnificent Twelve is a good choice for fans of The Wimpy Kid series and other fans of irreverent humor or lots of action.  Middle-schooler Mack has a lot of phobias. The only thing he isn't afraid of is the school bullies.  It's this quality that gets Mack selected to save the world from some ancient villain called, The Pale Queen, who had been sentenced to hell for 3000 years and has just been released.  This middle grade fantasy is packed with humor, quirky characters, and lots of action.  Apparently it's the first book in the series because the ending is pure cliffhanger.  [For ages 8-12.  Read the eBook on Nook for Droid.]

Titanic (****) – Titanic is one of the many  popular movies I didn't see in the early to mid-90's, when my kids were young and needy.  The story pulled me in and made me care about these characters. It dealt with a lot of issues that are becoming problems again, like class inequality  and the dangers of capitalism without regulation.  Mostly, the movie made me feel like I was right there on the ship while it was sinking and suddenly I cared about the 1,500 plus people that died in this tragedy long ago.

Doctor Who, season 6, pt. 2 (*** 1/2) – I am liking the second half of this season a lot more than the first half.  The emotional level has simmered down to realistic levels,  Rory is fun and reasonable, and there have been a number of good plots.

New Girl, pilot (** 1/2) – Quirky Jess (played by Zooey Deschanel) decides to get over her breakup with her cheating boyfriend by living with 3 guys she met through a Craigslist ad. I liked the actors in the show and I enjoyed some of Jess's odd quirks (like how she has her own theme song), but there were a ton of tired gender stereotypes in the pilot. Plus, Deschanel's Jess is pretty much a  manic-pixie dream girl (kind of like the modern dumb blonde updated for a new century.).  I'm willing to give the show a couple more chances to see if they iron out some of these problems.

Ringer, pilot (***) – Sarah Michelle Geller (Buffy) stars in this noir-mystery soap opera about twin sisters.  There was a lot of exposition in the plot but I was intrigued enough to keep watching and see what the writers do with these characters.

The Vampire Diaries, season 3 (****) – The season premiere was as fun and exciting as the first two seasons.  Can't wait for the next episode!

The Secret Circle, pilot (***) – This soap opera about a town of secret witches is written by the same people that wrote The Vampire Diaries, so the plot speeds along with secrets and intrigue, though so far, it lacks the zany fun of its sister show.  Instead the show has a very CW vibe about with plenty of beautiful people and soapy teen happenings.  The Vampire Diaries also started off overly soapy for the first 6-8 episodes, so I'm willing to give  it a few more chances to impress me.

Up All Night, pilot (*** 1/2) – I enjoyed this show about new parents.  While the pilot wasn't laugh aloud funny, it did make me smile a lot. I love how Christina Applegate's and Will Arnett's characters manage to be a caring couple, totally in love with their baby daughter, without being saccharine or clichéd.  The show explores work-home issues in a fresh way with lots of respect for both the working parent and the stay at home parent.  Part of the freshness is accomplished by having the man stay home and the woman go to work — a trend I see a lot more in real life too.

Summer 2011, Part 3: Music Reviews

I didn't listen to a new album every week, but I listened to one at least every other week. Though, I mostly kept to safe choices that fit in my music comfort-zone this summer.

Albums  Listened to This Summer:

Vanessa Carlton, Be Nobody [2002] (****), Heroes & Thieves [2007] (*** 1/2), Best of [2011] (****)
Vanessa Carlton is a piano playing songwriter who sings appealing pop music.  I'd never  heard of her until I was searching for Sierra-Victor fan videos on You Tube — in a moment of guilty-pleasure Dollhouse weakness– and found a video set to Vanessa Carlton's song, "Ordinary Day". 
Favorite Songs: "Ordinary Day", "A Thousand Days", "Twilight".

Adele, 21 [2011] (****)
You've heard of Adele, even if you don't know it, trust me you have.  She's the young British woman with a deep sultry voice who sings additively good songs. I first heard her this spring when my Jazz class danced to "Rumor Has It" and kept listening to her all summer. 
Favorite Songs: "Rolling in the Deep", "Rumor Has It", "Someone Like You", "Turning Tables".

Sufjan Stevens, Michigan [2003] (***), Come on Feel the Illinoise [2005] (*** 1/2), The Age of Adz [2010] (*** 1/2)
Several of my thirtysomething Facebook friends mentioned his music (though none of these friends know each other).  He sings indie folk rock with his banjo and has a number of state-themed albums, though is newest album has a more electronic sound.  His Michigan album even has a song about Holland, the town where my mom's family has reunions.  When I had my horrible sinus infection I listened to "I Want to Be Well" over and over.
Favorite Songs: "Futile Devices", "I Want to Be Well", "Chicago", "Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, IL".

Amy Winehouse, Back to Black [2006] (*** 1/2)
Before her death I'd really only heard the song, "Rehab", and didn't liked it that much.  After her death decided to check out the rest of her album and enjoyed it. 
Favorite Songs: "Tears Dry On Their Own", "Back to Black".

Soundtrack from The Vampire Diaries [2010] (*** 1/2)
Good guilty-pleasure bedtime music, the kind of emo sugar-coated songs I like the very first time I listen and then quickly tire of. The instrumental music pieces make my life feel more tense and dramatic than usual.
Favorite Songs: "Bloodstream", "Down", "Running Up That Hill", "Stefan's Theme".

Tears for Fears, The Hurting [1983] (***), Songs From the Big Chair [1985] (*** 1/2)
The Vampire Diaries soundtrack covered a Tears for Fears song which got me nostalgic for the real thing. I hadn't listened to these songs in years.  The weird thing about music is how a song can send me straight back to the sights and sounds  I experienced when I first listened to the song.  I listened to a lot of Tears for Fears when I was Euro-railing in Germany.  It was fun having flashbacks of watching cabbage fields roll by or brushing my teeth in the tiny train bathrooms.
Favorite Songs:  "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" , "Shout", "Mad World", "Head Over Heels".

The Rapture, Pieces of the People We Love [2006] (*** 1/2)
The Rapture sounds a lot like the 80's new wave I used to enjoy.  They're the ones who sing the theme song to Misfits, though it's not on this album.
Favorite Songs:  "Don Gon Do It", "Pieces of The People We Love", "Calling Me".

Summer 2011, Part 2: TV Reviews

TV Quote: "Who leaves a dead body lying around to be discovered? We never do and we're not exactly the most competent killers." Nathan on Misfits

Favorite Shows That Were New to Me:
Misfits, seasons 1 & 2 (*** 1/2) – Misfits turned out to be a fun show. Five young offenders are doing community service when a freak thunderstorm gives them each a different superpower that deals with their biggest insecurity. So the shy guy can turn invisible and the girl who has trouble getting along with others can now read minds. The show never takes itself too seriously and the fun is more in hanging out with the characters than a "save the world" plot.

The show has a definite British feel to it. The characters are more realistic than in an American show. No one is rich, super smart, drop-dead gorgeous, or super witty, instead they're all realistic young people grappling with how to make friends, date, figure out who they are, and survive difficult times. The humor tends to be more crude and irreverent too.

Each season is only six or seven episodes long and season two starts to add a bit of mythology to the mix and cranks up the fun. [Both seasons 1 and 2 are available to watch for free on Hulu. Because the show has a mature rating, you need to have a free Hulu account to watch.]

Skins, season 5  (*** 1/2) – The third group of Skins teens were a refreshing change from group two.  Each character has interests and personality– some of them are downright adorable.  There's still a disturbing level of drugs, drinking, and theft, but overall the season is testament to friendship and acceptance. [Bought episodes on iTunes.]

Burn Notice, seasons 1 & 2 (***) – Michael Weston loves being a spy.  In the middle of a tense arms deal he finds out he's been "burned" or cut off from all support.  Now he's stuck in Miami doing weekly jobs helping someone "in need" while he slowly unravels the mystery of who burned him and why.
The characters have a refreshing sardonic view on life and are realistically dysfunctional, flawed people who take a lot of pride in doing their job well.  There's a real joy that comes out in the details of their expert conning skills and their ability to make all kinds of gadgets.  The concept started to get a bit tiresome, for me, after the first season.  But I still mostly enjoyed the second season and thought the second season finale would have made a good ending for the show. [ Watched on DVD from Netflix.  Episodes are also available to buy on iTunes.]

Favorite Shows I Rewatched:

Dollhouse (**** 1/2) – The end of season two is really more like a couple seasons worth of events condensed into a few episodes.  It's a bit overwhelming the first time watching but quite satisfying the third time. It's also fun to see how much of the second season is hinted at in the first season. [Watched on Netflix Instant.]

The Vampire Diaries (*** 1/2) – I decided to rewatch the first two seasons while I waited for season three.  I love how this show runs through plot and how the actors have fun with their roles.  Now that's how you do a soap opera! [Bought episodes on iTunes.]

Shows That Pass the Time:
Doctor Who, season 6, part 1 (***) – I mostly enjoy this show, but I can't help feeling that the show's emotional level has reached 11 of 10 one too many times.   Plus, while I like the companions being married this time, I'm a bit tired of Rory whining about how Amy doesn't pay enough attention to him and get annoyed when the Doctor feels he needs to ask Rory permission to hug Amy or talk to her. I was fine with the River Song reveal but would be happier if Steven Moffat time traveled away from his life in the 1950s and just let me enjoy Amy and Rory.  [Rented episodes on iTunes.]

Most Disappointing Shows:

Skins, season 4 (**) – Unfortunately the writers of Skins, season four, took the opposite approach from The Vampire Diaries, making the characters more tedious and unlikeable as the season progressed.  There were one or two enjoyable episodes, including an awesome ukelele orchestra serenade.  Overall though, I never imagined sex, drugs, mental illness, suicide and even murder could be so dull. [Rented episodes on iTunes.]

Camelot (** 1/2) –  The scenery is beautiful and the actors pretty but the plot is a bore.  I enjoyed when the show focused on nation building or ambitious vulnerable Morgan Le Fey,  but found Arthur and his affair with Guinevere dull. [Watched on Netflix Instant.]

The Nine Lives of Chloe King, season 1 (** 1/2) – This summertime story moved a lot slower than a fantasy action-adventure should.  Instead of action we got a lot of slow moving teen soap opera plots with a few cute moments.  Then came the finale and lots of exciting stuff finally happened. [Watched on Hulu.]

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: 2011 Version, Part 1

TV Quote: "The human mind is like Van Halen. If you pull out one piece and keep replacing it, it just degenerates." Topher in Dollhouse

Life: This was one of the best summers I've had in a long time. I watched my son graduate from high school, went on a writing retreat, celebrated my dad's 70th birthday with my siblings and their families, went camping at Assateague Island, visited Burlington, Vermont, and actually wrote some of my middle grade novel.

I was completely healthy all of July and mostly healthy in August. Sure I woke up achy every August morning — like every grass pollen season — and I still lacked energy,  but my mind was clear and headache-free. It was a wonderful change! All it took was allergy shots, saltwater rinses, a gluten-free diet, and taking Zyrtec every 12 hours — piece of cake. 😉

Local Produce– The farmer's market experience has exploded in my area.  This summer I decided to buy all my produce at the farmer's markets instead of the grocery store.  We feasted on delicious cherries, blueberries, cantaloupe, peaches, and watermelon. 

Gardening– Martin grew cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and basil.  We loved having fresh cut up cucumber sticks in the frig all summer long, basil to sprinkle on our pizzas, and enjoyed eating zucchini slow-cooked in olive oil and sprinkled with feta cheese.

Biking- I've been walking to the grocery store for two years now.  In August I decided to ramp up my exercise level and started biking to the store some too.  I learned that gears are essential for biking on hills and that I can carry a watermelon, cantaloupe, and peaches in a backpack and still bike home.

Exploring Gluten-Free Grains– I learned to love my rice cooker this summer.  We now know the difference between jasmine and basmati rice and have discovered tasty filling quinoa (pronounced: keen-wa).  I also learned to make gluten-free chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies that tasted just like the regular kind.

Homemade Frappacinos–  I created this recipe based on what I thought the store bought Frappacinos were made of.  To make your own yummy cold breakfast drink: (1) disolve a 1/4 cup of sugar into 3 cups of  hot coffee, (2) pour into a container (I used empty glass cranberry juice jars), (3) add 3 cups milk,  (4) put lid on and shake, (5) put in refrigator over night. 

Jazz Dance Performance Class –  My dance teacher — the quietest, most polite supervillian I've ever met — convinced me to take her performance dance class.  I spent ten Sunday mornings — and countless evening crash-sessions by myself — learning our dance routine to Bob Fosse's "Big Spender".  We performed it to a packed house at the studio's small stage.  I enjoyed performing so much, I might actually try it again next summer.

Writing Retreat – Spent a few days with three writing friends in a large modern cabin tucked in the woods of Appalachia.  We chatted about books, TV, and writing.  Plus, I got some excellent advice on streamlining my projects and getting serious about actually finishing a novel.

Camping at Assateague –  I took the daughterling and two other teens camping at Assateague again.  The beauty of  this trip is how smoothly everything seems to go.  The girls are fun and capable, the weather turned out to be sunny, and there wasn't a single storm.

Vermont–  The daughterling and I visted Burlington, Vermont and loved it.  The lake is beautiful and the town has a fun bohemian-college feel that's pedestrian friendly.  We went on boat cruise, toured a teddy bear factory, visited a farm that makes its own cheddar cheese, and watched chocolate being made at the Lake Champlain Chocolate Company. There were all kinds of good restaurants, each with plenty of gluten-free options — as well as vegetarian and vegan choices– so I was able to eat crepes, pizza, and some sort of tasty polenta dish. Yum!