Wyclef Jean, Problem Solving, and Escapist TV

Quote of the Week (From The Good Wife)
Will: "But let's not expose ourselves on a subway platform unless we have to."
Diane: "Oh, what a colorful and pointless metaphor."

Music:
Wyclef Jean, The Carnival Volume II (Memoirs of an Immigrant) [2007] (***); Greatest Hits [2003] (***) –  Wyclef Jean sings hip-hop with a healthy dose of social commentary and island flavor, and without the angry sexism that plagues a lot of hip-hop.  My favorite Wyclef Jean song, hands down, is "Fast Car" featuring Paul Simon.  If you liked Paul Simon's Graceland Album, definitely check out the song, "Fast Car". It's the perfect combination of hip-hop, island sound, catchy chorus, and social commentary. 

The Joy of Problem Solving:
Last week our weather turned so tropical I began to wonder if I'd moved to Florida and just forgot to mention it to myself. One evening when I was walking into town, I looked up the weather on my phone. It wasn't raining but the humidity was 94%!
 
The tropical weather brought my arch-nemesis pollen with it, and I once again battled with sinus issues.  To make things more fun, I also have a new kidney stone. Despite my health issues I had a mostly productive week.  What changed?

Problem solving is the savior I'd been waiting for.  My greatest comfort comes from imagining myself in a lab coat with Tina Fey glasses holding a clipboard and going over the facts and data about my situation.

The more facts I know about allergies and kidney stones, the better I can fight them.  The more data I take on my problems, the more I can problem solve and figure out what makes my conditions worse and what makes them better.   I note what I eat, what medications or home remedies I try, and what the result of each of the actions is.

It works too!  I had mild discomfort all week, yet I was able to keep the pain manageable enough to write, bike, cook, and even have some fun.

Yay problem solving!  You rock.

PS- So far, this week the weather is thankfully cool and fall-like.

TV:
Nikita (*** 1/2) –  I'm enjoying the second season of Nikita.  No, it's not a great show by any standard, but it is a fun show, with just the escapist qualities I enjoy in my TV watching.  There are plenty of pretty men and women kicking ass because of their dedicated training and expert skills.  Plus, the actors look like they have a lot of fun with their characters and just when I'm getting bored of the overall plot, the writers do something unexpected to surprise me.

Pam Am (***) – I've seen two episodes of Pam AM now and am still only mildly interested in it.  The sets and costumes are striking and I like all the characters but the stories haven't really grabbed me so far.

Terra Nova (** 1/2) – I was looking forward to this futuristic sci-fi adventure about people traveling back in time to an undamaged earth with dinosaurs.   It  has great sets and special-effects. I'd expect nothing less given its 20 million dollar budget. Unfortunately, what is doesn't have is a well-developed storyworld or good writing.  The characters are all lazy Hollywood stereotypes, their futuristic world doesn't make a lot of sense, and the plot is trite and predictable.  How disappointing! That was an easy one to cross of my list.

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.]

Movies:
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.

TV:
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.

Book Review for City of Bones

Title: City of Bones
Author: Cassandra Clare
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Year: 2007
Rating: ** 1/2
Format: Listened to audiobook from Audible.com
For: 7th graders and up

Fifteen-year-old Clary Fray is just a regular teenager hoping to find a little excitement at an all-ages dance club in New York City.  Instead she witnesses a life-changing incident that looks a lot like a murder, except the victim didn’t die, he exploded and vanished.  The teens at the scene are surprised Clary could even see them.  They’re not regular people, they’re shadow hunters; regular people aren’t supposed to be able to see shadow hunters or the demon they just killed.  So why could Clary see them?

I wanted to read City of Bones because of its controversial history.  The author started out as a fan fiction writer and wrote a popular series of fan fiction stories about the Harry Potter character Draco Malfoy.  City of Bones is a revision of that fan fiction story into something original on its own. It’s quite clear which character in the story is based on Draco, though the rest of the characters bear little resemblance to anyone in the Harry Potter world.

There are some entertaining details and fun soapy elements to the story. Overall though, City of the Bones taught me a lot about writing.  I knew the meaning of derivative– a story that seems a lot like other original stories– but it was only after reading this Harry Potter/Buffy the Vampire Slayer  knock-off that I truly understood what derivative feels like in an actual story. It’s also a good education on how many similes are too many and why a writer shouldn’t rely on adverbs or helping verbs. 

October 31 – November 6, 2010: In Brief

Highlights:
Weekly Format Experiment: I’m now posting weekly reviews on Wednesdays around midday. Yay health! Since I’m an obsessive blog reader with a 100-plus blog reading habit, I’m going to share the best links from the posts I read, too.  Can I keep up the weekly format?  We’ll see.  The experiment begins… now!

Fiction Books:
Firelight, by Sophie Jordan (** 1/2) [2010] – Jacinda is a member of the rare draki species that can change between human and dragon form.  She’s especially valued by her pride since she’s the first draki with fire-breathing capabilities in centuries. Now her pride has big plans for Jacinda.  All she wants is the freedom to fly in the daylight and not care if humans see her draki form.  It’s this flight that changes Jacinda’s life forever. 

Jacinda doesn’t know who to side with in the battle between her mother and her pride.  Her mother wishes for Jacinda to let her draki-side die, flee her pride, and become a full-time human.  While the pride seems to want to use Jacinda to breed a pack of fire-breathers.  To complicate matters, Jacinda meets Will, a boy at her high school who she feels an instant fiery connection to.  Now Jacinda has to decide who to believe and what kind of life she wants.

I loved the concept of the draki species and the romantic aspects of this book.  Unfortunately this book sets up a lot of cool possible scenarios that aren’t fulfilled.  I guess the book is planned as a part of a series, but the end left a number of unresolved problems.  The most disappointing part, for me, was that Jacinda starts out as strong-willed girl, but by the end is reduced to a girl who thinks independent thoughts but doesn’t really do much.  [A YA paranormal romance for ages 13 and up. The romance is restricted a few make-out scenes.  Read on Nook for Droid Phone.]

Web Links:
Dutch-American Parent Study on Attitudes about Teen Sex – Check out this thought-provoking article on the different approaches to teen sex between Dutch and American parents.  The Dutch parents thought of sex as a natural part of growing up, allowed their older teens to have sleepovers with serious boyfriends or girlfriends, and didn’t see a difference in the ways boys and girls look at sex and love– thinking both girls and boys like sex and are able to fall in love.

The American parents didn’t approve of sex "under my roof", distanced themselves from their kids when they began having relationships, and looked at sex as a war between the genders– where boys only want sex, not love, and girls only want love, not sex.

As a result, sex in Dutch culture is naturalized as something teens feel comfortable seeking their parents’ guidance and advice with, whereas American culture dramatizes young adult sex as a war between teens and parents.  So teens often hide their relationships from their parents and feel alone in making relationship decisions.  

How does the teen pregnancy rate, abortion rate, and STD rate compare in the two cultures? Surprisingly, the U.S. teen pregnancy rate is 8 times higher than the Dutch teen pregnancy rate and Dutch teens have a low abortion rate.  U.S. teens have a higher incidence of STDs too. 

The article goes on to discuss teen dating studies about both cultures.  While teens in both countries most often have their first sexual experience in a monogamous relationships, as the teens reach their twenties, Americans tend to have more non-monogamous partners than Dutch young adults. 

American girls also often report feeling "down" about their first romantic relationship –even one without sex– because their relationship with their parents deteriorated.  In addition, many teen girls "confronted dilemmas of desire because of a double standard that denies or stigmatizes their sexual desires, making girls fear being labeled ‘sluts’ ".

Many Americans boys reported feeling pressure to lose their virginity, have sex, and treat girls as sex objects.  Interestingly, many American boys also reported that though they thought others boys were just out for sex, they were a "romantic rebel" and cared very much about their girlfriend. 

Meanwhile, the majority of Dutch teens described their first sexual experiences as "well-timed, within their control, and fun." Both Dutch teens and their parents described the teens as being in love. The article also notes that "the acceptance of adolescent sexuality in the family creates the opportunity for Dutch girls to integrate their sexual selves with their roles as family members, even if they may be subject to a greater level of surveillance." 

It’s a fascinating article worth checking out.  I think even parents who don’t agree with the idea of pre-marital sex will gain a new understanding of how romantic guidance can help their teens and how gender stereotypes hurt teens.

October 2010: In Brief

Life Highlights:
Walking on Sunshine (The Gluten-Free Version): I used to think maybe I’d be well, now baby I’m sure.  And I just still love that I feel like I’ve now found my cure.  Now every time I wake up, my head feels so light and so goo-od.  Cause now I don’t have so much snot hanging round me no more.  Now I’m walking on sunshine. Who-ah. I’m walking on sunshine. Who-ah.  I’m walking on sunshine. Who-ah. And don’t it feel good!

(If you don’t know the real song from the 80’s, here’s the You Tube link.)

Fiction Books Finished:
Mamba Point, by Kurtis Scaletta (*** 1/2) [2010]  After his family moves from the U.S. to Monrovia, Liberia, anxious twelve-year-old Linus is determined to break through his fears and become adventurous.  His older brother, Larry, has decided he’s now going by the much cooler nickname "Law".  When the new Linus discovers his connection to mamba snakes and the new Law discovers the U.S. Embassy teen world, things become a little more interesting than either brother planned. Set in 1980’s Liberia, Mamba Point is a unique coming of age story with a touch of African folklore and magic realism spun into the plot. It would make a good family or classroom read aloud.  

Full disclosure: Kurtis was a member of one of my writing groups. Despite my personal connection, I think even readers that don’t know him will enjoy his story as much as I did.  [For ages 10 and up. Read on Kindle for Droid Phone]

Movies:
Foxes (** 1/2) – The movie The Runaways made me curious about Cherie Currie’s life story.  Foxes, a movie which Currie made during her acting period, is an almost documentary-like fiction movie about four teen girls growing up in the dysfunctional drugged-up world of Los Angeles during the late 70’s.  Currie plays the girl with the most troubled home and Jodie Foster is the stand out of the four new actors. From a historical point of view it was an interesting movie, though it’s a bit on the depressing side. [Rated R for drug use, language, and a bit of sexuality.  Watched on DVD from Netflix.]

Jennifer’s Body (****) [2009] Amanda Seyfried stars in this fun horror movie as Anita "Needy" Lesnicky, just a regular high school girl in a dysfunctional friendship with her best friend Jennifer.  Everything changes the night Jennifer drags Needy to see the band Low Shoulder at the local dive bar.  Now something seems wrong with Jennifer, boys at school keep dying, and Needy is the only one who can save them.

While Jennifer’s Body isn’t exactly a feminist movie, it comes a lot closer than most horror films.  It’s also more of a gore-and-parody kind of horror movie than a truly scary one.  How much you enjoy it depends on your view of Diablo Cody’s writing.  If you thought the writing in the movie Juno was fresh and clever, you’ll probably have a ton of fun watching this movie too.  If you thought Cody was trying too hard, this movie isn’t for you.

Amanda Seyfried has the acting chops to pull off the starring role and Megan Fox is perfect as hot mean girl Jennifer. There are a number of fun cameos too.  Adam Brody (Seth from The OC) gives a deliciously slimy performance as Low Shoulder’s lead singer and Kyle Gallner (Beav… I mean, Cassidy, from Veronica Mars) plays a tasty looking Emo-Goth boy.  [Unrated on DVD but probably for mid-teens and up.  Watched on DVD through Netflix.]

TV:
I tried out a bunch of new shows this season to choose my dozen regular shows for the Fall season. And the winners are: The Big Bang Theory, Castle, The Event, Fringe, Glee, The Good Wife, How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family, Nikita, Supernatural, and Terriers. I’m also watching season two of the X-Files in French on DVD. What TV shows made your cut?

September 2010: In Brief (Part 2)

Fiction Books Finished:
Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games), by Suzanne Collins (****) [2010] – Whether she’s writing swashbuckling fantasy novels for elementary schoolers or dystopian action-adventure stories for teens, Suzanne Collins’ novels can be summed up in one phrase: "War is Hell." That sentiment goes doubly true for the satisfying final installment in The Hunger Games series.

The neat thing about his series is that it’s equally appealing to both teens and adults, which makes for excellent family discussion.  It’s true this story won’t appeal to those who are uncomfortable with violence — even if it’s not glorified.  But if you’re the type who doesn’t mind a battle trilogy this series provides for meaty family book club discussion about the emotional and physical horrors of war — even necessary war.

I found it interesting that my teens liked the first two reality-TV-styled-war books better than the final actual-war book.  They both bitterly lamented what they believed was an overly casual death of one of their favorite minor characters.  While they mostly liked the last book, their grievances made for good family conversation.  [YA fiction for ages 13 and up; Read in eBook form on my Kindle for Droid phone]

Fiction Audiobooks:
Alanna (The First Adventure: Song of the Lioness, Book One), by Tamora Pierce (***) [1983] – Somehow I never read a Tamora Pierce fantasy.  I decided to try Alanna, the first in her famous series about a young girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to train to be a knight in her world.  Pierce makes Alanna’s deception and training realistically difficult, but achievable because of Alanna’s determination.  The audiobook read by actress Trini Alvarado was enjoyable.  [YA fiction for ages 10 and up; Listened to on audiobook from Audible.com]

Nonfiction Audiobooks:
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, by Bill McKibben (****) [2010] – In the first half of the book, environmentalist Bill McKibben explains just how quickly climate change is turning our planet into a completely different environment.  Although many climate change skeptics claim scientists have exaggerated the effects of climate change, McKibben gives example after example of how climate change is actually working much faster than any scientist predicted.  Huge shelves of ice on the poles are melting decades before scientists had predicted they would.  McKibben also details how these phenomenal changes are affecting our everyday life, making it harder and harder for us to feed and protect ourselves.

While the first half of the book is pretty depressing, the second half deals with concrete ways for us to live on this new more difficult planet — that McKibben now calls "Eaarth."  (The extra "a" is used to show that this is a very different planet from one we were used to.)  His proposed solutions to keeping life sustainable on this new planet involve working more at a local level than at a national or global level.  Because each region has its own unique solution to our energy and food issues, McKibben calls for more local initiates for using alternative energy sources and to growing food.  His stories about local successes are inspiring and made me want to get out and look for local options in my area.

This is an excellent introduction to the problems and possible solutions to our difficult world situation.  The audiobook made it especially easy for me to make time to read this informative resource.  [Listened to on audiobook through Audible.com]

Movies:
Dear John (** 1/2) [2010] – I was in the mood for a romantic tearjerker and hoped this movie would satisfy my craving.  Unfortunately, despite solid acting by Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum, as well as an appealing soundtrack, the script for this story was boring and awkward.  *Sigh* That was disappointing.  [Rated PG-13; Watched on Netflix Instant]

Kick-Ass (****) [2010] – This is one of those movies that I suspect people either love or hate.  The movie asks, "Why are there no real superheroes?"  It then goes on to answer that question exploring all the possibilities for what real superheroes would be like.  The results are lame, funny, upsetting, super violent, awesome, and at times, down right disturbing.  If you’re the type of person who is okay with funny and awesome moments mixed with super violent and down right disturbing elements, you’ll probably enjoy watching this wildly fun movie as much as I did.  If that combination doesn’t appeal to you though, this movie is probably not for you.  [Rated R for violence; Watched on DVD from Netflix]

October & November 2009: In Brief

Highlights
Lessons I Learned About Kidney Stones:
1) The staff at my local emergency room is super nice.
2) Almost everyone I know has either had a kidney stone or knows someone who had one.
3) It’s pretty much like going through labor but without the baby at the end.  Though my body seems to have more trouble with simple illnesses than most people.  Instead of passing the stone after a couple of days of pain, like most people, I had my stone for over 4 weeks until I had to have a procedure to remove it.
4) When the doctor said, "You might have some irritation after the procedure", what he really meant was that if my stone was really stuck — which it was– I’d have a week of searing pain that I could dull by taking pain medication every 4 hours.
5) Watching Being Human is an excellent way to spend a week living on the couch and taking around-the-clock pain medicine.
6) Filling a tube sock with rice and nuking it in the microwave for 60 seconds makes a wonderful heating pad.
7) In conclusion, kidney stones are more fun than any human should be allowed to have. 😉

Sprinting Back Into Regular Life:
The minute I was well I subbed almost every day.  On the last day of my job before Thanksgiving the principal told me that Ms. D. had broken her ankle on her trip and asked if I could sub all next week too.  I said, "Sure.  Why not?"  Then I spent Thanksgiving weekend making fun, educational lesson plans, cruising the library for good books, and designing samples of the projects we would do.  Whew!

Fiction Books Finished:
The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart (** 1/2) – Talented orphans are recruited into a secret society.  While the beginning pulled me in, I found the middle a bit slow.  The book has a good message about advertising and seems to be quite popular but for some reason I didn’t enjoy it that much.  [Ages 9 and up]

Gregor the Overlander & Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, by Suzanne Collins (*** 1/2) – When eleven-year old Gregor tries to stop his two-year old sister "Boots" from falling down a laundry chute, the two of them are sucked down a wind tunnel and land in the world of Underland.  There he meets giant bats, cockroaches, rats, and the nearly translucent Underlander humans who believe Gregor just might be the warrior they’ve been waiting for. This is a great middle-grade fantasy series.  Underland is a fascinating world full of appealing characters.  It would make a good classroom or family read too.  [Ages 9 and up]

The Cabinet of Wonders, by Marie Rutkoski (***) – When the Prince of Bohemia steals a clockmaker’s eyes, twelve-year old Petra decides to steal her father’s eyes back.  This middle grade fantasy– set in a slightly magical 16th century Prague– starts out slow but builds to an exciting conclusion.  [For ages 10 and up]

Non-Fiction Books Finished:
Woman: An Intimate Geography, by Natalie Angier (*** 1/2) – An enjoyable book on the female body.  Angier describes menstruation, fertilization, and menopause in ways that not only explain but inspire. Her chapter taking down evolutionary psychology is especially welcoming.

Teaching Outside the Box, by LouAnne Johnson, (*** 1/2) – The movie Dangerous Minds is based on LouAnne Johnson’s first teaching experience with low-income at risk high schoolers.  Since then Johnson’s had a wide range of teaching experiences and gives good advice for teaching reading and English to students from upper elementary school through high school and college — emphasizing both strong class management and how to motivate students to learn.

TV- Top 5 Favorites of the Month (In A,B,C Order)
(The) Big Bang Theory, current season 3 – I like the way Penny and Leonard’s relationship isn’t the focus of the show.

Being Human, series 1 – is an enjoyable unique supernatural story about three twenty-some adults sharing a flat together in Bristol. Instead of the usual save-the-world plot, this story about a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost is mostly a story of new adults dealing with the day-to-day dramas of adulthood, relationships, and coming to terms with who they are.  [ I watched the 6 episode series on itunes.]

(The) Good Wife, current season 1 – Out of the dozens of new shows I tried this season, The Good Wife is the only one I’ve stuck with.  Julianna Marguilies is wonderful as a woman trying to breath life back into her law career after her husband has been jailed in an Eliot Spitzer type situation.  The legal cases are interesting and I like the way this show doesn’t spell everything out for the viewer.

Mad Men, current season 3 – turned out to be my favorite season so far.  It started out slow but built to a series of satisfying conclusions.

Supernatural, current season 5

Sub Jobs:
1/2 day- Art teacher at another school
1 day- Media teacher at my regular school
1 day – Ms. D’s 2nd grade
1/2 day – 1st grade reading at another school
1/2 day – 1st grade reading at another school
5 days – Ms. D’s 2nd grade