April 2010: In Brief

Happy Crappy Gluten Day– Break out the lab coats and clipboards!  It was experiment day at the Eureka lab of allergy studies. For one day I ate only bread and pasta to see if gluten was the true source of my horrible sinus headaches and energy-sapping fatigue.  Oy!  Yep, gluten is not my friend. 

Health Hallelujah–  It’s been freakin’ awesome being healthy for weeks on end.  I’ve been parenting, subbing, writing, cleaning, and just generally enjoying life headache-free with plenty of energy. I don’t miss bread or pasta at all. My allergy shots have been quite effective in this high pollen season too.  Yay!

Non-Fiction Books Finished:
Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, by Max Blumenthal (*** 1/2) – An interesting look at the key players and events that led to the Christian Right’s ascension into the political mainstream.  [Adult Non-Fiction]

Whip It (****) – A rural Texan high school girl trying to escape the pageant circuit is drawn to the rough and tumble world of Austin roller derby.

I really liked this movie. The roller derby plot was engrossing– though it was more an entertaining slice-of-life film than the zany comedy it’s marketed as. It was great fun watching a group women having a good time and bonding together for their own goals.  I also liked that the romance was only one part of the heroine’s life, not her whole storyline and future. I hope Drew Barrymore directs a lot more movies if they’re all this good.

Fried Green Tomatoes (****) – Rewatched this one night and still loved it.

TV- Top 5 Favorites of the Month (In A,B,C Order)

Better Off Ted – Netflix said I’d enjoy this show because I liked Arrested Development and News Radio.  Apparently Netflix is very wise because this comedy has the silly deadpan humor of Arrested Development taking place at the fictional multi-national research corporation Veridion. The pilot was only pleasant, but by episode four everything gels together and becomes laugh aloud funny .  [The entire 13-episode first season is on Netflix Instant]

Doctor Who– So far I like eleven and his companion Amy Pond.

Fringe– Like eyeballs floating to the surface of a lab stove pot, things are reaching the boiling point on Fringe and it’s mighty satisfying.  (It wouldn’t be Fringe if there wasn’t some amusingly gross reference, now would it?)

Parenthood– Winston Churchill once said, "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else."  That seems to be the secret motto of each episode on the new show Parenthood. I have a love-hate relationship with this show.  The Braverman family is a little intense for me and their constant togetherness makes me wonder how these characters have any time to work — let alone read a book, perhaps on parenting. 

On the other hand, it’s nice to see Peter Krause (Nate from Six Feet Under) and Lauren Graham (Lorelei from Gilmore Girls) on TV again.  The rest of the cast is just as good and the storylines tend to be fun. Show runner Jason Katims has a child with Asperger’s Syndrome and it  shows in the accurate details of Max Braverman’s life.

Supernatural – I’m enjoying the build up to the big season five finale where I fully expect the writers to pull out my heart and crush it once again this season. 

Sub Jobs:
1 day – Field trip with 2nd grade class at my usual school
1 day – Media Center Specialist at my usual school
1/2 day – 1st grade reading teacher

March 2010: In Brief

Eureka! (Or How My Life is Like An Episode of Castle) – Sometimes on the TV show Castle, Detective Beckett arrests a suspect.  They’re clearly a key to the killing but the murders keep happening anyway. That’s how my health has been.  I find I’m allergic to something, get shots for it or stay away from it… And then… I’m still unhealthy.

On the show, one of Castle’s family or friends makes an innocuous comment and Castle suddenly knows who the killer is. Apparently Martin is the Rick Castle in my life.  After describing my tainted Motrin reactions, Martin had a brainstorm and started reading about food allergies.

 And the "killer" is. …. [dun dun DUN]  Wheat.  Yep.  Wheat.  Since I’m super allergic to grass, Martin came up with the idea that maybe eating a type of grass might cause me problems too. 

It was hard giving up bread and pasta. I love their gluten-y goodness.  But when I did…Ta da!  I was healthy!! And I sure won’t miss the horrible sinus headaches. Thank goodness I’m not allergic to reading or TV.  Can you imagine?!

Harper’s Ferry Soon after I figured out my gluten-sensitivity issues, the kids’ spring break came. The bad thing about spring break?  The timing meant that after months of being sick, I had only a week or two of productivity before my schedule came to another stop (and the reason why this summary is so late). 

The good thing about break?  The daughterling and I took our third mother-daughter trip together.  This time we stayed in a historical townhouse in Harper’s Ferry.  We ate junk food, discussed our musical tastes, watched episodes of the Gilmore Girls, played games, and toured Harper’s Ferry– a quaint historical town that’s pretty much been stuck in time since the 1860’s. 

Sub Jobs:
1/2 day – 1st grade Reading/Language Arts Teacher at a different school than my usual

Fiction Books:
Gregor and the Marks of Secret, by Suzanne Collins( ***)  – The last book in the Underlander series didn’t disappoint.  It was a bit longer than the others but as intense and satisfying.  An excellent series on the realities of war, told in a way that elementary school children can relate to.  [Middle Grade Fiction, ages 9-14]

Non-Fiction Books:
Dance of Connection, by Harriet Lerner (***) – Last year I read the 70’s classic, Dance of Anger, by the same author and loved it. Lerner has a nice way of explaining the complex interactions of relationships (of any kind) and how one manages the dance between meeting the needs of both people in the relationship. [Adult Non-Fiction]

Vitamin String Quartet – I can’t believe I didn’t know about this group until now.  This string quartet has over 50 albums covering everyone from Kelly Clarkson to Godsmack.  I love rock and pop music played with real stringed instruments (though not Muzak).  AC/BC’s "Back in Black" sounds like the theme song to a Western.  The string version of Godsmack’s "Mistakes" becomes a cool post-modern dance piece and Queen’s "We Will Rock You" is like an Irish stepdancing  battle song.  My favorite covers so far are Fall Out Boy’s "Hum Hallelujah" and Mazzy Star’s "Fade Into You".  They’re both songs I like generally but are especially pretty played with strings.

Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster– I was playing this album in the car while driving the daughterling.  She asked if I could  play something else because she had heard quite enough Lady Gaga badly sung through the halls of middle school.  I’m lucky I don’t have fun albums ruined for me by going to Middle School. 😉  I changed the music right away.  Middleschoolers deserve a lot of sympathy.

Frightened Rabbit, The Winter of Mixed Drinks – While not as fabulous as Midnight Organ Fight, this album still has plenty of relationship angst, Scottish accents, and catchy tunes to make me happy. [Parent Note: Not especially good music for playing in the car while driving young kids.]

TV – Top 5 Favorites of the Month (In A,B,C Order)
(The) Big Bang Theory – There are only so many Sheldon-centered episodes they can do before it starts feeling recycled.  Still, I really enjoyed the Lord of the Rings episode.

Being Erica – A writing friend told me about this fun escapist chick-lit type show.  It was just the type of  show my TV schedule was missing.  32-year old Erica Strange has a lot of regrets about the decisions she’s made in her life.  She’s certain if she could go back and make better decisions she could have a real career– instead of a series of dead-end jobs– and a satisfying relationship–  instead of a series of loser boyfriends.  Enter Dr. Tom who offers her the chance to actually go back in time and redo those regrets.

Erica is a likable character and the way the writers move each season arc along is satisfying and clever.  The entire two season series is currently available on Hulu and each season is only 12-13 episodes long. 


Caprica – This prequel to Battlestar Galactic grew on me.  I didn’t much like the pilot and hated Eric Stolz’s character, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the show had potential.  The plot moves slowly. There’s no real blow-your-mind type of crisis like the start of Battlestar Galactica. The exploration of the father-daughter relationships in this show is interesting though.  The fathers are presented as the powerful present and their daughters are sort of symbols of the future.  The fact that the fathers can’t seem to understand their daughters and want to control them — despite clearly caring for them — seems to be the seed that starts the cylon-human problems.  It’s an interesting perspective and I look forward to seeing what they do with the second half of the season in September.

(The) Good Wife

September 2009: In Brief

Learning to Love 6 AM Again – I dreaded the change of going from our 3 AM summer bedtime to our new 6 AM school wake up time.  I shouldn’t have worried.  We made the change like we had been getting up at 6 AM all summer.

Dr. Horrible At Neighborhood HS – Our local high school did a fantastic job turning this into a play.  They had two actors– who looked almost like twins — play Billy and Dr. Horrible.  The best part was the video that played on the screen above the stage during the song "My Eyes".  Billy stalks Penny and Captain Hammer around the local sites of our town while the cast sings at the park on stage.

Mold, Basements, and the Flu –  Martin fixed the pipes, then cleaned, grouted, and repainted the bathroom, while I lived in the basement– the only mold-free part of our house.  Around that time I also got the H1N1 flu and coughed so much I was pretty sure I might cough up an alien.  Why yes, I did rewatch Torchwood while I was sick.  Why do you ask?

By the end of September, our house was mold-free and I was finally healthy.  Yay!

Fiction Books Finished:
Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins (*** 1/2) – The sequel to Hunger Games starts off slow but once it picks up; the story is tense and gripping.  Collins has a talent for creating varied interesting characters.  The story cliffhanges in a major way though and now I can’t wait until the next book. [YA for ages 12 and up]

Amar Te Duele (***) – This Mexican Romeo-and-Juliet story starts when Ulises from the barrio meets wealthy Renata at the mall.  Though I could have done without all the fancy camera tricks at the beginning of the film, once those stop, the story of these two kids coming to terms with social pressures is sweet.  While I sort of knew how wide the gap between social classes is in Mexico, this movie really makes that point concretely.  As an American, I couldn’t help wonder if this is the way we’re going too.  [Saw on DVD; for teens and older]

TV- Top 5 Favorites of the Month (In A,B,C Order)
Castle, current season 2- has become one of my favorite shows.  It’s a light murder mystery starring Nathan Fillon (Firefly) as Richard Castle, a famous murder mystery novelist. 

In the pilot, Castle is called to help the NYPD solve a case where a serial murder seems to be recreating murders from Castle’s books.  Castle is so impressed with the lead detective, Kate Beckett, he decides to use her as a model for the star of his next mystery series.  (She’s a huge secret fan and has read all his books but doesn’t really want him to know. ) The mayor is a friend of Castle’s and so Castle is given permission to work with Beckett on cases. 

The writing and characters have come a long way from the troubled pilot.  Castle and Beckett’s relationship is dry and witty and his relationship with his levelheaded high school daughter and his spotlight-seeking mother are especially fun to watch.

Fringe, current season 2- has become another of my favorite shows.  Since the season 1 finale revealed secrets about the main characters, Walter’s quirks make a lot more heart-breaking sense.  Now I fear for what will happen to him, Peter, and Olivia.

Mad Men, current season 3

Skins, current series 3- does something unusual; it starts over with a whole new group of students at the Bristol school.  Effie, Tony’s younger sister, is the only returning character.  The first two episodes are unfortunate as they focus on Cook, the most unlikable member of the new group.  Things pick up at the third episode when the story begins highlighting the more likable members of the new group.

Torchwood, rewatched series 1,2,3 – When I’m not feeling well, rewatching my favorite TV shows beats eating chicken soup any day.

Sub Jobs:
1 day- Media Center Teacher
5 days- Ms. B’s 2nd grade class

August 2009: In Brief, Part 2

Allergies, The SequelA forty-five year old American woman finds out she’s highly allergic to mold. When a small water leak in one of her bathroom pipes makes all kinds of sporing mold, she discovers mold isn’t one of the allergens she’s getting shots for and her talented DIY husband is working so much this month he can’t tackle the mold until Fall. Since cleaning it herself would send her into torturous allergic fits, she salvages her summer vacation by downing Benadryl, and taking….

The Rowena Eureka Mega World Tour of Cinematic Armchair Travel
(This tour was made possible by Netflix, Netflix Instant, itunes, and Rowena’s Trusty Laptop)

TV Portion of the Tour:

(Cardiff, Wales) Torchwood, series 1 & 2 (****) – Captain Jack Harkness protects the world from alien invasion by leading Torchwood Division–an independent agency located in Cardiff, Wales on a rift between time and space. Part police procedural, part sci-fi adventure, part character exploration, Torchwood became one of my favorite shows because it has a little bit of everything: dark edgy action, fun dialog, a little romance, and a bit of camp.

The characters are talented, devoted, and deeply flawed. Nobody’s all good or all bad, just very human. Women and men are equally the heroes and the ones in need of saving. Everyone’s sexuality is pretty fluid and sex is treated both more casually, and yet, more respectfully than it’s usually shown on American TV.

The main characters are pretty, but in a realistic way, not the glossy American way. Policewoman Gwen Cooper begins investigating Torchwood after she witnesses their strange actions at the scene of a murder investigation. She’s quite attractive and just happens to also have a gap in her teeth.

The best thing about the show is that the equal treatment of sexuality and people is never the point; it’s just how things are. This is no public service announcement or after school special; it’s a sci-fi action adventure show full of dark, fun escapism.

The beginning of the series is a bit shaky and a couple episodes are pretty awful *cough* Cyber Woman *cough*. Even they have their charms though since they come early in the series when the viewer is getting to know the characters. While this is a spin-off from Dr. Who, you don’t to need watch Doctor Who to understand it. [Watched on itunes, also available on Netflix]

(Cardiff/London) Torchwood: Children of Earth (*****) – This is one roller coaster of a ride! Instead of individual episodes like season 1 & 2, this Torchwood series is one five-episode mini series. Though less campy, there is still a good mix of fun and darkness within the same egalitarian world. This time aliens are speaking through children and things get tense, dark, dark, dark, and definitely worth watching. [Saw on itunes, also available on DVD through Netflix.]

(The UK and Beyond) Doctor Who, series 4 (*** 1/2 ) – Donna Noble turned out to be an excellent companion. [Saw on DVD through Netflix]

(The Whole World) Michael Palin’s 80 Days Around the World (*** 1/2) – In this 1988 travel series, former Monty Python member Michael Palin tries to travel around the world in 80 days using only the transportation available to Jules Verne’s fictional character Phileas Fogg. Palin makes a smart, funny, and likable guide. Though it’s 20 years old, it’s interesting to watch Palin visit India and China right before their dramatic changes. His brief adventures in the US didn’t seem that different from today. The best sequences though were his 8 days on a Dhow (a tiny open cargo boat) crossing the Arabian Sea from Dubai to Bombay with an all Indian crew who spoke little English.

(Manhattan in the early 60’s) Mad Men, current season 3 (****) – AMC’s evocative drama about a Manhattan Ad Agency in the early 1960’s is one of my favorite shows. Season 3 starts off in the summer of 1963 after the Brits have taken over Sterling Cooper.

July 2009: In Brief, Part 1


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)