2012 Favorites (Part 1: TV, Movies, and Music)

Favorite You Tube Series
Husbands (seasons 1 & 2) –  An entertaining web TV series written by Jane Espenson and Brad Bell about a baseball player and an actor who get so excited that gay marriage is legal that they get married during a drunken night in Vegas, though they’ve only been dating for 6 weeks. They don’t want to set a bad example so they decide to make their marriage work– for the cause.  Espenson wrote for Buffy, Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, Dollhouse, etc.  There are tons of fun cameos by actors from various Whedon projects (including Joss himself in season 2), plus a few actors from other shows too.  Each season is only 25-30 minutes.

The Lizzie Bennett Diaries – In Hank Green’s charming modernized version of Pride and Prejudice, Lizzie Bennett is a vlogger who tells us about her marriage-crazy mother and her life with her sisters in short weekly You Tube videos.

Favorite Movies (Total Watched – 18)
The Descendants
Hunger Games (2012)
Marvel’s Avengers (2012)
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Favorite Music Albums (Total Listened To – 26)
Greg Evain All Better Now (2012)
Ellie GouldingHalcyon (2012)
Lana Del ReyBorn to Die (2012)
Anna NalickWreck of the Day (2005)
Frank OceanChannel Orange (2012)

Favorite TV Shows (Total Shows Watched – 36)
Alphas (season 1)
(The) Big Bang Theory
Castle
Fringe
Girls
(The) Good Wife
Grimm
Man Men
Nikita
Parks and Recreation
Revenge

The Book Thief and Whose Side Are You On?

Books:
Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Year Published: 2006
Rating: 4 stars
Ages: 14 and up
Format: Listened to audiobook on mp3 player from Audible.com

A twelve-year-old girl in World War II Germany starts her life as a book thief when she arrives at the home of her new foster parents in a suburb of Munich. This is a lovely tale about regular life and how it exists even during war.  I had heard a lot of enthusiastic reviews about how this book would blow my mind.  I think it's easy for a story to get overpraised once it's been out for a while. While the story didn't blow my mind — like it seemed to do for some of my friends and family — I still enjoyed this sweet story a lot.

Music:
Ani Di Franco, Which Side Are You On? (4 stars) [2012] – Ani Di Franco's new album combines of all things I liked about her previous albums with an added maturity and wisdom.  The title song, "Which Side Are You On?" is a rousing battle cry to inspire the regular people trying to defend ourselves in the class war and culture war the right has been waging on the 99% for the past 30 years.  Her quieter songs like, "Promiscuity", are full of sage advice about why sex and relationships are good and what they have to teach you. Like her previous albums, this one comforted me, entertained me, and inspired me.

Fantasy Baseball and Rihanna

Books:
Title: Fantasy Baseball
Author: Alan Gratz
Published: March 2011
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Ages: 8 and up
Format: Read eBook on Kindle for Droid Phone

Alex Metcalf doesn't know how he ended up on a bus full of almost forgotten storybook characters who have formed a baseball team.  Here in storybook world, characters whose stories are no longer read vanish forever.  Dorothy, the girl from The Wizard of Oz, is the team's captain.  She's desperate for her team to win the championship because the prize is a wish granted to everyone on the winning team.  Dorothy wants to wish that all her teammates will be remembered by children so that they continue to live.

Alex is delighted to find that he's fantastic at playing baseball, even though he's just a kid.  Then his team informs him that he's probably not a really boy, but instead he's a  lark– the daydream of some kid who dreams of being a fabulous player.  Alex is determined to show the team that he's a real boy, not a lark.  Like Dorothy, he wants to bring the team to victory.  Then if he turns out to be a lark, he can wish he's real. Unfortunately, he insults the Big Bad Wolf at the first game, and now he's not sure he's even going to make it to the end of the tournament.

Fantasy Baseball is a unique story with lots of action.  It would make a fun read for kids who like both baseball and creating their own imaginary world.  The story would also make a good classroom or family read aloud.  It's not necessary to know the older storybook characters to enjoy the story.  Though reading about the other characters did make me interested in checking out some of the older children's classics.

Music:
Rihanna, Talk That Talk, [2011] (4 stars) – I first heard Rihanna's new album, Talk That Talk, when I danced to, "Where Have You Been", in Jazz dance class. Her new album is more fun than her last, though it's pretty explicit, not the kind of album you can play while you're carpooling kids around.  The fun danceable songs about sex and pretty ballads on love make Talk That Talk another excellent guilty-pleasure Rihanna album. Favorite songs: Where Have You Been, Drunk on Love, Roc Me Out, Farewell, and Cockiness.

Tuesdays at the Castle, Misfits, and Florence & the Machine

Books:
Title: Tuesdays at the Castle
Author: Jessica Day George
Date Published: October 2011
Rating: 4 out 5
Ages: 8 years and up
Format: Read eBook on Nook for Droid Phone

Every Tuesday Castle Glower adds new rooms to itself. For generations the castle has behaved like a living person, making life easier or harder for the inhabitants based on how much it liked them. It has even picked each new ruler. Eleven-year-old  Princess Celie — the youngest daughter of the current king– is one of the castle's favorites. She understands the castle best.  It's her connection to Castle Glower, and her detailed atlas, that helps her family survive the castle's big crisis.

This is a fun tale with lots of tension and excitement. It would make a good bedtime or classroom read aloud.

Music:
Florence & The Machine, Ceremonials (4 stars) – I like this album even better than the group's last popular album.  The songs are still filled with lots of dramatic over-the-top vocals, but this time I liked the lyrics better. Favorite Songs: Shake It Out, All This and Heaven Too

TV:
Misfits (3.5 stars) – The third season is now available each Monday on Hulu. Since actor Robert Sheehan decided to leave the show to pursue a movie career, the most charismatic of the young offenders, Nathan, is gone.  While Nathan was the funniest character, he was never that important to the plot. His replacement is just okay, but so far the episodes revolving the rest of the characters are quite good.  Their new powers help them explore interesting new aspects of themselves as they grow and change, plus there's a lot of fun entertainment in them. My favorite part is how one of the character's new power is playfully used as catch-phrase in each episode. There are eight episodes in season 3 and Hulu is currently on episode 5.  There's also a 10-minute clip on Hulu's Misfits Page called, "Vegas Baby!", that gives Nathan an amusing send off.

Top Favorites of 2011 (In A,B,C Order)

2011 was a good year for me. I started biking, went on a writing retreat, camped at Assateague, and visited Vermont.  I even finished a first draft of my middle grade novel!  It's spectacularly crappy, but it's got a beginning, middle and end, and now I can start revising it into something better. 

I also did all my grocery shopping by foot or bike, bought all most all my produce at farmer's markets, and did the majority of my cooking from scratch this year.  Plus, I watched my oldest kid graduate from high school and sent him off to college. 

I was disappointed by how little I read in 2011 though. Hopefully in 2012 I can figure out how to do all those things and read more too. Anyone know where I can buy a Time-Turner like Hermione used in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? That would be useful. Here are my favorites during 2011:

Books – Middle Grade Fiction (Total Read -5)
Bartimaeus: The Ring of Solomon, by Jonathan Stroud
Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger

Books – Young Adult Fiction (Total Read – 9)
All Unquiet Things, by Anna Jarzab
#Legend, by Marie Lu
# Lola and the Boy Next Door, by Stephanie Perkins

(I also read 3 fiction books for adults.)

Books- Non-Fiction (Total Read – 7)
#Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life, by Stephanie Staal
The Teaching Gap: Best Ideas from the Word's Teachers for Improving Education in the Classroom, by James W. Stigler and James Hiebert – review coming

Movies (Total Watched – 19)
After the Wedding
#Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Heartbreaker
TiMER
Titanic

Music Albums (Total Listened To – 28)
#Adele, 21
Florence & The Machine, Lungs
The Frames, Cost
The Glitch Mob, Drink The Sea
Jack in the Box, Play It Again Jack!
K'naan, Troubadour
#Movits, Out of My Head
The Rapture, Pieces of the People We Love
Sufjan Stevens, Come on Feel the Illinoise & Age of Adz
#Vanessa Carlton, Best of Vanessa Carlton

TV Shows (Total Shows Watched – 42)
#Being Erica
#The Big Bang Theory
#Fringe
#The Good Wife
Misfits
#Nikita
#Parks and Recreation
#Revenge
Skins, series 5
#The Vampire Diaries

Honorable Mentions:
#Up All Night
#Doctor Who

# – Indicates the book, movie, album, or TV season debuted in  2011.  Many of my favorites were works I discover this year but debuted earlier.

Middle Grade Fiction – For around 9-14 years or 4th-8th grades
Young Adult Fiction – For around 12 years and up or  7th grade and up

6 Gender-Essentialist Myths About Dating and the Bedroom Debunked

Music:
The Yoshida Brothers, Hishou [2007] (***)  – The Yoshida Brothers play enjoyable instrumental music that mixes a traditional Japanese sound with a pop/rock aesthetic. 

Blogs:
 6 Gender-Essentialist Myths About Dating and The Bedroom Debunked

University of Michigan psychologist Terri Conley and colleagues went through psychology studies to see which gender myths about sex could really be proven by research and found many of the myths aren't true.  I first saw a good summary of this on Feministing and then read the link it's based on at Live Science.  Here's my summary of the two links:

1. Men want "sexy", women want "status"
This stereotype only holds up on paper when college students are abstractly asked about their "ideal mate".  When researchers looked at how men and women rated real people in actual speed-dating situations the gender differences "evaporated".  "There was no difference in the way they rated their romantic interest based on those people's attractiveness and earnings."

2. Men want may sex partners, women want far fewer
Researchers found that a small number of very sexually charged individuals were skewing the average.  Turns out the typical number of partners wanted by BOTH men and women was "one". That's right.  The typical man and woman said they wanted one partner.

Also, remember those studies where they asked men and women how many partners they had and men answered with much higher numbers than women?  Turns out a lot of men over-estimated their numbers and women under-estimated theirs (probably because of social pressures.) In studies where men and women were" tricked" into thinking they were attached to a lie-detector, men and women reported the same number of partners.

3. Men think about sex more than women do
They do slightly, but it's only 18 times a day over women's 10 times a day.  The cliché that men think about sex every 7 seconds is not true. Also, men think about other needs like food and sleep more than women too.

4. Women have far fewer orgasms than men do
Studies suggest this is true, especially in one-night stands, where women had one-third of the orgasms men had.  However, in committed-relationships, "women had orgasms 79 percent as often as men". "The fact that the gap can shrink so much based on relationship type suggests that having a partner who cares about a woman's sexual satisfaction is more important than biology." 

(This is why I hate the often repeated myth that women don't like sex.  It's more like women don't like sex where their needs aren't met.  Seems to me that men who repeat this myth are basically telling others that they don't take their partners needs seriously and therefore probably aren't going to be very satisfying in bed.  At least they warn you. )

5. Men like casual sex more than women do
There was a 1989 study where "a trained young man or woman propositioned college students."  70 percent of the men said yes to the woman but no women said yes to the man.  While the study could mean that women aren't interest in casual sex, it didn't take into consideration cultural factors. (This isn't in the article but the study took place at a Florida college post-Ted Bundy, the good looking man in Florida who raped and murdered young women,  and none of the researchers seemed to realize that this could influence the results for the women.)

In another study,  when women were asked if they'd be interested in a one-night stand with someone famous (like Johnny Depp) and men were asked about an equivalent celebrity, the gender difference "evaporated."  According to the researchers, women may reject most one-night stands because they don't think the man will be good in bed.  It also seems like safety concerns and concerns about being "slut-shamed" about casual sex are greater for women.

6. Women are pickier than men
In a 2009 study researchers  found that "people are choosier when they're approached by a potential partner, and less choosy when they're doing the approaching". In our society, men are typically encouraged to do the approaching and women the receiving. If women were to do more of the approaching, we would probably start seeing more "picky" men too.

Ms. Evil Octopus Goes on a Field Trip, K’naan, and Biking to Work

Music:
K'naan, Troubadour (****) [2009] – Rapper K'naan was born in Somalia. Right before the war broke out his family immigrated to New York and then Toronto.  His album is full of upbeat hopeful rap and hip-hop songs about the immigrant experience, with plenty of realistically sad details and a touch of bravado about what a badass he is for coming from Africa. Favorite Songs: T.I.A. (This is Africa), Fatima, Wavin' Flag, Take A Minute.

My Life:
Ms. Evil Octopus Goes on a Field Trip – I made an exception to my Friday-only subbing rule to help out a teacher in need and subbed for 3 days for the class that calls me Ms. Evil Octopus.  On the second day we went on a field trip with lots of helpful moms (but sadly no dads).  The Thanksgiving program at Woodland Manor had fun hands-on activities for the kids to do, the kids were great, and we had sunny warm weather. My favorite part was what happened when I introduced myself to each mom:

Mom: Hi, I'm Sarah's mom.
 
Me: Wonderful to meet you. I'm Ms. Eureka.

Mom: [Looks strangely disappointed after hearing my name.] Oh.  Ms. Eureka?

Me: But the kids like to call me Ms. Evil Octopus.  It's just a fun joke we have going on.

Mom: [Perks up.] Yes, Sarah told me this!  She said you're really funny.

Heehee. I guess even moms like silly jokes.

What I Learned About Biking to Work – For the past two years I've wanted to bike to my sub jobs.  This week I finally got my act together and biked to work for all three days.  Yay!  Here's what  I learned:

1. Biking makes me feel good all day.

2.  I need a change of clothes for the top of my body but not the bottom.

3. Fully inflated tires make the ride a lot easier, so does a range of gears.

4.  It was good to have the daughterling's bike as a backup bike at home for when I discovered a flat tire  right before I needed to leave home.

5. The bike ride home is the best and made me feel less tired after work than if I drove.

6.  Being a super slow biker is okay.  Just getting out there is what counts.

Suite Scarlett, Movits!, and My Dad

TV Quote:
"I never understood that relationship.  It was like oil and …  a Martian." Seymour Birkhoff on Nikita

Books:
Title: Suite Scarlett
Author: Maureen Johnson
Year: 2009
Rating: *** 1/2
Ages: Clean cut YA chick lit for ages 13 and up
Format: Read this YA novel in eBook form on Kindle for Droid

Suite Scarlett is a fun YA chick-lit novel about a 15-year-old girl whose family owns a struggling historical inn in New York City.  Each of the Martin children are given full responsibility for one of the suites in the inn on their 15th birthday,  Just days after Scarlett' Martin's 15th birthday, the dramatically quirky Mrs. Amberson moves into her suite for the summer. It's also the summer her older brother gets a part in an off-off-off Broadway Shakespearean play with a cute acting partner who seems to like Scarlett, and the summer Scarlett realizes just how bad the family's financial problems have become.  The novel is a fun mix of quirky characters, family issues, teen romance, and the struggling New York theater scene.

My Dad and The Art of Persuasion
My dad is one of these perpetually positive people with more energy than I can fathom.  When I was a kid he would coax me into doing things I had no interest in: like hiking for 8 hours or visiting 5 museums in one day.

My allergies have been bad this past week, so when I felt way too tired to go on my Tuesday bike ride, a little voice in the back of my brain– that sounded a lot like my dad — whispered to me: "You don't have to go on a bike ride, but why don't you just get dressed?"  

I got dressed and the little voice said, "Well, now that you're dressed, maybe you should go on a walk.  You certainly don't have to go on a bike ride, it's just a walk. Why don't you get ready?"

So I got ready and then heard, "Well, now that you're all ready, you might as well go on a bike ride.  Don't you think?"  😉 

Yep, that's pretty much how my whole childhood went.  This past week I went on 2 bike rides, did my writing, and cleaned the house all by coaxing myself step-by-step. I guess I should thank my dad.

Music:
Movits! Äppelknyckarjazz [2009] (***), Out of My Head [2011] (***) – The daughterling told me about this fun Swedish group.  They sing energetic swing Jazz/ hip-hop stuff.  It's all mostly in Swedish but it's infectious and fun to listen to.  Favorite songs: Sammy Davis Jr.. Fel Dev Av Gården

TV:
I've crossed off a lot of new shows off my watching list.  My favorite new shows to make the cut are Revenge and Up All Night.  I'm also still watching Ringer, Pan Am, and 2 Broke Girls, hoping they'll grow into good shows eventually.

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.