Category Archives: TV

Teaching Tuesday: A rare break

Today is one of those sort of unprecedented days: I have no grading to do. It’s not that I’m putting grading off because I don’t want to do it. I actually don’t have a single item that needs to be graded. I can count the number of days this occurs in a year on one hand.

Since I teach English, and more specifically Advanced Placement English, the moments where I don’t have some sort of writing assignment to grade are like tiny vacations to me.  Heck, I wasn’t even grading free on the first day of school. My AP students all had summer reading assignments, so each showed up to class on the first day with a book they’d annotated which I then had to check and grade.

My AP seniors actually just wrote an essay today in class, but in order to help them understand the AP grading rubrics and scoring, our next class will be devoted to peer editing, so I have at least another few days before I’ll have to grade a more polished copy.

My AP juniors are in the middle of reading The Crucible, and since it is a drama, they’ve chosen parts and we are reading it together as a class. We just finished act 1 and I am all caught up on grading their vocabulary, so I am free of work for them as well.

As for my Film Lit kids, their chapter 3 notes aren’t due until tomorrow and their preliminary thesis statements for their research papers aren’t due until Friday, so I’m off the hook for grading here too.

Before I left school this afternoon, I graded the four newspaper assignments that had been turned in (we have staggered deadlines), so I am completely up to date in there too.

All my planets, so to speak, have aligned and there is nothing to be done. I mean, sure, I could work on lesson planning. Thanks to upcoming testing dates I already know I’m going to have to rework some of my units, but I am just too giddy at the lack of grading. I can’t do it.

Instead, I think I’ll force myself to catch up on Stranger Things! I know I won’t have another “day off” like this during this grading period.

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Free Reading Friday: Girling Up

girling upIf I had read Girling Up by Mayim Bialik when I was 12 or 13 or 14, I think it would have made a much bigger impact on my life. Reading it in my early 40’s meant it wasn’t quite as illuminating. I saw this book in my school library and grabbed a copy for a couple of reasons. First off, I like Mayim Bialik. I think it is positively fantastic that she is using the platform she’s been given as an actress to help empower young women. I am one of those people who do no believe celebrities should just shut up and entertain us like some sort of dancing monkeys. Even when I don’t agree with their platforms (and I do not agree 100% with Bialik’s), I do believe celebrities have a right to use their fame to promote the causes they believe in.

Secondly, I am always on the lookout for non-fiction books which I might be able to use in my AP Language class. Since the course focuses on non-fiction and specifically looking for arguments non-fiction authors make as well as finding bias in non-fiction, I like to have a wide range of subjects for my students to pick from. Since Bialik has a PhD in neuroscience, I thought this book might really appeal to some of students who are really keen on science. I actually grabbed it because I have a specific student who is crazy about science and since I know that girls do not get nearly enough encouragement to explore different areas of STEM, I wanted to help meet her needs. I think students, especially female students, need more encouragement toward the sciences.

Finally, I picked up this book because she’s wearing a cape. Who doesn’t love a cape?

Although I am not the target audience for this book, I think that it will appeal to some of my students and I have every intention of adding it to my optional AP list. While it is geared a bit more toward students in 7-9th grade, even some of my seniors can benefit from the biological information she gives and the coping mechanisms she offers. I also plan on getting a copy for my daughter when she hits that horribly awful middle school period. I wish I would have had this book when I was in my early teens.

I have to admit there is something really satisfying about the idea of handing my daughter a book that may help her understand her period just a bit better written by Bailik, someone who helped me understand my own when I saw her dealing with it on her TV show Blossom.

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Free Reading Friday: Sous Chef

Sous ChefAlthough I am not generally a fan of reality TV, I am slightly obsessed with cooking shows. From Chopped, to Iron Chef, to The Next Food Network Star, to Cupcake Wars, if there is competitive food creation, they’ve grabbed my attention. My son always tells me that I should be on one of the food shows because he thinks I’m a great cook. While that is definitely flattering, not only have I come to cooking a bit late in life (really only after he was born), but I am also very much a recipe girl. I need solid directions I can follow and add just a bit of improv to. I randomly forget my cooking basics like how to boil an egg or corn on the cob. I definitely get more than a bit flustered when trying to put together a complicated main dish and any sides at the same time and timing is NEVER my friend in the kitchen.

That being said, I am fascinated by those who can do it all and do it well. Aside from dishing out popcorn at the local movie theater, I’ve never worked in the food industry, so it is a bit of a mystery to me. I’ve had several friends who have been members of wait staffs in restaurants, but most of them were in college and did not take their jobs very seriously. What goes on in the actual kitchen remains a bit of a mystery to me.

Michael Gibney’s book helped clear up some of the mystery.

From movies, TV and my one Facebook friend who actually works as a chef, I knew chefs put in long hours. However, until I read Sous Chef: 24 hours on the Line, I had no idea just how long those hours are. I did not realize that my 8 hours a day being bombarded with questions from teenagers and the additional two hours or so I spend each night working on grading and lesson planning pale in comparison with life on the line in a kitchen. The idea of going into work at 9 am and not finishing up until after midnight is appalling to me. Although Gibney explains that the early hours before the restaurant opens for business (in his case dinner M-F and additional brunches on the weekends) are a bit slow and contemplative, the constant barrage of work that descends on everyone in the kitchen mid-day is enough to make me thankful I’ve only ever been on the dining room side of the experience.

The kitchen hierarchy was fascinating to read about. All the individual jobs I had no idea even existed are knowledge I am glad I now have. I also like finally understanding what a sous chef really does.

Reading his first hand account of the craziness that does not manage to burst into complete chaos once the tickets start rolling in has given me a better perspective on why it sometimes takes longer than I think it should to get my food. It also helps explain why sometimes things on the plate are not perfectly executed. It has also made me rethink my stance on sending food back to the kitchen (although I rarely do).

While I haven’t actually eaten at a restaurant since finishing the book, I believe the next time I do, the knowledge Gibney has given me will not only improve my experience as a customer, but also my empathy for my fellow human beings.

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Throwback Thursday: Best friend time

Buldog side viewI write about my friends a lot. I can’t help it. They are the most amazing people in the world. They are my family and I cannot imagine my world without them. Unfortunately, the years have scattered us across the country. Of our core group of 5, only one of them still lives near me. One spends a great deal of his time hiking in Colorado, one is trying to uncover the seedy underbelly of cyber security in DC and one is teaching Victorian sci-fi and horror in Georgia.

This summer my best friend and I got to spend four days bumming around DC with our reporter friend. It was amazing since it was the first time I’ve gotten to visit him in his new hometown (and it’s been his hometown for over a decade…yeah, I know, bad friend).

Last month, we all got together for another for another glorious four days in Isle of Palms, South Carolina. We rented a beach house, stayed up late, went on ghost tours and generally had a blast.

Then, just last week I got to spend part of my fall break visiting with my best friend in Georgia. Sure, she still had classes to teach, but in between those classes, we got to hang out at the coffee shop, go shopping, take my kids on adventures, eat a lot of super tasty food AND, most importantly, watch our favorite girly movies and talk, talk, talk.

One of our very first stops was Jittery Joe’s, a local coffee chain that has 16 locations: Nine are in Athens, four are in other towns in Georgia, one is in Tennessee and very unpredictably, one is in Japan. Athens actually has a surprising number of local, sort of chain restaurants, which I think is cool.

Jittery Joe'sWhen my best friend used to live around the corner from me, we spent countless hours at our favorite local coffee shop. Although neither of us are huge coffee fans, if we tried to count up all the spiced chais we drank over long talks about every aspect of our life, we could probably fill a swimming pool..and I’m not talking about a dinky backyard pool either. Because my best friend lived right around the corner and our local coffee shop was just right around another corner, my kids practically grew up there. In fact, they are friends with the owners’ kids, so they always loved going to the coffee shop with us. They’d bring books or electronic devices, share a cookie and let us talk for hours.

At Jittery Joe’s, we all fell right back into our old habits. Well, almost. The barista accidentally made a pumpkin spice latte and offered it to me for free, which replaced my usual chai. I also had to change out my usual cookie for a chocolate croissant. JJ’s has cookies, but they are flat and sort of hard. On my very first trip to Athens, my BFF warned me not to be fooled by the cookies because I would be horribly disappointed. As we share nearly identical sweet teeth, I trusted her. Thankfully JJ’s does have some good brownies, muffins and some passable croissants. The kids were happy playing their devices and I was thrilled to get some major best friend time in.

When my BFF was not teaching and we were not hanging out with my kids, we got more quality time in watching (and partially talking through) some of our favorite shows and movies. After my kids go to bed, we have a habit of putting a show we both love and have seen 100 times like Friends on in the background. We usually start off watching the show, but then start talking. Before we know it, three or four episodes have gone by with us only catching about half of what is going on, but not even remotely caring. We also like to hang out, browse the internet and read fun bits of information to each other. On our last visit together (when she came to see me before DC), we spent several hours reading hilarious book summaries and reviews to each other on Amazon. Yeah, I know, we are total geeks, but we both teach literature for a living, so this is big fun for us.

We also continued our tradition of watching movies our husbands don’t really enjoy. We re-watched Bride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time. We broke out into songs in several places and debated the hotness of William Darcy (played by Martin Henderson) and Balraj (played by Naveen Andrews). It was a hard call, but in most scenes we went for Andrews. Of course, that could be because of our undying love for his character Sayid from Lost. While the movie was playing I found myself looking up the actors to see what else they’d been in. When we found out Henderson had played Brittany Spears boyfriend in her “Toxic” video, we had to watch that as well.

My Cousin Rachel was also on our to view list. Neither of us had seen it before, but she’d read the Daphne du Maurier novel it is based on and really liked it. We both really liked the movie and it lead to a great debate about our thoughts on Rachel’s guilt. One thing I desperately miss about my BFF living 10 hours away is our discussions about movies, books and TV shows.

On my last night in Athens, we also kept up a long standing tradition of watching a Mystery Science Theater production. Every Friday her husband makes popcorn and they watch either a Rifftrax or an MST3K. This time it was The Final Sacrifice. Like all movies featured on MST3K, it was horrific, but the jokes of Mike Nelson and his robot pals made it a wonderful, laugh out loud night. I love watching one of these movies the night before I leave because it makes the leaving just a tiny bit easier. Or at least it distracts me from it.

Junkman'sThis trip we did not get to do nearly as much shopping as I’d like. We weren’t able to get a babysitter and since dragging my kids clothing shopping is worse than a root canal (or so I’m told, I’ve never had one, but my BFF assures me, having done both, that this is true), we only got to pop into one store. Usually we get a few hours to shop all our favorite places in downtown Athens and I go home with an outfit (or two) more than I arrived with. My BFF is the best person in the world to go shopping with. She gives me an honest opinion every time and encourages me to indulge, which is something I rarely do. I, on the other hand, keep her desire to spend too recklessly in check. We perfectly balance each other out. Plus, we have a lot of similar taste in clothes. Since there was no way we’d be able to enjoy clothing shopping together, the only store we got to go in is the Junkman’s Daughter’s Brother, a really strange and eclectic Athens institution. My kids love going in there because they have lots of unique items (and TOYS!). I love it for the same reason. The owner seemed really keen on showing us all the anti-Trump merchandise that had come in. I cackled a bit when he said the only good thing about Trump being elected was all the anti-Trump merch he was able to sell. I told him I was glad Trump was making someone happy.

As usual, the visit was over way too soon. It seemed like before I could blink it was time to load my car back up and head back home. My kids and I left at 7:30 in the morning and there were tears all around. My kids were crying because they were going to miss my BFF (and her amazing dog) so much. My BFF and I were sobbing because it will be five more months until we see each other again.

We’d gotten a bit spoiled seeing each other three times in the as many months and this stretch is going to be hard. Even though I know I will see her again on spring break and we will have an amazing time, it was just as hard to leave her on Saturday as it was the first time I pulled away from her house four years ago. She is my family and without her, home just doesn’t seem quite like home.

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Free Reading Friday: Fresh Off the Boat

Frest off the boatOnce again, I really had very little idea what I was getting into with this book. I vaguely remember hearing that Fresh off the Boat was the name of a TV series, but as I haven’t had any sort of cable in a few years, I’d never seen it. I actually just saw part of it at the gym earlier this week. I always bring music or a book to listen to while working out, but when I glanced up at the TV hanging over the Arc Trainer, I saw the intro for the show and found myself glancing up at it several times during my workout.

Before picking up this book I’d never heard of Eddie Huang or Baohaus. I actually bought the book after reading a short synopsis of it in a catalog I get a few times a year which previews books teachers might want to use in their classroom. As I am always looking for new, interesting works of non-fiction for my AP Language kids and I have only a handful of non-fiction books in my classroom by Asian writers, I bought a copy and added this one to my summer reading list.

At times I struggled reading it. It’s not that the book is hard to read, bu there is a lot of slang in it, and even when I was young, I was never extremely fluent in slang. Well, I did 80’s Valley Girl ok, but that’s because I actually grew up in Southern California in the 1980’s and mostly just picked it up from friends. East Coast street slang is an entirely different world to me. I also know next to nothing about sneakers and my hip-hop/rap knowledge could definitely stand to be better.

What I really enjoyed about this book was that I feel like Huang’s voice is authentically his in this book. He starts off as a young man, searching for himself, trapped in world where the only faces he sees that look like his are members of his family. As he grows up, he is caught between cultures and trying very hard not to become the “stereotypical Asian” he sees so many people around him becoming. His identification with hip hop and rap artists felt so real to him because like them, he felt like an outsider, looking into a world that didn’t really want him.

I think it’s great that Eddie is unapologetically himself in his memoir. He doesn’t try to turn himself into some sort of flawless hero. He shows the world who he is and was, warts and all, so to speak. He admits to mistakes. He talks about what he’s learned. He shares his frustrations and anger with his readers.

He also shares his very real disdain for a number of people in this book. While I do think he goes overboard with the way he airs his disdain, I haven’t lived his life. I am white and have never felt out of place in America. Disappointed in my country, sure, but never like I don’t belong here, which he has clearly felt, and been made to feel, countless times in his life. I think his anger is justified. I can’t imagine what it is like to grow up in a world where I barely see myself reflected in the media or where I feel pushed toward a minuscule number of professions.

I’m glad Huang wrote this book. I’m glad he started a business that truly reflects who he is as a person and gives others the chance to do the same. I’m glad I read this book and I hope several of my students read it as well. I think it may give some of them a perspective they’ve never thought of before. I love the line he has near the end of the book, “My main objective with Baohaus was to become a voice for Asian Americans,*” which he follows up with this footnote: *”Note that I say ‘a voice’ not ‘the voice.’ I don’t speak for all Asian Americans, I speak for a few rotten bananas like me.”

I think more voices like Huang’s need to be heard in our country.

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Free Reading Friday: The Handmaid’s Tale

HandmaidThe start of the school year means I have to get the summer reading I assigned to my Advanced Placement students finished. Don’t misunderstand, I never assign them a novel I have not read before, but before teaching any novel I re-read and annotate it.

I can’t even count the number of times I have read The Great Gatsby.

I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in my early 20’s. As much as it disturbed me then, I never really thought of it as a reflection of society or any sort of actuality…at least not in the US where it is set. I saw it more as a statement against conservative politics and the danger of letting religion take too strong of a hold on society. I thought of it as a warning to women not to forget some very, very dark times of old.

And while the book is still all of these things, reading it again today, considering the current state of our government, it no longer seems a reflection of things past, but frighteningly of those that may come.

Now, I still don’t believe it could ever get to the disturbing, disgusting levels Offred describes, one message keeps jumping out to me: people can get used to anything if given no real choice and no real voice. Even as Americans, we are willing to sacrifice a disturbing amount of our freedom for “safety.” The Patriot Act is living proof.

We are also seeing scary cuts and changes to reproductive care in this country. Health committees, made up of entirely men, are making decisions about what health services women can receive. State governments are making laws requiring women to get their rapist’s permission in order to get abortions. Planned Parenthhod, the largest single provider of women’s health care, may be defended.

We are seeing news called “fake” and access to our government, one that is supposed to be “for the people, by the people,” restricted from reporters. We are demonizing single mothers and trying to restrict governmental benefits for them. We are also seeing a rise in people demanding we, as a nation, return to “Christian values,” and trying to mirror local, state and national laws on the Bible.

Our country and Gilead are merging in very upsetting ways. Now, more than ever, this is an important book for people to read. It is why Hulu decided, 30 years after its first publication to turn the novel into a modern series.

I’m very interested to see what my students think of its relevance to today’s world.

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Free Reading Friday: Vengeance Road

Vengeance RoadI am not generally a fan of Westerns. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. I LOVED Deadwood, but I think that might have a bit more do do with my overall love for Timothy Olyphant. I also really like Westworld, but it’s not exactly a typical Western.

I was, however, a die-hard Little House on the Prairie fan as a kid. I can’t even count the hours I spent reading and re-reading all of the books. I still remember trying to grasp how Ma’s waist could be small enough that Pa’s fingers could touch when he wrapped his hands around it. When I was 10 I had no idea what a corset was. I also spent way more hours than any child probably should in front of the TV watching reruns of the show pretty much every day after school. My mom was really strict on what I was/wasn’t allowed to watch and Little House was on the approved list. So I devoured it.

I dressed up as Laura Ingalls for at least three different Halloweens. I also have a picture of me, in the fifth grade in a very 70’s (it was a Goodwill find), very pink, very Little House inspired dress. Thankfully I left the bonnet at home. Probably only because it was yellow and even I knew it would clash. That’s right, I loved the prairie so much that I wore it as part of my every day life. I was sooooooo not cool. But I LOVED me some prairie life.

I think my love for those good ol’ Little House days was probably what led me to grab Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman from the stack of books that arrived at my school library right before the start of summer.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the cover hinted at nostalgia and it’s on the Eliot Rosewater nominee list, so I added it onto my already considerably large pile. As is usual, my eyes get a little bit bigger than, well, my time, during the summer. I always think I’m going to get more reading done than I actually do. While I was certainly no slouch this summer (so far I’ve finished 22 books), I still see 4 books sitting on my piano bench and I think realistically I’ll only get through one or two more before classes start.

Despite its wild west exterior, for some reason I was not actually expecting this book to be about the actual Wild West. I really like going into books with no preconceived notions at all. It’s often a delightful surprise.

And it was with this book. From the opening line, “It weren’t no secret Pa owned the best plot of land ‘long Granite Creek, and I reckon that’s why they killed him,” I felt myself being pulled into the old West, a genre I’m not entirely comfortable in, but as I’ve said, have some serious, specific love for.

The first chapter of this book reminded me more than a bit of True Grit, a movie I quite enjoyed. The plot is only similar at the root–a young girl sets off to avenge the death of her father and along the way picks up two men who agree to help her. Both groups track the killer through “Indian country” and violent shoot outs happen along the way. Like the movie, the main characters have to show a lot of “true grit” during their journey. Huh…that really does make them sound quite a bit alike, doesn’t it?

The big differences lie in the ages of the main characters–Kate is 17 and the Colten boys are far nearer her age; Kate isn’t looking to bring her father’s killer to justice and the Colten boys aren’t actually interested in her revenge; and like most YA novels, there is a love story thrown in.

I quite enjoyed this book. It was a tad hard to adjust to the outdated and horrific grammar (“I were supposed to think she were dead”), but since it added so much to the voice and authenticity of the story, I told the English teacher in me to “shut pan” and get on with reading.

One thing I really like about this book is that I think it has a wide appeal. I think freshmen would like it just as much as seniors and boys just as much as girls. It has a good balance of action, adventure, romance and coming of age to satisfy a variety of readers. If readers can get passed the old-fashioned setting (I know this can be a struggle for kids), I think they will find it a highly enjoyable read. I like that it is a great window into a genre which is not as widely known or read.

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