Secret Coders: Robots & Repeats

9781626726062The SECRET CODERS, a trio of friends diverse in personalities, gender, and ethnicity, are up against Dr. One-Zero once again. This time there is the added drama of finding a clue that may lead to Hopper’s missing dad! This fourth volume of the science-fiction series from Gene Luen Yang and illustrator Mike Holmes, Secret Coders: Robots & Repeats, continues to intertwine typical kid drama with teaching code via easy-to-understand instructions and helpful, fun illustrations. The graphic novel format works really well to demonstrate how to code as well as moving the story along.

This series, published by First Second, is aimed at 8-14 year olds, and is best for kids interested in coding and familiar with the basics. The coding breaks, which are part of the adventures, can feel like they’re interrupting the flow of the story, but they will seem natural for readers who already know some coding language or have a strong motivation to become comfortable with it. However, even children with little or no coding knowledge will be drawn to the relatable storyline, including many parent-teacher-child scenes that most kids will recognize.

While the fourth volume, Robots & Repeats, could be read on its own, younger readers may want to start with the original Secret Coders graphic novel and continue from there. In addition, there is a website with excerpts, videos, and interactive activities. Clearly, Gene Luen Yang wants to recruit a wide variety of coders in the upcoming generation! Visit the Secret Coders website here: SECRET CODERS.



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Glad I Saw It: Nasty Women

IMG_4350This has been quite a week for me. Not only did I have the honor of meeting Hillary Clinton (!), shaking her hand, and thanking her at a signing for What Happened, I was able to bring my children, two of HRC’s biggest fans. I don’t remember what I said to her, but she asked my children their names and was gracious and warm and genuine. I also had a chance to chat briefly with Huma Abedin as we waited for our signed books, and I do remember thanking her for taking good care of HRC.  The whole evening was a wonderful opportunity.

Then, the next day, as I was walking up 9th Avenue in Manhattan towards a taping of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, my friend and I passed Dr. Ruth! I think I may have squealed “Ahhhh! It’s Dr. Ruth!” as we walked by. About a half a block later, we stopped and looked at each other, and clearly thought the same thing. We turned and rushed back to grab a photo with the 89 year old sexual educator. She was just as smiley as we were. We were on a serious adrenalin high all the way to 57th Street.

My final #NastyWoman adventure this week was to get a behind-the-scenes peek at how Sam Bee and her crew manage to pull off the Emmy Winning Full Frontal with Samantha Bee every week. I was also hoping to see my current favorite comedic writer-performer Ashley Nicole Black. So when Sam Bee introduced her after showing her segment, I’m not embarrassed to admit I yelled out “I LOVE YOU, ASHLEY!” She heard me, but looked in the wrong section of the audience to acknowledge the outburst. But she heard me. And then she retweeted me. So now we’re besties, right?

ANB retweet

Anyway, rest assured that I’m now settled back into my non-celebrity version of being a #NastyWoman. But it sure was a fabulous week of inspiration!


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Back in the Swing of Things


I am a child of routine. I like knowing where I’m supposed to be and for how long I’m supposed to be there. It’s part of what makes teaching so appealing. Some people are horrified by timed bells; I am comforted by them.

Over the last couple of weeks, before school started up again, I felt like I was running around in a hellish hurricane of events and obligations and changing schedules and needs and wants and appointments and so on and so forth. I was not practicing what I preach.

Freelance work demands a certain amount of assertive response to requests and tough love for yourself in order to be successful and get work done. You have to be your own bell schedule. Even after all these years of multiple part-time jobs and myriad volunteer activities, I still don’t have that down. I’m learning to say NO, and mean it. I’m learning to schedule myself and focus despite world and national events. I’m learning that it’s not, actually, all on me. I’m learning that I can do more better if I agree to less. I’m still learning.

So today, the Monday of the first full day of school for the kids, I took my first morning walk to the park with the dog in a long time. I took deep breaths, I put my phone in my pocket, and I recommitted to taking better care of myself so that I can take better care of my family, my causes, and my jobs, myself.

I invite you to get back in the swing of things this September as well. Clear out the flotsam, definitely kick out the jetsam, and focus on the things that really matter to YOU.

Please feel free to leave tips in comments because I’m going to need all the help I can get!

Posted in Beating Back the Aging Process (ha!), People do silly things, Suburban Life, volunteering | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Glad I Saw It: In A Heartbeat

It’s been another rough week — already! Take a break and watch this heart-warming short that’s as relatable as it is lovely.

This short film is by Beth David and Esteban Bravo, out of the Ringling College of Art + Design. Check them out on Facebook here: In A Heartbeat on FB.

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Summer Binge Watching Suggestions: Netflix Edition

b0a348e6c08dc46d8d4428ecc73743360d204ee3I love my dark and tortured shows, especially with a strong lean towards science fiction and fantasy. But of late I’ve wanted more light and goofy escapism, meaningful and in-depth social criticism, and I’m always game for period drama when it’s well done. So, basically, I like what I like. Keep that in mind with this ultimate, perfect, no-way-to-contradict-it list of summer binge suggestions. Most of these are definitely NSFW or children.

Chewing Gum: Light and Goofy, with an edge. There are two seasons of this supremely funny and painfully awkward series centers on Tracey (Michaela Coel) who just wants to lose her virginity. It’s raunchy, in the most innocently stumbling way possible. It’s squirm-in-your-seat uncomfortable, which might remind you of the discomfort in watching the British version of The Office. And you will fall in love with Tracey even while you’re unsure you want to ever hang out with her in the long-term. The second season expands attention to her circle of friends, and her sister becomes a driving force as well. Seriously, it has lifted the dark cloud of misery from my mood on more than one occasion. More details here: NYT review.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Light and Goofy, with a dark but subtle edge. Kimmy is like a more innocent, less focused Tracey. The series and its cast are the perfect brain candy for 2017. As with Chewing Gum, you may want to binge on several episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt despite not wanting to spend more than 20 minutes with the main character. And the supporting characters are the perfect foils and friends for Kimmy. Everyone is flawed in the most disturbingly beautiful ways, and you’ll end up feeling better about whatever has you in the dumps. More details: New Yorker review.

img_3844Sense8: Intense, hopeful, lots of skin and sex. If you don’t mind being confused for a while in a show, and you love sharp turns and sudden starts in your narrative, check out Sense8 for a wicked good time. You may also need to remember that suspension of disbelief is a handy tool as well. Sense8 begins in violence, and continues in violence mixed with longing, desperation, love, and vulnerability. You can’t help but fall in love with these characters, just as they all fall in love with each other. It’s both visually and thematically gorgeous and hopeful, despite the consistent dark and violent episodes. Trust me on this one if you’re into sci-fi and fantasy. It’s an antidote to a lot of the rhetoric floating around these days. There are two seasons, and (thankfully!) a holiday special coming. More details: Hollywood Reporter review.

Black Mirror: Dark, squirmy, self-critical, and sometimes funny social commentary. If you can make it through the discomfort of the first episode, you’ll be fine. And if you don’t recognize some of your own vices in the first season, you’re lying. Some of the episodes are harsh criticisms, while others are kinder, gentler lectures. You’ll reel back in horror, weep in frustration, and deny you’d ever behave in the same way. Good for you, there are many, many episodes to catch up on. (Don’t miss the San Junipero episode if you need a positive break.) Eventually you’ll admit that yeah, okay, you recognize yourself in some episodes. More details: Hollywood Reporter review.

The Crown: Slow, precise, more recent period drama. Considering that the subject of this drama is still the Queen, it feels odd to call this a period drama, but it is. As someone who  is peripherally interested in the modern monarchy, this was instructive and, well, calming. It’s beautifully made, and in these times without respect for norms and “the way things are done,” it can dispel some anxiety. It’s basically a family drama in which the decisions seem both silly and immensely heavy. There is scandal, political intrigue, and personal turmoil, all with a muted veil of decorum. The Crown is good after a particularly stressful week. More details: Vanity Fair’s review.

Dear White People: Get over yourself. It’s not a lecture; it’s a really well-made show. Go see the film on Amazon or iTunes or whatever, and then check out the first season of the series on Netflix. The characters of the series pick up from the film, but the series really delves into issues that the film introduces. Topics addressed include hypocrisy, privilege within the Black community, LGBTQ issues, peer and family pressure, obliviousness of different groups to each other, language, and in a stunning pair of episodes about Reggie, police brutality and the after effects. Each episode (or pair of episodes) focuses on one character, and each will humanize the audience further. Seriously, it’s really good. More details: NYT review.

Do you have additional must-sees on Netflix? I can already tick off a few more suggestions in my head. Share in comments!


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Glad I Saw It: Signs of Inclusion & Resistance

Just over six months ago, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Women’s March in Washington D.C. Just as I felt compelled to attend the March for Women’s Lives in April of 1992, I felt a real pull to go to D.C. over NYC for this event. I must have taken over 100 photos of different signs. Here are a few of my favorites.


Since that  January day, I’ve attended various smaller rallies and marches for immigrant rights, Black Lives Matter, reproductive rights, and science/climate issues. But I’ve also noticed a weariness setting in around me. It’s not complacence, necessarily, but a helpless, exhausted, despairing apathy brought on by the onslaught of “this is not normal.”

Please join me in continuing to speak out and call representatives and support those who are most vulnerable in our society. And don’t forget to practice self-care. Then come back and continue on!

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Glad I Saw It: Reading Workout

I love when I see my exact thoughts echoed in the wild. In this case, “The Wild” is Watchung Booksellers, and the sentiment is obvious.


In case you missed my latest reading recommendations, click here. And #ReadMore!

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New Jersey Day Trip: Hacklebarney State Park

The New Jersey State Parks are open (again) for business! My 8-year old and I wanted to take a hike this week, so I looked up various parks within an hour’s drive, and we settled on Hacklebarney State Park in Morris County, NJ. If you’re looking for a moderate hike with just enough amenities to remind you you’re close to civilization, take a day to hike Hacklebarney State Park.

hacklebarneyWe took the Riverside Trail to the Windy Ridge Trail to the remainder of the Main Trail back to the parking area for a total of about 2.5 miles. The trails vary in ease. Some are paved or mainly paved, while others basically include a path of roots and rocks. Most are good for sure-footed kids of elementary age or over. Anything off the paved paths is definitely unfriendly to strollers or anyone with mobility challenges. Only the parking lot and nearby rest rooms are wheelchair accessible. The paths, paved or not, have benches along the way for a rest, and the Riverside Trail has many areas for rock sitting and river contemplating.

IMG_3214The paths also have picnic tables and grills scattered throughout. This is one of the manmade rustic aspects of the park as many of the tables are in some form of disrepair or covered with moss. Even so, we saw evidence of cookouts and picnickers along the way. Be warned that Hacklebarney Park is BEAR COUNTRY, so make sure to take all your leftovers and trash (including dog poo bags!) with you. Carry In, Carry Out. 

The restrooms by the parking lot are functioning, and while my 8-year old said they are “stinky”and gross, they served their purpose. (They were kind of stinky and gross, but we chalked it up to roughing it.) Some guides say there is potable water along the paths, but we didn’t see any working stations other than the rest room building.


Caveats: Dogs are supposed to be leashed, but on our mid-week hike we ran into three unleashed dogs and saw LOTS of dog poo bags along the path. Watch out for fishhooks! There are also anglers fishing from the shore and sometimes from inside the river. We saw one intrepid teen swimming next to where his friend was fishing. I’m not sure that’s the smartest move ever, but he seemed to be enjoying it. Don’t count on the playground (off the Main and Playground Trails). When we passed by, there was a large pile of random garbage in the middle of the play area, and the equipment looked half-heartedly kept up. The garbage could be a result of the recent shutdown, and we didn’t see any park staff in the more than two hours we spent hiking. Finally, keep the bear warnings in mind. The chances are pretty low, but knowledge is power after all. There are information cards detailing what to do in case of a bear sighting. We neglected to pick one up when we started, but found one along the path. IMG_3221

Our hike was satisfying, hilly, rocky, beautiful, and rejuvenating. We brought lunch and ate it before starting our hike, but there are also many farms and casual eateries if you plan on eating at a restaurant.

For more ideas for Garden State hiking, check out Best Hikes in NJ!


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Glad I Saw It: Fog and Sunlight


Sunday morning started early with a dog that wanted to get outside and a daughter who decided reading in bed was better than sleeping late. I decided to walk to the bagel store instead of drive, and happily my 8-year old wanted to join the adventure.

We cut through the nearby park, and it was lovely and perfect. When I pointed out a particularly breathtaking view to my daughter, she responded, “Ooohhh, beautiful! It’s really just fog and sunlight, you know.”

Yeah, I know.


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HardCore Summer Reading Suggestions

fdc_book_trainwreckNothing against romance novels and more traditional beach reads, but I like to use my downtime to get deep and dirty into books that take me aback and encourage me to evolve without mindfulness and meditation. Here are a few of my summer reading recommendations.

—> Are you attracted to celebrity culture, but want to be more Ava DuVernay amplifying Jessica Chastain’s commentary about women in film than a self-flagellating narcissist like a Kardashian? (*) Or maybe you have leftover angry baggage about the denial of sexism’s role in the 2016 election season to infinity? Well then, Sady Doyle’s Trainwreck is your next summer read.

This non-fiction gem is a feminist history lesson that holds up a mirror to our own attitudes towards women who crash and burn. Doyle takes us from the Brontes to Amy Winehouse to Billie Holiday to Britney Spears to Hillary Clinton to Whitney Houston to Mary Wollstonecraft and back to Britney Spears, all the while giving context to their public spirals into “trainwreck” territory. The chapters are easily digestible anecdote-filled morsels that analyze both the subjects’ and the readers’ behavior. Trainwreck will entertain, educate, and make you stop and think about your own responses to celebrity.

(*) I fully understand the irony of calling out The Kardashians to open a mini-review/suggestion to read a book about celebrity trainwrecks.

51769957—> Reading Ada Calhoun’s Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give is a lot less expensive and a lot more fun than couples therapy. At least I imagine so. At once funny and sad and contemplative and honest, Calhoun nudges us to reevaluate and appreciate our own relationships. Each essay has a different filter and focus, but it never feels forced or manufactured.

Throughout the collection, Calhoun’s voice is like the friend you rely on to tell you the truth about what an idiot you’re being, but over a glass of your favorite beverage at sunset. The personal stories walk the line of TMI, but never cross it. We get to know her family without feeling like we’ve invaded their personal space too much. Best suited to couples who have been together for a while; you’ll probably recommend your partner reads the book as well.

elle-2017-books-difficult-women-roxane-gay—> I have to throw in a repeated recommendation for Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women. It’s just so good. This collection of short stories has something to suit any mood and any variation on summer weather. Read my full review here: Difficult Women. Gay’s new book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, is focused on food, weight, and self-image, and it’s sure to become the must-read of 2017. But I haven’t read it yet, so let me know what you think.

For my past recommendations see this post or this post or this kinda-sorta review, but definitely a summer suggestion here.

Leave YOUR suggestions for summer reading in comments!




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