River (and a few others)

Hello! Happy new year! Let’s talk about TV shows that celebrate everything dark in the world.

One need only quickly scan my archives to know that when it comes to television, dark crime shows are my siren song. I can’t resist the dulcet tones of a tortured investigator in an ill-fitting sport coat. Blurred moral compass? Mental instability? Deteriorating personal relationships? Don’t mind if I do! I’m here for you, DCI Awesomesauce.

I have a new show for you to binge watch on Netflix.

Screenshot 2015-12-28 10.17.10

River is a BBC crime drama about detective John River, played flawlessly by Stellan Skarsgård (Avengers, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Thor, Arn the Knight Templar).

River and Stevie

John River, loony-tunes extraordinaire, is a homicide detective with a tenuous hold on his sanity. He lives utterly alone except for the voices in his head that help him, sort of, solve cases. Only, don’t call them voices because that makes him sound crazy, and he’s the first one to tell his “see her or you’re fired” department therapist that he’s perfectly sane. The people he sees/voices he hears are manifests, people who have died but still have something to say to him. They are not ghosts, because ghosts don’t exist and anyone who thinks so is crazy.

Oh, John. I love you and your manifests. Go ahead and keep talking to them in the middle of the precinct while your partner looks on, horrified.


If that description makes River sound like Medium set in Great Britain, that’s only because I write a poor synopsis. That show was about a medium, someone who sees dead people. River is a depressed man who talks to himself often and vociferously. The show is more about high functioning with mental illness than it is about solving crimes.


Like every other show produced outside the US, the actors are refreshingly authentic in appearance. The women have wrinkles and belly rolls and the men are of average height and frame. No one has blinding white teeth and the lips are all of average size and puffiness.

Season one, which is six-episodes long, premiered in October 2015. BBC has yet to announce whether they will renew or cancel the show. I would be fine with either decision. I love the show and I love John River as a character, but the season ended conclusively. There are no cliff hangers or loose ends, which I respect.

Here are a few other shows I’ve been watching. Your recommendations must be shared–that goes without saying. :)


I would watch David Tennant read his grocery list, but that shouldn’t take away from this crime drama about a man who punishes himself for failing to solve a murder years prior. This is a show I didn’t think would see a second season, so I was very happy to see it pop up on Netflix.

The Bridge

When I last wrote about The Bridge, it was to recommend the Scandinavian version. The American version that came out shortly after is a so-so comparison. The bad: Diane Kruger‘s Sonya is nowhere near as compelling as Sofia Helin‘s Saga. The good: Demián Bichir‘s Marco Ruiz is more interesting than Kim Bodnia’s Martin. Overall, it’s a good show that gets better as the plot moves away from the original.


Idris Elba is perfection and therefore so is Luther. This is only a one-episode special that aired on December 17th, sadly. (There are also 3 seasons on Netflix for those who haven’t yet watched the show.)


I only just started watching this one over break. The episodes are a long 90 minutes, which makes is hard to watch when you have to wait until the kids are in bed. It’s pretty good, though Mali Harries’ terminal case of Mom Hair is distracting.


It’s Kenneth Branagh staring in a BBC crime drama about a Swedish detective. History says I should be foaming at the mouth like a rabid animal and creating Pinterest boards in Branagh’s honor, but I haven’t yet become obsessed.

Almost Antisocial

We had the most amazing Thanksgiving break. You can see much of it on my Instagram feed, which has slowly morphed into a blog for me. It’s easy and forces me to be brief. Maybe too brief, because I’ve been away from the writing habit long enough that I’m having trouble formulating my thoughts.

What I loved about our Thanksgiving break: the birth of my new niece, Charlotte; sleeping in; the cool weather; family activities; playing outside; the Mister being home. Nothing extraordinary, but all of it wonderful. Our decision to make it a limited TV/video game/device break played a large part.

Screenshot 2015-11-30 17.49.12

Three cheers for a week with barely any screen time! There’s been reading, playing, hiking, visiting family, and homework. This picture of the boys playing football with a boy from the neighborhood reminds me of a picture book Nico had called “Fall Ball” by Peter McCarty. I read it to him and his classmates in the 1st grade. When the friends crashed into each other and the leaves went everywhere the whole class laughed and laughed. I just recently donated it to the library. 🍃🍁🍂

Twice in the last month we caught Nico in a lie. Both times he was supposed to be in bed, but was really playing on my old iPhone. It’s important to note that we don’t allow video games or TV during the week, so what he did, while not capital murder, went beyond staying up past his bedtime without permission. The second time we found him playing on the phone was right before the break; we immediately took away the privilege of video games and devices for the entirety of his vacation. In essence, this put Mikey on restriction as well, but we didn’t lose sleep over it because he had homework in at least one subject, his science fair project to complete, and academic decathlon work (he’s on the current events team). We wanted him outside in the fresh air after all that book work.

With Nico unable to watch TV or play video games, the house was quiet. Mikey completed his projects peacefully and without distractions in record time, while Nico worked on puzzles, drew pictures, built Legos, and read Goosebumps. When Mikey finished all his work, he joined in on Nico’s fun. When they got bored, I told them to go outside and play.

Within a few minutes, all the neighborhood kids were over. Not long after that, they “invented” Land Boat Racing.


Land Boat Racing, according to the kids, is when you take skateboard or kiddy pedal car and attach to it a cardboard seat you make out of boxes you find in your parents’ garage. Then, using large sticks you gather from the neighbors’ yards, you row yourself down the street. If you ask the Mister and his brother, the “true” inventors of Land Boat Racing in the 70s, you’re supposed to balance a lawn chair on a skateboard and then find a hill. Helmets? Not in the 70s!

The kids also played a ton of football and basketball. Nico got busted trying to swing from our tree. They came inside when the street lights came on. It was the vacation our family needed, and it was wonderful.

What I noticed more than anything was the absence of petty fights and drama. The boys aren’t allowed to play violent video games, but I swear even Minecraft winds them up and makes them short tempered. Their personalities change. They fight over stupid, stupid stuff. They have trouble sleeping at night and get up early to get in more game time. They don’t eat well, either nibbling at their food so they can get back to playing faster or waiting until they’re starving to eat.

We went without cable for years until recently because the Mister wanted to watch football with the boys. Reconnecting the cable was a mistake. Now all the boys want to want to do is watch football and Cartoon Network. Then they imitate what they see, and what they see is rude and lame.

photo by John Blanding

photo by John Blanding

The thing is, I’ve been down on kids and devices even before our break. I was aware of the differences I see in the boys and haven’t know what to do about it. Then, I saw Being 13: Inside the Secret World of Teens and dropped my head in my hands. If you haven’t watched this special yet, I highly recommend you make the time to do so.

I’ve talked to 3 or 4 moms of children older than mine since I watched that special, and they all said the same thing: if they could do it all again, they would delay giving their kids devices of any kind. These are all mothers I respect, mothers who don’t know each other, and all these conversations (1 email, 3 in person) happened separately and without one knowing about the others. They believe once you start, it’s hard to pull back; monitoring use becomes difficult and time consuming; parental controls are a joke and can be circumvented easily.

How can we as parents do this, though, when all the schools are switching to iPads? Or how can I demand this of the boys if I do everything on my phone? Take today, for example, which was my birthday. My mother and two brothers called me. I also received 63 messages on my Facebook wall, 12 texts, and 4 emails.

The Mister and I realized that if we want to raise the boys differently, we need to be the first ones to change. We’re not sure what that entails because not all technology is bad! I love writing here, love the internet, love the people I have met online, and love my corner of Instagram. To flounce from the internet is out of the question. Please, everyone comes back, if only for the cute animal videos.

As usual, I’ve been thinking, reading, plotting, and trying to come up with realistic, long term plans. I’ll share them as they become more concrete. Selling everything and moving to a yurt in New Mexico is tempting, but not likely. Living a life without electronics sounds lovely; so does Utopia. Neither one is going to happen. (But wouldn’t it be something?)

In an effort to speed up the navel-gazing process, I’m hoping you’ll share your thoughts on kids and electronics so that together we can come up with a workable solution that doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.




Coffee Nut Smoothie

Smoothie-2 copy

It took 42 years, but I finally found a breakfast I can stomach that also keeps me satisfied until lunch.

I never drank coffee until I started working at the school. Even then, I didn’t drink coffee. I drank what my middle brother not-so-affectionately referred to as a Grande Frappuccino of Chemicals and Corporate Wealth, with Soy. (AKA: Salted Caramel Frappuccino.)

Then, over the summer in Lake Tahoe, I had a blended drink from Peet’s Coffee. I was, like, oh. This is why everyone says Starbuck’s is crap. I had no idea Starbuck’s uses coffee syrup in place of coffee in their drinks. Go ahead and laugh–the Mr. did. So did my brothers and Mikey, my son who isn’t even allowed to drink coffee. I know, ridiculous, but I wasn’t paying attention. I just figured it was coffee, soy milk, and chemicals blended up. Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.

I knew I had to come up with something different when I cut out sugar a while back, and this smoothie is the result. Fair warning, this smoothie is not sweet! The only sugar comes from the banana and nut butter, so the dark, bitter coffee flavor plays a starring role. It also has a thin consistency. I only use one frozen banana so the texture is like a thick chocolate milk. If you’ve been waiting your whole life for a watery, bitter smoothie to have for breakfast, consider this your lucky day.

Coffee Nut Smoothie

1.5      cups milk (I alternate between unsweetened soy and almond)
0.5     cups cold brew coffee
1         frozen banana
1 TB   nut butter (I alternate between Sun Butter and Justin’s Maple Almond Butter)
2 TB   unsweetned cocoa powder

This makes almost 4 cups (!) of smoothie at around 300-400 calories, depending on the milk you use. Using almond milk gives you a slightly better nutritional profile for less calories, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. And, yes, I do use canning jars for my smoothies and have done so for 9 years–long before hipsters made it twee. The lid and straw are a recent and much welcome addition since driving to school with an open canning jar was a huge pain. Whatever you use, it has to be big enough to hold 4 cups.



Girl Books, Boy Books


The library is now in session! The picture books look good, but the middle grade area needs massive organizing. I’m trying to remain calm despite the chaos. It kills me that I don’t know where every book in the library is, but if we get the automation software I’ll need to take all the books off the shelves to enter them. I refuse to organize the books twice.

Last week I spent the beginning of each class going over the procedures for the library. I went over the usual rules and showed how they apply to our school’s new point-based discipline program. The kids were surprised to learn that the biggest point loss in library fell under the category Disrespect. I’ll take away 3 points–a huge ding on a student’s weekly conduct grade–to any student who makes fun of what another student reads. I had the same lecture for each class, but here’s how it went for 3rd grade, Nico’s class.

“For example,” I said nodding to Nico. “Let’s say Nico’s favorite books to read are princess books.” As predicted, everyone in the class started laughing hysterically. One boy, looking slightly horrified stopped laughing, turned to Nico and said, “Wait…is that true?”

He made my point so perfectly you would have thought I planted him.

By the end of the week I had 16 classes parroting back: There are no girl books or boy books. Just books.

Hahn Collage

Book covers are important, especially to kids. I’ve noticed that girls like illustrated covers and boys rarely check out books with a female on the cover unless that female is a zombie or demon. It’s just how it is–at least at my school. Which means you could have knocked me over with a feather when the very boy son of a police officer checked out Stepping on the Cracks, a book with a girl in a mint green sweater on the cover.

Sure, it’s Mary Downing Hahn, the queen of middle grade horror, but it’s still a girl with braids wearing a pastel twinset. I’ve tried to sell Mary Downing Hahn before, always focusing on the blood-and-guts potential, but the boys never showed any interest. Maybe my stern lecture had impact and gave this boy confidence to check out a “girl” book? Or, probably, they’re all tired of me harping, “Read the blurb on the back of the book if you want to know what it’s about!”

(Seriously. Reading the blurb on the back is the last resort for kids.)
(And if he read the blurb on the back of the book he knew it’s a book about WWII.)

This week he stormed into the library and, while waving the book, passed my desk and said, “Mrs. Kendall, Hahn is demented! DEMENTED.”

Then he went on and explained the many ways the book was creepy, and spooky, and weird, and made for demented people.

“So…are you getting a different book?”

“Oh, I’m checking it out again,” he said, dropping Stepping on the Cracks on my desk. “I’m totally finishing this one.”

Two other boys checked out Mary Downing Hahn books thanks to him, and later I heard another boy say to him, “OK, so, like, give me break down of the book.”

Less than 10 feet away from them, my heart filled to bursting listening two 10 year old boys talk about books.

The Definition of Lumbering

The other day Nico was getting something from his room, but he did it with such a heavy step that Mikey looked up from his homework and said, “Dude, what’s with the lumbering?”

That’s me getting through the last couple of weeks. I’m lumbering like a boss.

We are not moving to Sacramento, which is good news! The bad news is that it’s because someone claimed a hardship and snagged the spot. Adulting is still hard. It looks like we will stay in southern California, I think, though I don’t know in which capacity. It could mean a different company, or it could mean the same company with a lot of travel. The situation is not ideal, but it’s also not the end of the world. This is what I tell myself as I cycle through what I imagine are pretty common emotions: fear, anger, sadness, apathy, and hope.

This is what lumbering looks like, if you’re curious.

Job Collage

I’ve been trying to attend daily mass since school started. Every single day I think I’m too busy to go, but I force myself to go and it’s been great. This week I didn’t go because it’s the first week of library and I pretty much freaked out and convinced myself I didn’t have 30 minutes to spare. (I did. Whatever.)

Shortly after hearing about the layoff, I was wondering what I could do to cheer up the Mister. I was sitting in church, waiting for mass to start, when I decided to thumb through the prayers on the Laudate app. That app is great, by the way. I used it all last year when I took the 4th graders to Friday mass because it has the daily readings. I use it for daily mass (for the readings) and the Mister uses it for Sunday mass. Anyway, I took a screenshot of a prayer for employment and texted it to the Mister. I never heard a word back, but when I got home I found it printed and taped to the walls of our bathroom and his office. There’s a copy of it on the car dash now, too. :)



It’s been hit-and-miss on the motherhood front. Some days I’m very tired, very short-tempered. I often feel like I’m yelling all the time because I’m stressed and taking it out on everyone. Then other days Nico comes into my room and tells me he made a burning bush like in the Bible and Mikey says he wouldn’t change a thing about himself.





But in the end, most of my time is in the library. I’ve decided that the book-bin craze I see in library and teacher’s blogs/instagram are for looks. I can see putting picture books in bins because it makes it easier for the little ones to pick out a book, but lately I’m seeing chapter books and entire series in bins. I tried it to see if I am missing something. I don’t think I’m missing anything. It’s a horrible use of space! In the above picture I can’t fit all The Magic Treehouse books on the shelf if they’re binned. Without the bin I can fit 3 different series, including The Magic Treehouse.

It looks like we may get automation software (finally!) and that, along with an influx of donations and a principal who understands the importance of a circulating collection, has spurred me to purge the library. I’ve donated 20+ boxes of books. I could donate more, but I’m trying to show some restraint. I get a lot of gasps when people walk by and see the boxes of books but, yeah, I have no problem getting rid of books that aren’t used or appreciated. The thing is, a 10,000-volume library isn’t a 10,000-volume library if the kids read the same 1,000 books. It’s a 1,000-volume library with a lot of clutter.

There you go, my last lumbering 9 days. It’s not much, but I’ll get to where I want to be eventually. That’s the thing about lumbering–you may be moving slow, but you’re still moving forward.