Category Archives: Culture

Binge On These: My Top 3 Must-See TV Shows

Binge On These: My Top 3 Must-See TV Shows

Like Fight Club, there’s one rule: don’t add up the number of hours you will spend binge-watching a TV show.  I think of it this way: it’s quality time with my husband and it gives us tons to talk and wonder about.  Plus, there’s usually a road-trip worthy podcast about the show.  If I’m bingeing alone, I label it time to unwind and decompress.

Moving on… here are my current top three recommendations for some bingeing fun:


1) Scrotal Recall (2014, Netflix) Yeah, I know…the title. It’s awful.  ButScreen Shot 2016-03-25 at 7.15.05 PM I promise you, the show is hilarious. I’m starting with this because it’s only 6 25ish minute episodes. Plot: a twenty-something dude in England finds out he has chlamydia and has to contact all of his partners.  Hilarity ensues.  I mean it.

It’s a comedy about friendship and love and romance.  And…drumroll please…Season 2 is in the works!

2)  Scandal, Seasons 1-4 (Netflix and Hulu)  Season 1 and 2 were so good that I re-watched them with my husband so he could catch up. The feminist yet soapy pScreen Shot 2016-03-25 at 7.13.16 PMlot lines are ridiculously crazy and wonderful.  Drama, intrigue, romance, great clothes and a killer soundtrack.  I only say seasons 1-4 because Season 5 was a letdown – too much Olivia-Fitz drama and not enough “fixing”; Season 6 is boring me with recycled back-stabbing and plotting.  But 1-4, oh man, Shonda Rimes and her writers totally handle it.  Don’t miss “The Lawn Chair” (S4 E14) for some straight-from-the-headlines tear-filled badassery.

3)  Downton Abbey (Amazon) Yeah, yeah, a bunch of rich white folk in the EngScreen Shot 2016-03-25 at 7.17.21 PMlish countryside in the 1900’s.  YAWN.  I thought the same thing, but people whose taste I trusted were addicted.  My husband I started Season 1 over Christmas and finished Season 6 last week. SIX SEASONS IN THREE MONTHS, Y’ALL!  It’s THAT good.You learn about the aristocracy and the downstairs-cracy.  There’s something to love about almost every character, from the cranky Dowager Countess to the conniving Mr. Barrow.  Most of all, it’s a story about family and hope.  The past few months have been especially hard for me, so the hours we spent watching this show helped bring some light to a dark time.

What should I binge on next? Let me know in the comments!

Because Teachers Need To Eat: Mushroom and Kale Soup With Dill


Welcome to my new feature, Because Teachers Need To Eat. All teachers know that 30 minute lunches are never 30 minutes. That’s why I try to have something yummy and healthy to look forward to during my 23 (on a good day) minutes of peace and quiet.


Image from Real Simple, photo by Christopher Testani.

Yesterday, I made this soup from Real Simple.

I used some shiitakes; the rest were baby bellas.  I omitted the squash and doubled-down on the  greens (I used a baby kale/spinach mix).    It made four 1.5 cup servings.

I had one serving for dinner and it was delicious. I only had to add a pinch more salt and I loaded on the dill.  Even though it’s December in Pennsylvania, it’s still growing in my garden (hello, climate change), so I had plenty to chop up and sprinkle over the top. #TeamDill

Next time, I’ll use more shiitakes  for added flavor. I used 91 cents worth for this recipe, so doubling it is affordable.

Bon appetit!

If you’re a teacher and have an easy, go-to recipe please contact me at heatherharlen at gmail dot com. It would be fun to feature your healthy, easy recipe for lunchtime happiness.


September 2015: refreshed and ready to go. I wish I could bottle that energy!


Detoxing From Social Media


Over my school district’s winter break, I am taking a break from social media.  From December 24th through January 3rd, I am not checking Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.  In the interest of transparency, I have logged into Facebook to check yoga class times and to see if anyone has posted anything wacky on my author page, but that’s it.

And it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be to go cold turkey.

I’m a fan of social media, largely in part because I use generally use it for the Forces of Good: keep in touch with friends and family, share information, offer a high five or virtual hug and laugh at funny videos and memes.  I also wanted to be totally present with my husband over the holiday because starting a new job and finishing a book has made me candidate for #1 Slacker Wife 2015.

I also have a very sick family member and I am reflecting a lot on the preciousness of time.  If I get a terminal disease, I am not going to miss liking people’s statues or picture of flowers.  I will miss hugging  people and walking through the woods.

But I didn’t realize how automatic it has become to click on the blue and white F on my iPhone screen.  It was totally automatic.  It freaked me out.  And made me feel ashamed of being so connected to this computer in my hand.

My thoughts so far:

Day 1 (12/24) : This is great!  It’s fun to be so disconnected and to live like it’s 2006. Please text me your photos from Christmas Eve dinner because I’m detoxing from social media.  See, I have self control. Now give me one of those cookies…

Day 2 (12/25)  I want to see people’s Christmas photos!  But it’s so nice to be out of the loop. But I want to see your kids in their Christmas outfits!

Day 3 (12/26) : Periphery, Harlen. Social media is  all periphery.  You’ll be in touch with anyone who really matters. But what’s going on???  I had to text my husband a meme I made instead of posting it on his FB page.  It was an Omar Little meme and it was about ceviche – who wouldn’t want to see that? Oh well. It was just for him.

Day 4 (12/27):  I really want to tell everyone – the entire universe – how awesome Star Wars: The Force Awakes is!  I want to tweet J.J. Abrams and tell him I have officially forgiven him for the ending of Lost.  Instead, I will rave to my husband and the friends we watched it with.  I will text my sister-in-law back because she saw it today, too.  And I am good with that.

Day 4 (12/28):  I am reading REAL news sources more now.  I am actually going to The Washington Post app instead of my friends self-selecting for me.   It’s only been four days? I’m PROUD of myself for being off social media for four days. Proud?  That’s terrible.  Shameful.  Proud.  Wow. It’s a good thing I am taking a break.  I’m wondering what the outcome will be.







If You’re Sassy And You Own It, Raise Your Hand: Top Chef Season 13 Sneak Peak


top-chef-13-0-0Top Chef Season 13 premieres on Wednesday and Bravo offered fans an eleven minute amuse-bouche into the first competition. Internet snarksters are already wishing  cheftestant Renee Kelly culinary doom.


Kelly had had the nerve to….renee-kelly

….call herself “the super-sassy chef from Kansas City” and to express outward enthusiasm for her career.

I’m not joking.  She loves her job.  That’s her crime, folks.

She is HAPPY. Check it out at 1:10:

If it were a bearded, tattooed male hipster who’d called himself “sassy,” I would bet dollars to daikon that he would have received some giggles, tolerant eye-rolls, and even some bro-like pats on the back. But Kelly is literally mocked by one of her competitors in the next interview.

This is the conundrum of being a woman.  Look approachable but not too perky.  Be enthusiastic but stay serious. This interview with best-selling novelist Jennifer Weiner provides insight into the struggle for women to be taken seriously:

“If you’re smiling in your (color) author photo, it’s chick lit. If you’re smirking, or giving a stern, thin-lipped stare in your black-and-white picture, and if you go out of your way in every interview to talk about how “unserious books do not deserve serious attention,” then it’s literature”

This exact article made me rethink my own professional head shot. I was torn between two.  One happy, one serious.  What was the message to my readers?

Here’s what it boiled down to:   I’m a generally happy person.  I was thrilled my book was published.  If someone won’t read my book because I look happy, well, that wasn’t  my problem.

So this is me. Happy.  Because I get to do what makes my heart sing: write and teach. Deal with it.

Or don’t.

You’ve got this, Chef Renee.  Keep smiling that sassy smile. We need you.

Harlen Photo

I’m a happy writer. Deal with it.

#SmarterSunday: Two Harts Beating For Social Justice


“It was just a normal day” is the beginning of many stories, often sad.

September 11th, 2001.

The day my Uncle Harvey died.

But not this time. This time, this normal day became a revelation.

It was my first day volunteering with Meals on Wheels of Lehigh County, so I was going on an orientation delivery.  I helped Bill and Evelyn Hart load their car with the coolers and we started our route.  We made small talk and when we started talking about my job as a teacher, Evelyn said in passing that she taught in an underground literacy program in Alabama during the 196o’s.  As a teacher, I was fascinated and inspired by her story.

That February, Evelyn spoke at my school’s Black History Night about her experience as this “secret teacher.”  One of our students asked if she’d ever contacted her maid and Evelyn said she hadn’t. That made Evelyn think…

The rest is in this article written by the talented Margie Peterson.



#SmarterSunday: Along the ‘Black Route,’ A Perilous Path To Asylum

#SmarterSunday: Along the ‘Black Route,’ A Perilous Path To Asylum

Screen Shot 2015-06-28 at 10.06.33 AMIn a new weekly post I’m calling #SmarterSunday, I’m going to share an article that has made me smarter about the world we live in.   As a person and a writer, I am always interested in culture and politics, so I will offer you a gem from a reliable, well-done website that will offer us perspective on life as citizens of the world.

Today, I offer you this beautiful article/photo essay from The Washington Post by Anthony Faiola, Washington Post Berlin Bureau Chief, about a perilous journey from war-torn Syria to Europe.  Over-crowded ships, smugglers, gangsters, police and even wolves are part of the harrowing journey to reunite with loved ones and to build better lives for themselves. The photos by Charles Ommanney make it the story come alive.The grit, the tenacity, the strength of the people who make these journeys to escape horror and trauma inspire me.  What did my great-grandparents flee when they left Slovakia, Poland and Lithuania?  How can I be part of the solution?

So read the piece now, read it later in the week for a time you can enjoy it.  Please comment below with any insight or suggestions for a #SmarterSunday read.