Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Teaching Gift

I’ve been humbled, flabbergasted, delighted, amazed, a bit mortified, blown away and left speechless.

First: I love teaching. I love teaching histry. I love watching students get riled up when we talk about the grievances in the Declaration of Independence and the Quartering Act (easy for teenagers to get when strangers invade their space). I love painting the picture of our great American hero Benedict Arnold and watch them fume when he turns his back on all he swore with all fidelity to protect. (I think the Revolution and then the Constitution are my favorite things to teach).

Each year, students come to me and I work as hard as I can to turn them on to history. To help them become better writers, researchers, citizens. 

It’s tough, often exhausting work. With all the discussion on the news about the terrible state of education, it’s possible to ask—is it worth it—do I make any kind of a difference?

Well: This week, four students gave me a gift, I will never forget.

I often use images to bring deeper understanding to my students. We will analyze and interpret these images to learn more of the period and to gain insight to circumstances. Sometimes, it’s just to make things more accessible to my 8th graders and to keep it interesting.

We talked about Valley Forge last week and I showed my students the Friberg painting of George Washington at Valley Forge. My students knew how much I love that painting.

This week, four students had me come into my classroom before school. I was ordered to close my eyes, walk in further under their direction and then open my eyes.  I was expecting some funny song or something—they were so wriggly and obviously pleased with themselves. It’s the holidays and a little sweet something wouldn’t have surprised me.

When I opened my eyes those four 13 year old young men stood holding a beautifully framed copy of that very painting with a gorgeous bow on it! Tears filled my eyes and I felt like the floor was going to open up and swallow me whole.

I shudder to think how much they must have spent on it.

The sensitivity and overwhelming generosity of these young men is incredible.

Am I making a difference? Is all the effort worth it?

I think, for a very long time, I need to not ask myself that. When in doubt, all I need to do is look to the back of my classroom and try not to choke up.
Thank you, you sweet, amazing, surprising, shocking, funny, thoughtful guys.
PS...I hope you studied for the American Revolution Test. It's a bear.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Peek Into "All She Wants for Christmas!"

Thanks to -- they inspired me to share a fun insight into All She Wants for Christmas!

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the land
The greedy and selfish had taken a stand.
The stockings ‘cross town had been hung everywhere
With expectations and demands that St. Nick would come there.

Now handsome Ben Herod, Ebenezer by name,
Knew that his not-so-good family had a part in that game.
He had a good heart and loved one and loved all,
And he may have been rich but his heart wasn’t small.

He knew that his family had been trying for years—
And destroying this Christmas and would bring them great cheers.
But as the hero of this tale he knew that won’t do,
And to overcome evil would be quite a coup.
(Okay now you have to say that word right “coo” or rhyme won’t work—just saying.)

So he’s determined and tough and will have no distraction.
But he’s met a young lady and they have quite an attraction.
What he does not know yet, which could change everything—
Is that George, yes it’s George, has her own secret to bring.

She’s the daughter of Santa Claus, oh what a surprise!
And she can do magic right before Ben’s blue eyes.
But she’s had enough of the holiday to last a lifetime
And she’s sure that the Herod’s are nothing but slime.

So can their love blossom and solve problems too?
Will they rescue the holiday or do something new?
You’ll just have read it and find out for yourself.
Or wait for the next visit from that Jolly Old Elf.

Well, I don’t mean to cheat and steal this fine rhyme,
But I will tell you one thing that might give you some time.
I’ve heard that he said ‘ere he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas to all and George bid them goodnight!”

Want to win a copy?
Check out my contest!


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I Will NEVER Ceased to be Amazed by Students

Okay....totally bizarre thing.  Today we were learning about the Revolution.  The American Revolution. All right--let's be precise.  The War for American Independence.

We've been laying the foundation for days now. People, events, places. Well, today's the day. The battles start with the spark! Lexington and Concord...

Problem: We're on assembly schedule and 10 minutes were cut from my class.  AND...we needed to talk about thesis statements for an upcoming project they're working on.  (Yeah, I know...boring at any time...for 8th graders???)

So the bell rings. They're being excused for lunch. Second lunch. Last lunch. We're all starving. 

You could have blown me over with a feather....

"Please, Mrs. Olds, please! Don't stop!"

I laugh. "It's lunch, you guys. We're all starving."

"I know," one young man shouted. "Let's all get our lunches and come back here. You can keep teaching us.  Please?"

I laughed again.

Then I was bombarded with pleading and "ah, come on!" and "We'll do it! Really!"

Ah...I shoulda done it. But I didn't want even one student to feel pressured into staying, so I said no. 

Silly me. Stopping learning?  Heaven forbid.

And what a compliment.  And what a massive responsibility to my incredible students!

Next time, if there is a next time...I'll do without lunch.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Facing the birth of a New Novel--Yep, It's Out! All She Wants for Christmas

Today my latest book, "All She Wants for Christmas" comes out.

It's exciting because it's my first attempt at self-publishing.  And yet, to be honest, this book wasn't self-published.  I could not have done it without my team. ali cross and her folks at Novel Ninjutsu were AMAZING!

They made a map for the project with deadlines and suggestions and questions. Things I never knew I didn't even know. Like branding, and formatting in several different ebook formats and just life in general.

Elana Johnson was my editor. She was honest. Helpful. Insightful. Sometimes, she drove me crazy--especially when she was right and I didn't want to change, but I knew I should.

Steven Novak did my cover. I wanted something fun. Something that said, come hither you friendly reader. And something that made me giggle. Ben does that. PS...don't open romance covers in a Junior High classroom.  I think I went every shade of red after my first giggle. And thank heavens for people with artist eyes because I don't know colors and shapes, but I do like my cover.

So, while I made the decision to move it into publication, I did not publish it. And I would like to thank all those that helped me get All She Wants for Christmas out because it never would have made it without you.

Now, I give it to my readers. Some who know me. Hopefully many who haven't met my writing yet.

A beautifully organized blog tour starts on the 3rd. Stick around and find out more about George, Ben and their story. 

Here's hoping you sit back. Enjoy. And have a wonderful, magical holiday escape.

It's all okay.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ender's Game - Movie Moments

A young hero. Gifted. Smart. Bullied. A team of misfits. A future world. The under dogs. Good
computer graphics. A decent plot. Some big name actors.

Ender's Game should have everything to make a great movie. 

Problem: Asa Butterfield was not the right choice for the lead character. I would have liked this movie. Really.  Except that Asa apparently has one reaction for every emotion. Tears. Or at least it looked like his eyes were continually brimming with tears. It was tiring and predictable. And most of the supporting acting team were much better and interesting than Ender was.

Throughout the film, I kept wondering why big names like Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley were in that movie. I can't imagine that it had the kind of budget that would have met their level of financial requirement.  (Or is it possible they've slid far enough down the pole these days?)

Honestly, by the last big "test"/battle I had started wondering when it would end. How much longer could it go on? And when the last twist came, it was unsurprising.

The worst part was the ending. It was disappointingly dumb. I hate spoilers so I won't ruin it for others, but I hope you aren't as lukewarm about it as I was.

Oh well. Just another average movie. Most tween and early teen kids particularly boys might enjoy it. And certainly fans of Orson Scott Card will be eager to watch it. Just know you might be disappointed.  Or go with low expectations and you may really enjoy it.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thor--The Dark World -: Movie Moments

If you're looking for gorgeous leading men. Beautiful costumes. A love story. Great throw away lines. And a nice adrenalin rush. (And a little predictability.)  Head off to Thor: The Dark World.

The CGI is much better than the first Thor which makes it much more watchable and cinematic. I wish the fighting weren't done so close to the camera so you could see it more clearly, but the effects are great and I LOVE Captain America's cameo. And it's nice to know Stan Lee is still appearing in the Marvel Movies even though Disney the great and powerful now owns them.

This is going to play well on the big and little screen, but you'll enjoy it more on the big screen. Don't miss it!  Nice to have a movie that left me with a massive grin. A good way to start the upcoming holiday watching binge season.

There are a few scary moments--if you have younger children who scare easily.

Be sure to stay for the WHOLE thing. They have an extra scene and an Easter egg.

All She Wants for Christmas Cover Reveal!

Looking for a little holiday romance?  Or looking for a fun gift for your fan of reading?  Well, look no further!

My new book: All She Wants for Christmas is coming out December 6th!

All She Wants for Christmas
Author: Sara V. Olds
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Romance

George Clauson is Santa's daughter, but she can't stand Christmas. All that ho-ho-hoing, caroling and people's greedy wants? No, thank you. She's left the family business and struck off on her own in the human world finding her niche as a humble second-grade teacher.

Ebenezer Herod is a descendent of King Herod. His family has never stopped trying to destroy Christmas. This year they may actually get their wish, but not if Ben can help it.

George wants nothing to do with restoring balance to the Christmas season, and she certainly isn't interested in the shockingly handsome and devilishly rich Ben. A determined do-gooder, Ben's used to saving the day, but he can't rescue Christmas alone. Can George and Ben find a way to work together despite their opposing heritages to make the Season bright? 

Keep your eyes peeled for some fun giveaways with the release of this book!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

When Great Things Happen! Epic "EPPIE" Finalist!

My Life as a Lumberjack Or How I Fell For the Wrong Guy(s) has been named an EPIC (known as the EPPIES) finalist for 2014!  In the YA category.

This is so much fun to be recognized. But, it's even nicer to me because I feel that so much of YA literature is pushing the envelope on too dark, too edgy, too sexy.

Lumberjack is so fun and so light that just seems extra nice to be recognized for bringing a boatload of laughter into life.

So, thanks to my readers out there and keep enjoying Benz and her friends. And remember---don't drink and read!!!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fox News A+ Teacher of the Week---Suprise!

As a teacher, it's always fun to know that you're making a difference.

A parent from LAST year nominated me.  Wow!  Now that's humbling.

My 5th hour class was delighted! (They got treats.) But best of all, they showed off their brilliance by doing their Memorization of the New Colossus.  And then....while I was being interview?  They just went on with our class procedures and a student gave Current Events.  Way to go!! 

Love my classes!  Oh...and I teach 8th Grade not 6th.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

WriteOnCon - A Convention for Aspiring Authors!

Do you consider yourself an author?
Are you a wannabe writer?
Do you have characters and plots running willy-nilly through your head and you can't get rid of them?

Then WriteOnCon is the place for you!

Elana Johnson - outstanding YA author and her friends have put together a FREE online convention for MG/YA and NA authors.  That's Middle Grade/Young Adult and New Adult if you're unfamiliar with the lingo.

Go and visit. It's free. There are chances for critiques, agent pitches, lots of great information and chances to meet and mingle with folks just like you.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Planes: - Movie Moments

Disney's new movie - "Planes" fits into the world they created with "Cars." They talk, they move,
they have lives, feelings and adventures and no humans are around. (In case you've never seen it.)

It's the sweet tale of Dusty Crophopper who dreams of being something more. A racing plane.

Problem: He's a crop duster, not built for speed...and he's afraid of heights.

But like most Disney movies, we watch that determined underdog or rather underplane take on the world of racing and his dreams.

His reluctant coach, Skipper, is a retired Corsair from WWII, who will help Dusty by using his combat skills and teach Dusty the importance of tight flying and using altitude for speed.

This is a typical Disney show. But I first fell in love with airplanes because of the Corsairs and it was really fun to watch.

The characters were sweet (though predictable). Our family loved El Chupacabra and his cape swish.

One small problem was the final leg of the race that went from Mexico City to New York, seemed to fly through the "Great Desert" which looked an awful lot like the Grand Canyon.

We watch as the characters around Dusty grow because of his integrity and courage. And at the end, there's a sweet sigh and a hooray that you can't help but feel.

My youngest insisted we stay for the Easter Egg...just in case...and was thrilled to learn that Dusty will return in another movie.  (Big surprise).

I enjoyed reading the credits. They had a ton of military advisors on the film which explains the great job drawing the planes and the aircraft carrier--I won't explain that to ruin the surprise.

We enjoyed it. But I'm not sure it's special enough to join that Disney favorite's list even though it will stick around because of the dollars behind its marketing.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Free Ebook! Anna - A Farewell to Juarez

Free children's historical fiction ebook until August 3, 2013!

Just heard that my book "Anna - A Farewell to Juarez" is being offered free until Saturday!!

Go enjoy! (I'd love a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads afterwards.)

Anna a Farewell to Juarez

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Gettysburg - An Address for All Time

Gettysburg National Battlefield Park is a holy place. How could you stand on ground where more than 150,000 fought, more than 30,000 were wounded and at least 7,000 people died in three days without appreciating the level of their suffering.

I have been to Gettysburg four times now. It is one of my most favorite places to visit. There’s a spirit there. Solemn. Exhausting. Overwhelming. Shocking. And yet, peaceful.
Today, the Civil War Trust Teacher Institute brought me to the battlefield once again. This time with an incredible guide and people who hungered for more information…teachers.

After spending more than six hours out in the hot sun, viewing hills and ridges, imagining smoke filled fields and acres of the dead and dying--including hiding in our bus from a torrential downpour while discussing Pickett’s Charge--we found ourselves in the cemetery, drippy and dampy learning of one of Lincoln’s greatest moments.
“Anyone know this?” asked the guide.

“I do,” I answered confidently.
“I’m going to call on you in a moment.”

Sudden moments of performance anxiety. I know, I know these words. Can I say them? And say them in a way that they mean to me.
I stopped listening and started thinking.
“Okay,” he said.
I folded my umbrella. Slid my hand into my pocket for comfort and took a slow, calming breath.
“Fourscore and seven years ago…”
The words flowed with a comfort that comes from teaching it to more than eight hundred students and having known it for what seems now, nearly my whole life (I learned in fifth grade.)

“Now we are engaged in a Great Civil War, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.”
Early this month was the 150th anniversary of this battle. Our nation still evolving. Still struggling.
“We have come to dedication a portion of that field as a final resting place…” (Only the Union soldiers, of course) “…for those who here gave their lives…”
My voice broke. Tears blurred my eyes for those “brave men living and dead who struggled here that that nation might live.”

My heart jumped to my nephew—in Afghanistan for the second time and his comrades who are fighting the unpopular battle that freedom might live.
I paused and cleared my throat.
“We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men living and down who struggled here have consecrated far above our poor power to add or detract.”
This was the feeling I’d carried all day. Them. Not me. Them not me. Not the hundreds of thousands of visitors.

“The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
And yet, I stood remembering exactly what he said and only just scratching the surface of what they did.

“It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here thus far so nobly advanced.”
I stood surrounded by teachers. Of different states, different backgrounds, colors, religions. And I realized that we…the educators of our children have picked up those battle colors fluttered from the hands of our honored dead and we must continue on in that unfinished work. To bring peace. To end hatred. To find and embrace equality for our students so that, “the government, of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”


Friday, July 19, 2013

Red 2: Movie Moments

I loved this movie. It was better than the first.

It was funny. The story was nice and complex with plenty of twists. It had tons of action and great stunts. It’s got a touch of romance and great sexual tension and it was funny.
Yep. I said that twice!

Red—Retired Extremely Dangerous (2) brings back together Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich as retired intelligence operatives.  And their characters are VERY good at what they do.
It was fun to see Anthony Hopkins in this, although I had a few technical issues with his character—not his acting. (I don’t want to give away the plot so I won’t say more.)

If you’re going to enjoy this movie, you must go in expecting dry humor, violence (not blood splattering), and tongue in cheek chatter than goes on and on and on.  Like the repetitive joke about giving Sarah (the girlfriend) a gun…"it wasn’t loaded was it?" Everyone asks as soon as they hear she’s was given one.
What makes it so fun is that while there is lots of plot and action, they’re almost making fun of the whole intelligence movie genre/business.

If I were to make one complaint…who did Catherine Zeta Jones’s eye makeup? It was awful—especially at first, she looked like a clown and it was difficult to take her seriously because of it.

Expect lots of shooting and explosions. Some high speed chases. A little hand to hand smashing and not a ton of bad language.
Best of all? There are more funny parts than just shown in the commercials. The whole Costco sequence at the beginning had me chuckling from the start. And I could not stop laughing at the funeral.

Go. Be Entertained. Suspend your disbelief and laugh!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Host: Movie Moments (DVD)

The Host was written by Stephenie Meyer of Twilight Fame. I’m not a Twilight Fan. I saw the first three movies because my teenage daughter begged me. I have not read The Host and I had heard nothing of the story but that the book was good and the book was bad. The movie was good and the movie was bad.

So…I decided to give it try. (Thanks to a free Redbox!)

Plot: The world – now “perfect” – has been taken over by aliens who use human bodies as hosts. (Hence the name.) Only a few humans remain and they’re being hunted down. The story follows one girl who while she is taken as a host, her consciousness remains alive and trapped and fights against the control of the alien.

I’ve gotta say I LOVE the shiny stuff the aliens use. The silver eggs they come in. Their cars. And everything is very neat and orderly. Except for the Seeker’s shoes! What costume designer thought those tall brown, ugly things when the character was wearing stark all white thought those were a good idea??

But…it’s SLOW! Very slow.

The plot is pedantic and predictable. And like Twilight there are two guys which complicate the girl’s feelings…then again, there are two people/beings in her body so I guess that’s explains the need for two guys, eh?

The acting is okay.

What is it with everyone wanting to use the Valley of the Gods as a background?  (Remember the Lone Ranger)

There’s way too much kissing. (It’s used as a tool for the inner real girl to “communicate”…sorta.) It’s just like watching a make out session. Rolling eyes. And every kiss doesn’t need to involve being slammed up against a wall for intensity. (Just a note for future directors and writers.)

The music does nothing to add to the intensity—emotional, otherwise. It nearly overpowers everything with the heavy bass and syrupy sweet melodies.

I can see why The Host came and went quickly. If you’ve missed it, don’t waste your time. If you saw it and paid movie theater price—that is unfortunate for you. This alien romance is a skip.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Pacific Rim: Movie Moments

First, let me say I liked it better than I thought I would.

Those are think Pacific Rim is simply Transformers VS Aliens – it isn’t really like that.
I do NOT recommend this movie for younger children who have a problem with nightmares.

For those who remember Japanese anime shows from the 1980’s and 1990’s….this movie will make perfect sense to you.
Kaiju (alien/monsters—almost Godzilla-like) coming through the Rift bent on destroying Earth against the Jaegers (massive robotic—but human piloted).

Strong Stuff:
*The CGI is beautifully done.

*The music fits.
*The aliens which come from the dark and water have cool things like luminescent stripes which add depth to them.

*Good humor moments.
*Loved the Marshal’s character.

Weak Stuff:
*Because all the fighting happens at night and usually in the rain—it’s hard to tell exactly what’s happening  there’s so much machinery flying in different directions it’s very difficult to really get a sense of what damage is happening. (Transformers had the similar problem…)

*Characters are fairly stock. Handsome arrogant jock who needs to be taken down a peg, Handsome emotional wounded jock who needs to set aside the past, Sweet young girl who is tougher than she looks, goofy—caricature scientists.
*Like Voltron (if you don’t know who Voltron is…you may not “get” this movie)—unexpectedly there’s a sword.

*Part of its problem is that it tries to tell too big of a story, so no character really has a chance to develop.
Oh, and I felt so bad for Hong Kong!  Talk about being smashed! (Then again in Man of Steel Metropolis had the same problem…uh…who pays for all the rebuilding damage anyway?)

So, if you like battling science fictiony things. Suspend your disbelief and go be entertained for two hours.
Romantics like me, would’ve enjoyed at least one kiss.

And for those little kids dying to see the smash ‘em bash ‘em robots (there is a moment of homage in the film--btw, nice)…wait for the small screen. It will be less scary/intense/overpowering.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What is Success?

Indian Paintbrush a favorite mountain flower
As an author, I often ask myself what is success?

Making enough money to quit my day job just to write? (Sort of a problem because I really LOVE my day job as a history teacher.)

Actually finishing another manuscript?

Getting an agent?

Holding a published book in your hand?

Having zillions of followers on your: (fill in the blank) twitter, blog, author pages?

Having friends and family love your stuff?  Well, I'm going to say no on husband didn't even know I have a blog.  Not sure if I should sigh, chuckle or groan.

I think I've gotta say, it's having someone love your words. Catch your vision. Step into that crazy world you've created. Lived and breathed, laughed and maybe cried with your characters for a while and to have enjoyed the journey. THAT's success. 

As I'm struggling to push my way through an edit on a nearly completed manuscript--I'm having a tough time making myself sit down and do it.  But as I've finally waded in...I'm falling for these characters again. Their voices, their struggles, their hopes and fears and dreams. 

And I can only hope that sometime I'll have the chance to let some readers into their world.

And maybe...I'll get someone to love their story like one reader loved Benz in "My Life as a Lumberjack."

Here's what she said!

Friday, July 5, 2013

White House Down: Movie Moments

Yep! Another movie!

And yep…another…well, it’s “okay.”

Let me start by saying my “new adult” was offended that I didn’t love this movie.  And, I had to agree that Channing Tatum with barely a shirt on was a delight.

Also, I don’t remember seeing anything with Jamie Foxx before and I thought he did a good job. His performance was solid as the President. His lines were good, he was believable and likable.

The problem came with the movie as a whole.

Things I liked:
*Not tons of language, even the one use of the “F” word made me laugh.
*Decent effects (loved the Blackhawks coming in LOW over DC).
*One of the best lines I’ve ever heard—a bad guy is eating cake shortly after they take over the White House. He offers some cake to another terrorist who glares at the first guy and says something like, “I don’t want cake! I’m diabetic!”  I burst out laughing on that. A funny little detail, that appealed to this diabetic.
*The young daughter (Joey King) who was good at crying.

Things I didn’t:
*Channing Tatum isn’t a good enough actor to play a single dad—the emotional stuff was disappointingly flat.
*The young daughter acted more like 15 than 11.
*Obvious plot points that should have been twists…the one example I’ll give…the dad missed the daughter’s talent show. She’s mad. Her talent? Flag-twirling. How could flag-twirling become important in an action thriller about the White House? Well, I don’t want to spoil it for those who are planning to see it.
There are at least three of these obvious breadcrumbs which weakened the plot for me.
*Overused types of lines, like the President saying, “Get off my lawn!” (Sort of like the President in Air Force One—“Get off my plane.”
*The egotistical, psycho computer geek played by Jimmi Simpson was too typical.
*The ex-wife showing up at the White House…was far too matter of fact. It was too easy for her just to show up. There should have been chaos in DC and she just appeared without a problem.

So, this film has the right pieces: big name actors (Jamie Foxx, Channing Tatum, James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal), a good setting, good effects but the dorky script and some overacting like with Jimmi Simpson shackled it to mediocrity.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Hero Speaks - David McCullough

From the time you’re tiny, people ask, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" I finally figured it out a couple of years ago. I want to be David McCullough. He’s a tremendous writer, a great historian. He’s funny, charming, brilliant, and right.

Right, because he understands that we are historically illiterate as a nation. Mostly because kids hate history. I actually love getting kids that have the nerve to march up to me the first day of school and tell me how much they hate history.  I love them, because usually I can win them over by the end of school. And like David McCullough, they have learned that history is stories of people, and they want to know more.
60 Minutes just did a bit on David McCullough and in it, he said such an important thing, I wanted to reach through the TV and squeeze him:

He said that teachers should not have degrees in Education. They should have degrees in subjects which they should thoroughly know and then teach what they love.
I utterly agree.

I have a degree in history. A master’s degree. But almost more importantly, I love it.
That’s why I consider myself a teacher. Not an educator.

The educator’s world is filled with jargon and abbreviations and specialists who think they know the best way to do things. The bureaucracy wraps about me and suffocates me. Its unending complication gives me a headache. The cry for this form of teaching or that way of planning or of demanding more and more testing is false to me.
That is not teaching.

As a teacher, I simply seek to open my students’ minds. I struggle and ponder and even dream of ways to pour knowledge into them. To turn the light of learning on in their hearts. I want my students to be able to think and read and make connections and interpret information and to see how decisions made a hundred years ago still affect them. To know that they cannot simply ignore the problems of today that they are going to need to be citizens of action in order to keep the freedoms this country has had and to stop the incursions on those freedoms. And to do this, they’re going to need to know their history.
This is what the children of our nation need.
This what dedicated teachers across the country, day in and day out, who spend hours planning and grading and spending their own family’s money for supplies for their classrooms want. Successful, well informed students and these education master degrees that are found everywhere on the internet and in colleges and universities are not going to make people better teachers. And demanding more and different forms of testing isn’t going to improve their students’ ability to learn either.

Teaching teachers to love their subject whether history, or math or whatever it is and then letting them teach that love in the classroom, that is what is going to make the difference.
Happy 4th of July -- And thanks to all of the men and women who have fought public, private, organized and unofficial battles to bring freedom to our country and may those still serving on our behalf stay safe.

Now You See Me - Movie Moments

Magic is all about slight of hand. Great movies, like "Oceans Eleven" and "Fast and Furious Five"(whatever its real name) give the audience a roller coaster ride while using slight of hand to trick both the audience and the bad guys into believing one thing is happening while something else is going on.

So, I went to “Now You See Me” with high expectations. I think I was expecting a high energy, heavy action film. Instead, I found a clever, rather cerebral winding, twisting, unfolding, story.

It was good. Not great. Well written, well acted but it had draggy parts.
Basically, the plot is that four scrambling magicians, who become known as the Four Horsemen, are given the chance of a lifetime. To work together to use incredible performances and magic to pull off three astonishing robberies.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll be able to figure out a few plot twists as they happen because the writers help the audience know what’s going to happen through a few breadcrumbs that are dropped. But, most things are not made clear until after they happen which is fine. As the show points out, part of the enjoyment of magic is the surprise during the performance and the sheer fun of watching.
Morgan Freeman plays a magic debunker. He was good, which is expected, but boy, is he showing his age—with skin spots and his eyes are cloudy. (That makes me sad.) And his character, while also having nice twists, doesn’t get to have the power that some of his movies have had.

There’s some gratuitous sex-ish stuff at the beginning which made me glad that my young teen wasn’t there and the pace would have lost her interest in the middle, but there wasn’t a lot of language which was nice. And there’s some really entertaining action sequences.
The final magic set up was amazing! Placed in Five Points, New York. It was great.

The unfolding of the plot was good. Are they good, are they bad, who actually are they working for? thing, a thing about me, is that I usually see most plots twists coming and there were a few that didn’t surprise me. And there was something about the last big twist that didn’t give me that heart-pounding, WOW! It felt a little flat.
The characters were fun and different and I would have liked to see more of the magicians because they were such unique, colorful characters.

All in all. It’s a good one. But, there are so many new movies coming out in the Summer rush, if you haven’t seen it yet, I think it will play fine on the smaller screen and it might be worth waiting now, for the DVD.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Lone Ranger - Movie Moments—

The Lone Ranger: Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer

First, we were really excited to see this movie because we’d seen so many trailers and advertisements. I found out that there was one showing the day before the official opening. So, feeling like we’d won the jackpot, we went as a family and were delighted to find the movie theater not crowded. My youngest, 13, has only just started seeing PG-13 movies in the theater (meaning ones we haven’t previewed and watching things at home is less intense than in a dark, large, loud theater.)
I wish we hadn’t brought her. Not that there was a lot of swearing, or a lot of sex (there were saloon hall girls who obviously sold more than drinks.) However, there is a moment where the villain cuts the heart out of one of the rangers which is terribly disturbing. Families with young children BEWARE!

By the end the film was the movie ride a lot of fun. The final train sequence was brilliantly designed and executed.
But…there were a lot dumb/silly jokes that weren’t clever, like Silver standing up a tree wearing the Lone Ranger’s hat. And too many puzzled stares by Johnny Depp at the camera. And the Army officer who was some writer’s vision of the “caricature” of Custer. (Having just visited Little Big Horn it was very easy to envision what might have happened had Custer had a bit more technology.)

As a historian, the reference to Promontory Point—in—Utah, which they called Promontory Summit (or something) annoyed me as was the obvious filming in the Valley of the Gods in Monument Valley, Utah and them saying it was Texas.
And, I’m not going to say anything about the dumb bird and all the just flat bird jokes—like Tanto sticking his head in a birdcage. Sigh.

I’m not fully sure the significance of the little boy who Tonto tells the story to throughout the movie. I kept thinking of the grandson in The Princess Bride—there to interrupt the story at significant points to build the tension. Who was he? Why did he know the tale of the Lone Ranger? Why should he recognize Tonto? It didn’t make sense.
As a theater person, I thought it an interesting choice that everyone was dirty. All the makeup was done dusty and dark…I suppose to add the desert feel—it didn’t.

And, not that Tom Wilkinson didn't do a decent job as the villain, but because I know he's British (like Helena Bonham Carter) I did not buy his accent as solid or consistent (nor hers). I felt bad that Helena looked painted up like the chick from Hunger Games--only a shadow of a character, not a fully developed one--but that's not her fault, nor her leg's.

I loved the clever use of The William Tell Overture by Rossini which has been used as The Lone Ranger’s theme since radio serial days.
Armie Hammer and his clean good-looks did well with his honest, sincere portrayal of a man battling internally and growing as his world falls apart—once we got over the dumb, “I’m a city-slicker lawyer and the law is all we need” beginning of his character development. And the chemistry between John and Rebecca was palpable. I would have liked to see more of them together on screen. It was super.

All in all?
It’s no Pirates of the Caribbean. The storyline, characters and charm isn’t there.

But…if you’re caught in three digit heat and you don’t have young children (or plan to cover their eyes) then it’s worth the price of admission.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Blog Tour a Success! Thanks!

Thanks to everyone who shared in my very first blog tour!  And massive thanks to Elana Johnson, the magnificent, who organized it all!  167 entries!  Woohoo!

The winners have all been notified of their prizes. They all seem thrilled (blushing--with gratitude).

And I have one more review to share...

It's by D.Ann from

Here's a snippet...go check it out for yourself!

I haven’t had so much fun while reading a book in a long while. My Life As A Lumberjack was hilarious from the very beginning. I really couldn’t picture Benz surviving in the wild, and believe me, there are times when it’s a close call, but Olds really draws you into her world. I loved how the Marmots were the most cohesive group, and Benz’s hilarious interactions with the Forest Service staff were the icing on the cake.... 

... From almost falling of a cliff to causing a riot with many, many more antics along the way, My Life as a Lumberjack is a lighthearted, hilarious read. Pick it up at your own peril; it will slowly sinks its hooks in and won’t let you go until the last page! If you are looking for a fun, lighthearted read this is the book for you.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Tetons - Colter Bay - The Way to Stay

Let’s face it. A 10 night. 3100 mile road trip. The price of gas alone put these now weary travelers on a budget.

We looked for the cheapest way (other than tenting) to stay in the Tetons. We discovered something COOL!!!!
In Colter Bay Village (I’ll explain who he was in a minute) they have a thing call Tent-Cabins. And they’re fun! Two solid sides with canvas around and overhead. Four bunks, a wood-burning stove to stave off the chill, a picnic table, a fire ring and…wait for it…a bear box! Yep, we’re in bear country!
Colter Bay named after John Colter part of the…come on, join in…the Corps of Discovery or Lewis and Clark group if you’re more comfortable remembering that, is part of Jackson Lake.
History moment: John Colter was the fastest runner in the Corps of Discovery (they used to have footraces as entertainment—ooh! That sounds so entertaining! Personally, I love my computer and mini dvd player.) He went along as a hunter and on the return trip, when Lewis split his Corps into three groups, John Colter was captured by some Blackfeet Indians. They stripped him and for fun before killing him, said if he could outrun them, he could live. They were in a field of prickly pear cactuses (or is it cacti?). Barefoot and buck naked, he took off. Lucky he’d had plenty of practice racing. It took three days but he did it, he outran them. That bit of thrill became known as Colter’s Run.
Well, after the Corps made it near home, John Colter left the group to return to the West and the rest…is mostly forgotten history. But not by this historian!
He became a well-known mountain man and trapper and having lived and “discovered” Jackson Lake area, Colter Bay is named for him.
Colter Bay has a boat dock, swimming, hiking, restaurants, clean flush restrooms, easy access to Yellowstone, a nice gift shop, cabins, tent cabins and horseback riding. It’s a wonderful “resort” in miniature with the rustic-ness of a wilderness National Park.
We loved it!

National Parks & the Animals -- In the Tetons

Mt. Moran - Tetons National Park
You know traveling through and to these National Parks, there’s a piece of me that keeps making me think of Jurassic Park.  Everywhere there’s an anticipation and pressure to see “them”. The animals.

Everywhere we went people would compare “sightings”. A grizzly! Black Bear (not necessarily black btw). Bison. Moose. Elk. Deer. Marmot. A herd of (fill in the blank). We saw a mated pair of bald eagles (actually the second time in my life I’ve had the chance for that—the other? You guessed it—my Lewis and Clark experience canoeing on the Missouri—see why Driven2Teach is so life changing?) and their nest and something poking its head out. I’m going to guess it was an eaglet. J These guys were on the shores of Jackson Lake and only accessible by boat.
It was great. But let’s hope that these animals can continue to survive. We were told about the Elk Refuge outside of Jackson Hole. It was created because the elk were starving one winter. Within a nose’s sniff of hay and no one helped. “It was a national disgrace,” said our boat guide.
But now there is this National Elk Refuge which even has webcams and according to him, during the winter, now that the elk know of this place and gather there, it’s a sight to behold. And you don’t even have to leave your home to see them. Here’s the link:
But take my advice. Go. Go, go, go! Go and visit our national treasures.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Great Falls - Worth the trip

Great Falls 2010 June
You really need to see the Great Falls.

Not this year, there isn’t much water.

To get there, you have to find the directions for Ryan Dam. (I didn’t know this so our search was a bit crazy).

Great Falls 2013 June
The falls that Lewis and Clark saw were around 90 feet and Lewis with his basic math was able to triangulate the height within 1 ¾ feet correctly.

Mathematicians of the world rejoice.

Historians and storytellers stand in awe.

Finding the Great Falls proved to the Corps of Discovery they were on the right river (see the Decision Point blog post to understand).

Then those poor tired men had to portage a couple of tons of equipment 20 miles around the falls. It took them 20 days!


My favorite part of that story is that Clark made them dance at night to keep their spirits up.

Imagine how popular he was with that order.
If you want to know what Lewis was off doing while the others were hefting all that equipment through the tall-grassed, rolling-hilled, rattlesnake-loving prairie--email me and I'll tell you.

But…going out to the tiny island to look at the falls (and the dam) is worth the trip.

The bridge wobbles. Can only have six people on it. And the warning??? 

You decide.

Decision Point. The Marias River, a moment that Changed History

One thing that’s cool about teaching History is that I get to talk about BIG stuff. Things that change the world. Columbus. The election of Lincoln. Moon Landing.  Stuff like that.

But…there are things that changed the world, that many people don’t know about.

Lewis and Clark’s decision at the Marias River is one of those moments.

The Corps of Discovery—all thirty something of them—never think it was two dudes and a chick (as I tell my students—which is what I thought most of my life because no one ever taught me differently)—had struggled their way Upstream (that’s a discussion for another day) toward the Great Falls.

Now they had maps. Sort of. Made by the natives. Stories told by the natives. Information about possible friendly tribes ahead.

Why was that important?

They needed help. Horses if possible and certainly food and supplies to trade for. (That too is a comment for another day).

So they were looking for the Great Falls on the river knowing that not too far beyond were peoples who might help them.

Then…shriek of horror. The river split!

They’d had no warning. All the other rivers they’d known a bit about. But this was not mentioned in any story, map or anything.

What were they to do?

If they went the wrong way, they might not reach those tribes before winter. They might not find the waterway across the mountains to the sea. (Well, THAT didn’t exist so oh well…of course they don’t know that yet.)

They scouted the area for 10 days going up and down both rivers hoping to figure out which way was correct.

Interestingly, everyone said go right. Lewis alone, said left. And as proof of his leadership, despite everyone’s feeling they should go right, they went left.

He was correct in his choice.

Here’s the significance:

IF Lewis and Clark had gone up the Marias instead of following the Missouri…it is most likely they would have died. Violent tribes lived that direction and would not have helped them and lost, they might have starved.

Significance: BECAUSE the Corps survived and brought back grand tales of open, fertile land, beaver friendly natives, navigable rivers—they opened the West decades sooner. And with the expansion of the new United States, many people and their ideals of freedom would spread. Bringing with it the conflict of slavery. Destroying the native lifestyles—eventually. Calling for the land hungry and oppressed of the world (think Europe) to come and find a new life.

All at that moment. All on that ground. All for the world to see and only a few to visit.