Monday, December 31, 2007

Friday, December 28, 2007


I thought Enchanted looked like a cute movie when I started seeing the trailers for it on TV. My cousin took his wife to go see it recently, and she gave it a positive recommendation. What with the holidays and all, I haven't had a chance to catch a movie until today. School is out, so no subbing, and I don't work every day with my part-time retail job. This morning, I checked the movie schedule and decided on the 2:05 showing. I was there in plenty of time under normal circumstances, but I was quite surprised to see a long line at the box office when I pulled into the parking lot. Since I had planned on paying with my debit card, I went over to the automated box office/ATM machines. It wasn't reading the magstripe on either my "frequent movie goer" card or my debit card. As I started using the machine, another lady was attempting to use the other one. Hers wasn't printing. So, to the end of the long line for the ONE box office window that was operating. Shortly thereafter, a theater employee poked his head out the door to direct us to the machines. "They're not working..." Still took them quite a while to get someone to open up another window. Need to make a complaint about that... Thankfully, I was still able to get my ticket, make a pit stop and get seated in time for the opening credits...

For anyone who is a fan of Disney's fairy tale/princess movies, I think you'll really enjoy this one. We have the evil queen (Susan Sarandon), the fair maiden (Amy Adams), and the charming prince (James Marsden) in an animated world complete with singing and helpful-around-the-cottage forest animals. Queen Narissa doesn't want Prince Edward to marry in order to preserve her seat on the throne, so she has been preventing him from meeting eligible young ladies. One day, on a troll hunting excursion, he hears her singing and looks for her. His valet, Nathan, in order to avoid the queen's anger, lets loose the troll to go after Giselle. Needless to say, in this fairy tale land, Prince Edward saves Giselle, there is much singing, and they decide to marry the next day (even though they've just met). Queen Narissa will have none of this, and intercepts Giselle on her way to her wedding. Disguised as an old hag, the Queen encourages Giselle to lean over the garden well and make a wish. As Giselle is wishing for "happily ever after", the Queen pushes Giselle, sending her to a place where there are no happy endings - modern day New York City...

In New York, she mets up with Robert (Patrick Dempsey), a divorce attorney, and his young daughter, Morgan. Eventually, Prince Edward goes to New York to search for Giselle, Nathan is sent to stop the rescue, and eventually the Queen follows. I won't spoil the rest of the plot (you can pick up this much from the previews...). I will say this was a cute and entertaining film - good for children of all ages (well, maybe not for really little ones, as some parts might be a little scary for them). A good family movie with no PC overtones...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Riding Freedom

I had previously read two other books by Pam Muñoz Ryan while working on my Masters in Elementary Education. Then, while subbing earlier this fall, I had the opportunity to read part of Riding Freedom to a third grade class. While it is a short chapter book (138 pages), I did not have time to read the entire thing over my two days with that class. So, at the recent Scholastic Book Fair at another school where I sub regularly, I bought a copy.

Riding Freedom is a fictionalized account of the life of Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst. In the book, Charlotte is orphaned at the age of 2 and is sent to live at a boys' orphanage in New Hampshire in the mid-1800s. After ten years at the orphanage, Charlotte realizes Mr. Millshark, the man who runs it, and Mrs. Boyle, the woman who runs the kitchen, have no intention of allowing her to be adopted. Until Charlotte wins a horse race against the boys, which makes Mr. Millshark mad, Charlotte had been allowed to help out in the stables. There, she found a friend in Vern, the old former slave, who takes care of all the horses. She has also made a friend with one of the boys, Hayward. After the horse race, Charlotte learns Hayward will be leaving to live with a new family, and she has been barred from visiting the stable or riding the horses.

Charlotte makes a big decision: she decides to run away. But, she also realizes that while a boy of twelve can travel alone without question, girls can't do the same thing. So, with a little help from Hayward and Vern, she leaves the orphanage to try and make her own way in the world. She makes her way to the nearest town and purchases a ticket for the stage to Manchester. When the stage arrives, Charlotte is enthralled with the team of six horses pulling the stagecoach. She finds herself seated between two women who are passengers for the remainder of the line. She falls asleep and later awakes to find herself at "the end of the line in Worcester, Massachusetts"(p. 47). She doesn't have much money - only what is left of Vern's money after purchasing the ticket - and doesn't really have a place to go. So, she hides in the loft above the stagecoach horses. Before settling in for the night, she works at cleaning up the barn - it doesn't meet Vern's standards. Eventually, she is discovered by Ebeneezer Balch, but she fesses up to be the one doing work there at night and works out a deal to continue working for room in the loft and board.

Months later, Ebeneezer tells "Charley" that a man came through asking about a runaway orphan girl who might have drown, but that she had run away about the same time as he had found "Charley" in the loft. Did "Charley" know anything about that? Charlotte denies knowing anything and Ebeneezer says the girl probably did drown. But, Charlotte can't help but wonder if Ebeneezer knows... She is scared and tells Ebeneezer she needs to get home - he's moving the stables anyway.

Ebeneezer held up both of his hands to block her way.

"Just stay put," he said. "Now listen. In all my days, I only seen one other person could work with the horses like you. Could put a spell on them and could ride . . . could ride like . . . well, I only seen it one other time. I got me a notion and maybe I'm crazy but I got to see if I'm right. If you can do what I think you can do, I'm not about to let you go."

As Ebeneezer walked out of the tack room, he sais, "Bring around six. I need a wagon hitched."

Charlotte tried to concentrate on what he'd said. Bring around six horses? Do what he thought she could do? Confused, she found the traces for the six-in-the-hand and brought the horses around, one at a time, to hitch them.

When each horse was secured to the traces, Ebeneezer said, "Charley, you drive."

Charlotte stared at Ebeneezer.

"I . . . I ain't drove six-in-the-hand before," she said. "I drove two, but not six."

"I know that," said Ebeneezer. "Get up here and let's take a run, unless you're scared?"

"I ain't scared," said Charlotte. (pp.59-60)

I'll not spoil the rest of the story's details. Charlotte lives a life that most all women of the time - before women's suffrage - would not have been able to live. At the back of the book, in From the Author, we are told what is actually known about Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst, and the creative license taken when writing the story is acknowledged and justified. Recommended for children ages 8 to 11, this would be a good book a young reader, especially one who loves horses, and it gives a young person an insight into how our nation has changed in the last 150 years or so.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mystery Art

I love this print. I apologize for the weird shadows - it is not currently displayed to its best advantage... It was a gift to me (unframed) from my best friend. She purchased it on one of her trips to Germany before her dad finally retired for good and returned to the States. She doesn't know who the artist is, or what the name of this particular piece is, and I've never been able to find it anywhere on the internet. It took some checking around to find the right way to frame it. Usually, I do pretty well going into some place like Hobby Lobby and picking out a suitable frame and mat (or mats) to really make a piece look good. I wasn't so lucky this time, and the staff I dealt with at the chain store weren't offering any inspired suggestions. So, I went to a local framing shop, and this is what they helped me select. It cost a bit more than Hobby Lobby would have, but I was pleased from the beginning with how it turned out. Still, the name of both the piece and the artist remain a mystery to me. The only hints are the "G. H." in the lower right corner and the fact I know enough about art to recognize this was created with pastels. Can anyone tell me more about it?

Monday, December 10, 2007

When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots

In Lynne Cheney's third picture book, When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots, she alters the format from the previous books, America: A Patriotic Primer and A is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women. This time, her prose is accompanied by the wonderful oil paintings of Peter M. Fiore. This is truly more of a history book than the first two, as well. Like the other books, this one is recommended for children ages 5 to 8.

Mrs. Cheney, once again, opens with a note to the reader. She begins:

"One of the tales I like to tell my grandchildren is about Washington crossing the Delaware. It's a compelling story, and it helps them understand that our existence as a free and independent nation wasn't always assured. Given the way that the Revoluntionary War was going in the months leading up to Christmas 1776, the most likely outcome was that we would remain a British colony. But then George Washington and his men took history into their own hands and changed its course."

Throughout the book, Mrs. Cheney's text and Mr. Fiore's paintings are accompanied by a quote from a person who witnessed the events of December 1776 and early January 1777.

The actual story begins with November 1776 when the war was not going well for the rebellious colonists. After defeats in New York, Washington and his men had to retreat in the face of a British pursuit. "How could the Americans, who were mostly new to fighting, ever hope to defeat the well-trained British?"

The Continental Army, under the command of General George Washington, managed to reach Pennsylvania, but they were tired, hungry and cold: many of the soldiers had no coats or shoes, and there were not enough provisions to go around.

With the Americans on one side of the Delaware River and the Hessians, the German mercenaries, on the other, Washington met with his generals to make plans for "a bold and daring course" that the Hessians would not expect. They would attack the Hessians in Trenton, New Jersey, in the early hours of the day after Christmas.

The words of Thomas Paine, who had accompanied the Americans in the retreat through New Jersey, helped to inspire Washington's troops: "These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

When the time came to advance upon Trenton, not everything went as planned. The river was clogged with ice. It took longer than expected for Washington's men to cross the Delaware, and two of his commanders were unable to defeat the ice and were unable to continue with the mission to Trenton. However, the march to Trenton proceeded with Washington's 2400 men - an hour after the last of the men and guns had reached the shore, they began the 9 mile trek to the city, "hours later than Washington had planned." Although he had planned to attack before dawn, it would now be daylight by the time they reached Trenton, but it was too late to turn back - they had to continue through the cold and icy weather, and hope they still had the advantage of surprise.

At first contact, it was evident that the element of surprise had been maintained. The Hessians were unprepared and were unable to mount a defense, so they retreated from the city's streets into a nearby orchard. A young Alexander Hamilton and a young James Monroe both participated in the Battle of Trenton. James Monroe, our fifth president, was badly wounded leading a charge against a pair of Hessian cannons. The Hessians attempted a counter-attack, but their commander, Colonel Johann Rall, was fatally wounded as were many of his men. In the end, the Americans defeated the Hessians, capturing 900 of the Germans, while suffering few losses of their own.

Washington's next challenge was to get his soldiers to continue the fight against the British, as they were all enlisted to leave at the end of the year. Extra pay was promised, and he appealed to their sense of patriotism. "This was an hour of destiny, he told one regiment, a time that would decide America's fate. If they wanted their country to be free, they had to keep fighting." He succeeded, as many of his combat experienced soldiers chose to stay.

Expecting to be attacked by the thousands of British and Hessian soldiers in Princeton, "Washington sent out a call for more forces." He orders some of the troops to slow the British advance. When they reached the bridge at Assunpink Creek, returning after their mission, they could see General Washington on the other side.

"'I pressed against the shoulder of the General's horse and in contact with the boot of the General . The horse stood as firm as the rider.' John Howland, Private, Lippitt's Rhode Island Regiment"

The British commander, General Charles Cornwallis, believed Washington was trapped, and could be dealt with the next day. Washington knew most of Cornwallis' men would be with him, outside Princeton, so fewer troops would be within the city. In the night, Washington had some of his men remain in the camp to maintain the fires and make noise typical of a full camp while he moved out with the rest of his troops towards Princeton. Washington's plan worked - it was until after dawn that Cornwallis realized what had happened.

In the first encounter with British troops, many Americans were killed, and those who survived were in retreat. General Washington, riding a white horse, rallied his troops and lead them toward the British line. When the next part of the battle began, the General was between the two lines, and many thought he would surely die. He came out unscathed, his troops maintained their positions, but the British began to retreat. Several hours later, the battle was over, and the Americans had won the day, again.

"General Washington and his men had stood with their country in a time of crisis. When they were cold and hungry, they did not quit. When the conflict was hard, they fought on. And when they won, the victory was sweet. News of Trenton and Princeton spread across the land, lifting the spirits of patriots everywhere. Many a battle lay ahead, but now Americans could think of winning their war for independence. Now they could imagine that their great struggle would have a glorious end."

Mrs. Cheney cites each of the quotes at the back of the book, if one is interested in learning a little bit more.

Unlike Mrs. Cheney's first two picture books, this one lends itself to be read aloud to a group of children. With Mr. Fiore's paintings depicting the events of that winter, children can see what it was like for those brave patriots at the time of our nation's birth. I can only recommend you add this book to your children's book library, either for your children or your classroom.

Citizen Soldier & 3 Doors Down

My youngest sister's birthday was last week. Since she was out of town, we had to wait until this past weekend to go out to celebrate. Before going to dinner Saturday evening, she wanted to see Fred Claus (which I thought was an entertaining movie, btw). Unlike the "old days", you get more than just the previews of coming attractions: you also get commercials. One commercial I thought was great. It was for the National Guard, and it was, in essence, a music video for 3 Doors Down's Citizen Soldier. Great video. It tells about what our Citizen Soldiers have done and continue to do:
  • I'll be there to help.
  • I fired the shot that started a nation.
  • I am an expert and a professional.
  • I stormed the beach at Normandy.
  • I comfort my neighbors.
  • I will always place the mission first.
  • I will never accept defeat.
  • I will never quit.
  • I will never leave a fallen comrade.
  • I stepped forward when the Towers fell.
  • We are free because of the brave.
I thought it was very inspirational. And it's a reminder to the rest of us what our Citizen Soldiers (and the rest of our active duty military) does for all of us.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Wreaths Across America

I'd heard about the Wreaths Across America project before, but I just ran across the fact that this year's holiday wreath-laying at participating veterans' cemeteries is coming up soon, on December 15th. I don't know if I'll be able to make one here in Texas (there isn't a participating cemetery in my town, but I might be able to drive a little way to one, provided I don't have to work that day - the joys of working retail, especially during the holiday shopping season...). Just wanted to help bring this to everyone's attention.

From the Wreaths Across America website:

From Arlington to Across America

2006 marked the start of an exciting new chapter for Worcester Wreath and its mission to recognize Veterans with remembrance wreaths for the holidays with the creation of Wreaths Across America. What began in 1992 with a trailer load of wreaths, decorated by volunteers and laid at the graves of fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery (Click for: The Arlington Story - How the Arlington Wreath Project was born) will now become a new mission to Remember - Honor - and Teach the value of freedom in the world today.

In creating Wreaths Across America, it was the wish of Morrill and Karen Worcester to bring children and Veterans together, as the ideal way of expressing appreciation for the past, present, and future sacrifices our Veterans (and their families) make for this country.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Soldiers' Night Before Christmas

After last Christmas, I was in the children's book department at Barnes & Noble, looking at the now-discounted Christmas books. One I hadn't seen before was The Soldiers' Night Before Christmas by Trish Holland and Christine Ford and illustrated by John Manders. It's a newer book (copyright 2006), with an Army take on the traditional poem by Clement Clarke Moore. This time, it's Sergeant McClaus with his "eight Humvees, a jeep close behind...". Soldiers are sleeping in tents, with laptops, rifles, boots, helmets and letters from home nearby. B&N says this books is for "infants or children in preschool", but I think that's a bit narrow. Since this is really an illustrated poem, I think it can be shared with children of all ages (and grown-ups, too!).

Manders' illustrations remind me a bit of the Sunday comics. He's got the soldiers in their desert cammies, body armor and helmets (complete with night vision mounts), and the American flag on the uniform sleeve is facing the proper direction. One helmet seen on the floor next to a soldier's rack, full of gifts from home, has the insignia of the 3rd ID.

And what does Sergeant McClaus look like?

As I drew in my head and was turning around,
Through the tent flap the sergeant came in with a bound.
He was dressed all in camo and looked quite a sight
With a Santa hat added for this special night.

His eyes - sharp as lasers! He stood six feet six.
His nose was quite crooked, his jaw hard as bricks!
A stub of cigar he held clamped in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath.

As McClaus finishes this phase of his mission (to "Bring Christmas from home to the troops far away!"), he gives our narrator a salute. This poem ends:

As the camp radar lost him, I heard this faint call: