Category Archives: Movies

“One Day On Earth” Premieres Today

Remember the 10-10-10 global film project in which my family and I participated? It was the first-ever simultaneous filming event occurring in every country of the world. Well, today is the worldwide debut of the finished film, entitled “One Day on Earth”. All over the world, the film is being shown at free screening events in theatres, cafes, churches, high school and college auditoriums—click here (or go to for a list of cities/venues/times (make sure to scroll down to see the list).  Unfortunately, none are close to the Dallas area so I’m going to have to wait until it comes out on DVD.  I have no idea if any of our family’s footage made it in the final cut— from all the videographers, over 3,000 hours of video was submitted. 

If anyone recalls, we spent 10-10-10 on Amelia Island, Florida, on a family vacation (including our foreign exchange student).  I submitted footage of a sunrise at the beach, Emmie riding a bike, all the girls hanging out by the pool, a turtle walking slowing into the bushes, and someone high up in the air on a “beach sky bike” (or is it called a parasailing bike?).  After viewing the film’s promotional trailers, one might think my subject matter is trivial compared to the images of soldiers marching in North Korea, a homeless man in France, or the American woman holding her newborn infant, but I felt that anything submitted is just as important as the next.   It ALL happened on the same day, it’s all part of one story, so I would think One Day on Earth would want to include mundane as well as extraordinary things.  It’s mind-blowing to see what was going on at the same time that Emmie was simply showing her mom how she could dive into a swimming pool—many miles away, people were having a barbeque in Mozambique, and a woman was about to be married in Kosovo.  So, content-wise, we may have a chance, but video skills? Well, I don’t think that I and my non-professional Canon camera stand much of a chance(although one of the film’s editors did ask me to mail in all of my original footage after I uploaded some of it to their site).  But at least my footage is part of the vast One Day on Earth archives.  And I think it will be a great learning experience for the kids when they finally get to see the complete film.

If any of you get to see it, let me know what it’s like! Happy Earth Day!

“Race to Nowhere” Revisited: Two Innovative Approaches to Homework

So glad that the film, “Race to Nowhere”, is still in wide circulation and that it was shown three times in the last week, twice at our high school and once at a local church.  The documentary, which I’ve written about before, touches on all kinds of things that are very relevant to today’s parents– over-stressed kids; restrictive teach-to-the-test teaching methods that don’t teach kids to be problem-solvers; an unrealistic approach in America toward “college readiness”; in-school cheating; and teen suicide, among other topics.  Love the film or hate it, it definitely gets discussion going about things that definitely need to be discussed.  When I saw the film again last week, many parents stayed for a panel discussion that followed and probably wished that part of the program could have lasted longer. I know I wished the “experts” present would have touched on the subject of homework a bit more– the studies mentioned in the movie, that show that grades can increase with less homework, are compelling.  But in the five days since, the discussion has continued, and I’ve heard about a couple of innovative approaches to homework going on right here in my district that I wanted to share with readers.

The first I heard about as I was walking out of the high school auditorium where the film was shown.  A friend who is a mom and first grade teacher told me that, rather than assign homework every night in several subjects, she gives students (and parents) a list of choices at the beginning of the week– four subject categories, like reading and math, and several types of assignments in each category.  The assignments vary to include the traditional, like worksheets, as well as more hands-on project-based assignments, to account for kids’ different learning styles.  Students choose one assignment in each category, and the assignments are due at the end of the week.  My teacher friend told me that kids love it, because it gives them choices, and parents love it, as it helps them help their child better fit homework with their extracurricular and family activities.  In other words, the kids have the freedom to do homework on a “less-busy” night rather than be forced to do homework every night.  HOORAY FOR THIS! I swear, it’s the first time I’ve ever heard schools taking into consideration that these kids have lives outside of school.  (The line in the film that always “gets” to me goes something like this: “When did it start to be okay that school gets to dictate what happens in our lives and in our families after the dismissal bell rings?”)

Then a couple days later, another mom told me about a math homework approach being tried at the jr. high and high school levels.  A teacher introduces a concept to the class.  The kids’ homework is to further learn that math concept online, via video that the teacher has downloaded to a website, and then they work on the assigned problems in class.  The teacher can go around the room and use that 50 minutes of classtime to work with students one-on-one if they need help, and spend more time with students who don’t understand the concepts. So, the usual way of doing things is “flipped”– learn the concepts at home (if you didn’t understand them when the teacher showed them first in class), do the “busy work” in school. Sounds a whole lot smarter to me, and avoids kids trying to get help from math-challenged parents in solving a math problem, or copying homework from friends (some are pressured to do this since they will get detention in jr. high if they don’t turn something in), or worse, the parents doing the homework for them! And a stressed-out kid would probably rather watch an online video to refresh a math concept than hunkering down over 20 problems at 10 o’clock at night…

I know that some would say “no homework at all” is the best policy, but based on comments I’ve heard around me, I don’t think it would be easily accepted, by parents or teachers.  But I think creative approaches to homework would be.  I applaud any teacher/school for re-thinking their approach to homework like those mentioned above and I hope more and more of this starts happening.  Do you know of other creative homework ideas? Please comment below!

Two Family Movies Worth Watching (Again) Over The Holiday Break

I cried a bunch yesterday. When the doctor finally came in to see us after two hours of waiting at Primacare (a walk-in clinic) and saw the tears rolling down my cheeks, he probably thought I was worried about Emmie (she has bronchitis)… or that I was fed up with having to wait so long with a bunch of sick people ON THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS.  But Primacare was showing The Rookie on their in-clinic movie system– why wouldn’t everyone cry at that?

It was the second time I’ve seen it.  But I think I cried not only because it’s a great, true story about second chances, it’s also a really well-made movie, and well-made movies are hard to come by– great soundtrack (tunes by Steve Earle, Willlie Nelson, John Hiatt, and Ryan Adams, among others); great acting (Dennis Quaid in the lead role of Jimmy Morris); really good camera work (you can almost feel the West Texas dust in your face); appropriate for all ages; and a feel-good story without being schmaltzy or too sugary.  I can’t say enough good things about this wonderful 2002 Disney flick, and I’m not even a huge sports fan. Quaid once said in an interview with Larry King that it would have been too unbelievable if it had been a fiction piece, and that it worked because it is a true story.  I checked it out online when we returned home yesterday and amazingly, the main parts are true.  All the elements needing a “second chance”– the strained relationship Jimmy Morris had with his father, the high school baseball team Jimmy coached, that needed to start winning, Jimmy’s early failed attempt at playing pro baseball and the challenge from his students to try again over a decade later– all true, as well as his 98 m.p.h. pitches in his mid-thirties and his debut in the majors in, of all places, his home state. Definitely a good movie to watch over this holiday break, especially if you (or your children) have never seen it!!  So uplifting in the midst of so much angst in the news!

I got in on yet another “second chance/true story” movie about four hours later when Emmie, feeling miserable and lying on the living room sofa, requested that we watch Soul Surfer with her. She’d gotten the DVD as a Christmas present, and Andy had never seen it.  I took both girls to see it when it was at the dollar theater but found myself drawn in again last night as I tried to clean the kitchen while Andy and Emmie watched.  Definitely a bit scarier than The Rookie, with a brief glimpse of a shark, lots of blood, hospital emergency scenes and a teenage girl that loses her left arm, and it definitely borders on schmaltzy with a “forced” performance by Carrie Underwood as a church youth counselor, but there are a lot of really uplifting things about this movie, too, and there I was, sniffling again. Seriously, who can’t be moved by a girl who gets back on her surfboard and competes again after losing her arm to a shark????  And if you don’t believe it, real-life video footage of the real Bethany Hamilton shows as the credits roll at the end.  There is good acting in spite of Underwood (Helen Hunt, Craig T. Nelson, AnnaSophia Robb and hey, there’s Dennis Quaid again!); gorgeous camera shots (what’s not to love about Hawaii?); and the first time I’ve ever seen a youth mission trip portrayed on film (Bethany goes to Thailand, after the tsunami).  You come away from the movie not only inspired by Bethany’s courage, but also by her close-knit family and the way her parents chose to follow their dream of living near the beach and being lifelong surfers. 

So, Soul Surfer is another good movie to watch over the break, appropriate for, I think, pre-teens and up (and it’s not just for girls– Bethany’s brothers are portrayed in this almost as much as Bethany!).  There’s also a book of the same title, written by Bethany, for teens and others who want to know more about her story, so the movie can be a springboard to reading.  And if you happen to have lazy kids, you might even get other “mileage” out of the movie– the next time they balk at cleaning their rooms or helping around the house, just remind them of the scene where Bethany fixes breakfast for her whole family– using only one arm!!

One Day On Earth 11-11-11: Get out your cameras!

Remember the worldwide video project in which my family participated on 10-10-10? It’s called One Day On Earth, and thousands of people all over the world shot video footage of themselves, or their surroundings, or their kids, or whatever, all on that one day.  The edited result is going to be shown at theatres in February 2012. I shot footage while our family was on vacation in Florida– don’t know if our contribution is going to be included (although the project’s editors did contact me and had me mail them all my raw footage since I had problems uploading all of it to their website) but it was still fun to be a part– mind-blowing might be a better description, if you think about people capturing so many things happening at the same time, miles apart. (To get an early glimpse at the 10-10-10 documentary, click on this link to watch the trailer: )

Amazingly, there is still room (and time) to be included in the final product.  Today (11-11-11) the folks at One Day On Earth are asking anyone and everyone to pick up a video camera and record life as it’s happening around them until midnight.  To get ideas of what to capture, there are categories listed at— I know that pregnancy, childbirth, and children are some of the “hot topics”.  Just shoot video, head to, and follow the directions for uploading your images.  (Deadline for submissions is 12-11-11.) Remember– even though there are National Geographic-worthy images submitted to this project, such as the amazing, painted participant in a Kosovo wedding ceremony or the flock of pink flamingoes, “everyday” stuff is good to be included, too, from non-professional photographers.  And even though it’s probably not possible for the editors to include everyone’s footage in the final product, everyone who participates is still given a page at their website from which their video can be seen, and included on a worldwide map, a “geo-tagged video archive” that pinpoints every place from which video was submitted, the name of the person who submitted it, and what their video is all about. 

Never before has a project like this been undertaken– how exciting to be a part!  And, what a great educational opportunity for kids.  I can’t wait to take mine to see the film next year, so they can see that we truly do live in an amazing global community.

Parents Who Shrouded 9/11: Is It Time to Lift the Veil?

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was standing in our hallway bathroom, staring at a wall, when the phone rang.  It probably took me a few rings to snap out of my trance—after all, bathroom remodeling is serious business.  But after I answered the phone, deciding on paint color and tile didn’t seem so important anymore.  It was Andy calling from work, telling me to turn on the TV and see the events unfolding over 1,500 miles away.  I put down my tape measure and watched in horror.  It was so unbelievable, at times I felt as if I was watching a twisted episode of Batman where the villains were winning,  in an over-the-top, diabolical way, using only a few people and a few box cutters.  The atrocities kept happening, and somewhere, you just knew that a villain was smiling some sick grin and probably throwing his head back, laughing like The Joker. This is not supposed to be happening for real, I thought.  This can’t be happening to America.  I wanted to wail.  I wanted to scream.  But there in the next room, my 2 ½-year old toddler was dancing happily in a pink tutu.  And down the street at the elementary school, I had a six-year-old starting her third week of first grade. I knew, based on past experience, that any strong outpouring of emotion by me would scare both of them, and they wouldn’t understand why, or if they did, they might feel wrongly that they were in eminent danger.  And so, I made the decision pretty quickly that as a mom protecting her kids, I would not act like the events of the day were a big deal.  I would stifle my emotions.  I told Emmie I was watching “some very important news” while she danced in circles, round and round to the soundtrack from The Big Comfy Couch (a former PBS show).  Sirens were wailing on the TV in front of me as I heard Emmie singing at the same time: “Ya gotta stop! Don’t go! Wait ‘til the green light says so-oh…” As the hours wore on, I was even more determined that no terrorist was going to affect any more lives than he already had…Emmie and I ran errands together, ate lunch…I remember actually being annoyed that some stores, such as The Container Store, were closed for the day. I was determined to keep moving for the sake of my kids and my country, and I didn’t understand why everyone else wasn’t doing the same.  We need to be like Whoville, I thought.  The Grinch did NOT steal Christmas!!!

I felt helpless to do anything else. How could I possibly make a difference? I wasn’t going to enlist in the Army, as many were inspired to do, or get on the next plane to New York.  I felt that I needed to be at home, being a mother to my kids.  We gave a donation to the Red Cross and the star-studded telethon. We attended a 9/11 memorial church service with Allison and prayed.  We did tell her about the events in basic, simple terms and allowed her to see a bit of the footage on TV.  But we didn’t dwell on it much more than that.

Ten years later, we still haven’t.  Out of my strong desire to shield my kids from needless stress and worry, I pretty much swept 9/11 under the rug.  But lately I’ve been wondering if that was such a healthy thing to do, for me and for them.  I mean, it’s not good to stifle emotions, right?  But once they got old enough to where my emotions wouldn’t scare them, seeing Mom crying about anything became a source of humor for one of them, and embarrassment for the other. (I have managed to steal a few 9/11 cries over the years in private, like this morning as I watched on TV as a 12-year-old girl remembered her mother, a fallen NYPD officer who died in the south tower…)

For sure, keeping quiet about 9/11 for so long definitely doesn’t help our kids’ history knowledge, which Andy and I are usually big on enhancing.  Surprisingly, their school classes have been pretty quiet about it as well.   

Andy and I discussed recently about possibly showing the girls a documentary or movie to mark the 10th anniversary. A Google search and revealed a larger selection of choices than I expected.  Flight 93, a made-for-TV movie, might be good.  It focuses on heroism and doesn’t contain the foul language of its big screen counterpart, United 93. But, according to reviews, it’s still extremely tense and sad.  “I know I don’t want to see that,” said Andy.  There’s World Trade Center directed by Oliver Stone (got horrible reviews) and DC 9/11, a view of the tragedy from inside the Bush administration (a bit slanted).  A good choice looks like “9/11”, a documentary first aired on CBS, which uses hand-held footage taken by two French brothers who were already near the twin towers, working on a documentary about a fireman, when 9/11 unfolded.  It won two primetime Emmys and gets high praise for its avoidance of sensationalism.  So, maybe we will add that to our Netflix queue.  In the meantime, it looks like there are a lot of news specials on TV tonight that also sound good—CNN’s  “Beyond Bravery: The Women of 9/11”, CBS’ “9/11: Ten Years Later” which uses footage from “9/11” and is again narrated by Robert DeNiro; and “CNN Presents: Footnotes of 9/11”, which focuses on eight ordinary people who were footnotes in the 9/11 Commission Report, such as a man at the airline ticket counter who checked in two of the hijackers. 

Ten years ago, shielding my kids was probably the right thing to do. Experts lately are saying that children who viewed nonstop images of 9/11 in the days after the events showed signs of post traumatic stress syndrome.  But now, I think it’s okay to show them more, at least older kids (mine are almost 13 and 17).  Allison says she’s fascinated by what little she’s already seen.   And both Allison and Emmie had lots of questions when Osama Bin Laden was killed recently, since they knew it was a “big deal”.  Now they can see for themselves just how big.

Pottermania: What a Fun Ticket to Ride It’s Been

We all have “I remember when” things we can say, that vary depending on our age, when it comes to historical events that we’ve experienced.  The day Kennedy was shot, the first moon walk, personal computers become a household item, 9/11…history-making events and milestones are happening all the time.  But not every generation can say they grew up amidst the worldwide excitement and hysteria over something creatively great, as it’s being created.  For example, lots of people will continue to love the music of The Beatles, but only some can say they grew up looking forward to every Beatles record release or being one of the first in line at the record store to buy those releases, or saw the Beatles in person, “live in concert”.  And many people will continue to love J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books and watch the movies on DVD, but only some will be able to say they were at the book store the day (or week) one of those books was released, and only some can say they got to look forward to, and experience, a new Harry Potter movie release almost every year.  I’m so thankful my kids can count themselves in this latter group, and so glad to be a parent who has experienced it right along with them.

I mean, think about it—does phenomenal, ground-breaking creativity with massive appeal like this happen all that often? Yeah, in addition to the Beatles, there was Elvis, and there was Michael Jackson—but did any of their work cross generations (at the time) like Pottermania has? While kids grooved to the Fab Four, “The King of Rock ‘n Roll”, and Jacko, parents were not exactly thrilled…and though Star Trek and Star Wars has its following, I see more males into them than females, and more parents of boys than parents of girls.

But this is different.  More adults and children, parents and grandparents, males and females, are Potter fans, often together enjoying the books and movies.  (Yes, non-fans, they’re that good!) While our family is not what I’d call “fanatical”, we are fans.  Emmie once dressed as Hermione for Halloween, and when she was 8 years old, she carefully wrote a letter to Emma Watson in England (who portrays Hermione in the movies), and heard back from her about six months later (the letter included two autographed photos!).   Allison read every book, and introduced us to “Potter Puppet Pals” and “A Very Potter Musical” on YouTube.  We’ve all enjoyed family outings to see the movies when they’re released.  And we will never forget our day at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Florida last fall, where all of us, including our exchange student, tasted “butter beer” (it’s like cream soda, Dr. Pepper and whipped cream mixed together) and walked the halls of Hogwarts. (“Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey”, a “ride” inside the castle, is hands-down the best theme park attraction I’ve ever experienced—talk about overwhelming, profound joy!  And I’m usually a wimp when it comes to rides!)

Allison is attending her first (and unfortunately, the last)
midnight Harry Potter premiere tomorrow night and has been deep in thought lately, trying to figure out a costume to wear.  While I’ll be passing on that experience, I know it will be electric to get that first glimpse among so many die-hard fans.  “I think I’m going to cry when the credits roll at the end,” says Allison.  I can understand.  But again, I can also thank God my kids had the privilege of being kids during the era of Potter.  What fun!!! What great stories they can tell their own children some day!! There may be more dangers in the world now than when John, Paul, George and Ringo hit the stage, but maybe this generation will be inspired to eliminate those dangers thanks to the courage, ethics and love shown by Harry, Hermione and Ron.

Witches, Sharks, and The Generation Gap of Fear

Just in time for Halloween: A study by Finnish researchers says kids get more scared when watching scary movies with their parents than when they’re by themselves.  According to a new study published in the journal Child: Care, Health and Developmentchildren were four times more afraid of the events on the screen when their parents were watching, too. The researchers suggest that in spite of the soothing that parents may offer, a kid picks up on more hair-raising moments with parents, thanks to a parent’s facial expressions or physical reactions, and in turn the child gets more scared.  I had to laugh.  Because any time I’ve ever watched movies with my kids, they’re not scared in the least by the “scary” parts, and get downright annoyed (and these days, embarrassed) with my visible reactions.

And I react a lot.  Don’t you think some movies today are far scarier than those from eras past? Though Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz” is still probably giving kids nightmares (waking up from seeing her green face in my dreams is one of my earliest memories), I would think kids would be losing a LOT more sleep over the technically possible stuff on the screens today: a giant snake and huge attacking spiders in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” (a complete nail biter/hair-raiser in my opinion); a man who stalks kids and shoots at them in public in “Jumanji” (very creepy– and too close to real headlines for me); an evil principal with a torture closet in her office in “Matilda” (she makes the Wicked Witch look benevolent); and a T Rex smashing a Jeep with children inside in “Jurassic Park” (I cried and screamed at the same time– no joke).  When Allison, my teen, recently saw the aforementioned dinosaur flick for the first time, she not only loved it, she and her friend watched it more than once, and asked me to rent all the sequels as well.

Maybe being computer knowledgeable almost from birth has made our kids unimpressed with what we parents from the “Dark Ages” would find scary. Oh, they still get scared–  just by different things.  When asked what movie scared her the most when she was younger, Allison replied, “The Muppet Christmas Carol! I used to leave the room every time Marley and Marley came on.” The two “old men” from “The Muppet Show” shared the Dickens character of Marley and she said they were really creepy, rattling chains and talking in a weird way.  Hmmm…puppets? I don’t think puppets would scare me. She also reminded me of the time she was so creeped out, she had to take off her 3-D glasses at the IMAX theater when we went to see “The Magic Box” (“Siegfried and Roy take you from their record-breaking Las Vegas show to their home, a wildlife sanctuary where they romp freely with their world-famous white tigers and lions!”)  (Gee, maybe that’s the one movie where we’ve both been creeped out…   )

My tiny 10-year-old, Emmie the Fearless, says she can think of no movie that’s scared her, and I can’t either.  For her, I think scary stuff makes her like a movie even better. Gives her a triumphant sense of accomplishment when it’s over, like she’s taken on an obstacle and defeated it.  I think it all started several years ago when she was age 5, when I was out and Andy let her watch “Pirates of the Carribbean”, something I’d declared off limits to her until she was older (leave it to Dads to do stuff like that, huh?).  “I wasn’t scared at all!” she said as she excitedly recounted everything upon my return, beaming from ear to ear.  Recently when Allison and her friends were watching “Jaws” one night, Emmie begged to watch it the next day. In spite of her fearlessness and exposure to many “scary” movies, I had serious reservations. I saw Jaws when I was 13 and experienced my first sleepless night ever.  I mean, I was so scared afterwards, I envisioned sharks coming up out of the toilet to get me, and tiny ones dripping from the bathroom faucet.  So scared that to this day, every time I hear Barry Manilow sing “Coud This Be Magic?” I think of seeing that movie and remember the fear– the song was playing on the car radio as my parents and I drove away from the theater.  I told Emmie about this, and she laughed and reminded me that we all had seen the shark used in the movie, at Universal Studios in California– “Looked pretty fake to me!” she said. 

So I braced myself and watched it with her, again.  Thirty-four years later, not quite as scary. But still heart-pounding at times. And completely gross toward the end.

Emmie liked it so much, she checked out books from the library about sharks and wrote a report about them for a class project.  “I want to see Jaws again!” she announced.  
Who knew there were so many sequels?!