Sunday, May 25, 2014

To the Moon...and Beyond!

I am a member of a teacher group at a local museum called Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum. I joined this group totally by accident; I was looking for more credit hours so that I could renew my teacher's license, and the museum offered a teacher course where I would get a kit of Science activities to do with my students, they'd spend the day teaching me how to use it, and I'd get credit hours. I Googled it, and it changed my life.

After I did the class in the winter of 2012, I got invited to participate further in a "Teacher Envoy" group sponsored by the museum. If I agreed to do it, I would promote museum activities at my school, and then the students and I would get to do cool stuff. My kids got to visit the museum for $1 each as a school group, and that summer I got to fly in a 2-seater, open-cockpit biplane! Then my kids got certificates to go to the museum with their families for free for one visit, and a couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail inviting me to "An Evening with Buzz Aldrin," a one night only event held at the museum. I would get in for FREE!

As soon as I saw the "free" part, I checked the date and knew that I had to go. I invited a fellow teacher from my school to join me, and we signed up. The night was a rescheduling of a ceremony that was supposed to have taken place at a charity gala in November, when Aldrin fell ill and couldn't attend. What ended up not being good for the Gala ended up being great for me!

The night was also to promote a book that was just published last year and written by Aldrin: Mission to Mars, which talks about Aldrin's proposed plan for the future of the space program. He would be signing books after the talk - and you had to buy the book for him to sign it. Well, so much for the "free" part. But I wanted to have something signed by a real astronaut, so I bought it.

The evening started with everyone gathered in the hangar of the museum on cute little wedding chairs (they do weddings at the museum, so there's always a use for cute white wedding chairs), and they were filming it so that the action on stage was shown on a big screen above. That was pretty nice, even though there weren't thousands of people there. My friend and I sat on the right side, and we had a relatively clear view of the stage. Buzz, his son Andy, and the ghost writer Leonard David actually came out and were talking in front of the stage for ten minutes or so, which meant there wasn't a grand entrance or anything. We had been told as we signed in that there wasn't picture taking allowed, but it wasn't announced to the crowd, nor were people who got out their cameras and phones told to cease and desist. My phone's camera isn't that great, and it had a really low battery at the time, so I didn't take any during the interview.

My opinion of Aldrin is that he is an 84-year-old man. He acts just like an 84-year-old man acts. When David - who hosted the interview - asked Aldrin questions, there was a 10% chance that Aldrin would give the answer straight away. For the most part, he would answer the question vaguely, but go off on tangents about various things. The same went for the Q&A session afterwards. People would ask questions like "What would you tell children who are looking to get into science at school?" or "What would you tell children if they feel their dreams are unattainable?" and Aldrin would kind of answer it, but not really.

I had two questions in my back pocket. One was a serious question that came to mind as the presentation went along. It was the one I ended up asking: "How much do you think private investors will be involved in the space program from here on out?" I wish when I'd asked it that I'd been that concise, but I have an issue using an economy of words at times. Still, it was understood. Aldrin didn't really answer my question very well, but his son mentioned that he's part of a private company that will be sending parts up into space in the very near future, so private investing will be huge.

My lighter question would have been "How did it feel to have Bryan Cranston play you on that TV miniseries that aired 15 years ago?" I would have enjoyed hearing his response, but most people wouldn't have understood that I was talking about From the Earth to the Moon that was on HBO. (Haven't heard about it? Go watch it. Now.)

After the Q&A the people in the seats queued up in a line for the book signing. My friend and I thought we were quick on our feet, but we were still in the back half of the line by the time we found our spot. For a pretty long time we just stood in one spot - so much so that we thought it was going to take a long time to get through. One of the workers came down the line and assured us that Aldrin was going to sign every book if we stuck around, so we did. Luckily once the first few people (who had five or six books each and were connected to the museum in some way) went through, the rest of the people were shuffled through pretty quickly, and it was clear Aldrin was going to sign the book and that was pretty much it.

When my friend and I made it to the front, Aldrin signed our books, and I got to say "Thank you," and he gave me a look of recognition, but not much else. Again, remember: this guy is 84 years old and is signing a few hundred books. I didn't have a big deal with it. The only other time I'd been willing to sit in line to have something signed was back when Desmond Howard did a signing in Ann Arbor, (That was AWESOME.) so I didn't have much to go on with this. I was pleased to get to do it, and now I have something signed by one of the 12 men who stepped foot on the moon.

As many people have pointed out to me, this Teacher Envoy program that I'm doing is sure giving me a lot of perks! I'm happy I accidentally got involved with this very nice museum and program.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

In The Middle of Disney World

It's hard to believe, but this summer it will have been fourteen years since my family last visited Walt Disney World (or WDW). I don't remember everything, but I remember loving the heck out of the Main Street Electrical Parade, taking excellent pictures on our film cameras, getting to ride on a speeder bike (kind of), wearing a fisherman's hat that I thought was cool, and racing to be the first people to ride Splash Mountain for the day.

Ah, those were good times.

But for my family, it's been fourteen years! So much has changed since then. Luckily, a show that I know a few of you watch - The Middle - spent their season finale at WDW. If you watched carefully, you may discover some new and amazing things at the Magic Kingdom that may not have been there in your last visit. There also are a few things that were clearly stuffed in there for product placement. (ABC is owned by Disney, after all.)

If you want, you can catch the episode here. I'll do my best to point out all the big changes at the Magic Kingdom if you haven't been there a while, plus the highs and lows of a family vacation to WDW that we probably haven't seen since Full House.

Main Entrance
There is one big difference shown immediately as the Heck family tries to enter the park. If you notice, there aren't any turnstiles anymore. Instead, they have these Mickey poles where you tap your RFID tickets to enter the park. (RFID tickets have a little micro computer chip inside that activates when swiped or tapped at an RFID reader.) In my extensive research for my trips to WDW, I have heard that these were put in sometime in 2012, and fully in 2013 to go with the new Fastpass+ system (more on that later).

Paper tickets?
I doubt there's any way Disneyland or WDW would print out paper tickets like the ones Frankie Heck presents to the cast member. If anything, they would have taken their voucher to Guest Services and gotten their tickets there. Plus, Frankie can't be that blind to see that they are for Disneyland, right? The giveaway poster shown in the previous week’s episode even said "Disney World" on it. I blame Ehlert Motors for the mix-up.

Magic Bands
The cast member explicitly says "Magic Bands," which are part of the Fastpass+ system. The RFID chips are now on cute little wristbands that Disney is giving everyone! You get them by mail if you have a Disney resort hotel reservation included in your package, or you can buy some nifty colors and styles at the park. They want it to be the new pin-trading. Or Vinylmation. (Don't know about that one? Don't worry - it's managed to come into existence, get really popular, get oversaturated, and get unpopular again.)

Anyhoo, the cast member mentions Magic Bands like it's easy as pie. Except while WDW has been rolling the thing out, there's been a few issues. Here's one of those times when Disney executives told The Middle writers to "Stick this in there, so people think Magic Bands are fun!" But don't worry - Magic Bands will be no problem by the time you get back there. Maybe.

Guest Relations
More Disney executive meddling? The guest relations guy manages to change the tickets to WDW Park-Hoppers (since Frankie and Mike end up in Epcot after starting the day in the Magic Kingdom, clearly they have a Park-Hopper pass) even though a WDW Park-Hopper is probably $20-$30 more expensive than a Disneyland ticket. Heaven forbid ABC show WDW cast members in a negative light. ("Make sure they get the best, most expensive hotel suite, too!")

Seeing the Castle for the First Time...LIVE
Sue's reaction to turning the corner and seeing Cinderella's castle at the end of Main Street is pretty much anyone's reaction...without the whole fainting part. Usually when I have seen the castle (on my four solo trips to the park) it has been when I am jogging with other tourists at rope drop to get on Space Mountain first. As a matter of fact, when I went back in 2009, I think I jumped about ten feet in the air as I turned the corner! I'm almost surprised there weren't more people having Sue's reaction around the Hecks as they looked at the castle. It's a magical experience that doesn't need to be hyped up by Disney executives.

Brick's Mickey Ears
More Heck ineptitude, as Brick actually asks if Mickey Ears are sold in the park. He just so happens to go into the Chapeau, which is in Town Square (near the entrance to the Magic Kingdom) and has a gajillion hats - not just Mickey Ears. You'll see that WDW hats have really improved since they plastered ovals on a baseball cap and called it Goofy Ears. (I know my family has a pair like that somewhere in our basement.)
Disney Product Placement (we'll just call it DPP from now on) also manages to use Brick's indecisiveness when the cast member asks what font and color he wants to personalize his name, since they can do that now.

"No one is splitting up."
Frankie, Frankie, Frankie. This is the worst thing to come out of your mouth so far. WDW is best experienced when sharing the experience with like-minded people. Let Axl tour around and let Mike go to Epcot. When you all meet up for dinner later, you'll have so many more fun stories to tell! (She does wise up about this later.)

Sue's Disney Binder
Sue gets a month to plan her Disney vacation, which means she makes an enormous binder and carries it with her. When I went with my friend back in 2009, she also made a binder. However, it had far fewer pages, and she was smart enough to leave most of it at the hotel, bringing only the most relevant papers. She inspired me to do my own Disney binder when I returned with another friend in 2010!
Sue's information also seems to be incorrect, which she figures out when trying to line up for Space Mountain, and I figured out way back when she said Jungle Cruise was the best ride at 2:00 in the afternoon. I use to make my schedules, and it's never let me down. Sue should have looked into that.

"There's no line on Dumbo."
Yes, the Dumbo ride has moved from its place behind the castle to the rear area of New Fantasyland. It also has two Dumbo rides, and the queue is inside a big tent instead of outside. I saw this on my solo trip in 2012, and it was pretty cool - especially at night.
Axl and Sue are both wrong when they say there's no line for Dumbo, or that Dumbo's line is always short. It's not as bad as it used to be, but it's still long.

Gaston's Tavern
After Brick loses his hat and the Hecks retrace their steps, they stop beside a fountain of Gaston. Wait, that's never been there before? Well, that fountain (and the Tavern behind it) were just opened up last December. Gaston donated the fountain of himself to the town. He occasionally does meet-and-greets there, too. It's near the Be Our Guest restaurant, where you can eat inside Beast's castle, including the grand ballroom!

Turkey Legs
Each member of the Heck family gets their own turkey leg. Bad idea: those turkey legs are huge, and a normal person can only take approximately 8.4 bites before not wanting to eat anymore. (I got that statistic from the Book of Fake Statistics.) They should have bought one turkey leg and split it, giving them a better chance of riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. (Plus, five turkey legs is equal to about fifty bucks! And that is not a Fake Statistic!)

DPP Commercial!
Following the Heck's realization that they need to split up to enjoy WDW, they cut to...a Disney commercial advertising their newest ride - The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train!

Peter Pan
I hope the Heck kids enjoyed waiting in line for three hours to ride Peter Pan in the middle of the afternoon. There is only one good time to ride Peter Pan: the first hour of park opening.

Epcot is Amazing
Mike and Frankie spend their evening in the World Showcase section of Epcot, enjoying themselves and eating lots of international food. Yes, people: Epcot is a great park, especially for adults!
And those fireworks they watch at the end? That's just "Illuminations - Reflections of Earth." That is something that was there back in 2000, but it's still going strong and just as great as it was before. Now I know the best place to watch it, too.

DPP Commercial part II!
After the episode wraps up, there's yet another Disney commercial for their hotels!

During the end credits they show some of the pictures of the Hecks on vacation, and Brick is reading the Hidden Mickeys book by Steven Barrett - a book about one of those awesome little additions in WDW that are easy to spot - especially after you know what to look for!

I know a lot about WDW, and I'm looking forward to my next trip, whether it's with friends or family. If you plan on doing a Disney vacation, you can see from this episode that you will need to be fully invested in Disney. Be prepared, get to the park early and have a grand time! (And don't do anything the Hecks did. Their trip was a warning to us all.)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

My Journey to Friends

The TV show Friends has millions of fans around the world, and for the longest time I was not one of them. My journey to finally watching the show was a long one, considering that I only started to watch it ten years after the series finale. But I'm glad I waited that long.

Back when the series premiered in 1994, I was a mere 9 years old. Although some of my friends in grade school said they "watched" it, my parents were firm in the fact that I was not supposed to watch it. The show was on Thursdays at 8pm, which meant my parents were probably watching the first part of it as I got ready for bed. I did manage to catch little bits of it here and there, and eventually learned the six main characters' names: Joey, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, Ross, and Rachel. It was easy to do, since the theme song became a hit single and the actors filmed the music video (remember this?).

In high school, I lived away from home and didn't have the time to catch up on any network television besides Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. In college, when Friends was in its twilight years and coming to a close, I do remember some of my classmates holding Friends viewing parties, but by that time nine seasons had passed and lots of the little plot points had passed me by, even though I'd kept tabs on the major developments. (Chandler and Monica? Rachel and Joey?)

I also had turned into a Friends hater by then, rolling my eyes at the retrospectives that were cropping up as the tenth season ended. I had a core group of friends who loved it, and referenced it any chance they got. I just ignored it or insulted it, which I'm sure they hated. As the years passed, their references continued, but my blatant disregard for the series did fade. I didn't want to watch it enough to catch any of the eight hundred channels on which the series was syndicated (I couldn't do the commercials.) However, when my brother obtained the entire series, I finally resolved to watch it.

I am very glad that I did. Had I watched it at any other point in my life - grade school (heaven forbid!), high school, college, or early twenties - I would have liked it, but now that I am watching it as someone the same age as the characters, I can relate to them better. Well, not all of their issues. But job crises? Girl talk? Friend issues? Living paycheck to paycheck? Comfortable recliners that you don't want to ever leave? Those are things with which I can now relate.

I'm still in the middle of season three right now, but I am laughing a lot more at awkward situations and witty Chandler comebacks than I ever would have been in earlier years. My journey to Friends has been long, but it was worth it in the end.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Spoilers Aren't the Devil

We are in the season of TV show finales. Usually, when a TV series is wrapping up a season, it usually resolves a year-long arc and/or blows everything out of the water with a sudden reveal. This usually ends up blowing up the Internet for a couple of hours, as people say everything from "That was dumb" to "I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT JUST HAPPENED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Marketing executives live for this time of the year. If their show can generate buzz to last into the next morning, then it's a likely guarantee that the show is a hit and will carry over into next season.

Of course, ultimate finales and the like often prove to be the bane of Spoilerphobes, too. You know the type: refuse to click on preview posts of shows, avoid anything with a "spoiler" tag, yet take waaaay too long to watch those same shows and get angry at other people who end up slipping up on the big reveal of the show or movie.

I have been subject to spoilers before - no one has found that almighty cure for Spoilerphobes. Even if a person doesn't go on the Internet ever, actual live, physical people can still slip up in normal conversations.

There are some shows or movies where I really try to keep it fresh and be surprised in the theater - Captain America: The Winter Soldier's surprise (not the one about The Winter Soldier - the other one) blew me away, and the way it carried over into Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D ended up giving that show a much-needed dose. I was incredibly thankful I saw Cap on opening day.

Another example was back in November, when the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who was taking place. One fine Thursday morning, I check the Internet and find a "minisode" for Doctor Who, and click on it. Lo and behold, Paul McGann - the 8th Doctor who only appeared in a 1996 TV movie - made his triumphant return! I was floored, as was the rest of the Whovians out there. No one knew! It was one of the greatest moments in my TV/movie-watching life.

But there are other surprises that I did know beforehand. Sometimes I found out by reading about it online, and sometimes I was just too young and just grew up with knowing it all along. ("No - I am your father.") Do I wish I'd been able to sit on my couch or in a theater and drop my jaw with everyone else? Heck yes! (If I ever get amnesia, the first thing you need to do is reintroduce me to my family. The second is to show me Star Wars.)

Even if something gets spoiled for you, there is a way to save the situation. If all you know is one little plot point, focus on everyone else in the scene. How do they react? If it was a surprise for you, then it probably is a surprise for those characters, as well. If you love the show, you'll not only be invested in the surprises (Ross and Rachel finally kissed!!) but also in how other characters will react. (The girls want all the details! The guys just eat pizza!)

Another good example is from a fantastic movie, Mary Poppins. Most of us have seen that movie several times in our lives (hopefully), and we enjoy the music, costumes, Britishness, and Julie Andrews. We all know that in the end Mr. Banks goes a little crazy at the bank and then takes his family and goes to fly kites. The end!

But watch it again. Instead of focusing on the music, costumes, Britishness, and Julie Andrews, focus on Mr. Banks, played excellently by David Tomlinson. He is my favorite character in the movie (when I was little it was because he had a mustache, just like my dad), and his slow walk from his house to the bank is so gut-wrenching after watching the whole movie. He starts with his whole life in perfect order. Then Mary Poppins comes along and "ruins" everything for him. But after the chimney sweeps come into his home, he has a heartfelt moment with Dick Van Dyke's Bert, who pulls a "Cat's in the Cradle" on him (years before that was actually a thing) and reminds him that when Mr. Banks thought he had everything in order, he actually was missing out on the love of his children. That's why he goes a little nutty at the bank: it clicks for him to stop being so serious and enjoy life - especially life with his kids!

Have you ever revisited that movie, or did you decide not to because you already knew what happened at the end? Have you done that with any other movies? Go back and watch them again, but this time focus on the characters instead of the spoiler. I'm sure you'll get a lot more out of it the second time around, even if you know all the "spoilers."

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Looking Forward!

My birthday was last week, and I turned 29. Most of my friends are also that age now, and in the coming school year we'll all be turning 30. We've been friends since we all turned 20, so that means we've known each other for ten years. It used to be that when one of us was dating a guy who was 30, we would say, "He's so much older than you!" Nowadays, dating a guy in his 30s isn't a problem at all!

Still, though, there is some apprehension. Many people say that the 20s are the prime of a person's life. By turning 30, people might say that your prime is done, and that it's all downhill from here.

But personally, I am really looking forward to my thirties. My 20s were a developing time in my life. I started the decade optimistic, believing that I had my life figured out. I thought everyone in their twenties had it figured out. (I'll give you a minute to laugh. Done? Okay.) Eventually learned I still had a lot of growing up to do. Was I going to do the college-job-marriage-children route? No. Was I going to come out of college being the best teacher ever? Absolutely not! Did I have my hobbies and interests settled? Nope.

This decade (which is still going on for another year) gave me a lot of insight over the type of teacher I am, and the things that I have to improve in my teaching. I have lots of flaws, but I can't just settle with it - I have to actually make myself better. How I work with the kids and parents is a reflection on the school - I can make the school better by being a positive influence, and putting aside personal things and focusing on the students.

I have been working on good relationships with my peers, as well. It started well in Wisconsin, and it's still fun in Colorado. I have a good core of friends here, who aren't hardcore partiers or drinkers, which is good for me. They share the same beliefs that I do, which is even better. But we still have our differences, and I understand now that I can't try to do everything that they do. Some of them participate in Tough Mudder - definitely not my cup of tea. A "casual" hike to them ends up being several hours and pretty intense uphill hiking - not my idea of a "casual" hike. I enjoy the things that I do with them, but I know my limits.

I also can be comfortable with my hobbies. In my high school years I wasn't afraid to show off my hobbies and what I liked. I went to the comic book shop with my older brother. I did midnight showings of movies like Spider-Man and Star Wars prequels. My dorm room was covered in posters of the geeky stuff. In my college years, however, I focused on my degree and enjoyed hobbies with my friends.

Now that I'm on my own, I'm discovering (and rediscovering) my passions again. At first it was everything about Disney and Walt Disney World. Then I found Doctor Who. Then I got hooked on Orphan Black. Now I'm back into Star Wars. I enjoy all these things, and I'm not afraid to let the geek flag fly. They are things that make me happy. If they make me happy, then I am going to enjoy them to the fullest.

So as I get closer to my thirties, I get more excited. I enter my fourth decade on earth more confident of my abilities, strong in my beliefs, content with my hobbies, and happy with my friends. That doesn't mean I'm just going to settle - there's still stuff on which I need to work (keeping up with my long distance friends, for example). But I have an exciting future ahead thanks to the growth I made in the past!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Why the original Star Wars trilogy is the best trilogy ever:

Yesterday (May the Fourth) I had a lot of stuff going on, so I decided to dedicate today to the viewing of the Star Wars original trilogy. And not the "special editions," either; I own the DVDs that have the original theatrical cuts of all three movies, and I hadn't watched them yet.

I was born after all three movies came out, but my older brother's first movie in the theater was Return of the Jedi (he would have only been 1 year old). He was a gigantic Star Wars fan growing up, and my parents were happy to indulge his excitement by buying him the toys and, eventually, the VHS copies of the trilogy. Through all this, I was able to catch the fan train and became a big follower of Star Wars myself. In fact, when I was in grade school, my brother, his friend, and I often spent hours on our bikes on the parking lot outside of our house pretending that our bikes were X-wings. I've got a New Republic pin and everything - and this was before news of the prequels came out!

I enjoy the prequels for what they are: a flashback to explain some of the conversations and events of the original trilogy. I don't find a need to watch them as much as the original trio, but I don't hate them like other people do.

I can't really see any other trilogy (except perhaps Back to the Future) that excels as much in all three movies as Star Wars does. It avoids traps into which most trilogies fall, and establishes some good trends that other movies have followed.

In A New Hope, the story doesn't start with the beginning of the war - it throws us right into the middle of it. It even says it in the beginning scroll: "Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire." Do we see it? No - they just tell us it happened.

We don't really get origin stories, either. Movies like Spider-Man or Man of Steel require an origin story to establish the setting and characters. A New Hope doesn't really do that. It states technical terms and jargon that don't get explained. It even confused the actors when they were reading their lines. Actor Anthony Daniels, in an interview for the TV documentary The Real History of Science Fiction, said that when running lines with Mark Hamill, they both admitted they had absolutely no idea what they were saying - they just said it.

Both those points are great for the movie. They allow the viewers to understand that they've just been thrown into a new world, and they can catch up with the mumbo-jumbo in later viewings - something that theater goers did in droves back in 1977. Even without help of the prequels, fans have established a galaxy and physics from that original setting "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away."

Character development is key as well. Leia isn't portrayed as a pretty damsel who immediately gets googly eyes for the nearest man that crosses her path and can't do anything herself. One of the first things she does on screen is use a blaster on a storm trooper. She's also got a snarky attitude, which is fun to watch.

Most people complain about Luke's portrayal, but I disagree. At the beginning, he's a whiny teenager - pretty much portraying every single teenager ever. We were all that age, and we were whiny when our parents made us do something we didn't want to do. He didn't maintain that whiny-ness the entire movie. He makes the plan to rescue Leia, shoots the blast door to prevent Darth Vader from using the Force to keep the Millenium Falcon in the Death Star hangar, and uses the Force himself to fire his proton torpedo into a 2-meter-wide exhaust port.

Then there's The Empire Strikes Back, which is better than A New Hope - and A New Hope was excellent! The reason is because it really rounds out the characters. Leia isn't just snarky - she is in command (and does have a lovable side). Han's gruff exterior reveals an interior that is loyal to his friends - and loving to Leia.

Luke is still being developed here, but that's the point of Empire - he's not ready yet. He's turned into a leader, but his Jedi skills need time (and Yoda). A lot of people aren't a big fan of Luke because of this - he is immature at times when it comes to his Jedi training - but he can't be the mature Jedi that he needs to be yet. It irritates people, but this growing period needs to be seen!

The other main reason Empire is awesome is that the Rebellion is defeated. That is a pretty big gamble - most movies show the protagonists being beaten, but then getting right back up and winning at the end of the movie. In Empire, the whole movie is about the protagonists being defeated! The Hoth battle is a total loss, the Millenium Falcon has tons of operational issues, Luke crashes his X-wing, Han's friend Lando betrays him to Darth Vader, and Luke is defeated in his first duel with Vader, who happens to be his father!

All of those things mean that Empire could be thought of as too depressing, but that is not the case. The gamble on defeat paid off in a huge way. Not many sequels can claim to be better than the original - most fail completely.

However, both Empire and Return of the Jedi live up to the original counterpart. Out of the two, I have always had a soft spot for Jedi. Out of the three movies, I've probably seen Jedi more than the other two combined, since it's one of those "bad day" movies that I might put on to make myself feel better - and it always does.

I love it for a lot of reasons. Luke finally lives up to his status as leader and Jedi, rescuing Han and his friends from Jabba the Hutt and bringing his father back to the good side, all while rocking the all-black ensemble. (Okay, if you hadn't figured it out by now, I've had a crush on '70s and '80s Mark Hamill since I was little. Everyone - including my mom - always preferred the bad boy Han Solo, but I always cheered the most for Luke Skywalker.)

People tend to bash Jedi for the Ewoks, wishing that the original plan of Wookies would have stuck around. But that would be ridiculous - why would the Empire build their new Death Star around a planet of a lethal alien race? The reason they built it around Endor was because they assumed the Ewoks were insignificant - an idea that ended up killing them in the end.

Jedi lives up to its massive expectations, and it always brings a smile to my face, especially after I’ve spent my afternoon and evening doing a marathon of all three, like I did today. There isn't anything that I would change (even though George Lucas has) and repeat viewings solidifies the fact that this is the best trilogy of all time!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Track and Field: Something for Everyone

Today I was able to attend a grade school track meet, featuring my school and several other schools in the area. The meet was for kids in grades K-8, and there were lots of families there.

My school was in charge of the softball throw, and that's an easier job than you think. There were anywhere from three to twelve children participating at a time (we split into age groups), and they each got two throws. We've done it so long that we have a system that is very efficient, and even the largest groups get done in 20 minutes or so.

When I wasn't helping out with the softball event, I was busy perusing the other events taking place, and it made me realize how fun Track and Field days are. No matter where you are or what abilities you may have in sports, there is something for you.

In high school I tried playing softball in the springtime my first two years. I made the team my freshman year but got cut my sophomore year. They promoted me to "student coach" and offered me the same position my junior year, but I decided to give Track a try. Our girls' team had excelled in previous years - even winning the state championship my freshman year. We had great coaches, and there were several girls in my class who were very important to that state championship, even though they had been freshmen.

When anyone joins a Track team, the first thing the coach will ask is, "What events will you be participating in?" And that's a great question. No person could excel at every single event, so they pick their specialties - events that they feel will give the team - and themselves - the best chance at winning. For me, that was the "weight" events: shot put and discus.

Back in grade school, shot put had been introduced in the upper grades, and when I first picked up that shot and began "putting" in the back parking lot of our school, I knew I'd fallen in love. The way the shot leaves a person's hand is far different from a little old softball. It requires legs, arms, and a good, solid grunt. When I actually placed in the shot put events from that point forward, I knew I was good at this. It felt natural to pick it back up again in high school.

My first year was pretty good. Our team was so big that not every girl made it to the weekend "invitationals," and we had to prove ourselves in practices and team meets on the weekdays in order to qualify. When I made my first invitational in the first weekend, I was thrilled to bits! We took first, and even though I didn't place, I got a shiny medal for my letter jacket and a new label at school. I was known as the "basketball manager" and "football statistician" and "organist" and "choir member," but now I was "track athlete." I was an athlete - something I always wanted to be, but never seemed to be good enough to make the team. Finally, in Track and Field, I found something at which I was good!

That's the beauty of Track and Field. Even if someone is a little larger and runs ten yards behind the others in the 100m dash, they can use that brute strength and channel it into a large round metal ball. If sprinting isn't someone's thing, they can be a slow-and-steady distance runner. If day 10 is someone's favorite day in "The 12 Days of Christmas," you can leap your heart out in long jump and high jump.

I got even better my senior year - even winning the "most improved senior" award (which I still cherish to this day) and participating in the big county meet at the end of the track season.

Nowadays, I am content coaching kids when it comes to track - especially shot put. Back at my first school, I helped an eighth grade girl discover the amazing world of shot put, and the next year she joined the track team at her high school. I'm busy encouraging the 6th-8th grade boys and girls at my school now to actually grunt when they put, to energize their throws and get greater distance. The girls seem more enthused to do that than the boys, actually. The girls giggle but give it a try, while the boys just say they're shy and they don't want to give it a try because they'll look stupid. Oh, grade schoolers. Wait till they get to high school and discover I was right!

I also enjoy Track and Field day's participation. Because there are always several schools participating, many children who might see each other at different times of the year (soccer, volleyball, basketball, fine arts, etc.) finally get an extended period of time with which to talk to their competitors. I got to know several of my best high school friends back in grade school, when we competed against each other. I saw it today when I observed some great camaraderie between students at different schools. These fun encounters sometimes don't amount to anything, but sometimes they develop into lasting friendships. And even if they don't, usually the kids are very friendly to each other, and cheer each other on.

I always enjoy Track and Field day. Always fun, always encouraging, and something for everyone.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Fears and Star Wars

On Tuesday, J.J. Abrams introduced the new cast of Star Wars: Episode VII. To my surprise, the casting announcement got major press, and not just by nerds and geeks everywhere. I watch the NBC Nightly News, and it was one of the stories on Tuesday night!

Personally, I'm apprehensive. I know the new trilogy (and pretty much everything that comes out of the Star Wars universe) is no longer under the strict control of George Lucas. That means we're probably not destined for another prequel-like trilogy.

However, that doesn't mean my doubts about these films are squashed. For one, I didn't mind the prequels. They came at a time in my life where I was ecstatic to get new Star Wars (as we all were, just admit it) and was willing to go to a 4:00 a.m. showing of The Phantom Menace to prove it. (This was before theaters just added other showings at midnight - they actually had two night showings back-to-back. I can't believe my father thought that was a good idea to take me.)

My worry is the cast. Not everybody - just the returning cast. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford are all coming back to reprise their roles, and I don't really have to tell people that it's been 30 years since Return of the Jedi. None of them have aged that well, and I was content to look at them and say, "Hey, they remind me of awesome times in my childhood!" I don't want to exactly see them reprise their roles again. I know that Abrams managed to fit Leonard Nimoy as Old Spock pretty well into Star Trek, but in all the scenarios in my head, I can't see them getting back into form.

If they had continued this new trilogy without Luke, Leia, and Han, there may have been people who said, "I really would have loved to see what they were doing. Maybe a cameo or something." I would just reply with, "No thanks - I'm good."