Sunsets Over the Mountains

I love mountains, and I love sunsets.  Here are both of them together, in some pictures I took last month.


The power line kind of ruins it, but I still love the hint of a rosy glow on the mountainside.


Even surrounded by power lines and cars, the sky and the mountains bring me peace.


Look at how dramatic that sky is!


The sun is almost gone…

Strong Women and Mary Sues

In honor of National Women’s Day, I’d like to tackle a controversial subject: women in fiction.  There are many fantastic female characters in movies and literature that demonstrate what a strong woman can be.  There are also many female characters that are boring and obnoxious, without any compelling backstory or character development, but if we don’t like them, it must be because we’re misogynists.  I would like to give a few examples:

Captain Marvel

Anyone who disliked this movie or its title character was very quickly labeled sexist.  But you know what?  She was very unlikable.  Her arrogance, lack of ability to relate to anyone, the giant stick up her butt, and her complete lack of character development did not endear her to me.  She experienced trauma and betrayal that should have given us some emotionally deep scenes, but Brie Larson has the emotional range and as many facial expressions as Kristen Stewart.  (That would be one.  One facial expression.  But hey, at least Brie Larson doesn’t look stoned the entire time.)  Honestly, I found Carol Danvers’ friend Maria a much more interesting character.  Maria actually responded to the emotional events that happened to her, and had motivations behind her actions besides “because I can.”

Black Widow

Everyone loves Black Widow.  She is a paradoxical character.  She was raised to be the perfect assassin, even to the point of giving up her ability to have children in order to be a perfect assassin.  (That’s why she said she was a monster, by the way, for those of you incapable of nuance.  It’s not because she can’t have children.  It’s because she gave up that possibility to become a better killer.)  In spite of all this, Black Widow is really the heart of the Avengers.  She is compassionate, and feels everyone’s pain.  She comforts others while trying to deal with her own demons.  She probably has the most of the most poignant scenes in the MCU.  She kicks butt, and is a relatable human being we love.

Scarlett Witch

She started out as a science project, became flunky to a supervillain, redeemed herself, lost her brother, and learned to control her powers, while making some very difficult decisions.  Scarlett Witch’s powers are, quite frankly, terrifying, and we get to see her journey of learning to control them, instead of letting her fear control her (unlike Carol Danvers, who also suddenly gains great power, but has no journey of discovery whatsoever).  She doesn’t have as much screen time as most of the other Avengers, but she sure packs a lot of character development into the time she has.


Sigh.  Oh, Disney, you could have done so much better.  Instead, we get Rey, who is inexplicably good at everything, to the point of being better at almost everything than everyone, with absolutely no effort on her part, with scarcely any character development.  Yawn.

Vice Admiral Holdo

Could Disney have created a more annoying character than Holdo?  She is hailed as the “obvious” choice for commanding the fleet, when she has never been mentioned before.  She denigrates Poe for no good reason (and let’s be honest, Poe was the best part of The Force Awakens), and withholds her plan for no reason at all.  Why exactly should we like her?  Because she put down a guy?  That makes her every bit as sexist as any misogynist.

Mara Jade

She is the Star Wars heroine we deserved.  She is one of the main characters of the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn.  She is a powerful force user, and goes toe to toe with Luke Skywalker, when he is at the height of his powers.  (I won’t say anymore; I don’t want to spoil it!)  And if you want a redemption story, (and I know Star Wars loves redemption stories), Mara Jade has one of the best.   We see a complete 180 in her story development, and yet, she remains interesting.  She has a love interest, but it never upstages her character development.  (Also, as an aside, if you liked Leia becoming a general, you would like the Thrawn Trilogy Leia even more.  She learns to use the force and kick butt, too!)

Movie goers like strong female characters, but we want them to be relatable and have compelling stories.  We don’t want to be told “You have to like this character because girl power, and if you don’t, you’re sexist!”  What’s sexist is creating a one-dimensional female character and expecting us to love her just because she’s a woman, when the creators could have done so much better.

Like Mara Jade.

Yes, I’m still bitter.

The Things Teachers Are Expected to Teach

Hang out on the internet for any length of time, and you’ll find criticism of teachers.  Sure, some of it is warranted, but much of it is unfair and unreasonable.  For example, there are many people complaining that “Schools (teachers) should teach xyz.” (Often, I would like to note, these opinions come from non-teachers.)

The curriculum is crammed with so many things.  And that doesn’t even include all study, social, emotional, and behavioral skills teachers are expected to teach.  There are only so many hours in a school day, and a teacher is only one person.  It is literally impossible to teach everything a teacher is expected to teach.  To demonstrate this, here is a list, albeit, an imperfect one, of the things I am expected to teach in a school year:

  • Arithmetic
  • Math concepts
  • Math problem solving
  • Reading fluency
  • Reading comprehension
  • Reading expression
  • Spelling
  • Grammar
  • Vocabulary
  • Pemanship
  • Writing
  • Listening skills
  • Presentation skills
  • Science
  • Social studies

And that’s just the academics.  Add on study skills:

  • Management of materials
  • Time management
  • Organization
  • Focus
  • Persistence
  • Good work ethic
  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Computer skills
  • Curiosity
  • Love of learning

Add on social skills:

  • Respecting others
  • Good manners
  • Personal space
  • How to play with others
  • How to work with others
  • How to make friends
  • How to resolve conflict
  • How to share ideas

Add on emotional skills:

  • How to pay attention/work when you really aren’t feeling it
  • How to apologize
  • How to get attention in an appropriate way
  • What to do if someone is being mean to you
  • How to handle difficult emotions
  • How to get your needs met in an appropriate way
  • How to stick to a task when it’s frustrating

Add on general behavioral expectations:

  • Classroom/school rules and procedures
  • Uniform/dress code compliance
  • Awareness of your surroundings
  • How to sit in a chair (no joke)

Now, please tell me what else schools need to add to the list, and while you’re at it, please tell us how to manipulate time to give us more hours in a day.

Don’t get me wrong; I love teaching.  I love being with the kids and helping them learn.  But the school year often feels like a rat race.  That’s okay, too, I guess.  I’m managing it.  But before you tell me what I ought to be teaching, try it out for yourself.

How To Improve Professional Development

Teachers hate professional development.  Never have I heard a teacher say about a mandated workshop, “That was such a good use of our time!  I can’t wait to try all that out!”

The two main complaints about professional development are that it wastes valuable time (and teachers always have a to-do list a mile long), and that it’s boring or irrelevant to what they actually do.

Of course, the best approach for providing professional development that would be interesting and relevant to individual teachers is to give teachers a stipend for professional development, and have them seek out and attend workshops on their own.

But we all know the primary means of professional development is going to be the dreaded professional development day, during which teachers are trapped in a room mere feet away from their classrooms, where they could be getting valuable prep done, being talked at by an administrator and/or someone brought in from the outside for the occasion.  Since that’s how it’s going to be, I have some advice for the presenters:

Skip your life’s achievements

We don’t care what your qualifications are, or how much experience you have.  We are here because we have to be, not because we’re impressed by your awards or achievements.

Skip the personal stories

We don’t care about your life’s journey, the funny thing your kid said the other day, or any other story that is not immediately relevant to today’s topic.  Even if it is relevant, we still don’t care.

Skip your “Come to Jesus” moment

We don’t want to story of how you personally came to learn this technique and realized it solved all your teaching problems, and how it changed your career, no, your life.

Skip the funny/inspiring comic strip/video/fill in the blank

Don’t try to make me laugh.  Don’t try to inspire me.  Even if it’s genuinely funny/inspirational, all it’s doing right now is keeping me from getting stuff done.

Skip the pedagogy.

I already went to school for a year to learn the theory of teaching.  You know, the theories that sound nice but don’t actually help you at all when you get to the classroom.  I enjoyed it then about as much as I’m enjoying it now.

Just tell me what you want me to do, and how to do it.

Chances are, the thing you are about to tell me requires me to do something to put your scintillating training into action.  If you want me to actually do it, give me time to do it.  Be simple, be concise, and let me get back to my classroom where I can hopefully make a dent in my never-ending to-do list and then, maybe, I will actually have time for the thing you want me to do.

The Matrix Saga: How It Should Have Ended

‘The Matrix’ Turns 18: See the Cast Then and Now (PHOTOS)

So, I just watched The Matrix (I know, I’m a little late to the party), and I really liked it.  My husband told me how the other two movies go, and I thought they sounded terrible.  So, here is what really should have happened:

Cypher’s body is dumped unceremoniously in a sewer unused even by our heroes.  They travel to Zion where they bury Dozer, Switch, Mouse, and Apoc with honors.  Our heroes spend time planning their next move with the leading citizens of Zion, as well as captains of other ships.  Neo is both entranced and repelled by the grotesque beauty that is Zion, the underground city where the last free humans live.

Ceremonies complete, Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, and Tank head back out to free more people from the Matrix.

No one knows if humans grown by the AI can reproduce, but that doesn’t stop Neo and Trinity from trying.  Tank starts playing loud music whenever Neo and Trinity leave the public areas of the ship.  Morpheus just smiles knowingly.

To prevent future betrayal’s like Cypher’s, Tank develops technology that won’t allow a person to be unplugged from the Matrix until called from it through the hardline.  Once they start recruiting new members, they also implement a buddy system: whenever someone is in the Matrix, no one left behind is ever alone.

With the aid of the One, work to free minds from the Matrix continues and increases in speed and effectiveness.  Soon, the Nebuchadnezzer is very crowded, and the crew decides to expand their efforts by crewing an additional ship.  Neo captains the new ship, with Trinity as his first mate.  Morpheus remains captain of the Nebuchadnezzer, with Tank as his first mate.

Though Agent Smith is gone, the other agents remain dangerous to freed minds operating in the Matrix.  The agents grow increasingly wary and cunning, though it is they who run away when they encounter Neo.

Eventually, with all the additional people being freed from the Matrix and Zion’s natural population growth, an additional city must be founded.  Scouting parties from Zion search out and find a location for their new city.

Under Neo’s guidance, training increases in intensity.  While no one is able to match Neo for control over the Matrix, others obtain greater power to manipulate it.

Alarmed by the increased rate at which they are losing minds from the Matrix, and the proficiency of the freed minds in fighting back, the machines no longer dump the bodies of people who break free.  Instead, the machines kill them immediately.  Morpheus and Neo realize that they must take the fight to the machines.

The humans develop new technology, to shield their ships from an EMP, allowing them to use the EMPs with impunity to disable machines.  They also develop smaller EMPs that are less powerful, but are light enough to be carried by individuals.  Armed with their individual EMPs, Morpheus, Neo, and others physically invade the fields to rescue those freed from the Matrix.

The agents, in turn, found other ways to outsmart the humans.  They shed their distinctive suits to look like regular people. They also found ways to mimic minds looking for a way out of the Matrix, luring the freedom fighters to their aid.  Once they make contact, the agents take them out.

Trinity discovers she is pregnant.  This is the first time a human grown by machines has been able to conceive.  Though she abhors being out of the fight, Trinity concedes that, for the good of her child, and all of humanity, she must remain behind in the safety of the city.

War between the humans and the machines continues to escalate.  The machines eventually discover the location of the new human city, where Trinity resides.  The machines attack, stopped only by a newly operational EMP more massive than any that was ever made before.

The new EMP is made mobile, and brought to the fields.  In spite of successes there, however, the humans can only make a dent in the fields that cover the surface of the planet.

Neo starts creating computer viruses to spread throughout the Matrix.  Ultimately, working within the Matrix, he creates a computer virus that infects the Matrix itself.

Finally, the humans win the war.  Many minds, not prepared to be removed from the Matrix, are lost, but many more are freed.  Trinity gives birth to a healthy baby, the first child born to parents grown by the AI.

Once all the people have been cared for, humanity turns their attention to terraforming the surface, so mankind can live as they once did.  This takes many years, but eventually they succeed.  Trinity and Neo’s first grandchild is the first human born on the surface in over a hundred years.

The end

What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Teaching

Every teacher preparation program, professional development, and blog post about classroom management comes with an underlying assumption: if your class doesn’t listen to you, it’s your fault.

If they aren’t learning, it’s your fault.  If they don’t do their work, it’s your fault.  If they don’t want to learn, it’s your fault.  If they don’t follow directions…you guessed it.

It’s your fault.

Now, before you jump all over me, Internet, yes, I know there are bad teachers out there.  But there are also a lot of really good teachers out there feeling beaten down and wanting to give up because of the assumption that everything wrong in their classroom is their fault.

I’m one of them.

Classroom management is a key skill to have as a teacher.  It’s an art and a science.  It can also be really hard to learn.  Professors in your credential program will have lots of theory to teach you, but none of it prepares you for the reality of your classroom.  And then it’s sink or swim.

And if you sink, it’s your fault.

And it’s not just true about new teachers.  Seasoned teachers will also experience this.  Some years you just get a hard class.  You may know it’s coming.  You’ll hear about “that” group of students and know soon it’ll be your turn.

And yet, when it is, and “that” group doesn’t behave, it’s still because of something you did or didn’t do.

This is why teachers burnout, give up, and leave.  It isn’t because of the workload.  It isn’t because of the pay.  It’s because of this very damaging assumption.

All your children come to you with varying levels of background knowledge, different emotional needs, and at varying stages of physical, mental, social, and emotional development.  Oh, and, by the way, during the day, you are expected to meet all your students’ needs, socially, emotionally, mentally, and to keep them physically safe.  You must keep all of them engaged in well-planned, developmentally appropriate, and sufficiently challenging lessons.  All.  Day.

If, at any time, any of your darling children is less than engaged in your lesson, it’s because you were not sufficiently prepared.  Or your lesson was not sufficiently relevant to your students’ lives.  Or your expectations weren’t clear.  Or you haven’t consistently enforced your expectations.  Or you didn’t allow enough time for students to burn off their energy, or talk with their peers.  Or [insert line from your latest professional development].

But all these expectations for teachers leaves out a very important part of the equation:

The students.

Classroom management isn’t mind control.  No matter how excited you are about your lesson, how much time and effort you put into it, how much you have practiced expectations with your students, how much you incentivize good behavior, you can not control your students.

They have to choose to learn.  They have to choose to listen, and do their work.  You can not make them do these things.

Assuming everything is up to the teacher minimizes the students’ responsibility.  It gives the message that students are passive automatons waiting for their teacher’s wisdom, rather than human beings with free will.  It is a disservice to teachers and students.

Education is a partnership.  Teachers are important, but if everything is up to the teacher, students won’t be educated.  Students have to want an education.

So, if you are a teacher having a rough year, just remember: it is NOT your fault.  I’ve struggled to learn that this year, so I want to pass it on to other teachers who are struggling.  This is what I’m telling myself: Do your best, knowing that you are doing your best, and let that be enough.

TL;DR: When you have done all you can as a teacher, and your class is still really, really hard, don’t be so hard on yourself, because it’s not your fault.


#52ancestors – Unusual Name

appleton milo harmon 1820-1877

Appleton Milo Harmon

Week 3: Unusual Name
This week I’m writing about my great-great grandfather, Appleton Milo Harmon. This is a pretty distinctive name. So, when I learned about the Appleton Milo Harmon who built the first odometer for a covered wagon, which was designed by William Clayton based on the idea of Orson Pratt, I was pretty excited to be descended from him.

But then I looked at the dates, and realized he couldn’t be my Appleton Milo Harmon. My Appleton Milo Harmon was born in 1872, much too late to be a contemporary to Clayton and Pratt. At first, this seemed too incredible – how many Appleton Milo Harmons could there be? So I dug a little more into my family tree.

The famous Appleton Milo Harmon was the first cousin once removed of my Appleton Milo Harmon, making him my first cousin five times removed.

grandpa & grandma harmon

My Appleton Milo Harmon and his wife, Mary Eliza Child