Category Archives: Boys

Echo – Pam Munoz Ryan

One of the benefits of my job is the opportunity to purchase new materials for students and faculty. Even after nearly two decades, the thrill of unpacking and handling a box of new books remains a highlight of my professional day. A recent shipment included Pam Munoz Ryan’s latest novel, Echo.

My first impression was “This is a really long book. How am I going to get kids to read this nearly 600 pages long historical fiction novel?” After reading Echo myself in less than 4 days, I know my bigger problem is going to be maintaining the waiting list of students who want to read this absolutely enchanting book.

Echo is a little hard to explain without giving too much away. Essentially, there are three narratives which ultimately combine into a heartwarming and satisfying ending. The thread which waves the story together is music and its power to inspire, comfort and convey emotion via a special harmonica which almost magically lands in the hands of each of the three essential characters.

The first is Friedrich, a 12-year-old in the Black Forest of Germany during the Nazi buildup in the years leading to World War II. His love of music, nurtured by his father and uncle, provides him with an escape from the harsh realities he contends with as an often bullied young boy living during an increasingly scary time.

The story then shifts to Mike, an 11-year-old orphan in Pennsylvania committed to remaining with his younger brother despite challenged beyond what any child should have to endure. His innate ability to play the piano, previously fostered by his now deceased grandmother, provides him with the means to communicate emotions and wishes he often does not have any other way to express.

And finally, we meet Ivy, an American girl of Mexican descent living in California with her family as they struggle to improve their circumstances during the early days of America’s involvement in World War II. The harsh realities of gender roles, racism and the consequences of war are daily insults in Ivy’s world, abated only by her ability to make and appreciate music.

Each of these three young people come to be in possession of a very special instrument, a harmonica which provides them with opportunity and hope during their time of need. The selflessness with which Friedrich, Mike and Ivy eventually, in turn, part with the instrument is one of the most striking and beautiful parts of this very special book. I can’t wait to reread this book over the summer with my boys. Wonderful!

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Filed under Books, Boys, Librarians, Recommendations

Unforgettable lessons

There are books that I read which are impossible to put down, a recent example being The Girl on the Train. I was so eager to find out what really happened that I refused to stop reading until I finished the book. I was neither disappointed, nor regretful of my decision to push on until I reached that final page and felt a welcome sense of resolution. It was a really good read.

The book I’m reading now though, is, if you’ll pardon the pun, a whole different story. Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime by NPR newsman, Scott Simon, is a work that I don’t want to finish. You see, if I finish it, the story will end and I so want the story (and Scott’s mother’s life) to continue.  Simon’s book, a memoir of his mother, and their life together, originated as a series of Tweets during his mother’s time in the intensive care unit at the end of her life. The time Simon and his mother shared together in the hospital was a quilt of memories, thoughts, laughter and songs that provided comfort and solace to them both as they faced their final days together.

Below are some my favorite nuggets of wisdom. Simon’s Tweets appear, as in the book, in bold text. Quotes are the words of his mother, Patricia.

  • I just realized: she once had to let me go into the big wide world. Now I have to let her go the same way.
  • “You tell your children something a hundred times…You’re lucky if they remember one or two. Dos, don’ts, count for almost nothing. All they remember is what you do. Whether you want them to or not.”
  • I love holding my mother’s hand. Haven’t held it like this since I was 9. Why did I stop? I thought it unmanly? What crap.
  • “Show children the best people and places. Let them know they belong.”
  • She will make the face of heaven shine so fine that all the world will be in love with night.

There’s so much wisdom in this book, so much love and laughter that I wish it went beyond the mere 244 print pages, that Patricia’s life went beyond only 84 years. As a mom to three sons, I can’t help but read this and hope that at the end of my life my “boys” will honor me with an iota of the respect and appreciation that Scott shows his mother. I don’t need one of them to write a book or anything, but I love the picture I’ve drawn in my head of my children sharing the memories and moments that have woven us together forever.

Mother’s Day is coming. Buy this book.

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Filed under aging, Books, Boys, family, favorites, holidays, ideas, love, moms, Recommendations

Bijoux

🎶 I love Paris, that’s the song (Ella Fitzgerald version) that has been playingimage incessantly in my head for nearly the last week. Such a cliché, right? Limiting my love to merely Paris, though, would be unfair to the rest of the country. There’s so much to love!

In previous visits, I’ve been smitten by Alsace where the blend of French and German cultures has created a region of friendly residents who enjoy terrific wines and a hearty cuisine, all in setting of rolling hills fragrant with lavender.

This trip to Normandy, my first, has been a wonderful experience. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so proud to be an American while traveling abroad as I’ve been these past few days. The appreciation for the accomplishments of previous generations of our armed forces remains tangible in this region. Our flag is flown alongside those of France and Normandy and honored. God bless, America, incarnate.

imageMy favorite moments have been small, tiny little jewels which will continue to sparkle when I take them out to remember. Savoring the local cuisine – the cheese, pate foie gras, apple tart, kir Normand and oysters. Laughing with my son when I couldn’t recall the phrase to request our check (l’addition, s’il vous plait) in the bistro after indulging in my first ever calvados. A late afternoon soaking in the sun on our little patio, accompanied by a book and a bottle of cider.  All gems of France to be treasured.

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Filed under Boys, drinking, Eating, Europe, Food, France, travel, vacation

Avoir de la chance

imageFriday evening I was tempted to leap in the air and shout with excitement “I’m in Paris!” (Kind of Mary Tyler Moore-ish, if you’re struggling for the visual.) It was just so remarkable to me that a day that began at 5:00 a.m. Thursday in upstate New York could conclude more than 30 hours later with me walking from the metro to the wonderful Airbandb flat we had booked in Paris’ southwest end. Isn’t air travel amazing?

Despite not having taken my Frye’s off in more than 24 hours, I felt miraculously light on my feet. Liam and I had already climbed the Eiffel Tower and taken in the view, impressive even in the persist drizzle. I had eaten duck confit with roasted potatoes, washed down with a couple of glasses of Cote du Rhone. There had even been creme brûlée. I was indeed in Paris.

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By no means is this my first trip abroad; I’ve even visited Paris briefly once before. Yet, this trip seems particularly magical. Gazing around and seeing sights that are quintessentially Parisian – Notre Dame, the Arch de Triomphe, the Place de la Concorde, the Seine, feels a little unbelievable. How did I ever get to be so lucky?

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Filed under Boys, Europe, France, Observations, travel, vacation

April in Paris

imageDoesn’t April in Paris sound magical?  I’m imagining a gentle rain, lots of shades of lavender and soft yellow and frequent bon jours. Happy sigh.  As my trip gets closer, I’m spending a little time thinking about what to pack (going with a navy/grey palette) and wondering how much of my high school French will come back to me.  Un  peu, I hope.

I don’t like to travel with a firm itinerary in hand, but there are a few things I want to do in Paris.  If I were traveling solo I probably wouldn’t plan anything, but since this may be the only time I go to Paris with my son, we’ve got to hit some of the sights. Please feel free to add suggestions to the list below!

  • The top of the Eiffel Tower.  I bought tickets in advance, but wish I had thought to do it sooner since all that was left was 5pm.  Do you know if we can just kill time up there until dark or will the tickets be timed?
  • Jim Morrison’s grave (my choice) and Napoleon’s tomb (Liam’s pick).
  • Notre Dame.  I hear it’s free on the first Sunday of the month.  Think this is true even if it is Easter?
  • Sacré-Cœur
  • The Mona Lisa at the Louvre – I think we’ll buy a two-day museum pass at the airport when we land.  Do you think it is a good deal?
  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Eat & drink
  • Sit in an outdoor cafe and enjoy a bottle of wine in the sun.
  • Walk and take pictures to my heart’s content.
  • Enjoy my son and family who will be joining us from Germany

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Filed under Boys, Europe, France, ideas, travel, vacation

Testing boundaries

Last week I attended a meeting sponsored by the NYS Alliance for Public Education. The forum discussed current controversies and issues in public education including the Common Core Learning Standards, teacher evaluations, Governor Cuomo’s 2015 Education Budget and the NYS assessments given to elementary students in grades 3-8.

My interest in attending the meeting was more personal than professional, I have a child in 4th grade who will be expected to sit for multiple days worth of testing later in spring. At this time I am actively seeking information about the credibility of the exams and the impact they may have on my child, his teacher(s) and his school. His experience with the tests last year began the very first week of third grade when he came home from school talking with concern about the assessments he would have to take 7 months later. The very same tests which we wouldn’t even receive the results of for more than a year after that first conversation.

The presentation was professionally delivered and informative. I left with a sheaf of papers and the commitment to do a bit of research before making a final decision regarding my own child’s participation in next month’s assessments. A day later, I saw this document shared on Facebook and immediately became outraged. A friend of mine (who has been involved in the news business for more than two decades), suggested I look at the document a little more critically. I mean, is it feasible that a big testing company would really be monitoring the social media accounts of millions of students?

Apparently, the answer is “yes.” I suppose all it would take would be a bot of sorts to troll hashtags focusing on things like #Pearson and #PARCC, right? Geez, Pearson could probably spend some of the $108 million they were paid by the state of New Jersey to actually hire a person or two to monitor Twitter and other social media platforms, if they chose to.

I’ve spent an almost combined 40 years being a student and teacher. I remember excitedly taking the CAT tests, confident in my abilities to demonstrate my knowledge. Sitting down with my sharpened #2 pencils in the cafeteria felt like a special treat, not a stress inducing threat. I’m not opposed to testing in theory, but the commercialization of education, complete with a single vendor who provides curriculum, assessment and remediation for those scoring poorly on tests doesn’t sit right with me. I think we’ll pass on the tests this year.

A couple of other related posts to read:

Bob Braun’s Ledger
Diane Ravitch’s post

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Filed under Boys, Education, News, Schools

Take a walk on the child side

Last evening, after finally coming to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to take a run, I decided to take a walk instead with Jeter. I made my usual offer to the boys to see if they cared to join me but was met by their usual response – no, thanks.  I got myself warmly dressed and cued up a Pandora station of standards/vocal jazz and popped my earbuds in. Just as I reached for the doorknob, Quinn had a change of heart and decided to accompany me. Faster than I’ve ever seen him move, he had shoes and coat on and off we went.

There was something about walking in the foggy night that made for a cozy, not creepy experience. As we walked along Whitehall Road, we talked quietly, sharing my earbuds as we listened together to Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald. Our conversation was filled with talk of which houses we admired, how challenging Jeter could be at times and how cool his new clip-on flashing light is. Funnily, I thought the light was shaped like a heart,* while Quinn thought it was a bone. He was correct but I was graciously given permission to think it was a heart if I wanted to. Sweet.

imageWe stopped at his school’s primary grades playground and Quinn shared memories of playing there “years ago.” We talked about how in just a couple of years he’ll moving on to middle school and how fast time goes.  As we neared the end of our walk, he found a series of puddles irresistible and made an attempt to leap them, with mixed success. His landing perfectly illustrated why so many of his pants have blown out knees. He is adorable.

Once home, after suggesting that we “do this again soon,” he continued to charm me with all that he had to say. Like: “What do you want to do? Watch a movie and sit on the couch eating ice cream?” and “Why does everything happen when you’re three? Grandma Sheila died when I was 3. I made a lot of my life decisions when I was three.”

I am so looking forward to our next walk.

*probably because of my love for the person who gave it to Jeter

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Filed under aging, Boys, DelSo, Exercise, family, love