Monthly Archives: May 2018

Travel Thursday: Irish Hunger Memorial

Irish Memorial fullOn our second night in NYC, we had a group dinner scheduled at El Vez. We had about an hour between our work day and our group dinner and while I definitely wanted to go back to the hotel to drop off my laptop and work bag, I didn’t want to spend the time sitting in my hotel room, so I went out with the intention of exploring.

Well, first I made sure I could find the restaurant. Then I turned around ready to explore. The first thing I saw was this strange little garden-like oasis in the middle of the city. It seemed so odd and out of place. People were walking up it, but I could not see any purpose for their walk other than to get to the top of it. It didn’t connect them to anything else. It was far too small to be a park. And, although it was garden-like, it was a bit unkempt and seemed sort of sad.

I was fascinated and had to know more, so I hurried across the only non-busy street I’d found in the city to check it out.

Irish Memorial namesIt took me a bit to find the entrance as there is a bit of a fence in front of it, so  you can’t just walk right on to it. I had to walk around to the back of it, which was surrounded by this strange wall that had strips of metal on it. When I looked closer, I could see the metal had names on it, so I realized this had to be some sort of monument or memorial. I had no idea what it was to, but my interest was peaked. Trying to find the entrance made me even more confused about what this could be memorializing.

When I finally got to the back of it, I entered a slight tunnel and heard a disembodied voice. Finally the mystery was solved: this was the Irish Hunger Memorial. Turns out, it is a park…of sorts, just a sad, reflective one.

Irsish memorial cottageThe voice that fills the tunnel explains the purpose of the monument, to pay tribute to those who died due to the potato famine. The monument itself contains stones from all 32 counties in Ireland. It also has vegetation and soil from Ireland. In the middle of it, completely hidden from the outside, are the remains of an Irish cottage. The cottage actually belonged to the Slack family. While I’m not quite sure how long people actually lived in this cottage (I’m assuming it had a roof at some point), it wasn’t abandoned until the 1960’s. The Slack family donated the cottage to the memorial builders as a testament to all of their family members who moved to America and did well here.

After I found my way out of the small cottage, I began climbing the little trail that lead to the top of the monument, something that is also not visible from the street. The path cuts back and forth in a bit of a serpentine pattern up the smallish hill. On the path the voice from the tunnel can no longer be heard. Neither can most of the noises of NYC since it is a bit secluded near the end of Battery Park. The climb is surrounded by wild grasses and limestone. It’s a pretty if a bit somber climb.

Memorial viewAt the top there is a rather spectacular view of the water. I found myself looking out and enjoying it for quite some time. I was the only person up there and it was such a quiet spot in such a bustling city. It’s one of the things I really enjoyed about this trip. I kept finding these quiet, reflective places in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world. It was calming and made me feel a little more at home in the really big city.

I love the fact that on this trip to NYC I got to see a very different side of the city than I saw in my 20’s. Aside from viewing the Statue of Liberty, not a single other sight on this trip was a duplicate. I wonder how many more times I can visit and still see completely unique wonders.

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Wildcard Wednesday: Middle School Orientation

My son is getting ready to finish up elementary school. Friday will be his last day of 5th grade. At his school, the 5th graders leave without much fanfare. Don’t get me wrong, I sort of appreciate this. As someone who already sits through the high school graduation ceremony that is just over two hours each year, I’m all for avoiding another, smaller version at the elementary level. However, I find it odd that our district does an 8th grade promotion ceremony as well as one for kindergarten, but completely ignores the actual transition from elementary to middle school, which is a rather large change.

After all, the kindergarteners don’t even leave the hallway when they move to first grade, let alone the building. But, I get that 6 year olds are a heck of a lot cuter all dressed up for a ceremony than 11 year olds are.

While there may not have been any fanfare for the upcoming building change, my son and I did attend middle school orientation. He’d already been over to the middle school as part of a tour the entire 5th grade took two weeks earlier. Despite working right across the street at the high school, I hadn’t been in the middle school in over five years, well before the new construction started. Any time we have a district wide meeting, it happens at the high school. We are the only building large enough to house us all.

Due to a great many circumstances, the 8th graders have been housed over at the high school for the last five years. The middle school has been 6th and 7th graders and our elementaries have been K-5. Before that, our schools were K-4, 5-6, 7-8 and then 9-12. Despite growing larger, our budget dictated we downsize buildings, so we very reluctantly made the switch.

For the last five years I’ve been hoping the 8th grade will go back to the middle school, however, now that my son is getting ready to head over there, I kind of wish they’d stay put, at least for another year or two. The middle school is far from complete and the rumor is that not every teacher will have a classroom. At the orientation, the principal assured us that all the 6th graders will be all grouped together in a well-established hallway for the first half of the year and then will get to switch over to the brand new classrooms that are close to completion. He also told us that since the 6th grade will be set off and a bit self-contained, they will be treating it a bit as a 6th grade academy. The 6th graders will be on a slightly different bell schedule and won’t have a lot of interaction with the upper grades. I’ll admit, I find that comforting. I don’t want my son to be completely sheltered, but after having the 8th graders in my building for the last 5 years, I don’t want him exposed to some of those very jaded older kids just yet either.

It’s more than a little nerve racking to send my son to middle school. Although he’s not “the baby” of the family, he’s my first kid to be this grown up. I still cannot believe that the tiny little peanut who could lay entirely on my husband’s forearm is this colossus of a young man who is nearly as tall as I am (and I’m 5’9). I am not quite prepared for him to change classes every period and start really liking other girls as more than just someone to hunt for bugs with (he had his first real crush this year). I am not prepared for him to have complicated math I can’t solve or acne. I am not ready for him to grow up and to me, this middle school orientation really marks a major step in that evolution.

I may have managed not to cry on the outside at middle school orientation, but I was definitely sobbing on the inside.

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Teaching Tuesday: Senior pranks

saran wrap deskThe school I teach at has a bit of an odd tradition when it comes to senior pranks. The administration allows seniors to participate with senior pranks as long as the seniors actually get the pranks approved ahead of time.

I know that in many respects this defeats the purpose of a prank. After all, if it is officially sanctioned, can it really be a prank? If it doesn’t have the air of secrecy and mischief a prank implies, is it actually worth doing?

Somehow, despite the extra hoop they have to jump through and the lack of total surprise across the board, our seniors like it enough that they play along and what we get is fairly harmless, sometimes even clever senior pranks.

One year the seniors brought camping gear into school at like 6 am and pretended they’d camped out all night in the school lobby. One year they had theme dress up days for every letter of the alphabet (like superhero, construction, pajama, wacky). One year they left random fruit all over the school (I had a pineapple on my desk, there was a jackfruit on top of the vending machines, bananas in the library, etc). One year they waited outside at the end of the last day with silly string and silly stringed all the underclassman.

Silly stuff, granted, but harmless.

This year they saran wrapped our desks. Well, not all of our desks. They picked about 12 teachers, got the administration to let them in our rooms and saran wrapped our stuff. Since I have mostly seniors and my AP kids have me for two years in a row, my room was one of not only the first stops, but one of the most thorough ones.

The only problem, is I get to school really early. I have to drop my kids off at the elementary school next door before 7:40 and my school doesn’t start until 8:35 (our doors don’t open for students until 7:45). My kids were actually running early, so I was at school around 7:30, just as the principal had let the kids into my room  so they could start their work.

They were really disappointed. So, being a good sport, I said, “well, l have to go get my tea and heat up my breakfast and probably chat with the librarian, so I won’t be back fro a good twenty minutes.” And, I left.

They were still hard at work when I came back, but I just took some pictures, sat at my desk, unwrapped my keyboard and did some work.

They left my room feeling very happy, which was not a surprise considering they individually wrapped all of my pens, dry erase markers and even my cardboard cut out of Benedict Cumberbatch. Luckily, I had a small handful of AP juniors in my first block class (the rest were taking their AP US History test), so we were having a study hall day. My juniors ended up unwrapping everything for me.

It was definitely easier to clean up then the year my AP seniors decided to just prank me by “Twilighting” my room. Knowing my dislike for the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyers, they collected all sorts of pictures of the cast (mostly from their own stock) and put them EVERYWHERE. There were Twilight quotes all over my board. There were Twilight collectible cards everywhere (I may have kept the Anna Kendrick one that said, “What the hell is wrong with you? for a few years). There were stickers. There were magnets. There were books. Everywhere you looked, there was Twilight. It was devious and I have to say, brilliant of them. Even after I thought I cleaned it all, I found bits of Twilight for weeks afterwards.

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Chocolate Monday: Godiva berry boats

godiva berry boat.jpgOne of my absolute favorite treats at Godiva is their hand dipped chocolate berry boats. I don’t actually know if that is what they are called. They might be called berry cups, but it looks bigger than a cup and I like the idea that it is a boat full of chocolate and berries, so that’s what I’m calling it. I actually tried to look it up on their website, but since they are hand dipped daily in their boutiques, they are not listed on the website.

So, berry boats they are.

No matter their actual name, I adore them! I love the thin milk chocolate “boat” shell. I love the creamy chocolate that fills it and holds the fresh, tart berries inside. I like it best when I can get one with two raspberries in it, since raspberries are by far my favorite berries, but since the berries are always the perfect mix of sweet and tart, I never really mind only getting one of my favorite red treats.

I’ll admit that I always save the raspberry end (bow? stern?) for last since it is my favorite. Although I love several varieties of dried fruits covered in chocolate, there is just something 100 times better about fresh fruit dipped in milk chocolate. I love the little zig zag of chocolate on top of the fruit too, which ensures that every bite–and I can easily turn this boat into 4 or 5 bites–is bursting with chocolate and fruit.

The only down side to these treats is that since they are hand dipped daily, there is no guarantee that a particular boutique will have them. Sometimes all they will have is the dark chocolate version. Sometimes they are totally out. They are never the reason I go to Godiva, but when I stumble on them, I usually snag one.


Taste: 9/10
Value: 9/10
Appearance: 9/10

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Free Reading Friday: Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club

Hell's AngelsHell’s Angel is yet another book I grabbed in the discount section of Half Price Books while looking for nonfiction books my AP Lang students might enjoy. Aside from the famous stabbing at Atlamont and the fact that I was pretty sure the MC Sons of Anarchy were modeled after were the Hell’s Angels, I knew next to nothing about the club before reading this book. Growing up in California, I’d heard of the Hell’s Angels. I’d even seen some riding in the highways from time to time. But since I was born almost 40 years after Sonny Barger, I’d never even heard his name until I saw it on the cover.

What I found inside the book was a rather interesting account of the most notorious motorcycle gang, er, I mean club, in American history. The book is a sort of modern outlaw story, no doubt comparable to anything the Wild West had to offer. Barger is quite candid about a host of illegal activities both he and members of the MC were involved in.

This book chronicles Barger’s early life, make no it very clear that he was a man searching for a second family after his mom abandoned him and his dad took up heavy drinking. From the earliest moments in his life he had issues with authority and living life on anyone’s terms but his own. He recalls pre-club encounters with the law, the hardships of his childhood and his military service, which is really what lead him to start the Oakland chapter of the Hell’s Angels. Like many vets, he came back from war a little lost, a little lonely and a little damaged. So he took to the open road almost as quickly as he did to bucking the rules.

The book examines the founding of the MC itself, gives brief biographical information on many founding members of the club and lays out a lot of their criminal activities. Barger spends quite a bit of time talking about the love/hate relationships the Hell’s Angels has with other clubs, cops, the press and the public. He details the events that lead to the infamous stabbing at Altamont. He lays out various charges and arrests he faced. He goes into lots of detail about the RICO case against the Hell’s Angels in the 80’s.

He also has chapters dedicated to “old ladies”-wives and girlfriends, rats-police informants, and lots of talk about the best motorcycles. There is also a chapter on his fight with cancer.

I started reading this book not long after I decided to watch Sons of Anarchy again. I was amazed by how many things Barger wrote about in the book which coincided with events on the show. Heck, the actor who plays Happy is actually a Hell’s Angel and Barger even appears in a couple of episodes as Lenny the Pimp, something I did not realize until I read about his cancer battle and saw a picture of him from the very late 90’s. As soon as I saw that picture, I jumped on IMDB to double check.

Overall, this was a really interesting read. There is a lot of talk of drug use/sales, violence and quite a bit of cursing, so it’s not a book for the faint of heart. Then again, how could any book about the Hell’s Angels not have these?

So far one of my students, who is also obsessed with Sons of Anarchy has read it and really enjoyed it as well.

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Travel Thursday: NYC Firefighters

firefighters memorial.jpgI am the daughter of an amazing fire fighter. Or at least my dad was an amazing fire fighter. He had to retire about 8 years ago due to his cancer diagnosis. Although he still very much wanted to keep right on working while he battled, during his second surgery to remove the cancer, they had to take his adrenal glands and he basically lost his fight or flight response. Even though when he retired he was a fire chief and his days of running in to burning buildings were already behind him, after the surgery he no longer trusted himself to make those split second emergency decisions that could send his brothers into danger.

Even after he retired, he still did volunteer work for the local fire department from time to time. He used his extra time to build up his backyard railroad, which was rather impressive. Not only did the HO scale trains run all around the entire yard (including running through a “tunnel” he cut in the shed), but he built amazingly intricate town buildings. The most fantastic was the town’s fire department, complete with model fire trucks and ambulances. Both of my children were in complete awe of it. It may have gone to my son’s head that Pop Pop even named the town after him.

My dad’s model fire station was the last in a series of model fire trucks and ambulances he started building even before I was born. To say my dad was obsessed with all things firefighting is like saying Einstein was interested in math or that Walt Disney had a decent imagination. Growing up, our house was basically a firefighting museum. If it had to do with firefighting, my dad collected it.

One of his most extensive collections was his patch collection. Anytime my dad went anywhere, he took along fire patches from whichever department he was on (he was always on at least two–one professional and one volunteer). When we were on vacation, he would seek out fire stations, stop in, chit chat with the guys on shift and then trade patches with them. Once, when we were in Wisconsin visiting the Dells, there was an accident on the water near the cabins we were staying in. My dad stopped to see what was going on and found out they were waiting for their divers to show up to help. Despite the fact that we were on vacation, he had all of his gear with him, so he pulled out his diving gear and joined in the rescue effort. He’d already spent a few hours with the guys on the department earlier in the week and they welcomed his help. That was my dad.

Firefighting has been such a part of my life, that even though I have lived on my own for 24 years now, I still find myself almost compelled to stop into fire stations or buy fire engine knickknacks, even though my dad passed away nearly 6 years ago. I stop myself, of course, but I when I see these things, I can’t help but stop and think about how much my dad would love them.

FDNY stationWhich is why I found myself standing in front of Ladder Co. 10/Engine Co 10 across the street from the World Trade Center in NYC, just staring at the building. All I could think about was how much my dad would have loved seeing this place. I remember how devastated he was after 9/11. He actually designed a fire engine for his department (which they had made and then purchased in 2003) that honored his fellow firefighters who were killed during the attacks. He was immensely proud of that truck and I know he would have been even more in awe of this building than I was. Although I knew he would never see the photo I took of the building, I felt compelled to take the photo. He would have wanted me to. In a small way, it felt like a tribute to him.

It wasn’t until the next evening when I was on my way to O’Hara’s to have dinner with a group of colleagues that I stumbled on the FDNY Memorial Wall right around the corner from the actual station. I told everyone else they could go on ahead if they wanted to, but I had to take the time to read it and take pictures. Once again, I knew my dad would want me to. It was touching and sad. It was my greatest childhood fear realized for so many families. I had to wipe away a few tears.

O'Haras wallThankfully O’Hara’s itself was so noisy and crowded that it was hard to be sad inside it, otherwise I might have started blubbering, despite eating dinner with three near strangers. All along every surface were patches. They were a mix of firefighter, ambulance and police patches, but they were right there where I could run my hands over them and suddenly I was thrust back to my dad’s own fire station where he housed the majority of his patch collection once it got too large for our house. My dad would have been in absolutely heaven here. This wasn’t some showy tourist place, but an actually kind of divey place that actual firefighters and cops hang out at. It reminded me of the kinds of places my dad used to frequent with his buddies. The food was mediocre, but there were a bunch of different burgers and plenty of beer and the prices were very reasonable (especially for NYC). I closed my eyes and had a vision of my dad sitting at a table eating a cheeseburger and drinking an O’Doul’s while half watching a football game as one of his buddies went on about something.

I may not have been thrilled with the food, but it reminded me so much of my dad that I didn’t mind. I even had a beer in his honor. Well, ok, it was a cider, but it was as close to beer as I get, so I think it counts.


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Wildcard Wednesday: Missing my BFF

Saturday was my best friend’s birthday. Despite talking to her, texting her and posting notes for a happy birthday on her Facebook wall, I didn’t actually get to spend her birthday with her.

Not that I didn’t want to. I wanted more than anything to spend the entire day with her. Ideally we would have started the morning at our favorite coffee place where we’d split a scone. We wouldn’t want to eat any more than that since we’d have lunch plans, but as neither of us would have eaten breakfast and caffeine on an empty stomach is not something we deals well with, the scone would be a must.

Next, we would have headed over to the mall so we could hit all of our favorite stores. Since it was her birthday, I would have happily spent the extra hour walking around Athropologie, long after I’d exhausted all the things I wanted to try on, so she could make sure she looked at everything in the store. We definitely would have stopped at Godiva to at least get our free May piece of chocolate. Knowing me, I would have grabbed a couple extras as well.

By this time we’d be actually hungry, so we’d head out to either her favorite Indian buffet or maybe to our favorite brunch place where we’d probably split some of their delicious cinnamon toast (what can I say, we are carb girls) and continue to gab away the day.

We’d round out the afternoon with manicures and pedicures before heading over to her house to hang out until her husband was ready to go grab some dinner.

We’d probably end the night watching a movie, possibly at a theater, but more likely at her house where it would be easy to analyze it afterwards.

Finally, I’d make it home, exhausted, but happy to have spent a perfect day celebrating the most important person who is not related to me.

But alas, four years ago she got her dream job in Athens, Georgia and as much as I wanted to spend this perfect day with her, driving nine hours there and nine more back this weekend wasn’t in the cards. Especially not since I had a ton of grading to do.

Instead, I had to make do with my phone and Facebook, two very poor substitutes for the real thing. Instead of spending the day with my person, I spent it doing chores, grading papers and running my daughter to a birthday party for her classmate.

I love my best friend. I hate that she is so far away.

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