Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I didn't realize just how much my daughter Mary and my niece Liz look alike until Mary sent me this pic. They even chose the darker rimmed glasses. I wish they lived closer together as I think they would be great friends if they did. Liz, like Mary, is very close to her mom.

Mary is holding McKinley and Liz is holding Kegan. Liz was born about 3 months before Mary and my Mic was born less than two months before Ben, Liz's brother. I spent time at my brother Bob and sister-in-law Lennie's home when our kids were little and my brown eyed, darker haired children looked more like Len's kids and her's like mine as Liz has my coloring. Who knows what the gene pool will do as far as our children are concerned. As they mature we see more of family in them and that makes me feel closer to the loved ones who are no longer with us. Mary looks like me but she is tall and willowy like her paternal aunt Marlene who I think is one of the most beautiful and kind women in the world. I smile to myself as I watch Mary mature into the same kind of woman as her aunt. I guess with the Holiday season approaching I am thinking about family. With both Mom and Dad playing Rummy with Mic in heaven I feel like the only "blood" family I have left is Mary as my brothers are not the kind to stay in touch, though I wish they would. But, not all mothers can say, as I can, that their daughters are not only the joy of their lives but also their best friend, so all things considered I feel blessed.

I just got home from the dentist and trying to sip a soda with half of my mouth numb is quite interesting. So far I haven't dribbled too much. At least this time it was just a filling and not another implant, root canal, or crown. We have spent a lot of money on my mouth in the last couple of years. Guess I inherited Mom's soft teeth. I never knew my mom without dentures as she had all of her teeth pulled years before I was born. No dental care when she grew up so she made sure, no matter how tight money was, that all four kids went to the dentist every year. As children we just don't realize how much our parents sacrificed for us. I am realizing it more and more as I let go of my grief over Mom's death just when we were becoming close and let myself remember what a wonderful, resilient woman she was.  Even though there wasn't much as far as "extras" in our home my mom made sure we always had a bountiful Thanksgiving and Christmas meal. All those hours baking and cooking on the wood stove made our kitchen cozy, or at times downright hot. You did not want to wear a big heavy wool sweater in Mom's kitchen during the Holidays as it was toasty and then some! Sadly, as a child and a teen I was so selfish I never thought to offer to help Mom with any of the preparations and she rarely ever asked for help. But, I knew I would be washing dishes for what seemed like hours after those meals while the boys and any guests for the holiday meal would be in the livingroom watching sports or chatting. The dishes were my job no matter how big or small the meal was.

I am feeling nostalgic all the way around today and listening to Rod Stewart's new CD Soulbook  It has so many of my old favorites on it with even a few duets, such as Tracks of My Tears with Smokey Robinson and My Cherie Amour with Stevie Wonder. Right now I'm singing along with Wonderful world. I only sing when I am alone as I can't carry a tune at all.

My students are responding to a set of 10 questions Richard Peck came up with instead of book reports when he was a HS English teacher many years ago. He was at the American Association of School Librarians conference in Charlotte, NC last week and many of my students attended. One of them told him how I use his questions in my YA lit course. I should email him and thank him for making my students think about the YA novels they read from different perspectives. The response essays are a delight to read. These questions could so easily be adapted for children. There are so many ways for a reader to respond to books rather than those awful electronic reading quizzes.

And, Susan Beth Pfeffer's dystopian novels Life as We Knew It and the dead & the gone the second book is the Life As We Knew It set of companion novels are frequently used to answer the Peck question about why a book is set where it is, location or time wise. I really hate to use the term series as to me this means the books are about the same set of characters, but B&N online notes the dead & the gone as Life as We Knew It #2. (I dislike when titles are all in lower case.) I checked the Library of Congress cataloging information on the verso and sure enough, even lower case here.

As in the first book, the setting is Earth after a meteor hit the moon and knocked it off kilter on its axis and closer to Earth, which is causing earthquakes, dormant volcanoes to erupt, and a drastic drop in temperature. While the first book was set in a small town, the dead & the gone is set in New York City. Seventeen-year-old Alex Morales is desperately trying to keep his two younger sisters alive in a city where people are dumping their dead on the streets for the city to pick up. Soon there are so many bodies they litter the sidewalks for days - food for the rats who are becoming more aggressive. And, prime pickings for Kevin, and Alex when Kevin befriends him. Kevin doesn't need to scavenge so that he can sell the jewelry, clothes and shoes for food - he needs to trade it to keep his mother in vodka. Kevin has clearly lost all remnants of childhood innocence as he tells Alex that this is the least he can do for his mother as the alcohol is how she copes. Alex needs to trade his 1/2 of the scavenged good for food. Alex, a devout Catholic who attends a Catholic boy's school, fights with his faith as he does things he finds himself seeking forgiveness for but has lost his connection with God. I found myself in tears as Father Mulrooney asked him if he is angry with God and Alex says he is not as he has turned off his feelings so he can deal with his parents being missing and presumed dead as well as the weight of his responsibility for keeping his sisters alive. He has done the same thing with God - "I used to pray and mean the words, but now they're just words. Because if I let myself feel the pain and the anger, I think it might kill me." Pfeffer put into words exactly what I felt right after Mic died. I became numb for fear I couldn't handle my grief - how does anyone survive the death of their mother and only son in less than 4 months? At the time I didn't think I could, but we somehow find an inner strength we didn't know we even had.  I sadly smiled as I read Father Mulrooney's response to Alex - "I think it would take a saint to love God under the circumstances. And in the forty years I taught at Vincent de Paul, I never once came across a seventeen-year-old saint". And then I actually chuckled aloud through my tears as I read the priest's final words in response to Alex's need to confess - "If God wanted a world filled with saints, He never would have created adolescence." (pg. 185). 

I have to end this posting with a feel good book - Puffling by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Julie Vivas This is the perfect present for a baby shower or for any parent with little ones. And, a "given" for a todddler storytime.  I love the fact that Puffling is a little boy puffin who keeps asking his parents when he is going to be big enough to go out on his own. They warn him of "the scary gulls, watching and waiting" and as he grows his personality comes out - what an adorable "pill" of a boy! As he grew bigger and bolder- "He popped his head out of the burrow. he stuck one leg out of the burrow. He waggled his bottom at the scary gulls, watching and waiting." Julie Vivas has brilliantly captured this little feisty puffling as he can't wait to grow up and the doting parents answering his constant questioning. The double page spead of Puffling laying between Big Stripy Beak and Long Black Feather's heads as they snuggle together and respond to his asking if he is brave enough yet -  they listened to his heart and responded with, "Almost".  And, when it is time, Pufflings joins the other young puffins in the ocean and knows that one day he will return home and when his own egg hatches he'll think of his parents and say, just as they did to him, "Hello, little Puffling!"This one goes on my "read to the grandkids" shelf and I know I will take it out when I am missing them and smile as I know they too are experiencing milestones in their development with parents who love them dearly.

My goal for today is to find the top of my desk as I was actually caught up with my grading last night. I am sure there are most assignments ready for me to grade, but one slow step at at a time. To my myriad other "health issues" the latest is an elevated heart rate and a chest that constantly feels like when very plump Sophie sits on it so I am trying to be careful. My GP insisted I see a cardiologist due to the 116 heart rate and a heart murmur she had not heard before. So, on Friday hopefully he will tell me it is something simple that I don't need to worry about. I really would like to be able to take a deep breath without discomfort.

That's it for today. This was a long one! Please excuse typos, etc. - I switched over to the newer version and there isn't a spell check option on the toolbar anymore. Guess I need to take some time to figure out where it is as I am sure it s still available, just not obvious.