Saturday, January 21, 2017

The ReaderThe Reader by Bernhard Schlink
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel is hard to define: is it a lyrical love story? A heartbreaking work of historical fiction? An intro to philosophy and self-evaluation? Ironically, it is short novel (about 130 pages on my iBook), but an extremely weighty one that will have you contemplating secrets, forgiveness, and the balance between the history we observe and the personal choices that can change it all.

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Orange Is the New BlackOrange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Despite my "always read the book before watching the movie" proclivities, I finished the OITNB series before starting this book. While the show is sensational and provocative, this memoir is far more thoughtful and careful. I enjoyed Kerman's descriptions (though there are lots of people to keep track of throughout) and tracing the connections between which real person-inspired-which character was interesting. A solid, honest read about a life in lockdown, and a reminder that Kerman's mistake happens every day.

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Sunday, September 4, 2016


It could be a scene from any Italian childhood; when I was little, every Sunday dinner was spent at my grandparents' house; my grandparents' five daughters and their husbands and children would gather around a huge oval table laden with Italian delicacies that had been lovingly prepared the night before. Huge bowls of salad dripping with Italian dressing (of course) and giant black olives my cousin Tommy and I would wear on our fingertips. Giant bowls of my favorite curly spaghetti, enormous meatballs, thick rolled bracciole filled to bursting and held together with toothpicks, platters of ripe melon and grapes. 
My cousins and I would fill ourselves to the brim, and then run outside to play. I don't remember what we talked about, but I do remember endless games of chase and hide and seek, climbing on the aluminum swingset, leaping into the giant swimming pool, playing with my cousin Gia's pet salamander Newton (who met an untimely end and dehydrated in the sun while we played outside for hours) and having a solemn burial of a tiny tree frog Tommy and I found in the yard. It was a beautiful, adventurous time in my childhood.

But at the heart of it all, the food, the fun, was my grandfather. A Sicilian, blue-eyed redhead, he  was nicknamed "Red." He loved so many adventures; his ancestors were fishermen, he was brave and wonderful and wild. "Who's better than you?" he'd ask us, winking, with a smile and a deep dimple in one cheek. There was nothing he wouldn't attempt, whether performing a jackknife dive off the diving board, or rearranging all the cement tiles around the pool into a new pattern. I remember mixing meatballs with him on Sunday mornings, listening to him whistle or sing in the kitchen as he cooked, always wearing a spotless white t-shirt and teal pants. He was so strong, so tall and broad and muscular, that he reminded me of Popeye, and when he would swim shirtless in the summer with all of his grandchildren, I remember feeling so proud that he still looked like the fighter he was in his younger days. 

In fact, his strength was legendary to us kids; when we'd play outside and come zooming into the house because we were scared of the bees circling us, he'd smack one with his hands, and brush the remains away to show us there was nothing to be afraid of. He drove giant eighteen-wheel trucks for years, and when he accidentally got the tip of his finger slammed into the door of one of them, he drove himself to the hospital. The same strength and resolve he had as a young soldier stayed with him always, both physically and mentally. He would lift and carry us like we were just toddlers, even when we were in elementary school. I remember one feast where he carried me on his shoulders so I didn't have to walk, and how he'd use his large, powerful hands to lift my cousins high in the air so they could touch the ceiling, toss us up in the air, or delicately extract one of the hundreds of splinters we got climbing around in the yard. When I got a bloody nose that wouldn't stop, he calmly reminded me to be brave as he rolled small strips of paper towels and dipped them in ice water for me to put under my upper lip, just like a real fighter. He made us feel invincible, but he gave us the tools to stand on our own, too. He taught us all to swim when we were just toddlers, so we would never be afraid of the water. He never wanted us to be afraid of anything.

But when he passed away, I was 21 years old, in the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college. We were heartbroken to have lost the patriarch and heart of our family. We tried to carry pieces of him with us, literally and figuratively; I held his watch, another grandchild had his glasses, another his gold Italian charms. We were nearly superstitious with sadness and fear; going on without him seemed impossible. 

When things are too blindingly and painfully real, they become surreal. My mom confided that he didn't really feel gone; she felt like he was in Florida. Maybe he was on a long roadtrip. And it was always how I preferred to remember him; somewhere warm and beautiful, driving near the sparkling water he had always loved. 

Like anyone who misses a loved one, I longed for a sign. I tried to dream of him, I wrote compulsively about my feelings and sadness. I started a scholarship in his name at the high school where I teach. I wrote his name in our wedding program. I met a man with the same beautiful spirit of adventure, an Irishman who loves to cook as much as my grandfather did. I thought of him daily. I still do. I wished he had more time to meet my husband, my kids, my adult self. And then my daughter was born with the same beautiful red hair. 

Today we went to Mass to remember the 25th anniversary of his passing. We went to lunch on the water and raised a glass to him. The sun glinted off the water, and my daughter's red hair. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Happy 4th birthday, John Sawyer!

Dearest John Sawyer,

Happy 4th birthday, darling boy! Four years ago yesterday, I went to the hospital to have you, and you spent one extra day on the inside. We were all so deliriously excited to meet you, and when you arrived, you made our dreams come true, little prince!

Four years ago today, you were born as chubby and delicious as I had hoped, with slate-gray eyes and your daddy's dark hair (of course it all fell out, came in blond, and then changed to the light brown it is now). 

You are full of energy and excitement every day, and you fill me with so much happiness! Here is a picture of who you are today:

Today, you woke up with a smile to a room filled with balloons. You are like a teenager - you like to wake on your own, and you get a little grumpy if someone else wakes you! At night, you often ask for "another snuggle" before bed, and you always ask us to read you a "bedtime  stah-ry." Today, your favorite is The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Today, you still come crashing at me around corners and smash yourself against for me for a powerful surprise hugs. You are getting so tall, buddy; you can almost knock me down, but I don't mind.

Today, you still are crazy for apples, apple sauce, and especially apple juice! You will seek it out in the refrigerator yourself if we're not moving fast enough.

Today, you love the park, which you pronounce like "poke," especially the slide at the Wakefield Lake, right near our old apartment.

Today, carry around an orange toolbox (much like last year's love for Orange Shovel) and you put all your "fings" (things) in it. Most of your "fings" are Mickey or Tsum Tsum related.

Today, you love the water in any form. You can swim in the pool in your Nemo life vest, even in the deep end. You love jumping in the waves, and you had so much fun on our vacation in the Outer Banks. You are so sweet and loving, and when a wave takes you down, you look to me for help. Just a "thumbs-up" lets you know you're fine, and in a minute, you're off again. Unless your face gets wet and you need extra snuggles.

Today, you love Mommy and Daddy so much - you run to Mommy for cuddles and Daddy for roughhousing like a real little boy. You love when Daddy throws you high into the air and you beg, "Again! Again!" and no one can resist you.

Today, you still love your sister so fiercely that you want to be just like her. You come to all her practices, rehearsals, and performances, and you tell her, "You did a great job, Emmasin!" You admire her, you follow her, and though you both drive each other a little crazy, when I watch you play happily together, my heart swells with joy. I am so happy you have each other to share life with, and that you will always have her hand to hold.

Little one, little son, I hope you always feel the love that surrounds you, today and always. You have made me so happy and I wish that same happiness back to you each day. Your light shines in my life and I love you for it. Thank you for being the sparkle in my eyes.

Happy, happy fourth birthday, my darling son!


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Sweet Stylish Surprises

As a teacher, I am completely overwhelmed by the happiness my job brings me. Whether it's the pride in seeing my students' major accomplishments, like when one of my favorites got into her dream school, Brown, or when a handful of my students scored 5's on the notoriously hard AP Lit and Comp test, I feel so proud of them I could explode. Even their minor successes make me smile, like mastering the material on a tough quiz. But most of all, the knowledge that one day they are going to grow into incredibly awesome people who make a giant contributions to this world makes me feel like I have been given a gift just by knowing them.

And just recently, I got an incredible gift back!

I was nominated and won the NIC+ZOE Teacher Appreciation Giveaway; I was nominated by my family, friends, and students, and was chosen as the winner! 

This ‪#‎teacherappreciationweek‬, nominate a teacher who has made a positive impact on you or your child and they could win a $1,000 NIC+ZOE wardrobe and a total makeover! You have through Sunday to nominate - click below!

In Celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week, NIC+ZOE is giving one well-deserving teacher a total makeover! Makeover includes $1,000 to NIC+ZOE, styled by Lisa Donovan and TESstylist's Lydia Santangelo, hair, makeup and more!…

I was beyond thrilled! The clothes are both artfully and classically designed, and the materials are rich and luxurious. The company is a mother-daughter design team, created by Dorian Lightbown and named for her children, Nicholas and Zoe. All of the clothes are designed to #makebusylookgood, and the Chestnut Hill store where my dream day began was as beautifully modern as the clothes it houses. 

There, I met up with the women who would make my day unforgettable: 

First, I met Erika Hemingway, Account Executive at iHeartMedia, my former student and the most charismatic and energetic person I know. Her enthusiasm and exuberance really propelled the event from its inception, and having her by my side made my experience as heartfelt as it was exciting. 

Erika led me to Lisa Donovan from Kiss 108 (the daytime voice on "Matty in the Morning" who was as stylish and stunning as she is petite) and Lydia Santangelo of TESstylist (Boston's top fashion stylist who was as gorgeous and glamorous as the models with whom she usually works). Both women were my stylists for the day. Next, I was introduced to the incredibly talented Zoe Chatfield-Taylor, Director of Merchandising, and the "Zoe" of NIC+ZOE. All three women were so warm and lovely, it felt like I was hanging out with friends (very beautiful, fashion-forward friends), so I shed the black LuluLemon sundress I'd been wearing as a uniform this summer, and happily turned myself over to their expertise.

Over champagne, Shauna Richmond, of the J.T. Macken Hair Salon in Winthrop, curled my hair into smooth beachy waves and gave me smoldering smoky eyes. Gail Saviano, the General Sales Manager for iHeartMedia, and Elizabeth Doherty, the Social Media and Marketing Manager for NIC+ZOE, rounded out our celebration, and over the next few hours, the word "celebrate" defined the day! In fact, I felt like a celebrity as I tried on outfit after outfit; lush sweaters and scarves, perfectly cut wrap dresses, chic fitted tops and jackets, crisp blouses and sleek trousers. The most remarkable combination was in my favorite outfit: a floating silk handkerchief dress and a whisper-thin cardigan. 

The fashionista in me loved trying on every outfit, and with my team of "glamour girls" remarking about their favorite looks, I experienced all the emotions a woman wants to feel in her favorite clothes: classically elegant, confidently professional, coolly sophisticated, comfortably relaxed.

Though I have a graduate degree in Linguistics, those words escaped me that day, and I must have repeated the word "amazing" a thousand times to describe my experience, but it was truly awesome to be around such incredible women, all of whom were celebrating the day with me. 

As the event came to a close, I got to select $1000 of merchandise for work and play, and my makeover concluded with generous gift cards to many of my favorite places: Tuscan Kitchen, Princess Jewelers of Burlington, Elements Massage, and Elizabeth Grady, as well as a bottle of Lamarca Prosecco, compliments of Busa Wine & Spirits. I walked out of the store with my arms full of carrier bags, and my heart full of gratitude for the kindness and generosity of each of the women.

I'm humbled to have spent a day being appreciated for doing something I love doing. I am so grateful to my family, friends, and Austin Prep students and parents for nominating me, and for giving me the chance to have such a fantastic experience, as well as to the wonderfully gracious women who made me feel so special with their recognition; as I share my gifts with my students, they shared their gifts with me. How lucky we all are to be doing what we love! 

From the bottom of this thankful (and now, very beautifully dressed) teacher's heart,


Monday, January 11, 2016

Great Wolf Lodge

Taking the kids to Great Wolf Lodge for New Year's was a blast! Here are a few little things I would suggest for the next trip:

1) Bring flip flops. If you are staying overnight, all the waterpark fun is included, and there's enough to keep you busy for days! The waterpark is hilarious and fun, but even if you're just walking through it, you might end up with wet feet. I also brought water shoes for my little guys. They aren't a necessity, but it makes watching your toddler climb his way through the shallow kids' pool like an adventurer look even cuter =)

2) Speaking of water, bring a water bottle, Starbucks tumbler, Shakeology thermos or other capped container. Your kids will ask for water at least a million times, and rather than carry around an open plastic cup, be prepared. You can fill up at any of the dispensers with water, or you can purchase a themed one for $12.99 and fill it with soda for the duration of your stay. Ugh. Fortunately, there's a Dunks onsite.

3) If you are going to be there for more than a few days, get the Passes (I got a Paw for Emerson and a Pup for John Sawyer - they're divided by age). They give you pretty good deals on the things you'll see around the Lodge, such as snacks, candy, and the stuffed animals from "Creation Station" that look just like (and fit into the same clothes as) the ones you'd find at Build-a-Bear. Checking the items off the list can be really fun, the kids love all the treats, and it's a fun way to spend time.

4) MagiQuest - This a fun and interactive wand-waving adventure where the kids wave their wand at screens located throughout the Lodge to gain points and uncover jewels. IT IS ALSO A MAJOR TIME SUCK. So if you have a little one who doesn't want to swim - or you don't feel like spending a fortune in the arcade - this is the way to go. Just know it will eat up a few hours because you're walking all over the Lodge to find the Magic Pixie Pool's secrets. The wand comes with the Paw Pass, but the additional doodads that make the wand do extra-cool stuff costs extra....which leads us to...

5) Bring lots of money. The Lodge is a cross between Chuck E. Cheese and Disney. The food is expensive and not super (although the burgers at the Lodge Wood Fired Grille and the pizza at Hungry as a Wolf were excellent) and many of the activities are not included in the price of your stay, such as the video games, mani-pedi's at Scooops and other activities in the Northern Lights Arcade, Howlin' Timbers Play Park (which has toddler rides, mini golf, Ten Paw Bowling Alley, and the Howler's Peak Ropes Course). Knowing this ahead of time can let you plan which areas to hang out in, or to avoid.

Have a great stay!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

My Starter Kit

One of the most exciting days for Austin seniors is the day the yearbooks arrive; the students and staff are always excited to see the Omega, and since much of our student body is with us from grade six (affectionately nicknamed "the lifers") the students page through with good-natured groans at the images of their younger selves, while simultaneously loving their recent snaps. They usually enter one of their teachers' rooms in large groups, to settle in and leaf through their copies, and while initially the conversation is boisterous and hearty ("Dude, your sixth-grade hair? You have a mushroom!" "Ahhh, look at my semi date? Ewww!") within minutes, a hush falls over the room, and they get lost in nostalgia. 

Sometimes, their reveries are interrupted by each others' questions ("Who was that girl at the prom with the crazy dress?") but this year, while looking through my copy, I did the interrupting. I had stumbled on a slang term I'd never heard before.

"What's a 'starter kit'?" I asked my seniors.
"It's the things that make you, you," replies one of my most laid-back seniors, a tall gentleman who would continually enter my classroom with a lazy "Hey girl" to me, despite my repeated suggestions that he discontinue the practice. "Like yours, Ms. P? Yours would definitely have a giant Starbucks green iced tea," he replied.
"A copy of The Great Gatsby, obviously," his friend intoned.
"Dance stuff," chimed in another.
"High heels, French manicures and makeup," from a senior who, perplexingly, slept through most of my classes. Guess she had one eye open for fashion.
"Pretty stationery and good pens," piped in a blonde girl.

And it was enlightening, to see the way kids saw the pieces of what "made" me, me. The little necessary outward things that defined who I am, or at the very least, who they thought I was. It made me think: what are the things that truly make me, me? That make me feel alive? That intrinsically make me feel grounded, yet light? 

There are so many things I love to do: spending time with my kids is at the top of the list. But being a mom is draining, and sometimes my "mom" definition simply isn't enough. I am not a better mom when I don't have time to dance, read, put on some lipstick and write a long-overdue thank-you. And sometimes those pieces get lost, because I am busy "putting the kids first," or feeling supremely guilty if I don't! For example, I love to dance, and while I have been teaching it non-stop for the last 22 years at Austin, I rarely get to an actual class for myself. Lots of my inspiration comes from videos that I watch on my iPad late at night, or from organic choreography sessions with my seniors. My personal dance has been limited, and I realized it was making me sad to lose that part of myself. This summer, I vow to take my 44-year-old self to class, and to reclaim a part of me that has long since been asleep. 

Let's hope Tylenol and muscle relaxers don't become part of my new starter kit.

(UPDATE August 10: I have made it to nearly two weeks of classes. My flexibility is a faint shadow of itself, yet I love every minute of my class. There are some familiar faces and some fun new connections. The choreography is as cool as ever. And I? I am loving my time being myself again.)