Thursday, August 9, 2018

Six, sweet, and sublime

My little prince,

Today you are six. You are full of energy and excitement, and your little face (which everyone tells me mirrors my own) is so expressive that I want to kiss your round cheeks every time I see you. 

Right now, you let me. 

Right now, you say, "Mama, you're my honey girl." 

Right now, you still curl up next to me in the mornings, even before I open my eyes, and say, "Hi Mama, I love you. Will you snuggle me?" 

Right now, you are fiercely loyal and loving, and I am incredibly lucky to see shades of the man you will become when you grow up: respectful, kind, and gentle.

You have your wild times too - you like to run around shrieking with laughter, and you want so much to keep up with your big sister. You have become a daredevil in the pool, and you vacillate between being my baby and a true little boy. You trotted off to camp for the first time and made new friends. You rode the current at the beach and your first roller coaster. You've grown so skinny and tall, and you will start first grade this fall. And even though I know you are growing up, I hold the memory of the first time I ever saw you so close to my heart. 

When I was pregnant with you, I had a little scare and I wanted to make sure you were all right. It was very early in my pregnancy, and I went to the doctor alone because your Daddy, Nanny and Papa were all away. I was nervous, but I thought to myself, "Okay, it's just you and me, kid. Hang on," so I packed Emerson into the car and prayed all the way to the doctor's office. When your sweet big sister (who was only 3) asked the ultrasound technician if her screen could play Dora cartoons, my worried face broke into a smile, and knew I had to be strong for both of you, no matter what. So I took a breath, said another prayer, and hoped you'd be in there. And suddenly there was a small scribble of your heartbeat, and I knew you were there, and you were mine.

You and me, kid. You completed our family and made my dreams come true. You and your sister are the greatest gifts I've ever known.

Happy sixth birthday, my sweet son.


Saturday, August 4, 2018

Escape to the Cape

I was never a South Shore girl. My summer vacations always included trips up north to New Hampshire or Maine, or super south to Florida.  My few visits to the Cape were anticlimactic at best - standing in a crowd at Clancy's or waiting in line for mini-golf, ice cream, batting cages, go-karts (or basically anything else) left me feeling lukewarm about Cape Cod. 

But when my dear friend K suggested we visit her at her summer home in West Dennis, the kids and I were so psyched. My kids and K's kids have gone to school together since kindergarten, and K is the perfect blend of smart and sarcastic. We've laughed through abysmal school years, innumerable nook reviews, and many bottles of Riesling together, so I knew spending time with her and her kids anywhere would be a blast, especially at her home-away-from-home on the Cape.

We headed to the beach much later than one would usually do so, but it was perfect. No crowds, no worries. The kids played for hours until hungry bellies made us leave in search of snacks. I usually hate restaurants with cutesy spellings, but I couldn't resist Kream n'Kone and I'm quite grateful. Not only did we dine in the finest beach style (you can walk in sandy and sweaty and still feel human in its open dining space) but the portions were terrific. Heaping piles of fried clams, lobster salad and chicken fingers later, we called it a night.

The next morning, I had a baptism - I shall never look at muffins the same way again after a trip to Woolfies Bakery in Dennis. The muffins were ENORMOUS and, even though we arrived later than the usual morning crowd (due to kids who were up until all hours watching episodes of Bunked), we still got some of their coveted chocolate chip muffins. And some blueberry muffins. And a cinnamon swirl croissant that looked like a massive danish and was worth every single calorie.

Though we had no business getting into bathing suits after that feast, we headed to the beach, where the weather was perfection. Our kids rode the warm currents (we were on he Nantucket side), sought out mussels, eels, and crabs, and enjoyed the sun and sand all day. We bumped into old friends, caught up on our favorite gossip, and had snacks and drinks until late afternoon.

Our final stop was The Summer Shanty, where the kids took over the Adirondack chairs on the lawn while my friends and I commandeered a perch overlooking both the kids and the boats docked behind them. I strongly suggest one of their haddock sandwiches, which came with a coleslaw that was both vinergary and sweet. I'm not a slaw fan, but this was excellent (it could have also been the amazing lemonade/Citron/Chambord dream drink I was sipping, interestingly named the "Wando"). Though the restaurant was packed by the time we were finishing up, an early afternoon visit yielded coveted seats and the perfect scenery. My Cape friends know all the tricks!

My quintessential summer experience was packed into just one full 24 period, but it was enough to make me fall in love with the Cape. Even the trafficky ride home didn't quell my joy and gratitude toward my pal and her family. Though the connotation of things "going south" is usually negative, I think I can join the summer folk who disagree; this North Shore girl will be on 93 South again soon!

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,