Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Travel Tuesdays: Take the City Bus, Not the Tour Bus

When our son was two and a half, we took a family trip to a village outside of Florence, Italy. Instead of renting a car, each day we walked to a local bus stop and took a bus to the market or into Florence.

Taken from my journal:
Our son (name left out for privacy) was excited to take his first bus ride and we loved interacting with the locals. One morning, a nice, older couple boarded the bus and immediately began smiling at our son and talking to him in Italian. The woman motioned to ask if she could see his Pinocchio. Our son handed it to her. She smiled, pretended to make Pinocchio walk on her leg, then gave him back to our son. Then she asked to see his Tony the Tiger and was surprised he shared it, too. She called him "generous." She smiled, pointed at Pinocchio and said, "beautiful." Then she pointed at Tony and made a face to indicate he's not. (Note: Pinocchio is an Italian character).

Then she asked our son's name.
We told her and she got excited. Then she asked for his name in English. (He has a very Italian name). When we repeated his name she got really animated. (I guess she thought we had translated it to an Italian name for her benefit). She talked animatedly with her husband for a few minutes before turning to us again. She spoke limited English, so we varied between the little English she knew, the little Italian we knew, and a variety of gestures and facial expressions.

Essentially, this was the conversation:

Woman: Why (his Italian name) for an American?
Rick (my husband): Mi Italiano-Americano.
The woman turned to her husband and told him Rick is Italian. "Italiano! Italiano!"
Woman: Grandmother? Grandfather?
Rick: Grandmother, Napolitano (from Naples). Grandfather, Siciliano (from Sicily).
The woman smiled and clapped as she repeated it for the whole bus in Italian.
More people joined in.
A woman leaned in from behind me, waved her arms in the air and said, "Mi Siciliano!" and tapped her chest with both hands.
Arms waved as the story was repeated toward the back of the bus.
I looked up the word for "surname" then told them ours is Cusolito. The Sicilian woman smiled and gestured happily. By now, everyone around us was smiling.

It was such a wonderful conversation. They didn't care that Rick didn't speak Italian. To them, Rick is Italian.They were just as thrilled to talk to us as we were to talk to them.

We felt so welcomed by that friendly bunch of strangers.

For me, this story perfectly demonstrates why we don't take tour buses. What we experienced on that day was far more interesting and exciting than pressing our noses up to a window to see what a guide determined we should see.

How about you...Have you ever taken the local bus, tuk-tuk, jeepney, etc. in a foreign country? How was it for you?

Related Posts:
Travel Tuesdays: Keep A Journal
Travel Tuesdays: Top 10 Tips for Traveling with Children
Travel Tuesdays: Balleyara Market, Niger

Friday, January 27, 2012

Poet in Residence, The final Installment

Thanks for all the great comments on my earlier "Poet in Residence" posts. Here's the last batch of poems.

I adore my mother’s cherry pie
It’s so good I wish to die
When my mother
makes it great
guess who happens to be late.
Is she making cherry pie?
Oh my gosh it’s just a lie!!

                    by Andrew B.


Butterfly! Butterfly!

With your speckled wings,

fly to the church,

soar to the sea,

and land on a tree.

by Sarah M

Nibbling on Leaves
One day a Japanese caterpillar
was nibbling
on a soft, juicy,
luscious leaf.
He ate it all the
way through.
He landed
on dinner!

by Ben H

Swooping over

Predator of
the wild

Protector of
a nest

Bird of

by Jacob D.

(HAWK, particularly the line breaks, was inspired by the work of William Carlos Williams. Can you recognize it? We read River of Words; The story of William Carlos Williams as part of our poetry study. It's a fantastic picture book about the life of William Carlos Williams).

At My Grandmother’s House
I sit
on the couch where I always
Just sitting
watching TV while
eating with my family.
All I can smell
is my noodles
I hear
the TV going on
and on
and on.
I feel happy!
So is
my brother
and grandmother.
I feel like
I’m in my
own world.
I sprint
into the kitchen because
I hear
the parade
We’re just
out the window.
I had a great time
my grandmother’s house.

by Jordyn D.

Which poems, phrases or lines speak to you?

Related Posts:

Seashell Poetry- Lunes
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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Adoption Insensitivity

I've resisted posting much about my publishing aspirations here. But several recent events have made me want to share.

My dear friend Alison was adopted as an infant and now parents two biological children and two children adopted from Ethiopia. To say adoption is important to her would be an understatement. (Please read her blog to learn more). I, too, have strong feelings about the topic. My best friend from childhood was adopted. While her adoption certainly was not a constant topic in our friendship (we often had much more important things to talk about such as boys), it was important to me because it was part of what made her who she was. Later, when we were adults, I was lucky enough to experience her search for her birth parents. I later met her birth mother and biological sister. As her friend, these meetings were important to me.

Around this same time, two students in my 4th grade class were children who had been adopted. One girl's mother invited me to attend an adoption conference with her. I readily accepted and chose to attend workshops that especially addressed education topics. That was when I first learned of the "family orchard" as one alternative to a family tree.

When Alison and I first met, her son Mikias had just come home from Ethiopia (our boys were in preschool together and are still great buddies). We talk about adoption often as she works through the ups and downs of interacting with her own birth family. We also talk about her sons' experiences as adopted children. And Alison blogs about it all, quite openly.

Recently, Alison wrote a post titled "You're Adopted. Hahahah!" She started by sharing a  "joke" that has been making the rounds on Facebook and then went on to sarcastically share a bunch of other insensitive jokes she found. That post generated lots of comments. One posted today caught my eye. Amanda from BeKindBeSillyBeHonest left a link to this post about the same photo. In her post, she went on to share stories of adoption insensitivity displayed by her kids' school. (Please read the post).

My heart sank. How can educators who know there are adopted children in their classes continue to assign insensitive assignments such as "Interview your family about where you got your name." or "Interview your family about your birth story?" (To be clear, the teacher knows her son was adopted at age eleven). Alison's boys were also given a timeline assignment that could have been worded differently to prevent hurting the boys (and Alison for that matter). Alison called me in tears the day that assignment came home. Even the best teachers can make mistakes.

Circumstances like this are what motivated Alison and I to co-author a picture book titled BINIAM AND WILL: THE FAMILY TREE PROJECT. It features an Ethiopian-born child adopted in America and his American-born best friend. While our story focuses on their friendship, the problem the boys face together is an assignment to create a family tree.

When I shared the manuscript with others for critique, one person suggested that these kinds of assignments are not given in schools any more. "... it seems unlikely that in the 21st century any teacher would assume that all her/his students live in an intact biological family."  

I wish my reader were correct. Even then, I thought she was being incredibly generous. This educator appreciated her generosity even as I knew it wasn't true. Amanda's post today confirms what we already knew- more education is needed to help teachers assign tasks that honor all different kinds of families. I'm not suggesting we eliminate discussions of biology or genetics in science classes or anything like that. It's just that most name, or family tree, or birth story assignments can be given with modified directions that include all kids and all families. 

That's why Alison and I were compelled to write, BINIAM AND WILL. Amanda's post has reminded me of our original desire to write a story to help educate others.  She's given Alison and I a kick in the backside to shift into high gear and start sending our manuscript out to more publishers.

If you want to know more, please check out the resource Amanda shared "Adoption Basics for Educators." It includes a glossary of terms and a list of resources.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Ice Ornaments

Photo taken 19 January 2012
 Photo taken 20 January 2012
Photo taken 20 January 2012
Photo taken 20 January 2012

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Travel Tuesdays: Travel Broadens Perspectives

"Ideally, travel broadens our perspectives personally, culturally, and politically. Suddenly the palate with which we paint our lives has more colors. We realize there are exciting alternatives to the social and community norms that our less traveled neighbors may never consider…but you can only reap these rewards if you’re open to them….Make a decision that on any trip you take, you’ll make a point to be open to new experiences, seek options that get you out of your comfort zone, and be a cultural chameleon-- trying on new ways of looking at things and striving to become a 'temporary local.'”(emphasis mine)
                                               ~ Rick Steeves, Travel as a Political Act, p. 4

I love this quotation. 

I confess, Rick Steeves' guidebooks aren't usually my guidebooks of choice. When traveling I tend to favor Lonely Planet and Rough Guides. (This probably has much to do with the fact that most of our travel has been in developing countries while most of Steeves' travel has been in Europe). 

But this book beckoned to me from its "faced out" perch in our library. With a title like that, I had to check it out. What did I learn? Despite our very different travel preferences, Rick Steeves and I have come away with similar beliefs.

Here's another quotation from page 161:
"I’m convinced that people-to-people travel experiences can be a powerful force for peace."

Indeed. Once I have a personal connection to a place, I care more deeply about its citizens. And that care extends to people who know me and know of my travels. Many of my students would come to me after seeing news of a capsized ferry in the Philippines or a change in the President of Peru. Once they heard of my travels there, they consumed the news differently. They cared about people they never even met. But they knew me and I knew people there.

And this quotation from page 5:
"Travel challenges truths we were raised thinking were self-evident and God-given. Leaving home, we learn other people find different truths to be self-evident. We realize that it just makes sense to give everyone a little wiggle room."

This, I find, can be one of the hardest points to make understood to non-travelers. We don't have a monopoly on what's right or just or good. We have our way. Other cultures have their own ways. A little respect for those differences goes a long way.

Do these quotations ring true you? Do you have a favorite travel quotation?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Poet in Residence, Part 3

Today, the third installment of poems written by 4th graders in the classroom where I served as "Poet in Residence" during the fall.


Here and there
Racing down the drive way
Up and down the drive way
Having so much fun.

by Emmie D.

Fall Fun!

Gather all the leaves then throw
up up they fly
scary faces everywhere
who shall I scare?
knock  knock  who’s there
trick or treat thank you!

by Lauren O.

The Wavy Plant?

with white wavy moss
growing off you.
with your mysterious holes.
look like an anemone.
I wonder where
you live.
are a mushroom!
Of course… The Woods.

by Kayla W.

Me and my mom

are just alike

We love each other dearly
I always do what she does
She is my role model
We love to do every thing together

by Kyah W.

Nana’s House

I have a special bedroom.
I have a yellow bedspread.
I love a big brown teddy bear.
I feel safe and loved there.

by Olivia G.

Not Just a Plain Rock

White with glitter
Partially gray

like a small glacier

by Lucas K.

Which image or phrase is your favorite?

Related Posts:
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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Travel Tuesdays: Trip Planning, Part 2

Once we choose a location for a trip, I begin doing a little research with our kids. I start at our local library's on-line catalog. After arriving at the website, I simply enter one of our library card numbers (or our alternate ID) and pin number. Then I can search for books, CDs, magazines, etc. to my heart's content. If you live in the US, you likely have the same service at your library. If you haven't used it, you're really missing out!

From the comfort of my own home, I can search my local library's complete catalog and the catalogs of the other libraries in our library system (Which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 libraries). If I find a book I want in another library, I simply click the "Place Hold" button. That book will usually arrive at my local library in a matter of days (Some take longer).

Here are a few titles I reserved for the kids last night:

A crafty one especially for my crafty daughter
A graphic style that will appeal to my son
A shorter non-fiction for my Kindergarten daughter
And a longer one to appeal to my 4th grade son.

Of course, globes and atlases will also feature heavily in our reading. We own several we like, though I recently read about this one from Barefoot Books that looks wonderful. 

(An aside: If you're not familiar with Barefoot Books, please visit their website. They produce lovely books).

What children's books about Italy have you enjoyed? Do you have any titles to recommend to us? How do you help your children learn about the places they'll visit?

Related posts:
Travel Tuesdays: Trip Planning
Travel Tuesdays: Top 10 Tips for Traveling with Children
Travel Tuesdays: Affording to Travel

Friday, January 13, 2012

Poet in Residence, part 2

Last Friday, I posted poems written by students in my son's grade 4 classroom. I served as "Poet in Residence" during the fall.

Today, I continue sharing their work. 

In January,
the joyful
kids play with
Some ride
          by Gabrielle B.

Dinner Web

Dinner came here
For the spider
It is not a deer
it’s a fighter

A dragonfly came ready
his name is Freddy
He fought
but he got caught

by Noah M.

One day while I was sitting in a field
I was eating chicken wings
as the breeze
hit me in the face
the chicken wings were good
they were buffalo chicken wings

my mouth was burning
like a … ouch ouch ouch
why is there hot sauce in my mouth

I must have fallen asleep
and those teenagers
put hot sauce in my mouth      

by Ethan D.

The Sweet Sounds Of Fall

Kids crawl

in piles of leaves.
Crisp leaves fall
from tall trees.

Cold wind slithers
across me like a snake.
I DASH on my bike
and bonce on the bumps.

I wear a costume
each Halloween.
I wear something
I carve a pumpkin,
with a grin.
school begins!
                    by Andrew S.


Thanksgiving Morning
everyone is in a good mood
and ready for all the yummy food
All the family is here
talking loud with cheer
we all watch football
then we nap to end it all.

by Kate B.

you mystery thing

your warm welcoming’s in the cold winter

warm maple syrup

your bumpy skin like a driveway
you dropping 

the warm maple syrup the tree next to you
had gave me

oh wait I think you might be a...


a pinecone

by Kylie S.

Please leave a comment for these young poets. I'll publish more next Friday.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Travel Tuesdays: Trip Planning

"Travel, undertaken with mindfulness, can be a powerful vehicle for transformation."
~ Joseph Dispenza, The Way of the Traveler

My family is in the early stages of planning a trip to Sicily and Lipari to trace my husband's family roots. We had planned to go last year, but skyrocketing airfare due, in part, to the Arab Spring, led us to postpone. We scaled back travel plans last year, saved up our travel money, and now we're ready to plan in earnest.

I love this early dreaming phase. We've been pouring over guide books, perusing sites that rent villas, and agonizing over airfare. I love the dreaming, the endless possibilities, that excited feeling in the base of my stomach. It's exhilarating.

And maybe a little bit tiring. Where should we stay? Is this other place better? Will that place meet our needs? Should we fly to the islands or take a ferry?

But here's what I've learned from previous trips: No matter what decisions we make, it will all work out in the end. The trip may not be what we expected, but it will provide a life-changing adventure. Travel is just like that. It's impossible for me to travel, particularly to another country, and not be changed in some way.

And, hey...there's a hotel on Lipari with Cusolito in its name, so that's pretty exciting! Maybe we'll find distant relatives.

What life-changing trips have you taken? What changed? What did you learn?

Related Posts:
Travel Tuesdays: Top 10 Tips for Traveling with Children
Travel Tuesdays: India
Travel Tuesdays: Morocco

Friday, January 6, 2012

Poet in Residence

This past fall I served as "Poet in Residence" in my son's grade 4 classroom. While I mostly write for children now, my first love was poetry. In fact, even my prose has a lyrical quality to it. I loved being with fourth graders again and guiding them on their own poetic journeys.

To culminate this season long experience, we created an anthology of their poems. Each student received a copy just before the holiday break. Here's the cover, designed by a student named Jacob. I love how he tied together some of the generators we used for poems. One day, each student brought in a special object from nature and used that to write a poem. Another day, they looked at photographs I brought in. They also made maps of their important play places and then wrote a poem about a specific place on the map. Can you see those ideas represented in his images?
Every student (and their teacher, Mr. Davignon) included at least one poem in the anthology. Since many students wrote poems from photographs I had taken, those photographs also appeared along with the poems.

Starting today, with the poets' permission, I'll share some of their work. I'll post more over the next month or so.

Aside from correcting an occasional spelling error, I have not altered these poems in any way. I offered guidance about how to revise poetry but the work is entirely their own. I hope you enjoy their work. If you do, please tell them by leaving a comment.

The Crab 
When I look I see
a fearsome yet strong animal.
It is humble
and never backs down from a battle.
His claws are like boxing gloves
his shell is like his shield.
The ocean is his battlefield.

                                                      by Elijah S.

The Silent Hawk
It’s eyes
watch all day for prey
Then it goes down to fight
It’s feet as sharp
as a shark’s jaw
It’s claws as big
as a lion’s paw
It blends in
the sky
Like an overwatch

by Max M.

I am
Up, up, up, on the
highest branch. Below
there’s a logger, OH NO,
Did I just say, LOGGER!
“TIMBER,” here I go
again, falling

by Dante C.

Ortiz is up
it’s full count
there’s no doubt.
The pitcher beams a fastball
   It’s  blasted into  the  air
HOMERUN !      
 But I can’t look
He’s…….. OUT
I did a big pout
But wait

                                                 by Ethan P.      

Humming Bird

Humming bird, humming bird
Where will you fly?
With your wings moving so fast

As you go by
Zig-zagging from flower to flower
Just like cheetahs dashing by

                                                    Looks like you have no wings
                                                    I think you’re attached to strings

                                                   by  Jakob M.

Please leave a comment for these young poets.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Travel Tuesdays: Inter-faith Celebrations

I wasn't the traveler this time, but many people traveled to our home to celebrate this holiday season. We all came together on the night of December 25th to celebrate.

The friends and family who gathered were varied. In addition to many guests from our home state, we welcomed guests from the UK, Maryland, California and China. We also welcomed friends who immigrated to the US from France, China, and India. There were Christians, Jews, agnostics and atheists present. Some were raised with religion and no longer practice. Some were raised without religion and asked many questions about the practices of the Jews and Christians present. Two menorahs glowed beside a nativity brought back from Mexico.

What I love most about this annual event is the openness and sharing that occurs. We support each others' choice to practice a religion or not. We help each other celebrate. We break bread together. (Dumplings, knishes and latkes followed by lasagna, meatballs, Caesar salad and noodle kugel).  We honor important family and religious traditions.

To me, this is the perfect way to celebrate during the month of December.

If you celebrated a holiday this season, I hope it was joyful, peaceful and full of traditions.

May we all find new ways to connect with those of different faiths this year, for that, I believe, is the best way to bring peace to our troubled world.