Tuesday, March 31, 2009

From the Dayton Daily News: Local couple helps back Iraq war film

After actually seeing Brothers At War on Friday, I signed up as a fan on my facebook account.  This morning, I received notification of a story about an average couple in Ohio who helped bring this movie into being when "big money" backers weren't forthcoming:

"We thought it was important to tell a soldier's story in an apolitical way," said Glen Shilland, an Air Force major stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The family now lives in Beavercreek, but Shilland was a bombardier in Afghanistan when Yiotula heard about the movie while visiting Decatur.

"I thought this would be a good use of my combat pay," said Glen Shilland, 37. "This was a way to get our story out."

I would like to offer a word of thanks to the Shillands and all the other small donors who helped Jake Rademacher tell this story.

The project has raised more than $50,000 for veterans' groups and has been seen, free of charge, by thousands of service members and their families.

"They say 'it's not just a film about you and your family, it's a film about me and my family,'" Rademacher said.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

I didn't actually read From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler myself when I was a kid. The book, by E. L. Konigsburg, was read by my sixth grade teacher (one of my favorite teachers, who I am glad to say I still keep in touch with, more that a quarter of a century later) to the class (it is recommended for 8 to 12 year olds). I rediscovered this classic Newbery Award winner from 1968 while working on my M.Ed. The copy I purchased is a 35th anniversary edition with an afterword from the author.

For those of you unfamiliar with this book, it tells the story of Claudia Kincaid. She is nearly twelve, "the oldest child and the only girl and was subject to a lot of injustice". So, she decides to run away. However, in order to be successful, she has chosen her younger brother, Jamie, to go along with her. They live in Greenwich. They will go to New York City; the Metropolitan Museum of Art will be their hideout.

While in the Museum, they come across a beautiful marble statue of an angel. There is a mystery surrounding it: was it really carved by Michelangelo? The Museum acquired it at auction, and it had previously belong to Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler... Claudia and Jamie set out to solve the mystery...

Do Claudia & Jamie get found out? Claudia didn't plan on being gone forever; she just wanted to send a message to her parents. Can they discover the true origins of the Angel on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art? If you share this book with today's children, you could also have an interesting discussion about how things have changed since 1968. Claudia and Jamie don't have video games, cell phone or cable TV. Also, could a Claudia and Jamie do something like this today?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Brothers At War

Last night, I had the opportunity to drive down to San Antonio for a screening of the new documentary Brothers At War. I thank Soldiers' Angels for the treat. I had to decide whether to see the movie in Killeen or San Antonio. The theater in San Antonio was about 10 miles closer, plus I didn't have to drive across Austin during rush hour traffic, and I got to see Jim & Gerry Riley from Soldiers' Angels again. I had meet them three or four years ago when I volunteered to help out at a golf tournament benefiting wounded warriors that was held at a country club out in Boerne.

There were 4 screenings yesterday. I chose the one at 7:30. I was substitute teaching, so I couldn't go to either of the afternoon screenings, and since I had to drive back to Austin after the movie, the 10:15 screening was out of the question. I called Jim when I got to the theater about 7 o'clock, and he met me at the box office. Entering the auditorium in which Brothers At War was showing, there were already a lot of people there. The Santikos is one of the theaters where you can order a meal to eat while you watch your movie. Jim had already laid claim to the seats in the last row at the back, so I sat in the next row up. Since I'd grabbed something to eat after school, all I ordered was some popcorn and a bottle of water. Jim, being the outgoing person that he is, spoke up and asked who in the audience was Active Duty. After a number of people raised their hands, Jim told the waitstaff to get them all popcorn and soda. Jim also informed me that, although the link from the Brothers At War website indicated the movie was only showing on the 27th, it is actually showing at the Santikos Bijou at Crossroads (in the Crossroads Mall inside Loop 410 and I-10) through Thursday, April 2nd. So, just because the showtimes only list one date, check to see how many days it is actually showing, if it is coming to your area (it's in Killeen through Thursday, as well).

The auditorium was nicely filled. I was glad to see that. I'm really bad at guessing numbers, but I'd say it was at least75% full - a respectable showing, I thought, for a movie that hasn't been highly publicized outside certain circles. I went into this movie not knowing anyone who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan outside of the friends I've made on the internet, the vast majority of whom I have never meet in person. I don't know what it's like to have someone close to me in a combat zone. And, I certainly can't say I know what it's like to actually be in a combat zone.

In this movie, we meet the Rademacher family. Jake, the oldest son, is a filmmaker. Two of his brothers, Isaac and Joe, are in the Army. Isaac is a West Point grad and a Captain with the 82nd Airborne. Joe, a sniper, is a sergeant, and is also assigned to the 82nd Airborne. Isaac and Joe had both served in Iraq. Growing up, Jake had wanted to go to West Point and be a soldier, but couldn't get accepted. Now, he wanted to understand what it was his brothers did and why. Since he'd become a filmmaker, he arranged to embed with combat units, embedding with Isaac's unit for a time, and also with a sniper team, in addition to spending some time with Marines mentoring an Iraqi Army unit. He documented that experience in Iraq, as well as what it is like for those left behind: their parents, the other siblings, and the wife and girlfriend.

I was able to watch this movie with a bit of detachment, since I wasn't watching something I've had to personally confront: having a family member go off to war. What Jake documents while with the Iraqi Army unit - coming under ambush - demonstrates some of what our troops experience and see - to include a brief glimpse at the damage modern weapons can do to the human body.

In addition to talking to his family, Jake also speaks with the soldiers and Marines he comes into contact with. A soldier who lost a friend, but wasn't ready to talk about it. Soldiers talking about the mail they get from people back home. He talks with the soldiers during their down-time on a surveillance mission near the Syrian border. There is no politics to this movie. Just those who serve, in their own words, expressing why they do what they do, and what they think about when they are deployed; just the thoughts of the Rademacher family back on the home front, explaining what it is like for them to have a son, husband/fiance or brother in a combat zones.

All in all, I highly recommend this film. If it is coming to your area, please make the effort to go see it. If you are in the San Antonio area, and would like to see it this week, email me (address on the sidebar), and I can put you in touch with someone who might be able to help out with getting you in to see the movie. This movie needs to be seen at those theaters in which is it already scheduled to screen. It needs to do well now in order to have a chance of being shown more widely around the country. This is a film more Americans need to be given the opportunity to see.

Update 3/30/09:

I received a notice on facebook today that the movie will be opening in additional cities this weekend:

Osio Cinema in Monterey, CA
Cinemark Carefree Circle in Colorado Springs, CO
Regal Augusta Exchange in Augusta, GA
Cinemark Tinseltown 17 in Shreveport, LA
Carmike 16 in El Paso, TX

Friday, March 20, 2009

Patrick the Somnambulist

One of my classmates, from when I was working on my M.Ed., published a children's picture book last year. Sarah Ackerley wrote and illustrated Patrick the Somnambulist, which is recommended for children 4 to 8 years old. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend any of her book signings, but I did find an autographed copy in-store.

Patrick is a penguin, "a pretty normal penguin. He ate normal food. He played normal games, and had plenty of normal friends. But sometimes, just sometimes, Patrick would wake up, in the middle of the night... and find himself in a not-so-normal situation."

Patrick's parents thought his behavior strange, and they eventually decided to take him to see a doctor. After lots of questions, the doctor announced that Patrick was a somnambulist...

Now, this is just a fancy work for sleepwalker, but Patrick thought it was pretty cool all the same. "I'm Patrick the Somnambulist!" he declared.
After this, Patrick's parents were more understanding of his unusual behavior.

And, amazingly, with his newfound confidence in being...
"Patrick the Somnambulist,"
Patrick began to do some very remarkable things in his sleep.
He became rich and famous, and when asked about what made him successful, he would say "It's all in a good night's sleep."

Patrick's is a bit of a silly story: it is common for him to wear a plunger on his head when he sleepwalks, and his sleepwalking accomplishments are wildly unrealistic, but that's what makes it entertaining. And, for any child who might also be or know a somnambulist (it's an issue I've never had to deal with), it can let them know that it's nothing to be ashamed of...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Don't Eat The Bluebonnets

I saw my first bluebonnets of the season on Sunday on my way out to the mall. This year is unlikely to be a bumper cropped, since we have been experiencing drought conditions (recent rains notwithstanding...).

Anyhow, I thought it was time to share a book I found last year called Don't Eat The Bluebonnets by Ellen Leventhan and Ellen Rothberg, and illustrated by Bill Megenhardt.

Sue Ellen isn't like the rest of the cows. She doesn't like to follow orders, especially when they come from Max, the Longhorn:

Every spring Max puts up a sign in Sue Ellen and Lisa Jean's favorite pasture.


"Humph," Sue Ellen said. "Max is not the boss of me. He can't tell me what to do." With that she hooked tails with Lisa Jean and they sashayed across the field.
"I can eat the bluebonnets if I want to," she snorted.
"The bluebonnets won't come back next spring if you eat them," Lisa Jean warned.
"But we eat the grass, and it comes back," Sue Ellen argued.
"That's true," replied Lisa Jean, "but bluebonnets are different. They won't come back."
Having a mind of her own, Sue Ellen wasn't totally convinced. The next day when Sue Ellen and Lisa Jean arrived at the south pasture, the bluebonnets were just starting to pop up. Sue Ellen's mouth watered.

Lisa Jean reminds Sue Ellen about not eating the bluebonnets. She's just looking at them. Don't eat the bluebonnets. She's just smelling them. Don't eat the bluebonnets. She's just licking them.

She tells Lisa Jean that the water in the pond comes back each year, and so do the leaves on the trees. And, the birds come back, too.

By the end of the week the bluebonnets covered the pasture and Sue Ellen couldn't stop thinking about them.
...she charged into the south pasture and ate every single bluebonnet.

Max comes to Sue Ellen with a bag of bluebonnet seeds, saying someone ate all the bluebonnets. Sue Ellen isn't concerned. She's convinced they'll come back next year on their own. She doesn't believe Max when he tells her that sometimes, nature needs a little help.

Spring passes, then summer, fall and winter. Finally, it is springtime again. But, when they get to the south pasture, there are no bluebonnets. Max tells Sue Ellen that he doesn't need to put his sign up this year. All the other cows are unhappy with Sue Ellen.

She thinks she can fix it herself. She moves some bluebonnets from another pasture, but they wilt. She tried painting bluebonnets onto the bales of hay, but the other cows eat the hay. She tries making individual bluebonnets with her paints, and construction paper and scissors, but they washed away in a rain storm.

So, having a mind of her own, Sue Ellen decided to take charge. That night she went to the south pasture and planted a packet of Max's seeds she had found in the barn.

The next spring, she fixed up Max's sign and asked him to put it out in the south pasture, but he didn't because he didn't think the bluebonnets would be back. So, Sue Ellen took the sign herself.

It wasn't long before their favorite pasture was beautiful again. Having a mind of her own, Sue Ellen decided she could
...look at the bluebonnets
...smell the bluebonnets
...lick the bluebonnets...
but she could not eat the bluebonnets.

This picture book is great for using with any elementary school aged child. The little ones will like the story, and it can also be used as a teaching tool for the older ones. At the back of the book, there is information about those who helped bring us this book. In addition, there are "Authors' Notes" which includes:

Although there is no specific law protecting bluebonnets, everyone from schoolchildren to groundskeepers know the importance of preserving nature, so although you make look at the bluebonnets, sit among the bluebonnets, and even photograph the bluebonnets, please don't ever pick the bluebonnets.
While cows can eat bluebonnets without harm, they can sometimes be toxic to other animals including humans.

There is a lesson about being environmentally responsible: just a simple lesson about caring for a natural resource, without getting into issues such as global warming or, as is more commonly heard these days, "climate change". It can be used in a lesson about the life cycle of plants: why didn't the bluebonnets grow back after Sue Ellen ate them all? It can also be used in illustrating cause and effect. What happens after Sue Ellen eats all the bluebonnets? What happens are Sue Ellen plants the bluebonnet seeds?

Although this book might be hard to find (Barnes & Noble seems to carry it as a new item online, but Amazon.com appears to only have used copies available), I recommend this book. I love the illustrations, and it's just a cute story ;-)

Monday, March 16, 2009

"The Way We Get By"

About three and a half weeks ago, I learned of The Way We Get By while listening to the weekly YouServed BlogTalkRadio show. It was mentioned that the film would be making its World Premier at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin.

I checked the screening schedule and found out when and where it would screen. There would be a screening on March 15, March 16 and March 19. I preference was to attend the Monday screening at noon. Then, I emailed an old friend of mine that I was aware had some knowledge of how the film fest worked.

With my changing work schedule, I was able to have today off, and I called the theater last night to see when I might be able to purchase a ticket. Tickets go on sale 15 minutes before the screenings, but people who have purchased a badge for SXSW have first priority. My pockets aren't that deep, so I was going to have to take my chances.

I got to the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar about 11:40am. I had a good feeling when I didn't see a big line waiting to get in. I parked my car and walked up to the front doors. I approached a couple of people who were holding the door open, asking if I could purchase a ticket for The Way We Get By. She pointed me inside to a lady behind the counter. I paid my $10 and was directed where to go.

Alamo Drafthouse is one of those rare movie theaters where they serve food and drinks to the patrons. Since I hadn't had any breakfast and neglected to grab one of my protein bars before heading out the door, I perused the menu for something to tide me over until the end of the movie, wrote down my order, and a waitress came to pick it up.

Then, the movie started. The Way We Get By is a documentary. It follows three retired persons who also happen to act as Troop Greeters at the airport in Bangor, Maine. Bangor is the main pass-through point for troops headed to and returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. No matter what time of day or night, no matter the weather, there is a group of people out there to greet the deplaning troops, offering handshakes, hugs, free cellphone usage and snacks.

Bill Knight is a widower World War II veteran. Joan Gaudet is a widowed mother of eight grown children (one of her sons, Aron, is the director of this film), grandmother of many, and even great-grandmother to a few. Jerry Mundy, "not as lean, not as mean, but still a Marine", is also dealing with what aging brings. He is alone now, having lost his son many years ago, quite unexpectedly, at the age of 10. These three people find purpose in greeting our troops.

This film is very powerful. It will make you laugh out loud. It will make you cry. It will make you think: if given the opportunity, would I make myself available, on short notice, at any time of night or day, to drop everything to go do what they do? It will make you think: what kind of legacy will I leave behind? have I made a difference in anyone's life?

The Way We Get By - Trailer from The Way We Get By on Vimeo.

The Way We Get By is entered in the Documentary Feature Competition at SXSW. The award ceremony is to take place Tuesday, March 17 at 8pm. Good luck to Aron Gaudet, Gita Pullapilly, Dan Ferrigan and the rest of the crew in this competition.

Aron, Gita and Dan participated in a Q&A after the screening today. Since much of what they shared was follow-up on what has happened since the filming ended, and even after the project was completed, I won't spoil the film by sharing. They did say, however, that they were focusing on screenings at film festivals, and were looking to have screenings at US military bases, and to have it broadcast on PBS in November, along with releasing a DVD, around Veterans Day. I did approach them at the end of the Q&A to let them know I'd heard about the movie through YouServed. Gita said she loves the t-shirt she got from CJ ;-)

If you have an opportunity to see this film, I would highly recommend it.


The Way We Get By did win an award. If I am deciphering the announcement page correctly, for Feature Film Jury Awards, in the Documentary Feature category, it was recognized with a Special Jury Award. I can't find anything that explains exactly what that means, but not all of the documentaries were recognized (it appears there were two other awards for documentaries). Very cool, and congratulations to Aron, Gita and crew!

Soldier Ride 2009 - Texas

I had recently been "introduced" to Toby Nunn by CJ, since Toby calls the Austin area his home-base. Earlier this week, I found out Toby was actually back in town, and that he would be participating in the Wounded Warrior Project's Soldier Ride here in Texas. The first leg of that was to be here in Austin Thursday morning. As it turned out, I was able to take the time to go downtown to Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop, a local sponsor of the ride, and finally meet Toby in person, chat with him, and witness the "opening ceremony" and start of the ride.

Unfortunately for Toby and the rest of the riders, the weather turned cold and wet on Wednesday. I had to be up and out of the house early on Wednesday, and we had reached our high of 72 before 8am, and the temperatures were on the way down. I was up late Wednesday night and heard a particularly heavy line of rain storms come through, sounding as if someone was pouring buckets of water from the rooftop. All I could think of was the weather the riders would have to deal with in the morning, with secondary thought going to how I would attire myself to keep warm, and if necessary, dry.

Thursday morning, on my way to Mellow Johnny's, the local radio weather report said it was about 42 degrees, which was about 20 degrees cooler than normal for us for this time of year. Traffic was slow-moving on the wet city streets.

I found Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop easy enough, but it took a few trips around the block before I was able to locate a spot to park. There's a reason I dislike having to go anywhere in downtown Austin - most parking is pay parking. However, after my decision to turn into an alley, I spotted a back entrance to parking exclusively for Mellow Johnny's, and, low and behold, there was one empty space, so I took it.

I got there a little after 9am, which was the time indicated for the ride preparations to begin. I went inside Mellow Johnny's, found someone that looked like they were in some position of authority with Soldier Ride and asked if he knew where I might find Toby. The gentleman asked what he looked like, but not having seen him except for pictures on the internet, I wasn't really able to describe him, and he said he'd met about 100 people the night before. He asked someone who was decked out in cycling gear if he knew where Toby Nunn was, that I was looking for him. He asked around and found out that he was changing into his cold weather gear for the ride.

I wasn't leaving, so I waited around until I saw a guy in a Voodoo 7 sweatshirt, so I made the guess that was who I wanted to meet, so when he came up the stairs outside the bike shop, I decided to approach him: Toby? Yup. We chatted, and he also introduced me to one of the riders, Anthony Mulheron, a Wounded Warrior Marine veteran and the assistant ride coordinator the assistant ride coordinator in Corpus Christi. We were sort of at the back of the pack of the riders that would be heading out. I snapped a picture of Toby and told him I'd email it to him. Since I took it with my digital camera, I was able to let him see it (and decide it was acceptable). I was still standing back with Toby and Anthony when it was time for the National Anthem:

Standing in the back, the riders on the recumbant cycles weren't really visible, so I wished Toby & Anthony luck on their ride and excused myself to get around to the front side of the group.

From my new location, I heard some of the dignitaries speak: someone from the Travis County Sheriff's Department, a Colonel (but I didn't catch which unit he's with, and he was wearing his winter parka, so no unit insignia was visible), and Mrs. Dallas, Courtney Bobb-Meilinger, whose cousin was killed in Iraq.

While it was still cold (I was very glad I had my gloves), it was not raining when the ride got underway:

I had planned on sticking around while the ride was going on. I grabbed my book and my purse out of the car and went inside the bike shop to get something hot to drink at the little coffee bar inside and sat down at one of the table. I noticed that Mrs. Dallas was also in the coffee bar, at a table by the outside window. When the table next to mine cleared out, she changed tables. We eventually started up a conversation. Courtney regretted that she had decided not to participate in the ride itself, and said she would like to do it next year. Also, she is very much interested in using her position as Mrs. Dallas to try to bring more attention to troop support organizations. She was, of course, aware of The Wounded Warrior Project, but I also shared with her about Soldiers' Angels. When the riders returned, I introduced her to Toby, Anthony and some of the other riders. I shared with them her interest in trying to bring troop support projects to the Dallas area, and one of the gentleman (not sure if he was a vet) was from that area, and gave her his card.

I stepped inside for a bit, and when I came back outside, Courtney was chatting with one of the Wounded Warriors, Nathan Hunt. I joined in on the conversation. Small talk about his kids going to school, the kinds of things people would send in care packages, just normal kind of stuff. Nathan may have lost both legs in service to his country, but he's still just a guy with a wife and kids. From the little bit I listened to what he had to say, I don't think he is letting his injuries define who he is. The rest of us could learn so much from men like him, who are overcoming tremendous challenges to live fulfilling lives. He, and the rest of the riders with physical challenges did something this past weekend that I, as an ablebodied person, is currently unable to do.

The Soldier Ride continued in San Antonio Friday morning, starting at the Center for the Intrepid, right next door to Brooke Army Medical Center, and concluded on Saturday in Corpus Christi, starting out at Whatburger Field (home of the Corpus Christi Hooks, and owned by Ryan-Sanders Baseball, who has always been good about recognizing those who server our nation). From what Toby has told me, the weather just got worse each day. Looking at the picture from the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, that ride took place in a cold rain... Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate any coverage from the San Antonio ride.

Local Austin coverage:

News 8 Austin interview with Major Dave Underwood
Transcript of News 8 Austin interview with Major Dave Underwood
Austin360.com Fit City coverage by Pamela LeBlanc (who participated in the ride)

Local Corpus Christi coverage:

Corpus Christi Caller-Times: Bike ride benefits injured troops (3/11/09)
Corpus Christi Caller-Times: Riders do bike tour of duty for wounded vets (3/14/09)
Corpus Christi Caller-Times: Soldier Ride photo gallery (3/14/09)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Resolution Update: 9 weeks, 5 days

At the 8 week mark, at my Saturday morning weigh-in, I had lost a total of 15.6 pounds. That Saturday was also my sister's 28th birthday, and she had invited me and some other people to met for lunch at Chili's. This wasn't a problem, as I had planned ahead by looking at their nutritional information online, and I was also able to order of the kids' menu. So, I got the half rack of ribs, some fries, some of those yummy corn chips with salsa and a glass of tea, and did not hit an unreasonable number of calories. I did try out the gelato stand at the mall when I went there after lunch, but I did do my exercise. So, while I didn't hit my 1000 calorie deficit target for the day, 704 was still acceptable.

I don't think I stepped on the scale the next morning, but that Sunday was a bad day. It is a family tradition to go out for someone's birthday dinner on a Sunday around lunchtime. The birthday celebrant gets to pick. My sister picked the family's perennial favorite, Texas Land & Cattle Co. The problem began with the fact that this restaurant does not provide nutritional information on their website. So, I just ordered what I wanted to eat (chicken fried chicken with crispy fries, and I had my other sister's bowl of delicious steak soup, and just one slice of their sourdough bread, and Pepsi), instead of trying to count calories. To compound the problem of what I ate for lunch, the naughtiness wasn't over. After lunch, we went back to the house to present my sister with her birthday gifts, and to have "cake" and ice cream. We didn't actually have cake. We always have leftover cake, even when we buy the smallest one from HEB's bakery department. So, my other sister volunteered to pick up brownies and/or cookies from Tiff's Treats, and she ended up getting 9 of the brownies, to cover all the family & significant others. Let's just say my brownie was about 9 square inches of chocolatey deliciousness, with a little bit of vanilla ice cream on the side. The only other thing I ate that day was a bowl of Corn Pops with a half cup of skim milk, but the damage had been done...

This past Saturday, I stepped on the scale and was 1 pound more than I had been the week before, but that was still an improvement over where I had been earlier in the week. This was the first time I had actually gained weight between weigh-ins. But, I think it has been an important learning experience. Yes, I ate what I wanted, but there were obvious lower-caloric choices I could have made (like the grilled chicken with a baked potato) that wouldn't have done near the damage, even if I didn't know how many calories it was. It was also a bad day to have as my "off" day for exercising, even though I'm allowed one day off each week. If I had instead taken the previous day off, I'd have broken even with the calories in vs. calories out on Saturday, and I would've be so much less out-of-whack on Sunday.

I am, however, happy to say that, although I haven't taken an official weight - that is this Saturday morning - as of this morning, I am down 1.2 pounds from where I was for my week 8 weigh-in (which means 16.8 pounds, total, "unofficially"). I didn't get my exercise in today (that "excuse" will be my next post), but I watched what I consumed (usual breakfast and lunch food items, but no juice, sugar-sweetened tea, or Kool-Aid to drink, only water), and carefully planned what to have for dinner to allow me to still hit my 1000 calorie deficit target for the day, but not still be hungry (a tasty serving of chicken tortellini with marinara sauce, one slice of Texas garlic toast, and 20 calories worth of Parmesan cheese) after I finished eating.

And, let's just say, I'll be more careful in the future. One day of being REALLY naughty can undo weeks of progress. Makes me wonder how I'm going to manage when I'm at the Milblog Conference next month. That weekend is the end of Week 16... I'll definitely need to make sure I get some exercise in (that fancy hotel is sure to have a fitness center with a treadmill), and I'll have to make wise choices about what to eat (and drink), and I may even be packing some snackage for the trip that I'll know how many calories it is. And, we'll see where I am this Saturday morning...

Monday, March 9, 2009

The St. Patrick's Day Shillelagh

I have Irish ancestry on my maternal grandmother's side. From the genealogy research I've been able to do, it seems possible those ancestors emigrated because of the Irish Potato Famine. So, when I found a children's book that tells a story of the mass Irish emigration to America in the mid-1800s, I decided to buy it.

The St. Patrick's Day Shillelagh, written by Janet Nolan and illustrated by Ben F. Stahl, tells a story that could be about countless American families with an Irish heritage. It is recommended for children between 7 and 10 years old.

Day after day, Fergus felt a rumble in his empty belly as he sat beside his favorite blackthorn tree, watching the clouds reach down from the sky and touch the earth. It was a terrible time in Ireland, when Fergus was a child. The potatoes had rotted in the fields and children lay in their beds at night hungry.

Late one night, when the peat fire had burned low, Fergus woke to the sounds of his parents' worried whispers. When the sun rose through the mist of dawn, they told him to say farewell to Ireland.

They were sailing to America.

Fergus wants to take a piece of Ireland with him, so he cuts a branch from his blackthorn tree. On the voyage, Fergus transforms the blackthorn branch into a shillelagh - an Irish walking stick.

Once in America, as a boy, Fergus shined shoes by day and sold newspapers by night. As a man, he lay railroad tracks. He never learned to read or write, "but he always had a tale to tell." Every St. Patrick's Day, he would tell "the story of the terrible hunger and his journey to America."

Then came the year he passed his shillelagh on to his son, Declan. Now it was Declan's turn to tell his father's story. Declan helped build the Brooklyn Bridge. He told his father's story every year on St. Patrick's Day until it was time to give the shillelagh to his son, Emmet.

Emmet would tell the shillelagh story every year on St. Patrick's Day, except for when he went to fight in World War I. "When Emmet returned with an injured leg, it was the shillelagh he leaned on to help him walk."

When Emmet no longer needed the shillelagh, he passed it on to his daughter, Mary Maeve.

Mary Maeve was a green-eyed lass who loved to dance a reel - toes pointed, hair flying as she leaped to an Irish tune. When young men left to fight World War II, Mary Maeve and other women took their places in the factories. For weeks - then months, then years, Mary Maeve drilled hole after hole into the silver metal of airplanes.

Mary Maeve passed the shillelagh on to her son, Garrett, saying "May the stories of our past guide you to your future." Garrett used the shillelagh to tap out the rhythms as he taught music to children.

Garrett passed the shillelagh on to his son, Ryan, upon his college graduation. When Ryan moved into a new house, the shillelagh was placed in a closet and forgotten. Then, Ryan's daughter, Kayleigh, finds it while playing hide-and-seek. When she asks her father about it, he tells her it was "a story I forgot to tell":

"This shillelagh is our past," he said. "Its story has been told on St. Patrick's Day for many years, through many generations."

"Why didn't you tell the story to me?" Kayleigh asked him. "I would have listened."

"I got so busy worrying about tomorrow I forgot to tell you our family's story of yesterday. On St. Patrick's Day, your Grandpa Garrett would love to tell you the shillelagh story."

After Grandpa Garrett tells Fergus' story, he gives the shillelagh to Kayleigh, along with this advice: "A good story never has to end as long as someone remembers to keep telling it."

The back page of the book tells about the Potato Famine:

In 1845, the potato was the main source of food in rural Ireland. When a fungus rotted the potatoes, many went hungry. Between 1845 and 1851, an estimated one million people died of starvation. During the same time, another million emigrated to America. Those who survived the difficult journey across the Atlantic Ocean began new lives in the United States, help to shape American society.
Miss Ladybug, a life-long book lover, earned her Masters in Elementary Education. She blogs regularly at Miss Ladybug.