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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Hunger Games

I'm not sure how I got caught up in this but I think it went something like this...

We found out, through Nicolas' agent, that they are filming The Hunger Games in North Carolina this summer.  I didn't know much about it at the time but I was intrigued that it was based on the first book in a series of young adult novels by author Suzanne Collins.  I asked Nic if he would be interested in ordering the series from the library and we did.  It made sense that if an opportunity came about for him that he should be knowledgeable about the project.  Unfortunately, there was a huge wait on the library list so we ended up picking up a copy of The Hunger Games from Target.

Unlike his mother, Nicolas is a fast reader; always has been.  He devours books as if they are candy.  He is one of the few people I know who can actually read in the back seat of a car, while it's moving, and not get motion sickness.  Believe it or not, it has been a challenge to keep him literally fed because he goes through books so quickly.  We used to purchase books from Barnes & Noble and that got too expensive.  Then, years ago when we first moved to Raleigh, we came across this fantastic used book store called Edward McKay Used Books & More.  The '& More' part of the equation includes:  CD's, DVD's, record albums (yes, the old vinyl), video games (all systems new and ancient), and even board games.  When I get the required reading list at the beginning of the school year Edward McKay is usually the first place I hit.  The great thing is you can bring in your media to sell for cash and/or get trade credit.  And, it's a fun place to browse during the week or on a Sunday afternoon.

So, getting back to The Hunger Games.  The day after we purchased the book Nicolas came to me and insisted that I had to read it.  It was much better than he expected.  Luckily, by this time, the second book in the series, Catching Fire, had arrived for Nicolas at the library.  We picked it up and yes, it was completely read by Nicolas that evening.  In the mean time, Nicolas is begging me to read The Hunger Games so that we can discuss it.  I reassured him that I was saving it for vacation.  So, the day before we left for vacation I picked up the last book in the series, Mocking Jay, from Target.  I demanded that Nicolas not open a page until we got in the car to start our two-hour road trip to Carolina Beach this past week.  And, wouldn't you know it.  By the time we arrived at the hotel and got out of the car, Nicolas had finished the entire book.  400 pages in two hours.  Crazy.  He certainly doesn't get this skill from his mother!

So, once I put away our suitcases, got in my bathing suit, and made my way to the pool lounge chair I opened up The Hunger Games.  I proceeded to read it every chance I got during our vacation.  I read until my eyes got tired.  Occasionally, and especially when I got to the good parts, I would put the book down and talk to Nicolas about it.  It was great to have a buddy appreciate the story along the way.  He never spoiled the ending for me but always made me want to proceed.  I finished the book before the end of the vacation and let me tell you, I can't wait to get my hands on Catching Fire.

In the mean time, we are excited to see the movie.  We've been checking out the cast on IMDB and are excited to see an actor from Nicolas' agency, Ethan Jamieson, filling out the roster of tributes.  What an amazing opportunity! 

We've recruited my mother to read the book as well since we'd like to include her in the discussions.  And, we'll probably all see the movie together.  As an aside, I've been trying to rent Winter's Bone from Redbox for the last month so that I can see the lead actress, Jennifer Lawrence, in her Oscar-nominated role.  She's been cast as the lead character in The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen.  I'm also a fan of Josh Hutcherson who's been cast as Peeta.  I really enjoyed him in Bridge to Terabithia.  Woody Harrelson was a good choice for Haymitch.  I can totally see Elizabeth Banks as Effie.  And finally, I can't wait to see Lenny Kravitz as Cinna.

Reading The Hunger Games has been a rewarding family activity.  It allows for in-depth discussions and debates from three different generations and perspectives.  Seeing the movie will be icing on the cake!



Getting to Know Carrie

I caught the Sex and the City wave closer to the second season of the HBO series.  I just happened to watch an episode while on vacation years ago and was shocked at the explicit language and adult situations.  It certainly got my attention because it seemed like the first time a drama captured the realistic girlfriend conversations and idiosyncrasies of female friendships. 

Since I did not have access to extended cable programming at home it was a while before I was able to watch SATC on a regular basis.  I made it my mission to collect the entire series over the years.  I went to my local used bookstore, Edward McKay Used Books & More, and found some of the series on VHS and DVD.  For the seasons I could not locate there, I engaged in eBay bidding on auctions and luckily was able to complete the entire series eventually.

I proceeded to watch an episode every night so that I could get up to speed from the very beginning.  It was a ritual I looked forward to on a daily basis.  During the course of this mission, SATC began in syndication and ran late at night.  So, most nights I got a double dose of this enjoyable series.  By the time the first SATC movie came out, I watched the entire series at least three times. 

What was so intriguing you may ask?  Well, in addition to the 'real' language and situations, it was the characters of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte.  I admired the fashionable, freely-expressive Carrie who had the perfect profession of free-spirited writer.  I enjoyed watching the sexual antics of Samantha and looked up to her ability to play power games with the best of them.  Miranda is the character I most identified with with her sharp wit, sometimes abrasive attitude, but soft, gooey center.  Charlotte made me appreciate the benefits of being a well-mannered, 'proper' girl with grace and social etiquette.

So, the author of SATC, Candace Bushnell, was on CBS' The Early Show this past spring promoting her new book, Summer and the City.  She explained that it was a follow-up to the 2010 book called, The Carrie Diaries.  I was like, where have I been?  Why haven't I picked up these books yet?  Other than the fact that I am a really slow reader I thought there was just no good excuse to pass this by.  This was an opportunity for some good summer reading.  So, I proceeded to order the books from my local library.  Before I knew it the books came in and it was time for me to get started.  Just recently my library changed their grace period from three weeks down to two weeks so I knew I was seriously under the gun to get these books finished.  And, seeing as how I'm an extremely slow reader, the pressure was on! 

First, I read The Carrie Diaries.  This story takes place during Carrie's senior year of high school in Connecticut.  Seeing as how I grew up in Connecticut and remember my senior year of high school all too vividly there was definitely a connection.  It was great to get the background story of Carrie's life before The City.  The fun part was being able to visualize her 15 to 20 years before we were introduced to her in the HBO series, Sex and the City.  I had a point of reference.  Immediately I felt like I was rekindling an old friendship.  Getting to know Carrie's family life and the kind of student and friend she was brought a deeper insight, meaning, and appreciation for the character we grew to love in the HBO series.  I believe I read this book in less than two days!  It was a fun read.

Second, I picked up the sequel to The Carrie Diaries called Summer and the City.  This book captures Carrie's journey immediately after she graduates high school.  We are introduced to Samantha, Miranda, and at the very end, Charlotte.  It is fun being able to use your point of reference from watching these characters on television and then being able to visualize the younger version of each character.  We get to see them when they are in the midst of developing a new friendship and female bond.  Again, reading these books was a pleasure because it felt like you were catching up with old girlfriends.  There are even some characters, like Capote Duncan, who we are introduced to in the book and who also appear in the HBO series, Sex and the City.  I believe I read this one in less than two days as well.

Bottom line, if you are a fan of the HBO series Sex and the City and have not caught up on Carrie's life before she hit Manhattan then I certainly recommend both The Carrie Diaries and Summer and the City.  They will leave you wanting even more of the early relationship between Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Vision

I read something last week that my friend shared on Facebook.  The original source was 'Amy'.  I was glad I clicked on the link and took the time to read what 'Amy' had to say.  I read it a number of times because she asked some thought-provoking questions.  And, I actually spent the time answering them.  I went with my first instinct and left it unedited.  Following are the questions and my answers.

What do I obsess about?  What keeps calling to me?  What am I drawn to, in a way that I cannot explain?  
I obsess about writing and art.  I am drawn to the ocean and beach.  My opportunity to create keeps calling to me.

What do I wish would happen?  Is this a wish that I am hoping someone else will activate/make real?
 I wish I would win the lottery and be financially comfortable and secure.

Who do I envy - and why?  
 I envy the people who are so confident in themselves and their vision that they persevere and achieve success.  I envy people who believe in themselves because I am unsure of myself.

What I want is to believe in myself, exude confidence and pursue my dreams with perseverance.

Something else that Amy shared really opened my eyes and is worth remembering as I approach yet another birthday and pass the middle of my life, "I would remember, every step of the way - including this one, that it's not too late.  It's never too late.  I would remind myself of the many great artists and creators who came to their great work later in life - and I'd let it inspire me to open to my own."

Irony has not escaped me recently.  It is posts like this and links people happen to share that catch me off-guard and bring me back to myself and my desires.  I choose to see these tidbits of wisdom as inspiration and confirmation for me to pursue my dreams.  What I want for my life and what I want my life to be matters to ME.  We each have our own unique path, journey, and destiny in life.  Sometimes our paths will intersect.  Our meeting happens for a reason.  Whether we grew up together, were roommates, or have family ties there is a reason why I know you.  We were meant to be in each other's life.

Even if it was only for a moment.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Assessing Nicolas' Academic Journey

School's Out For Summer!

Yay!  The last day of school has arrived for my youngest son, Nicolas.  He is graduating from the eighth grade, saying goodbye to middle school, and saying hello to high school.  Boy, do I feel relieved.  And old!

Yes, he will have a summer respite in between before he ventures on to a new chapter in his life.  So far, we have a beach vacation planned around my birthday toward the end of June.  The great thing is that Nicolas and I share a common love for the beach.  The serenity, the sea creatures, and the waves have always brought us together.  We have a lot of good memories of our excursions to the Carolina beaches.  Spending time with his Nana, my mother, and on occasion his older brother, Justin, have made our times together extra special.  One summer, we even ventured to Florida to visit my Aunt Peggy.  We had a wonderful time visiting Fort Lauderdale Beach.  While gazing into the clear, turquoise water we were surrounded by a large school of fish who proceeded to nibble at our feet. We still talk about it.

Nicolas has always had a fond appreciation of nature.  I have cassette tapes of him reading science books when he was about two years old.  He devoured books on insects, amphibians, and dinosaurs.  We all noticed his penchant for nature and science and did everything we could to foster his interests over the years.  Throughout the year, but especially during the summer, we take trips to zoos and museums.  We've made return visits to a lot of venues and Nicolas seems to discover a new appreciation for nature all of the time.  Many a vacation has been spent in the hotel room at night watching the Discovery Channel or National Geographic!

When Nicolas started his formal education he was reading at a second-grade level.  By the end of kindergarten he had progressed past third-grade expectations.  The challenge for a parent and teacher of an academically gifted child is to continue providing material that will pique the child's interest and foster their knowledge and expand their growth.  I had to fight to get Nicolas permission from the school library to take out more than one book at a time and to be allowed to go into the non-fiction, science and nature section of the library.  I was dumbfounded that the school library had restrictions based on his age and grade level.

On one hand, it is understandable that our teachers are charged with the goal of making sure the majority of the class works up to the expectations for that grade level.  Time and money is spent for working with and tutoring those students who are under expectations.  For the handful of students who are beyond the concepts being taught to the class majority it is a struggle to keep their interest.  I know Nicolas experienced a lot of frustration and impatience when his peers were unable to grasp concepts that came easily to him.  I knew the resources were limited to be able to focus on bringing him to the next level since teachers seem to be teaching our kids with the goal of having them pass the end-of-grade exams.  An academically gifted kid can easily get lost or forgotten.  So, I knew by the second week in kindergarten, that I must fight for Nicolas to be placed with peers who are at or above his level.  If I didn't do this, he would easily lose interest in school and perhaps, fail.

Since third grade Nicolas has been identified as 'academically gifted' in language arts.  Through the magnet schools he's been placed with a group of his peers who speak his language and challenge him to succeed and bring up his game.  He is a happier kid.  And, even though he knows some of his peers think he's 'weird' he's okay with it.  I think he enjoys being unique and different.  He is himself.

I've always talked to my son like an adult.  We've had in depth conversations about a myriad of subjects.  I've asked his opinion and his advice.  I've learned so much from him.  At times I feel like I'm talking to an old soul.  He is patient with me and sensitive to my feelings.  He is a great listener.

There are a handful of teachers who recognized Nicolas' potential.  I recall Mrs. Jordan, Nicolas' kindergarten reading teacher and first-grade teacher, suggested we seek a magnet school program for Nicolas.  She recognized his love of nature and his verbal ability.  She even said he could be a famous doctor that discovers the cure for cancer.  Her support was like a warm hug that brought tears to my eyes.  Mrs. Kaszycki, Nicolas' third-grade language arts teacher, honed his love for poetry and ability to put together thoughts, feelings, and words.  Her encouragement resulted in Nicolas becoming a published poet.  While Nicolas has always struggled in math he reached a turning point this year.  Mr. Bryant is an African-American, math teacher who commands respect.  He puts in the extra time for our children.  He involves the parents from day one.  I recall on the first day of school he called me to explain his methodology and expectations.  He wanted to make sure we were all on the same page, parent-teacher-student.  He offered a Saturday seminar for students who needed the extra help and required that the parent participate.  Nicolas mentioned that Mr. Bryant is one of his favorite teachers.

So, as the summer begins and I reminisce about how far Nicolas has traveled over his educational journey I can only hope that the next four years, perhaps the most important in the scheme of his future, are just as challenging, meaningful, and rewarding.

And, in the mean time, we will enjoy the beach, go on auditions, and take on any other adventures that await us this summer!