Bonjour from Montreal!

I took the train from New York City bright and early this morning to Montreal. New York City is a nice place for visiting for a short time, to me. Sort of like Las Vegas. There are things to do, shows to see, good food to eat,  but it is so expensive and so crowded that it is tough for me to really feel co fkrtab!e after more than a couple of days. I met a friend of mine in the city Friday night after some unexpected travel delays and snafus. There was a minor derailment at Pennsylvania Station on Friday morning, which caused a lot of chaos throughout the entire day. I ended up switching trains in Albany and taking a train in on the metro north commuter line to Grand Central because trains weren’t running at Penn. My friend ended up on a train to New Jersey and then a bus to Port Authority. All told, neither of us were delayed a ton, and it didn’t affect the weekend much at all, really. We saw Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on Saturday. I enjoyed Ellis Island a lot. What an amazing place to visit. It really was just a processing center, but they have a wonderful tour with audio that paints the whole picture really well. There is a hospjtal on the island that is not yet renkvated and ready for lrimetime, so to speak. You can do hard hat tours of it though. We stuck with the main building. Highly recommend a visit! I guess a lot of people don’t get off at Ellis Island, they only really take the cruise to the Statue of Liberty? That’s what we heard, anyway. I didn’t get off at Lady Liberty and there definitely weren’t many who skipped the statue, but I thought a pretty large crowd got off to see Ellis Island, too. Not everyone finishes the whole tour. It really drops off after about halfway through the audio tour. Tired feet and info overload, I think. I just really enjoyed myself there. My fami!y didn’t go through Ellis Island but my friend’s grandma did, so that was cool.

Yesterday was really cold in NYC, but my goal was to walk through Central Park and we did! I literally couldn’t feel my nose when we got back out of the park, but I am glad to have gotten in there! I saw Bow Bridge and the Belvedere Castle and a couple of lakes. Heard a really beautiful gospel choir singing in the park, too. AND: I totally found the benches where Robert Redford sits in the movie “Barefoot In The Park” (and also that were used in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, I think?). After that, we were freezing and contemplated trying to get tickets for a Broadway matinee, but ended up pub crawling and watching the NCAA basketball tournament games. It was an early evening because of how early we each had to catch our trains this morning.

The Amtrak experience of crossing the border was so smooth. I can recommend the Amtrak Adirondack as a long, but beautiful trip from NYC to Montreal. The train was in early to Montreal and apparently this city has an excellent metro system but I am really not familiar with it and it wasn’t obvious how to get to it from Gare Central, so I just took a taxi to my hotel here in the old part of Montreal. My hotel is Epik Montreal and it is so adorable. There are just 9 rooms but mine has an entry, a bathroom, a separate bedroom and up a three step staircase: access to a garden! And they offer free breakfast! I got here about 6:30 p.m. and most of the restaurants near the hotel were already closed or closing at 7. I ended up going to a place called Porto Mar, a Portuguese restaurant down the next street. So good! I just had split pea soup (but made with yellow peas, not green), a coke, and their chocolate mousse dessert. Wow. If you find yourself in Montreal, look this place up & get this mousse. It is perfect. The best way to end a meal. Yum yum yum.

I’m not sure what I will do tomorrow, but I feel like enjoying my time here will not be difficult! I saw the giant cathedral from the taxi & definitely feel like it deserves a visit. This old part of Montreal is so cuts that I think just exploring all the little streets is high on my list of probable things I will do.

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Hallelujah, you’re home.

I have had such a great visit back to Missouri. The past three days have been some of the best in recent memory. So many great people here to visit and too little time, but I feel like I am happy with everything here. I was thinking that this short visit might help to bring closure for some things and I feel like its too early to tell, but I do feel like this trip to my hometown and surrounding area was needed. I think I probably don’t need to go back to Jefferson City. I sort of did my goodbyes to where I grew up and where I lived. I ate ALL the food that I have been missing for years and probably won’t eat supper tonight. I feel overly full of awesome Midwestern comfort food. I had so many conversations with people over the last three days and I felt like I was home. Like I belonged. And I feel at home in New Mexico, but I rarely feel like I belong there. Its been a nice change.

I traversed the interstate system in St. Louis this afternoon with almost scary ease. I got lost on Reavis Barracks trying to get to Lemay Ferry, but it was a minor adjustment and I managed to get to my mom’s grave without too much checking of maps. My mom has been gone 10 years this year and was a big reason that I chose to return to MO this vacation. It felt important. I had never come to her grave by myself and it was tough. This anniversary of her death seems tougher on me than past years have been. But in many ways I am trying to get closure and move ahead. I feel like she is everywhere and I don’t feel all that much comfort by visiting her stone, but to see her name written there is powerful. It hurts all over again. But I like that her name is written down there. She’s right by my paternal grandparents and I like that their names are carved in stone, too. I don’t think it is necessary to be buried, but I do like the idea of some sort of marker that has your name engraved for people to see. I think people wander in cemeteries sometimes and look at names. Kind of a strange thought, but i feel like its a fairly common thing. When i lived across the street from a cemetery, I often saw folks wandering around or coming out of it. Whether it is walking their dog, wandering after a burial service, looking for a specific gravestone, or just something they do, I like that people read my mom’s name sometimes.

Ed Sheeran is on the cover of Rolling Stone and I think he is really a fantastic artist. I bought his latest album, % , the day it came out, but there is a song on it that ripped me up the first few times I listened. It is a mourning song called “Supermarket Flowers”. I don’t think my tablet I am writing this on allows me to insert music videos, but its a great song for days when the grief is suddenly around you again.

I hope that I see the world as you did cause I know
A life with love is a life that’s been lived

So I’ll sing Hallelujah
You were an angel in the shape of my mum
When I fell down you’d be there holding me up
Spread your wings as you go
When God takes you back he’ll say, Hallelujah
You’re home

Scrub a dub dub experiment

It is not yet 6 am and we are hurtling toward Kansas City. I slept okay, off and on, but got up early to try out a new thing for me on Amtrak: the shower in the sleeper car. My experiment taught me a few things:

1. The shower is so much better than I expected. Loads of hot water, a full shower height, and good water pressure. You set the temp and then push a button to make the water come out and you do have to press the button over and over, but its a good travel system for conserving water usage.

2. Most folks seemed to use it in the evening, so getting up early if you want a towel seems the way to go. I got the last towel and I got in at 5:25 am.

3. There was also none of the complimentary hard-to-open packets of shampoo left by the time I used it. I had taken some from a magazine at work before I left so I was a-okay, but something to consider. I left my magazine packet for the next shower user because there was tons of shampoo left in it.

The shower is not like you are at home, or even necessarily like a hotel, but it does the job. I put almost all the same clothes back on so I still feel rather train-smelly, but my hair is clean and I feel overall pretty good! I would do this again. Maybe again on this same trip!

I ate dinner with some interesting people last night and one was in Quebec City just a few weeks ago! He was able to tell me some things and says its really easy to wander and soak up the city. He said four days is plenty of time to spend there and really see the place. He is from Spain but his company set up a business in the US and he was sent to Las Vegas for a conference. On the plane to Las Vegas, he had a stroke! He said it all non-chalantly and I nearly spit my lettuce from the salad out in my sputtering response of “You had a WHAT?”. And so he missed the conference to be in the hospital. The doctors told him not to fly, so here he is heading back east by train! And is now the first person I have met with any recent experience in Quebec! He has a really good attitude about it and is enjoying seeing the country this way. Plus, I was really happy to conveniently have a Quebec City travel advisor suddenly across from me at dinner as we rolled through Colorado. I mean, how convenient, right? The other two at the table were nice as well. One woman was a lady that my Dad helped out on the platform in Albuquerque so she could buy some jewelry from the vendors. She was really nice and wanted me to tell him thank you for her (so, thanks, Dad!). All in all, this has been a nice beginning of the trip. I have about an hour before I expect to get to Kansas City. I can get some more logic puzzle time in.

Rails

I’m off on a trip again. I left Albuquerque around noon today on the Southwest Chief heading east. We seem to be making decent time, but I have been on the train for barely two hours. 

I am in a sleeper car. A little roomette. Personally, this is the way to go if you are overnighting on the US railways. I think every train traveler (usually when you are a newbie) thinks they can hack it overnight in the coach seats. Most folks I meet who are train travelers have an experience to recount in graphic detail of their overnight in coach. The story is never pretty and most learn after that one time that the extra money for your own space and the small room to stretch out is SO worth it. I have done the coach seats overnight twice. Once from St. Louis to Waco, TX (as a newbie train person) and once from NYC to Chicago (because it was a last minute trip & there were no rooms left I could afford.) I remember aching legs (I’m rather tall), lots of coughing, constant cell phine noise, being really hungry because the food wasn’t very convenient and I didn’t like to leave my bags, and not getting much sleep at all. None of those make for good journeys and I can see why people scoff at the idea of train travel in America when this is the prevailing experience. But, there is a better experience awaiting you. Get a roomette. If you plan ahead, your prices will be very reasonable. The cost includes your meals. Train food is not the equivalent to plane food, by the way. Dining car meals are great. I just had a black bean and corn veggie burger with cheddar cheese, kettle chips, a soda, a salad, and chocolate lava cake for lunch. It was delicious. Can’t wait for dinner! You meet people on trains. The dining car is setup so you can’t NOT meet other travelers. You enjoy a good meal with your fellow riders and learn all sorts of things. At my lunch table were three people all heading to different places for different reasons. It is another highlight of train travel – this meeting of others.

One caveat to this is that I tend to prefer solo travel to group travel. I like meeting new people on trains and then going back to my own little room to read or listen to music and then wander to the lounge car for the giant window views. It is a calm way to see the country. You have no control over the speed or the timing, so you just have to let go and enjoy the ride. I think days when you can do that are some of the best days in a life. 

One new and awesome update to this particular route is the inclusion of WiFi on board! I’m pretty stoked about that. I can publish this from the western wilds as my train goes by some buffalo. Seriously. The conductor just told us to look to the right to see three buffalo. Why would you choose any other way to see the country?

Disappointment runneth over.

So, nearly six weeks ago the Caldecott and Newbery awards were announced and I was completely wrong on all predictions. And quite disappointed by the awarded books, to be honest. I felt like the committee for the 2016 year’s selection was pretty off-the-mark.

I felt like certain books were far and away better than the awardees, actually. Here are some of my favorites from 2016:

Ida, Always by Caron Levis. See previous post from oh so long ago. I finished out the year of 2016 still considering this book as one of the best of the year.

Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke. I read this book several times to school groups and it was a hit each time. It’s a great story and well illustrated.

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown. WHY DIDN’T THIS GET ANY SORT OF RECOGNITION BY THE NEWBERY SELECTION COMMITTEE? This was fantastic. Well-written, great illustrations, simply amazing story line, and just a really beautiful children’s chapter book. If this isn’t turned into a movie, I would be shocked.

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas. I thought the illustrations in this book were far and away the most beautiful of all the 2016 releases. The story was gentle and sort of sad, but also sweet. It didn’t really get a great reception from the kids, but I think it’s one of those books adults buy for themselves (or, is it just me?).

 

My first book recommendation for 2016

On a scale of emotional reading rated 1-10, I’m in the neighborhood of a 10 when it comes to getting ‘feels’ about books. I want a book to make me feel something. I don’t even mind if it’s anger or confusion, but I need to feel some sort of emotion when I’m reading. This goes for books I read for pleasure and books I read to my storytimers (at times, these categories overlap, of course). If I feel happy when I’m reading a picture book, it will come through to my littlest ones in my programs. If I’m feeling sad, it comes through as well. I try to avoid the sad books in storytime. But, sometimes those sad books are so beautiful that I do a mini book talk to the parents and grandparents of my storytimers while the kids are choosing their books for the week. I have several parents who ask me for recommendations for books for their children and some who I just sort of butt in and say, “Have you guys read this yet? I think you’ll like it!” and they tend to placate me by taking it and checking it out.

I’ve mentioned before that I process all the new books that come into my library, so I have a chance to read the new picture books before I put them out on the shelf. I also read the publisher magazines to get a feel for what’s coming my way. That way, I can also get my name on the hold list to ensure I get a copy of a certain book if I know I definitely want it at my branch. This scenario happened last week with a book I’ve been awaiting arrival for a few weeks. It’s my favorite book of the year so far and I think it’s definitely setting the bar super high for children’s books this year. I know this is only March, but this book is outstanding.

But: It will make you cry. This is where my hesitance to read it at storytime comes in. I don’t want to cry in front of my little preschoolers and I don’t want them or their parents crying, either. It could really bring down the storytime. I’m not sure how we’d go from bawling about this book to singing a nursery rhyme or doing a craft. So, this book (while SPECTACULAR) is not on my list for storytime. However, I’ve been recommending it to some of my favorite families and the feedback has been good, except that they’ve all cried and haven’t necessarily made it through the entire book with the kids because the kids start crying because their parent/grandparent is crying and they don’t fully understand why.

Still, all this goes to give you fair warning if you read this book you will have feels. All the feels. But, it will stick with you and be beautiful. So, without further ado, I recommend to you the new picture book “Ida, Always” by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso:

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This is inspired by a true story of a bear friendship and is the story of Gus and Ida, who live in a zoo in a big city. They are the best of friends, but one day Ida gets sick and Gus has to learn to deal with the changes that illness bring to his small world. (It makes me tear up to even remember the storyline.)  Gus and Ida are so wonderful and lovable. Levis describes the pain of illness and loss with gentleness, but without glossing over the confusion, helplessness, and anger that you feel when you’re losing someone you love and you can’t do anything about it. This such a beautifully written and illustrated book and I wish everyone would read it.

It’s too early to make ponderings about Caldecott and Newbery for next year, but this is hard to beat, I feel. So good. Just keep the tissues nearby.

 

 

I’ve just always loved books.

I’ve been doing some research on long-term memory, lately. Just reading some articles and asking people about things, really. Not becoming an expert or anything, but it’s really interesting. I became intrigued when I read an article that said that children don’t retain memories until they are about 3 or 4 years old. It made it sound as though preschoolers’ brains are too busy soaking up all the stimuli around them that memories don’t form and “solidify” until later. This is why adults don’t remember things like learning to walk or talk or their first birthday party or anything.

But then I was thinking about my experiences with preschoolers at the library and they definitely have long-term memories. Whether or not they will remember the things they know now years from now? I don’t know. But they certainly retain memories for several months at a time. I know this because of the kids who come to my music & movement program and, if they happen to miss  a week or two, they ALWAYS ask to do things that we did several weeks before like wanting to do the parachute songs/activities, or making sure that bubbles are on the agenda this week, etc. They remember a lot of things, really. They’re still learning and soaking up information, but they remember their friend’s name, they remember books and stories they particularly enjoy, they remember songs, etc. So, I was skeptical about this theory that kids are unable to retain long-term memories from a very young age.

So, I started asking people (adults) what their earliest memories and that was really fascinating. Most people I talked to don’t remember anything before about age 3. Their earliest memory tends to be something rather ordinary, too. Not a party or Christmas morning or a big event, but things more mundane. Going out to eat, the way the living room looked in the house they lived in at that time, picking out pumpkins. People also seem to have a tendency to remember colors more than anything else. The earliest memories that I heard were filled with descriptive colors about the environment around them and what they’re wearing. That’s interesting, to me. It makes sense to me that preschoolers pick up on the colors around them. Most are beginning to learn colors, so those are things they know at that age.

Upon further digging, I found an article that compared cultures to try to discover what impact, if any, a person’s culture has on their ability to retain memories. This was really interesting because the study compared children in Canada to children in China and found that Canadian children tended to have memories from about age 3 or 4 (like American kids), but Chinese children didn’t tend to remember anything earlier than age 5 or 6. The researchers chalked this up to the emphasis on the individual in Canada/USA culture and the emphasis on the community, rather than the individual in China.

Anyway, it has all been pretty interesting and has made me think more about the experiences I’m trying to create for the kids I serve. Reading to children from an early age is so important in many ways and I have several families who have brought their kids to my programs practically from birth, but I better understand that perhaps these kids won’t remember me or the library or storytime when they get older, but I hope that they will have a happy feeling about the library as they grow up. Whether or not they understand where that feeling comes from is not important, so long as they feel it! I have always had a good feeling about books, but I don’t remember my parents reading to me (although I know that they did). I know that they instilled a love of reading and it’s just a part of who I am. I hope that the families I serve have similar experiences with reading. It’s just a part of who they are and it’s a part of their lives because the two can’t be separated, although maybe they can’t explain why it is other than to say:…”I’ve just always loved books.”