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On My Bookshelf

October 1, 2017

The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers is a valuable read for adolescents, as well as parents and professionals who deal with teens. Frankie, the 12- year-old protagonist, is restless in a way only teens can be restless. They have no words for the emotions that make them pace, lash out, and act inappropriately. Nor do they have words for the torrent of new feelings.

Frankie has an intense need to belong, and she decides she belongs with her brother and his betrothed. She is convinced she will be a third principal person in their wedding, on their honeymoon, and in their new life.  She tells everyone she meets in her little Georgia town about her important place in her brother’s life. Her delusion lasts until after the wedding when her father pulls her, screaming, from the car door as her brother drives off with his bride. The story does not leave Frankie in her temporary insanity. School begins. She makes friends, develops new interests, and becomes a normal teenager.

Parents and educators who are not afraid to be blunt refer to dramatic adolescent behavior as “temporary insanity.” Through the fictional Frankie, readers can understand that teens may act strangely at times, but it is generally just a phase that passes leaving little or no lasting damage.

 

 

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Rome’s Fascinating Basilica of San Clemente Reveals 2,000 Years of History

November 6, 2016

Old Rome never gets old, does it?

Timeless Italy Travels

I descended 60 feet below Rome’s surface into a mysterious past I knew little about…

Standing outside of the ancient Basilica of San Clemente, named after Rome’s third pope, hardly drew my attention. I had approached it from the side by mistake and missed the grander entrance fronted by a small courtyard with palm trees.

basilica_san_clemente_in_rome photo credit Wikimedia Commons

Located just a short distance from the Colosseum, I knew it embodied three levels of ancient church history.  Harboring this thought, I stepped inside the 12th century Basilica.

High above me was a vaulted ceiling with a dazzling mosaic in the apse depicting Christ on the Cross surrounded by doves. I walked across the uneven tile floor as it dipped and swayed through the centuries of visiting pilgrims and worshipers. A faint smell of incense, mingled with the cool and earthy surroundings, grew stronger as I began my journey into the depths of San Clemente

450px-interior_of_san_clemente_rome photo credit Wikimedia Commons

I soon found…

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travel portfolio

January 24, 2016

Select travel articles can be found at 

 

https://carolstigger.contently.com/

 

For more travel articles and essays on various topics, please select a category

 

Motivational Posters

July 6, 2015

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn”
In my local elementary school, I saw a child who looked bowed by burdens too heavy for his small shoulders. Tears ran down his cheeks unaccompanied by the slightest sound. He slouched, alone, at a table in the back of his fourth grade classroom, his face to the wall of backpacks, coats, scarves, lunch boxes, and little boots.
“Tony,” his teacher said looking in his direction. Her expression was that combination of helplessness and frustration I have seen too often on teachers who have too many students and too little assistance with the difficult ones.

I was a substitute for the special education teacher who provides individual and small group instruction to children who have difficulty learning in a regular classroom. I am untrained in psychology, inexperienced in special education. My whole body relaxed when I realized Tony was not among the three students I was picking up for a math lesson. But Tony’s face haunted me while I taught three children how to add triple digit numbers in the small special education room. Why was he sitting alone? Why did he have smudgy gray shadows under his eyes? Why was he weeping silently? Children bawl or sob; they do not suffer in silence.

The brightly colored motivational posters on the wall mocked me with their upbeat clichés while I drew smiley faces on my students’ neatly completed math papers. Anyone can teach willing children how to add. I walked them back to their classroom satisfied that I had done my job well but sad that for some children life is a painful struggle seldom lightened by joy.

Every day is a second chance
That afternoon, I returned to Tony’s classroom and was met by an eager Max who told me he loves reading. My other student for the reading lesson was Tony. He was still sitting in the back of the room, still weeping silently. He did not argue with me when I asked him to come for his lesson. He simply did not move. His teacher coaxed him. Max pleaded and promised the lesson would be fun. Tony looked like he was trying to vanish. I sat beside him and told him I hoped he would come with us. I promised to bring him back to his classroom if he felt uncomfortable.

Slowly, he got up. He shuffled after Max and me like a condemned man, tears dripping on the floor. I was out of my depth with this child, yet no one else had time to urge him out of that lonely chair. Walking down the hall, I hid my panic when I realized I did not know the location of the panic button in my little room. What if he had a meltdown?

I sat facing my two students and began with my usual ice breaker. “I’ll tell you one thing about me, then you tell me one thing about you.” Max looked expectant. Tony looked at his shoe. I told them I had two dogs, Bailey who is a perfect little lady and Homer who is so naughty the whole neighborhood calls him Homer Simpson. Max giggled. Tony did not look up. I asked Tony if he would tell us one thing about himself. He shook his head.

Max proudly reported that his mom makes pancakes every Sunday. I told Tony that I knew one thing about him. “You have great taste in shirts,” I said, “That is my very favorite shade of blue.”

Not expecting an answer, I turned to get the lesson folder.
Tony mumbled, “I shoplifted it.”

Be awesome today
A response was not optional, but what response? No educational “best practice” spoke to this situation. I said the first thing that came to mind. “I shop lifted a crayon when I was five because I broke my red crayon in a brand new box I got for my birthday. I got caught and I got punished. I never enjoyed coloring after that, especially with red crayons.”

Max offered that shop lifting was bad. Tony looked uneasy.
“I think Tony was being creative with his shoplifting story.” I said. “I love creative stories. We’re going to talk about one right now.” I handed each boy a work sheet. I was stunned to see that Tony’s tears had stopped.

Two questions into the work sheet, Tony’s sweet soul melted his armor of belligerence. He smiled. I will never forget that smile. With every personal defeat, I will see Tony’s smile and know that for one shining moment goodness gathered around the troubled mind of a child.

We had a lively lesson. Both boys participated. They were so proud of their worksheets they wanted to show them to their teacher instead of leaving them on the special education teacher’s desk. I walked them back to their classroom, my feet twitching to dance. Max held my hand, and Tony walked tall and proud. He handed his teacher his paper and said, “I answered every question.” The worry lines on her forehead eased as she congratulated him. She followed me out into the hall. “He hasn’t done a bit of work all week,” she said. “Thank you.”

Driving home, I felt humbled to have witnessed such a butterfly moment. I wondered what had made the difference for Tony. Was it something Max said? Was it something I did? Or did an angel whisper in Tony’s ear: “You are worthy; you are loved.”

Whatever happened, it cannot be explained by a catchy phrase on a motivational poster.
Originally published in Globe & Mail

There is a field

May 26, 2014

Image

(c)Famiglietti 2014

Out beyond ideas

of wrongdoing and rightdoing

there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.

–Rumi, 13th Century 

I’m the question mark with a bag over my face. The ashes I’d rubbed all over my body were too dramatic compared to other question marks in this field. The woman from India sits on a sunny rock, wrinkled face exposed, gnarled hands relaxing at last. She killed her infant daughter “to spare her the miserable life I live.” Here, she finds acceptance if not understanding. The price of admission to this field is not understanding.

My friend Deanna sits beside the Indian woman and hugs her gently. Deanna’s wrongdoing was stealing $10 from a humane society donation jar. She stole the money to buy a tube of Preparation H. Her hemorrhoids were excruciatingly painful, and she was flat broke with no health insurance. Yet, those stray dogs would be euthanized if the jar did not fill quickly.

A man I once worked with has his pockets turned inside out to show he is still broke. He confessed his homosexuality to a small group of senior managers at the Christian charity where we worked. His brothers in Christ fired him within the hour. I don’t see them here. I don’t see abortion clinic bombers or FOX News. In fact, I don’t see anyone who makes my skin crawl.

The prostitute from Uganda approaches Deanna and the Indian woman, a tiny smile twitching at the corners of her mouth. She prays to God every day of her life and blesses the food she feeds to her children. The only way she can earn that food is to sell her body. Her children survive; her spirit shrivels. The Indian woman looks her in the eye and invites her to sit on the sunny rock.

I linger in the shadows, hugging excuses. Is this the place where I can leave them?

I won’t tell you my question marks. I won’t ask yours. Just know there is a field where some walk into the light naked in their truths. Many are here in the shadows with me, gathering courage.

This post is dedicated to my life-long best friend Deanna who died several years ago leaving a large hole in my heart.

Thanks to Nicolo Famiglietti, Ph.D. for providing the beautiful photo. You can see more of his work on his web sites:

 

Where the boys of summer spend the winter

February 27, 2014

I am not a baseball fan, in part because of a ten-year bout with “bleacher butt” acquired while cheering three kids through Little League. My song of summer is “Take me out of the Ball Game” and, for the record, I hate peanuts and cracker jacks. If I root root root for anything it is for my dog to escape the village dog catcher so I won’t have to pay yet another fine to Animal Control.

I did not become a Chicago Cubsfan until the day I barely made it out of a Chicago blizzard to the warm breezes of Mesa, Arizona. The fine Mexican food and light-sweater evenings were expected, and I luxuriated in them. But wait. Why was I hearing “Cubs” every where I went? Even I know there are no Arizona Cubs, no Mesa Cubs.

Mesa is where the Chicago Cubs go for spring training, and the Cubs are so important to Mesa that the town built them an $84 million training facility with six fan-accessible practice fields and a 15,000-seat stadium. This is all part of a 140-acre community park and pond so Mesa Cub fans who footed the bill can picnic and watch the kids run around while watching practice games and getting a sun tan,

Mesa’s Cubs Park may look like Wrigley Field with light standards and cantilevered roofs matching those in Chicago and a replica of the Wrigley Field marquee, but there is no snow during spring training season. There are plenty of activities for the Chicago-weary, both travelers and ball players, to forget about the “s” words: snow, sleet, slush, slips, slides, and expletives deleted.

I came for the sun and the food, and I left with a Cubs hat. Baseball still strikes me as kinda dumb and dull, but the Cubs are a savvy team to winter in Mesa. I’ll buy a ticket for that. See you at Wrigley in June. I’ll even eat a hot dog. Hold the cracker jacks and keep your mitts off my Cubs hat.

 

 

Beat the press

August 23, 2013

Carol  award cropped (757x800)I was pleased to accept the 2012 Jacqueline Jackson Award for Creative Non Fiction on July 14, 2013, in Springfield, Illinois. This annual award is presented by the University of Illinois/Springfield Alumni Writers Collective. I was unable to clearly hear what the award was really for, but today I received the hard copy:

“[This award] is a recognition of courage in the face of the blank page; the victory in filling it with words; the wisdom of crossing most of them out; the tenacity of refilling the page; the humor and madness that is writing; the luck that conjures and cajoles the story, the essay, the memoir, the poem, or something else; and the love that is sharing it with others.”

I also received a newspaper clipping about the award that stated I spent “twenty heartbreaking years in Haiti and a few in Italy.” Now, if a news story can get away with such fiction, why did I have to promise a gathering of my peers and my sister and grandson to “never let the facts get in the way of a good story”?

The facts are I spent twenty plus years writing about poverty; and as heartbreaking as trips to developing countries are, I wrote most of the stuff in a first world office while living right here in Chicagoland with “we deliver” restaurants on speed dial.

Facts aside, here’s a factoid: even a week in Haiti will break your heart for the next twenty years. The journalist who got it wrong, also got it right.

Finding Jesus in San Filipe, Italy

March 25, 2013

After an idyllic few days in SorrentoItaly, Bob, Joan, and I headed to the Adriatic and got lost somewhere in the middle of Italy trying to find San Filipe , a little hill town not on the map. The attraction was a personal tour of the town by Tony, an acquaintance of Bob’s who lives there part time. We were lost for only four hours, and the farmers and shop keepers we asked for directions were delighted to help out. They all said, “straight ahead.” The roads are curvy and fork frequently with no hint as to what “straight ahead” might mean.

Tony is a retired priest, which is a blessing for his parish. We took the free tour of San Filipe and enjoyed the homemade gelato, which his housekeeper made. I don’t think Tony has the humility to tie his own shoes.

Looking through a grated window beneath San Felipe’s only church, I saw a dusty glass coffin with someone in it, probably waxed, and dried flowers in the coffin. Of course I had to know the story, so Bob asked Tony, who didn’t know anything about it. Bob asked the church’s priest, who had been there six years, and he said, “Oh, we use that room for storage.” Bob asked an old-timer who, when Bob pointed to the grate, assumed he was pointing to the church, and said, “Jesus Christ is in there.”

“Straight ahead,” Joan said in Italian, a phrase we had all learned to speak flawlessly,

We dumped Tony, who wanted a free ride (and delivered home) to a restaurant only 40 miles away on dark, curvy roads. It was late, so we went to the restaurant without him. It was closed. We descended on the nearest sizable town, registered in a gloomy four-star hotel and were soon chasing our wine with pizza at the closest trattoria.

Hint: in Italy four-star hotel means ensuite bathroom and the manager had some gold paint.

to be continued…

Option for the Poor

March 18, 2013

When Pope Francis was elected, I remembered hearing about the church’s “preferential option for the poor” about 20 years ago and now have some hope that the church, and society, and maybe even me might give more thought to those in need.

The option for the poor asks everyone to realize the plight of those who struggle to survive and to put the needs of the most vulnerable members of society above selfish interests. But who are “the poor”? And are we really supposed to care about “the poor” when we are struggling to pay the bills and every paycheck buys less of what we need? And how do I draw the line between what I need and what I want?

Those are the questions I struggle with, and I have no answer. The following poem sent by a friend, who wishes to be anonymous, helps me put poverty into perspective but does not answer my questions. Perhaps it is a daily, even hourly decision. Do I “need” that $80 haircut when all I am doing for the next six weeks is teaching school? A $12 haircut won’t frighten children or violate the dress code. As for mirrors, I gave them up when I turned 60. Sixty-eight dollars would feed a Third World family for a month or more. OUCH.

I’m pasting my friend’s poem in my wallet. Maybe that will help.

  Similitude

I have never been in a sand storm

But I have had grit in my eyes

And was driven crazy by the discomfort

One must feel in the desert.  I have been

Out of work, taking whatever job

I could, selling door-to-door,

on the phone, selling lies to honest people,

and yes, I know what it’s like

Not to pay the bills and feel  

the crushing pain in my chest,

toss sleepless in the nights and feed

My three daughters mushroom soup

Mixed with cheap noodles for dinners

with peanut butter on day-old bread

for lunch.  I know this and much more, 

But I do not know what it’s like

Being poor all your life and feeling

The pain and humiliation every day

You’re alive knowing there’s no escape.

 

 

 

 

 

Puccini — the land, the lore, the music

September 5, 2012

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My B&B in Lucca, Italy, for the 58th annual Puccini Festival, should have reflected Puccini’s mastery of music and life, so why was I stumbling around, jet-lagged and disharmonic for coffee? Did the owners not understand the second B means breakfast? As I ambled along a cobblestone street,  I discovered that by missing breakfast I had stumbled upon the coffee bar of my Italian dreams. The 1846 Belle Epoch style Antico Caffé di Simo (Via Fillungo 47) not only serves great cappuccino and fresh pastries, it also served Puccini and literary luminaries such as Ezra Pound. I broke my fast staring at a piano replacing the piano Puccini played for friends and patrons. The caffe also serves lunch and is a popular wine bar in the evenings.  I had come to Lucca to meet Puccini, and already we were having breakfast together!

An early morning tramp around Lucca, a walled and walkable medieval city, revealed the importance of Puccini to the townsfolk. The expected bronze statue in a piazza was not a surprise, but the politically incorrect cigarette in his hand was. Where is the fig leaf that covers inconvenient parts of classical statues? I later learned that Puccini smoked eighty cigarettes and five cigars a day before dying of throat cancer at age 66. Another surprise was the 12th Century church of San Giovanni and Reparta where Puccini was baptized. It is built on the ruins of an early Christian church that was built on the ruins of a Roman bath. Here, Puccini concerts are held every day of the year at 7 p.m. (no smoking), but sometimes Verdi and other classical composers are honored instead. Even Puccini needs a break.

Puccini’s house, a lovingly restored mid-19th Century apartment, opened as a museum in 2011 and showcases a piano that Puccini played when he was a boy. On display is Turandot’s elaborate, original costume. Manuscripts, letters, opera scores, and other memorabilia are stored in archival drawers, and walls are covered with paintings of ancestors, photographs, and a Puccini family tree. The family dates back to the 1700s, and the Puccini’s were a musical family from the beginning. Echoing the finales of his tragic operas, the last Puccini leaves no progeny.

Ristorantes Puccini

After a day of Puccini sightings and the concert at San Giovanni and Reparta, dinner at the Ristorante Puccini in front of his house seemed obligatory. A friend suggested an outdoor table facing a piano, so I expected music. What I did not expect was the nature of “Buonasera Puccini” written on a chalkboard. I thought it was the house wine or a special entree. But while I was enjoying lavender-flavored panna cotta with candied gooseberries, a young woman in a turn-of-the-century gown sat at an outdoor table near the piano. She was joined by a dapper Puccini with the ubiquitous cigarette in hand. They performed a skit that strung together several of Puccini’s arias.

In the hush following the final aria, I recalled that Springfield, Illinois, has sites celebrating its native son, Abe Lincoln, but his presence is not as pervasive as Puccini in Lucca. Culturally, this is understandable. Lincoln only wrote the Gettsyburg Address, while Puccini wrote Tosca. On a gastronomic note, Springfield’s idea of haute cuisine is the horseshoe sandwich, while Lucca’s chefs turn fresh, local ingredients into culinary masterpieces such as turbot flan with a prawn center served with a sauce of cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, and locally grown olives.

The next day, I headed to the countryside expecting to find echoes of Puccini in the hamlet of Celle in Pescaglia so high in the hills you can smell the green. His ancestral home was already old when the Puccini progenitor, Jacopo, was born here in 1712. Original furnishings and artifacts are displayed, including Puccini’s crib and christening gown, the bed with a corn-husk mattress where he allegedly was conceived, and a gramophone from Thomas Edison. I heard more than an echo; I heard the only recording of Puccini’s voice, but whatever he said in 1907 is in Italian. Celle’s main street is two blocks long, but supports a small restaurant (another Ristorante Puccini) that serves rustic Tuscan food. Puccini’s house and the restaurant overlook a valley of such green beauty it could inspire the dullest to a majestic moment.

Theaters small and large

I drove on to a hamlet near Vetriano. An 1889 theater, affectionately called Teatrino, was  constructed in a barn and is the world’s smallest historic theater still in use. The entrance and tiny ticket window face a cobblestone lane. To reach the two tiers of balconies, one enters through the roof. The diminutive playhouse retains the character of the original in every detail including the seats, which are padded kitchen chairs. The townsfolk brought their own chairs to performances.  The theater seats 99. To accommodate one more, fire safety features would need to be installed, spoiling the meticulous reconstruction. Despite its size, performances include classical plays and concerts. The theater has a Puccini story, too. When he attended a performance, the townsfolk were so honored they sang to him. The maestro said, ‘If I had known you were going to sing, I would have brought my rifle.’

Puccini’s dream was to hear one of his operas performed outdoors at Torre del Lago on Lake Massaciucco, inspiration for much of his work.  In 1930, La Boheme was performed on a stage built on piles in the lake. My dream was to experience Madam Butterfly in the open-air theater seating 3,000, built on the site in 1966. It was an extraordinary experience to arrive by boat, imagining the composer’s ears tuned to the lap of water, the birdsong, and the rushing wind. The stage setting is minimalist with a large boulder suggestive of nearby quarries and a low, white Japanese-style table where Madam Butterfly erects her shrine to her faithless lover. The lake and hazy mountains that change to a starry sky make a perfect backdrop to the pathos of Madam Butterfly’s transformation from rapture to grief. The music was glorious and an unforgettable reminder of why Lucca so passionately honors its native genius.

The Maestro and Michelangelo

Pietrasanta, meaning “Sacred Stone,” was my last stop before entrusting my sanity to the airline industry. (Do not believe British Airways’ assurance that you can make the Gatwick to Heathrow transfer in 3.5 hours during the Olympics.) I would have been grateful for any level city, but Pietrasanta surpassed my expectations. This medieval city is dedicated to the arts, particularly sculpture. A decorous plaque on ancient brick explains that Michelangelo lived here while selecting marble from the nearby Carrara quarries, mined since ancient Rome. Today, the town exhibits the work of contemporary sculptors in its main square and in the Church of Sant’Agostino, built in the 14th Century and .deconsecrated during a Napoleonic invasion.

Instead of drifting into stony dreams of Renaissance sculpture, I was amused by the bronze absurdities of Botero. His squat, fat figures hold down the square like asteroids, and the display continues through Sant’Agostino whose ancient altars form a backdrop to the modern artistic vision. A supersized Leda is gleefully kissed by a portly swan in front of a religious painting in need of restoration and blindfolds for the saints. A lamp glows on the altar signifying the presence of God, perhaps Bacchus, the god of wine and mirth.

I imagine Michelangelo standing in the square, eyes on the bald Carrara Hills, soul full of images of the Pieta, oblivious to the bronze naked fat lady lounging on a rotund bull. Then Puccini strolls into the piazza, his arm around his latest mistress. He laughs and lights a cigarette, waiting until a small, admiring group forms. He exhales a cloud of smoke and proclaims, If I’d brought my rifle, I would shoot it.

Originally published by Epoch Times and LuxuryWeb Magazine


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