Sharing the love: grab yourself a copy of my new book

That title sounds like: 1. I’ve written a novel (I haven’t) and 2. I’m giving away heaps of books (I’m not). Sorry! I think blog titles are meant to be provocative or attractive and even sometimes a little misleading… how else will we get people to read what we have to say in this blog-saturated Internet?

OK, so what is going on? Basically, I’m super stoked because today I received a box of my latest book – the updated HSC Standard English study guide. It’s been updated since the first edition because the HSC prescriptions changed – that change resulted in me writing over 100,000 extra words on 25 new texts! Fun times, lol!

The box that arrived today contained 6 copies of the book. One for me, one for my faculty at school, one for each of my parents and one for lucky Emily Johnston – a new Twitter colleague who is working hard to write reports and responded to my ‘competition’ on Twitter, lol. The remaining book COULD BE YOURS! Haha.. just tell me what your favourite text is from the new Standard prescriptions and why you love it! My 13 year old son will pick his favourite response and I will post off a (signed, bahhahaa!) copy of the study guide to you later this week.

So, what are you waiting for? Start commenting below so you can win :P 

Oh, and if you can’t be arsed thinking up an answer and just wanna buy it, you can get it online at some point (I don’t know if it’s available just yet), try here: 


Lo-fi old skool formative assessment FTW

Formative assessment doesn’t need to be innovative or tech-based, it just needs to work. I think too often we get so caught up in the bright lights of new tools and ideas that we neglect older ones. As we all know, formative assessment is awesome. John Hattie tells us it is, and we all know he knows everything about education (insert sly snicker here). But seriously, he’s actually onto something when it comes to formative assessment (what he calls feedback… same, same). Black and Wiliam – the formative assessment gurus – tell us that it is a ‘self-evident proposition that teaching and learning must be interactive’ since it is our job as teachers to know our students’ progress and needs in order to help them learn. This information is gathered through ‘assessment’ – by teacher and by students – which takes a wide range of forms. This assessment ‘becomes formative when the evidence is actually used to adapt the teaching to meet student need’. Formative assessment, used correctly, improves learning outcomes. However, if we get wrapped up in the WAY students are being assessed (or assessing themselves/each other) then we may forget to use the assessment information for what it was intended – to modify teaching and learning strategies to meet student need. (Quotes from Black and Wiliam, ‘Inside the Black Box: Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment’ – Google it and have a read, even if you have read it before!)

This week I have rediscovered the beauty of the quiz. Now, we mustn’t call it a test, because that – I have just learned – freaks students out. I’m assuming the word test connotes grades and rankings and thus fear. I used a quiz to assess my students’ understanding of the play Macbeth. We’ve been reading and performing excerpts in class as part of their project that will see them create an advertising campaign for a theatrical production of the play. I’d told them that the quiz was coming, they knew what it was they’d need to know, but it wasn’t something they were required to ‘study’ for – that would defeat the purpose.

It was funny that when I handed out the quiz they started asking me if it was ‘worth’ anything. I replied that it was an assessment of their learning and that it would help me see what we need to refocus on. They seemed to sigh with relief – how odd! Despite it not being ‘worth’ anything in their minds, they still all worked quietly and took the quiz seriously. It only took 15 minutes to complete. After the lesson, I took 30 minutes to ‘mark’ their quizzes, and it was really enlightening for me. Most understood the plot and characters, and many the themes, but a lot of them struggled with questions about Shakespeare’s language and dramatic techniques. This is unsurprising, really, cos they are much higher order content and less engaging. It might even be that they’ve decided that information is less important for their project – after all, they’re not writing an analysis of the play.

What makes this (pretty basic, old skool) assessment formative is that I will be using the information gained to adapt my teaching. There were also some students that have really obvious gaps in their knowledge of the play, and as such I will be working with them to address those. In class on Monday we will be going through the ‘correct’ answers in an attempt to help check if it was simple errors (often made with multiple choice questions) or if it’s something more significant which we can – hopefully – sort out together as a class. I don’t know of going through answers to a quiz as a class runs counter to the purpose of formative assessment – I feel a little like it might since I might inadvertently ‘out’ students as being less knowledgable because they got less questions correct. An alternative might be to ask each student to look at their results individually and to identify three ways they can improve their knowledge of the play in future. Maybe I could also just discuss some of the shared errors made by the class and try to address them through discussion and questioning…

Anyway, this post was written with the hope that some of you might rekindle your love for the humble quiz. It’s quick and easy to implement. Well, not easy if you’re like me and feel it necessary to create a quiz from scratch – it helped ensure I was assessing the knowledge relevant to our project. Obviously make your quiz it non-threatening for your students be discussing the pedagogical reasons for using it as a formative assessment strategy. Do tell me, what’s your secret fav old skool tool?

Playing around in class

Yesterday was fun and I felt like a fun teacher. Too often I am too serious – serious about the learning experiences I’ve designed for my students and whether they’re going to achieve the learning outcomes I hope and serious about student focus and distraction. Yesterday, however, was different. And it was good.

Year 7 are currently exploring different types of storytelling as they try to answer the question, Why do we continue to tell stories? They’ve been play-building and scriptwriting, trying to appropriate traditional and contemporary storytelling methods. Yesterday they began blocking out their performances using an improvised space at the top of the library. We are very lucky that the tables up there have wheels on the bottom! The space was ultimately filled with laughter and other sounds – lots of weird cackles and even the Benny Hill themes thanks to iPhone apps used for sound effects! It was really cool to just watch them let go and be creative. They were all on task and any silliness was part of the learning – cos play is silly but it’s part of learning. I’m really looking forward to seeing their final performances, which are being filmed for Lee’s Kindy class. They’re our audience!

Year 10 are about to start a ‘Macbeth’ project. I haven’t been very excited about this project because it’s one I’ve run a few times and I don’t really like repeating projects. I know it’s pretty much essential to do that when teaching 6 different classes of all different ages, but it doesn’t make it any more fun. I did spend Sunday night reworking the project as much as I could get away with, and also modified my hook lesson. Yesterday was said hook lesson and it was great. It being great does remind me that you can do similar activities with different groups of students and still enjoy it! If you search ‘Macbeth’ in the search bar on this blog, you’ll find a brief overview of the activity we did. I changed it slightly, getting students to present tableaux representing a specific type of power, rather than acting it out. I also got them to add paper ‘speech bubbles’ so it was kind of like a live comic. Really cool. Kids loved it. It was nice just pushing all the tables and chairs in my room to the sides and really opening up the space. I’ve got to do that more often. I’ve also got to be more playful… I certainly am getting too serious in my old age!



Parks are awesome: the natural and the man-made

So, it’s really cold and rainy in Sydney and as a result, I’m finding if hard to reflect on our time in two great parks – Yosemite National Park and Disneyland. Yes, Disneyland is a park, a fun park!
Where to start? Well, where did I leave off? Oh, I think it was doing the RV limbo through Connecticut en route to NYC. What’s the RV limbo? That’s when you drive your RV under bridges with very low clearances and hold you breath, hoping that you don’t lose the top off the van!
Once we dropped off the RV (all in one piece, thankfully!) we trained it to NYC. Thanks to we found a great hotel right near Penn Station. We even got cookies in the afternoon! We got in just after lunch so we had plenty of time to hang out in the city we love. Lee wanted to get a tattoo, so we decided to walk to downtown Manhattan – only about 30 blocks, lol. We went down Broadway, which was awesome because it kind of slices across Manhattan and gives you insight into the vast differences between New Yorkers and where they live. We cruised through NoHo, SoHo and China Town. Such differences but all do cool. I really do love NYC. Sadly the tattoo place was super expensive, so we gave it a miss. I did manage to buy 6 Thor comics for $2 from a street vendor. Epic. That night we met up with our Twitter mates Shani Hartley and John Goh, both happened to be in town too. We took them to our fav pizza place, Luigi’s and then we walked down Broadway at night, through the crowds of Times Square. Good night, indeed.

The next morning we got up super early and headed to JFK airport to catch our 7am flight to LA. The flight was fantastic – I’m a big fan of Delta. I got to watch both Thor movies! Sadly Balin left his hat on the plane, goodbye cat hat! We picked up our hire car – an SUV – and started driving North-East towards Yosemite. It was so hot, we were surprised by the humidity and the boys were thrilled that our hotel had a pool. Next morning we drove the very stunning drive through the giant sequoias to Yosemite National Park… one of our most favourite places in the world!

This trip we chose to stay in the park – highly recommended – as last year we stayed outside if it and the drive in each day was exhausting. Our first night we stayed at the Curry Village tents (these are permanent tents with canvas sides but wooden floors, heating and beds). It was nice, but we couldn’t have a campfire and were very happy when we were allowed to move to the HouseKeeping tents – three concrete walls and a canvas ‘door’. You have to hire bedding – $2 a night, but you get your own campfire and table. Perfect. The campground hugs the Merced River, even more perfect!

On the second day of our stay we slept in, went for a swim and drove up to Glacier Point to do the Sentinel Dome walk – it took us way up above Yosemite Valley. The views are incomparable. Next day we got up early and made our way to the stables – to meet our mules! Last year Baz asked to ride the mules, but it was too expensive. This year I promised myself we’d make it a reality, and so we did! It was insane fun! Our mules were all characters : Balin’s was 35 years old and super slow, Keenan’s was young and eager and pushy, Lee’s was cruisy and mine was a bitch, lol. She kept stopping to eat miss and leaves even though she wasn’t meant to. I loved her. The ride was great, only two hours but definitely enough to make my bum sore! I highly recommend the mule tour! That day we so did the valley floor tour on the open air truck. The guide was cool, he had great stories to tell and was very passionate about Yosemite. One tip, wear sunscreen! We all got very burnt! That night we watched the Conversations with John Muir show, where one actor performed the role of Muir. It was very moving. I loved it and so did Lee. Balin keeps repeating ons of Muir’s mottos, ‘Eat apples’, lol. Saying goodbye to Yosemite was hard for us all. There’s no point trying to put the place into words… you’ve just got to go there. It’ll change you.

The big drive back to LA was punctuated by our visit to the Citadel Outlets… we all needed clothes and we did some damage to the bank account. served us well(ish) by finding us a cheap room in LA… sadly it was a smoking room and we all smelled like pack a day smokers by the morning, lol. After returning the car to Alamo, we got to LAX and picked up a shuttle to the happiest place on earth – Disneyland! The shuttle was a scam, it arrived early, a small van with ‘Disneyland Express’ roughly scrawled on the front… he wasn’t the real deal and charged us $120! Luckily the good people at the Disney hotel sorted us out and gave us $120 credit to our room. Phew! We stayed ‘on property’ at the Paradise Pier Hotel and it was MAGICAL! So close to the parks and every little detail in the place was Disneyed… right down to the Tinkerbell toiletries! The boys were beside themselves! As soon as we could we hit Disneyland – it’s just seriously the coolest place. Yeah, it was summer and insanely busy, but that just adds to the atmosphere of fun! We got heaps of rides in, loving the Thunder Railroad roller coaster and waiting well over an hour to ride on the Cars Racers – well worth it! Next morning we entered Disneyland an hour before the general public – magic entry cos we were staying at a Disney hotel – and managed to go on 8 rides before breakfast! It was our son’s birthday – Keenan turned 13 – so we indulged and did a ‘character breakfast’! Totally worth it! Keenan chose the Chip & Dale breakfast and I’m glad he did – less cheesey and the buffet was insane! So much good food that I nearly burst! The characters all cans for photos and we all left feeling very magical indeed. After more rides we indulged further – lunch at Blue Bayou, the restaurant you float past on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride! It was Lee’s childhood dream to eat there and it didn’t disappoint! It’s surprisingly quiet in there… the atmosphere is perfect. All of us enjoyed it immensely! We didn’t leave the park until 11pm… so that was 16 hours in Disneyland. I doubt I need to explain how exhausted we were, but alas we had another 7am early entry the next day! Yup, Disney adventures are exhausting but totally, totally epic and I’m a proud mum that my boys have experienced it. I don’t care what anyone says about it, Disneyland is AMAZING!!

What else to say now except that the flights home were great and now I’m done writing this, I guess I’ll have to face reality and start planning for the next term of teaching. I guess that also means this blog will return to its usual focus, my failings in the classroom, lol. Thanks for indulging in my holiday posts… hope you enjoyed them!

New England: full of surprises

It’s been ages since I’ve written a post about out trip… we’ve done so much in the meantime! As I type away, with one finger, on my iPhone screen, I’m sitting in a hotel room in Tulare, California. If you haven’t heard of Tulare, I’m not surprised. It’s a smallish town somewhere between LA and Yosemite National Park. One thing I can tell you about Tulare, it has every single fast food chain restaurant you can imagine!

So how did we get here? Well, via New England, of course! Way back after we left Hershey, we took to the road again, heading North. It was a long and stressful drive, we put ‘Boston’ and ‘no tolls’ in the GPS… regardless we had to cross the George Washington Bridge – costing $34 – cos the GPS doesn’t have the option ‘make sure our RV can fit underneath the overpasses’, more on that later. Putting Boston in the GPS was dumb. We certainly ended up in Boston, what we didn’t factor in was the fact that Boston was built over 300 years ago, thus having insanely narrow, horse-and carriage friendly, streets. Not RV streets. We stressed a big when we realised there was so nowhere for an RV to spend the night anywhere within the vicinity of Boston. We used google to find a KOA campground an hour away but stupidly ended up stuck in peak hour traffic – in BOSTON! Please don’t ever complain about Sydney traffic if you’ve never experienced Boston traffic. Nuts.

The KOA was great. A pool, a jumping pillow and campfire ring for our RV spot. We opted for two nights, deciding to check out Cape Cod in the morning. Urgh, big mistake! Cape Cod is full of private beaches – yes, private – and narrow streets. Not RV friendly. We ended up in Hyannis which is a cute but far too touristy town. We stopped trying to find the promised fries clams and lobster, but only found ice cream and hotdogs.

That afternoon we took a taxi and train into Boston – cos you can’t take an RV into Boston – to meet John Goh for dinner and a walk around Harvard. We really like North End, which we kept calling Little Italy. We has pizza, which we didn’t enjoy much, and then dessert at Modern Pastry, which was yum. Harvard was another train way but was worth it. Such beautiful buildings! Balin, who is 9, is determined to attend Harvard. Cute.

The next day we left early to head East to Salem. Salem is an adorable town – well, I think the witch museum isn’t even in Salem now, but anyway. The town is witch themed and super cute. Lots of older buildings in a range or architectural styles. We all enjoyed the presentation about the Salem witch trials at the Witch Museum. It was so interesting and disturbing! Human beings are bizarre and often cruel creatures. I was pleased that the presentation of the events were really liberal – focusing on the frailties of human nature. Next stop was Maine, in search of the famous lobster roll. Sadly, by the time we got there Lee was pretty sick. He’s been suffering from an ear and chest infection the whole trip. We did think Maine was pretty, but a bit touristy for us. We went to Perkins Cove which is a sweet little lobster town. It has a range of shops and lobster shacks. We went to the aptly named Lobster Shack and Lee had a lobster roll and a beer which he enjoyed, but we didn’t swim because he was feeling too unwell. I think we were less stoked on Maine than we expected simply because we have grown up on the beach… we know beautiful beaches.

That afternoon we took to the road again, heading to New Hampshire in search of JD Salinger’s house in Cornish. The drive was gorgeous, through the mountains. After driving some narrow roads through the thick green countryside at dusk – dodgy – we made it to Cornish. It’s TINY! Salinger certainly made the perfect choice for his removal from the world. The only shop there is closed down. We did see the post office where he always collected his mail. Sadly, we had no chance of finding his home and the famous barn where he wrote. Still, we thought it was good to respect his privacy, so we left and drove to nearby Lebanon. Great town, great pub. Next stop was the KOA at White River Junction. Lee was so sick he went straight to bed and we accidentally left the lights on all night – waking up to a dead battery! So pleased people in Vermont are awesome – we we’re jump started and on our way!

First stop was STUNNING Montpelier. Loved this town. Little town that’s all about natural, local foods and crafts and stuff. Totally hipster according to my 12 year old. We had yummy crepes at The Skinny Pancake and bought lots of cheap books at Rivendell books.

Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is amazing. We all know this. It is also VERY expensive in Australia – $12 for a pint! In the US it’s only $5! Nuts! Well, when I heard the factory was in Vermont, I knew we were going. It was, to be completely and utterly honest, disappointing. It was super busy, super touristy and kinda expensive. The tour was cheap – $3 each – but the gift shop and ice cream shop was Australian prices. Annoying. We were all impressed with their origin story and their commitment to ethical and environmental principles, but why sell out to Unilever? Later we stopped at the Cabot cheese factory and tasted some delicious cheese and the cider factory, tastes like cold apple juice.

Last stop, Burlington. It’s like Montpelier but much bigger. Still cool though. We stayed at Burlington Beach campground – $30! So cheap, and right near the beach. Well, the lake – Lake Champlain, in fact. We walked the 20 minute waterside walk into town and had dinner at a great brewery. I had portobello roll, noms. Walking through town after dinner we couldn’t believe how bustling it was – and how many people were speaking French! Vermont is a holiday spot for many French Canadians and their influence is noticeable! We found the coolest sock store and spent too much money, then walked back along the lake, watching one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. The sky lit up behind the Adirnodaks… wow!

The next day was boring and massive – the insanely long drive back to New Jersey. Just picture an RV doing the limbo… we seriously went under some low, low overpasses! Pleased to survive!

Washington DC, Harpers Ferry and Hershey: so much history!

We picked up our gigantic RV last Thursday. It’s been a fun (almost) week with it, but this is the first time we’ve stayed at a campground with wifi. However, it’s never too late to reflect on what we’ve done.
After getting over the shock of the size of the RV (literally 30 feet) and paying $34 to cross the Statten Island Bridge accidentally, we started heading west using the instructions of a gas station attendant. We wanted to avoid the Turn Pike – we got stung on it in Florida last year and knew it would be worse in an RV! The drive through northern Pennsylvania was pretty – lots of greenery. When we hit the i81 we started heading South and after 6 hours of driving, we found a rest area to pull up for the night. The rest areas in the US are super safe, have clean toilets (not gross, smelly drop toilets like in Australia), and vending machines!! We decided that we would try to ‘dry camp’ as much as possible to lower our costs – petrol already being VERY expensive in the RV.
The next day we continued our trip south, stopping at lunch time to visit Harpers Ferry, a quaint little colonial town with an interesting civil war history. It only cost $10 to enter the National park and park our RV. They have a free shuttle bus that takes you to the main battle site at Harpers Ferry where the Union soldiers fought bravely but lost against the much stronger Confederate forces. This is where General Robert E Lee was making a name for himself. Our boys loved learning about the cannons from a young guy dressed in the original Union soldier outfit. The bus then took us right down to the town of Harpers Ferry where there were heaps more people getting into the civil war cosplay! Our boys learnt how to carry and march with a replica civil war gun and then they got to dress up too. Of course they chose Union outfits, they know who the good guys were! Walking through the town we spoke to more people about the civil war and learnt so much about the role the surrounding states played – Virginia succeeded from the Union and Maryland got to keep their slaves even though they joined the Union. Crazy!

We walked over the old bridge and saw people floating down the Shenandoah River on tubes, Lee was keen to have a go but we didn’t have time. We left this lovely historical town much better for the experience. It being 4th of July meant it was set up really near for tourists. After driving for a few more hours, East this time, we found a rest area 30 miles from DC. Lee chatted to the guard and we got permission to stay the night AND to set off our fireworks. The boys were beside themselves! They had chosen some great fireworks the day before from a small home stall in Pennsylvania. It was hilarious to watch them jumping around and laughing at the showers of sparks and popping noises. Wish Australia still had Bon fire night!

The day after 4th of July we decided to head to Washington DC to meet Betsy Whalen, our dear friend who I met through edmodo years ago and who we’ve met up with on all our US trips, I think. Well DC was pretty busy! I mean, I’m sure it always is, but WOW there was a lot of people! We met Betsy in the adorable Teaism, which serves hot chai, yay, and then began our walking tour of DC. Let’s just say, it was hot and it was busy and there’s a lot of memorials! We saw the impressive Washington Memorial, walked past the Reflective Pool and the Vietnam War memorial and then up the grand white stairs to the very cool Lincoln Memorial. Abe is massive! The boys were excited to see him because he’s a star in Night at the Museum 2, lol. We then walked down to the newest memorial, that for MLK. I’ve recently discovered that we’re born on the same day – capricorns FTW! His memorial is awesome – he towered over you, emerging from a giant slab of sandstone. I was impressed!

Our next stop was Union Station to pick up a DUCK tour. Hilarious! You’ve probably seen a duck boat driving through the streets of a major city – the tour car/boats that sing and quack. Well, our driver was hilarious in the weird way. He spent more time talking about toilet facilities in DC than the history of the place, lol. Then we went out into the water and got freaked out by the fact that our car just turned into a boat! We cruised past the Pentagon, which I thought was pretty cool and then we cruised past a dead fish which the boys thought was pretty cool, lol. I’m pretty confident that I learnt more about DC from Betsy than our tour guide but it was still really fun and so great to spend time with Betsy. Before saying our goodbyes, we had delicious Chicago-style pizza and then stopped at the White House for some photos. It wasn’t long enough with Betsy or DC, but it was certainly a wonderful introduction to such an interesting city.

After heading back to the RV, we decided to drive back to Harpers Ferry because we wanted to go tubing down the Shenandoah – why not?! Lee is such a champion and drove well into the night, finding us a free camp close to the river. The next morning we were up and ready for tubing super early. We opted to go with River Riders, a bit pricey but worth it. After a quick training video we were on the shuttle bus to the river. The river was warm and not too fast. There were a couple of tiny ‘rapids’ but mostly we just cruised on down the gorgeous river, looking at the wildlife and the blue, blue sky. I’m so glad Lee insisted we do the tubing – it will be a memory that lasts forever. West Virginia, you’re beautiful!

Back in the RV we were driving North again – this time on our way to see our friend Dayna and her family in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania. I’ve known Dayna for years now, having met her through BIE connections. She has a stunning home with a massive backyard that made my boys envious! Her daughters are adorable and her husband is kind and a great portobello mushroom burger chef! After dinner they took us to Hershey and the World of Chocolate. We did the trolley tour which was fantastic! Lee and I were so inspired by the story of Milton Hershey and our boys LOVED the tour guides who were funny and knowledgable. Then we got to have Hershey milkshakes and buy lots of yummy sweets! So lucky! Returning to Dayna’s, we set off the remainder of our fireworks with the kids which was so fun! Thanks so much to Dayna and her family – best hospitality in Pennsylvania!
And so ended our time south of New Jersey and so began the epic trip up to New England!

New York City: in the footsteps of Holden Caulfield

This part of our trip is probably the bit I secretly was looking forward to the most – hanging out in New York City! Our last trip to NYC was in 2011 where we spent three days doing our best to navigate the place! The second trip to any city is always easier and usually better. This was definitely true of our recent visit to Seattle (having previously visited in 2012) and it most certainly is true of this trip to NYC! We were so much more relaxed, despite only having three nights and two days to explore the city.
The first night doesn’t really qualify as a night in NYC, given that our train from AMTRAK was four hours late into Penn Station and then our baggage claim was delayed another hour, meaning after a cab trip up to the Upper West Side we got to our hotel after midnight! We didn’t go to sleep until 3am, not because we couldn’t tear our eyes from Storage Wars, but simply because we had West-East coast ‘jet lag’. Our minds were still functioning on Montanan time, so we just couldn’t sleep!
Having such a late night meant we found it super hard to get up early the next morning – my plan cos I wanted to pack in as many sights as possible. After breakfast (provided by our hotel, it was great) we made it out of the hotel by a smidgen after 10. Our first destination was Central Park, of course. We all fell in love with Central Park in 2011 and adding to that the fact that Lee, Keenan and I are massive fans of The Catcher in the Rye and we’re ALL big fans of The Beatles, well, it’s obvious why we love the place. I kinda worried that after hanging out in ‘big sky country’ the week before, we might not be as enamoured with Central Park… but, I was wrong and happy to be! There’s just something SOO cool about being in such a wide open natural space and ALSO being in one of the world’s biggest and busiest cities.
Our first steps into the park led up to Strawberry Fields – the John Lennon memorial. Before the memorial there is a man selling badges – cool badges – and Balin and I both bought one. I was keen to get a couple of framed photos of the park but decided to wait until we return on the 12th. I hope he’s still there when we get back! At the memorial – a mosaic circle with the word ‘imagine’ at its centre – was a man playing The Beatles classics on his acoustic guitar… badly, lol. He was singing them like Buddy Holly! It was pretty funny. Even though the place is busy, I always find it really touching. I’ve grown up loving The Beatles and John Lennon is a massive inspiration. The memorial is directly across the street from where he was killed, which gives it an added eeriness. The apartment block where he lived is one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture that I’ve seen – all gothic and grand. I took a picture of the front gates and quickly appreciated the tragic convergence of my two loves – The Catcher in the Rye and John Lennon.
We then headed for the Museum of Natural History which is only a few blocks north of Strawberry Fields. Did I mention it was really hot? About 90 degrees Fahrenheit which is about 30 degrees Celsius – hot considering it’s winter in Australia right now! Oh, and it was humid. We were all stoked to enter the museum and its intense air conditioning. The museum has this deal where you can ‘make an offer’ for how much admission you want to pay, we just paid the recommended the price, it was worth it. There’s two reasons why we wanted to see the museum – Holden goes there in The Catcher in the Rye and we are big fans of the Night at the Museum movies! OK, we also think museums are cool and love taking our boys to them. Finally, we’re also fans of Teddy Roosevelt – we really appreciate his contribution to the conservation of our national parks around the world. I wish more politicians had his commitment to protecting our planet. At the museum we enjoyed the African Mammals exhibition, the evolution of man exhibition, the Teddy Roosevelt exhibition and the Native American exhibition. It’s definitely worth the cost of admission!
Next we walked back through Central Park on our way to find lunch. We ended up somewhere between 59th St and 6th Ave at a pizzeria called Luigi’s. The pizza was divine – I recommend the mushroom, broccoli and spinach. Yummy! After feeling full for the first time in two days – we literally ate nothing on the train from Chicago to NYC – we had enough energy to visit the Museum of Modern Art. Kids get in free which is awesome and Lee and I bought a ticket combining our entry to the gallery and Top of the Rock for $44 each. The museum was cool, even if it was busy! The very helpful staff pointed out that the best art is on level 5 and 6, so we headed there first. Level 5 had the early modern artists, my favourites – Picasso, Monet, Matisse, VanGogh and Dali. It was an emotional experience to see Monet’s Waterlillies (which are HUGE!), Van Gogh’s Starry Night with its rich, thick oil paint strokes, and, Dali’s ‘The Persistence of Memory’ which is TINY and AMAZING and which we visited twice, lol. The postmodern art wasn’t as popular with my family – it was cool, and got my boys really thinking, but it didn’t imbue the same kind of awe in us that the modern art did.
Even though our feet ached from walking, we found the energy to check out the Tiffany’s flagship store, made famous by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I secretly was keen to get a cute piece of jewelry, but after ten minutes of checking out the shiny, sparkly things they had housed in their little glass cases, I chose to keep my money. Seriously, $480 for a chain ring with a tiny jewel? Not likely! Instead, we walked the couple of blocks to FAO Schwartz – the world’s largest toy store – and bought an Avengers comic for me and some Lego for Baz, lol. Finally, we headed back to Central Park and paid $30 to get the boys sketched comically by one of the little venders that line the path. It is so fun! The boys then spent some time feeding the ducks, fish and turtles that all live in the pond – the same one that fascinated Holden, who wondered were the ducks go in winter.
That night we were so exhausted that we got more pizza to eat in our hotel room and crashed out watching Storage Wars.
Wednesday was similarly a massive day… I spent a bit of time the night before creating a list of things to do. We started earlier than the day before, getting out of the hotel at 9.30, lol. We did meet some Aussies at breakfast and shared a laugh about America’s lack of hot tea and Vegemite. Jeff would be proud of me!
If the day before was hot, Wednesday was sweltering! It was so humid – dark clouds loomed far in the West, thickening the air. We walked ALL the was down to the Rockefeller Building – where The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon is filmed! – which required us to walk about 20 blocks down Broadway, right into the heart of the entertainment district. To say it was busy is daft – it was manic! Humid weather, lots of people and lots of cars makes for an uncomfortable but exhilarating experience. No complaints from us though, we were in NYC damn you!
So the Rockefeller Building is really tall… and that’s why we went there. I’m scared of heights, a bit. Despite this, I braved the lift with its fancy clear lit up ceiling (crazy) that felt like a Disneyland ride. The lift was the bit I was most worried about and it was sweet. Being up on the roof was fine – the views were too cool to give me a moment of fear. Central Park from way up high is even more special. It’s huge! No, not Montana huge, but city huge. I loved seeing its expanse below me. I fell in love with it all over again. Top of the Rock provides you with great views of the Empire State Building – picture perfect unless it’s a humid day, and then it’s a bit hazy. I still got cool pictures though! After celebrating my survival, we sought out the Rockefeller skate rink – where Holden takes Sally for a rather unsuccessful date – but it was shut, it being summer and all.
Our next mission was to find the Midtown Comic Store. Keenan wanted to get a fully articulated Batman figure and Balin wanted the last two Scott Pilgrim graph novels. I wanted anything Avengers, lol. After two hours in the store – it could easily have been more – we left with a Batman comic, Godzilla comic, Avengers journal and a copy of V for Vendetta. Oh, and Lee got two comics for his class. We did well to leave with money left in our bank!
The next part of the day was in lower Manhattan, so we headed to the subway. Lower Manhattan is massive. It’s a sprawl of cool. I definitely wanted to see Greenwich and SoHo and had my sights on lunch – a late lunch – at a vegetarian Chinese restaurant. I feel like we squeezed all of that in… we definitely got a good look of the iron district of SoHo – pretty!! The hipsters were out on the streets providing much amusement for our boys. The dumplings and sesame (faux) chicken at Vegetarian Dim Sum in China Town were delicious! Our plan had been to ride across the Brooklyn Bridge but we had already packed so much in that we decided to jump on the 1 and head back to our hotel, picking up some craft beer and edamame on the way. Rad day.
Our final day was really half a day because we had to pick up our RV in New Jersey. We spent the morning cycling around Central Park (so worth the money cos the park is huge, did I say that already?!) and then went on the carousel – just like Holden’s kid sister Phoebe did at the end of the The Catcher in the Rye. The cool thing is that we all got on a horse, there’s no way Lee and I would sit on the bench and just watch the boys ride. It got me thinking about Holden’s decision not to ride – typically read as a metaphor for his acceptance that he must grow up – and I think we challenge it. I agree that modern life is bizarre, almost inhuman, but I don’t think we need to accept that growing up is inevitable… And just what does it mean to be ‘grown up’? I imagine one day our boys will laugh that their parents had brightly coloured hair when we traversed North America. It was another emotional experience riding that carousel, as I imagined Salinger sitting on the bench outside, loving the joyful innocence of the young riders. Pretty neat. And so ended our time in NYC. Once again, it was a pleasure.