Thanks for checking into my blog!

As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Friday, February 20, 2015

In Memory of September 11, 2001

     Every generation has one moment in time – a moment or event that defines a turning point in their personal histories. For my grandparents, it was the Great Depression. For my parents, it was the Day of Infamy – December 7, 1941. Their lives revolved around the war efforts of WWII. They also added VE day and VJ day to their list. 
     My generation remembers where they were on November 22, 1963, when the news of President Kennedy’s assassination came across the newswires. We also had several other events – Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968, Robert Kennedy’s assassination in 1968, and all the riots in cities all over our country in the years just before and after 1968.
     For my children – and myself, too – the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and (almost) the Capitol (but now it is remembered in Shanksville PA) was a moment that changed us all and the way we live forever. Hmmmm, you might ask what has really changed. Well, now we have the Patriot Act and TSA. We have Homeland Security. This was all done to make us safer in our own country. I’m not going to debate the merits of these bureaucratic agencies – I have no intention on making this blog a political forum. But, while I was in New York, I made it a point to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Brace yourself….

Plaza at the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan
      When you get off the Number 4 subway at Fulton Street, you hear the crazy street bustle that is everyday New York. You can get run over on the sidewalks by pedestrians as you walk along Broadway. Everyone is in such a hurry! But near the Twin Towers site and things slow down and get really quiet. It’s a noticeable quiet – almost somber – as you walk past the locations of the World Trade Center.
Waterfall memorial at the North Tower site
      The memorial portion is free and open to the public. Here you will find many places to sit and reflect on what happened at this site in 2001. The remains of the buildings themselves are different. Each tower footprint is now an unending waterfall, with the water disappearing into the blackness of the foundation center. Names of those who perished are engraved in granite around each waterfall. The world is so quiet in that space, that you can almost hear their tears and screams.
Waterfall memorial at the South Tower site
      The museum portion, however, is a pay-to-get-in venue. The museum was built surrounding a lot of the destruction. Some was cleared away, yet some remained because it couldn’t be moved. You begin your museum tour walking in a long hallway, listening to survivors talk about what they saw and heard that day. From an open balcony at the end of the hallway, you can see the footprint of part of the garage and underground offices. You can still see mangled girders. Then you go down into the underground area.
Front of the 9/11 Memorial Museum
Skeleton of a building
Girders with visible damage
     On display, first, are messages from visitors mounted on the wall. It reminded me of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Here, just like in the Holy Land, people flocked to remember and pray at one of the remaining foundation walls of the Twin Towers. Tacked to the surface are prayers, remembrances and wishes from all over – along with the words “never forget”. I felt like I was making an American pilgrimage to this site. My heart began to feel heavy.

Underground at the Twin Towers...
...with some girders anchored back in place...
... and twisted out of shape.
     I walked past many tributes on display. One of the most impressive ones is the quilt. It has portions for all three 9/11 sites and pictures of everyone who lost their lives that day. From motorcycles to drawings, victims were remembered in very personal ways. Toward the South Tower footprint, you see pictures of the recovery work done at the site. And you see empty foundation blocks and mangled girders and rebar.
A portion of the memorial quilt with pictures
Remembering the recover efforts
 There is a moving section of this portion of the museum called the Memorial Room. In one location, in low light, in quiet, you see the face of every person who died at the three sites that day. There is an electronic database you can use to look up specific people, and find out about their lives and loves. The room resembles a columbarium with over 3000 pictures from floor to ceiling on inner and outer walls. No one was left behind here.
Ladder 3 truck - FDNY
Close up of the damage done
     From the Memorial Room, the walk took me past specific damaged items from that day, including the Ladder 3 truck that literally melted on the street. The tour route brought me next to the Timeline museum. But, by the time I finished with what I saw already, my emotions were coming to the surface. I didn’t think I could stand to watch the event unfold again in pictures and sound. I passed on leaving my message and reflections at the wall on the other side of the Towers. I felt myself crying again. It was time for me to leave.
     Visiting the 9/11 Memorial is one of the most profound things I’ve ever done. It is not a place I want to return to anytime soon, however. I was not prepared for the rush of emotions I experienced at the site. I should have prepared myself better for what I saw. My spirit is still raw from the tragedy and I hurt all over after visiting the site.
Freedom Tower now occupies the site of World Trade 7
     Many say it’s the same emotional preparation you need when visiting the Holocaust Museum in DC. This is a holocaust that I witnessed first hand and I will always remember. I must commend New York, too, on the memorial. It is a quiet tribute to all who lost their lives – very tasteful and simple.
Parts of the Freedom Tower are still under construction
      The Memorial website, http://www.911memorial.org, is a great place to begin your preparation. Click through the site, which includes a map of the museum, lesson plans for teachers, and webcasts. Tickets can be purchased online and picked up or printed out at home.

When in New York, try to visit the 9/11 Memorial. But be prepared… and never forget.

New York night skyline - now - Freedom Tower visible from Battery Park

All photos are property of Marge McGugan. No reuse or reprint without permission.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Got a Dream to take them there... *

     Have you ever packed up the house and moved? Did you move around the corner? To another town? To another part of the country? Overseas? How different from your original home was the new one? Or have you lived in the same town, street, neighborhood all of your life? Was all of this by your choice?
     My recent trip to New York City got me to thinking about this subject of moving. Hold the phone -  I’m not moving anywhere on a permanent basis right now, mainly because I don’t want to clean out all the closets. But, during my visit to NYC, I thought a bit about what it might take to get me to change my location. I’ve moved from one state to another, but still close to the “home” in Jersey. I moved within the state, here in Maryland. The move with the most impact, however, was my move to Japan in the early 1970’s. This was a move courtesy of the U.S. Army and friends. It was a career move for Hub. And it took both of us to the other side of the globe before the days of globalized cell phones and Skype. Chances were good that we weren’t getting back home unless something drastic happened. It was a three-year adventure into a totally different culture, and a world where I was functionally illiterate. When we said good-bye to some relatives, it was really good-bye… and we knew it.
     Is this the way our immigrant ancestors dealt with their big moves to the US? My trip out to Ellis Island brought all of these old memories back into my head. Many of my relatives emigrated from Ireland and Scotland, and the happy (?) medium, Northern Ireland. Some came from Germany. Many came over long before the heyday of Ellis Island… but, then, I’m not really sure. As I rode the ferry past the Statue of Liberty, I tried to imagine what my ancestors would have felt coming to America.
First glimpse of America for most European immigrants
     Seeing Lady Liberty lift her lamp to all is a breathtaking moment. If I were on a ship bound for the US with only my clothes on my back and a few precious possessions in my satchel, I would probably feel a mixture of excitement and panic. Would I be able to move from the Island to the Mainland? Am I healthy enough for this country? Since I don’t have a relative to sponsor me, will they let me in anyway? What if I’m sent back? Could I get in the “back door” through Philadelphia?
Lady Liberty lifts her lamp upon the Golden Door
Ellis Island Immigration Museum
      After landing, I would have to be ferried out to Ellis Island to be processed into America. If I had baggage, it would be sent to the baggage room to await my in-processing. Once I was cleared to enter, then I could claim my baggage or pay to have it shipped with me to my final destination – wherever in this country that would be. I would move with the crowds upstairs in the main building to the Great Hall. There, amid the cacophony of organized chaos, I would experience the true melting pot of America. Among a variety of languages, I would have to declare my country of origin, give them my full name (and hope they spelled it correctly), declare my reasons for leaving my home country, declare my trade (if I had one), and my final destination along with who will be meeting me there to an immigration agent. Then there was a basic health screening. Here I would be checked for breathing problems, body lice, and the possibility of communicable diseases, like trachoma, a type of blinding conjunctivitis that comes from poor personal hygiene. I would have to wait on hard benches until my number would be called. The only consolation was that I wasn’t alone, and I did get fed decent meals in the dining hall. For some minor health problems, I would be able to stay in the Hospital, a separate building on the Island. Hopefully, I would be cleared to enter the country, and continue my travel to my final destination, wherever that would be. Ellis Island would be the easy part… building a new life, a bit more difficult. Would I be up for the challenge?

Walk around the buildings, imposing structures

Baggage room - Main Processing Building

Up the steps to the Great Hall
Immigrants lined up to be processed into our country...
...many sat on these original benches, waiting to be called...

...to the desk, where agents would record an immigrant's arrival.

Public health hospital on Ellis Island - tours are now available

Original floor in the Main Hall - who walked here in the past?
      Walking those halls in the footsteps of my ancestors was a humbling experience. Now I can appreciate their courage to move to another country. The opportunities, when they came over, were fantastic, and my great-family members were able to make the most of it, in spite of the ethnic discrimination (oh, the perils of being Irish AND Catholic).
     When I checked into my family history, most of my ancestors arrived through Philadelphia. There were a few relatives that may have come through New York. It really doesn’t matter where they came in now, because their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are reaping the benefits of their courageous decision to emigrate.
One of many timelines for immigration at the museum
     Ellis Island – a wealth of immigration history, a place where you can experience what your family members may have experienced, a location that processed an average of over one million immigrants a year between the years of 1892 and 1924. It is a must-do destination when visiting New York City.

Many original photos added to the displays, designed to give you the immigrant's experience

Photos are the property of Marge McGugan. No reuse in any form without permission.

For more information on visiting Ellis Island while in New York City, check http://www.statueoflibertytickets.com.

* from "(They come into) America", music and lyrics by Neil Diamond. Video from YouTube.com

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Stardust in my eyes

You know I’ll dance and I’ll sing,
I’ll do anything
Just to get my name in lights.
It can happen overnight in these modern times.
                                                                       "When I Get My Name in Lights",
                                                                                         The Boy from Oz,
                                                                                                 Lyrics by Peter Allen

     New York City – the place where dreams come true. But you have to start with a dream. Many an actor waits tables just dreaming of that elusive big break that comes when someone walks in and notices their talent. On my last trip to the Big Apple, I got to witness many a dream in formation when we had lunch at Ellen’s Stardust Diner on Broadway and 51st Street.

Outside Ellen's Stardust Diner - Broadway and 51st Street (safety scaffolding not included)
     There, on that corner, you will find a façade of an old subway car and a diner with a 1950’s feel to it. Head inside and you step back to the DooWop music era, with circular booths, a drive-in screen, lots of old-fashioned televisions, and live entertainment. The location once held Ellen’s Café. In 1987, the café closed and the Stardust Diner opened. Now considered a major tourist stop in NYC, Stardust Diner boasts some great food, reasonable prices and a singing wait staff. There’s a party going on right there, from opening to closing, each day.
One of the many waiters entertaining the house from the catwalk
     On our last day in the city, we made it a point to eat at the Stardust. I’ve heard that sometimes there’s a big wait to get in and get a seat. The diner doesn’t take reservations, unless you have a party of over 25 people. So, you take your chances on getting a table. This time, however, we got a place to sit and eat right away. There is lots of table space at the diner, with an upstairs balcony seating available. Tables in the balcony overlook the main floor. Any singing waiter works both levels of the house with great ease. Our show host bragged that last theater season, fourteen out of the sixteen waiters moved on to regular jobs in Broadway shows. This is THE place to get your start and get noticed.
A waiter singing to her customers from the main floor
      We ordered basic diner food here. Many of the offerings had celebrity titles that gave you an idea of the dish’s ingredients. The Jack LaLanne Veggie Burger has absolutely no hint of meat. Menu items like the Dean Martin and Marlon Brando have an Italian flair. Even the desserts have themed names. You can get “Wicked” cake (a chocolate peppermint cake with chocolate filling and vanilla cream icing), the Girl Scout (toasted coconut cake with chocolate filling, caramel icing, and more caramel and chocolate on top), and diner dessert basics (milkshakes, malted, pies, red velvet cake, and more).
Two levels to entertain with lots of balcony seating
      While we ate, the waiters took turns serenading us with popular show tunes from current hits, country songs from long ago, and doowop classics from the 1950’s and 60’s. Their stage is the aisles… yes, they walk around and sing to you at your table, while dodging other waiters delivering orders. There is a catwalk around the back of some of the center booths, too. All singers got on the catwalk for most of the song, since it brought them to “stage” level and everyone could see them. Some waiters encouraged you to sing along. And, of course, we did! Now I can say I sang on Broadway!
Our waiter - Nikki - singing the blues...

...from the catwalk
     Ellen’s Stardust Diner is a place you need to experience for yourself. Put this on you “Gotta do” list for the Big Apple. Check out their website for more information and menu list.
     Here’s the link: http://www.ellensstardustdiner.com/
     Now, the next time I head to NYC and go over to Stardust to eat, how many of YOU will I see in action, trying to live your dreams?

"When I Get My Name in Lights" by Peter Allen
The Boy from Oz

Keep dreaming…

Photos are the property of Marge McGugan. No reuse without permission. 
Video retrieved from YouTube on February 1, 2015 (public domain)