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The Quiet Miracle

It was the year 1921 and the place was the Indianapolis Speedway-site of the International Balloon Race. Elmer Cline looked up at the clear blue sky, filled with awe. To be specific, he was filled with "wonder" (his word) at the sight of hundreds of red, blue, and yellow hot air balloons. Now Elmer was no run-of-the-mill fan of hot air balloons. In fact he was the vice-president for Taggart Baking Company, a business in need of a slogan to promote a new loaf of bread. Inspiration struck. Surely, if balloons can fill a spectator with wonder, Taggart's new product could do the same. Wonder Bread was born and with it came an ingenious ad campaign. Taggert trucks delivered helium-filled balloons to children living in the city of Indianapolis. Attached to the balloons were letters inviting families to try their new bread. Elmer's inspiration was a hit and Wonder Bread became a national sensation. In addition to the clever ad campaign, Wonder Bread was a novelty. For the first time consumers could buy pre-sliced bread. If you ever hear the expression-"the best invention since sliced bread"-you now know where it comes from.

Wonder Bread was one of the first baking companies to enhance white bread with vitamins and minerals. Bread enrichment became known as "the quiet miracle", nearly eliminating the disease Beriberi. This is not a trifling event. In researching this post, my sister helped out by sending me photos of this horrible skin disease that looked like the beginning stages of leprosy. As kids, we used to joke about Wonder Bread "building bodies twelve ways." No more jokes from me. If this is not enough to convince you of the wonder in this bread, there is more to learn. Wonder Bread invented a revolutionary way to bake bread without holes. Wait. There's more. In the 1970's, Wonder Bread was one of the first companies to clearly label freshness dates and product ingredients.

So the next time you buy a loaf of sliced bread and read the label for freshness and ingredients, think of Elmer Cline and his sense of wonder at hot-air balloons and the invention of sliced bread. 

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8:46 AM

Ask those old enough to remember the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 and they will tell you where they were and how they heard. I first heard from a neighbor who called to say a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Immediately I thought a small sightseeing plane had gone off course and nicked the towers with a wing. I turned on the television to follow the story. We all sat transfixed in front of the television watching the planes crash into the famous twin towers. Smoke billowed out from the buildings. People jumped from windows. Debris crushed first responders racing to help. To me, it was incomprehensible. I was in shock. Many people felt the same way. Yet some witnesses did find a way to respond. That way was through music. That way was through Mozart's Requiem, his unfinished masterpiece written as the great composer lay dying.

Four months later, in January 2002, a woman sat in a Seattle concert hall listening to the singers perform the requiem. As she listened, a vision came to her. It was a vision of 3,000 singers-one voice for each person lost- circling Ground Zero on Sept 11th, singing Mozart's piece. She shared the vision with chorale members who ran with the idea, although they revised the vision to encompass choirs singing at locations throughout the globe. E-mails were sent out to choirs around the world. Computers lit up as e-mails poured into the Seattle chorale. As one singer said, "It was like Christmas morning." The Rolling Requiem was born-a shining tribute to the power of music to bring people together.

One of the first to respond was a professional choir from Latvia, a country that had suffered attacks for thousands of years. A spokesman said, "We respond with art. We sing against our enemies." And so it was for all the world.

On Sept 11, 2002 at precisely 8:46 AM- the time when the first plane hit the north tower, the requiem began in Auckland, New Zealand. Mozart's music circled the globe, traveling through 20 time zones, each starting at 8:46 AM local time. It involved 40 states and 23 countries, ending in American Samoa 24 hours later.

Back in Seattle, a sell-out concert was performed at Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners. Singers wore heart-shaped badges, each bearing the name of one person who died in the terrorist attacks.

The Rolling Requiem was a global phenomenon, testimony to the power of music to bring people together in circumstances that are beyond words. 

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Meet my hero...Jim Trelease.

Back in the 1960's Jim Trelease was a journalist and young father who derived enjoyment reading to his children every night. At that time, he did not know that those moments cozied up on the couch with a good book had many cognitive and emotional benefits for his children. He read because his father read to him –a cherished memory. Jim began to visit classrooms and discovered that the children loved to be read to and to talk about books. Not every classroom had enthusiastic readers, but there were isolated pockets. What classroom environment made the difference? Eventually he solved the mystery. In those classrooms where children loved books, the teacher read to them on a regular basis. He also found that parents and teachers had no idea where to find good books. Jim took the bull by the horns and self-published his first read-aloud book that eventually was published by Penguin Books. On one momentous day, a young parent sent a letter to Dear Abby- the syndicated advice columnist, extolling the virtues of his book. Overnight, Penguin received 120,000 orders. The Read-Aloud movement was born.

Trelease emphasizes the importance of parents reading to their children. Don't wait for miracles from teachers. He looks at the math. Children spend 900 hours a year in school and 7800 hours outside of school. He asks an important question. "Where is more time available for change? Reading aloud is the catalyst for the child wanting to read on his own, but it also provides a foundation by nurturing the child's comprehension." When children like the experience, subject matter, and see their parents reading aloud, they are motivated to read. Trelease emphasizes the importance of fathers reading to their children, frequent trips to the library, and having many books around the house.

I still remember my father talk about his favorite author Albert Payson Terhune and his series of books about dogs. Simple encouragement from dad and I was hooked. One day in fifth grade I opened the top of my desk and hid my head inside while I read, absorbed in Terhune's book, Lad a Dog. Suddenly, I felt a presence looming over me. Miss Palazzi was standing akimbo trying to get my attention. Gulp.

It is the start of the school year, but it is important for parents to foster the love of learning all year round, learning that lasts a lifetime. Start a read-aloud program at your house. It is easy and fun. You don't have to figure out how to do this yourself. His website has free materials and other resources.


Consider buying The Read-Aloud Handbook.You won't regret it. 

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This post is risky...

...because I am writing about the 2004 Boston Red Sox winning the World Series after a drought of 86 years. As many of you know, the 2018 Red Sox have the best record in the major leagues. Mookie Betts is tops in batting average, and J.D. Martinez leads in homers and RBIs. Reds Sox fans are excited, but nervous. Red Sox fans are always nervous, no matter how well the hometown team is doing. They know things can go south quickly. Remember Popeye-gate? Remember Aaron Boone's homer? Remember Bill Buckner's bungled bouncer through his legs? True Red Sox fans carry these moments in their hearts. At best, they can only be cautiously optimistic. Some serious fans will consider this post a jinx. Why mention their beloved team in connection with the World Series? Do most Red Sox fans dare say that they will even make it into the playoffs? No way.

However, I do think it is safe to write about a remarkable book published in 2004. Faithful: Two Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season.Those two fans were Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King. What I find incredible is the timing of this book. In early 2004, neither knew what lay ahead, not an inkling that an historic summer awaited them. Stephen King's son even questioned why he would waste his time writing about these perennial losers. Still, hope stirred in their hearts. Pitchers Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke were new acquisitions, along with an unproven manager Terry Francona. The table was set; let the writing begin.

O'Nan explained "this book should reflect the depths of our obsession as well as how quickly the tone of a season changes. To get the emotions while they were fresh, the book is in double-diary form…We did our best to have a regular Sox-filled summer…In baring our relationship with the Sox, we hope to illuminate readers' feelings for their favorite teams." It is written in the first person and in the present tense. Even now, a fan can read this book and relive the 2004 season.

They are a quirky pair. O'Nan obsesses over catching foul balls in the stands. King is asked to throw out the first ball at Fenway, but agonizes over whether to accept the offer. After all, the last time he threw out the ceremonial first ball, the Sox lost. We all know how it all ends. The Red Sox reverse the curse, making an historic comeback against the Yankees and sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals. Giant headlines adorned the Boston newspapers. AT LAST! HELL FREEZES OVER! I remember walking into the supermarket and seeing a huge cardboard photographic image of Sox star Johnny Damon standing in the potato chip section.

I don't know if any Red Sox fan would read this book in the midst of a potentially hopeful season (notice my careful wording). You see, to read the book could possibly be a jinx. I know what you are thinking. To read this post could also be a jinx. The next sentence I say in a whisper so no one hears. If things don't turn out quite the way we kinda, sorta hope, don't blame me. 

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The Perseid Meteor Showers! Don't Miss Them!

 I am the world's worst observer of the Perseid meteor showers. I mark my calendar for its August arrival, wait for dark, and step out onto the porch to study the heavens, joined by my husband, Robert. After several minutes nothing happens, except the buzzing of mosquitoes around my ear. I make the mistake and blink. Robert gasps at the beauty of the first shooting star. He looks into deep space and sees a clean streak of white on the celestial chalkboard. I miss it. I vow to really keep my eyes open this time. My eyes get dry and I have to blink. Zoom! I missed one again. I look to the right and it flashes to the left. I look to the left and it flashes to my right. Next Robert reports that I missed a beauty that appeared behind me. Now my neck is sore. It is time to go inside to take a break, pretending to need a drink of water. Of course, during that time I miss the most spectacular meteor shower of the century.

Every now and then I do get lucky and see flashes across the glittering night sky. Science tells us that we are not really seeing shooting stars, but streams of debris that stretch across the orbit of the comet Swift-Tuttle. Every year, the earth passes through this debris. The debris heats up as it enters the earth's atmosphere, traveling at 37 miles per second. Voila! We have a shooting star traveling from the constellation Perseid, named after the Greek hero Perseus-slayer of monsters.

Another name cropped up when researching this August light show. It is also called "the tears of Saint Lawrence." Every year, the Perseid meteor showers coincide with the feast of St. Lawrence (August 10). He was a Christian martyr who died in the year 258 AD, burned alive on a hot gridiron. Shooting stars represent sparks from that ghastly fire. Cooled embers that landed on earth were called the coals of Saint Lawrence.

NASA meteor expert Bill Cooke has some recommendations for this celestial event. Go to a dark area with no city lights. It takes 30 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. Plan to sit out there for several hours and watch for meteors appearing at a rate of 60-70 per hour. Make yourself comfortable, take some snacks, and enjoy the show. Friday and Saturday night will be the best viewing. The crescent moon will have set by early evening, thus making it easier to view.

I did learn that the best time to see the show is the pre-dawn hours, which just happen to be my favorite time of day. Guess I'll be up early with a cup of coffee to watch the fireworks. As I gaze into glittering jewels dotting the black sky, my soul is captured by this glimpse at eternity. Now I wait and try not to blink.

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