Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Farewell to War, Baby (Military Week)

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway is a classic war novel. This book is loosely based on Hemingway’s own experience.  Set in WWI, American Frederic Henry is an ambulance driver in the Italian Army. At one point, his buddy Rinaldi, introduces him to Catherine Barkley, an English nurse’s aide.  She’s on the rebound from the death of her fiancé and she’s a bit of a basket case.  One second she’s slapping Frederic when he leans forward to kiss her, the next minute she’s offering him a kiss.  He takes her up on the offer, and their lips barely part before she’s talking about their future life together. Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction comes to mind.  It’s almost spooky, but he plays along until he has to leave for duty. After receiving a nasty war wound to the knee, Frederic is sent to a hospital in Milan where he encounters Catherine again.  He falls in love with her during his recuperation time and Catherine becomes pregnant. Unfortunately, after a few months Frederic must return to his unit, and they are once again separated.  Of course, now he’d rather be with Catherine, especially when the Italians started executing officers involved in an unfortunate retreat.  That is when Frederic says “farewell” and escapes in a river.  He soon says “hello” to his Catherine as they meet again.  Life is good.  But before all is said and done, Frederic must say two more “farewells.”

I liked the book, but wasn't wholeheartedly enthralled with the writing; it seemed a tad stilted, at times terse and choppy.  Rinaldi also irritated me.  He constantly threw the word “baby” into his conversations. “How are you, baby?”  “Good-by, baby.” “Take your pants off, baby.” Shave his head and stick a lollipop in his mouth and you have Telly Savalas saying “Who loves ya, baby?” in the 1970's detective drama Kojak.  I couldn't wipe that image out of my head.

My husband thoroughly enjoyed this book.  He not only liked the descriptive war scenes, but surprisingly, he also liked the love story—more than I did

Like so many classics, this book is available free online.  Visit

There’s only us two and in the world there’s all the rest of them.”

Ernest Hemingway,  A Farewell to Arms  (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929; reprint, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957), 134.

“Nothing ever happens to the brave.”
“They die of course.”
“But only once.”

Ernest Hemingway,  A Farewell to Arms  (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929; reprint, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957), 134.

"God knows I had not wanted to fall in love with her. I had not wanted to fall in love with any one. But God knows I had…" 

Ernest Hemingway,  A Farewell to Arms  (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929; reprint, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957), 90.

Happy Reading,


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Monday, May 27, 2013

Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers

Thank You Servicemen and Servicewomen
(Military Week)

Today is Memorial Day, a day to commemorate the men and women who died during military service. It is a day to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.  And for all those who have been, or are now, in the military, willing to risk their lives on so many fronts (including physical and mental), I want to say thank you.  Thank you for offering so much!  Of course, the families of all soldiers also deserve our gratitude.  I cannot imagine the heartache and stress of not knowing if your loved one will come back, and if he or she does, what kind of person will they be after what they've been through. 

If ever there was an iconic image of war, the six men raising the flag on the island of Iwo Jima during WWII, certainly comes to mind.  I have to admit that I am not a history buff.  I don’t particularly like war movies.  When I read books set in a war, the battles are usually a backdrop to the main love story.  In other words, this is not my usual pick of books.  But I became interested in Flags of Our Fathers through a forwarded email.  It was about an eighth grade class that took a trip to D.C. On one of the stops the class visited the bronze statue of the flag raising in Iwo Jima. I don’t know if the story was true, but it stated that at the memorial statue, James Bradley, the author of Flags of Our Fathers, just happened to be there. He began to tell the students about the six boys who raised that flag. The “old man” of the group was only 24.  The youngest was 18. He told how three of them never left that island.  They died there.  The other three that survived were catapulted into an unwanted whirlwind that rocked their lives.  One of them was his father, John “Jack” (Doc) Bradley.  His father, Jack, made it a point to never speak of the war.  The only thing he ever said was “The real heroes are the guys who didn't come back.” And so after his father passed away, James took years of research to find the real stories of those six men who almost everybody recognized yet not many people knew.

Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley with Ron Powers examines the lives of the six young men who became instant and even reluctant heroes in that iconic photo of the flag raising on Iwo Jima in February of 1945. The book relays the background of each of the men, who they were and what family values formed them. Bradley pieced together their histories as well as the realities of the unforgettable battle with heart wrenching detail.

It was only 1/400th of a second, the time it took to take that photo, but the magnitude of the resulting propaganda had a huge impact.  For the six men it was just that, a blip in time compared to the job they had at hand. When the flag went up the fighting was far from over, though Americans hailed the photo as a victorious boost to morale. It touched the people and the government saw it as a great opportunity. The three surviving men were pulled from the battle to begin a Bond Tour to raise more money for the war efforts.  They became instant heroes, whether they liked it or not.  Each had a different way of handling that fame.  Rene Gagnon hoped his notoriety would help him gain employment.  It didn't.  Ira Hayes hid behind the bottle and eventually died at age 32.  Only Jack Bradley, the author’s father, did his tour duty then forevermore backed away from the press after he left the service.  With great determination, he kept his private life private and never talked of the war again.  That was his way of handling it.  He decided to go on with his life.

The stories of the six men are compelling. But more than their stories, we see that they were just six small but valuable parts in a much bigger story.  There were so many others, so many who suffered, who gave their lives.  Eighty thousand American men fought 22,000 Japanese for over one month in unimaginable circumstances. Our U.S. Marines could not see the enemies.  Sixteen miles of underground tunnels hid the Japanese as they picked our guys off. After a long and bloody battle, the Marines finally did conquer that tiny sulphur-stinking island which we desperately needed for a landing strip en route to Japan.  But it was at enormous cost. 22,851 casualties. 7,000 dead. It was “one of the most intense and closely fought battles of any war.” If war books do not usually make it onto your reading list, you may want to reconsider just this once.  Flags of Our Fathers is dramatic, moving, and enlightening.

When you go home
Tell them for us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today

Message chiseled outside the cemetery on Iwo Jima
Flags of Our Fathers James Bradley with Ron Powers, (New York: Bantam Books, 2000), 247.


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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Realities of Restaurants (Memorable Memoirs Week)

Maybe you’re a foodie who likens the exciting popping sensation of quinoa to a vegetarian caviar.  Perhaps you’re the couple who has to be the first to try every new restaurant—then pass your valuable critiques onto friends and family. Or do you prefer the “all you can eat buffets” where troughs of enigmatic food from every imaginable country are ready for sampling? Maybe you’re none of those, just a regular Joe-Schmo (or Jolene-Schmolene) where dining out is a special occasion, befitting to dusting off your finest duds, ready to be schmoozed in a tablecloth and candle-lit atmosphere.  Or perchance, you’re one of the brave ones—an aspiring chef.  Whoever you are or how you prefer your intake of professionally-concocted sustenance, Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain may be a book for your consideration. This book is a memoir of Chef Anthony Bourdain’s humble beginnings as a dishwasher (sudsbuster, a.k.a. pearl diver), to his education in the Culinary Institute of America, to various restaurant venues, to a renown executive chef in the Brasserie Les Halls in Manhattan. And with the honest and sarcastic wit you may have come to know in his TV series, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, this book is an eye-opening, humorous tell-all.  In it you’ll be served a behind the scenes look at the high-stress restaurant world, where tension and cocaine meet skill and timing.  After reading this book, you’ll either appreciate your dining experience much more, or you’ll think twice before ordering the fish on Monday.  You’ll know what it takes to put it all together. You’ll meet the dream-team of ruffians that make it all happen. You’ll understand what an amazing feat it is to feed a 200+ seat restaurant, along with a 150+ seat grill, and top it off with an entire floor of banquet rooms from a kitchen “as big as a hangar.” You may even feel ashamed or at the very least present a nice little blush the next time you demand gluten-free bread or the vegetarian meat platter or what-have-you when it’s not on the menu.  I truly enjoyed this irreverent look at the restaurant business. So did my husband and son.  

"Jimmy had “moves,” meaning he spun and twirled and stabbed at meat with considerable style and grace for a 220-pound man.  He was credited with coming up with “the bump”—a bit of business where a broiler man with both hands full of sizzle-platters knocks the grill back under the flames with his hip."
Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2000), 26.

Cook well done translates to “Burn it!” or “Murder it!” or “Kill it!”
Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2000), 224.

Happy reading and eating!


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Monday, May 20, 2013

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

An “Adventurous” Childhood (Memorable Memoirs Week)

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a memorable memoir about kids growing up in a highly dysfunctional family.  Both parents were extremely intelligent, but seemed to do everything they could avoid work and properly provide for Jeannette and her three siblings. Instead, the kids were always dirty, hungry outcasts. What makes this book so memorable is that the incredible incidents are heaped on one after the other; leaving me in slack-jawed astonishment that people could really be like that. Jeannette doesn't seem to judge the parents harshly, when I’m not sure most people would be so tolerant. Her father was an alcoholic. Her self-centered mother only wanted to be an artist. She was seriously devoid of maternal instincts genes. The need to work so her family could eat was a distasteful concept. When she was “forced” to take a teaching job, the kids were the ones who ended up grading her papers and nearly pushing her out the door to work. Both parents made sure their kids knew Santa Claus wasn't real, just in case they got it into their heads that they might actually get lavish presents.  They weren't complete scrooges, though.  They did celebrate Christmas—usually just a week later.  That way they could grab discarded Christmas trees, ribbons and bows after the fact. One memorable moment was when Jeannette’s dad gave her a star for a Christmas present. He told her to pick one out of the sky and she could have it for keeps. “Years from now, when all the junk they [the other kids] got is broken and long forgotten,” Dad said, “you’ll still have your stars.”

Don’t miss this book.  The buzz it generated when it was published in 2005 was well deserved. I actually got my son to read this book—and even he really liked it! 

Update:  Jan/2017: My daughter just read it on her maternity leave, and yes, she loved it too!

Happy reading!


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Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Reluctant Tuscan by Phil Doran and Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

From Italy With Love (European Getaway Week)

The Reluctant Tuscan: How I Discovered My Inner Italian by Phil Doran. Phil Doran is a burned-out Hollywood writer for TV sitcoms who reluctantly agrees to move to Italy after his wife bought a 300-year-old farmhouse in a small town in Tuscany. Anyone who has ever done any renovations or repairs in their home knows what a headache it can be.  But throw in a different language and top it off with frustrating bureaucratic green, white, and red tape, and you have the makings of an amusing disaster.  Told with the witty style you would expect from a comedy writer, their venture in this little village will bring a smile on your face.  From the unexpected coldness of the neighbor, to the experience of driving in Italy, to the community efforts of harvesting olives, this book will transport you to the Italian countryside—if, reluctantly, only for a little while.  I truly enjoyed this fun and easy read.

“Growing up in southern California, her blood had turned to orange juice, and she was physically incapable of surviving cold weather unless it was on a ski trip.”
Phil Doran, The Reluctant Tuscan (Penguin Group, USA Inc., 2005), 27.

Bonus Review: 
If a great, big helping of the warmth and beauty of Italy is what you crave, then don’t skip on the satisfying treat of Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes.  Yes. It’s another book about another old farmhouse renovation, another new start in a foreign country. But its appeal is uniquely different.  Mayes serves generous descriptions of the splendor of Tuscany and blends it together with the pleasure of simply delicious Italian meals. If you've seen the movie first, you may be slightly disappointed. While the book and the movie are mostly similar in the renovations and the culinary feasts, the greatest difference is that her journey is not a quest to find herself; she was already further along that road in the book. Frances buys the home with her husband and together they renovate the farmhouse while delving into a quiet, Italian existence.

Happy Reading!

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Monday, May 13, 2013

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle and C’est La Vie by Suzy Gershman

The French Connection (European Getaway Week)

Summer is almost here and I think of all the people getting ready for their vacations. I know some dinks (dual income, no kids) who are able to go snorkeling in Thailand, or others who have soaked in the healing pools of Iceland, or biked across Germany. And, I’m ashamed to say, I get a little jealous.  I want to travel, too—like we did in the times of B.C. (before children).  We went to New Zealand (awesome Shotover Jets), Bahamas (delicious conch fritters), and Tahiti (take plenty of sunscreen). I’ve also been to Germany (wunderbar cold cuts and chocolate) and Mexico (oh the fish tacos!).  But we've been on a really long dry spell now and going overseas is a dream we reserve for our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary (next year, so I better start saving). In the meantime, I can still travel through books.  A Year in Provence was one of my favorite trips. 

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle is a humorous account of a British couple who moves to an old farmhouse in Southern France. Thinking back on this book, the IHOP slogan keeps running through my mind.  “Come hungry, leave happy.”  I read this book over twenty years ago when it was first published and I still drool when I think of all the delectable food Peter Mayle mentioned.  From the “sugared slices of fried bread called tranches dorées,” to the cold roasted peppers, slippery with olive oil and speckled with fresh basil, tiny mussels wrapped in bacon and barbequed on skewers, salad and cheese,” my taste buds never forgot my little jaunt to Provence with Mr. Mayle. His writing style is memorable, too. With charming wit Mayle takes us with him month by month as we explore his new surroundings and neighbors. We learn about truffle hunting, the mistrals, and how to move a frozen stone table with a little help from your friends. I highly recommend this enjoyable book!

While I prefer having my paperback copy of A Year in Provence that I can read again whenever I need a “mind vacation” you can read a free version of this book online if you like at

Update February, 2014.  My mother finally read A Year in Provence and LOVED it! This book quickly became her "standard" for other books to live up to. ("It's okay, it's just not as funny as A Year in Provence. That book made me laugh out loud.")    

More French Getaways: 

Bonus Review: 
C’est La Vie: An American Woman Begins a New Life in Paris and—Voila!—Becomes Almost French by Suzy Gershman is a love and complaint letter of life in Paris. The book is based on the true events of an American widow who moves to Paris and immerses herself into a new and exciting culture where even “older” women are sexy, where joie de vivre is something everyone strives for by enjoying good food and good company.  Living there is thrilling but can also be complicated. Getting an apartment is an ordeal, installing or exchanging a fax machine is a nightmare, and by law stores can only hold sales twice a year, which puts a major crimp in the clothing budget. 

My book club read this memoir and it was not embraced with enthusiasm.  The major objection was that it seemed to be a tad drawn out at times. I don’t dare mention the “chicken juices” to my sister. According to my sister, Suzy went on about it a little too much. Ditto for her linen search. More moans came from the fact that Suzy kept lamenting the fact that she didn't have much money. Well we’d all like to have that “little” money to buy a cottage on the beach in France. The other half of the book club appreciated it a little more for what it was, an eye opening adventure into the City of Lights, a dip into a different way of life.

"Suzy Gershman dies at 64; breezy 'Born to Shop' series author" (August 4, 2012).  Click here to read article. 

Happy Travels Through Reading!

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers

Appreciating our Mothers (Moms Week)

Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers is a small book that delivers a swift punch. The words are limited but speak volumes as a busy mother and her teenage daughter communicate to each other through notes.  They leave the usual messages about being late, babysitting, reminders to pick up a few groceries. One note, however, is a little different. “It’s nothing to worry about, but I found a lump in my right breast.” This book took no time to read. Some entries are a mere few words. But added together, they complete a full and touching story, one that makes us appreciate and cherish relationships with our own mothers and daughters.  


I can honestly say that I've always appreciated my mom, although I may not have shown it as much as I should.  My mom was and still is one person who, without fail, never stops looking out for me and my sisters.  She’s permanently in our corner. And even though we tease her on so many levels, we do it with love.  My mom is easy to tease because she has an accent as thick as a liverwurst sandwich.  Sometimes her accent embarrassed us, especially when we repeated things she said. Imagine the other kids laughing when we talked about Weenie the Pooh, not Winnie the Pooh. Or how about when we told friends that we went shopping at Pierre 100 (Pier 1)?  For the most part, though, we were on to her and laughed at her twisted talk. She had a “whole sloot” of sayings up her sleeve and she wasn't afraid to use them. She’d say things like:  “You’d forget your hat if it wasn't attached; I gotta watch you like a hog; I have a chicken to plug with you; I’m between a rock and a hot plate.”

Ah yes, she kept us laughing. We definitely had her beat in English. But she trumped us on too many other fronts to count.  She was an extraordinary seamstress and used to make all our matching clothes.  I, on the other hand, can only sew things like pillowcases and other first-grade projects.  She’s given up some of her hobbies, but on the culinary front, my mom is still the master cook.  She makes a pork roast that will melt in your mouth and have you doing the chicken dance for joy.

As an adult now, I really owe my mom an apology, and not just for making fun of her accent.  Looking back I see things so much clearer.  I finally understand her overreaction when we learned to drive.  My mom was so tense her butt cheeks almost pinched chunks out of the car seat while her feet wildly stomped on her imaginary brake on the passenger side.  She was a wreck, a ball of nerves.  I could see visible sweat streaming down the side of her face and blossoming around her armpits when I came to a 6-way stop.  This was a busy street in Las Vegas.  And people in Las Vegas were not known for the patience or hometown friendliness.  Cars were lined up in all directions.  The idea was to stop and trot.  The rule is, don’t linger or you’re really going to irritate a lot of Elvis impersonators and showgirls behind you.  But my mom was almost hyperventilating as I rolled to the front.  “Just wait!” she yelled.  “Wait?” I asked panicking.  “Yes!!  Wait for everyone to go!!”  Her voice started cracking. I was starting to sweat, too. “Wait for everyone in all the lines to go?!” I shouted.  “YES!!!!”  What should I do, listen to a frantic woman and feel the wrath of the other cars, or should I move it?  Finally, against her wishes, I pushed the gas pedal and took off through the intersection. And you know what?  We survived.  It all seems so drastic now, so over dramatic—until my son wanted me to teach him to drive.  Suddenly, I was reincarnated into my still-living mother.  I panicked, pinched, and yelled.  And then I did the only wise thing I could think of.  I let his dad teach him to drive. 

Sometimes even mothers deserve a pass. 

Happy Mother’s Day!!  Y


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Monday, May 6, 2013

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan

A Winner of a Mom (Moms Week)

The full title of this book is The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less by Terry Ryan. That pretty much sets the premise of the book, which is based on the true story of Evelyn Ryan who raised a hungry brood on contest winnings in the 1950s and ‘60s. Her husband was an alcoholic who contributed very little to the family. In fact, his inability to provide for his family, coupled with his abusive temper was a hindrance that Evelyn had to work around. Undaunted, Evelyn armed herself with humor and an indomitable spirit and plowed forward to support her family the best she could.  She did that by writing snappy little jingles for products like Dial soap, Lipton Soup, Heinz ketchup, and more.  And she was good at it.  She would set up her ironing board, get out her note cards, and write lines like: “Dial is wonderful, gently repealing what most fresheners just succeed in concealing.” She won many, many prizes: money, food, toys, and appliances just to name a few. It was because of her winnings that her kids were able to enjoy roller skates, pogo sticks, sleds, and boots. One of the most memorable scenes in the book is when she won a shopping spree at a local supermarket. Weeks before the scheduled ten-minute spree she strategized on ways to make the most of the “assault.” She shot through the store “like a missile” and hauled in $411.44 worth of goodies (about $3,000 today)!  This book is a true love letter to a mother who gave all she had to keeping her family fed and happy! 


My fearless mother and sister
My mom didn't have to win prizes in order to feed us, but like Evelyn Ryan’s kids, we too, hit the lottery in moms.  My sister always had a lot of faith in my mom.  She would volunteer her for all kinds of things.  When her Brownie Troop leader asked if anyone’s mom would be willing to provide juice and cupcakes for the next meeting, my sister’s hands shot up in the air without hesitation.  “My mom can do it,” she proudly said. She knew she could and would do anything—even providing food and drinks to a troop of twenty girls, even if my mom didn't have driver’s license or transportation.  Of course my sister was right. My mom might have rolled her eyes at being volunteered, but she was a trouper. She loaded my sister on the back of the bike rack and handed her a tray of carefully decorated cupcakes to hold onto.  Then she slung a gallon of red Kool-Aid on each handlebar of the bike and off they went. Now, my mom wasn't about to take my sister on a busy four-lane street with no shoulders while balancing her daughter, cupcakes, and drinks.  So, she wisely took the back streets through the neighborhoods.  

The problem was that one neighborhood was separated by the other with a big dirt drainage ditch.  When my mom came to the ditch, I don’t know exactly what she was thinking. Was she irritated that she had to unload everything and carry it little by little through this impediment? Was she running late?  Or was she feeling particularly daring that day? From her actions, I assume the latter.  Like Evel Knievel jumping the fountains at Caesar’s Palace, she must have assessed the distance, the direction of the wind, the weight of the bike, daughter, goodies, and herself, and thought, “Oh, yeah. I've got this.”  She backed the bike up a few yards. I can imagine her warming up with a couple of shoulder  shrugs and roll of her neck, then one final deep breath AND --- pedal, pedal, pedal!! Legs pumping, heart racing, and suddenly she was airborne!  She probably felt the wind flying through her hair and the flapping of her imaginary cape, just like Evel Knievel.   She could see the other side. Victory was inches away. Then, boom!  Just like Evel she fell short and crashed.  Unlike Evel, my mom and sister were the lucky ones. No broken bones, no video cameras capturing her humiliating failure.  No one to see the cupcakes flying in the air, the red juice splashing in the dry dirt, a little Brownie cap soaring like a Frisbee, my sister scraped and crying, and my dazed mother wondering “What just happened?”  It was an epic failure and an epic family story to tell over and over, that’s what happened.

Well, maybe not quite like that. I may have exaggerated a tiny bit. This story is one we love to tell over and over when we need a good chuckle. And like a good legend, the tale just may have grown a bit bigger. The truth is my mom never got airborne.  In reality, that ditch was way too wide to jump over.  Even Evel would have known that.  Still with great bravado my mom boldly raced her bike (along with daughter, cupcakes, juice, etc.) down the ditch, somehow hoping to have enough momentum to plow it back up on the other side. She lost control and crashed before she got to the bottom.  The rest is true; food, drinks, daughter, and pride crashed all around her.  It IS an epic family story. And to us, especially my sister, my mom was still a hero for having tried such a daring feat.  That’s our mother:  Fearless, selfless, and ready to make us laugh.  

Happy Mother’s Day!! Y


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Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Achieving Your Childhood Dreams 
(Teacher Appreciation Week)

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch is an inspirational lecture by a professor of computer science who was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Professor Randy Pausch was a 47-year-old man who had a wife and three small children—and three months to live. With precious time to waste, he felt the need to deliver one last message to his students, and mainly to his kids.  His lecture wasn’t about coping with dying. It was about living.  The lecture was titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” but it went into so much more than that.  Pausch weaved his optimism through stories of his life.  While the cancer lingered as a backdrop, the meat of the book contained tools for living an abundant life. He urged the need to never give up, the determination to follow your dreams and enable the dreams of others, as well as simple common sense tips like always telling the truth.  Some of his anecdotes were poignant.  Some were funny like the “dream” balloon ride with his new bride on their wedding day. As a teacher,
Randy was direct and demanding. He had high expectations of his students and wanted them to reach their potential. Pausch said: “I’m a scientist who sees inspiration as the ultimate tool for doing good.” He was actually talking about the inspiration of the moon landing in 1969, but he could just as well have been talking about himself.  With this book he leaves a force of motivation, not just for his students, but for others, too.  This book is saturated with life lessons for all of us.

Randy Pausch died on July 25, 2008. 

Visit to view the video of his “last lecture.”

“I’m a scientist who sees inspiration as the ultimate tool for doing good.”
Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture (New York: Hyperion, 2008), 132.

“The brick walls are there for a reason. They’re not there to keep us out.  The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”
Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture (New York: Hyperion, 2008), 51-52.

“…failure is not just acceptable, it’s often essential.”
Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture (New York: Hyperion, 2008), 148.


Mr. Edward Turek
Professor Pausch seems like one of those teachers where people lined up to get in his class.  Mr. Turek’s class was like that.  Marriage and Family, or something like that, was the name of the class that everyone at Eldorado High School wanted to get into. It was the class where you got to carry around an egg for a few weeks pretending it was your baby. It was supposed to be a lesson in responsibility, but for us teens, it was pure fun.  Like an infant, the egg was fragile and you had to take it everywhere with you or arrange for babysitting.  I really wanted to get into that class, but it was an elective, and electives were handled in an unusual manner back then.  Elective registration day was a normal day at the end of the school year, with one exception. Instead of attending our regular classes, when the bell rang we had run to the elective classroom and take a seat.  But like I said, Marriage and Family was a popular class.  There was an incident.  Injuries occurred. Tempers flared. No eggs would have survived.

When the bell rang that day, I was ready.  Like most people, I had worn a good pair of tennis shoes so I could sprint to Mr Turek’s Marriage and Family class.  Unfortunately, it was located on the other side of the school and I reached his door at the same time as a mob of other students arrived. We all tried to squish through the door at the same time. People were pushing and screaming.  Someone lost their shoe in the doorway. An elbow met someone’s eye.  I guess the parenting training was already underway.  These teens were getting ready for their future kids’ soccer games.

Mr. Turek took command. He was a big man and quickly controlled the mob.  Like sheep everyone stopped pushing and slowly, orderly filed into the classroom. Sadly, by the time I made my way into the room, I was out of luck.  There were no more seats to be had.  I was kicked off the team.  The rejected ones left the classroom quietly, much different than our arrival.  So with our heads hung we searched for other elective courses.  But by that time all the other cool electives were also full.  I finally found my way to the Music Appreciation course way out behind the cafeteria along with the three other people who had nowhere to go.  The teacher was nice enough, but there were no eggs involved in this class.  That, and the fact that I didn't play an instrument or sing, left me feeling out of sorts.  A few days later I transferred to a Shorthand class. Ask me how much I remember about that one.    That was the last year electives were handled in the “sprint and sit” fashion. 

H.B. "Playing in the yard."
I moved on, but I wasn't happy about it. What added salt to my wound was that my little sister got into the class the following year.  And there she was with her cute little egg all dressed up taking pictures with him on the lawn.  Such a happy little family. In keeping with the trends of the time, his name was H.B., sort of like J.R. Ewing on the TV show Dallas.  I don’t know what J.R. ever stood for, but H.B. was short for hard boiled. For me it was a hard boiled lesson that you don’t always get what you want in life.  But I can’t complain.  I now have two kids of my own—the real life kind.  No eggs here. Life is good.

Other teachers who have made a difference in my life:  Mr. Erbe and Mr. Haynes, and of course, Mrs. Vento. 

Teacher Appreciation Week starts May 6th.  Is there a teacher that made a difference in your life? Enter a comment or email me at and I will post your answer.

Happy reading!


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