Thanking Mr. Teret

Five years ago, I contacted my high school marine biology teacher by mailing him a letter.  He was one of the handful of teachers who have made a positive impact in my life and I needed to let him know how far his efforts went.  He was much more than a science teacher to me; he taught me how to write better, how to organize my thoughts, how to use logic, how to be responsible, and how to be more efficient in everything I do.  Most importantly, he developed in me a deep respect and interest in marine life that I still carry with me today.  And he was also funny.  In my high school yearbook he wrote, “Success and happiness to a nice squid, don’t flounder around”.

After I mailed my letter to Mr. Teret, he soon got back to me and was ecstatically thankful to me for contacting him.  We spoke on the phone and had a great conversation.  He told me how a few of his former students like myself have reached out to let him know that they too still have a love and interest in marine biology because of him.  I told him all the interesting things I’ve been doing in my life lately and he enjoyed hearing about them.  I also told him about a trip I was planning with my family to go on a whale watch in Provincetown, Cape Cod.  Back in 1982, Mr. Teret brought my class and me on our first whale watch trip together.  It was a pivotal trip in my life that began my life-long fascination with whales.

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Me with fellow members of my marine biology class taking notes on a research vessel, circa early 1980s.

Just a few weeks ago, Mr. Teret contacted me out of the blue.  He had just received a lifetime achievement award from the New York State Marine Education Association.  This award called the Founder’s Award, is a highly-coveted prize that very few will ever receive.  When he went on stage to receive this award, he mentioned a handful of his former students whom he had over the years and how they had contacted him years later to thank him for developing a life-long interest in marine biology.  One of the students he mentioned was me.  It brought me great happiness to hear this, possibly as much happiness to Mr. Teret as when I first contacted him five years ago to let him know how much he meant to my life.  The mutual appreciation between Mr. Teret and myself had now become full-circle.

I now impart my wisdom and fascination with marine biology to my own children.  My son, daughter and I recently assisted a marine scientist on a horseshoe crab count at a nearby beach, something you could say was 34 years in the making.

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Me trying to remove discarded fishing line that was tightly wound around the legs of a young horseshoe crab.  Eventually we removed all of the line and let the crab swim away.  I’m sure it was grateful for our efforts.

If you have a teacher who has made an impact in your life the way Mr. Teret has made in mine, I highly recommend that you contact them while you still can.  It’s a worthwhile endeavor that you won’t regret.

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I Am A Yes Man

This morning my eyes opened up at 6:00am as they are conditioned to do every day for work, but my body was in no condition at all to get out of bed.  I knew that if I didn’t force myself to go back to bed to get a few more hours of sleep, I could not use my precious unplanned Saturday to restore myself back to the normal person I once was just a few weeks ago.  You see, I’m a yes man, and a yes man needs at least one day out of the week to do absolutely nothing but rest.  And living the life of a yes man can bring a lot of excitement and adventure, but sometimes at a detrimental cost, which is extreme tiredness and irritability.

A yes man says yes to many opportunities or proposals that are presented to him.  In the romantic comedy of the same name, the story begins with the actor James Carrey playing a guy named Carl Allen who is always saying “no” to everything.  He signs up for a self-help program based on the premise of simply saying “yes” to everything.  This transforms his life and he gets to the point where he can only say yes to everything.  A lot of amazing and unexpected things happen to him along the way, but of course, he ends up getting so exhausted that he can no longer function.  During his “yes” adventures, he takes classes in Korean and is able to speak with a Korean storeowner, blind dates an arabic woman in full Muslim garb, role-plays at a Harry Potter-themed party, learns how to play the guitar, which helps him save a suicidal guy’s life, and meets the girl of his dreams who simply falls in love with him due to his zest for experiencing everything that life has to offer.  Towards the end of the film, he realizes that he cannot always say yes to absolutely everything because there are some things that a person genuinely doesn’t want to do.

Yes Man poster art.

For whatever the reason, I’m the kind of person who tries to find a reason to do something rather than a reason NOT to do something.  It may be rooted in wanting to please my own mother or to feed a need to help others, or simply it could be to please the adventurous side of me that wants to continue to do things in life that I have never done before, or it can be a combination of all of these things.  Or it may be that I have a very serious case of joie de vivre.  Whatever the reason, often saying yes to opportunities and requests from friends has brought me to new and exciting adventures in life, helped me make a lot of new friends and has taught me to open my mind to a world without limitations.  But my mom thinks I’m nuts to do as much as I do in my life and I agree with her.  I am often tired from doing as much as I do and my tiredness shows.  But being a yes man is addictive for me and I just can’t stop it.

When my daughter was a little girl, my yes man ways became apparent when she said this to me, “Daddy, you are different than Mommy; where she often says ‘no’, most of the time, you say ‘yes’ and sometimes ‘maybe'”.

Here are a bunch of interesting and crazy things I have done in my life where my yes man attitude has compelled me to make these things happen:

  • I participated in a police line-up to make some extra money
  • I took a course in Chinese in college for no other reason but for the challenge
  • I portrayed a naked dead guy in a Law & Order: SVU episode
  • I learned to play the piano
  • I’m the publicity director of my running club
  • I’ve raised over $4,000 for my running club’s scholarship fund
  • I’m the President of my condo building
  • I’ve smoked cigarettes for film and TV roles (I’m a non-smoker)
  • I’m a den leader of my son’s boy scout troop
  • I saved a shark’s life
  • I performed stand-up comedy at a comedy club
  • I saved several kittens’ lives
  • I participate in the polar bear plunge every January 1 at Coney Island.
  • I was a marathon pacer
  • I drove cross-country for an entire week with a film crew playing the body-double of a well-known actor
  • I started the process to donate my kidney to a friend who desperately needed a new one.  Unfortunately my blood type was different than his and I was not a match.
  • I performed surgery on a horseshoe crab

Just looking at the list above is dizzying to me and upon reflection, I almost don’t believe that I actually did these things.  I sometimes question myself why I do them.  But my answer to myself is always this: because life is short and you only have one life to live.

Being involved in helping others gives me great satisfaction when I know that my help  may have benefitted them in some way.  A friend of mine recently asked me to help teach her how to pace her runs using proper pacing techniques.  I made a customized pacing strip for her and ran with her for five miles using a pacing strip and a stopwatch.  A few weeks later, she was able to break her half marathon personal record by 17 minutes.  While this achievement was all her doing, I would like to think that I may have had a little to do with helping her achieve this amazing feat.  And it all started when she asked me to help pace her and I replied, “yes”.

My Saturday of doing nothing all day is almost over.  I am now well-rested, recharged, and at peace with myself.  I think I’m ready to experience another week of being a yes man.

 

 

Nightmare Toy – A True Story

By Josh Pesin.  Based on a true account by Emma Pesin.

Three years ago, I gave my daughter Emma a Ouija board for her birthday thinking that it would be a fun way that she and her friends can be entertained by “talking to spirits”.  Three years later, I wanted to destroy the thing realizing that this board was far from being a toy.

Just last night, my daughter and her friends got together to celebrate her 16th birthday.  After going out for dinner, the teens went downstairs to my basement to play card games and foosball.  Growing bored, one of her friends remembered that Emma had a Ouija board in her closet.  The last time they used this board was last March, just a few days after their friend Brian died of cardiac arrest.  They wanted to see if they could contact his spirit by asking personal questions like what his favorite TV show was, etc.  They put one of his Yu-Gi-Oh cards under the Ouija board in order to connect with his spirit.  The board indicated through his spirit that he was happy where he was at.  That happened last March.  What happened last night was a whole different story.

Late last night, my daughter ran out of her bedroom crying hysterically and absolutely terrified.  I had no idea what the hell was going on.  She told me that as she was laying in bed while the rain came down outside, she kept on hearing rubbing and breathing noises against her bedroom window.  You know, that squeaking sound one makes when they are cleaning a wet window.  It was 1:00AM at the time.  Once I woke up and came running to her, she grabbed me and wanted to sleep close to me that night fearing that spirits were trying to communicate with her.

Little did I know at the time that earlier that night, the teens had another “session” with the Ouija board in my basement.  They wanted to communicate with Brian’s spirit again because this time, Brian’s best friends were there and wanted to reach him.  First they took the planchette and circled the board several times, then they asked, “Brian, are you here?”.  It didn’t move, so they did it again.  It moved halfway up towards the word, “No”.  Then they tried it again.  This time it went to the word “Yes”.  Then they asked, “Is any spirit here?”.  Then it went to the letter “G”.  At exactly 9:40PM, the cell phones of both Emma and her friend Andriana rang at the same time.  Both girls picked up and there was silence.  Their phones rang several more times together and each time there was no voice on the other end.  With each call, the caller ID for each of their phones read, “No Caller ID – unknown”.  A total of four cell phones for each of my daughter’s four friends received the same number of calls at the same of time.  After they got these phone calls, Emma started to panic and they all went outside to burn the Ouija board.

Then Andriana received the following text: “LEAVE LEAVE LEAVE”.  Her friend Ivan received the message, “DO NOT COME BACK”.  Finally, her friend Kiran received a bunch of random numbers which turned out to be the coordinates of the cemetery for where Brian was buried.  All of these texts came from the same phone number that was traced to Ontario, Canada.  When they tried to call the number, nobody picked up.

Below are the actual screenshots from the texts mentioned in this true story:

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A Funny Thing Happened To Me

One of the items that I always had on my bucket list was to perform in a stand-up comedy routine.  Enough of my friends and family thought I was funny to them, but I knew that being funny in front of one person who I already knew was a whole different ball game than being funny in front of a crowd of strangers.  My fear of failure in doing a stand-up routine was enough of a reason for me to never actually attempt this feat.  Plus I always equated doing stand-up with all the of great comedians of my time such as Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Steven Wright, etc.  How can I possibly do what they do, so I thought?  I never personally knew anyone who did stand-up, so doing stand-up was simply a dream of mine that I knew would most likely remain on my bucket list until the day I died.

Several months ago, one of my friends in my running club, Darin Magras, started to post on Facebook that he was going to test out his comedy skills at local comedy clubs that had open mics.  For those who are unfamiliar with an open mic, a comedy club will often have an open mic an hour or two before the professional comedians come on to do their acts.  Anyone coming from off the street with their own comedy material and enough guts can go up and test their comedy skills during an open mic.  As I saw Darin continue to post about the open mics he was doing, I began to get interested in seeing him perform.  He then invited me to one of his shows.  Unfortunately, I had to cancel due to another commitment.  One beautiful weekend morning, I ran several miles along the Promenade near where I live.  When I run alone, I often have an internal dialogue with myself about whatever crosses my mind at the moment.  For whatever reason, my mind thought about what Darin had been doing with his comedy and I thought to myself, “Hey, what if I came up with a bunch of my own jokes?  Since Darin has been doing it, why can’t I do it too?”  As I continued my run, I came up with several original jokes that I could potentially use in a routine.  Incidentally, when I am running, many red blood cells go to my brain and I become an absolute genius.  It is during my runs when I come up with my best ideas and running has often been my brainstorming sessions.

When I got home, I typed up all the jokes that I came up with during my run.  Later that day, I told Darin that I just wrote some jokes and I’d like to take a crack at stand-up myself.  He was now my comedy role model and I said to myself, “If he could do it, I can do it too!”  Darin was thrilled that he now had a new protege who wanted to do what he does.  And I was thrilled that that this dormant item on my bucket list was finally awakening.

However, the list of jokes that I had in my notes appeared a little too flimsy for me.  If I told them in the most comedic way possible with all the appropriate hesitations, gestures and facial expressions, then MAYBE I could stretch it out to a 3-minute routine.  This is not enough for a full-fledged routine where many comedians spend a good 7-8 minutes engaging the audience.  It would take me another week where I was inspired enough to add more jokes.  And of all places, these new jokes popped into my head while at my job.  My actual performance turned out to be somewhere between 5-6 minutes long.

It was now April 2 and a Saturday morning, a big day for me since I was to perform that evening.  I made sure I stayed in bed an extra hour or two that morning to get my necessary “catch-up sleep” so my body and brain would be well-rested for the big event.  I was so afraid that I would fail miserably that I only told two people about my performance, my brother Aaron and my good friend Mark Vogt.  I knew that no matter how much I sucked at comedy, I would get their support.  The day before, April 1, I made a very ballsy move by posting on my Facebook wall, “I will be performing stand-up comedy at the Looney Bin on Staten Island this Saturday at 6:00pm”  I was hoping that everyone would think that this was just an April Fool’s joke.  Some actually believed it and some thought it was just a joke.

In the afternoon, I met my brother Aaron.  We went to the park where our daughters played together while I rehearsed my routine with him.  I wanted to time my routine with all the hesitations and pauses to see how long it will actually be.  While rehearsing, a little Jewish boy inserts himself between us and becomes my “audience”.  After saying a few f-bombs during my routine, I decide to stop speaking and I shoo him away.  Boy, I wonder what he told his parents after that.

The night of the show, I meet Darin and his wife Katie.  They introduced me to the other comedians who were slated for the open mic.  A big part of what motivated me to do this was that Darin told me that since this an open mic, comedians were there to test out their new jokes and if need be, many of them could consult their notes in the middle of their act.  My gameplan was to read from my notes almost verbatim, but while still “performing” my jokes to make them funny.  I learned that stand-up comedy is not just about having good material, but in its execution.  And sometimes the execution is everything.

There were 8-10 comedians who were slated to go up and perform that night.   I believe that I was number seven.  One of them was a 10-year-old boy.  When I first saw him, I got nervous and said to myself, “How am I going to do my act while saying profanities in front of him?”.  I soon found out that this boy had a filthy mouth himself and his mom, one of the other comediennes, was a part of the open mic.

Once the show began and as the acts began then ended, for some reason I was antsy to come up with a few last-minute jokes.  I had two random clown noses with me that my brother had given me and I decided to add them to my act.  Additionally, I added a last-minute joke about a mob guy waiting for me since I owed him money and another joke making fun of the fact that I had to hold onto my notes to do my act.  Finally I go on.  As strange as i may seem, I felt very comfortable doing my act.  Being well-rested and having my notes in front of me made all the difference.

After I was done and the rest of the comedians finished their acts, I was on a super-high knowing that I had done something that was on my bucket list for many years.  Before I performed that night, Darin had told me that doing stand-up can become very addictive and he was right.  I almost want to do it again, but with new jokes of course.

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Clowning around with Darin.

I would like to thank Darin for being my comedy role-model and for encouraging me to try it out and making me feel at ease (“Don’t worry Josh, everyone is supportive of each other there”).  And to MC Patrick, Joe Rombi, Michelle Conrad, and all the other supportive comedians who rooted for me that night no matter how much I may have actually sucked.  And to my bucket list, I say “Fuck you, you’re MY bitch now!”.

Below is video footage of the glorious disaster that you can call my “comedy act”.

WARNING: You may be wasting a good 5-6 minutes of your life by watching this video.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Korean Dictator, My Daughter and I

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It’s amazing how a series of events happening halfway around the World can cause a chain reaction and impact the lives of ordinary citizens.  This is the true story of North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-Un’s involvement in an international cyber attack and how it directly affected my daughter and I.

Back in 2013, we were both background actors for the film Spiderman 2.  We worked for one day and at the end of the year, each of us received a W2 statement for the day we worked.  Our personal information such as our names, social security numbers and address were now on file with Sony Pictures Entertainment, the company that produced the film.  A year later, the Sony film The Interview was about to have its theatrical release.  This comedy starring Seth Rogan and James Franco was about two reporters who are hired by the CIA to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.  With word of this controversial film getting out, the North Korean government warned against possible ramifications with the release of the comedy.  Their government essentially threatened Sony.  On December 1, 2014, Sony learned that hackers engaged in an all-out cyber-attack against them.  As a result of this attack, thousands of confidential and embarrassing emails were exposed between Sony executives and many famous Hollywood celebrities including Angelina Jolie, Kevin Hart, Channing Tatum, George Clooney, Alex Trebek and Will Smith.  You can read more about the story here.

The film was so controversial that on December 17, 2014, Sony announced that it was pulling the theatrical release due to terrorist threats.  Sony decided to release it on DVD and a limited theatrical release.

A week later on December 24, my daughter and I each received a letter in the mail from Sony.  Part of the letter read:

“…your work with [Sony] may potentially have been compromised as a result of such brazen cyber attack.”, and “…personally identifiable information that you provided to [Sony] may have been obtained by unauthorized individuals…”.

With the above letter, Sony offered my daughter and I one full year of identity protection services at no charge since both of our personal information was now compromised.

On December 19, the FBI confirmed that the North Korean government was behind the Sony hack.  No doubt the directive came from Kim Jong-Un himself.

My daughter and I became implicated in this whole North Korean hacking story simply because we wanted to have fun being in a film.  Little did we know what would unfold a year after we worked on it and how it would involve us on a personal level.  World events can affect us all.

2015 – A Year In Review

As I was about to celebrate the new year on December 31, 2014, I felt as if it was only yesterday that my family and I celebrated the last New Year’s Eve.  2014 seemed to last only a day in my life and I wondered why.  It was a year of non-stop activity doing things I had never done before while taking advantage of all my free time to enjoy life.  It was also a year that I spent time enjoying my friends from the running world, the acting world, and elsewhere.

In February, I had bought a pair of snowshoes and at the last minute, I decided to “run” a 10k race in the snowy trails of the Staten Island Greenbelt.  Starting dead last, I ran in those things as fast as I could and was able to pass two dozen runners along the course.  I was so exhausted afterwards, it took me a few days to be myself again.

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Photo courtesy of Andy Cross of Run & Shoot Photography (runshootphoto.com).

In March, I played a survivor of a subway construction explosion for the show The Knick.  My character was an Irish immigrant from the year 1900.  It was an exciting experience and the special effects prosthetics that the makeup people applied to my face to make me look injured was amazing.  You can read about my experience here.  Most fun, however, was that I was able to hang out with my good buddy Mark Vogt along with Marshal Axt and Bob Denker.  All four of us ironically are members of the Staten Island Athletic Club.

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My friend Heriberto Medina lives a life similar to mine.  He is a long-time runner as well as a preschool teacher.  In March, his school was in danger of closing.  He desperately needed support from his community, politicians, and friends to hold a rally to keep his school open.  I picked up my son immediately after school and rushed out to Williamsburg where we met and marched together at the rally.  Eventually his school on was saved as a result of the combined efforts of the community.

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In March, my good friend Darren Corona invited a bunch of trail runners from my running club to run the Muddy Marathon.  This 10k race involved scaling steep mountains and running through very treacherous, snowy and rocky terrain.  The exhilaration and amazing runner’s high we all felt after we finished this epic race was greater than any race I had ever experienced before.  You can read about the visceral experience I had here.

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In April, I had entered the Disability Film Challenge.  For the challenge, a person had 48 hours to write, film and edit a film short dealing with the subject of disability.  My good friend Michael Ring was the subject of my film short since he has a rare condition that causes a physical disability.  The competition had crazy rules to adhere to that would have made the elements in the film non-sensical.  I decided at the last minute to create the kind of film I wanted to create and did not enter the contest at all.   With the help of my friend Adrian and my brother Aaron, I was able to capture a moment in Michael Ring’s life while he narrated his own film.  Here is a link to the finished film: F*ck CIDP

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For Mother’s Day, my brother and I brought our mom to eat at Nathan’s in Coney Island.  My brother and I are often busy with our own children and hardly ever have a moment to breathe, so spending quality time alone with our mom was extra-special for the both of us.

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As my two children are getting bigger and more independent, I am able to free myself more to spend time with friends.  During June, I spent time with a bunch of background actor friends at a barbecue and birthday party for my friend Merav in Jersey City, New Jersey.  It was great to just chill out and joke around with this crazy group of guys and gals.

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I have learned to balance my time between my children and my friends.  It’s a tricky slope, but it’s doable.  Here I am at the left with my son in Alpine, NJ about to hike down a steep and treacherous trail to the bottom of the Palisades.

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My son’s 5th grade senior trip was the Circle Line trip around Manhattan.  I was one of the chaperones and I had a fun time leading and guiding his class with other parent volunteers.  Besides, I know for a fact that children love it when their parents go with them on class trips.

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In June, my daughter finished running a full year with her girl’s high school track team. She performed very well and often finished in the top 20% of many of her races.  She even earned a bunch of medals.  Since then, she no longer runs track because she wants to focus her energy on her other love which is art.  Below is a photo of the girl’s track team about to go to their year-end party at their coaches’ house.  Can you spot my daughter in it?

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In July, we went to my 2nd cousin Gail Zeitlin’s house in New Jersey for a pool party.  Here is her son Steven hanging by the poolside with my daughter Emma, Hunter and her cousin Emma.  The kids had a ton of fun and the adults were happy to see other family members who had travelled from as far away as Hawaii and Boston to see everyone.

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A week later, I got the opportunity of a lifetime playing actor Ricky Gervais’ body double.  Our scene was to drive cross-country in a 1955 red Ford.  To make it as realistic as possible, we really did drive across America and the cameraman filmed us driving at key locations throughout the trip.  It took us six days and we made it as far as Arizona.  You can read about my whole working cross-country adventure here.

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In August, my friend Lisa Swan, a sports enthusiast, writer and member of my running club wanted to start a fantasy football league.  I knew nothing about fantasy football nor was I interested in joining the league.  However, with her enthusiasm and perseverance, she was able to recruit nine club members into the league and needed one more.  After thinking about it and wanting to help her out, I decided to be that 10th person.  Of course when it came to naming my team, I naturally called myself “The 10th Guy”.  For the next few months after initiating the league, I was often lost and did not know what the hell I was doing as you can see in the photo below.  Lisa often came to my rescue and helped me survive just enough so I wouldn’t drown during the competition.  She even taught me how to trash-talk the other players in the league.  She’s got mad skills!

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In September, I brought my daughter Emma and her cousin Emma to the Museum of Modern Art.  We started at the top floor where there was very questionable “art”.  As I was about to lead the kids out of that wing to get to the nationally famous artworks like Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Jackson Pollock paintings, I realized that I should expose my daughter to all forms of art no matter how questionable they may be.  I wanted to broaden her definition of what art can be and I’m glad I did it.

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I had a skin cancer growth surgically removed from my back in October.  A little scary, but all is well now.

In November, I ran the NYC Marathon for the third time as a pacer.  This time, I was a 4:45 pacer.  After Mile 20, my legs started to break down, but  with growing pain and fatigue, I miraculously was able to cross the finish line with a time of 4:44:28.  I had a ton of fun throughout the race as you can read here.  I want to thank Robin Howald and her son for taking care of me after I finished the race for I was not in good shape by that time.  I could barely walk due to so much pain throughout my body.  Robin and her son physically held me up and slowly walked with me until I reached the truck with my personal baggage.  And I would like to thank Jacky Lee for picking me up in her car after the race and driving me back to Staten Island where my car was parked near the start of the Marathon.

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One of my happy places this year and in years past was running the trails in the Staten Island Greenbelt with the Staten Island Extreme crew.  With friends like Darren, Yessica, Stephanie, Jennifer, Amy, Anthony, Irma, Andy, and a bunch of others, running trails with these great people was always a pleasure.

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I love my school, the children I teach and my co-workers.  Each and every one of us does God’s work in helping the special population of children improve in all areas of their lives. Ever since we all worked together to help save our school a year ago, we have become more close-knit and a real family.  Here’s a group photo of most of us at a holiday staff party taken in December.

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One highlight of 2015 was meeting an old student of mine who was in my preschool class several years ago.  Her name is Stephanie and she is a cancer survivor.  I met her at a fund-raising event put on by my friend and cancer survivor Elaine.  It hurt me to know that a child that I once taught had cancer at such a young age, but I was happy that it was successfully removed from her and she seemed happy to see her old teacher.

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My 15-year-old daughter is a full-fledged teenager and everything about her makes me happy.  She loves rock, heavy metal, death metal and wears a nose ring and rock t-shirts.  She also loves everything that’s art and likes to repurpose found items that can be made into art.  She loves writing poetry as well.  In the Fall, she was accepted into an art internship program at Smack Mellon in DUMBO, Brooklyn.  In early 2016, she will be working directly with a professional artist.

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