Brenda’s Stoneham Selectman Voter’s Guide April 7, 2015

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On Tuesday, April 7th 2015, Stoneham Voters will head to the ballots to select our town’s leaders. If my engagement with the Bikeway has shown anything, it’s shown how critical great town leadership is to improve the experience of living here.

Recommendations

Town Moderator: Lawrence (Larry) Means

Stoneham Selectman (2 slots):
1) Thomas Boussy
2) Caroline Calorusso

No recommendation (advise me!):
– Constable
– Housing Authority
– Planning Board

One of the great challenges I’ve realized lately is how hard it is to get information and form an informed opinion on local politics. There’s very little easily available information. If you don’t know where to go for what information there is, the problem is worse. This means that new folks to town, or people who aren’t amazingly well connected, either don’t vote, or don’t cast a knowledgeable vote on the election that may have the most impact on how they live. Will the town have a bikeway, or not? Will we bring more people to our downtown, or not? Do we build affordable housing, or do we lose some of our autonomy and have state oversight to guarantee we have affordable housing? How do we balance our tax base, infrastructure needs, education spending and other services? It’s local officials who decide those key issues.

I had tried to figure out how I’m voting in this upcoming election. The Selectman’s race is particularly a difficult one for me. I’ve had some personal conversations with some folks in Stoneham about who they’re voting for, and why. I should mention that my thoughts below are my private opinion, and not as well informed as I’d like it to be. I’m certainly open to corrections, amendments or additional thoughts from you – or the candidates – about the elements I’m thinking about. I really wish there were an independent, clear, easily accessible voter’s guide for Stoneham voters. As far as I know, that doesn’t exist. This isn’t that – this is my opinion.

The selectman’s race was one I thought a lot about. It’s a crappy job. It pays something like $3000 a year, requires considerable time and effort, and brings with it a ton of aggravation and abuse. One has to think through the motivations for why you’d do it. Idealism? Service? Love of power? Love of attention? Desire to change the town? Desire to help your friends? Family habit? Greater political ambitions?

Tom Boussy
Tom is the one candidate for Selectman I feel I can wholeheartedly endorse. Tom worked very hard on the Bikeway (before we brought 800 people to a town meeting to forcefully exert the will of the people). He’s energetic and enthusiastic about making the town a more awesome place to live. Tom and Anne Marie O’Neill represent the forward-thinking contingent of the selectmen (you know – the ones who DIDN’T vote against the Bikeway in the October meeting.) I feel like his motivations have to do with an energetic enthusiasm for the town.

The second selectman vote has been hard hard hard for me to decide. Frankly, I don’t like any of my option. There was a second vote (Devon Manchester) whom I was excited about. I heard (admitted hearsay!) that he withdrew because the State Republican Party told him if he opposed Caroline Colarusso they’d never support him again. I resent having my choices limited for me like that.

Robert Sweeney
I quickly ruled out Bob Sweeney as a choice. He’s definitely been one of the folks who has never taken a public stand against the bikeway, but quietly worked to make sure it didn’t happen. (Someone had to be working hard to make sure it didn’t happen!) He has been dismissive of other voices in the community, and has a tendency not to show up for his duties. He didn’t even show up for the televised Candidate Forum. No, thank you.

So now I’m down to two, and I have a number of pros and cons for each.

Caroline Colarusso
Pros:
– Local (raised kids here)
– No track record on Bikeway pro or con
– Spent time on the finance board, which is another thankless task

Neutral:
– Given the number of elections, it’s clear that she sees selectwoman as a step on a larger political path. On one hand, that means she’ll be posturing to make herself look good for the next run. On the other hand, it gives her a motivation to show up and do work.

Negative:
– I dislike that (assuming what I heard is correct) she used her position with the state party to remove competition in the race
– I am not sure she’ll be a strong advocate for new residents in Stoneham
– She keeps talking about taxes instead of services or growth

Erin Sinclair
Pros:
– Not an incumbent

Negative:
– She’s Bob Sweeney’s daughter, and if they’re both elected we’ll need to get a nepotism allowance for her to serve. I don’t actually think the town needs MORE nepotism.
– She’s also a salaried town employee. That seems like a conflict of interests that would require special handling.
– When I asked what she’d done for the bikeway, she said that she was a “private citizen” and therefore hadn’t done anything. I am also a private citizen and I did do something, so I’m not super impressed with that answer. You can see my question and her response on her Facebook page.

Larry Means – Town Moderator
From what I’ve seen, Larry has done a good job in a very thankless job. His opponent has a platform of making passive aggressive jabs at Larry, and then not showing up for voter information forums. Not impressive. So I’m ready to vote for Larry!


So that’s what I’m thinking. I’d love your feedback. Who are you thinking of? Why? What did I get wrong? What resources did I miss that a Stonehamite should know about? How are you making your decision? Who do you recommend for the races I don’t have an opinion on?

Resources:
– Here’s a copy of the ballot for April 7th: http://www.stoneham-ma.gov/sites/stonehamma/files/file/file/april_7_annual_election_ballot_proof.pdf
– A number of the candidates did an hour long interview with Stoneham TV. Not mind blowing, but it gives you a good perspective on how they think on their feet (and who cares enough to show up): http://stonehamtv.org/ondemand

A fine gift

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Now that I’ve set off a frenzy of speculation among my friends and family about the vast secret to be revealed at 3 pm (instead of 11 am) I’m really feeling the pressure. This post needs to be funny, insightful, tender, touching, well-written and actually completed on time. Breathe, Brenda, breathe.

(Oh, and Adam, if you’re reading before you’ve gotten home … stop.)

So, several years ago my mother-in-law came to visit. This isn’t all that unusual, although I’ve noticed that visits tend to be clustered in times where the temperature is higher than 50 and lower than 80. (Something about “attic” and “no air-conditioning” and “lived most of her life in Saudi Arabia”.) My mother-in-law loves me dearly, and often brings me what can best be described as LOOT. This often takes the form of clothing, jewelry, furnishings and other lovely objects that she thinks we’ll enjoy. My husband, not being a girl or a child, gets the smallest amount of loot. It’s ok – he had his turn until I came along.

Well, on this particular trip, Laureen left behind a pair of boxer shorts. They were in a box of other things she left. I looked at them and figured decorative boxers had to be for Adam since I do not wear boxers.

The infamous boxers

The infamous boxers

I put them on his dresser and moved on with my life.

A few days later, I found them on my bedside chair. Hmmm. I replaced them on the dresser. They returned to my chair.

“Your mom left you these boxers, honey. You want to put them away?”
“They aren’t mine! Look at that fabric. That’s not manly fabric. Plus, they have no fly. She clearly meant them for you.”
“I don’t wear boxers. They’re obviously yours!”

Now at this point, a sensible person would call my mother-in-law, ask for whom the boxers had been intended and settle the issue. I waited until my husband’s back was turned and snuck the boxers into his underwear drawer. The next day they were in MY underwear drawer.

It, um, kind of escalated from there.

The fabric is admittedly lovely

The fabric is admittedly lovely

I put them in his work bag. He once got through several months by stuffing them into the arm of coat at the beginning of spring. I stuffed his pillow with them. He put them in my music bag. I think I found them in my cereal box once.

I noticed some time this winter they’d been gone for quite some time. Now, it’s entirely possible to play this game too well. For example, we had a similar, uh, exchange of goods with a friend and a video game CDROM (the best hiding place in that exchange involved a false top on a hat) and that CDROM hasn’t been seen in over 5 years. Either it’s hiding in our house somewhere in a completely epic plot twist or… it’s actually been lost. I casually mentioned to Adam that I hadn’t seen the boxers in a while. He looked both concerned and suspicious. (Do you really think I’d lie about that in order to throw off suspicion? Little innocent Sunday School teacher moi?)

This Christmas Tree hides a DARK SECRET

This Christmas Tree hides a DARK SECRET

On Christmas Adam pulled out a particular present with extra pride. “Brenda, I don’t think I’ll be able to return these. I just really hope you’ll like it. I mean, promise me you won’t ever get rid of this gift, that you’ll keep it forever. It means so much to me for you to have it.” I, not being a churl, promised.

Now, I thought the box was a little large for the diamonds and opals it clearly contained, but my suspicions were not yet roused. I tore open the paper. And the next set of paper. There were, if I recall, six separate wrapping jobs. And at the heart of this package was, of course, the boxers. And I had promised to treasure them forever! Argh! Social engineering! Upping the ante!

Then I had an idea...

Then I had an idea…

I laid them out in plain sight since then, to make him nervous. Then, on Sunday, he left for a week long business trip. Before he went, I made a trip to Michael’s for two thingies of stuffing stuff, some needles and some heavy duty brown thread. While Grey and I watched the departure of Frank Burns and the arrival of Charles Emerson Winchester the Third on M*A*S*H, I reached deep back into my home ec lessons and converted the boxers to a beautiful throw pillow. To make my victory complete, I am adding Adam’s name as a possessive. In gold glitter.

Nothing says "your move" like gold glitter

Nothing says “your move” like gold glitter

I’m so proud of myself.

I discovered, in the course of preparing the pillow, that each set of shorts has one pocket, on the right hand side. (Seriously, what were these actually intended to be?!) Having used all my batting to stuff only one of the boxers (I thought it might expand out of the package? I was wrong.) I decided it was only sporting of me to stuff the other boxer into the pocket of the pillow, unchanged. I’m curious to see if he finds it before he reads my blog.

Which of course brings me full circle. He boards an airplane tomorrow at 3, and I suspect that unlike his wife, he will relax on the flight instead of getting wifi to do work. So ideally my surprise will be intact when he walks, unsuspecting, through that front door. MUAHAHAHAHAH! MUAHAHAHAHAHHAH! MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

Your move, love.


I also have, in the course of preparing this post, gotten my pictures from March and Piemas posted.

Don’t you cry for me

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The other night, I tucked a tired Grey into bed. It’s his most philosophical time, since every nine year old knows that the best way to get your parent to linger and not shut off your lights is to start talking about your rich internal life at 8:55 pm. As I returned to his bed with the water (and before I turned on his music and summoned the cats), he softly sang to the tune of “Oh Suzanna”:

Farewell old master, that’s enough for me,
I’m going straight to Canada where colored men are free.
(A href=”http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Song_of_the_Free”>Song of the Free

I was, shall we say, surprised. “Where did you hear that?” It being a way to extend bedtime, he freely answered. “From a book about the Underground Railroad.” “Was it about Harriet Tubman?” “Yeah.” We talked about race and equality. We talked about good people sticking up for other people against bad laws. I had that ever necessary conversation about how actually we don’t call our friends colored anymore. And after a successful ten minute delay, I kissed him goodnight.

But it brought me back. I haven’t explicitly thought about my encounter with the Underground Railroad in years. As so many important encounters do, this one started in a grade school library. I got to thinking about how the reading I did in that fourth grade corner of the library changed my life and outlook on race and gender. It helped me see a world outside the Inland Empire farming town, and to see that life from someone less blonde and blue eyed than I was. It wasn’t just Harriet Tubman who spoke to me, but a whole range of these strong, amazing, not-white female characters in this great set of books. I hadn’t intentionally set out to read minority feminist adventures. But I did. And I was – and am – greatly influenced. I’d never before realized what a great collection this is, or would be.

Freedom Trail: The Story of Harriet Tubman

by Dorothy Sterling

by Dorothy Sterling

I have not read this book in over 25 years, but I remember this: Harriet had no advantages. She was black. A slave. Young. A woman. But she was gritty, determined and resourceful. This book did not sugar coat the hardship of slavery, or the dire danger of escaping. Harriet is gravely and permanently injured. But she risks snakes and dogs and slavers, overcoming so much, to escape. And then, once escaped, she goes back again and again to help others in the same journey. This is a book that inspired me by the capabilities even a young girl could have. It also helped me understand just how lucky my lot in life was. Harriet seemed very real to me, in the pages of this book. It made it clear that it wasn’t some intrinsic merit of mine that gave me a life of comfort and love, and her a life of persecution. But it did tell the horrible story of slavery in a way that didn’t condemn a white person to shame. I could choose to see myself in the helpers & conductors – the allies. I think I’d like to re-read it.

Island of the Blue Dolphins

by Scott O'Dell

by Scott O’Dell

I’ve always had a fondness for survivalist stories. I devoured almost all of them in the genre I could find: Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, The Mysterious Island, My Side of the Mountains…. This is a slim but compelling volume in that larger lexicon. It was particularly important that instead of “White person trapped in savage environment” (See…. all the others above except My Side of the Mountain) it was the story of an Indian girl. And she was not left for a few weeks, or a few months. She created a whole life for herself, by herself. It’s a heart-song to independence and self-reliance.

Journey to America

by Soniya Levitin

by Soniya Levitin

A friend and I were talking about how you introduce your children to the horrors of man’s inhumanity against man. You can’t responsibly raise children who have never heard of the holocaust… but it can be tempting. I’m not sure I want my children to understand how evil we truly can be. This book was introduction. It’s an escape story from the point of view of a young Jewish girl who fights with her family (and alone) to escape from Nazi Germany – with her violin intact. It touches on the hard edges of the horrors, without delving into them. There’s a narrow shave, but a happy ending.

Journey to Topaz

by Yoshiko Uchida

by Yoshiko Uchida

In counterpoint to that was this book. Of all of them, this might have been the hardest to deal with. It was geographically very close to me. And WWII is described as such a morally clear war from the US perspective. It would have been easy for me to get through childhood not knowing about the Japanese children uprooted from their homes and sent to internment camps in the US. Yoshiko Uchida’s descriptions were memorably evocative. I can still almost feel the grit and dirt in the barren and beautiless camps. Her life had started very similar to mine, and then had taken this left turn through no fault of her own. It hit very close to home.

Julie of the Wolves

by Jean Craighead George

by Jean Craighead George

Leaving the WWII theme and returning to “awesome girls surviving in inhospitable circumstances”, we head up to Alaska for an Eskimo adventure. I don’t remember thinking about how appalling it is for a child to be literally safer with a pack of wolves in the arctic than with her family. I do remember how cool I thought it was to make friends with a pack of wolves. I believe I was cheering for her never to return to civilization. This one was again on the more mature side of the spectrum.

Naya Nuki: Girl Who Ran

by Ken Thomasma

by Ken Thomasma

This is the book that started my obsession. Ken Thomasma came as an author to speak at my school when I was in second grade. We got a number of signed books from him in my grade school library. I read Naya Nuki over and over and over. I remember driving and looking for the places in the hills where Naya Nuki would hide out. The story is of a Shoshone girl captured by Nez Pierce slavers – who escaped and ran her way back over hundreds of miles and through countless dangers to be with her people. (Although she had to leave behind her friend – a much less important character named Sacajawea.) The countryside was my countryside. I mean, I had seen and touched the man who wrote the book! This was real! And it was a fantastic start to a reading life.


That was hardly all I read as a kid, of course. I had plenty of other books in the reread queue that were not about amazing non-white girls. But I’m in retrospect impressed with that list. I find myself wondering if some forward thinking youth librarian pulled these books out, made them attractive, brought them to my attention. I do not know. I kind of hope so.

Dear Librarian from Whitstran Elementary back in the ’80s – thank you.

Quilts and connections

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On Monday, there was a package on my doorstep. It was a box and it was (astonishingly) NOT from Amazon. (The Fedex driver must have been mightily confused by that!) It was from my beloved sister. I knew it was coming. I had an inkling of what was in it, and opened the box with the expectation of seeing an old friend.

Our wedding quilt

Our wedding quilt

This quilt is just about fifteen years old. It was my sister’s first quilt, and is made with my favorite colors. The white around the edge is done with the silhouette of Mt. Rainier. In the corner, the dates and our initials are embroidered – the last time my initials would be BJJ instead of BJF. (Which, side note… changing your initials might be harder than changing your name!) The reason it was sent back to me is because quilt backs are not as durable as quilt fronts and sometimes when it spends a decade on your bed it can get torn. Maybe. (Maybe this is kind of a regular thing with all our quilts. Maybe.)

BJJ & ARF August 5, 2000

BJJ & ARF August 5, 2000

There was also Thane’s baby blanket. He was old enough to vote on his colors. (Grey’s was ready for his arrival, and was themed with dragonflies. He was also lucky enough to get dragonfly curtains which still hang sparkling in his room.) He opted for the Pigeon theme. PIGEON! He was – is – absolutely entranced by it. In this cold winter, where bundling up in blankets against drafts and chills is a necessary comfort, he has been delighted to wrap himself up in Pigeon. (I have dreams, you know!)

Don't let the pigeon hog the heat ven

Don’t let the pigeon hog the heat vent

Grey dug out his quilt from his room and demanded we all cuddle up on the couch in our Aunt Heidi quilts. Well, if you insist Grey! (I’m not cuddled up because I was photographing the situation, obviously.)

Couch snuggles

Couch snuggles

I had this idea, when I was young, that it was impossible to do anything my sister was good at. This was for the obvious reason that I might not be as good at it as she was, and this was completely unacceptable. Things this ruled out for me as a youth included: photography, poetry, cooking, fabric arts and Georgette Heyer novels. Some of these we’ve clearly swapped places on. My niece asked – looking at our senior pictures – why her mother was holding the camera instead of me. I became a half-decent cook. Poetry I love to read but never wrote. And I’m the only one of my family who hasn’t read Georgette Heyer. (I KNOW!) But fabric arts were, and have remained hers. (Well, other than a very unfortunate encounter with a bright neon-striped apron in the year of Home Ec I was forced to endure before I absconded over to shop with the boys.)

The tradition of quilting, and of giving a baby a quilt, is one my sister comes by honestly. My mother can sew well – I have a cloak of her making in the closet. But she was of the age where women were taught to sew because it had previously been practical… but where it ceased to be a survival skill for a well equipped woman. I’m sure my grandmother can sew too. But it was my great grandmother whose sewing I remember.

I don’t remember when I got my quilt. It must have been after we got back from Africa – I doubt it crossed those oceans. Perhaps it was given to me when I lived in Merced. I can’t remember life without it. My great grandmother (Grandma Finley – my mother’s mother’s mother) made all three of us crazy quilts – my brother’s being made when she was north of 84 years old.

What is a crazy quilt? The most practical of all quilts. The depression quilt. Here’s mine:

My crazy quilt

My crazy quilt

My sister’s quilts are made with cotton fabric of a consistent weight. The fabrics are selected for color and pattern, and cut to create the design – then sewed back together. It’s an art form – a lovely one. But creating a quilt like that is certainly a cost. Fabric costs almost more in a fabric store than clothes do in a clothing store.

But the fabric on my crazy quilt was not purchased for its loveliness or pattern. What you see on my quilt are the dress shirts, worn out skirts, curtains, blouses, dresses, slacks and tablecloths all worn out past repair or reworking. My grandmother collected the fabric from worn out garments (and buttons – we had her button box for a long time and it was super fun to play with!) and then when a child was born she reached into that treasure trove and put together a quilt. I’m quite sure a few of those squares come from my mother’s childhood dresses. I have cuddled myself in the castoffs of my ancestors, put together to warm me by the thriftiest of them all.

You can see how each quilt square was put together by different pieces of fabric – whatever would fit. There are no squares on my quilt made of a whole piece of fabric, although the same fabric will show up in multiple squares.

This block has no fewer than 12 different fabrics

This block has no fewer than 12 different fabric pieces

Each of those tiny, tiny squares of fabric is sewn to its partners to create the block. What a labor of love. How long did she spend composing the squares – piecing them together like a puzzle? I can see the thoughtful look in her eyes – rimmed by old-fashioned golden spectacles – as she contemplated the pieces. (She had a tremendous sense of spatial reasoning. She was famous for being able to pick the perfect size tupperware for leftovers at a glance. She also cleaned our clocks regularly at Chinese Checkers. She died when I was in my late teens, so I knew her well.) And each of those seams is TINY. Not an 1/8th of an inch more fabric than was absolutely required for those seams was spent.

My favorite block

My favorite block

The differences in the kinds of fabric (there are thick cotton fabrics, thin gingham pieces worn almost to the woof, synthetic fabrics – all manner of clothes) mean that those unforgiving seams have pulled apart in many places – unrepairable because there isn’t enough material to bridge the gaps. The different squares were then sewed each to the other. The actual quilting portion of the quilt was incredibly simple. She sewed the filling and the back on at the edges, and then tied each quilt-square corner with a green yarn knot. I think this all meant that she could put together the entire quilt on her regular, workaday sewing machine – without any specialized machinery. Practical to the utmost.

There’s a lesson in that crazy quilt. My great grandmother was born in 1900. She was coming of age in World War I, and was a young mother when the Great Depression ravaged a generation. She watched all the young men of her daughter’s age go off to war when World War II hit. I can imagine her as a ruthlessly effective Rosie the Riveter. (She actually was a switchboard operator.) She learned – and she taught – that waste was not only morally unacceptable, but that the ability to make the best things with the least waste was a skill to be proud of. (Well, modestly proud of. She wasn’t a big fan of pride.)

My home and my life overflow with good things. I have bags of perfectly good clothes and toys I’ll summon some charity to haul away for me. I never know what to do with the spare buttons that come with my clothes – my memories of her keep me from just throwing them away, but I might as well since I never repair any clothing. But perhaps, in her memory, wrapped in two generations worth of love-wrought quilts, I could consider myself pleased with what I have that is durable, of great value, and be content.

7 weeks

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Well, this is the first Thursday I soundly missed my 11 am target. It was, of course, because I did not write my post. My Wednesday was busy! I hope you forgive me friends. I did manage to pull of the discipline for at least 7 weeks. I think it’s a great habit for me, and feel like I’ve been writing more, and more enjoyably.

Part of my posting delinquency has to do with a lack of good topics. So in lieu of actual good writing, I’ll give you a grab bag of thoughts.

1) My boys are in an awesome spot
Grey and Thane have just been rock stars this week, in the behavior zone. I was prepped for a horrible week of “What do you mean I have to go to school every day” following five consecutive Mondays out of school. But no! I’ve had children doing homework without being told the minute they get home. I’ve had children cleaning their rooms when asked. There’s been cheerful chores doing, tremendous snuggles, and book reading. I don’t know what happened to MY children, but man I’m sure enjoying the kids I have this week.

I was trying to think of a good way to thank Grey for his behavior tonight, without including junk food. Adam is doing aikido again (yay for him!) and so I had the kids myself. I picked up Grey and asked how his day was “Awesome!” and his homework situation (done at the Y!!!!). Then I offered him the chance to make the evening meal, with my active support/training and a grocery run if need be. He decided to make omelettes “Like Aunt Andrea made”. We stopped to pick up ham for cubing. (And Lucky Charms. And the tortilla chips I like that Peapod doesn’t carry. And bananas since every single banana I’ve ordered on Peapod for the last month has arrived frozen.) And then Grey sliced the ham and the chives, and I taught him how to make omelettes! Next up: teaching the children how to eat dinner….

2) Imagine how easy our commute will be this spring
All over New England, working parents have been doing rock-paper-scissors over who gets to leave early enough to get to work by 9 am, and who has to drop off the kids and saunter in at the crack of 9:30. (This is an improvement. Last week it was the crack of 10.) I didn’t think anything would make my normal commute look good… but having all the lanes available and the traffic just normal-bad will feel like a vacation. And parking… the lots have been full a lot lately, leaving my carpool to park in a $34 a day lot that’s about 1/3 mile away in 12 degree weather. Getting back to a reliable 3 block walk from a $18 a day lot will feel like a cheaper and easier life! Add in a commute that’s only an hour, and the mind boggles!

3) I don’t understand how a capitalist society can not have gloves for sale right now
I got in a car accident (I was rear-ended by a hit and run driver) last Thursday night. The car is like $999 dollars damaged. (This is how you can tell you have a $1000 deductible.) I was sore, but I’m ok. What was I doing Thursday night? I was driving to Target to buy more ski gloves for my kids because they would lose their limbs if they weren’t firmly attached to their bodies. I don’t blame my kids too much – I always lost gloves too. (Still do sometimes.) But in Target, there were swimsuits. Summer dresses. Bubbles and sidewalk chalk. And not a single warm glove to be found. Seriously, I would give a lot for a store that sold clothes you would be appropriately dressed walking out of the store wearing, and gear that you actually need right now. I simply do not understand how it is effective selling to try to pawn off on me stuff I can hardly imagine using while refusing to sell me things I desperately need. That’s how you get a grown woman on the verge of tears in your aisles after having risked LIFE AND LIMB to get to your store… thumbing up the Amazon app on her phone and picking next day shipping. Do better, Target, and all the other retailers in the US.

4) Lent has begun
By the time Easter arrives, the snow may have muchly melted. It is a time of transformational waiting, and I suspect I will feel that even more than usual as we go from the frozen heart of winter to spring. Six more weeks.


I’m really looking forward to someday going places and doing things again. I’ll be sure to let you know if that ever happens!

We cannot get out

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Gee, what shall I talk about? Sports I care about are all in a hiatus. I haven’t taken any great hikes lately (for some reason) nor gone on any crazy road trips (for some reason). All I’ve done – in living memory it seems – has been to be at home.

Spotted on my walk to the post office today - Do you see the car?

Spotted on my walk to the post office today – Do you see the car?

I was not designed to stay at home, folks. I think we’re ALL happy that I’m a 21st century woman with major scope for my energy outside these four walls.

But home I’ve been, with my patient husband and two sons. For the first weekend snowstorm, we reveled in the low expectations of a “State of Emergency” blizzard. The second and third snowstorms were lost epic Minecraft marathons. By the time the fourth blizzard came, I needed a better plan. It was time… to improve.

I’m sure your home is perfect in every way – a flawless execution of your design vision, taste, and perfectly fitting antiques picked up on a whim at a charming roadside store on your last drive up the Maine seacoast. MY home is a 120 year old pink colonial whose last major design upgrade came in the ’70s, when the prior owner installed (bad) panelling and (ugly, non-matching) drop ceilings in every room. It’s the kind of house where when you peel up the beige carpet, you find gold sparkly linoleum. (True story.) Although Adam and I have put thousands of dollars into the house, almost all of it has gone into glamorous things like electrical upgrades, a new roof and blown in insulation. (We do know how to live the high life!) We still have the paneling, but at least it’s painted white now? And the drop ceilings? Well. You learn to live with things.

But some of the rooms don’t require a major capital investment to look massively better. They just require attention and work. You know, time. And focus. Those rarest of commodities. (It’s hard to have time and focus during a Minecraft marathon!)

The "before" - I swear I didn't make this look worse for comparison purposes. It really usually looked this way.

The “before” – I swear I didn’t make this look worse for comparison purposes. It really usually looked this way.

Saturday morning, I was barely recovered from my 16 straight hours of sleeping post GI bug. The flakes were scheduled to start their blizzarding in the afternoon, and I knew they’d lock us in place for several days. Everything that had previously been going on that weekend was cancelled. But in my convalescent state, I knew I had 4 or 5 hours in which to do whatever was going to be done outside the home for the weekend.

It was time for … IKEA.

Traffic was light. We got there fast. We checked the boys into Smaland, carefully checking the height. (I swear it was just yesterday I checked to see if they were BIG ENOUGH YET and now Grey is almost TOO BIG. WHAT?!) We had a list, and we got the end table. We checked out the shelving units extensively, cursing my somewhat cursory measurement that morning. “Well, I measured 55″ but I’m sure 57″ will be fine…” We finally both agreed that in our heart of hearts there was one unit we wanted. We wrote down the names and numbers, reclaimed our boys, ate Ikea meatballs, and threaded the Labrynth of Cheap Goods on our way out. (Grey was hilarious. He kept exclaiming how something was so cheap he could buy it. I mean, mom! I could buy that bowl! I could use my allowance and buy that bowl!)

Two able-bodied adults were able to wrangle the flat packs into the cart, then into the car. I tossed several packages of meatballs into the car and peeled out of the parking lot just as the first flakes few.

We managed to get the core put together and the room cleaned out before Adam turned a funny shade of green and disappeared. The next morning, while I was out shoveling for two hours he was putting the drawers together. And when I came back, we had an all new mud room. (*BING*)

The "After" - we do have drawers for that last spot, but that's where the outlet is! I didn't measure that part.

The “After” – we do have drawers for that last spot, but that’s where the outlet is! I didn’t measure that part.

But our frenzy of home improvement was not yet spent! On Monday, we each grimly took a small child into said small children’s bedrooms and asked them whether they actually wanted each and every genre of object in that room. (I mean, it turns out that 98% of my eldest son’s toys are Legos, but still). We wrested order out of the chaos that is the room of a 9 year old. We have piles of books and toys in the hallway, ready to go to new homes. There are actual open surfaces. Amazing.

There are still some things to be done (See also: massive pile of toys and books, realization that potatoes might do better in dark cupboard instead of on top of fridge). But overall our trapped tenure has at least been productive!

Grey's room cleaning was supervised by an authority figure. In a sunbeam.

Grey’s room cleaning was supervised by an authority figure. In a sunbeam.

11 thoughts from shoveling

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I often blog in my head while I’m doing physical labor. My very best blog post ever came from doing the laundry. Here are my deep thoughts from this morning’s dig out.

My house, today

My house, today

1. I’ve always loved my neighbors, but this winter has made me extra grateful
Adam is laid low by the stomach bug that knocked me out. He’s no longer actively ill, but in the weak phase. Also, we don’t own a snowblower. Also also, I promised to take care of a neighbor’s house while they were gone. This means I’m like extra duper screwed, right? Wrong. I have the key to the neighbor’s snowblower (the folks who are gone have the best one on the block). I flagged over another neighbor to help me, and he spent two hours doing the snow blower work while I did the shoveling work at both houses. We’ll be potlucking at at yet another neighbors house tonight. Friends are awesome. I love friends. I haven’t seen my friends who live half a mile away in WAY TOO LONG. But neighbors who are friends are such a gift in blizzard conditions!

2. What would it take to actually make our little New England civilization stop working?
A la Hurricane Sandy, at what point does our society cease to function? Or does it shut down in dribs and drabs? Already there are plans for some Boston streets to be one way until April 1st. At what point does normal life stop? Are we already there?

3. Seriously, April 1st?
March is supposed to be colder than normal. The 10 day forecast only gets above freezing once (35 degrees). There are two more precipitation events in that forecast, adding up to 5 – 10 inches of snow. I don’t know when life will go back to normal, but six weeks seems like a good guess. It will probably be a lot longer until you can no longer find snow anywhere.

That fence below is a 7 foot fence. That snow bank is more than 12 feet tall. Granted, that's where we blow the snow, but still...

That fence below is a 7 foot fence. That snow bank is more than 12 feet tall. Granted, that’s where we blow the snow, but still…

4. With great power comes great responsibility
A common thought as I shovel snow is that winter is a crappy time to be a feminist. See, I’m physically perfectly capable of shoveling snow. I don’t believe in a gendered division of labor. Do you see where this is going? What it means is that I, as a feminist, can’t tell my husband that snow is his job because he’s a man. This is a crying shame on days like this.

5. Thank goodness we got a new roof
I’m guessing that our old roof wouldn’t have held up to this. Lots of people have lots of leaks. Our pitched roof is dropping the snow all by itself, no problem. The insulation looks great too, as the only melting is sun melt on the Southern exposure.

This is all sun melt. Our roof has many fewer icicles than most of our neighbors.

This is all sun melt. Our roof has many fewer icicles than most of our neighbors.

6. I blow dried my hair this morning.
I almost never do that. The few times I’ve tried it was to make my hair look good, a goal that I’ve never really been successful in accomplishing. It looked great this morning. Then I pulled a wool hat on top of it. The point was that going out in 13 degree weather with a high wind warning for two hours of shoveling with a wet head. I should try less hard, and maybe the whole hair drying thing will work.

7. I seriously wonder when I’ll make it into the office
Tuesday? Tuesday only? Will there be parking when I get to Fort Point? What’s the best combination of not spending stupid time on the road and stupid money on parking, while still spending time with my colleagues. I can’t work from home until April 1st, and might go insane if I tried.

Josh is rocking the roof rake

Josh is rocking the roof rake

8. The children’s brains are currently oozing out there ears
They’ve never played this many video games in their life. I’ve lost all will to parent. Judging by how many of their friends are online, making Minecraft traps with them, I’m not alone.

9. But at least they won’t miss school?
That’s the upside of this all happening over Feb break week, right? No chance of snow days this week, nuh uh! And hopefully by the time next week rolls around, we’re now longer in the icy clutches of Snowmageddon. (10 day forecast says it snows 5 – 8 inches Sunday night. I hate you 10 day forecast!) I feel really badly for the teachers whose success is judged by the standardized tests these children will be taking in a few weeks. They’ve missed so much instructional time, and I have to say that I think my kids study skills and core skills have backslid in the last three weeks. Totally not fair to their excellent teachers!

Our front walk way has a fault line. Considering teaching the children avalanche safety.

Our front walk way has a fault line. Considering teaching the children avalanche safety.

10. Let’s see who’s laughing this summer
I’ve gotten plenty of comments from Northwesterners who point out that Boston currently has more snow than Snoqualmie Pass. The entire US is suffering from a changing climate. (BTW – any time we want to collectively start acting on this problem is good for me. Count me in.) But given a choice between extra violent winters, extra precipitation and more extreme weather, and drought and loss of ground water… I’ll take the nasty blizzards. The entire West is going to bake this summer, with no snowpack to feed the rivers. Florida is losing it’s potable ground water. We may live in Snowmageddon country, and this may be our new normal, but at least we have water.

11. We’ll get through this
The spring will come. There was a year in medieval history when summer never came. That’s not our situation. They may be delayed, but we’ll have snowdrops and crocuses and lilacs and camping trips this summer. We’ll look back on this as an epic memory, but we will some day see grass again!

Happier (warmer) times!

Sick of this

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On Thursday morning, I woke up to a kid who was super sick. He’d been throwing up all night, and had been too tired to even interrupt my sleep to inform me. (Considerate child!) I worked from home for the third day of the week to tend to him. It wasn’t too hard – he spent the entire day on the couch reading Harry Potter IV. But a day spent not in motion by a nine year old boy is a day he was really sick.

I didn’t think too much of it. It’s pretty frequent for the kids to bring stuff home that Adam and I have already had, and we don’t get it. Plus Grey has the super touchy stomach of doooooom, so something that made him barfy might barely affect me! I was glad to see he was well enough for school on Friday and headed into work feeling Just Fine (not even thinking about it, I was feeling so fine).

At noon, my lunch didn’t sit quite right.

At 3 I warned my meeting companion that I wasn’t feeling well, and she might not want to sit too close to me.

At 3:30 I had to leave a meeting, urgently.

Now, here’s the trick. I carpool. And my carpool buddy had a huge project due and was leaving on a week’s vacation. I know this wasn’t going to be a day we could leave at 3:30. So I gritted my teeth and endured. Your choices in these circumstances are rather limited. What should you do? That ride home was hair-raising. I was *SICK*. In fact, I think it was a very lucky thing I did have a carpool, as I was in absolutely no condition to drive myself home. I’m not quite sure what I would’ve done. My carpool partner gets a million kudos for getting me safely home. I struggled to even get out of my boots and into bed. I slept from then until this morning at 9 am – a full 16 hour snooze with brief breaks for water. (I had a massage scheduled. Cancelled! Argh.)

I was touched by the tenderness of the men in my life. Adam attended me with solicitous and loving care. Thane offered to let me sleep with Wolfie. Grey plied me with blankets, a stuffed creeper (“Which is worse? Throwing up, or being blown up?”) and two books. I was in good hands.

But now I’m all done! Feeling better! And watching my husband and youngest son with a gimlet eye.


All these pictures look the same

All these pictures look the same

Meanwhile, outside the house….

We actually went to Ikea today. You could argue it wasn’t a great idea. It probably wasn’t. But Einstein’s Workshop classes for today were cancelled (a bit preemptively – I think they could’ve done it). And I’d been wanting to go to Ikea for quite a while. For being under a blizzard warning, we had considerable company at Ikea. We got the stuff we wanted to redo our mudroom (might be my Thursday post) and made it back before anyone else got sick or the snow started getting heavy.

But now, it’s heavy snow. Tonight it will get heavier, and start blowing hard. Tomorrow – another day – it will be in the negative temperatures and low visibility and a foot or so of snow. Church is already cancelled. We’re trapped again. I have had three day weekends I’ve looked forward to more than this one. There isn’t even the feeling we’re almost done. There’s more arctic air in the forecast (the highest temperature in the next week is 7 days) and there may be another storm on the way midweek. Our backs are sore. Our roofs have ice dams. Our schools may have to run until July. We’ve done all the fun storm activities, and all that’s left is the drudgery. Hopefully we can find some fun and magic in this, our fourth blizzard… but I’m not so sure.


On the upside, it’s Valentine’s Day! I found the perfectest gift ever for my husband, a periodical of Medieval Warfare, assuming our mail ever gets delivered again. I was the recipient of a Kindle that does all the things I want my Kindle to do, like 3G and backlighting. Ahhhhhh…. I’ve been on his account on my Kindle, and it means I can’t sync to my other apps, so I decided to forge ahead and order on my own for this one. Very exciting. I gave the boys meaningful and heartfelt homemade cards. I’m so very lucky to have three such wonderful Valentines!

Poetry and Song

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My toast to Bobbie Burns

My toast to Bobbie Burns

One of my favorite nights of the year is Burns Night, hosted by my dear friends Dave and Maggie.* The hallmarks of Burns Night, in addition to the Haggis and Scotch, are poetry and song. On the best of the nights, we’ve taken turns – breathless – in the living room sharing words and music. We usually begin with actual songs and poems written by Robbie Burns. (“My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose” often gets sung more than once.) We recite his poetry. (Cally’s rendition of “Ode to a Haggis” is breathtaking.) Dave reads “Address to the Deil”.

Somewhere around an hour in, one of us gives the Toast to Robbie Burns. I was on duty a few years ago and actually read a biography of the Bard of Scotland. Since then, I’ve been on duty in case there’s some failure of speaker to arrive.

Then we start slipping into the vaguely Celtic. Adam does his priceless rendition of “Maids When You’re Young Never Wed an Old Man”. Maggie’s father lifts a mournful voice for “Kathleen Mavourneen”. There’s Shakespeare, Byron, Tennyson – by heart or from the books that lay scattered at our feet.

We slide fully into just poetry, and just song. Nick recites Kite. We belt out “Barrett’s Privateers”. Cori’s liquid voice slides through “Jock o’ Hazeldeen”. The night ends swaying, holding hands, singing “Auld Lange Syne” (all verses) while looking into the eyes and hearts of these people to whom we have grown suddenly, unaccountably close through these greatest magic-makers: poetry and song. We have all fallen in love with each other in the silence after the singing. I leave with a joyful heart, and can’t wait for the next year.

But I’ve never done it at one of my parties, for all my love and passion for it. Why not? I’ve wondered often.

During Christmas and Easter, I often stand at the front of the church as I play my trumpet. It’s a day a lot of visitors come, of course, and I can watch them as they worship with us. There’s a particular kind of visitor I haven’t quite come to understand yet. The stand with the congregation during the hymns. They often even hold the hymnal in their hands. But they remain stoically silent – jaws clenched and unmoving as the rest of us sing. I wonder: are they there against their wills? Do they think they “can’t sing”? (Do they think we can?!) Do they think that church is something you watch, instead of something you do?

Last year I toasted decked in my tam

Last year I toasted decked in my tam – thanks to Joe for the picture!

That is – I think – the heart of it. We have become a world of watchers. We don’t sound good enough. We aren’t skilled enough. We were told when we were little that we can’t carry a tune. Please, for heaven’s sake be quiet. We all hear the world’s best musicians and artists (remixed, studio supported) every day. How can our voice compete? It can’t. And so we shut up. And our neighbor/friend/partner/kid is also not nearly as good as what’s on the radio, so we make fun of them. We have an entire tv genre built around making fun of people for thinking they can sing. In truth, the moment Adam and I first met was over our shared defiance of this cultural norm. He was walking down the hall of our dorm singing “Money Can’t Buy Me Love”. Instead of giving him the “you’re weird” look, I picked up the chorus. (Prescient, eh?)

I love to sing, even though my voice is decidedly mediocre. I love to hear my friends sing – even if they’ll never be Brandy Clark** I love to look in their sincere and vulnerable faces as they recite a poem they learned by heart when they were fourteen. I love Nick’s sock puppet hand, Callie’s slicing of the Haggis, Dave’s delightful “deil” and Cori’s key change on “Jock o’ Hazeldeen”. On those Sundays when I couldn’t find faith in my heart, I still came to church to sing the old old songs with my friends until faith could find its way back.

Where to go from here? I wish I could call on you all to sing – in public, with your friends. But even I’m too chicken (too wise? too often shot down? too defeated?) to call my friends to song. Perhaps instead I can remind you that the joy is not in the passive listening, it is in the listening to a friend. There is something about singing together which is powerful and precious. Sing to each other, my beloved companions. Quote poems. Sing to me. And together we can fill the world with a joyful noise.

Thane (top row) singing at his school’s winter concert

* New people at Burns Night sometimes ask how I know Dave or Maggie. My favorite reply is that I married him/her. It’s true. I did.
** I don’t remember ever hearing Brandy play guitar or sing in high school. I can’t remember if she was even in choir, and I’m pretty sure she never got a solo in our high school concerts.

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