A dry, hot summer

Mt. Rainier reflection panoramic. True color - no filter.
Mt. Rainier reflection panoramic. True color – no filter.

I’m originally from the Pacific Northwest. I was just home, and reveled in the depths of the blues and greens and whites of my mountain home. August adds a fourth color – the lions-mane gold of the grass fields baking in the summer sun.

The ruins near the river, where I used to adventure.
The ruins near the river, where I used to adventure.

But August in the Northwest is brief, and so much of the rest of the year I was trained to expect the muted grays and greens that are so much a signature of the region. You can go weeks with a fantastic view of Mt. Rainier, and never once see it through the clouds. I grew up with both times to go outside and venture down towards the creek to the remnants of a former era, and to plan to hole up in my room with a good novel and a steady rain tapping on my roof and walls. And the balance of my life tipped more towards novel-reading than train-track-travels.

I still look to rainy days as times of rest and contemplation. They’re times to shut off the extrovert and welcome the introvert. I crave that time to read, to think, to contemplate poetry, and to feel deeply. I spend my whole life talking and acting. I need time to listen and think. And I need rain to do so properly. (Although snow will do in a pinch, and fog can also fill in.)

But it hasn’t rained. This summer has stretched out hot and humid and gloriously summery. Night after night has been punctuated by the whir of the AC drowning out the sound of the crickets. The skies have gone overcast, but the rain has passed us by. In fact, my corner of the state is in an extreme drought – the penultimate level before you get classified as an exceptional drought. Trees are dying. Plants are withering. Grasses have gone sere. The land is baking under the heat.

The dying forests of California
The dying forests of California

And it’s not just Massachusetts. I went to California this spring – in what was supposed to be an El Nino deluge. I was shocked at what I saw. The air in the Central Valley was thick as sin and hung darkly over the even rows of orange trees. As I climbed up out of the groves to the woodlands, the trees stood stark orange corpses. The drought had claimed them, and was growing. The paths that should have been impassible with snow stood wide open in late February, up in the heights of the Sierra Nevadas.

Finally, I went home to Washington. The Evergreen State still surely holds it’s name. But drought was being felt there too. The burn bans were on. The firefighters were tense, waiting for the spark to begin their fighting once again. Even the lush lands of my youth are dry.

Then, down south, the word came that floods, unheralded by named storm, had swept over the same battered folk who had suffered in Katrina were being drowned again in the relentlessness of the water.

I feel the wrongness of the lack of rain in my own home, and where I grew up. I’m sure those down south are looking at their lands and wondering where the line is between land and water after all.

Humans have always felt powerless against the weather. It’s always been one of those factors outside our control – almost reassuringly so. I wonder if that’s not really at the root of why we have done nothing in the 30 years since we were told that our actions would change the weather. Perhaps we didn’t believe we really could change the weather? Perhaps we saw our actions as immutable as a rolling storm – nothing we ourselves could stand against. I understand, somewhat, why the world hasn’t come together to prevent our actions from changing the face of the world.

A dramatic representation of how normal has changed

But what I don’t understand is why we haven’t prepared for the change we know was coming. What do we need to do differently as the sea levels rise? Which cities need to be abandoned, or protected? What steps have we taken to resettle the inhabitants? What seawalls built? I’m frankly gobsmacked that massive new development has been done just bare feet above sea level, on fill, in the Seaport District of Boston. I’m not entirely sure all those buildings will even be finished before they’re swamped. Those future residents will at some point have a nasty surprise, but we pretend like that’s an unknowable future instead of the near-certainty it is. We know it will happen. We even have a good idea of when. We just want to pretend it won’t.

I desperately wish I know what I could do to fight this. The voices that have been raised to warn have been laughed down, and beaten down over decades. The small economies of a single household pale by comparison the the vast wastefulness practiced by others. Keeping the thermostat at 68 in the winter means literally nothing – taken by itself. I wish that I had solutions for this problem, like I wish I had for so many others.

But I will say this – do not be surprised. Our world is changing. The Northwest Passage has been created by melting ice. The seawaters are rising. The rains fall more in some places, less in others. If you will not work to prevent it – and we have not – then we must work to live in the new world we have created.

And every hot day without rain just reminds me of it.

Timon of Athens and the Happiness Exchange Rate

I mentioned earlier that the book “The Last Safe Investment” had raised two interesting thoughts (which is two more than is standard from that kind of book). I explored the idea of “Tribe” in my earlier post about how Stoneham is coming together to help a kid with autism stay safe. (Three weeks until the big day! Buy your tickets now, or donate online!)

The second interesting idea had to do with “the Happiness Exchange Rate”. The idea is this. Past meeting all your basic needs, the purpose of money is usually to make you happy. (There are plenty of exceptions.) But we don’t always think very carefully about the happiness per dollar ratio we’re getting. For example, a new car would make me happy. I don’t need one – both of my cars run fine and get the job done, but especially the older one is getting a bit junky. A Saturday morning sleeping in, drinking coffee in bed and reading a novel would also make me happy. One of these things costs $25k (minimum). One of these things might set me back $10 in the worst case scenario for the novel.

Would the new car make me four orders of magnitude happier than the lazy Saturday morning? Would it make me two thousdand five hundred times happier than that novel? If we factor in the obnoxiousness of having to deal with a car salesman, I think that on the whole I’d be LESS happy with the car than with the caffeinated novel consumption. So the amount of $$$ it takes for a unit of happiness is much lower for the novel than for the car.

The authors make the point, however, that we’re really bad about judging how these things stack up against each other. They tell the story of someone who spent $200k on a bottle of wine, and described the experience as “nice”. Give me a $10 bottle of wine and great friends over a $200 bottle of wine any day of the week!

These ideas of friendship and money (and using money to obtain friendship) were one of the great themes of Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens”, which we just saw in Ashland. (A trip that was, I think, an excellent investment per unit of happiness.). For those unfamiliar with the work, Timon was a leader of Athens and a purveyor of the best parties. He’d host his friends. He’d wine and dine them and give them rich gifts. He’d bail them out if they ever needed bailing out. The money flowed from his hands to his friends in an unending torrent.

Or almost unending. Athenian – and Elizabethan – economics are very similar to ours. If you spend more than you earn, you eventually run out of cash.

Timon assumed that his great generosity had bought him true friends, who would be as generous with him as he had been with them. When his messengers knocked on their doors, however, they were turned away with feeble excuses. The giving was a one way street.

The entire second act takes place on a rubbish pile while Timon rails at his erstwhile friends, names himself Misanthropous (hater of humans), and provides an army of invading Athenian soldiers (also rejected by an ungrateful Athens) the funds* with which to sack and raze the city, before he commits suicide.

Methinks that either Shakespeare (or his co-author Christopher Marley) may have had an experience that stung, somewhat. I suspect that one or more persons in the audience were red-faced at the incredible ingratitude on display.

One could definitely argue that the happiness exchange rate of Timon’s gifts was… poor. What he thought he was getting with his money was not in fact what he got.

Our vacation was rather indulgent. We ate some great meals, saw five great plays (“Great Expectations”, “A Winter’s Tale”, “Timon of Athens”, “Yeoman of the Guard” and a riotous “Twelfth Night”), spent some time at a great spa and got a lovely piece of jewelry for our anniversary. Having this sendup of spending in the middle of our indulgent vacation was both a timely reminder to remain moderate, and an interesting juxtoposition.

I think it’s worth thinking carefully about where our spending is habitual, where it FEELS like it will make us happy, and what actually makes us happy. Feasting my friends at my house makes me happy – although I don’t do so thinking that doing so “earns” me anything from them past perhaps their friendship. Hiking and camping make me really happy. Reading makes me happy, especially in cozy situations like around campfires or in cafes. Writing makes me happy. Playing board games makes me happy. I love singing. I confess to digging hanging around with my friends and maybe a glass of wine. For the most part, these are moderately priced things with great happiness exchange rates.

I really don’t want or need a fancy car (although as some point I’ll probably need a new car). I take no pleasure in expensive clothes. (They just worry me, since I’m guaranteed to spill something on them.) 70% of the time, I’m disappointed when I eat out. (I could make it better, the restaurants are too loud, they make me wait too long.) My tastes in wine or drink are moderate. Spending a lot on high quality options doesn’t make me enjoy them more. I should do less of these things, or avoid them altogether, since the happiness exchange rate is poor.

The book inspired me and the play reminded me nourish and flourish the activities that make me happy with a great exchange rate, and despite seeming like I “should” like other expensive things, to question whether they make me happier than other cheaper (and healthier?) options.

Does this concept ring true? What are some of your excellent happiness ROI activities? What things have you tried that have just turned out to be a waste of money? And what are the very expensive things that are totally worth it to you anyway?

*Which he ironically finds buried under the refuse heap where he’s sleeping.

This is Camp Gramp 2016

There comes a point where you just shut down your computer on a Friday, and don’t open it up for a week. I hit that point. Man, did I need a vacation. I’m so grateful I’ve gotten it! Meanwhile, Camp Gramp is in full swing. Instead of the typical email updates, my mom has been posting Facebook updates. I can’t blame her for it, but in the interests of stealing her writing and using it as my own (hey, it’s not a vacation if I have to work, right?) I’m reposting here for your delectation!

Camp Gramp Day 1 – Saturday
We are here! The tents are up! The sleeping bags are out! The children are happily playing. They are old enough now for some self-determination, so they have decided our destination in Canada will be Vancouver. The criteria is — a good science museum! Parents are raising these kids right!

Two kids have outgrown their tents, and a third tent is on its last legs. We have two new tents and will need to replace a third.

The Camp Grampground
The Camp Grampground

Camp Gramp – Day 3
Today started with a bang. A flat tire. The van has a spare, but it is under the front seat and really hard to get to. We played old people and used our AAA. The nice young man had bad things to say about getting the spare out.

I needed to go to town to get the tire fixed and visit the Group Health lab, so we gave the children a choice. Go to town and chase Pokeman Go or stay home. They chose stay home! They have been upstairs playing together much of the day. When they weren’t doing that, they were playing outside. This sounds like the MOST BORING Camp Gramp. But they are enjoying themselves. I think it is a sign of maturity. First, they can make choices themselves. Second, they can entertain themselves!

It is like a Lan party for Matthew. Feed them and stay out of the way!

Camp Gramp Day 4 — Tuesday
Today is Gramama’s birthday. We spent a while at the lake with the boats. The children did a great job, no one got wet by accident. We did have an incident of a nest of bugs in the canoe, but otherwise, it was great fun. Swimming too. The cake was the work of the W. children!

Hot enough to swim in Mineral Lake!
Hot enough to swim in Mineral Lake!
I love this picture - time for Thane to learn how to paddle his own canoe
I love this picture – time for Thane to learn how to paddle his own canoe
Good think I sent this kid to three weeks of camp that included kayaking!
Good think I sent this kid to three weeks of camp that included kayaking!

Camp Gramp – Wednesday
Today was organic farm day. A colleague of mine has a new farm in Ashford and the kids spent a couple hours there. They met Otis the dog, and the chickens. They came home with some eggs they collected. The met the llamas and the alpacas. There was also hay climbing and chicken chasing.

Then the evening was spent on Mt. Rainier at a Star Party. Sebastian was a helper, keeping the moon in the telescope. It was great, but very late when we got home. Fortunately, they all woke up enough to get out of the car and go to bed.

Strong candidate for official camp gramp picture
Strong candidate for official camp gramp picture
Turkey in the straw
Turkey in the straw

Gotta Catch ‘Em All!

So. You might have heard about this “Pokémon” thing sweeping the world. It’s called Pokémon GO, and it’s an augmented reality game. Chances are good you already have an opinion about it – whether it’s “That’s so stupid, why would anyone waste their time on something like that?” or “I don’t understand these technology things” or possibly “GOOOO TEAM MYSTIC!”

I say, "Gooooo Team Mystic!"
I say, “Gooooo Team Mystic!”

I was a late adopter to the game. It came out on Wednesday, July 6. I didn’t install it until Friday, July 8.

That week was a grim week during a grim month. Coup attempt in Turkey. Bombings in the Middle East. Police shootings – on both sides of the gun – here at home. My Facebook page was full of heartache that week: both mine and others. And there came a point where I just started feeling numb and overwhelmed. My coping mechanisms just weren’t up for the drumbeat of sorrow this summer has brought.

And into that week came an augmented reality game built around walking through your community catching the Pokémon living among us. Is it any surprise that it overtook Twitter for active monthly users in the first week? That Friday, I stepped out into the long, late evening walking hand in hand with my sweet youngest son (whom I’ve dubbed the walking Pokédex). In this, I was the learner, and he the teacher. “That’s a flying type Pokémon.” “Oh, that’s a good one mom. Eevees can evolve into many different types!” We walked and walked through the weekend (I got a crick in my neck). And we weren’t alone. There were teenage boys as you would expect. But there were teenage girls, too. There were some older folks, walking in the identifiably Pokémon tempo, stopping to catch those Pidgies. And there were other parents like me, walking with children like mine. In fact, I’ve met at least three other parents of my sons’ classmates, out with their kids, while I was walking with mine.

Stoneham Common packed with Pokémon players
Stoneham Common packed with Pokémon players

I’ve had some great conversations. There was the big brother there with his three siblings. He was a young, black 20 something guy. I wouldn’t have known how to start that conversation in June. In July, I could just ask which team he was on, and get to know him. There was the epic, over-powered teenager who works two jobs and spends all the rest of his time walking around taking down gyms. I’ve offered tips to grandparents who are slightly embarrassed to be caught in pursuit of an Oddish. And I’ve become both conversant and interested in something my sons are passionate about. And I’ve done all this outside, in the soft summer evenings, walking for hours.

This isn’t my first augmented reality game. I played Ingress, the predecessor to this game. (Fun fact: all the Pokéstops and gyms were previously Ingress portals, but not every Ingress portal became a stop). I really enjoyed that game too, where you would battle between two teams to take control of portals and connect them. But everything that made that game less fun… well, the Niantic team should be incredibly proud. They really learned from their first experience, and blew it out of the water with this new game. (Of course, using one of video gaming’s most valuable franchises probably didn’t hurt.)

So, what is Pokémon GO, and what would you need to do if you wanted to play it?

Pokémon GO requires a relatively modern cellphone with both GPS and data coverage. While you can play a little with only wireless, it would be a frustrating and limiting experience. It did use a bit more data than my standard use, but much less than (say) streaming music. You can download it from either the Google or iTunes App Stores.

When you turn it on, you start by customizing your avatar (the digital representation of you) and picking a user name. Other users will see this name and picture when you do cool things, like defending gyms with your Pokémon.

Then you’ll get a chance to practice catching your first Pokémon. This took me a bit of time to figure out, but you basically fling the ball at the Pokémon with your finger. (No need to throw your phone or anything!!) Your first Pokémon you get infinite balls. After you catch your first, you get a bunch of gear. But every time you throw a Pokéball, you have used one of your collection.

So how do you get more gear? That’s what Pokéstops are for. Inside the game, you’ll see a map. That map represents where you actually are in the real world. (That’s why they call it augmented reality.) The Pokéstops look like lollipops scattered across a flat world. They’re most likely to be found in areas with interesting public art or attractions – like town squares or tourist locations. You get gear from a Pokéstop by clicking on it so it takes your whole screen, then spinning it sideways. The stop will “drop” gear. (You don’t have to click on each piece, you can just close the stop and it will all be added to your gear.)

In addition to Pokéstops, you may see multilayered, colored things (more rare the Pokéstops), with cool characters on top of them. Once you hit level five, you can start interacting with these gyms. At level 5, the first time you go to a gym you’ll be asked to pick a trainer. This is where you pick your team. There are three: Blue is Team Mystic, Yellow is Team Instinct, and Red is Team Valor. (You may soon start seeing people wearing clothes with weird logos – each team also has a logo! Adam just brought me home a Team Mystic t-shirt from Gencon…) You can’t really change your team after selection. Blue is the most common, Yellow the most rare.

With gyms, it depends on whether the gym is your gym, or an enemy gym. If it’s your color gym, you can train one Pokémon from your deck against the gym. It can be really hard to make it through more than one or two! But if you defeat your friendly Pokémon, you get XP (which helps you level up) and the gym gets stronger.

With an enemy gym, you pick a team of six Pokémon to fight. There’s some strategy here. For example, fire type Pokémon (like Magmar or Flareon) are vulnerable to water type Pokémon (like Gyarados or Vaporeon). It’s ok if you don’t know that at first – you’ll have a suggested set of Pokémon which are usually a pretty good choice. But it can be fun to argue with your kids about which order of Pokémon to attack with. The strength of the Pokémon are called “CP” (combat power). The higher, the better they are at attacking! They also have hit points, which indicates how much damage they can take before they faint. Pokémon who faint can be revived with the clearly named “revive” medicine. Wounded Pokémon can be healed with potions.

The last important bit is the eggs. Eggs hatch cool, powerful Pokémon. But you can only hatch eggs by putting them in your incubator (click on the egg to do that) and then walking. Eggs can be 2km, 5km or 10km. You only make progress on them if you move at a speed of under 10 miles an hour while you have the app open – so I mostly work on hatching them when I’m out and actively playing.

There’s quite a bit more in the finer points… how to attract wild Pokémon, how to encourage Pokémon to stay captured once you’ve thrown your Pokéball at them, etc. But the game is designed to teach you by playing – and to encourage you to share tips with the players you meet along the way.

No game can cure the ills of the world. It is just a game. But when I’m outside, walking with my son and meeting people in my community… I’m not fixed on the sorrows of the world. I can enjoy the things that are funny and silly and light, and remember that the world contains much more than sorrow.

Unlike Grey, I have not yet caught a Pikachu
Unlike Grey, I have not yet caught a Pikachu

PS – if you can’t figure something out on your Pokémon GO game, I’m happy to help!

Tribe

I recently read a book called “The Last Safe Investment: Spending Now to Increase Your True Wealth Forever” (by Bryan Franklin and Michael Ellsberg). The authors came and spoke at my place of work about their theses – and we had time for questions and answers.

The book had two interesting concepts in it, for thinking about. The first was about Happiness Exchange Rate. In my perfect world, I’d write a blog post dedicated to my thoughts on that topic, so I won’t go into more detail here. (In the actual world, you should probably just read the book to find out for yourself, because intended blog posts are a loooooong way away from reality.)

The second interesting concept was Tribe, and how a Tribe both helped you get money (which you could use to make yourself happy), it also just plain makes yourself happy.

This was a weekend for Tribe.

A small part of my tribe
A small part of my tribe

There are few things that make me feel richer than dwelling on my friends. This weekend, we held the first annual “Flynn’s Fiery Feast” – to provide that critical third gathering between Piemas and Mocksgiving. For those who don’t follow me regularly, those are two “made up” holidays in November and March where 30-40 grownups and associated children get together and eat a lot and play board games and enjoy each other’s company. The people represented are a venn diagram of several social circles: college friends, gaming friends, internet friends, church friends, family, neighbors and a small handful of coworkers. (It’s also fewer people than I’d like to invite, but after about 50 humans in it, my house is just too small to add more. Don’t think because you’re not at that party we aren’t friends – we are – the parties just can’t get much bigger.)

We laughed and joked and caught up and ate and played board games and sat around the fire and had an awesome time. I felt like Scrooge McDuck, swimming in his gigantic pool of gold, surrounded by a real wealth of love and warm feelings. And then my friends helped clean up before they left. Seriously, people. It doesn’t get better than that.

Bryan and Michael say in there book that a Tribe is key to wealth – not only because it gives you the happiness that you’re theoretically trying to get enough money to have, but because it can help you in a thousand practical ways. And I’ve seen that play out for myself. Perhaps the tightest Tribe in my diagram is a group of moms who get together about once a month, and chat often on Facebook. This group of ladies is mostly just for fun. We do talk about parenting books, and exchange ideas about how to make our lives and the lives of others better. We support each other in fitness, borrow each other’s steam cleaners and babysitters, and know we can put out an all-call for whether someone has condensed milk handy (so we don’t have to go to a store and interrupt our baking).

Stuffing eggs for an egg hunt
Stuffing eggs for an egg hunt

But we also provide a backstop for each other whose depth may appear hidden. One of our moms’ husband was in a near-fatal car accident. For a few weeks, we delivered home made, love-stuffed meals and snacks. As you read about last week, one of our moms needs to raise $15,000 to get her son a service dog. The fundraiser is being led by the other moms, bringing together pretty amazing skills and collaboration. For a few months our regular chat is being replaced by party planning, and no one has said anything but “how can I help”? It’s this amazing sense of knowing that someone has your back (especially with little family in the area), to have a group of people like this.

Bryan and Michael describe a Tribe this way, “Tribe is simply a networked group of friends bound by their caring for one another and for a similar aesthetic for life. But when a group of friends become networked – when each knows the other – something else, not available from simple friendship, emerges.” (The Last Safe Investment, Franklin & Ellsberg, p. 277) They talk a lot about how important it is that the relationships are not “hub and spokes”, but a matrix of connections. They talk about how key shared values are to a tribe. And they go WAY FURTHER from my happy groups of friends to actual communal living.

They also have a Silicon Valley-esque focus on entrepreneurship. I asked when they gave their talk if this sort of group of people wouldn’t have the effect of compounding inequality. (Rich people with rich friends would be richer. Poor people with poor friends would not.) They assured me their Tribe cut across income. (In retrospect, however, I’m curious if it cuts across class. I wonder what degree of disparity in educational attainment and opportunity a Silicon-Valley-based-tribe actually has. Not, mind, that my Tribes are that much more class diverse.) They also talk a lot about how creating repeated opportunities for people to come together can create Tribe. (Which was actually my proximate cause for finally getting around to scheduling the long-contemplated third holiday.)

Coming out of the book talk, I started chatting with my coworkers about the topic, and realized something.

Quick: describe a group of people who have relationships with each other (not around a central figure), who come together very regularly, who cut across generational & class lines, who support each other, and who have strong shared values.

Does that ring a bell?

I realized, in that conversation, that the Tribe is the Church. That hole left in society when people walked away from both theology and communal worship is a gaping one, and it needs to be filled. It makes sense that groups and ideas like this one would be developed to plug the gap. But I also think that maybe churches need to see themselves a bit more like Tribes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we saw ourselves as a group of people who come together because of shared values to support (and enjoy) each other, and then to turn our collective will towards service towards each other and the world? When we say “my Church” – how many of us imagine the building? The steeple and communion table and pews? Instead, it would be awesome if we thought of that great cloud of friends we have in the church. Take Jesus and the disciples – there was a Tribe to be reckoned with. (And they didn’t even have a building!) The early church actually did take it all the way to communal living. I think that as a congregation we can aspire to that same sense of joyful security that I get when I think of my friends.


Do you have a tribe? Who do you lean on in times of trouble? What do you do to build up your connections? I’d love to hear how this concept looks from your point of view!

A happy home

It’s been a very busy summer indeed. I spent 90% of this weekend driving to or from Camp Wilmot, where I either picked up or dropped off my eldest child. We also did an outing with Adam’s company at the Boston Aquarium, made pesto, went swimming at Good Harbor beach in Gloucester (more driving), watched the new Ghostbuster’s movie (which was thoroughly enjoyable), attended a Mom’s Group fundraiser planning meeting (more later) and caught a lot of Pokemon. (Currently level 15 – go Mystic!)

A happy camper
A happy camper

Not on this list: blog posts and/or laundry.

Also, I think I might be getting sick. At least, I feel like crap. My neck is killing me, and that’s giving me a headache, and my stomach hurts. And I’m just as busy at work as I am at home.

So, of course, I’ve been thinking a ton about my house’s history.

The story of how this transpired is a small town story. Debbie Sullivan, proprietess of The Book Oasis and a friend of mine, posted on Facebook that she had a new book in on local history. Now I am on my way to owning every book on local history that’s been published (working on it, at least), so I figured I’d better get it while I loaded Grey up on some books from his summer reading list. Thus did “Stoneham’s Great Fires and Tragic Events: 1806 – 2016” by Chief Raymond L. Sorensen, Ret. end up in the bag of books in the back seat.

Somewhere just south of Concord, New Hampshire, a voice emerged from the back seat. “Mom,” said the fine young man being sent off to build character, “Our house is in this book.”

Maturely, I responded, “No way! Get outta here! Our house? What’s it say?”

As he read, my heart fell. In September of 1948, the charming pink house I love so much was home to one of the town’s great tragedies of the century. Three children were killed in a fire. Right here. The book focused on the effects this had on fire department funding. (Spoiler alert: the Fire Department asked for 10 additional firefighters but only got 6.) But my mind kept going back and back. What were the children’s names? How did the fire start? Where did they die? Did the family lose all their children, or did any survive? Most critically, was my son ever going to fall asleep in this house again? (Am I?)

I used the Google search engine. Nothing more than was in the book. It was time for the heavy guns. I sent a note to the lady who embodies the Stoneham Historical Commission. While I worked, she and the reference librarian pulled microfiche (a skill I do not possess) to find what was in the newspapers at the time, while she also looked at finding their graves. I feel a great desire to visit their grave, and tell these children I’m so sorry that this happened to them, and that we’ve loved living in their house.

The story unfolded through the day, and my goodness, is it a sad one. The oldest boy and youngest girl survived, with both parents. There was a oil stove explosion, and the accelerant closed off the staircase. They only got out through windows, and just barely that. Neighbors brought ladders. The time it took to hook the engine up to the hydrants was too long. Three of the children did not make it out. Two died that morning. The third died at the New England Sanitarium a few days later.

The town rallied, though. They came together. They raised money for the family. (One guy raffled off a bat signed by Babe Ruth, which would cost a pretty penny today!) They worked hard to support the family, and make sure this didn’t happen again. According to Mr. Sorensen’s book, “Citizens demanded a hearing, ‘not to condemn the fire department,’ they said, but to find out what went wrong.” And when they figured out they didn’t have the right equipment or personnel, the bought and hired the right amount. It’s the same small town where I’m connected to the book store, the historical commission, the library. It still feels like that rallying community.

I’m thinking about reaching out to that oldest son. He was 12 when his home burned, and his sister and two brothers died. He still lives in the area, as do the rescued baby and some more siblings added later in life. He’s 80 now. I would love to sit down with him and get an oral history. I do really wonder whether he’d be happy to tell the story of those lost ones, or if reliving what must be the worst day of his life is a cruel thing to ask him to do. I find myself wondering if his family knows the whole story. Is it lore among them? Or is it hidden? They’re very local – do they ever drive past my house and cry? Do they remember? Or do they try to forget? Do you think I should try to reach out?

I must say, I’m really surprised to find this out, nearly nine years into owning this house. We knew there had been a fire. It came up during the disclosures and home inspection. But it looked small. See – here you can see where they whitewashed the black scorch marks in the attic. The inspector assured us it was minor, and had no structural impact.

The charred part of the attic
The charred part of the attic

But I was mystified about why one of the unfinished attic spaces had one single, lone scrap of wallpaper – in a room where the roof nails stuck through perilously. How do you put up wallpaper, and not, I dunno, put in a ceiling to prevent you from splitting your head open on a nail?

The only wallpaper scrap
The only wallpaper scrap
Why I wouldn't consider this a finished space...
Why I wouldn’t consider this a finished space…

It becomes clear. This was finished. And it all burned that night in September. And our plan is to finish it again, and live up there. This time with one key addition:

One of these suckers in every room
One of these suckers in every room

The perfect age of boy

I remember when Grey was about three months old. He’d just started smiling. I looked over his fuzzy head to my husband and said, “I wish I could just freeze him at this age. He’s just perfect.” I wished it again at a year, and at three years (each time thinking I’d been foolish the last time – he’d clearly only improved). Granted, there were a few times in the life of each boy I haven’t wished to freeze them in place (see also: Thane at 4, Grey at 6), but so far I’ve really enjoyed my sons.

This last week or so was a particularly great time to be their mom.

On Friday, I installed Pokemon Go. I mean, everyone ELSE in the office was playing, and I’d really enjoyed Ingress. It’s, um, a touch addictive, so I happened to mention to the boys. Which explains why I spent hours this week, walking around my town with my youngest son, consulting my living breathing encyclopedia of all knowledge Pokemon related. (Seriously, these kids are amazing. They can rattle of the evolution paths, types, relative rarity and stats on like hundreds of different Pokemon. This may seem like arcane information until they’re out of their minds excited because you caught an Eevee, which can evolve into any type!)

Thane and I walked along the waters of Spot Pond for two hours today, trying to catch water type Pokemon. We stood in the twilight, and listened to the wolves in Stone Zoo howl to the waning crescent moon, while catching yet another Ratatta.

Serious Pokemon Expert
Serious Pokemon Expert

Thane will have considerable time this next two weeks to display his astonishing expertise to me. This afternoon, on a cold and drizzly day, I dropped my eldest son off at Camp Wilmot, with four other good friends by his side. It was a very gray day, and a very long ride in the car. About an hour in, he said, “Mom, I appreciate you doing so much driving. I appreciate everything you do for me. Thank you.” Awwwww. I think he’s actually gotten more affectionate as he’s gotten older, and better sees what it is that his parents do for him. I’m going to miss his good company over the next two weeks, very much.

Even though he was more than ready for me to go, and invited me to depart _several_ times before I actually went. There’s loving your mom, and not wanting to look too much like you love your mom at dropoff time.

I’m under strict instructions to write regularly, and to send a care package with his father’s bread in it.

The camper, very ready for his mom to depart
The camper, very ready for his mom to depart

You can see pictures from our 4th of July Camping Trip, and this Camp Wilmot dropoff! Enjoy!

6 reasons I like Sportsball

Among the people I spend time with, referring to a game is as likely to be about 7 Wonders or Fate as it is to be about baseball, or basketball. In fact, depending on the precise people, it’s considerably more likely. During March Madness, all my office could talk about was Google’s AI going 4 of 5 against a Go champion. Sometimes, friends or acquaintances of mine disparagingly (or bemusedly) refer to whatever big sporting event that’s going on as sportsball, they seem so indistinguishable.

I’m not an obvious target for breaking from this culture, and liking sports. My favorite kinds of music are mid-century American folk, pre-baroque early music, and opera. I read science fiction and fantasy primarily. I have a 15 year career in software. I got my degree in medieval studies. This is not a profile that screams “I can correctly identify offsides before I see the flag go up”.*

But here it is, Sunday night. Game of Thrones is on, but I’m 100% tuned in to the Copa America finals, really hoping to see Lionel Messi do to Chile what he did to the US in the semis. I’ve loved the summer of soccer, although I admittedly only really watch the international tournaments. I listen to or watch at least parts of probably 80 baseball games a year. For the last several years, I’ve watched almost every Pats** game, and as many Seahawks games as I could catch. And it’s not because I love my husband who loves sports. In fact, he doesn’t like anything but soccer. He calls the baseball broadcasts “the voices in my head” and only goes to a game in person because he likes the hot dogs.

So why do I like sports? What makes it worth spending two or three hours on the couch?

1) You can connect with so many people
I started my sports interest in 1995, with the amazing Seattle Mariners team. Everyone around me was talking about the Mariners. Very few people were interested in talking about Seattle Opera’s superb staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which is what I was excited about that summer. As a supercilious 16 year old, I did of course feel superiorly artistic. But also a bit lonely. At some point, I decided I would open-mindedly investigate this whole “baseball” thing to see what it was all about. And it was amazing! Suddenly, these people with whom I felt like I had nothing in common became friends. I could say, “Did you catch the game last night?” and then we could talk about the game last night. It opened up this huge point of connection, which was my primary goal. It was almost heady, how being interested in what other people were interested in made them more likely to talk to me… or even to like me.

2) It turns out sports are interesting
Chances are good you have one of two reactions to that statement.

    a) Well duh
    b) I doubt it

But the reason that millions of people spend time, money, energy, passion and attention on sports is because they’re fascinating. I think of them like the best poetry. The form is known – like a sonnet. You know that a sonnet will be ABABCDCDEFEFGG. You know the form so well you don’t even have to think about it. But like poetry, each expression of that form is profoundly unique. All the best sports have uncertain outcomes. The only way to know what will happen is to watch the game, even if probabilities and prognostication seem to point to certainty. It’s like poetry of human accomplishment, in opposition to other striving humans, written out for you in real time.

3) You get to feel strong, conclusive feelings
You can be dumped in the pit of despair, but no one actually died. You can exult in the height of exultation. (But you did not actually win the lottery.) You can have aching, edge-of-seat uncertainty for an hour or two, when you wonder if you have any underlying heart conditions. That uncertainty is always resolved at the end. Most entertainment is designed to help us feel things we don’t usually get to feel (and often don’t want to feel) in the day to day course of our lives. Movies make us feel, love, admiration, fear, joy, terror and disgust. Sports can do the same, but in a way that seems less scripted or constructed. We do not feel those emotions on behalf of others, but rather for our own selves, and in community with those around us. No one knows ahead of time which feelings they’ll feel. That’s a powerful catharsis, with a firm and absolute ending point.

4) You join the shared memory
We’ve had to redefine communal memory several times in the last few generations. For the generation prior, it was the shared tv shows on the few networks. Before that, the radio shows. Before that, it was likely more fragmented with stories being told in communities about those communities, that people would share and retell across time with other people who remembered them as well. In an increasingly fragmented world, where we have neither shared history nor shared media, the biggest sporting events are something of a touchpoint. In Boston, “Where were you when the Sox won the World Series?” is likely to get as many stories (well rehearsed, usually) as the still-annual “Where were you when the towers fell?” They make you feel like you belong.

5) It provides a brief break from reality
Do you know what word WASN’T spoken during the broadcast tonight? Brexit. I work hard to stay well informed. I read and listen to a reasonable amount of news. But sometimes I like to have media that allows me to dip in and out (so not a gripping novel), that involves people talking, and that isn’t as depressing as the Dead Sea.

6) Legitimate excuse to sit on the couch
Maybe this is just me, but if I can do something “later” I often don’t do it “at all”. But with sporting events, it’s really really best if you watch it when it’s live. And that means I get to sit still and relax. I don’t live a life conducive to relaxing. If I wasn’t watching the Copa America*** tonight I probably would’ve done the dishes, worked on the attic project, cleaned the living room and then fallen into bed exhausted. Instead, I got to sit with a friend on the couch with no demands. It was brilliant.


What about you? Do you love some sports? All sports? No sports? Do you think sports are silly? Do you follow them passionately? Have you learned over time to see the point in them?

*New skill. Won’t lie. I just figured that one out this summer.
**Having acquired the skills and background in just the last few years to find American Football really interesting, I have decided it’s not a sport I can feel really good about watching. The recent findings about the way football destroys both mind and body of so many of the players makes it feel too much like a blood sport – like I’m a Roman in the coliseum. I’ll still come watch with you if you invite me (and I’ll probably enjoy it), but I decided to take it off my calendar as an event I’ll pursue of my own interests.
***I still can’t BELIEVE that ending!