Friday, December 03, 2010

Blog update

This blog will be moving! in the next few weeks it will become a part of a larger blog/website on WordPress. It's not finished yet, but I've got big plans, including starting a second blog, and yes, posting more often.

In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter and FaceBook -- and watch this space! 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Vacations are funny

This is the perfect kind of house for this kind of family vacation. Each couple has their own bedroom and bath. For some reason, Dave and I were given the largest! and I love it. There's a spare room with pyramid bunk beds, but no one is really using that much. Still, it's handy to have. We have a private pool and hot tub, and Dave and the kids, Maddox, 4, and Lily, 11, have been in it for an hour or two this morning. Dave's sister, husband, and niece, are off at a local art show. His mom is lying down, I think. I am blogging and doing a bit of work here and there, as needed.

And that's how it goes. We don't have to move as a pack, although we are a small enough group that we like to. I go to bed most nights around midnight (I watch Buffy on my laptop and Dave watches Six Feet Under on the DVD in our room) after reading a bit. The sun rises around 6:30am but the curtains are thick and heavy and block it all out -- I feel like Buffy throwing back the curtains at the end of season three and almost burning up Angel -- and Dave and I wake up around 8, usually. I make my way upstairs and make a cup of tea, and look out at the horizon, which stretches far in all directions. People gradually make their way up and we make breakfast and chat quietly. I love this time the best.

The mornings are spent hanging around the house and the pool, or going to the ocean or the sound -- we have both a newborn and a senior, so we stay close to home most of the time -- and then we all eat lunch and either nap or swim or whatever. We've gone back out to swim in the afternoon, or for a bike ride, and then someone does a little grocery shopping and starts dinner. After dinner, whoever didn't cook, cleans up. We've played games -- last night was a mediocre round of Settlers of Catan -- and Wii and watched TV, and talked, and hung. We're all pretty zonked at night. I am spending entirely too much time on the computer, but hey, it's my vacation too, right?

And the food we're making is great! After the first night, when everyone got in late and ordered pizza, and the second, when we went out for what was seafood for most of us, we've each taken a night to cook. Sarah made spaghetti, salad, and garlic toast. Lisa and Wes made burgers and pigs in a blanket and salad. Dave and I made rice and beans and burrito fixings. He made his excellent cilantro pesto that wowed everybody. Here's the recipe:

Cilantro pesto, per Dave

1 bunch of fresh cilantro
Olive oil as needed, probably not more than a half a cup
Juice of one lime
Salt and pepper
1 garlic clove

Clean the cilantro and chop off the stems -- just use the leaves. Put it and all the rest of the ingredients into the food processor. Buzz until liquid. Use for tacos, burritos, or put in chili. This freezes well if you put it into ice cube trays.

Kids these days

I'm so tired of hearing about the kids these days -- and the parents that raise them. How we don't have the family of the 1950s, everyone eating together, quietly, one meal, same time, nuclear family, blah blah blah. And I almost didn't read this article because of its lede, which is all about that comparison. By the way, I got this from Alternet but it's originally from Psychotherapy Network.

I think the answer to the hedline, "Does today's liberated, chaotic family work better than the 1950s model?" is a resounding 'yes!' Of course it does. What kind of children do we want? I don't want 1950s children, no offense, I want empowered, involved 21st-century children. These are crazy, chaotic times, we don't have nearly the support and resources that they did in the 50s, and I want my child to be as prepared as possible for crazy chaos. 

I think to me that means, above all, having certain core values, and to be extremely clear about them in daily life. I want her to value love above all. I'd like her to be kind, and have a sense of humor, and to have an idea that we are all in this together, we are all sentient beings, we are all connected. I also want her to have a very clear sense of her skills and talents and interests, and to imagine being able to achieve them, and to have the discipline to try, and not to be afraid of hard work.

Yes, of course I want to have dinner as a family as much as possible, of course I don't want my kid to be online 24/7, of course I want her to read and think and interact with her world. Being a modern family doesn't mean all that gets tossed out the window, although it does mean that it might not happen every single night. Maybe what gets tossed is the idea that anything is permanent, that the game isn't rigged, that you will be rewarded if you perform, or do what you are supposed to. I don't want my daughter to cheat, but I don't want her to be a good girl, either. I worked hard as a fact-checker and my reward was more fact-checking. The boys would come in and be bad at it, and they'd get sent out on the plum reporting assignments. I don't want her to do what I did.

This is an interesting article, once you get past the opening, and get into writer/therapist Ron Taffel's specific observations about how we've entered a new era. The families of the 1950s, he writes, "were stuck in beliefs about how a family ought to be, the way communication should happen; they were committed to outdated formalities between parent and child. So was I! After all, I revered 'the village' of my childhood, but there was a price for that order: many of us now grasp how little our parents knew of us, and we understand how much of ourselves we were unable or unwilling to reveal across the generational divide . . . We must let post-boomer parents and their children, fellow-travelers that they are, teach us where we need to go." 

I like his conclusion, that families today want to be known to each other, even teenagers and parents. I sense that from my family, my child, who isn't yet a teenager and so far isn't very troubled. But I do recognize her in some of these anecdotes, and just like I want to be a 21st-century librarian, I want to be a 21st-century parent. Boy, it sure is hard work.

Me on Emily Bazelon on Phoebe Prince

This article was suggested to me as an alternative view of the South Hadley bullying that resulted in Phoebe Prince committing suicide last January. It's Emily Bazelon writing in Salon, and she posted it about a month ago. There's lots of comments in the blogosphere. My thoughts: 

-- it does sound like the criminal charges are overkill. I have heard anecdotally that the South Hadley schools have turned a blind eye to appalling bullying for years, however, so maybe this will at least get their attention.

-- I don’t know much about the D.A., Elizabeth Scheibel, but she doesn’t come off very well here. Pottygate? Really? C'mon.


-- Despite her protestations to the contrary, Bazelon sure sounds like she’s blaming the victim. Of course someone who commits suicide is unstable! That doesn’t mean she wasn’t bullied. And why all this stuff about how she was chasing all these seniors? They allowed themselves to be chased, they responded, why do they get a pass — he was having a bad break-up, he had had a hard year — and she gets blamed? I think the age difference is significant, that and her newness to town, and her being from a different country, as well. A freshman isn’t equal to a senior.

-- I don't know, but it sounds like Bazelon doesn’t have children. I have felt this way in the past when I read her writing; it’s cold and lawyerly, and there’s very little empathy or humor. I don’t get the sense that she’s ever taught or had responsibility on a smaller scale than Yale. It’s all so intellectual. She says it’s complicated, but she really has no idea. 

Bazelon does a great job reminding us how complicated this story is, and how little most of know about what actually happened. It's a good reminder for me not to sit in judgment of anyone in this story -- well, anyone, period -- until I've walked in their shoes for a time.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Vacation brake job

So we're in the Outer Banks -- no, I think we're in Cape Hatteras, south of the Outer Banks. Waves were huge yesterday so we went to the sound today. But among our party is a newborn, well, two months, so we aren't doing much beaching. Just in short spurts. We are us three, Dave's mom, niece/two sons/husband who just left, unfortunately, and his sister and her husband. We were supposed to include his nephew and girlfriend but he had to work, the bum.

The weather is just outstanding, warm, clear blue, mostly cloudless skies. We have one of those big family reunion rentals and it's really great for these kinds of vacations, although it sure sucks up resources. This things are huge, with tons of bedrooms, each with a king-sized bed and private bath, a game room, a media room, pool, hot tub, decks all around -- you know the deal. The top floor is mostly a kitchen/dining/eating combo. Every room has a TV and DVD, unfortunately, but I've finally figured out how to plug in my iPod, and we're listening to my Hawaiian mix. Nice.

We took two days to get here; that's the other drag: It's very far. We went to visit my friend Mary at her new home on the Eastern Shore on the Delmarva Peninsula (Cambridge), and picked up her daughter at the Bridgeport ferry on the way, where she was coming back from visiting her grandmother on Long Island.

We went out to dinner at Snappers that night, sitting on the deck next to the creek and eating broiled crab and french fries, and drinking endless iced teas with her friends Anne, Terry, and Little John. Lovely! Really nice evening, and we laughed a lot. Anne has been renovating her lovely old home nearby and she had just that very day finished her bedroom. It was incredibly stunning, and you can see what the rest of the place is going to look like when she gets done.

And the next day we hung out, visited, had a great morning, got in the car, stopped for gas--and Dave found a nail in the tire. Okay, no biggie, look, there's Mr. Tire, let's get it fixed. I almost drove past the place and swerved to take the turn. Better safe than sorry, right? A thousand dollars--no, I lie, it was only $990--and four hours later, we finally left Cambridge for our beach rental. It's a looooong drive, I gotta tell you. Our second day in the car, having dropped a lot of money on a brake job we were hoping was necessary and wasn't a rip-off (but what can you do, truly?) we were not in the mood to be driving. Still, traffic wasn't bad, and the rest of the family only beat us by a couple of hours. We got in a little after ten.

And oh, it's worth it. They had pizza waiting, which we devoured, and then all took a splash in the pool at hot tub for an hour, everyone making it to bed around midnight. The next day, yesterday, Sunday, we all slept in a bit, even Lily, and late in the morning we all went to the ocean for an hour or two. It's right across the street and over a small dune. But the waves were enormous and there's no lifeguard this summer, presumably because of budget cuts. Signs all over warn you about rip tides. These waves were crashing really big. We were standing in the foamy white water and you could feel the strong tug of the wave, pulling you back out.

We weren't there long when several emergency vehicles drove down the beach, first a truck pulling a jet ski, then a couple of ambulances. None of us went out very far; no one went into the actual waves. They were really, really big, everyone thought so. We left pretty soon, partly because we had the baby. Dave saw the authorities raising a red flag as he left, indicating a ban on swimming. Later I read that a man had drowned, but that was the weekend before at a different island.

Then we all went home and had a nap. Lovely! We ate out last night, and everyone went to bed early. It's a funny life, this family vacation resort home thingy. It's nice, really. Nice to see everyone, nice to be in such pretty surroundings. Today we went to the sound, which doesn't seem to get more than five feet deep for a half a mile. Maybe not that much, but a long way. Again we didn't stay long. The routine seems to be that we swim a bit, spell Sarah with the baby, and then come back, wash off the sand and salt in the outdoor shower, and jump in the pool for a bit.

Tonight we had spaghetti and garlic bread and salad. If we can stay awake we might play a rousing round of Settlers of Catan (best board game, ever!). Or we might just go to bed. Next the three of us are off to family camp, another really fun time, completely different--three-sided cabins, sleeping bags, outhouses, mountains and a lake. So we'll drive home Friday-Saturday, do laundry, repack, and head north. Phew. Hard work, all this vacationing.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A rant about kids and reading

My rule about Lily's reading: Anything she wants. Period. End of discussion. Some of the comments after this Times blog post about summer reading suggest that only "good" books should be allowed. Or, anything they want! (as long as it's age appropriate). Huh?

It's not that I haven't pulled my hair out as she reads (and rereads and rereads again) the Warriors series, or the Clique series -- blech! ugh -- or any of the other yucky stuff out there. When she picked up Twilight at a friend's a year ago, and loved it, and wanted to read the second one, a dear family friend was appalled. "You're too young for that, Lily!" she said. I just shrugged. I don't censor my kid's reading. She can read whatever she wants. Period.

My reading life changed when I was nine and reading (probably the fabulous Laura Ingalls Wilder for the 37th time) in my room late one afternoon when my mother came in and casually tossed Animal Farm on my bed. "You might like this," she said. I read it right then -- it's short -- and it changed my life. I started reading everything Orwell had ever written. A lot of it went over my head, but I loved 1984, (although it was hard to read the torture scenes and I kinda skipped the political treatise by Emmanuel Goldstein), and Keep the Aspidistra Flying, and his essays.

I was also nine when I read a letter to the editor in an Archie comic by a kid who went to a school called Summerhill, in California. I immediately wanted to go there too. My mother told me the original school was in England and gave me A.S. Neill's book, Summerhill. I barrelled through that too -- it's mostly short chapters with short scenes and the theory is written simply and concisely. That changed my life too, and I immediately started thinking about education and open classrooms and tradition versus modernity, and all kinds of things. I told Mrs. Benz, my fourth grade teacher, that I knew what she was trying to do -- run an open classroom -- and that it wasn't working. What a brat! But I was right. When I was 11 years old I read The Godfather, much racier than Orwell or Neill, and while some of it was kind of shocking (and some I didn't quite understand), the story was gripping and the characters fascinating.

In a way, I got so much attention for what I was reading that my ego got wrapped up in what a sophisticated reader I was, and how much I read. And perhaps as a result, around age 13 or 14, I kind of stalled out, I hit a bit of a wall; the thrill was gone. I couldn't quite finish a book because I was trying to live up to this idea of myself as a voracious, adult reader. So I largely read stuff that was either over my head or just not interesting to me.

To make matters worse, I knew what I was supposed to be doing: I remember arguing with a friend's father, when I was a high school freshman, about his 8th grade daughter's reading. He wanted her to read literature, whatever that is, and all she wanted to read was mysteries. I took the position that what she read didn't matter, that the important thing was that she was reading. He got quite annoyed at me, as you might imagine, and I don't think I had any affect on either of them -- I don't think she was ever much of a reader. So thinking back, I can see that I knew the theory, but I found it hard to apply it to myself.

Eventually my mom mentioned something about kids rereading books that are very easy for them, books they had read when they were younger, and that's an important aspect of the process of learning to read, a way of reinforcing reading skills. (Along the lines of what my friend Nick Noyes says, "Before every period of tremendous growth is an equal period of regression.") And that helped get me out of my slump -- that, and I went to high school and had plenty of great reading to do for my classes. Reading Pride and Prejudice in Walter McCloskey's 9th grade English class helped hugely to re-inspire me.

As an adult, I've read less at times, such as when I was in a lot of emotional turmoil, or when I was in college, or my first grad school. But I always read, and after I finished grad school I started a book group. That was in 1990, and it's still going; they read great books. I am in another one here, on my block, which has been around for more than 40 years and the discussions are great. I was afraid being a grad student again would deter me, but nope, it might take me longer to finish a book, but I still read. Right now it's Wolf Hall -- it's incredible, you were right, Mum --  and I read maybe a half dozen other books this spring and summer, both fiction and non-.

To be honest, I do 'fess up to some ego about what Lily reads. When she was very little, like 3 or 4, I was a bit concerned because a couple of her friends were reading and she wasn't. But my mom was clear and firm, gear down, Sash, and so was our dear friend Margaret Furber, who, like my mom, was a former elementary school teacher, and simply said, she will learn to read. Don't worry. True, Lily has always loved books -- at two years old we could put her to bed with a few picture books and say, turn the light out when you're through, kiss her goodnight, and leave. And she'd look through them for 20 minutes or so and then go to sleep.

And once she did start reading the words, I'd get a little wigged out about her reading all those crappy series, like Sweet Valley High, ugh. But I kept my mouth shut, mostly. I'd read aloud to her the books I wanted her to know -- Lois Lenski's Indian Captive, The Book of Three, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Gentle Ben, Tom Sawyer -- and I'd complain to my mom or her teachers about how she read the same books over and over, and they were stupid and not challenging, and they'd quite gently give me the same line: Don't worry, she'll move on, trust the process, stay out of it. Sure enough, she has.

I rarely wig out about Lily's reading now, although I do loathe the Clique series. We try to get to the library often, and when we do we pick the brains of the librarians about what to read. She's in two book groups, one at the library and one at school, which I'm also in, as it's for parents and kids. Plus, we're reading two books for family camp later in the month, well, one is for kids+ (The Hunger Games) and the other is for adults and interested teens (The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down).

So, if Lily wants to read The Godfather, I say, via con dios. Read whatever you like. She loves to read, she always has a book going, summer, winter, doesn't matter. Dave reads books, non-fiction. We all read newspapers and magazines. We are a reading family. Oh, and about Twilight? Lily started the second one, New Moon, and put it down after just a few chapters, saying, "I'm too young for this. I'll read it when I'm older." That's my girl.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Blog updates

In case you hadn't noticed, I tweaked my blog layout a little:

-- I added my recent Tweets to the side, and there's also a link to follow me on Twitter.

-- I moved my photos into a folder on Picasa and left a link on the site. I'll post new ones in the blog and you can find them at that link.

-- I added a search field. I don't know if anyone else cares but I love being able to go, where was that entry about why we moved? or Ralph Nader? Or Chance? And now I can find it really easily.

-- I also wrote some stuff! How's that for a change? I'm hoping to post every Sunday but we'll see.


So now starts the driving season. Just as the semester was ending in May I was awarded something called the Dean's Editorial Fellowship by the GSLIS program at Simmons. It's quite an honor. I'm hired by the communications and curriculum department to work on their monthly publication, InfoLink, the quarterly Library & Information Science Research, and other tasks. I'll be driving to Boston every Tuesday for the next three semesters, starting tomorrow, and I gather if we all still like each other next summer, it's renewable for another year. That means this is what I'll be doing for the rest of my GSLIS experience.

As I haven't really started I don't have much to say about this fellowship yet, except that it'll be really interesting and educational, and I'm looking forward to combining my journalism skills with my nascent library ones. I like to write, and it's nice to get paid to do it. And I am definitely thinking about the commute. I've been a pretty constant presence in Lily's life since Wondertime closed (wow, that was ages ago! January 2009, two days after Obama was inaugurated) and this will be an adjustment for all of us. But the fam is solidly behind me. We talked about it before I applied, and once I had the interview, and then when I was offered the position (it's always very exciting to be offered a position, even one that's temporary and part-time). Dave and Lily said yes, we can manage, yes, try it, yes, you have to see. I love my family.

Their support reminds me of what I heard once: God doesn't say no, God says yes. "Yes, but not now. Yes, but it won't look like that. Yes, but I have something better in mind." I still marvel at how this whole library thang is working out. I applied on a hunch that I might enjoy it and I knew I didn't want to get my MBA, or become a lawyer; I almost didn't go but then they gave me a merit scholarship; I find that I do enjoy it, somewhat to my surprise; and I am doing well, also somewhat to my surprise. My classmates are great -- varied, smart, with wildly different interests and experiences. Ditto my professors.

I realized last week that in two years I'll have my MLS and Lily will be going into high school and, in fact, although I don't intend to move, we could relocate, if the perfect job appeared. Two years is a long way away, but the nice thing about this program, maybe about grad schools in general, is that I have hope. Plus, it's really fun, and the stuff I'm learning is really interesting. It's great to have a future again.

Take reference first

I've lifted this from my GSLIS blog because I really like it and I don't want to lose it. It's about the required reference class that so many people dread, or hate, or both. I loved it. Take reference first, or as soon as you can. Do not be afraid of this class, it’s really great. But it is a lot of work, so pace yourself. Here’s some advice I got going in, along with a few suggestions of my own:
  • Take reference first. That’s LIS-407 reference/information services to you; I call it the organic chem of library school. You will use everything you learn in all the rest of your classes, and you will make some of your closest friends in this class. Bite the bullet and take it first or very early in your library school tenure.
  • Do not fall behind. The course is front-loaded, which means that most of the homework comes in the first nine or so weeks. If you do the assignments on time, you’ll have the last couple of weeks to cram for the final exam, and you will want that time to make sure you really know the 250 print and databases.
  • When you do fall behind, as of course you will, catch up as soon as you have time. There are a couple of breathers in there, including the mid-semester break. If you neglect your studies you’ll just pay for it later. You can sleep when you’re dead.
  • Get your source system down early in the semester. Will it be in Word? Excel? Zotero? BentoBox? Delicious? Choose your poison and keep it current. Mine was in Word, and I studied by making shorter and shorter lists. Finally I had just a sentence or two about each and that’s what I took into the exam with me. It felt old-fashioned but it worked for me.
  • Write down everything the teacher says about a source and make sure you have it in your source notes.
  • Ditto about the text book. Make sure you read it; it’s very chockfull of source information.
  • Get together a study team, however loose, and study the sources together. Ours kind of fell apart but I had two guys I could always check with and vent to, and they with me.
  • Get to know your classmates. Someone said to me, you’ll be close forever because you went through reference together. Not necessarily true, of course, but I am certainly close to a couple of my reference classmates, and we will always share this bond. Don’t fight it.
  • Less is not more in the reference queries. Our class had six query assignments, 10 questions each, asking things like, “A breathless Simmons student bursts into your library asking for a copy of Hamlet, the one that has John Gielgud in it. What do you do?” I found I got better marks when I fully answered the question, playing out the scenario — “well, Gielgud was in two, does she want the Olivier or the Branagh? Does she want a DVD or a videocassette? We have this one on the shelf now, or we can get that one via inter-library loan if she has a couple of days,” etc. (Was Gielgud even in Hamlet?)
  • Ask questions as much as you need to, in class and out, of the teacher, your classmates, other teachers, other students. Ask, ask, ask. Everyone who has taken reference will be happy to share their experience.
  • The exam goes really fast. You think you have loads of time but in fact you do not. Don’t dawdle. Oh, and you might bring earplugs. I lost valuable moments closing the door of a nearby classroom.
  • Not every library school teaches reference in such a hands-on way, but our teacher told us that after about a decade in the academic library business, she could verify that Simmons grads know their reference sources better than other library school grads. I found that comforting during the ordeal.
  • Stay Zen about this class. Breathe; relax; keep it in the day; take it one step at a time. This too shall pass, little grasshopper.
  • Know that even if you hate reference and never want to see another query again, at the end of this class you will possess and be able to use crucial research skills that will help you get through all the rest of your GSLIS classes.
  • And if you do like it, there’s always the higher-level reference classes, such as LIS-413, LIS-430, and LIS-454, which my teacher referred to as reference on steroids. I’ll see you there.

Ode to the Park Slope Food Co-op

Every so often the NY Times likes to run a snarky article about how controlling and smug the Park Slope Food Coop is. This one is an example, although it's not as whiny as some of the blogs, and sites like Gawker. The folks posting there complain about having to work, and missing shifts, and being suspended, and having make-ups. They often call the members -- always the other members, not themselves -- entitled and self-righteous. The bottom line is that they want the cheap, fantastic, mostly organic food the coop sells, but they don't want to pay for it, in either money or labor.

So I am here to say, I loved the co-op; four years after moving away I still miss it; and in the 15 +/- years that I was a member, it had the largest effect, by far, on what I ate -- in a very good way. The coop's mission is to sell good food cheap, and the way to do that is to buy in quantity and cut labor costs. So it expanded its square footage and it added members. Something like 80 percent of the labor is by members, in other words--unpaid. That's the part some people like to complain about.

But here's the thing they don't understand: Forget its hippy-dippy origins, or any idea of collectivism or cooperatives: The coop is just like Costco. It's a private buying club. Anyone can join, and the price of admission isn't $50 a year, it's labor. The payoff is cheap, good food, much of it local. Apparently 15,000 people think it's worth it. I know I sure did, and in addition to the food, I made friends, had incredible conversations, practiced work skills, learned a lot about grocery stores and my neighborhood and local politics and food politics, and also music, and parenting, and the latest fiction -- all those conversations people have when they're working together. It's a (cooperative) Costco, and if you don't want that, don't join. But if you do, here's some tips toward a more enjoyable experience:

-- Allow me to repeat that: You don't have to join. And if you do, and you don't like it, quit. No one put a gun to your head. Stop spoiling it for everyone else.

-- Quit yer gripin'. In my experience, the people who complain about the place are the entitled ones. They want their cheap food but they don't want to pay for it. They want to stay out clubbing until 2am but not have a hangover in the morning -- or not have to work that 8am shift. Sign up for a 4pm shift, if clubbing is important to you. Granted, some members can be obnoxious and rule-oriented, but that's a reaction to a certain entitled population that thinks it can get something for nothing. When I was there, the office folks could make me crazy with their rigidity, but one of the best things I did was work in the office for about a year; I saw what they were up against. I understand how complicated this thing could get, and I applauded them -- from a distance -- for their efforts.

-- Stop acting like the coop owes you something. Shopping on Saturday afternoon at any grocery store is hell, why should the coop be any different? They don't have your favorite peanut butter that week? You're suspended? Cry me a river.

-- Having trouble making your shift? Switch. There's no requirement to work in the store. Work in the office. If you work in customer service, maybe you want to do something different, write the newsletter, or take inventory, or stock dairy. Among my several jobs, I chose to be a shopping squad leader because I really wanted to practice some of the management skills I'd been learning.

--- Find a squad you can make and a leader you can work for. Not every squad leader was as strict as the stated rules--I never gave two make-ups for a missed shift, especially if the (reliable) squad member called in advance. It wasn't necessary and it chased good people away. If someone was consistently unreliable, well, then, I might give two shifts, as required, or I might even ask them to shape up or find another squad; we're trying to do some work here. I also always gave regulars the jobs they wanted, which was usually check-out. I would kick make-ups off to do stocking or other less-enjoyable jobs. As a result, we had a tight, reliable squad that enjoyed working together.

-- You don't have to work regular hours. You can work on a project, like the monthly meetings, or the newsletter, and keep track of your hours. It means learning a bit about the different jobs, maybe waiting until the one you want is available, and otherwise doing some legwork, but so what?

-- The reason there's all these rules and instructions is because people only work 2.75 hours every four weeks. They forget, especially if they are new, and especially if they are consistently late, or absent. Show up, show up on time, learn your job, do it without a lot of drama, and get your cheap food.

 -- Along those lines, remember that this is a multi-million dollar a year business -- $40 million last year, I gather -- with 15,000 members, it's not a hippy-dippy woo-woo place to get some brown rice. There have to be rules, and a certain rigidity, and apparently it works. It's been successful, as it's the longest continuously running worker-run coop in the country. That's a big deal.

God bless the Park Slope Food Co-op. I haven't been a member since late 2006, and things may have changed. But I'm sure this little bodega is still an anchor to the community, still a model for all of us,  still a crucial response to big box stores, a living, successful example for alternative ways of eating, working, shopping, and living.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

thank god for swimming

I had the best swimming lesson of my life yesterday and I can't believe how my swimming--and my life--has changed in just those 45 minutes. Kim Bierwert is the coach at Smith College, which is near us, and he's amazing. I've been coached by fantastic, elite swimmers, but this was way above all that. I guess I'd have to go back to the swim training class I took at Wellesley from the swim coach there. She was awesome--this was better.

A little background: Maybe I've written this already, but getting exercise outside of the city is really hard for me. I completely underestimated how much walking I did in New York--and I was a bus and subway junkie--and how alluring a car is here. It's so fast. It's easy. It's cool in the summer and warm in the winter. And dry, did I mention dry? I could get soaked walking around NYC.

I seem to workout in phases. Last year it was months of hot yoga three or four times a week. A few months before that I had a trainer I saw weekly, and we didgym stuff, like weights and treadmill. In my early 30s I ran upwards of 30 miles a week at one point. Central Park is fantastic for running. Working at Sports Illustrated was very conducive to exercise and working out: A group of us ran most lunches: Central Park was just a few blocks away and SI had showers. At one point I took a 10-week speed class at the NY Road Runners' Club, and just running splits for an hour a week cut two minutes off my rate, from 10 minute miles to eight. But then I left SI for LIFE, and I left the Upper West Side for Brooklyn, and it all became a lot harder. I ran a bit in Prospect Park, also an excellent running park, but soon we'd moved a few blocks down the hill, and running around the streets and up the mile just to get to the park was a drag. Eventually I developed a bone spur, so running was out.

I fell into swimming when a friend's sister mentioned her Master's team. For two+ years I left my apartment at 5:30am three mornings a week to ride from Brooklyn to John Jay College off Columbus Circle to swim with Red Tide. We'd get in the pool by 6:30 to swim 3000 yards, give or take. I was always in the slowest lane, but my Wellesley class paid off. Boris, our Soviet-era boy-wonder coach--not an Olympic competitor, but almost--and our other coaches really taught me a lot. Saturdays I'd often go all the way to W. 136th Street in Manhattan to swim with the team at City College. Those were two-hour workouts, and boy was I tired at the end of a four-day swim week.

For those who don't know, Masters swimming was started so people could keep swimming competitively after they got out of college. Today not every Masters swimmer competes, but it always entails regular workouts with quality coaching. Swimming's not like running, you can't just go to the pool and do a few laps. I mean, you can, but the drills and the yardage and the stroke critique you get on a team are essential to being a strong efficient swimmer. You just don't need that to run, although lots of people do have teams and all. And of course lots of people just swim, even strong swimmers. But while a serious runner doesn't necessarily need a coach, the same could not be said for a serious swimmer. (Do you agree, Mike?)

At any rate, then Lily was born and taking two hour-long subway rides didn't work. It was too complicated, what with me nursing and Dave working. I couldn't continue and there were no nearby pools or teams. Eventually they built a YMCA in Downtown Brooklyn and started a Masters team, which I tried for awhile, very excited, but did not like the coach. I quit before he did and then we moved north.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Buffy P.S.

What I like about Buffy is how she kicks ass, and is vulnerable too. She always gets up to fight again, and yes, this being TV, she always comes back to win again. She's got the witty comeback and she's way strong and fast.

But I realized last night that I've been watching way too much Buffy when we went to see Winter's Bone, a really bleak movie with a very strong young woman trying to take care of her family. It's incredible, incredibly bleak, but also hopeful, and this young actress is in every scene. At one point she gets beat up and I'm embarrassed to admit my first, reflexive reaction was, okay, now kick their asses! and of course she doesn't, and it hurts, and she takes some time to recuperate. Nope, this is reality, this is true; Buffy is a fantasy, and when you get hit in the face most people don't bounce back up with a witty comeback.

Really great movie.

IMDb on this movie.
Wikipedia on this movie.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

BA -- Buffy Anonymous

Okay, I'm addicted. Not sure how it all happened, but happened, it has. Here's a link to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in case you don't know what I'm talking about. I started watching in early May for lots of reasons, but partly because I know so many smart, interesting women who love it. "Love" is too weak a word. Adore, feel passionate about, lovelovelove, choose your verb.

In the past I could never been able to watch Buffy because I got too scared. Thinking about that now kinda makes me laugh, but it's true. At first I made Dave watch with me--no, at first I made Lily watch, and we both got creeped out. She stopped but I made Dave watch a couple with me. Soon I could watch alone if Dave and Lily weren't too far away.

Episode 5, "Never Kill a Boy On a First Date," was okay for me to watch alone-alone, when D&L were at school/work, but when I tried episode 6, "The Pack," I couldn't do it. My friend Lisa said, don't watch that one alone! and came over and did her laundry while we watched and she told me all the things she loves about Buffy. That day may have been what got me hooked: The premise is that a demon (I was about to write "an evil demon," but are there any other kinds?) inhabit Xander and some other kids who become more and more like feral hyenas. They attack the principal, and the next scene shows Buffy hearing about it, saying, incredulously, "They ate the principal?" I couldn't stop laughing, and it still makes me laugh. [Gee, I haven't blogged in so long I've forgotten how to write.]

Here's a list of the episodes so you can keep up.

From then on, I was sunk. The story starts to unfold, as you Buffyphiles know, and you get to know more about everyone. Angel, Buffy's great love. The first "Big Bad" -- there's so much Buffy lingo and shorthand you need a dictionary if you haven't kept up, but that's why the internet was invented, for Buffy fans. The Scoopy Gang. Giles, Buffy's Watcher, and his potential girlfriend, Miss Calendar, the Roma. Oz. Cordelia.

This is one of many sites that discusses the Buffy lexicon. Here's the Wikipedia entry on Buffy slang.

My Buffy addiction took a huge leap this week when I discovered I can watch it on my laptop over my Netflix account. They stream every episode. I am sunk. I watched most of season 3, episode 7, Revelations, during my lunch break in my all-day library management class yesterday. I was halfway through the big fight scene at the end when class started again. Bummer. But I watched the rest of the episode during the next break. Dangerous stuff.

One thing I don't see a lot of online: The Buffy - Harry Potter Comparison. Lots of parallels.
Both . . .

. . . are the Chosen One, the savior of all humanity.

. . . were normal children until they reach adolescence, when they discover their true callings, along with their extraordinary abilities.

. . . live in two worlds at the same time, one magical, one ordinary, that don't mix -- until they do.

. . . have boy and girl sidekicks (Willow and Xander; Hermione and Ron); the girls are brainy, the boys are goofy.

. . . have a gang of followers, which have cool names (the Scooby Gang; Dumbledore's Army).

. . . have an adult watching over them (Giles and Dumbledore) but they have to strike out on their own too.

. . . have one Big Bad trying to get them (well, Buffy keeps killing hers).

. . . largely take place at a high school.

. . . have cool weapons and spells and animals.

. . . have other-worldly villains with weird heads.

. . . have platinum-blond villains with English accents who eventually become somewhat friendlier (Spike; Draco).

. . . have a boy/girl friend they can't be with but they still pine for (Angel; Ginny).

. . . have best friends with troublesome love lives who fall for each other.

. . . have parental units who resist their calling but come around, eventually, somewhat.

. . . were written at the same time in the late '90s, independent of each other.

. . . have rabid internet fans, fan fiction, etc.

. . . are still immensely popular.

I don't think either stole from the other. I think they were both onto something. Here's a couple of websites comparing them both. One and two. This is the great: the Buffy theme set to Harry Potter clips.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Simmons blog this spring

Here's my two latest postings for the GSLIS blog:

take reference first


summer semester


out of school

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Apropos of nothing

-- June was an incredibly hard month for all of us. Lots of stress, too many things to go to at night, projects due, assignments, emotions, life. Sixth grade spring is not fun, according to my teacher friends, and it stays stressful -- all those hormones do crazy things to your emotions -- until the beginning of eighth grade. Ugh.

-- So it's 88 in my house, at 8pm, and my cat is spread-eagled in front of me, begging to be stroked. It's too darn hot!

-- This was an assignment for my reference class this spring. My local library, the Fabulous Forbes, posted it for me. It's my subject guide on deaf and hard of hearing in the Pioneer Valley.

-- Lily might try playing with the Florence Community Band. She had a wonderful school band concert in early June, including a solo that just sounded so sweet! I was really proud (she plays the flute). Anyone can join this community band, it seems. Nice!

-- I am in the middle of a class on library management and as one of my first assignments. I took the Myers-Briggs. It turns out I'm an INFJ -- people can change, who knew? The last time I took this, 25 years ago, People Who Knew told me I was an extrovert. If I ever was an extrovert, I no longer am. Apparently the accepted wisdom is that you can't change, but that's just wrong. Or else I've learned who I am better than 25 years ago. Librarians tend to be IN's by the way.

Just for kicks, I looked up my astrology chart and the subsequent description sounded a great deal like the Myers-Briggs. Interesting.

-- Lily's blogs:

-- Lily's summer camps:
IMA girls rock camp - she did the exploratory camp. way cool, lots and lots of work.
NCMC chamber music camp - lovely. Their concert was Friday afternoon and they just sounded lovely.
Shakespeare camp -- this sounds good. I like the Hampshire Shakespeare productions, and the private school where they hold the camp has great facilities, I'm told. This is the middle two weeks in July.
DASAC -- check it out. Another summer camp on a well-endowed private school campus. This has a great rep and it's so popular they have to hold a lottery every winter. Lily's in and very excited.
Then we go to the Outer Banks for a week with Dave's family, followed by a week at Family Camp again. Nice!

-- And my kid is now a seventh grader! She was way sad at the end of school, in part because she said goodbye to her beloved science teacher, who is moving back to New York City because her husband got a tenure-track position at Columbia. Better you than me! I told her. I love New York but I sure don't want to live there.

More TK, as they say in the magazine biz.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


The reason I moved to the country.

Well, maybe not the only reason. But a big part of it. I wanted to hang my laundry on a line. I wanted that scratchy feeling of air-dried -- sun-dried -- bath towels. I wanted to hang up my clothes on a warm sunny breezy morning and have them dry before I was finished. I wanted to have that fabulous fresh air smell in my sheets.

When my realtor asked me why I was ambivalent about the house, I told him I didn't see a place to install a laundry line. He laughed, and at my request, gave us this line as a selling present (what a weird thing, a selling present, or whatever they call it).

It sat in the garage for the first year. We weren't sure where to put it, and the woods were so close to the house, and the pachysandra so thick, there wasn't really room for it in our yard. Back, only, the front has too many trees, not to mention pachysandra. But then Dave got the bright idea to take his mother's lawn mower -- she has a yard service now and doesn't use it -- and mow down all those nasty vines. The pachysandra is actually receding a bit, and he immediately put down grass seed. And now we are getting grass in our back yard! Wow!

In the meantime, our friend Peggy suggested, since we didn't know where to locate the thing, that we put it in a bucket of cement -- she had just the bucket for us -- and let it stay portable. The only problem is that the center pole is meant to be partly in the ground, and if we leave it in the bucket, the lines to hang the clothes are so high I can't reach them. There's two parts to the pole, though, and Dave took out one of them. Now it's so low, pants almost touch, but most stuff is okay.

Oh, and the other problem is, we never bothered to take it down last fall until a branch fell on it and smushed the bars. Dave put a split on them and made it almost as good as new. Good thing we made it portable, though, as I've decided I want it out the door off our kitchen instead of the garage. I bring the laundry up from the basement through the house and out onto the deck and down to the yard, but that's okay. I like being able to see it from my bedroom, or the kitchen; it's a good reminder to bring it in.

We had had a line just off the porch to a tree, but it was so tall, and it wasn't on a pulley, that I couldn't reach most of it. This works better. Dave is thinking about attaching the second pole and bringing the entire thing close to the edge of the deck. Then I could stand on the deck near the grill and hang laundry from there. I'm not so sure that's a good idea -- for one thing, I doubt I'd be able to rotate the thing to the other side of lines, never mind reach the middle ones -- but if it did work, I'd be really happy.

Still, this is fun. It'll need to get raised up a bit eventually, but for now Lily can reach it pretty well. She helped me hang some clothes on Monday -- don't hang my bras out there, Mama! -- and then helped me bring some of it in. This was a big, big load, full of lots of tiny stuff, like socks and underwear, so it took forever, and a million clothes pins (I used almost all of the three packs I had) to hang it up. Taking it down is easier, of course.

And then folding it is lovely. It smells good, it feels good, it's really dry, and and really warm. I can't wait to hang my sheets.

Monday, May 24, 2010

the school update

So I've finished my first semester! Yahoo! It went great, in the end, and I am delighted to be referring to reference in the past tense. The beginning of the term I was so overwhelmed I wasn't sure how to make it -- thank god cataloging wasn't that demanding at first. But, as Anne Lamott says, you just have to take it all bird by bird, one step at a time, the only way you can do it. In this case, week by week, assignment by assignment.

My first semester down, thank god, I will never have another" first semester back in 20 years" again. I ended up with good grades, some nice new friends, a part-time job on the circulation desk at my local library, some important new skills, the beginnings of some other new skills, and a sense of belonging that is priceless. I can see myself making the transition to this new field and I find myself spending less and less time comparing journalism and journalists to librarians and library science. Similar fields, but not at all the same, and frankly, librarians are a lot more fun and take themselves a lot less seriously than journalists. I can't imagine the journalists I know dressing up and doing precision book cart drills, for instance.

An old friend from journalism school said to me a few months ago, library school is perfect for you because you love books so much. I thought that was interesting, to be seen as a lover of books, which I am, of course. But also, the comment introduced the notion that not everyone is a lover of books, and that seems odd to me. Doesn't everyone who is literate and involved in the world of information read books? Well, no, I guess not.

People are starting to pass along articles and books about libraries, in that thoughtful way that people do. And I am now a sort of expert among my non-library associates about the world of libraries, books, and information. Are books going away? Are libraries becoming obsolete? Can we eliminate postal service entirely? Why do we still have phone books? These are some of the questions and comments I've seen raised recently. The short answer is, don't be ridiculous. Have these people not heard of something called the digital divide? I think these questions reveal a lot about the many vast differences in class experience in this country.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project writes a lot about the digital divide. Here's a link to their April 2009 report on the digital divide. And here's from their website:

In a national survey between November 30 and December 27, 2009, we find:

74% of American adults (ages 18 and older) use the internet -- a slight drop from our survey in April 2009, which did not include Spanish interviews. At that time we found that 79% of English-speaking adults use the internet.

60% of American adults use broadband connections at home – a drop that is within the margin of error from 63% in April 2009.

55% of American adults connect to the internet wirelessly, either through a WiFi or WiMax connection via their laptops or through their handheld device like a smart phone. This figure did not change in a statistically significant way during 2009.

Those are huge numbers, but what strikes me is how many people are not included; those are also huge numbers. In this part of the country, and I'm sure elsewhere, it's really hard to get internet access beyond a dial-up. The cable and phone companies don't want to lay the lines for broadband because the number of users they expect to gain is small compared to their costs and they won't make the profits they desire. Personally, I don't think dial-up counts as internet access, it really just means you have email. That's not insignificant, but it's not full access.

The federal government is required by law to make all its laws and materials available to citizens. In the past that's meant printing everything and putting it all in federal repository libraries. Much of that information is migrating to the internet, however. So the folks who don't have a computer, or broad band, go to their public libraries. And guess what! Public libraries -- where usage is skyrocketing, by the way, and they aren't just coming in to use the internet or take out movies, they're taking out books, paper and cardboard books, in record numbers -- are being forced to cut back their services and hours because of budget cuts. I was told that people looking for disaster benefits after Hurricane Katrina had to file online (and using Internet Explorer! They couldn't use Firefox, or Safari, even. That's like saying you had to call on an Erikson phone. It's just wrong). So what do you do if you don't have a computer, or internet access, or the skill to use them, and there are no other options. You're outta luck. Don't get me started on how hard it is to live here without a car. Yuck.

But I digress. My point is I have learned this spring that information in the world, whatever its form and location, whether online or in print, is expanding exponentially; that millions of Americans (never mind people in other countries) do not know how to access it (much of our time in reference class was relearning the poor searching skills we picked up from looking for stuff on Google); and that at the same time that access to all kinds of information becomes more and more crucial, it is being restricted by closing libraries and paying for costly internet connections and computer hardware, never mind learning how to use the stuff.

There's lots of work out there for people trained in library skills. I'm excited to be joining their ranks.

Blog catch-up

Hello, faithful reader,

Didja miss me? It's been more than a month since I've blogged, and this time no one complained. Oh well! I am happy to be back. I missed it. Lots has been going on, and often I find myself thinking -- I have to blog about this! but then I don't.

First of all, bears: We had our first sighting of the spring in April, a mother and two cubs. They like to walk the stream next to our house. We have tender skunk cabbage and other tasty tidbits. We've seen them several times since, the latest being last night. Lily was on the screened-in porch and saw one of the cubs out, alone. We felt all proud -- our baby is growing up, out on his/her own for the first time! I gather the cubs stay with their mothers for two years, and this one, while clearly still a youngster, is definitely getting more independent. Later, Dave showed me fresh scat, right on the path behind the house. Very exciting.

Friends said they didn't want to go camping because they were afraid of bears, and I said you just have to put your food and garbage in the car when you leave or go to sleep, but otherwise you should be okay. When people say they're afraid of the bears, I feel a mix of, don't bother! and, should I be more worried? No one who's lived here any length of time seems to fear them much. They respect them, don't get me wrong. They stay inside when bears are around, and most people store their garbage carefully and take down their bird feeders in the spring. But no one panics when they walk in the woods, say. I think the bears are really shy, and if they hear me in the woods they go the other direction. When I walk alone I sometimes carry a bear bell and ring it from time to time.

But most of the time the bears are just the bears, a fact of life, wild but accustomed to living near humans, more shy of us than we are of them, to be treated with respect but not panic. A bear expert here told me you were safer around bears if you didn't let them know you were afraid of them. Stay away from the mamas and their cubs, and from a mating pair. Otherwise, you're good to go. And no one has been attacked here in something like 150 years.

The cat: She escaped! But she's back. We had a party for a friend after her UMass graduation (PhD!) and someone forgot to close the screen door to the back porch. I let her out onto the porch the next day and she must have been ecstatic to see the door to her cell just hanging open. I didn't notice for an hour, but bless her, Chance came when I called her. She came out of the woods behind our house, slinking along on her belly, the way she does when she gets outside, like she doesn't want to be seen. I just scooped her up and brought her in, no worse for the wear except for a small slug clinging to the fur on her underside.

Lily and I took her to the vet for her annual check-up and got this new comb for her and it's AMAZING. It's called the FURminator, here's a link, and we recommend it to anyone with a cat or dog or rabbit or whatever. It thins the undercoat, and Chance loves it. We can't do it too often, she's getting bald -- not really, but it takes out gobs and gobs of hair and it all goes everywhere and you throw away great handfuls of the stuff. Kind of icky, but it better that than on the sofa or carpet.

Chance is very excited that the weather is nicer and there's more to see outside. She's been spending hours in one of the basement windows, looking outside. She hangs there and the back porch, both very exciting for her. Nice cat.

Lily is doing great at school and is really turning into a lovely flute player and musician. She's had several concerts recently, including two choral concerts. One was with a local group called Whole Children, which provides fun and services for special needs kids. They hired Joan, her choral director, to conduct the Whole Children kids and general population kids, like Lily, in a chorus to sing along with Dan Zanes. The show was a First Churches, in downtown Northampton, on Mother's Day. Lily and a boy named Aidan introduced Dan. Afterward he stuck around for photos and autographs. As Joan said, Dan is a real class act. He sang a few songs to kick the show off, but he knew this was all about the kids, the kids, the kids. There was a wide variety of experience and skills. At least one was non-verbal. And they had a gas, you could tell, by how they sang and danced and hung around after, focused and joyful. Lily loved it.

Here's Lily with Joan, her amazing conductor, and of course, the dude in the pink suit is Dan.

One more Lily image to put here: She was invited to a space-themed birthday party a couple of weeks ago. So she decided to go as a glam Star Trek alien. How 'bout this! A lot easier than a robot or something.

Simmons blog link

My Simmons blog bio and entries (see the list at the bottom) is here.

I'll be posting every couple of weeks or so during my summer class. I'm taking the required library management course, which meets all day for the first three Fridays in June and the first three Fridays in July. So it starts on June 4 and my job now is to read as much as I can to get ahead.

I'll try to post the Simmons blog links as they come up, but if I forget, go to that link above, or the one listed on the right side of this page.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Two funny aha's

My stepfather gave me a great CD of Rosemary Clooney, and it has this song with these lyrics:

Do You Miss New York?

Written By: Dave Frishberg

Since I took a left and moved out to the coast
From time to time I find myself engrossed
With other erstwhile denizens of the apple
While we sit around and take L.A. to task
There’s a question someone’s bound to ask
And with this complex question we must grapple

Do you miss New York?
The anger
The action
Does this laid back lifestyle lack
A certain satisfaction
Do you ever burn to pack and return
To the thick of it
Are you really sick of it
Like you always say
Do you miss the pace
The rat race
The racket
And if you had to face it now
Do you still think you could hack it
When you’re back in town for a quick look around
How is it
Does it feel like home
Or just another nice place to visit?
And were those halcyon days
Just a youthful phase you outgrew?
Tell me
Do you miss New York
Do you miss New York
Do you miss the strain
The traffic
The tension
Do you view your new terrain
With a touch of condescension
And on this quiet street
Is it really as sweet as it seems out here
Do you dream your dreams out here
Or is that passé
Do you miss the scene
The frenzy
The faces
And did you trade
The whole parade
For a pair of parkin’ places?
And if the choice
Would you still choose to do it all again
Do you find yourself in line to see Annie Hall again
And do you ever run into that guy
Who used to be you?
Tell me
Do you miss New York?

Me too

I had two funny aha's yesterday. One of Lily's teachers, whom we adore and are trying to get together with for dinner, is moving to New York City. Her husband got a tenure-track position in his field, astronomy, and hey, you really can't turn that down. They'd lived in Brooklyn for some time, or at least she had, so she knows what she's getting into. But in just, what two or three years here, she's built a life and is so close to the other two teachers on her team (Lily's teachers) that she's dedicated her travel book about Ireland to them. She was practically in tears talking about it, how much she doesn't want to go, how much she loves it here, her friends, her community.

And I realized I would never ever want to move back to New York City. Nothing against it, y'all, I'm not dissing the Great Apple or anyone who lives there, it's just that I have so thoroughly landed here, and all that it means--my drive to school takes my breath away every time I do it--that I just do not, not, not miss New York City or my beloved Brooklyn. I'd love to see my friends, and truly, that's what I miss:

I miss people who know me very well, who've known me for many many years, decades of years in many cases, or whom I have connected with so deeply that it feels like decades. I miss those looooong chats about kids and work and careers and college and family and getting older. It's lovely to have friends like those.

As to my second point, I was heading up the road to have lunch with my dear friend George, an old friend from New York who fits the above bill but whom I simply do not see enough of, and about 50 yards ahead of me I saw a young black bear lumber across the road. My first thought was, "Bear!" and my next immediate thought was, "big dog," but that was more out of instinctual fear, I think, than reality. I knew that was a bear, a youngster, but a bear, nonetheless.

The road to George's is lovely, treelined, narrow, and as you come up in to his town it opens up into farm land and you get one of those dime-a-dozen but always spectacular views of mountains, in this case the range east of the river and north of Amherst whose names I don't know. George has the perfect, most wonderful house, and we talked and talked about life and work and the old days and what everyone else we'd worked with was doing, and family, and what it's like to be a transplanted New Yorker living here.

As I said goodbye I told George I will always be grateful to him for urging me to move here and making me feel both welcome and like it was actually doable. He noted how hard it is to get someone out of New York in the first place, but once you do, you don't look back. At least he hasn't: He said he hadn't been there in four years. Wow! We go back at least a couple times a year, and also Dave's mom lives on Long Island. But I can see our visits getting longer apart, especially as Lily gets older and once--I'm betting money on this--she goes to college there. She still has the place in her blood. We took her out too soon for her taste, although she really likes it now, now that she's settled in her new school and has some friends.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The cusp of spring

It's just coming. The parking lot behind Thorne's downtown is full of white blossoms--are they cherries? I don't know but it reminds me of Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn right about now, the callery pears all in bloom all at once, and just for a single week. My favorite week of the year. Lily and I would stand looking down at about 7 at night and try to come up with words to describe it: goose down. ice cream. pillows. clouds. Lovely, in the soft street lights.

And here we have lots of forsythia, and the magnolia behind our house is bursting into purple-ish booms, and daffodils and a whole bunch of stuff I don't know the names of. I got a delivery of mulch today from Lashway, the whole nine yards, as they say, a big truck load, and the back tilts up and up and up and the mulch pours out. In the fall Lashway brings us a couple of cords of firewood and in the spring we get mulch, which we split with our neighbors. I need to find someone to deliver topsoil so I can fill in the holes in my yard. On Sunday I gathered a wheelbarrow's worth of twigs off the front yard and barely scratched the surface of what's there, but it was enough kindling for several fires.

Spring is here, solidly, and the weather is spring-like: that new green emerging in the trees, the flowers, the crisp mornings and sunny afternoons, the blue skies, and the occasional cold rains. Last week was positively hot but this week it's been cold enough in the mornings that I light a fire to study by. It takes the chill off.

I've decided that when I study I need it warmer than other times because I am sitting still for so long. I sit in the hot air blowing out and Chance comes and sits on the table next to me and presents her belly to be rubbed, knocking over the salt shaker in the process. I used to throw her off but she just comes immediately back up, so now I don't bother. It sure is nice to be loved.

Scary foxes

I was walking out of my bookgroup last week -- it's a block group for the most part, so the commute is great -- and heard a terrible shriek. What's that, someone asked. It was about 10 o'clock and the night was very dark and there are no streetlights on our cul de sac; people bring flashlights when they visit each other at night, and I leave on the light at the end of my driveway as much for courtesy as for convenience. The sound was disheartening to say the least.

A bird, I said, trying to sound confident. No, no bird, not at this time of night, someone said. Pause. That's a fox.

Huh? A fox? A fox? We have foxes? Foxes make noises? Turns out they make a lot of noises. Here's a link to fox sounds.

This one was a scary sound, disconcerting enough that I had to force myself not to run home, but walk calmly. It sounded like it was coming from my house, or immediately behind it. I told myself the only fox worth being scared of is a rabid one. But hey, what do I know? I was happy to walk in my door.

I think this was the sound I heard, the territorial cry. Doesn't sound so bad on my computer right now, but imagine it right outside your door. At any rate, I am reminded of it now because we just heard it again tonight, somewhat further off in the woods. It gave us all the creeps and Lily was particularly wigged out. She said Chance was fascinated, staring out the window. We have cats around here, and fishers, and coyotes. Someone could easily have been eating someone else, but who knows. Who wins in a fox-cat fight? I'm sure the fisher and coyote win. Another reason we don't let Chance out at night.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Librarian humor

My reference professor sent this link to us. It's called "Peep Research: A study of small fluffy creatures and library usage."

These people have too much time on their hands.

Leking in the moonlight with Dave

I never appreciated moonlight before moving to the country. I loved the moon, to be sure, what's not to love. But I didn't know about a moon so full you don't need a flashlight, or the reflection of that cold white light on the snow.

We went on a walk in the back 40 on Friday night, Dave and I, to see the mating dance of male American woodcocks. Those are birds, and the walk was organized by the Broadbrook Coalition, which takes care of the conservation land behind our house. Check this out:

This wasn't ours, but this is what we saw. About a dozen of us, including our fearless leader, a phd birder, and several naturalists. I was paranoid about getting cold, so I wore longjohns and mittens and a warm hat. We wrapped red cellophane around our flashlights for the walk home, but we didn't really need them, with the moon. I know those woods pretty well now, although we drove to a different trailhead, we didn't go in behind our house. We got to the dam and went past it and into Cook's Meadow, which has three meadows, really. It's great to be with people who know what they're doing -- I saw hooded mergansers, which are a kind of duck, and a bluebird. A real live bluebird.

We got to one of the meadows and hung out until dark, when the woodcock made his move. There were three of them nearby, actually, all with this peent noise first, then a wild flight up and around, then a plummet to the ground, all with different calls. The females watch from the sidelines and if they are suitable impressed, off they go.

This certain type of bird courtship is called a lek--we were lurking at a leking, an aviary singles bar, in essence. Way cool.


I have a new weekly commute: Driving to South Hadley, where Simmons rents a couple of classrooms and time in the library from Mount Holyoke College for its western Massachusetts library science grad students. And man, it is lovely. Saturdays are my long day, when I have two three hour classes with an hour in between. It's fine, but long. By the end of the day, I'm pretty whipped. But it's a fine commute, one I'm lucky to have.

Yesterday I pulled out of the driveway around 8am, a little early for my 9:15 class (it's a 20 minute drive). But I wanted to print some stuff at the GSLIS (graduate school of library and information science) office -- very nice perk, free printing -- and catch my reference professor at her "office" hours at the local cafe, the Thirsty Mind, before our class at 9:15, a nice service, on her part.

I had my thermos of green tea, my bottle of cold water, a little bag of almonds, my laptop, and my backpack with my various notebooks and pens and such. The sun hadn't been up that long and the light had that wonderful crisp early-morning quality. It was about 20 degrees--we've been having an unseasonal cold snap; in like a lamb and out like a lion this year--and my iPod was set on shuffle, with Dar Williams' Alleluia cued up first.

Alleluia, indeed. Alleluia, God! I cranked it up and sang along loudly, feeling a bit like a teenager. I'm off to school, I'm at the beginning of a new career, I have tons to do, but I'm working hard and doing well. The sun is still low in the sky, it's going to be a gorgeous clear day, and I am on the cusp of a new career that's exciting and fun and best of all, incredibly interesting and stimulating. Life is good.

Lately I've been flashing on a vivid memory of 20+ years ago. An April Saturday morning, my final semester at Wellesley. Twenty-seven years old, a bit of a late bloomer, and blissfully happy at Wellesley. I had just been accepted to Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, the fulfillment of a dream I'd had since I was at least 12. I was moving to New York City in September! Another dream coming true. I was sitting in the fabulous kitchen of my fabulous rent control apartment in Central Square, Cambridge, listening to Scott Simon reading the headlines at the top of Weekend Edition.

He finished, the theme music came on, all bold and powerful, he said, "today is Saturday, April Whatever, and this, is Weekend edition," all dramatic-like, and I burst into tears. The theme music to my life, my new life--who knew what the future held, exactly, but it was going to be journalism!--and I was on my way. Who knew, I could be working with Scott Simon in a year or two.

This is a little like that. The sun was shining and I was driving down route 47, a twisty, lovely road that follows the Connecticut River south for about, oh, seven miles, through farmland, asparagus fields, corn, hay, horses, cows. A mini-golf range that Lily's been to with friends. A marina on a little inlet of the river, at which point I always entertain a fantasy about keeping a boat at one of their slips.

A little further is a 15-foot sign post with several white markers placed on it, including one nearly at the top: flood markers, with dates on them, the last one was in the 1980s, so not so long ago. Then past trail heads and the road up Skinner's Peak. I've got the river on the right of me, to the west, and I'm curving around Skinner, to the east, on my left. Skinner, the farthest west mountain in the half dozen of the Holyoke Range--unless Mt. Tom across the river is considered to be part of that mountain family.

The road takes me down a couple of dips, across something called a brook that right now, with the spring thaw, looks like a small river. Private homes, some town playing fields, and into South Hadley and the campus. On the way home, the river's now on my left, and depending on when I leave school, I can see the most stunning sunsets, the vast stretch of reds and pinks and oranges lighting up the hills behind Easthampton and Northampton. I could look at the river for hours, and if I weren't so afraid of flooding, especially with global warming, I'd love to live near it, and really get familiar with it.

This is way different from the D train, or the dreaded F, which I did for a couple of years. Those have their pluses -- I can't read on my commute, and I don't get to see stuff like this, below, after Michael Jackson died. If anything, this is what I miss about New York City. But still, I wouldn't trade back. I love my new river.

My latest blog for Simmons is here. And the last couple are here and here. I'll try to be better about posting the links on Thursdays, when they go up.

And this is wonderful:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bears, milkshakes, and iced tea

Three sure signs it's spring. It's spring! It's nearly spring, at least. I first started writing this entry a couple of weeks ago, and the signs are just growing stronger, tonight's predicted low of 16 (!!!) not withstanding.

1) The bears are back. That's a sure sign of spring. A couple of weeks ago, Dave saw a mama and two yearlings, not quite cubs, but not full grown, either. Apparently they mate every two years. They were across the stream --- our house is built on mud, by the way, and would not have been built 10 years later, when the wetlands laws were enacted -- just strolling and snacking. Our neighbor gave us a call too, to make sure we'd seen them.

We've seen them several times since, always the mama and her two cubs, always traipsing that stream, usually in the beginning or end of the day. Last night was dusk. One time I was driving Lily to school and she'd forgotten something, and while she was in the house searching for what turned out to be in her backpack, I saw the bears strolling by. "Look!" I hissed as she came out of the house. "Bears! Get in the car, now!"

They don't scare me, and these are all tagged and sort of our local bears, but I don't want to mess with them. They're more afraid of you than you are of them, the wildlife experts tell us, but two things you don't want to mess with: a bear with her cubs, and two bears mating.

Oh, and among our early spring chores -- put away the snowblower, get out the rakes -- taking down the bird feeders is at the top of the list.

2) Iced tea. I ordered an iced tea last week! Wow! It was warm and springy out and the iced tea tasted great all the way down.

3) Lily got a milk shake. Now, this is not a sign of spring for her. She will have a milkshake any time of the year. But this felt like a special occasion, the bears back, me with my iced tea, so she got a milkshake. It was gone in about 30 seconds.

I have a collection of spring songs, free to anyone reading who asks me for it.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Why I don't apologize for voting for Nader

In case you didn't know, I'm going to confess it right here: I voted for Ralph Nader. Not just for the 2000 election, but for the two following that one, as well. That's right, I did not vote for Obama, although voting for the first black president was really tempting. But much as I love Obama's story, his wife, his kids, his mother, his name, even, and everything he stands for socially, I did not believe he would stand for change political and economic change. And I'm very sorry to say I still don't believe that.

Okay, now tell me everything terrible you've ever thought about Ralph Nader. Take your time. Get it off your chest. I've heard it all before -- when I say I voted for Nader, most people just want to rant about how awful he is, and how he lost Gore's election for him, and how he said the Democrats were just like the Republicans. Few are at all interested in hearing why I actually voted for him. That's okay. Take your time. Feel better? No? Me neither.

Here's the thing: I am glad I voted for Nader because it's so clear to me he was right all along. Unfortunately. I guess I'm writing this because of this article, but it's been percolating inside me for some time now. I cried when Obama made his acceptance speech in Chicago on Election Night. I couldn't believe that this country, founded in racism and made rich and fat off the blood of blacks, was actually electing a black man as president. It was a profound, momentous moment, and I was thrilled to witness it.

But just a few days later, when he started announcing his cabinet, I was back to being glad I voted for Nader. I voted for change, and Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Arne Duncan, Tom Vilsack, and Janet Napolitano do not represent change. And that scares me, worries me, makes me really fear for the future, because the stakes are higher today than ever before, at least in my lifetime, and the situation has gotten far worse in the past year.

Here's Chris Hedges in that article:
"We owe Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney [2008 Green Party presidential candidate] an apology. They were right about Barack Obama. They were right about the corporate state. They had the courage of their convictions and they stood fast despite wholesale defections and ridicule by liberals and progressives."

Clearly the people who are disappointed in Obama and business as usual are not just far-out lefties, whatever that means. Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter. Daniel Ellsberg blasted Obama on Here and Now (scroll down to Ellsberg; the comments start at about seven minutes in) for lying to us about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He compared him to Johnson and Nixon and called for the release of the contemporary version of the Pentagon Papers. Very strong statement. Much of the left, whatever that is, has been criticizing the president ever since he got into office.

Back to Nader: I think it's easier to blame him than admit that, as I've said often, our country is broken, our system, a 250-year-old response to a 17th century monarchy, is outdated and old-fashioned. (I've been thinking lately that maybe the solution isn't tossing the whole system, but just getting rid of the Senate. Why not? England disenfranchised the House of Lords. We could easily lose the Senate, and expand the House.)

I wonder if the people who blame Nader have ever read anything by him. His book, Crashing the Party, is a very different take on the 2000 election from the reports in the media. There's a lot of debate about whether he actually cost Gore the election, and the first question is, Why didn't Gore win his own home state? And the second is, What makes you think all the Nader votes would have gone to Gore? He also points out that he had massive rallies, 20,000 people in Washington, D.C., and the Post never covered it.

Third parties are crucial to the American system, and the Democratic and Republican parties have colluded for 25 years to keep them out, beginning with taking control of the presidential debates away from the non-partisan League of Women Voters in 1987 and creating stringent rules about who can debate. Requiring a candidate to poll at 15 percent when the media won't cover them isn't fair.

Often people will come up with a stupid comment Nader made, and then expect his supporters to defend or explain it. And Nader can make stupid comments--he missed the whole thing about LGBT rights and marriage (although I wonder if gay marriage is a misguided use of energy. I don't know a lot about it but many of my gay friends are really annoyed about all the energy going into it).

But why is it that Nader, and others threatening the status quo, are so often held to a higher standard? Why do we think someone in his position has to be perfect, but others get a pass? We can all think of a million things Clinton, Gore, Kerry, etc etc did or said poorly. Why? Much of the recent damaging legislation that is destroying our economy came from Bill Clinton: NAFTA and deregulation of financial markets, not to mention abolishing welfare, the telecommunications act (we have that to thank for one or two gargantuan media companies owning most of the media in the country, the ability of one company to own both a TV station and a newspaper in one market, and the collapse of newspapers), defense of marriage, and the anti-terrorism act that increased the federal death penalty significantly. Why do I want to vote for that?

The one thing I'll give Clinton is that he raised taxes on the rich, and guess what, the economy took off. I think Clinton's first election is the only time I ever voted for the party candidate; I always voted for a third party candidate, and I've never been sorry.

So here's the Nader quote about the difference between Democrats and Republicans, according to an online quote site: "The only difference between the Republican and Democratic parties is the velocities with which their knees hit the floor when corporations knock on their door. That's the only difference." And you know, here's the thing: He's right. He may not have been as right at the time, when he said it; the Dems still counted for something vaguely resembling liberal. Maybe the Democratic party of old was liberal. Every now and then someone says to me that Nixon was more liberal than Obama, but all that means is that Nixon signed more left-wing legislation. Nixon was facing a far more liberal Congress and he lost a lot of battles. He would have been far more right wing had he had the opportunity. And that Congress, as left as it may have been, did not give us national health. Despite how he's being lumped into the mix as a president who tried to reform health care, Nixon resisted an extremely liberal Congress that wanted to go much farther, and he won.

By the way, I started writing this about a month ago, and now I write in the wake of the health care bill just signed. I don't know. I don't see this as a liberal bill--the comment I keep hearing is about the absurdity of the Dems going to the mat for a Republican bill. Maybe that's my biggest disappointment with the Dems, how polarized the country has become, and how they bear responsibility for that. The Dems voted for the Patriot Act, they voted for the Iraq war, and they're allowing the Afghanistan war. These wars have cost Massachusetts alone
$27, 567, 373,000 and counting. And my library has to cut $22,000 this year, two percent of its budget. That's a sin. That's a crime.

I voted for Ralph Nader because I want the corporations out of our government. "The banks own the place," that's what Senator Durbin said, and voting for the Democratic Party of the last 25 or 30 years will never change that equation. I voted for change. The change I see is only getting worse, not better.

Now we resume our regular schedule broadcasting. Thanks for listening.