Saturday, December 7, 2013

I love smart asses

As someone who works in education, I have to say that I truly love when people start posting smart ass responses to test questions.

Perhaps it's because I used to do that kind of stuff. (Anyone from SHHS or BLS remember my 1,000 word essay on responsibility that included directing the teacher to be responsible enough to not throw out my essay but to at least recycle it as toilet paper?  Enough people copied it word for word because it was filled with that lovely high school snark kids love.)

But this one struck me this morning.  I love the literal snark and wonder two things: what does it say and does the teacher read Chinese?

If you need a good laugh, there are tons out there but here's a link to some of my favorites: 25 great test responses.

Go have a laugh, I have lesson plans to write and will probably look for more of these later when I need a break.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Goodbye Nelson Mandela

I first learned about apartheid from Gil Scott Heron as a white suburban girl in the mid-70s, long before most Americans had heard of Nelson Mandela or cared about the legalized abuse and segregation of an entire race.  I first heard the song "Johannesburg" in the mid-70's on WBCN.  I heard the reports about reporter Steven Biko, a white reporter who was killed in a police station in South Africa for reporting to the world about Apartheid and what was happening for real in South Africa, from Danny Schecter (the news dissector).

The world went on until the declaration, "I ain't gonna play Sun City," the South African equivalent of Las Vegas, echoed through the rock and roll world.  Paul Simon performed with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and taught the US that there was an injustice in the world that, tragically, made the worst of the Southern Jim Crow laws look like amateur hour.  Students began to demand divesture from South Africa and "shanty towns" appeared on college campuses.

In it all, Nelson Mandela was the shining light on the hill of dignity under the most extreme duress.

When he was freed from his 8x8 cell after 27 years, he did something even more amazing: he forgave.  Not a mumbled kid apology of convenience, he truly forgave and encouraged the rest of the world to do so in an effort for all of us to move on.  Right up until his end at the age of 95, he kept telling people to love and fight for justice.  He inspired, he uplifted and he did all the things a good and just human being should do in this world.

But he didn't do it as "look at me, I'm such a great person."  He did it as, "you can do this too."

One of the quotes that has stuck with me since a major speech he gave early on after his freedom has always been, "Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural.  It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings."  I humbly try to remember that and do what I can, when I can to work towards that goal.  When people ask me why I am so critical of "christians" (small c intentional here), it is because they don't live it.  Being a Christian means more than constantly posting "like if you love Jesus, share if you want his blessings, ignore if you want to go to hell...." type messages.  They teach their children that prayer is like throwing a coin in the wishing well - G0d will answer your prayers if you just  r e a l l y  believe.  They want to cut social aid in favor for less personal taxes because, well, if you don't want to be poor get off your ass and work.  (While ignoring that the stats on the working poor and working homeless are growing at alarming rates and justifying it as there are people who cheat the system and they don't want to support those people.)

I hope a new generation will learn about Mandela as a result of the publicity in the aftermath of his death but it is hard to explain to kids how things used to be when they only know what is now.  Perhaps part of my desire to teach is to address just that issue with kids - how to build on what went before to be even better.  I hope to buy a copy of the beautiful tribute Peter Reynolds posted this morning that I have on my page now to hang up in a classroom one day.

The headline at the Onion yesterday said goodbye declaring he was the one politician that would be missed.

They were, sadly, correct.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My take on this week's hot stove news.

I'm a Red Sox fan and have been for as long as I can pretty much remember.  I have seen players come and go over all those years and the best advice I can give someone is: get a grip.

Great players leave.  Lousy players leave.  No one in sports lasts forever.  Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Yaz, Cal Ripken, and so many more have come and go over the years.  Some stick with a team their whole career and others move around - it happens.

Like a hair cut, no matter how good or bad it is, your hair continues to grow and you'll have to get it cut again.  Same with sports.  Bobby Orr eventually retired as did Bobby Hull.  Larry Bird and Dr. J are known for a rivalry that was for the ages and is long since retired and a memory or point of history for kids today.  Sammy Sneed?  Ben Hogan?  Who are they?  Arnold Palmer, he's the ice tea guy right?

You get my point.

So when a kid at school asked me how I felt about Ells going to the Yankees, I shrugged and said, "He'll probably end up riding the pine pony on the DL next to Youk."

He smiled and said, "Yeah, probably.

My love affair with Ells ended the season he spent the whole summer at home in Arizona recovering from injured ribs.  It was the same season two other team mates taped up their ribs and went out and played and another team mate, Dustin Pedroia, sat on the field in cast over a broken foot practicing fielding from sitting and kneeling positions.

Ellsbury, in my opinion, is a lazy crybaby.  He gets a hangnail and he's out a game.  He stubs his toe in the clubhouse, better get the back up utility fielder suited up fast because he's playing at least one or two games.  So go let him be New York's expensive problem, the same way Wade Boggs, Johnny Damon, Kevin Youkilis and so many others have become.

For those of you who hate the Yanks for snagging Ells, get over it.  If you do a happy dance when we snag a player from them, remember turn about is fair play.

Right now I'm sitting here on a gray December day dreaming of April, the smell of the freshly mown grass and the call of, "Play Ball!" knowing that whomever the Sox field on that day will be worthy of play.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Acts of Kindness

One of my friends posted something recently about how Facebook is the place where you complain about life all year long but in November you post things for which you are grateful.

It's true, this is the time of year we get a lot of "pay it forward" and "random acts of kindness" crap that should be showing up in our August or February or other months of the year.  But to be honest, I like living in a world where tens of thousands of people lined the streets of San Francisco to help a five year old realize his dream of being Batman for a day.

Then there are the little acts people don't see en masse that make a huge difference in just a life or two.

Yesterday my husband and I grabbed a late breakfast (probably it should be called brunch because of the time we ate) at a local greasy spoon we hadn't been to in years.  They were starting to close up when the cab driver for one of the patrons came in to let her know he was there.  She was an older woman and getting up to get out the door was a chore for her.  One of the waitress, who appeared to be high school aged, stopped what she was doing.  She helped the woman up and then took the time to walk her to the curb and helped her into the cab.

It took quite some time as the woman had difficulty moving.  She did so in a way that was more of a companion, preserving the woman's dignity by clearly chatting with the woman as she shuffled along.

My first though was how much it said about the girl who, instead of rushing to get out the door, took the five or so minutes to walk an older woman to her cab safely.  That she did it with grace was touching and it spoke volumes about the restaurant itself that other people picked up her tasks without saying a word.  It truly was teamwork.

Further, they didn't rush the last few of us stragglers either.  They offered us more coffee (free refills I should add) and made sure we were comfortable.

There were no twitter feeds, news cameras or headlines for what that young girl did but it is certainly worthy of celebration.

So today, instead of posting something you're grateful for on Facebook, take action.  Make whatever you do be something someone else would be grateful for on Facebook.  Then do it again and again and again because you never know who is watching.

My husband and I have a new breakfast place now because any place that would hire that staff is a place we want to patronize.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Late night shenanigans

Travis is sitting in a chair.

I get up to answer nature’s call and when I come back the stage direction is clear: Travis is sitting in a chair.

How the hell did Travis end up in my novel?  The son of bitch must have put himself there knowing I was half asleep at the overnight portion of the 24 hour write in and now he won’t leave.  He’s just sitting there, reading a book and chortling.

You heard me correctly.  The son of a bitch is chortling because he knows I can’t just write him out.  If I try, he’ll just come back and keep on bugging me.  First he’ll casually saunter  by the edges and maybe give a little wave.  Then, when I write him out again, he’ll sashay right down the middle of the page before he stops, turns and blows a little kiss.  A third write out would most likely involve a tirade of sarcasm unmatched since the death of George Plimpton passed back int 2003.

Now there was a writer.

Plimpton was only 76 when he died of a heart attack.  This is the man who was the man when it came to participatory journalism.  The circus, the Detroit Lions, you name it and he did it before he wrote about it.  This is the guy that made me want to be a writer.  He made me excited to think that this was the best way to inspire and change the world.  Hell he pitched in Yankee Stadium against the National League!  Of course it was totally a joke but his book “Out of my League” detailed the story.  He trained with the Bruins (black and gold we raise the flag) as a goalie and played in a preseason game.  He made me believe that even someone like me might be able to get a day with the Red Sox or Bruins.

Oh how I would love to do that.

But I have to say my favorite thing about George Plimpton was the whole Sidd Finch gag he did for the April Fools edition of Sports Illustrated.  The idea of a Buddhist Monk tossing a fast ball so fast that the only way to prepare the catcher was to drop balls out of the Goodyear blimp to match the monk’s velocity… well, yeah it grew to the length of a book (that was funnier than I sometimes want to admit) and worth any money I used to buy it.

Yep, that George Plimpton really was a writer.

Travis is… well, guess you could classify him as a writer given that he has written a novel for NaNoWriMo every year for several years now and he makes me laugh, but he’s no George Plimpton.

Oh shit, now I’ve just insulted him.  Now I’ll never get rid of him.  He’ll be like the lawyer in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” going crazy in the bathtub stabbing grapefruit with a  razor sharp knife while tripping on acid and demanding I throw the radio in the tub at the height of “White Rabbit.”  

Even if I pull the plug at the right moment so that when the radio hits the tub , nothing happens, he’ll still be as pissed off at me as  Hunter S. Thompson’s lawyer was pissed of at him for not following direction exactly as scripted.

Speaking of scripting, I’m a little worried this Travis may never leave. 

See he’s kind of digging in his heels about this point.  That whole Travis is sitting in a chair only now his hands are tightly crossed against his chest and he’s looking at me.

No, make that he’s glaring at me.

I can rain down atomic bombs, slings and arrows and all sorts of things but he will remain just where he is and there is nothing, absolutely nothing I can do about it.

Nothing but sing.

I mean, if Travis is going to sit there in my novel, glaring away (or blowing kisses in a better mood), then  I might as well start singing.  I can sing “Kumbaya” for all he cares.  I can break into a full song and dance choreographed by Bob Fosse.  Whatever floats my boat (so to speak) at this point.  While I’ve never seen Travis swing into a full scale number like that, it doesn’t mean he may not decide to do so this time through.  He’s been known to do things like that on a whim if it suits his nefarious purposes.

Still he sits there laughing his ass off.  After all, I’ve tried everything.

Everything but one thing… I haven’t tried really talking to him yet.



“You are in my novel.”

“Yes, it appears that I am in your novel.”


“Because you wrote me here.”

“No I didn’t.  I went to the bathroom and when I came back the screen simply read, “Travis is sitting in a chair on the blank page.”


“So, why are you sitting in a chair in my novel?”

“Is this your novel?”

“Yes it is.”

“My apologies.  I thought you understood but now I realize you must be a special kind of snowflake.”

“Fuck you.”

“Thank you but you have the wrong plumbing.”

Rolling my eyes, I try again.


“Are you still here?”

“Travis. this is my novel.”

“So it is.”

“Can I have it back now?”

“Let me ruminate on that for a moment.”  


“Well what?”

“Can you please leave my novel.  You throw off the rhythm of that whole thing.”

“I do don’t I.  Did I give you a favorite wrimo sticker yet? Red or black?”

“I have both already.  So, may I please have my novel back?  I think that would be a great way to let me know I’m your favorite wrimo.”

“I have ruminated and I have decided.”

“You have?”

“I have.”

“And….  I’m waiting for your decision.

Um, Travis.  I’m still waiting.

Still waiting Travis.

Any time now.  Really Travis, just spit it right out.”

“Guess what.”

“What Travis?”

“I ruminated on it and made a decision.”

“I know, what is it?”

“You can have our novel back.”

“Really!  Wait… our novel?”

“I’m in it ergo it is now our novel.”

“Are you going to count my words towards your count?”



“I’m just going to take them.”


“Shhh don’t tell anyone, but you’re my favorite wrimo.  Here, have a sticker.”

“Um, thanks.”

“Later you can ask Anna for a ‘like’ sticker.”

“Tell you what, if you leave my novel and don’t screw tine my word count then I’ll do that at the Intermission today.”

“I know when I’m not wanted.”




“Um…. Travis?”


Travis is no longer sitting in the chair.

Perhaps it really was that easy.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

and now for something completely different...

Well, not really but...

This morning there was a lot of buzz about a blog post by Stephanie Metz.  She ranted about modern parenting but, in particular, this one piece is generating a lot of comments:

There was a time - not too long ago - when bullying was defined as slamming someone up against a locker and stealing their lunch money.  There was a time when kids got called names and got picked on, and they brushed it off and worked through it (ask me how I know this).  Now, if Sally calls Susie a bitch (please excuse my language if that offends you), Susie's whole world crumbles around her, she contemplates suicide, and this society encourages her to feel like her world truly has ended, and she should feel entitled to a world-wide pity party.  And Sally - phew!  She should be jailed!  She should be thrown in juvenile detention for acting like - gasp - a teenage girl acts.

Modern parenting and thinking makes me crazy.  The young generations of today (yes, I sound old.  I realize I'm only 29 years old.) are being taught that they shouldn't have to ever put up with anything doesn't make their hearts feel like rainbow colored unicorns are running around pooping skittles onto piles of marshmallows.

Modern parenting is creating a generation that's not going to be able to function in society.

While many parts of the full post are to the point, I wanted to address this part specifically to Stephanie:

Stephanie, you need to understand what bullying really is.

Bullying is not a single action situation (your example of calling Susie a bitch and her world falling apart is not, on its own, bullying).  Bullying is a repeated and constant behavior that does not abate in spite of being addressed.  So, in her example, Sally's actions would only be considered bullying if this were a constant, repeating situation that was part of a systemic attack (verbal or physical) on Susie.

If you want your kids to learn about the real world, then consider this, Sally's actions are called assault.  If it is accompanied by a physical action, it's called assault and battery.  People are arrested for assault and battery.  People can be jailed for assault and battery.  That's the real world because, when you're a grown up, bullying is called abusive behavior.  It's not a question of toughening up, growing a thicker skin or however you want to categorize it.  In school situations, we try to address it so kids understand their actions have consequences.

I get it, you're 29 and your kids are young.  I'm half a century+ in here and my kids are college age and beyond, so my perspective is rather different.

You're upset your kid's toy may be perceived as a gun.  Ask parents who live in areas where violence is common how they feel about the idea of guns in schools.   It is sad to say that, for many, schools are the only safe place for their children in this country and the thought of guns in that environment would be too much for them.  I am truly grateful I have never had to cower with my children in the bathtub when that all too familiar "pop pop pop" begins to resound - but there are way too many people in this country who do.

Your kid may come from a home with loving parents that do their best to raise them.  He may be sitting next to a kid who, on the surface, has a great life but, at night, dad beats mom and the kids if he had a bad day.  He may be in a sharing group with kids who rely on school lunch as their only meal of the day (unless your school also has a breakfast program) or any number of things that can be happening with the other 20+ kids around him.  That perception of a gun is no big deal to you, but to a kid who is constantly picked on and - yes - bullied, it may be the thing that gets him thinking darkly.

The teacher, that adult in the front of the room, needs to be aware and sensitive to all that in hopes the kids can make the benchmarks some politician that has no clue what happens in a classroom has set for them and your children.  They also have to be aware that Susie has an "uncle" that's acting a bit too friendly because she alluded to it in a piece of fiction and is working behind the scenes with a social worker, principal and others to help find out if she's safe.  So maybe Sally's calling her a "bitch" that day was nothing in your mind, it may have been the straw that broke the camel's back for Susie.  Maybe you heard it once but Sally said it every time she saw Susie, posted it to her facebook wall, tweeted it and captioned the embarrassing photo of Susie which Sally caught in the locker room on her cellphone that she then instagramed out to the world.

You never know because we're humans and that's why our facebook pages are filled with cat videos and happy observations.  We put up a good front until the whole thing comes tumbling down.

So yeah, I think you need some perspective on that part of your rant.  As far as the constant entertaining your children and the electronics - you're on the right track.  I am a true "blessing of a skinned knee" kind of person that believes the best path to success is overcoming failure.  I am also a person who believes balance is key in any situation and you're not seeing the other side of the scales you're sitting upon.

I hope your child is never bullied the way my son was in 3rd grade.  He's now a college graduate but he still carries the emotional scars of the constant and consistent verbal and physical attacks of a classmate that culminated in me insisting an adult always be present to keep my son safe.  Even then, the bully was still able to attack my son and our best solution was to just move to a different community.  You can call that an extreme situation, but it is far more common than you think.

Bullies grow into abusers.  Their targets can grow into victims.  You don't know who is bullied at home and under what circumstances so to say "kids need to..."  "parents need to..." "schools need to..." is a perspective you're welcome to so long as you are open to learning about why others will pushback.

It's called real life and it's what you were advocating for in your post.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Liner Notes

Every year I participate in a mix tape (well, CD) swap with other NaNoWriMos.  Sometimes I take the time to produce a quality insert and this year was one of those years.

I selected the runner with the pencil from the NaNo logos and wrote the following liner notes for this year's collection, "I'm Yours Boston."

Yeah, I'm yours Boston - you're my home.

And we have had quite a year here in Beantown.  A couple of punks tried to blow up our marathon, our hockey fans moved the world to tears a few nights later singing the "Star Spangled Banner" and leaving Renee Rancourt speechless on the ice, mike hanging from his hand and a look of wonderment on his face.  Our Red Sox - predicted to do nothing or less by the experts - won the World Series and two players stopped the duck boats in the middle of the parade to place the trophy on the marathon finish line bringing things full circle.

That week set me up for NaNoWriMo this year and I found myself going to a lot of concerts, a Red Sox game or two, drank a lot whiskey and/or rum, writing a lot thoughts down and creating my story this year.

Most of the bands on here are Boston based: the Dropkick Murphys, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Big D and the Kids Table, FORT! The Band, Thick as Thieves, and Passion Pit.  Others on here are bands that I found that made me smile, dance or just plain got me through the insanity of those topsy-turvy six months of emotion so that I could write with my fellow Boston wrimos - an event that warms my soul.

The concerts, the rum, the writing all got me from the mile 18 water stop - where I volunteer - to Nano.  Writing is a marathon.  Sure you can sprint along the way but the whole process is long and steady.  I'm talking be more like Bill Rogers and not Usian Bolt here folks.

Boston and writing, like Ken Casey's rose tattoo, are signed and sealed in blood.  I hope this collection inspires you the way it has inspired me.

The CD starts with "Tessie," the song the DKMs wrote associated with the 2004 World Series Red Sox and ends with the Standells (who are NOT a Boston band) doing "Dirty Water."  In the mix are Jonathan Richman's "As We Walk to Fenway Park (in Boston Town), Big D's "I'm Yours Boston," Thick as Thieves "Here's to Waking Up," and Passion Pit's "Sleepyhead."

The non-Boston songs are ones that got stuck in my head or are from bands that made me dance my cares away at concerts.

It also helped me rethink some things.

My novel wants to focus on the battle in Lowell, not the airships and characters in Waltham.  I will think a little more on things tonight as I finish packing up my CDs and mail them off to the corners of the US. I know Tara's story will get told along with the story of her guardian auntie Miranda who, as a result of the battle of Lowell, is now part cyborg and totally dedicated to a higher power.

Go listen to some local music tonight.  If you have half a mind, find some local band at a local dive and support them tonight.  You never know what may be unleashed inside of you.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Writing in the morning...

Today I get to experience one of the parts of my job I love - getting kids to write.

The librarian and I are sponsoring write-ins for National Novel Writers Month at the school library before school for our 4th and 5th graders.  Friday five kids showed up and parents stopped me Friday afternoon to ask if we'd be there today.  I reminded them every school day in November, so I'm hoping for more today.

What surprised me were the kids who did show up as they weren't the ones I expected.  It excites me that we are encouraging another generation of writers.  It also reminds me the power of my words - not the written ones, the spoken ones.  I tell kids all the time to think about folks like Christopher Paolini, the author of "Eragon," and how he was just a teenager when he published for the first time.  I tell them that age doesn't matter.  I tell them what does matter is taking the chance.

The librarian at the middle school was thinking of doing the same, which would be great for some of my older students who are now there.  Of that first group of students four years ago are now 7th graders and many make a point of telling me they are still writing.

I want to build a generation of life long writers.  Maybe they will stick with fiction, maybe not.  I just think the more we all write, the more we all stay in touch with what's important.  Writers tend to be readers and learners and one of the big problems in this country is at some point being educated and being smart became something to be mocked.  If we start the habit of always being learners, then that attitude can start to fade away.

I'd like to think that maybe part of fixing the world and solving some of our big problems can be solved by people willing to take the leap of faith.  What bigger leap of faith for a kid than trying to write a novel at the age of 10?  It may not be "War and Peace," but it will be a sign that they are willing to try and tackle a big project.

Time to get ready to head in,  I have to set up for some kids to get writing. :)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Another NaNoWriMo, Another Fine Mess

It's that time of year where I feverishly write and write and write until December 1.  Each year I take a different approach.

My personal approach to the 50k this year hit me hard when the characters were just sitting there staring at me all day November 1 with their arms crossed and a scowl on their faces.

"We're not telling you jack," one of them said to me.

"Seriously, you're on your own," my heroine piled on.

What the?

I hit 1700 words of tell, not show (cardinal sin number one for a fiction writer) late Friday night and had a headache when I was done.

This year's quest started 6 months ago at the Waltham Watch City Festival (the steampunk weekend in Waltham).  I was having dinner with my family at a local restaurant we occasionally enjoying visiting.  (They have a lot of good, local craft beers on ice and fried foods - ummmm what's not to like?)  Looking at the placemat of Waltham during the Revolutionary War, it hit me: what if Waltham and Lowell were competing city-states in a steam punk world?  Boston was more like Beaumonde in Firefly: a steamy underbelly of a port; while Salem is the NYC of a port.  Waltham is aligned with Boston and New Bedford while Lowell is aligned with Salem.  The Americas are still British, Spanish and French colonies (the Spanish own west of the Rockies and the southern regions while the French have the Midwest and the British are East of the Mississippi).  There are empires, city states and other rather odd collections for things but the focus here is on Waltham vs Lowell.

I researched the hell out of this one: reading up histories of the two cities, going back to my American History and Western Civ notes and texts about the Industrial Revolution and Francis Cabot Lowell's dream of Utopia via the Waltham/Lowell system.  I jotted down 6 months of notes in my writer's journal.  I created a mythology - all the things good writers do with such things.  This year I was READY with a capital R (followed by all caps EADY).

I found myself struggling on day one in spite of the research and notes because - as I figured out this morning - I have a large number of stories going on in this universe.  At some point it became Firefly without me realizing it.  But not just Firefly, it became Wagon Train, Lost Ark, Star Trek and all those episodic stories having to do with the wild west in a variety of settings.  The backdrop is truly the battle between Waltham and Lowell but Tara, I mean, Miranda, I mean Amelia, I mean... oh what the hell...Victoria (Victoria?) kept bobbing and weaving through my visions of this world.

Joss Whedon and Nathan Fillion on the set of Firefly
Curse you Joss Whedon for your inevitable greatness of story telling and vision.

This is what I get for getting ideas watching Firefly marathons on the science channel over the summer or Castle reruns on TNT (yeah Nathan Fillion - you're not blameless in this debacle either).

So what to do?  Do I follow one core group of characters?  Do I tell of a key battle from different angles?  But what about Auntie and Uncle and their small farm in Waltham that are core of everything?  What happened at St. Patrick's school for young women in Lowell when the evil puppet masters controlling Mayor Elisha Huntington try to shut the school down, arrest Amelia's mother (or was it Victoria's blood sister?) sending poor Edmund, Tara's brother (or was it Amelia's) back to the farm to make sure his twin sisters were safe?

You see my confusion.

So today I will make some decisions but it looks like this is shaping up to a "Lythande" or "Tales from a Space Port Bar" situation.  That series of stories around a time and group and still keep it upper MG or YA so my students can read this at some point when I'm ready to unleash it on the world.

If I remain frustrated, I still blame Joss Whedon because, well, truth is he would tell this story so awesomely and I can only hope that one day I will be equally as awesome.

So I'm about to sit down with my coffee and think... and think some more before I write off yesterday as something to be revisited and begin anew.  Thank heaven for tomorrow's write in when I will have a chance to fix this mess.

One Post Script here: if you have no idea what Firefly is or how awesome it was, I suggest you go to Netflix and watch the episode "Trash" (my favorite) or start with the first episode (Serenity) and watch all of the ill fated season that the Fox executives had no idea what to do with so they cancelled it after showing episodes out of order.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Odin is Singing

Odin is Singing

Odin is singing.

He is standing next to my bed, singing
awakening me before the rays of the sun
creep through my window.

Odin is singing.

Softly, with dulcet tones.
"Wake up Mama," he sings,
"wake up, I'm hungry."

Odin is singing.

He jumps on the bed,
his soft fur brushing my hand
as he sings.

Odin is singing.

Taking a quick breath as he nips my fingers
"Mama wake up," he sings
before he rubs his head against my cheek.

Odin is singing.

His nose is against mine
as my eyes open, just a slit - but too late
because he sees.

Odin is singing.

Now he has a purr in his throat
because he knows I'm awake
and it's time for breakfast.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Proper Cup of Coffee

This morning I got 10 sections into my workout with November Project and realized I was done.  Driving home along the river, always a pleasant thing to do especially on a comfortable morning like this one, I figured I'd stop at Dunkin' Donuts for coffee.

When you live in the Boston area, you know there is a Dunkie's on pretty much every corner and there is a consistency (and comfort) in walking in and asking for a an extra large with wicked extra cream, no sugar and knowing you're going to pretty much what you want.  What I hadn't counted on this morning was someone who didn't know how to speak Boston.

In my pre-caffeinated state of mind, I didn't pick up on, "Wicked?"

"Yeah, extra large wicked extra cream, no sugar please."

Then her confusion registered with my slowly waking brain.  The guy behind her said to the kid making coffee, "Extra, extra milk."

She looked at me again.  "Milk or cream?"

"Cream please."

She called the adjustment over to the coffee kid and I paid her.  She then looked and asked, "What does 'wicked' mean?"

I had to think.  Wicked has been a modifier in my life for so long and now I had to define it.

"It's like a superlative.  That was a wicked good play... wicked extra cream..."

"Oh, I see," she laughed.  I laughed and the kid yelled out, "Extra large."

I took one sip and asked the coffee kid, "Did you put sugar in this?"

"Yeah, extra cream and extra sugar...."

"No, just wicked extra cream, no sugar."

"Oh!  OK.  Third times the charm right?"


He was right, third time was the charm and the staff was full of smiles and laughs with me.

It was a great way to start the day after walking up and down 10 sections of Harvard Stadium.

In the car I turned on my iPod (which was in shuffle mode) and Trout Fishing in America's "Proper Cup of Coffee" started.  I laughed.  My car and iPhone have a wicked sense of humor  (both evil and superlative in this case) and I drove home loudly singing:

All I want is a proper cup of coffee made in a proper copper coffee pot
I may be off my dot but I want a proper coffee in a proper copper pot
Iron coffee pots and tin coffee pots they have no use for me
If I can't get a proper cup of coffee in a proper copper coffee pot I'll have a cup of tea.....


So Ezra and Keith, thanks for the smile this morning.  It may not have been made in a copper coffee pot, but it was a proper cup of coffee.... finally.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Mama's taking us to the zoo tomorrow....

As part of my rediscovering Boston summer tour, yesterday we went to the Stone Zoo in Stoneham, MA (the smaller of the 2 zoos in Boston) on a whim.

It started with breakfast at a local dinner and me feeling kind of bad ass in my tight jeans and tank top with a drawing of a cat with wings sitting pretty.  I always feel kind of bad ass when I'm wearing a tank top and yesterday, doubly so given the return of the heat to Boston.

I saw, "Always be ready to have the time of your life" written on the specials board over the counter.  That and my attitude made me suggest we "do something."  My husband said, "Want to go to the zoo?"

Um... that's a silly question since 99% of the time the answer will be "YES!"  I let him pick which one and he chose the Stone Zoo.

I am glad to see the Stone Zoo is back up and running.  In 1990 the Commonwealth of MA and Zoo New England closed the place for financial reasons but a small group of volunteers formed the Friends of the Stone Zoo and fought hard and long to get the place reopened in 1992.  A fabulous and visionary head of Zoo New England helped to redesign and refocus the place into the small wonder that it is.

On the way there, the highway sign had an added bonus, "the koalas are here!"  Double score baby!  This was even better than the time a couple of years ago when the sign had "Jaguar Babies" on it because, well, one word: koalas.

Of course, the sign should have said, "The koalas are sleeping," but that's OK because that's what koalas do.  They were there in their fuzzy cuteness and it made me go squee.  They are part of an Australia exhibit that is there for the summer and I will go back at some point to see if I can catch them awake in their fuzzy cuteness to make me squee even louder.

Now the big laugh of the day was not from me singing the Kookaburra song to the kookaburra or me talking to the animals, it came from this:

 Yes, the roadrunner exhibit is next to the coyote exhibit.  I should have checked for the Latin names to see if they had "Accelerati Incredibilus" and "Carnivorous Vulgaris" or "Ultra-Sonicus Ad Infinitum" and "Nemesis Riduclii" or even "Birdius Tastius" and "Poultrius Devourius," but to be honest, I was too busy giggling about the situation.

I was also being stared at by people around me who didn't get the joke.  So it goes.

But along with the koalas, there are lots of babies this season.  There are the baby black and white colobus monkeys (which are cute and white and furry and hidden from view by the adults who form a monkey shield around them in the back of the pen).  There are also baby flamingoes that aren't pink yet.

There were three that I saw hanging out with the flock of adults just being all, "Hey, how's it going.  I'm a cute baby flamingo.  What are you up to?"  The flamingoes tend to smell really bad, particularly in the heat, but I didn't mind because the little fluff balls were just being so cool about the whole thing.

I was excited to see the capybara was back.  When the boys were little and we spent a lot of time at the Stone Zoo (back when Major the Polar Bear was alive), we'd always hang out and talk to the capybaras who are truly rodents of unusual size.  This is a photo of Scooter and he was just chilling with the llamas in the shade behind the educational resource center.

I have always described the Stone Zoo as the perfect toddler length zoo.  About the point your kid is done, you're back at the beginning.  For someone like me, I could spend a long time just hanging out watching one set of animals without feeling like I'm missing anything or having to rush.  For people who are leery of Franklin Park, this is a nice alternative.

It also sparked my desire to add "Ecotarium," which is part zoo, part science museum, to my list of summer rediscoveries - even though it's in Worcester and not Boston.  But if you're looking for a way to spend a nice afternoon, the Stone Zoo is the place to go.

And they have koalas.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

She cried "MO! MO! MO!"

 The Pigeon has been trying to drive the bus for 10 years.

Wow.  That means I was running the kids' section at Borders 10 years ago because the day that book came out, I read it for story time to a group of pre-schoolers who loved yelling, "NO!" when the pigeon just begged and begged to drive the bus.

It means little Chesley isn't so little anymore... particularly since he's a college graduate.  The book took on a whole new meaning for him after a bus driver in Poland let my son drive the bus - and the pigeon should know it's not all it's cracked up to be and it's more at the same time.

What can I say beyond what interesting and creative children I have.  Chesley has discussed his idea of a children's book in Latin, See the Bee Fart, with Norton Juster of "Phantom Tollbooth" fame.  He discovered he and Chris Van Allsburg have similar views about Dali and squirrels in a conversation.  The first time he met Eric Carle, the poor boy was tongue tied and, years later, has had some rather eloquent conversations with Eric about some odd subjects.  He and Mo Willems have joked about how he is one of a couple of dozen people who used to watch "The Off Beats" and "Sheep in the Big City." And that's only the beginning of how my children have been positively molded in unexpected ways.  All this has happened because of one magical place - the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

Out in Amherst, MA, this hidden gem of Pioneer Valley is on the edge of the Hampshire College campus and always has a variety of events that inspire us to hop in the car and drive out from Boston on a regular basis.  Right now it's the exhibit "Seriously Silly," an exhibit of Mo Willems work, mostly his picture book stuff.  It coincides with the release of "Don't Pigeonhole Me" - a rather large book containing 20 years of his sketchbooks including the early versions of the book "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus."

What I loved were a million little details - the scavenger hunt to find the different color pigeons and the little bits of art around the bottom of the gallery at a kids' eye level.  It shows the process with sketches, detail and a short video of how an idea goes onto the page of his sketch book to being roughed, inked and then scanned to be cleaned and colored.

In the art studio, kids can create the pigeon and the bus as well as other things.   All in all, this is a wonderful little exhibit that reinforces the idea that rarely is art "perfect."  Something kids need to remember as they grow older.  Too often we see the finished product and not the process.  This is a delightful way to see the process and the product all together.  While this exhibit will be there for a while, the other two will not.

The Eric Carle gallery's "Feathers, Fins and Fur" is up until September first.  It's a wonderful chance to see not just the picture book stuff but also some of the tools Eric uses to create his art and some different mediums for him.

The small gallery in the middle has Robert Zakanitch's "Garden of Ordinary Miracles," a lovely A-B-C walk through a garden complete with a case of things like sticky notes with sketches and thoughts and ideas that runs through November.

When you're done there, there's always the Basketball Hall of Fame down the road in Springfield and the Dr. Seuss sculpture garden in Springfield, home of Ted Geisel.  I should also recommend a trip to the R. Michelson galleries in Northhampton, which have the original "Don't Pigeonhole Me" sketches as well as some original Dr. Seuss work and a whole slew of other children's artists as well as photos by Leonard Nimoy and beautiful artwork from many, many others.

I admit, if this little pocket of loveliness were on the coast, I would have moved there years ago but I'm just not a mountain girl... I'm an ocean girl.  At least I can hope in my little bug and head on out there to enjoy, and you should too.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

It's in the wiring....

There are three things on my "must see" this summer.  The first, the Michelangelo sketches before they left the MFA is done.  Number two: the Dead Sea Scrolls at the the Museum of Science is also now checked off.

Entering is a great quote, "None of the dead can rise up and answer our questions.  But from all they have left behind, their imperishable or slowly dissolving gear we may perhaps hear voices, which are only now able to whisper when everything else has become silent." The quote is from Bjorn Kurten, a Finnish paleontologist (and yes the They Might Be Giants Song got stuck in my head at that point - not helped the quote from Deuteronomy, "Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it...") and sets the tone for the whole exhibit.

The whole exhibit is built around a number of the finds that went with the scrolls themselves, namely the remains of day-to-day house lives that were buried along with the scrolls in the caves and such of the area.

But one thing that hit me: the foot bath.  That's right, a foot bath carved out of stone for ritual foot washing.  I think a lot about traditions mentioned in various bits of historic texts along the way and a big one is foot washing.  Keep in mind that I am Catholic educated and chose to throw my lot in with the Jewish people after lots of study, thought and discussion with all sorts of mentors along the way.  One thing that gets talked about in biblical materials is the idea of washing a guests feet.
foot bath

ritual tub
Now logically I know that it's a part of the world that is dry and dusty and when you're walking to get from here to, well, anywhere, your feet get nasty.  It's a practical thing to wash feet before entering the home to try and keep things clean.  But as I stood there, I wasn't thinking about Biblical admonishments about shaking the dust of an enemy from your feet or Jesus washing the feet of his followers or anything like that.  I was was thinking, "Perhaps my desire for a pedicure is hardwired to ancient times..." and glanced down at my neatly pedicured toes.

Yes, I can be that shallow at times.  On the other hand, the two big display points on the exhibit map were the foot bath on one side of the room and the bathtub on the other.  The bath tub wasn't a take a Saturday night bubble bath kind of thing.  It was from a religious ritual area in the caves where the scrolls and artifacts were found.  So whomever designed the exhibit had a big fixation point on those two pieces, giving them the same sort of map priority as the scrolls themselves.

There are various vessels of various importance peppered through out the exhibit, whether it's a carved jar or a goblet of some type or an ossuary used to collect the bones of the dead and be placed the family tomb.

I loved this basic utilitarian job with just a little bit of a decoration on it.  Think about the various bits and pieces of things we all have because the shape is kind of cool or the pattern is interesting.  So here's this standard storage jar from ancient days with a carving that's just kind of cool.

Hey, maybe we're not that different after all.

The story of the scrolls themselves is interesting in that a Bedouin shepherd found them while chasing a stray goat.  The people who ended up with them knew they had something, but no idea what.  In the end, through a bit of intrigue, all the scrolls ended up back together in Jerusalem.  Another odd thing about the scrolls that struck me, the night the scrolls were identified as something of serious value was the same night the UN voted to establish the state of Israel.

 The section on Masada had "potsherds" - shards of a broken pot with names written on them.  At Masada it is said that ten of the fighters were designated to kill everyone rather than surrender to the Romans.  Once that was done, one name was drawn to kill the other 9 fighters before killing himself.  The potsherds with the names on them give credit to the story.  It makes you ask yourself, what is so beyond the pale in your vision of the life, the universe and everything that would push you to killing yourself rather than accept that fate?

The scrolls are difficult to read.  In part because the scholars reassembling them during the Cold War years may have been scholars, but they weren't archivists.  They used things like scotch tape to hold pieces together, exposed them to air and sunlight as well as tobacco smoke.  I noticed the bit of Isaiah, the most commonly copied book in all the scrolls, on display (with the verse, "In the widow's mouth I was a prayer") was in the shape of the UK.  Now William Blake's "Jerusalem," as performed by Emerson Lake and Palmer, got stuck in my head.

There is a piece of the Western Wall there where you can leave a petition or prayer and it will be placed at the wall in Jerusalem.  There is the new tradition of exiting through the gift shop and then I exited to see the polarized mural.  For years I have looked at pieces of it but then it hit me: I have new, polarized lens sunglasses and put them on to see the whole thing at once for the first time.

It cemented the whole idea of a mind-blowing day at the Museum of Science for me.  In the end, I couldn't go through any other parts of the museum, not even my favorite dinosaur parts because it was too much to process.

Good thing I bought a membership on the way in and can go back again to revisit my dinosaur friends as I do like to imagine owning a pet triceratops named Spike that I could ride around and we would eat broccoli together and be best friends.

But that's for another day.....

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A trip to the MFA

I love going to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, but there was an exhibit that I almost missed.  Through the end of the weekend, they have about 2 dozen pages from Michelangelo's sketch books on display.  The exhibit, Michelangelo Sacred and Profane, are figure studies for other works and architectural drawings for various commissions by patrons.

Because I went with Pi, I spent a lot of time laughing.  It started outside by the creepy baby heads at the entrance of the Fenway side of the museum.  When he posed by one of the sculptures, the smiles began, and it just kept rolling and growing as we went through the museum.

It has been a rough month for me as I face the reality of the mortality of my mom.  It's that theoretical "We only have a few years left...." sort of thing turned into "Oh shit, the complications from this stroke has really messed her up...."  Yesterday was a tough day and Pi came down to the nursing home/rehab center she's at with me.  The decision to go was last minute after we fought through a bunch of traffic and managed to avoid the worst of the Red Sox fans in the Fenway area.  I said, "If we find a space on the street, we'll go."

A space around the corner, ironically in front of the Gardener museum, opened up.  I also had enough quarters for the 2 hours we needed for the meter and the sun came out.  Yep, we were meant to be there.

There are plenty of reviews out there of the exhibit, so I won't bore with another, but I will say I was struck by a few things.

The first thing that hit me was the uncertainty of some of the sketches.  They were studies for bigger pieces and included things like Christ's leg drawn at different angles.  The one that struck me was the study of a horse's leg for a sculpture and the angles on it.  All I could think of was, "Wow, he didn't look at the rock and release the sculpture inside like I was always told."

See, I never really took up sculpture at any level because I was always told that whittlers shape objects to their will; however, a true artist looks at a piece and sees the sculpture inside waiting to be released.

I'm not say that he didn't do that, I'm saying that even Michelangelo needed to do his homework.  He may have looked at a block of marble and saw a horse, but he needed to make sure he did the horse justice as he released the creature.

Another thing that struck me, he drew on the back of available paper.  There was this beautiful drawing of a doorway in red chalk that he sketched on the back of a letter.  Over time, the ink from the letter bleed through and there was a really interesting result of text over the image.  There were a few pieces like that as well as the incredibly moving portrait of his dear friend as Cleopatra.

It was one of those small but important exhibits you don't really hear about until it's too late.  While it will show up in promotion and advertising, it's not an exit through the gift shop sort of merchandising show, so it quietly slips in and out without much fanfare.  Yet, it really was breath taking in a way I didn't expect and reminded me that even the best of the best are human after all.

We also wandered through the Samurai exhibit, the Blue and White exhibit and through the new contemporary wing.  My initial thoughts: "Wow, they did their best to make it feel like MoMA, didn't they."  Right down to the companion pieces to some of the ones in New York and the ICA on the other side of Boston.  Interesting stuff, but I still felt like the idea of the wing is unoriginal right down to the design of the galleries.

They do have an awesome Warhol piece in there, so that's kind of cool.

Pi and I were hungry so we decided to grab some food at one of the slightly overpriced options in the museum.  We always laugh when we're together and our meal was no exception.  When a couple that were obviously art patrons were seated next to us, Pi looked and said, "I want to buy your women," in his best John Belushi accent as a reflection of how he felt.  I may have been in suburban mom mode, but he was in Pi mode with his local band t-shirt, hat and black jeans.  He was more art student than patron... in other words, he was just Pi.

We enjoyed our meal and decided we needed desert.  On the menu was a "cookie plate" featuring chocolate chip, pb&j thumbprints and a couple of others.

Pi, reading the description, looked up at me and said, "What's a cookie plate?" and I replied, "It's one of those souvenir plates shaped like a cookie that you can bring home for an extra $5."

He lost it and began laughing.  This made me laugh.  Then he looked at me and we both started laughing again and this continued for a minute or so.  The woman at the next table looked gave us a dirty look, which set us off again.  Her husband (date, friend, whatever) looked over at me and smiled.  Again triggering another round of laughter for us that brought on a coughing fit from the asthma attack I had been fighting for a bit, which ended the laughing.

As we left, the two of us decided we need to spend a bunch of time at the MFA this summer.  It won't always be mocking the creepy baby heads.  We actually are pretty reverential when we're in there, even if we both looked at one of the pieces in blue and white and had the same reaction.  ("Oh shit, I did this wrong and it fell apart in the kiln... I know!  I'll call it a statement and act like I meant to do that!")  We didn't have to say it until there was no one else around, but we were certainly on the same wavelength.

The bottom line here would be this: life sucks at times but then throws a ray of sunlight for you to smile about; Michelangelo was human too and sometimes you need to laugh so even "important" people can remember life can be a joy as well.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How to create a writer?

I have spent a lot of time over the past 3 years trying to create writers.

Most schools do so by teaching various writing methods aligned to the common core curriculum.  Me, I do it with my favorite blank books: Moleskine, to supplement the curriculum.

Kids like cool looking blank books and I have been using Moleskines for sometime.  Last year, when I saw the ones with the Lego plate on the front, I had to have it.  Every time I pull it out to take notes, all the kids have to have one too.

Unfortunately, they're rather pricey.  Sure, I'll cough up the way too much money for something like this for me (and, if I had my druthers, I would not have a black Lego base plate on the front to blend in with the black leather cover, I would have placed a red or yellow one to stand out.... but that's me) but what kid has that kind of money for something like that? So it becomes another cool thing adults have and kids don't.

More importantly, when it comes to creating writers, I think about one of my first graders this year who has some special needs.  Like most first graders, he finds writing to be physically difficult.  Some of his small motor skill issues made holding a pencil for the full writing process (idea to first draft to correction/editing to final draft) extremely difficult.  But he's such an amazing story teller, I was worried he would stop if he didn't have assistance.

When I had to fill in for his aide on occasion early on in the year, he would struggle with writing and we finally figured out a system.  I would write his first draft in my Moleskine with my "cool pen" (my Lamy Safari fountain pen) as he dictated and he then would work from there.  I would sometimes copy his words onto regular paper for him to copy over, sometimes I'd take the pages out of my Moleskine. The ones I kept are the ones he wrote for me during his choice or free time, but the majority were for class work, so he had to keep them as part of the writing process.

His regular aide picked up on that system and continued until he eventually became OK with writing as he worked with OT and PT through the year.  He was always fascinated by my Moleskine as he loves Legos and I'm always pulling it out to make notes to myself about stories and such.

I found out last week he's moving to a neighboring community and will no longer be attending our school, so I wanted a present to encourage him to write and knew I wanted a Lego Moleskine for him; however, I knew it was too small for his writing abilities and too rich for my budget.

Call on duct tape and gorilla glue to save the day!

I have some of these marble composition note books on hand:

They have wider lines and guide lines for upper and lowercase letters to help letter formation as well as a space at the top of the page to draw an illustration.  For some kids they draw the picture and then write the story of the picture, the way writers workshop is introduced in Kindergarten and First Grade.  Older kids get lined paper where the spacing becomes smaller as motor skills improve with no illustration space.

The problem is, well, they're kind of lame looking for many kids, my student included.  (Not to mention the complete lack of Lego anything.)  So I stopped at the local craft store and picked up a couple of Duck Tape duct tape sheets, a couple of pieces of scrapbooking paper and a thing of Gorilla super glue to transform that into this:

All I did was carefully apply the duct tape sheet to the front and back covers and slowly smooth it across the cover of the book.  Then I glued used some white glue to place the scrap book paper on the inside cover and slowly work that across, trimming the excess along the edge when it was in place.  On the back cover, before applying duct tape and paper, I took a piece of 3/8" elastic and gorilla glued it to the top of the cover, about 1/3 of the way down and, with the book closed, brought it around the front and cut it 1/3 of the way from the bottom of the back and glued it in place, waited for the glue to set and then applied the duct tape.  With the glue set and the duct tape applied, I could then carefully move the elastic to open the back cover, gorilla glued a length of red ribbon for a book mark, again, the tail is about 1/3 of the way down, then glued the paper to the back cover.  Once things were dry, I closed up the book and gorilla glued a Lego base plate I had on the front.

To be honest, I've done this in the past by glueing pleather onto composition books for older kids with OT/PT issues that needed larger lines but didn't want to be embarrassed using "baby" comp books.  They got the support they needed with a cool looking blank book.  But the duct tape sheets are easier and cover more cleanly (in my opinion).  

As back to school sales raise their ugly heads in a couple of weeks, composition books go on sale for dirt cheap.  For less than $5, you can custom make one of these puppies for the kid in your life.  To be honest, if I had a roll of red or green duct tape, I might have used it on the binding for some contrast just for fun.  The sky's the limit here.

My little buddy will be moving on, but maybe one day I'll see his first novel on the best seller list and think, "I knew he had that story in him, I'm so glad he let it out to share with the world."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My reaction to Cubby's Tees non-apology

(For what I'm reacting to, this is Cubby Tee's non-apology for pulling their Blackhawks "Chicago Stronger" shirt.)

I am a Boston fan and I make no bones about it.  Like Chicago, Philly and New York, we Boston fans live and die by our teams.  I like that you are like our own "Sully's Tees" who were fans that made fan shirts that are snarky but our true fan sentiments.

I also admire the grist of your fans is similar to ours.  It takes a set of huge, clanking brass ones for the lead singer of the Tossers - a fine Chicago Irish Punk band - to stand on the stage of the Middle East, look at my Bruins jersey and, with his Chicago softened Irish brogue announce, "Here's to the best team in the NHL, the Chicago Blackhawks and you Bruins fans can fuck off!"

That night my son turned to me and said, "I hope we have a Bruins/Hawks battle for the cup."

It is the wish the two of us have held onto for dear life over the past two months.  To me, there's little better in hockey than original 6 battles like the one we're in now.

Yep, Bostonians pretty much respect a fan that passionate (unless they're a Yankees fan, with the exception of 2001, then they can suck it).  Since that night, I've pretty much had Flatfoot 56's "Winter in Chicago" stuck in my head.  Actually, I've had the line "it's winter in Chicago and the Hawks are on tonight, so it's alright" while the rest of the song is sort mumble mumble mumble Lakeshore Drive mumble mumble....

(BTW if you haven't checked out either of these fine Chicago Irish punk bands, then shame on you!  Flatfoot's pipers are some of the best I've heard after years of listening to all kinds of Celtic music and I will always love the Tossers for playing "I'll Tell Me Ma" for "Miscreant's mom in the back of the room....")

Enough about Chicago, let me see if I can explain to you about "Boston Strong"and my gut reactions to both the "Toronto Stronger" and "Chicago Stronger" messages.

In that dark, dark week where a peaceful event celebrating the triumph of the human spirit was horribly marred, a dark gash was ripped through the very core of Boston.  To "run Boston" is more than to run a marathon, it's a high standard that runners dream about.  For runners like me, we dream about "running Boston" the way that 7 year old kid stepping up to the plate in Little League dreams of stepping up to the plate in the bottom of the 9th with the bases loaded and 2 outs in the World Series to win it all for their team.

Yeah, the Grande Dame of marathons, the Boston Marathon, is really that special.

So those bomb blasts that destroyed and changed the lives of the average people who had that moment in life to feel like that elite athlete was something that just can't be fully described.  For the first time since 2001, I finally understood how my friends in NY felt on that horrible fall day and they understood what it was like to be a bystander from a distance.

It doesn't matter where "Boston Strong" came from as a saying, it has become Boston's motto.  Even the FCC understood David Ortiz's utterance of "This is our fucking city!" and chose not to fine MLB or networks who did not censor that moment.

Right now we have our hopes pinned on the Bruins.  They are the rainbow in the sky at the end of the storm right now.  It's that odd foreshadowing the President spoke of at the Mass of Healing in Boston after the bombings when he alluded, to the chagrin of Chicago fans, that there would be duck boat parades in Boston.  The World Series is too far away and the Celtics choked the way most of us knew they would.  When the best the Pats have to offer is Tebow, well, is it any wonder why this city is pinning their hopes for sports redemption on the B's?

Most of us who are real B's fans will tell you that, up until 2 years ago, they were the red-headed bastard step child of Boston sports.  A few years back when they flew the team flags of Boston over the state house, the B's flag was not there (but the fucking Revolution had their flag flown).  That night the B's went back into action after the bombing and Renee Rancourt took to the ice to sing the anthem, something amazingly special happened - Boston sent one loud and clear message to the world: we're hurt but we're still here.  The Bruins truly became Boston's team after years of neglect.

We need them, we need this win and we need this promise that life will be normal again.

So why the objection to the Toronto or Chicago Stronger?  Well, I don't know if I made it clear enough of how this isn't a sports slogan even though it is used in a sports context right now.  Boston needs that victory to help us move on as we keep healing.  Remember when you're still young and invincible and you have that one kid you know that's your age die?  How, while you're still reeling, someone makes that one crack that makes you want to punch them in the face.  You know what I mean, that crack about how the good Lord doesn't give us more than we can handle or Divine will or something that makes you want to say, "What G0d do you pray to that does this because I'm 'strong enough to handle' it?"

That's what those shirts mean to us. We're still hurting here and it's too soon.  Yes we wave a "Boston Strong" flag, usually by a hero or victim of the bombing before the game.  Yes it's our arena chant for now.  But give it some time.  Maybe after we drink champagne from Lord Stanley's cup and have a duck boat parade or two we can just call you assholes and be done with it.

Until then, give it a rest rather than try to call no harm, no foul.  Realize you just kicked someone when they were down and, "Sorry man, I had no idea," then offer your hand to pull us up, give us a bro hug and offer to buy us a beer while we move on.

Oh yeah, and may the best team (the Bruins) win.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Ukelele Lady

Amanda Palmer really inspired me and when I ran into Mr. Music a couple of weeks ago, I saw this candy apple red Makala dolphin bridge soprano and had to have it. 

A few sea horse stickers to make it mine and it wasn't long before I could hack out "Ukelele Anthem," "Changes in Latitudes" and "Adventure Time."   She was right when she said it only takes about an hour to learn how to play. 

While bar chords still vex me (really only some do, others are fine), I'm having a great time tooling around on it.  

I'll probably never front a punk band singing song about how all college students look the same with a cockney accent.  I'll probably never be mistaken for an underground icon.  But I can sit and play and make myself smile and remember that there's something magical about that little bit of wood and plastic.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Being a Boston sports fan (or how I explained DNA to a 5 yr old)

The Bruins were on the ice in Toronto taking practice after their 2nd game shellacking by the Leafs when a kid in a Kindergarten room and I had a conversation about the upcoming game.  He predicted a shut-out.  I predicted a 6-1 Bruins win because Toronto is that hungry to get past the first round.

The final score of game 3 was 5-2 Bruins.

Yesterday he looked at me and said, "Ms. H, you had the right answer but the wrong number sentence."

This is how he viewed it: 6+1=7, 5+2=7; therefore, I had the right answer (7) BUT the wrong number sentence.  He then asked me a serious question.  He asked if it was possible he was a hockey fan before he was born because he felt like he had always been a Bruins fan.

I told him my theory that being a Boston sports fan is genetic.  It's written into our DNA which is something you get from your parents that helps make you you.  He thought for a minute and said, "That makes sense."

He asked my prediction for tonight's game.  I thought for a moment and said, "The Bruins win by a goal in OT."

He predicted the Bruins would win 100-1.

Yep, he's a Bruins fan.

I often refer back to a quote I saw on the wall of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  It read, "It was as if something took me by the hand and whispered, 'I am baseball, come with me.'"  I think than an angel whispered that in my ear before I was born.  Maybe that's why I stood in the playpen chanting my favorite player's name over and over when he was at the plate (even if it came out "Eddie Soo!  Eddie Soo!" instead of Eddie Bressoud.)

In all seriousness, I do believe being a sports fan is somewhat genetic.  Why is it two people from the same family are so radically different in their perspectives?  The way one can be a total nerd that locks themselves inside to read comic books, play video games and is into sci-fi and anime while their sibling is the kid outside playing every sport (well) and can instantly calculate batting averages, ERAs or other complex statistical analysis of players?  It is something that psychologists study all the time, but I have to believe that there is something written in invisible ink on our DNA code that allows us to be interested in certain things.

For example, why is it I follow the Sox and Bruins but not the Celtics or Pats?  Why is it one of my siblings has the full-blown Boston sports fan genes and another has barely a polite but passing interest in sports at all while the rest fall in all shades in between?

So the next time you look at a sibling or relative and wonder where the hell they're coming from, ask yourself this, did perhaps they get some genetic trait - dominant or recessive - from someone way back when in the family tree... or maybe they are just an apple that didn't roll too far from one side.

Perhaps, like me and my kindergarten friend, some angel whispered in our ears and took us by the hand to lead us to the sports we love.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Last night, Amanda Palmer spoke to me (or why I wear red sparkly shoes)

It's true, last night Amanda Palmer spoke to me.  Of course she also spoke to the rest of the ballroom full of people at the Grub Street Boston event, but in many ways it felt like she spoke to me directly.

I'm not talking about my Q&A question about how can we teachers and writers can keep sparking creativity in the children for whom we are responsible.  I'm talking about her whole premise about how creative people are the ones that, at some point, notice the dots and start to connect them.  We are the ones who then get excited and want to share our observations and then are often the ones told to be quiet because now is not the time.  She used a metaphor of creative types alone in the garrett starving and struggling while the bustling marketplace is going on downstairs just outside the front door of our building.  She spoke of how "new" media is like yelling out the window to the market place to invite up friends and have them bring friends and sharing your work that way.

I jotted down her words: "Once you share your art, it's not about you any more."

There were points during her talk when I wanted to yell, "Get out of my head bitch!" but I didn't.  I listened instead because she was speaking to me.

But, more importantly, she was speaking to my sons, who sat next to me in the ballroom.  One is a writer, one is a musician and artist.  They both have had struggles in this world because they are the kids yelling "look at this, the patterns are emerging when you hold things at this angle!"  They are the ones being told to be quiet, this isn't the time.

The one who was listening the hardest, hanging on her every word was the one I have the deepest concerns about: my Pi guy.

Yesterday was a day where time, which has the job to keep everything from happening at once, failed to do that.

Pi and I have taken the Boston Marathon bombings hard in our own ways.

Last week I had my cathartic moment at the Dropkick Murphy concert.  For me, two weeks of holding back tears and pushing down the fear of everything came to a head when the Boston Police Gaelic Column took to the stage.  I felt the tears streaming down my face and, for the first time in two long weeks, I didn't try to stop them.  When the Murphys took to the stage and sang "For Boston" with them, I screamed the words while I jumped up and down and cried.  I cried through the next three numbers, particularly when the Irish step dancers took to the stage and I thought of a 6 year old girl who had just started step dancing lessons facing the challenge of life without her leg now.  The tears and the screaming were my release valve and I could finally breathe.

I know Pi was still struggling when I looked at the artwork he created this week.  I will say this, when I got home from school Friday and saw the image of a skater carrying his board that had "Keep Calm" written on the deck, it blew me away and I knew he was close to breathing again.

Yesterday was the first time I felt like Pi was breathing again.  We started by making cookies for our friends on the Roxy's Grill Cheese truck and the Mei Mei Street Kitchen truck and delivered them to them during the food truck throw down.  We stood in lines, we ate food and we voted for our friends before deciding to walk through Faneuil Hall to see if there were any free comic books at Newbury Comics.  Stopping in at Build a Bear, we mad bears, almost got thrown out of the store for putting pleather chaps on Rainbow Hug bear (seriously... who the hell thought pleather chaps were appropriate clothing item for your build a bear bear AND thought it was a good item when there was a Rainbow Hug bear in stock and people who act like 10 year olds?)

It was a day of laughing and breathing, so having it end with Amanda Palmer was fabulous.  It was the first time in almost 3 weeks that the day felt normal.

When the Q&A session started, he hesitated.  He looked and whispered, "I have a million questions, how do I pick one?"  He did ask her about what do you do to be heard.  She gave him great advice.  It wasn't the question he thought or meant to ask, but he felt great.

After we dropped his brother off at his apartment and were heading home it struck him and he asked, "What do I do if Amanda Palmer actually shows up at my spot outside the Fenway T stop after a game to listen to me?"

I thought for a second and replied, "Ask her to join you."

He nodded.

I could see him connecting dots in his head in that moment.  Amanda's words from earlier in the night struck me: "The impulse to connect the dots and share it makes you an artist."  I taught my kids that lesson through out their lives.  It's the lesson I give my students.  I know people tell me that I should be grown up about working with kids in school but I really do believe my job is not to teach them to conform so they pass the tests.  My job is to warp their little minds the same way guys like Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Ray Bradbury and so many others warp minds.  It's a lot easier to see the dots if your thinking is reformed from a linear view to an organic view.

Last week when the kids at school asked why I was wearing red sparkly sneakers I replied, "They make me smile and that makes me happy."

Most of them could understand that sentiment.  I'd like to think it gave some of them, particularly my 5th graders who do worry about fitting in, permission to take that chance and wear sparkly shoes, draw a lion, play the ukelele or whatever makes them smile and be happy, in spite of knowing the rest of the world expects of you.

Last night Amanda Palmer spoke to me and I am a richer person for it.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Sitting here in Limbo....

I fell asleep watching "Project Runway" (really, they cut Daniel?) and flipped to the news as I fell asleep on the couch... again.  Around 1:00-1:15 am or so I woke up to the sound of a siren buzzing past on the Mass Pike and the voices on the TV began to register: there was a major police action happening a few miles from my house.

My first reaction: fear.  I quietly crept upstairs to see if my 21 year old son was sleeping.  He was.  Had he been awake, I would have told him to get dressed and we would have driven to a family member's home on the South Shore.  So I crept back downstairs and called my husband and told him I was scared.

My husband is a good man and he stayed on the phone with me for an hour.  Yes he had to walk into an office bright eyed and bushy tailed.  Yes there was nothing he could do outside of talk to me.  Yes he was just as powerless as I was, but he was there and suddenly cowering under the blankets with a death grip on the cat didn't seem like a necessary thing to do anymore.

He pointed out that if the police were telling people not to stop for anyone and these guys had carjacked someone, then exposing ourselves to get to the relative safety 20 miles south was not necessarily a good idea.  He was right.

What he didn't say was me driving at night on little to no sleep is a bad combination and there are people who have witnessed why this is a bad idea and have (fortunately) lived to tell the tale.

As tired as I thought I was, the poor news anchor on one of the Boston station kept making gaffes that couldn't help but make me laugh and wish someone would bring her a cup of coffee or let her take a nap.  By the time I fell asleep around 4:30 this morning, I had slipped back into an ice cream sandwich eating angry woman... or so I thought.

Being ticked off about being stuck inside on a beautiful spring day with no half and half, no bacon and no cookies (but plenty of Guinness from the other night - so there's a bright spot) was nothing compared to a stupid tweet from an elected official.

My friends are reporting about armored enforcement folks knocking on their doors to make sure they're OK as they do door-to-door sweeps.  Friends in the neighborhoods being evacuated are checking in via social media so we all know they're OK.  Once again I'm giving thanks and wondering how this is happening here when I see this:

Is this asshole serious?

Well Rep. Bell, as a Bostonian that was scared but found my balance and center I say this:

Bite Me

If the son of a bitch had shown up on my doorstep, I suspect the police who are TRAINED to use an AR-15 would have been right behind him.  I know how to shoot and I'm a damn good shot but I never once wished last night, even in my darkest hour, that I had a gun.

I'm from Boston, I don't need a stinking gun.  I'm also educated and have something called common sense (you may have heard of that and I don't mean the pamphlet by Thomas Paine) to know that if you shoot a maniac wired with explosives, you're going down as well unless you're a sniper and can pick him off from a safe distance.

I know that the kick of an AR-15 would do more damage to me than it would to him because, again, not trained on that kind of weapon.  You think it's easy for a civilian to use an assault weapon?  May I refer you to a semi-realistic scene from one of my favorite movies, "True Lies."  There is one point where Arnold puts an Uzi in the hands of his still stunned wife and directs her on how to use it.  She steps forward, starts to shoot and realizes she can't control the weapon.  That, sir, is how most people would handle any assault weapon - with fear, trepidation and not the results they were expecting.

In fact, most people carrying any weapon would handle it the same way I would an assault weapon: with fear, loathing and bungling.

Now had you suggested I wished I had a .45 or some such... perhaps.  I haven't shot one in almost 30 years and I know I tend to flinch when I do shoot (thus I aim for the chest and know I'll probably get the target in the face) but then I would also have to process the taking of another human life.  Unlike most folks who tend to judge and act as if the Creator was cast in their image rather than the other way around, the taking of another's life does not interest me.

A more worth fantasy would be taking the Boston bomber, putting him on the starting line at Hopkinton and giving him a 10 second head start with a full pack of marathoners behind him.  Mowing him down with an AR-15 is cowardly and lazy.

So yes, I will continue to jump every time I hear a Statie's siren on the Mass Pike for a bit.  I will sulk that I am inside on a beautiful day instead of going for a run or riding my bike on a day because a coward who thinks violence is the answer.  Instead I will make cookies, play with the cats and laugh with my son at the sheer ridiculousness of life, the universe and everything.

Understand that I am #Bostonstrong.  I am not a coward and I don't need a gun.  I have a that is set up in such a way I should never need one.  Should I chose to move to Syria, Israel, Bosnia, Kabul, Johannesburg or any number of cities in this world, we'll talk.  Being trained in use of and owning an AR-15 would make sense then, but not here.

Not in Boston.

And certainly not when I have well trained military and law enforcement officials in place to take care of this stuff for me.

Because #Bostonstrong is more than a hashtag, it is what Bostonians are made of: piss and vinegar with a big enough heart to tip the scales to make us some of the best people on earth and don't you ever forget that simple fact.