Ice Storm

We awoke this morning to the news that today my kid’s school was canceled due to an historic ice storm in New England…and then I called my university and found it was also closed for the day, thus leaving the semester forever unfinished.  No leave taking means no closure.  The last day of class is a very bad day to have a weather cancellation.

Ah, well, the students, no doubt, are rejoicing that they have extra time to complete their final portfolio essays, and I suppose it will not kill me to be unable to grade papers this weekend!

So my kid and I were home today.  Hubster had to go to work, governor declared state of emergency or not, his office was open!  Anyway, kid and mom have been housecleaning and ventured out to go to the grocery store, as we are a bit low on food.  So we went to our favorite local store where they sell a lot of organic foods.

When we arrived, we found that their power was out, and they were cleaning the fish and meat sections and tossing out a bunch of perishable food.  There were only a few lights on in the large store — eerie and more than a little weird to be let inside.  But they were selling food to those who made it to their store.  We got what we needed, including the last carton of buttermilk in all of Massachusetts, no doubt.  Thank goodness — since my quick bread recipe that I wanted to try out this afternoon calls for 3/4 cups of buttermilk.  Eeghads, what would I do without that ingredient?!

As we walked to the checkout counter through the frozen food aisle, I stopped to take this photo with my phone camera.  They had saran wrapped the doors all shut so nobody can buy the food from the freezers.  Think of the enormity of the waste and financial loss.  Yikes.

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In the parking lot, I started chatting with an elderly gentleman who works at the store as a bagger.  He was on his way home.  He first asked me if my power was out at home (so nice!)  Then he went on to explain that by law the store has to throw out perishable food if the refrigeration or freezer is shut off for three hours or more.  The store will lose tens of thousands of dollars, and it will take quite a while to restock. In fact, the Governor says none of the power in the whole state  is likely to be back on until at the earliest MONDAY.

What a terrible waste, I thought.  I mean, of course, there is the safety issue and all.  But if only someone from the store had decided at 2 hours and 45 minutes into the power outage that they should donate all the perishables to the local food pantry (which still DOES have power and does not have enough food)….  Alas, instead everything is being dumped into the county incinerator.

It was quite an eye-opener for my son.  He usually relishes storms, especially when they mean no school, but I think he is beginning to understand how interconnected everything is.  His school friend’s power is out and their sump pump is not working, so their basement is flooding.  Lows in the teens tonight will mean a chilly evening for that family.  I’ve called to offer them a place to stay with us, but I can’t reach them. Friends from church just sent out a plea on the church listserv asking to borrow anyone’s generator to run their sump pump because their basement, too, is under water.

As the sun begins to hang lower and lower in the sky, I can feel the temperature dropping.  We enjoyed about an hour of sunshine this afternoon, during which time the tres and bushes tried to shed as much of their ice encasements as possible.  The outdoors were blindingly bright, shimmering with falling ice, glittering in the sun. Now everything has turned gloomy again. High winds and low temps are expected tonight.  I can only hope enough ice melted earlier to keep us from joining the one million households in the northeast currently without power.

Why my son is sad… :-)

“I’m sad, Mommy.” (Yes, he still calls me mommy though he has now turned eleven.  For a while he wanted to change to mom and I said fine, but it was too hard for him to make the shift, I guess.)

“I’m sad, Mommy. I’m going to have to wear glasses and have braces and… be BALD!”

Sweet little guy.  “Not all at the same time, honey.”  Yeh, like that helped.

Bubby is myopic, it turns out.  We bought his glasses on Tuesday night and will pick them up Friday after school.  It will be an adjustment.  They are nice glasses, dark blue rims with open bottom, Ray Bans, featherweight lenses.  But it will be strange to see him with glasses on all the time.  I suppose we will all get used to it.

The braces, well that’s not until next year, says the orthodontist.  Have to correct an overbite.  No big deal.  He has told me that he wants orange braces.  Hmmm.  That sounds pretty gross.  And it’ll clash with the blue glasses, won’t it?

As for the baldness, we were chatting along one day and me an my big mouth — I mentioned that baldness is actually passed down through the mother’s father.  My dad hasn’t had much hair since he was…hmmm…when did he start losing it, exactly.  Ah, well, bald is beautiful.

My son has the loveliest face and beautiful blue eyes, and he is tall and strong and has a killer smile.  I know he has nothing to worry about.  But he has become a tweener and suddenly these things matter. On the other hand…

Yesterday he told me he was “really excited” about getting his glasses.  He’s sure a trooper!

Walking the dog…while the guys run away

So I think I mentioned before that my son and husband have taken up running. This was part of a deal we made with my son, who wanted to quit playing travel team soccer this year after playing the sport since he was four (he’s almost eleven, so quitting is a big deal). We have all signed up for a road race on October 18 to help raise money for an orphanage in Kenya, and the guys have been training hard for their 5-mile run, and I’ve been, well, er, thinking a lot about training hard for the 5-k walk I’ll complete.

Anyway, our son really has set his heart on running as a sport now and is eagerly awaiting the day that he will be old enough to enter the Olympics. (He’s calculated when the first games will be held for which he will be eligible to compete–2016–and he’s been asking where those will take place.) We agreed to let him quit soccer (yes, we are that controlling as parents) but only if he had some other form of regular exercise. Let’s face it, one 45-minute session of gym each week at school just doesn’t cut it!

So I’m happy to say that the guys have worked up to running three miles now, at six a.m.! Pretty impressive, I think. Of course, for this to work now that my husband has a long distance to commute to a new job, we all have to get up at six a.m., and I need to take the dog for a walk almost immediately while the boys get ready. They pass the pup and me somewhere during the first half mile leg of my one-mile walk with dogga (I need exercise, too, right?!) We turn around at the entrance to the State Forest and head home to heat up some oatmeal for breakfast. At least I do the cooking. The dog does the worrying. You should see the pained look in her eyes when she sees that once again her beloved one (the hubster) is running, oh joy RUNNING towards her … only to pass her up yet again, and then disappear from view…

Oh, no, I must run faster…arrgh what is that thing poking me in the neck..ouch…Training Collar. Sit? SIT??!!! But alpha dog and that boy are running away, and I must join them. The pack is leaving without me. There could be WOLVES in that forest where they are headed! They may need my protection. I must…ouch. Sit. SIT? Fine. Make me turn towards home. I will just wait at the window until they come back, IF they come back. Oh, just thinking of what could happen out there… pains me. Hooooowwwwl…ouch. Damn training collar. SIT? Fine. Have it your way, but don’t come cryin to me when they are eaten by a coyote. Oh, my goodness. Are there coyotes out today. Sniff, sniff. Maybe I can sneak a peek back and still see them before they disa… Ouch. Sigh. Poor alpha dog. I loved him so. And it was so delightful to lick his sweaty face the last time he came home from running away from the wolves. Mmm. Salt. What’s that? A squirrel??? Ouch. Leave it? But it’s a SQUIRREL! What’s wrong with this lady and her jerky leash anyway??? Sit? SIT!!!!! Sigh.

The dog back when she was CUTE!

SIT???!!!!!!   Are you kidding?  Let’s GO!!!

Need a Good Laugh…? Click here…

I can take absolutely no credit for finding this clip.  Diane Aldred at Much of a Muchness posted it yesterday.  I merely am stealing it and re-posting it here because, frankly, it is just about the funniest thing I’ve seen ever.  And I am seriously considering watching this video every morning just to get me in the proper frame of mind for my day.

I dare you.  Just TRY to not laugh out loud.  You will fail.

See what I mean?  The complete abandonment and wild joy with which the child, Ethan, laughs is infectious.  My husband just came in while I was watching this on Diane’s site and he burst out laughing, too.  Psssttt.  Pass it on. Life is fun. Look around for it.  It’s there.  Go ahead.  Laugh.  🙂

In Sickness and in Health…

The hubster and kid have been wicked sick with some nausea virus for the last few days.  So far I’ve avoided it.  I am just far too busy to get sick.  My defenses are up and my armies of antibodies are on high alert.  After all, next week I go back to the classroom! 🙂

In any case, they are sick and I am taking care of them.  I’m also trying to do all those extras to help me to stay well.  Incessant hand washing. Extra zinc vitamin pill last night.  Emergen-C drink yesterday.  Water.  Peaches. Pesto.  (Yeh, right, you say. Is pesto a miracle cure?  I don’t know, but I had made some over the weekend, so I’ve been eating it this week. Hard to cook for one and pesto on some leftover noodles or bread — whole grain, of course — is yummy and easy.  Especially when the sight of most food makes my family want to, well, you know ….)

Anyway, I’ve been wondering what other folks do to try to stay well.  Any teachers out there?  What do you do to stave off the creepin cruds?  Folks with small children?  How do you stay healthy in the face of so many bodily fluids in your parental presence? For that matter, how do you stay SANE?

Sorry I have nothing more to say today.  My armies of white blood cells are on the move, and I’ve gotta keep movin, keep movin, keep movin. Left… right… left, right, left.

On Gratitude…

I’ve read two unrelated articles in the last day that have really made me stop and think. I’ve been in mega self-improvement mode for the last year, and two weeks from tomorrow my sabbatical ends and I go back to teaching full time, so I’m trying to tie up some loose ends.

Looking back over the last year, I can see that I’ve made a lot of progress in several areas of family and personal life. There have been some lingering issues that are unresolved, of course, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on how far I’ve/we’ve come:

1) My husband and I have a one-on-one meeting each Sunday to discuss any relationship or personal issues and devote some time to maintaining the health of our marriage.

2) On Saturday mornings, the three of us (me, hubster, and son) hold a family meeting to give each of us, and especially our son, a chance to air concerns or make requests. We also use that time to go over our week’s schedule.

3) I lost twenty-five pounds and have kept it off for months now. I have finally recognized that I have a weight problem whether I am currently overweight or not. So I need to be vigilant and keep my physical health front and center. Stress eating is most likely to occur if I do not take time to plan and cook decent food. So I absolutely must make time for planning and preparing. So far, so good. But I continue to go to weight Watchers each month and weigh in and attend a meeting.

4) I started reading again. Not for my job. I read as an English Professor a lot. But I mean reading for pleasure and for enlightenment. I started a book club at my church, killing the proverbial two birds with one stone by forming this club within our “Women’s Group.” There was such a women’s group at our church in the past, but right now our book group is it. The best things about doing the book group this year are getting to read and discuss some terrific books and getting to know these awesome women. I’ve never belonged to a book group before. I highly recommend it!

5) I am exercising more. Okay, not as much as I’d like to or need to, but more than before. And I’m okay with that. It’s improvement. I’ve added regular walking into my fall schedule (along with time to plan, prep food, and read), so I am sure to have the time to exercise if I merely stick to the plan.

6) I have become a writer. Early on in this blog I wondered if I were a “real” writer if I did not write every day. The funny thing is that the more I wrote on this blog, the more I felt like a real writer. The more I wrote, the more I thought of my life in terms of what I would write about it. I love writing now as never before. I’m not sure how I’ll fit blogging into my schedule this fall. But I’m going to try to find a way because it keeps me thinking in terms of words on the page and helps me produce raw material. I have not scheduled time in my week this fall for blogging, but I have, however, scheduled in time for my creative writing. I’ve NEVER done that before. When school started, I used to stop all creative or scholarly writing. I’m not willing to do that anymore.

7) Most recently I’ve also gone a long way toward helping my family to reduce its ecological footprint in terms of food consumption. We had already joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm a couple of years ago. We enjoy getting a share of fresh veggies direct from the farm each week of the growing season. Now I’ve also signed us up for a pasture-raised meat CSA and a fruit CSA. I also just discovered that not five miles from us there is a local dairy (with organic cows) that delivers milk in those old-fashioned glass milk bottles! I still haven’t figured out a good source for other food products like grains, but I’m getting there. It feels SO good NOT to feel guilty about contributing to global warming by eating non-local, highly processed and over-packaged food. We’re not yet where I want us to be, but much improvement on this front!

Now, back to some things left unfixed and the two articles I read.

A lot is unfixed. Such is life. But one thing that I have noticed this year and that really bothers me is a certain bitterness I have been feeling about some things that have happened to me and to loved ones in the last few years. I have also, the more I learn about the state of the world, become more anxious about our planet’s future than I ever have been before. I have been working hard this year to try to find a way to let go of the rancor and fear and to embrace a sense of peace. I am naturally optimistic and positive, but I’ve become less so in recent years. This sabbatical year I have been looking for a way to regain my healthier outlook on life, to restore balance.

So, anyway, yesterday I read this article in the Sept. 2008 issue of Body and Soul magazine: “Thank-You Therapy” by Terri Trespicio. The title may sound like it’s a trite essay, but it contained the right info to help me. Here’s what I learned:

(a) A study showed that people who wrote five things for which they were grateful each week in a journal felt better about their lives than people who kept track of their problems or just kept a record of events. The gratitude group also was healthier physically and, get this, spent more time exercising — up to 80 minutes more a week! Further, people who kept a daily gratitude journal for two weeks were more likely to “offer emotional support and help to others” than those keeping the other journals.

(b) A study showed that the earlier truism that people have a set point for happiness (a predetermined level of happiness that pretty much stays the same over the long term regardless of circumstances) is not exactly true. In fact, they found that about half of a person’s happiness comes from genetics (their set point) and 10% from circumstances, but a full 40% comes from “intentional activity,” our habits, essentially. The author makes the point that you can actually “bump up your happiness set point” if you commit to a regular practice of gratitude. Gratitude can be learned. We get better at it if we practice it. Hmmm.

(c) The article gives a lot of examples of how to practice gratitude. Here are some of the ones I most liked: “enjoy a mindful meal,” reflecting with gratitude on the people who helped bring that food to your table; “start a gratitude wall” by writing things for which you’re grateful on stickie notes and putting them on a wall (I’m thinking of doing this on my office window); “pay a thank you visit” to someone you appreciate ; “flip your complaints” (i.e., every time you complain stop and think of something for which you are grateful); “set an alarm” to go off during the day and when it does, stop what you are doing and focus on something for which you are grateful; “count blessings, not sheep” before bed; for five minutes write “a bliss list” of as many things that you can remember for which you are grateful and keep the list in your purse or pocket to look at when you are waiting in lines.

The other article appeared in the UU World in Spring 2007, but I just got around to reading it this morning: “The Heart of Our Faith: Gratitude Should Be the Center of Unitarian Universalist Theology” by Galen Guengerich. This article clinched the whole gratitude thing for me, providing another reason for cultivating gratitude in my own and our family life. Here’s an excerpt that hits at the heart of gratitude as a religious principle:

… A sense of awe and a sense of obligation, religion’s basic impulses, are both experiences of transcendence, of being part of something much larger than ourselves.

The feeling of awe emerges from experiences of the grandeur of life and the mystery of the divine. We happen upon a sense of inexpressible exhilaration at being alive and a sense of utter dependence upon sources of being beyond ourselves. This sense of awe and dependence should engender in us a discipline of gratitude, which constantly acknowledges that our present experience depends upon the sources that make it possible. The feeling of obligation lays claim to us when we sense our duty to the larger life we share. As we glimpse our dependence upon other people and things, we also glimpse our duty to them. This sense of obligation leads to an ethic of gratitude, which takes our experience of transcendence in the present and works for a future in which all relationships—among humans, as well as between humans and the physical world—are fair, constructive, and beautiful.

Gratitude. Yup. That’ll work, I think. When one is filled with gratitude, there is no room for bitterness. When one is deliberately grateful, one turns away from fear. When one feels ones extreme good fortune, one works willingly and gladly for the good of others. When one is thankful, one is FULL of thanks, not rancor or fear. Not that I am FULL of rancor and fear, but I’d rather squeeze out those emotions and make room for thanks.

Now, I’ve got two weeks before school starts to try to get a habit of gratefulness started!

More Writing Assignments for Kids: Writing Under Pressure

Yeh, so after I returned from Scandinavia, it was back to work for that kid o’ mine! I’m a regular crack the whip kinda mom. SO MEAN! Yes, I re-instituted the three-hour work cycle that I was having him complete earlier in the summer.

Anyway, this week it occurred to me that since my son was mostly having trouble in his writing with the first draft part, especially writing quickly, that I ought to give him some practice just churning out some short essays. SO … for the last three days, I’ve given him a timed writing assignment each day. No revision, no great length of time allowed for writing (30 minutes). Just think for a couple of minutes and write like the wind.

Here are the topics I gave him:

(1) It is better to be safe than sorry. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? (I got this one from the SSAT website as a sample question — in fact, they sparked the idea in me of doing this kind of assignment.)

(2) Is war ever justified? Is yes, under what circumstances? If no, then why not?

(3) Is it better to buy organic food from really far away or local food that is not organic?

I was shooting for questions with no right answer so he would feel safe in giving his own opinions. And I found it fascinating to read his ideas. For instance, war against aliens who are taking over the planet is acceptable. “It’s clearly self-defense.” Oh, and it is better to buy local conventional than global organic because we have to sacrifice our own individual health for the good of the planet, though he’d “rather have both organic and local.”

Isn’t that last one intriguing, though? Clearly my child doesn’t yet understand how organic is better for the planet, as well as for our bodies. But his answer was pretty revealing, I thought. I had no idea that he held so dear the idea of individual sacrifice for the common good. Surprising.

The best part is that I was able to tell him that I had no idea how I myself would answer, so I wanted to hear his thoughts. As keeps happening lately, he blew me away. Who is this little man?

Welcome Back: On Loving Our Diverse and Complicated Country

The audience sat hushed in the oldest church in Lowell this morning. Even the baby near the back who had been fussing for most of the concert was silent. Then the familiar strains began of our national anthem. It was the final song of an hour-long concert. As I looked at the faces of the children, playing in this summer orchestra program for kids in our relatively impoverished and highly diverse city, I saw the face of America. Maybe more accurately, I saw the face of the world. Children of immigrants all, they played their instruments with concentration, skill, and joy. And I cried.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not really patriotic. I believe that patriotism is a dangerous stance. I fear it causes more harm than good most times. But this morning in that 184-year-old church, I wept. I felt so proud to belong to a country that has welcomed immigrants from every continent in every century since our founding, a place where my ancestors were welcomed when they risked all to leave Norway, Sweden, Ireland, England, Italy, and who knows where else.

Is there anti-immigrant sentiment in the US these days? You bet there is. Is there racism and discrimination? Quite obviously so. Still…there is a man running for president whose father was African. Obama is a first generation American, the son of an immigrant and he could end up holding our highest public office. Our country may have have it’s problems (no argument there), but we are in many ways still a welcoming place for newcomers — at least we ahve that intention and potential.

Like in my city, for instance. We face a lot of challenges here in this historic mill town. From its inception, though, Lowell has always welcomed immigrants. While it’s true that these newcomers generally live in the most degraded part of town when they first come, they often begin to improve their lot well within one person’s lifetime, if not sooner. As each new wave of immigrants has swept into the city — Irish, French Canadian, Russian, Greek, Southeast Asian (especially Cambodian), West African, Caribbean Latino, etc. — they have worked hard and moved out of “the acre” to make room for the next group of arrivals.

And there were these immigrants’ children and children’s children at the concert today, my son among them. Just having returned from Scandinavia and having spent the last three weeks thinking constantly about my immigrant ancestors, I heard and saw the concert with this filter in place.

So I made it home fine from my trip to Scandinavia. Our journey the last day was long and extended even longer due to a violent nor’easter storm in Boston that closed Logan airport. We finally arrived two hours late. At the immigration counter, we waited an especially long time. In our line before us, there was a family that looked to be Indian or Pakistani. The US government let these good folks enter our country, though not without a lot of checking and double checking and triple checking and quadruple checking. But after all that, the officer said, “Welcome to the United States.”

“What was your business in Sweden and Norway?” he asked me when I went up to the window after the family walked away to baggage claim.

I was there doing research for a book about my immigrant ancestors.

“Really?”

Yup. It was a great trip. Gotta lot accomplished.

“Okay. Welcome back.”

Welcome. Yes….

I get frustrated with the erosions of civil liberties and basic civil rights happening these days in the US. I am infuriated that we went to war in Iraq — a senseless and brutal act. I see so much that is broken or damaged in this country, so much work to do that it is overwhelming at times. But I also know that our diverse and complicated country has held and continues to hold out a beautiful promise to millions of people. They are welcome. Let us live up to that promise.

Happy 4th of July

8:45 pm. Working hard on a manuscript due back to the publisher before I leave for Sweden and Norway on Monday. Then it hits me. ARRGH.. It’s the 4th of July and my husband is doing homework upstairs for his IT class, and my kid is sitting in the basement watching tv alone. Oops.

Frantic five minutes of running upstairs to ask, “Honey, does it bother you that it’s the fourth of July and our son is sitting alone in the basement?” Yup. “Maybe we should go down to the river and see the fireworks?” Are you sure they are going to have fireworks this year? Maybe you should check the paper.

Run, run, run to the basement to grab my new laptop with wireless internet. Fireworks to start at 9 p.m. Quick look at the computer clock: 8:59. Run back upstairs and tell hubbie, “YUP, starts at 9. Let’s go.” Hubbie shuts down his computer, and I run to the basement door yelling for my son to come quick. He arrives in the kitchen breathless with a worried look. “Let’s go see the fireworks.” Relief floods his face and then a big grin.

We fly to the car and take a “back road,” which is quickly clogged with cars. Edging out to the main road, we pull over as soon as a space opens up, all the while watching the beginning of the show over our shoulders. Then we scamper across the street, where hardly any cars are moving anyway, so jaywalking is fine.

Kaboom!

Crackle, crackle, crackle.

Swoosh.

BANG!

echo, echo, echo…

Kaboom, twang, whizzzzz

pop, pop, pop, popppppety, pop

BA BOOOOOOM!

Amazing how strong the echoes are when fireworks are set off so close to a river. Tons of people, including two young men who almost got into a fist fight two feet in front of us as we watched the fireworks through the trees.

They set off the pyrotechnics from the grounds of my university, actually. One year a while back we went to see the display from right where they set it off. Our son would have NOTHING to do with that, thank you very much. He does NOT appreciate loud noises, and fireworks have only recently become of interest to him (starting last summer when he got to see his uncle’s fireworks show).

I think he enjoyed the holiday at least a little. Fireworks were good. At least he got to stay up way past bedtime, since it took us thirty minutes to drive the mile home…. Oh, and I found out after the fact that my husband had decided today was a good day to teach our child how to light a match. It’s probably time for him to learn. He’s ten. He’ll be careful. I guess he was pretty psyched about it. He even lit the b-b-q. That kid’s sure growing up.

Happy independence day…

Nana is Coming, Nana is Coming: The Power of Writing, part 2

Just found out that my son’s letter to his grandmother “worked.” Nana is coming to visit for a week while I’m away in Scandinavia. As my husband finished up the conversation on the phone with Nana, my son whispered to me, “I CONVINCED her, Mommy!” Ah, the power of writing.

After we got off the phone, he was so shocked to discover that she had no plans to visit us until he wrote her that letter. “Really?” he asked wide-eyed. Seriously. Writing is a powerful tool. “Cool.”

Got a deadline for an article due tomorrow, so I can’t dawdle in the blogosphere. Just wanted to say it again. Writing can make a difference. The more chances we give ourselves and our children to experience that power, the better.

Oh, … and Nana, if you read this, THANK you! My child is so utterly and completely thrilled. Sorry that I won’t get to see you myself, but I’ll be resting easier knowing Nana is there watching over my guys.