Tom Menino and the Ride Not Ridden

October 30th, 2014 No comments »

nicoletomDefinitely on my to-do list and almost as surely not on his, I wanted that promised bike ride from Hyde Park to City Hall, maybe with Steve Murphy too. It would be the old guys cycling to town.

Like so many in Boston, I knew Thomas Michael Menino. He died this morning at only 71 from cancer. He must be the most loved person in town. Among the many things he did to earn that affection was meeting and knowing so many of us. I’ll surely post a few vignettes.

Today it’s a bicycling story. As a blogger and podcaster, I commented about him and to him. He allegedly was prickly and overly sensitive to criticism, but I never experienced that. He was a guest on my Left Ahead show several times, like here. I’d see and chat with him at political, cycling and similar events at City Hall, at restaurant openings and tree lightings in our Hyde Park neighborhood, and of course annually at his July 12th block party to celebrate his ascendancy to acting mayor in 1993 when Ray Flynn flew away to the Vatican.

It became a bit of a running joke with us when we talked about biking together from our neighborhood to his office. (The image here is one of him at a bike event in 2008 [I think] in his silly cycling outfit with Director of Boston Bikes Nicole Freedman.)

As it turned out, long-term City Council member and president from 2011 into 2014 Steve Murphy also lives in Hyde Park, jut a couple of blocks from me on Fairmount Hill. I asked him whether he biked. He said he had a mountain bike and would be up for riding to City Hall if I’d arrange it.

Menino too was passively accepting of the concept. Before he broke an ankle bone and had other health troubles, he had a two-wheel epiphany. Like so may locals, he had been hostile to bikes but got one as a gift from a City Councillor and thought about the pluses of cycling. He rode around HP and in the gym. He hired that bike czarina and actively championed her good road work. He is a hero to cyclists.

Inariably when we’d meet, I’d talk cycling too and began to ask about when the the old guys (in fairness to Steve, I”ll note that he’s about a decade younger than I) could spin into town. The first couple of times he’d say that I’d be too fast for him, but I said we’d all ride together and it was really only about 10 miles. He joked that Murphy would have a heart attack in the effort but that we’d do the trip as soon as he was healthy enough.

Well, I kept checking but he never got healthy enough. He had lung and gut problems and then a diagnosis of advanced cancer from some unknown source. I would have enjoyed that ride and suspect he would have too.

 

 

 

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A Bigger Boston? Yes, Says Mayor Walsh

October 15th, 2014 No comments »

At the less dewalsh1pressed and threatening Dudley Square, I elbowed into the jammed-to-sweating announcement this afternoon. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh opened the first of three outposts of his Office of Financial Empowerment. (Click the link to catch key details and the players.)

The big idea is that many of what our Sen. Elizabeth Warren would say are living on the ragged edge of the middle class (her fave expression and an apt one here) don’t have to be. They can learn smarter ways to manage money, particularly with:

  • financial education and coaching
  • credit counseling and “repair” of credit score
  • workforce development, education and training
  • job search support services
  • tax prep and earned-income tax credit guidance

Most of the funding for the effort comes from the United Way and LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation). Boston isn’t the first to get one of these. Locally Lynn, Lawrence and Chelsea already have the the program should open a total of 10 here. Cities in other states have theirs working.

What caught my attention most though was Walsh’s comments about growing our static burg. We’ve hovered around 600,000 for several decades, recently edging up to maybe 636.000. Note that 60 years ago, the population was above 800,000.

Walsh would like to see the actual city above 700.000. He said today that a big factor there would be providing more and more affordable housing. That would be 50,000 to 60.000 units to support the growth.

It’s no coincidence that a couple of candidates whom Walsh defeated in his mayoral run proposed similar goals and figures. The fascinating part of today’s gathering was that he has not backed away from the goal.

I’ll try to get him to come on Left Ahead again to detail his plans.

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Millions of Adrian Petersons

September 17th, 2014 No comments »

First the good forecast — pro football player Adrian Peterson caught causing major permanent harm to at least two of his children newly exposes this nearly ubiquitous problem. That could well mean abusers will confront their lack of self-control, absence of breeding, and dearth of compassion. At home, in bars, at work and in all media, those who take hand or belt or stick to a child — a weaker person subject to their physical, emotional and economic power — will hear and know of their failure of humanity.

I liken it to the shift in racism I saw and heard in the 60s and 70s in the South. Even in public before strangers, good old boys began to call and ridicule each other for using the N* word or making racist comments. That signified a major cultural shift.

Also, let us not think wait-till-your-father-gets-home. Sociological evidence from many studies belabors the obvious. In most homes, those dear mothers are the common daily abusers. Traditionally they were home with the kids while dad worked.Now that both parents are likely to work or the children are with a single mother, the dynamic is the same. The mom is there when children actually misbehave or as likely, run afoul of mother’s bad mood.

I’d written several times on my political blog about the loony parents-rights movement, like here and here. As a group and individuals, they claim that not only it is their right but their duty mandated by God to beat defenseless children.

We can’t reason with anyone so demented. Likewise, when I hear someone say, “I was beaten as a child and it didn’t hurt me,” I am wont to say, “Other than turn you into a child abuser yourself.” Honestly!

I think f the pop voyeuristic version, America’s Funniest Home Videos. That show is the wort of our culture. In the main, those clips are not at all funny, rather sadistic. Seeing and hearing children, animals and the befuddled get hurt and humiliated is low-brow slapstick at best. The schadenfreude involved is dreadful.

I don’t want Peterson beaten with sticks as he did to the helpless boys. No one deserves that. Likewise, no parent should ever slap a child, particularly in the face. Doing that leaves emotional damage as well as pain.

Do not hit any child, not with your hand or any object. If you must grip something, get a grip on your puerile emotion.

 

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Living out 17-year-old’s words

September 13th, 2014 1 comment »

high school yearbook text and imageTruth be told, my high-school-yearbook description referred to ovines not congregants. We got to write our own and in my 17-year-old cleverness, I included “A future shepherd.”

This Saturday, I have performed my first marriage since my ordination. Those who follow my original marriage-equality and political blog, Marry in Massachusetts know I have already officiated at (solemnized in MA lingo) five weddings.

The others have all been under MA General Law Ch. 207 § 3 9,which lets any adult petition the governor’s office for the right to marry one couple in one town on a specific day, one such per year. Unless they discover in their cursory look at that you are trying to do something nefarious, like an immigration scam, you get approved.

I’ve enjoyed the formality, elegance and touch of theater in being a one-day solemnizer. Petitioning the governor, indeed.

This time an aunt of a family friend asked me to perform the ceremony. Not sure of the timing and a wee fatigued of the one-day process, I figured it was time for the online ordination. I could be ready to marry folk at will without waiting one to three weeks to get the solemnization certificate in hand. That has to go with the signed marriage license to remain on file at the issuing city or town hall.

Nominally, the Universal Life Church Monastery ordination is free. You don’t have to attend divinity school and don’t need to fellowship or intern. Practically though, depending on where you want to conduct marriages, funerals and such, you have a couple of tasks.

The first is getting the right materials. The ULC, known to itself as The Monastery, does ordain for free, but profits from its store. You’ll want proof of ordination and such. The various packages of range from $30 to $100 and include all manner of certificates, wallet cards and even parking placards. The shipping fee is $12 to $18 as well.

I got caught by not knowing that my state is one that requires a separate registration process to perform marriages. After any ordination in any recognized church (including the Monastery), you need to apply to the secretary of the commonwealth, and include a copy of the ordination certificate and an original letter of good standing from the church. Oops, all of a sudden there’s a wait of a week and another $30 for letter and shipping/handling.

The secretary’s office didn’t inform me I was set. However, I called a week after applying and learned I was on the approved list.

By the bye, in most states, you don’t need the additional registration. If you decided to go The Monastery way, you should check with your state, probably the secretary of state, before ordering your goods. You might suppose the ULC site would have a table with per-state requirements. I haven’t found that.

Part of me has long been cynical about online ordination. I knew of folk who did this mail order in days before the web as well. Yet over the years I’ve also noticed that many ministers are either self-ordained (called directly by God to ministry). Others are instant clerics by mutual agreement. I think of one megachurch here in Boston where the father self-ordained, then promoted himself to bishop and then named his son as a bishop as well. They’ve had decades of success, industrial level.

Certainly The Monastery at least offers a veneer of approval, control and record keeping. Also after all, performing marriage or funeral ceremonies is not exactly the more demanding counseling aspect. Moreover, while most ministers have one or two wedding they do repeatedly, I customize the ceremony and vows for each. I’ve had good reviews…satisfied customers.

The humor to me is that over the years several ministers, some UUs as I am, and others, have asked whether I am a minister, then whether I have considered becoming one. They tend to say I am suited to the profession. Future shepherd indeed.

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Die or Grow Beyond Fear

September 2nd, 2014 No comments »

swimLake, ocean, pool or river can be inviting, calming or terrifying. For the latter camp, a solid NYT piece with vid of an man who just had to get over his wet anxiety brought back pubescent times.

First know I’m a water guy, as in:

  • My water-safety instructor (WSI) mother taught me to swim in the South Branch of the Potomac at Romney WV
  • My sister and I became instructors and lifeguards
  • I coached a summer swim team two years
  • I was on my high school, then freshman college swim team
  • I got all the Boy Scout aquatics merit badges
  • I swam at beaches from Florida (yucky hot) to Maine (my God! cold) and lakes all over

Water is my buddy. I meditate while swimming several times each week and I never feel as graceful as in the water.

Yet I was surprised at 12 or just 13 to have the head swimming teacher at a man-made lake in Virginia ask for help. My sister and I were taking life-saving classes and killing time afterward swimming and diving. We would wait until our mother, who ran the local Red Cross chapter, to come by and drive us home.

Turns out the teacher had a lot more in mind that just getting me to help her. What she really wanted and cannily figured out was that I could teach some gray hairs to swim.

Had she put it like that I’m pretty sure I would have said I wasn’t able. In no small part both the times and central Virginia locale made that unlikely. I was a Ma’am and Sir, respect-elders boy. It would seem to betray the natural order for a kid to teach maybe 8 folk in the 60s and 70s anything.

Yet, the teacher knew my mother, sister and me. She knew that many of the Red Cross volunteers aged up to 80 or so had me call them by their first names from when I was 6 or 7. Yes, I was polite and attentive, had a large vocabulary and never ever would have called them by another other than Mr.., Miss or Mrs. (last name) unless they insisted. They did.

I was also a water prize, getting my advanced-swimmer card young. I was my mother’s son. So maybe it wasn’t so crazy to ask me to help.

I didn’t know any of the 8 or so men and women in my instant class. In retrospect I guess the median age was 72. The teacher introduced us and said I’d show them how to get used to the water. Then she left.

Well, I was a sincere little boy and that’s just what I did. I’d bet they were both charmed a lad their grandchildren’s age was in charge and comfortable that if I could do this water stuff they had a shot.

I was in for my own shock when they told me, almost to a one, that they were afraid to put their faces in the water. They never had in the 70-some years. They were born at the very end of the 19th or very beginning of the 20th Century. Shower baths were rare. they would bath in a tub but never do as I was used to — shampooing and plunging my whole head underwater repeatedly while rinsing, repeating. They said they wet washcloths and used them on their faces.

That was not a chapter in the WSI manuals at home and in the chapter buildings. I read those on the sofa or on the toilet. When I went into a new level of swimming class I already knew what we were supposed to do and generally had already mastered it on my own. Yet, afraid of water? Never put your face in water in your entire life?

Well, it turns out the clever teacher had it right. My job was to teach this group to be okay in the water. By then it never seemed possible to do less and maybe a lot more. The students were certainly willing.  I got them bobbing, splashing water on their heads and faces as they stood in thigh-high water, and eventually putting their faces down in water while keeping control by blowing air through their noses. We went on as I had learned in my first few levels of classes to back floating, front floating, using a kickboard and basic rhythmic breathing. We did dog-paddling and backstroke.

I didn’t have time to teach them how to swim, as in how I swam. They let me know how far we had come though. At the end of one class, they told me together that they felt they had learned to fly. They had been afraid of water their whole lives and now were able to float, to do basic strokes, and to breathe out with their faces in the water was mastering a whole new element, just water instead of air.

Since then, I’ve taught photography, writing, various aspects of computer use, and management. Apparently I’m good at doing that, but never since that lake have my students compared what they learned to mastering a whole new element. When students and teachers are in it together, there is elegance, beauty and fulfillment. That class is still my touchstone for a splendid job.

I hadn’t thought of those happy moments in a long time, until the NYT piece. I was with Attis Clopton all along. That’s the thrill of learning at its best.

 

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All Hail Mable

August 26th, 2014 No comments »

mableSRBShe spelled her name Mable or Mabel on her caprice. No matter, my maternal grandmother was a hell of a baker.

Come to write that, I don’t believe I ever heard her use hell or damn, much  less the vulgarian terms we hear on TV or even from tots today. Still, she was well known in the little mountain town in the Potomac Highlands of eastern West Virginia for her pies, cobblers and particularly her breads.

Come a summer hot spell, as we have now in Boston, the visceral mnemonic, as relentless and insistent as Proust’s madeleine, differs among us. Some see themselves as lizards, warming their blood in the sun. Others hie and hide in bars with loud companions and cold drinks. It’s the beach or porch person to person.

To me, it’s Mable’s salt-rising bread.The misnamed loaf really requires sun and heat, 90° or so to make the starter, then raise the dough and loaves in two sessions of a two to three-day process. In my many summers in Romney, I knew what was up when I saw the jar with the starter, then the huge bowl covered with a towel on the back lawn.

For the misnomer, the bread has very little sat and the salt has nothing of moment to do with its rising. You might call it potato-rising bread or perhaps just another form of pain au levain. Its yeast comes from what’s in the air, a pinch of baking soda, the potato starch and just a little sugar as a catalyst.

It is a wonder and a delight — once you transcend the aroma of the starter and the baking bread. Mable’s recipe is from one of her handwritten cards in her yellow index-card recipe box. It starts “At noon, slice 2 potatoes into a jar…” and continues with understood steps (for example, she writes “make loaves” but doesn’t bother with the obvious grease loaf pans and coat with corn meal, which you should know), and inexact quantities (such as “fat the size of an egg). After all, her notes were for herself.

Regardless, I had my own issues with martinet Mable who was co-host to my sister and me for summers into our high-school years, along with Granddad, her husband. I never quibbled with her baking and loved seeing the big bowl on the lawn.

The yeast concoction produces a froth with what her recipe writes is “a peculiar odor.” It continues that after you’ve prepared the potato starter and waited for a day, “If it doesn’t have the foam and odor do not use it.”

The peculiar odor indicated what makes the yeast from next to nothing and what produces the splendid taste, particularly when sliced very thinly and toasted. The taste is intense and unique. Mable revisits whenever the hot days inspire me to open the yellow box.

 

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Urban critters

August 20th, 2014 No comments »

We see coyotes, raccoon, opossums and such in our part of Boston. I scouted out a few more today at Forest Hills Cemetery and the in-town Audubon nature center.

In Lake Hibiscus in the middle of the graveyard, I was surprised to see a pretty big snapping turtle (surely undocumented immigrant). It was pretty creepy. It came from maybe 30 feet off-shore and surfaced just below me by the tiny rocky beach. As I moved about 100 feet along the shore, it tracked me. I began to feel like it was viewing me as a two-legged fish…a snack.

The lake has regular turtles, cormorants, and of course the usual ducks and geese.

A short distance down Walk Hill, I trotted the fox trail (el sendero del zorro on the sign). The hen turkeys did the turkey trot faster. They did not want to chat or play.

Pix clix: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If it opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button or command to return.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

 

Cormorants in the cemetery lake were chowing down on little fish. corm1
corm5 Several cormorants used the boulders as bases to flap and dry off.
The snapping turtle seemed to find me fascinating…maybe edible.

Less spookily, was he used to someone on land tossing bread?

snap3
smallerturtle The shiny to-scale turtles like the warming rocks in the cemetery lake.
The wild turkey hens were not happy with my being on their trail. They quickly repaired elsewhere. turkeyleave
snap2 [Jaws theme here] The snapper followed me along the shore and several times stuck its anaconda neck out to get closer.
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Carp Anglers?

August 7th, 2014 No comments »

I have good spam filters on  my blogs as well as email accounts. I do scan the trapped messages, as much for amusement as the likelihood of an error.

Today, one here intrigued me. Freezers for fishing boats led with, “Here are a few very big secrets every thinking carp angler who wants to keep ahead of the crowd needs to know.”

I”m not sure why the spammer thought my personal, non-sports fishing blog was a good place to plant such an ad. I suppose it was non-thinking effort, a shotgun blast of shill. That inane spam probably hit hundreds, maybe thousands, of blogs through automation. Some surely don’t filter well or at all.

A quick Google search returned 40 results currently embedded in blogs with that exact phrase. I don’t know how many of those converted to fish-freezer clicks and sales. I do know that such frequent attempts keep me filtering this and my other blogs. I don’t want to read an blog’s comments only to run across such carp crap.

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Heir B&B

August 6th, 2014 No comments »

Sure enough, you can stay at Suzy Cunningham’s on Gravel Lane in Romney, West Virginia. That means little to folk, even those who live in Hampshire County.

SuzysWhen I was thinking about a trip to my only constant home of my childhood, I was very surprised thato Airbnb had anything at all in Romney. I was very pleased to see that the Gravel Lane Guest House was one I knew well.

I tuck a cropped image of it here.

I have to wonder how many of these deep-memory/ghost houses are in the Airbnb catalog.

The back of her house shared the yard with the back of my grandparents’. Suzy and my grandmother, Mable Michael, were best friends for many decades. Suzy was maybe a decade older, likely born at the end of the 19th Century and they could chat long enough to drive all the rest of us away.

My grandfather, Bill Michael, grew patches as he called his massive gardens, every summer. Mable and Bill would play a little vegetable or fruit game frequently. She say, “Bill, I could use a few pole beans.” That was code for I’m ready to can and freeze. He’d put me to work helping him harvest several bushels. Likewise if was fruit, he’d drive up the adjacent mountains and return with huge wooden baskets of fruit.

Then the community gathered under the massive maple tree between the two houses. Suzy and Mable, other friends, relatives and any kid who didn’t hide would be put to work. We’d shell peas, string beans (remember when they had strings you had to strip?), and Lima beans. Adults got the heavy metal lawn chairs and kids squeezed onto picnic-table benches or sat on the grass.

Hours of food prep led to hours of washing and bagging or boiling and sealing jars. After a few of these episodes, the whole basement wall of shelves became stocked with several layers of beans, tomatoes, beets, picked cukes and more. One of Mable’s two basement freezers had labeled, dated freezer bags and Tupperware. (The other freezer was for meat; her son often brought by a butchered half deer too.)

My grandmother often used me as courier. I’d ferry things to or from Suzy. Mable was the great baker, so it was often a pie, cobbler or bread loaf from Marsham Street to Gravel Lane. Suzy always insisted that I come in and sit. The curtains were half drawn or more. The living room should have had the feeling of a horror movie, but Suzy was ever cheerful and every visit offered really good hard candy.

For her part, Suzy liked Mable’s front porch. It faced the mountains. We saw the apple and peach orchards. More impressively, we could watch the rain. It was a science lesson as the rain clouds formed behind the mountains, gathering and darkening as they crested. We knew what kind of rain Romney would get by seeing it fall first on the orchards. It was the weather version of a phalanx of soldiers marching shoulder to shoulder straight ahead.

Suzy even had me bring her favorite rocker to Mable’s porch. It had upholstery like a carpet bag and elaborate curved arms carved like swan heads and necks.

Suzy died long ago and Mable maybe 15 years later. My grandmother inherited and used the swan rocker. The massive maple gave into old age, no more to host the 17-year cicada invasion. That was a highlight of one youthful summer watching them push out of their shells,which were left clinging to the bark.

Suzy was not a relative, but then again was at least as good and familiar. Her house was not ours, but we were always welcome…without knocking. Like most of my grandmother and mother’s friends, she insisted I call her by her first name. As a Southerner, my default was Ma’am or Sir to anyone older than I, at least any adult. Somehow I was on a first-name basis with many who were 50 to 80 years older than I. That worked for all of us.

So seeing Suzy’s house in the catalog (only $95 a night for two and a little more for three or four) was homey in a commercial way. Over the years, the house was lightened up considerably. The beautiful wood floor aren’t smothered in oriental rugs. The appliances aren’t the creepy post-WWII colors and on and on.

But its Suzy’s house and when we visit next, I intend to stay there.

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JP tries Porchfest

July 20th, 2014 1 comment »

Jamaica Plain did a fine job copying other such events in its first JP Porchfest yesterday. 50 or so groups performed at 35 venues, most of them quite literally porches.

I careered among many venues, playing a speed-listening version of the Odyssey. To my ear, there was a little terrible music, but most was good and some superb. With so much simultaneously in the works, no one was stuck anywhere. Here’s hoping this becomes annual.

As a disclaimer, several shots here are of a group where my wife sings and plays. I’m prejudiced. They jam weekly and perform as features on occasionally, largely bluegrass. Their road group has taken to call themselves Still Here.

Among some of the gems I found was Damn Tall Buildings, Rebecca Hope, and Outrageous fortune. As an indication of the event’s diversity, they play respectively bluegrass/blues, up tempo ballads, and swing. Click over to the event site for a list, many of which have videos.

Pix clix: Click a thumbnail for a larger view. If it opens in the same window, use your browser’s back button or command to return.

License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

Avery ‘Montana’ Ballotta of Damn Tall Buildings dtb2
rhope1 Rebecca Hope
A couple of the Outrageous Fortune gang fortune3
stillh8 Still Here’s mando player, surely the best gurning of Porchfest
My uxorial unit for Still Here. She’s the primary family musician. stillh2
stillh6 Of course Still Here had the mandatory bluegrass components, including dobro…
…and a banjo stillh7
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